• 12Dec

    OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWildfire (Tysons Galleria) wants to share some holiday cheer with DCFüd readers. A great way to do so is with Eggnog, so they have shared their recipe with us. You can also try this luscious, rich Eggnog Bread Pudding as the holiday dessert special the week before (leading up to) Christmas, paired with an espresso cup of freshly made egg nog. It’s a spoonful of holiday cheer times two! There’s no way to overdo a good thing at holiday time!

    EGGNOG BREAD PUDDING (Serves 12)

    1 cup brown sugar

    1 cup granulated sugar

    4 eggs

    1tablespoon. vanilla extract

    pinch nutmeg

    1 qt. eggnog

    2 cups whipping cream

    1 loaf (1 lb. 12 oz.) challah, cut ¾” thick

    Mix brown sugar, granulated sugar, eggs, vanilla, nutmeg, eggnog and cream in a stainless steel mixing bowl to make a custard. Cut bread slices into 16 cubes per slice. Gently fold bread into custard. Let stand 20 minutes. Place the mixture into a 9” x 13” pyrex pan. Smooth the top and cover with plastic wrap and foil.

    Place bread pudding into a bain marie (water bath) and bake at 350 degree oven for 45 minutes. Uncover and continue to bake for 15-20 minutes until done and temperature is 190 degrees.

    Let rest for 15 minutes, then cut into 4 x 3 into 12 squares. Serve at room temperature.

    Each serving can be garnished with 1 oz. warm caramel sauce, a scoop of whipped cream, a dusting of nutmeg and powdered sugar. At Wildfire, Eggnog Bread Pudding is served with an espresso cup of fresh eggnog.

    -JAY

  • 04Oct

    Tomatos afterGrowing up in Virginia, with its beautifully changing seasons and abundance of local produce, I have developed certain food craving patterns. Tomatoes are at the top of my seasonal cravings list. For most of fall and all of winter, I dream of perfectly ripe tomatoes just picked and still warm from the sun. As soon as the last frost thaws, I can’t wait to get my hands dirty and plant some. And every spring, without fail, I develop amnesia and decide that it’s a great idea to plant way too many tomato plants. My crazy, tomato-deprived side says, “Why plant just one??!” and my logical side falls for it every time.

    Roasted tomatoes finished productSo, at some point during the summer I have tomatoes of all different shapes and sizes coming out of my ears. While I would never consider this a problem, it is certainly a situation that needs to be dealt with. I do the obvious and toss them in salads, add them to sandwiches (BLTs anyone?), throw them into various pasta dishes, and frequently make my son’s favorite: Caprese salad. But I also try to come up with new, creative recipes of my own. I made a fantastic rustic tomato soup a few summers ago… of course I’ve made marinara sauce and fresh salsa… but my favorite creation came to me this summer when, after a few days of being ignored, my roma and cherry tomato plants were bursting with ripe fruit. I stood staring at my tomato-covered counter top, waiting for inspiration to strike… and boy did it. I’m still patting myself on the back.

    CrostiniWith sun-dried tomatoes in mind, I created something even better. I thought about calling them “oven dried” but they aren’t dry at all. So, I settled on “slow roasted” and never looked back.

    Now, obviously I used fresh summertime tomatoes, but this would be a great way to transform the less than desirable supermarket tomatoes we are forced to buy in the fall and winter—something I am definitely planning on doing, and I hope you will too.

    Slow Roasted Tomatoes

    Ingredients: 

    • Lots of smaller tomatoes such as roma, cherry, or grape, halved-about 8 cups (they shrink after roasting)
    • 1/4 cup Olive oil
    • salt and pepper
    • pinch or two of red pepper flakes to taste
    • fresh herbs, oregano and thyme are my favorites
    • 4 garlic cloves, peeled and very thinly sliced

    To prepare: 

    Preheat oven to 250 degrees.

    Place all ingredients in a large mixing bowl. Toss gently to coat the tomatoes and spread the entire mixture evenly on a large rimmed baking sheet(s). You want an even layer with no overlapping.

    Roast for 2-6 hours, gently tossing occasionally (or just shake and rotate the pan). The time is broad, I know, but it depends on the juiciness and size of your tomatoes and your oven. The tomatoes will shrink and their juices will dry slightly. Don’t take them too far; you want them to still have some juiciness. This really needs to be judged by eye, so just check on them occasionally.

    Enjoy straight from the oven, or transfer, along with all juices and herbs, to a mason jar or other storage container, cover with more olive oil and store in refrigerator.

    Note-The olive oil will harden upon refrigeration. Allow refrigerated tomatoes to sit at room temperature for 30-40 minutes before using.

    Serving suggestion (and THE reason to make these tomatoes…)

    Roasted Tomato and Goat Cheese Crostini 

    Ingredients:

    • Baguette, or any good bread, sliced 1/4 inch thick on an angle
    • Oven roasted tomatoes
    • Fresh goat cheese
    • Fresh basil

    To prepare:

    Drizzle or brush bread slices lightly with olive oil, and either toast in a 350 degree oven 10-15 minutes, or gently toast in a grill pan or skillet until lightly golden on both sides, but still tender in the middle. Transfer to a platter and smear with a tablespoon or two of goat cheese, top with oven roasted tomatoes, and sprinkle with fresh chopped basil. Enjoy!

    -ALH

  • 30Sep

    Once upon a beautiful evening in Warrenton, VA, after finishing a lovely, leisurely rooftop meal at Iron Bridge Wine Company four friends ordered dessert…

    Crème brûlée was the unanimous choice, and Iron Bridge has a great one… It has chocolate ganache on the bottom and, purist though I am, I can’t resist it. While enjoying our delicious desserts under the stars, we discovered an uninvited dinner guest. A very nosy praying mantis appeared on the strand of lights next to our table and seemed very interested in our creamy desserts. We all had a good laugh and, although nobody was willing to share with him, he hung around for the rest of our meal, entertaining us with his very interesting dance moves. We still laugh about it and I’m quite certain I’m the only woman who thinks of a praying mantis every time she makes or eats crème brûlée.

    Crème brûlée is one of those desserts that I think everyone loves (insects included). The funny thing is, most people think it’s terribly complicated and fancy. This is sneaky, sexy French simplicity at its finest—4 ingredients composed in a way that mystifies people while simultaneously knocking their socks off. It makes people wonder why it’s served in such tiny vessels as they scrape the final bits out with their spoon and look around wondering if anyone will notice them licking their ramekin.

    I keep mine simple and classic, and haven’t gotten any complaints. If you would like to make this dessert in the hopefully praying mantis-free comfort of your own home, here’s how:

    Special equipment:

    • 6 4-ounce ramekins (Although I have made this in small coffee mugs and very small mason jars before–When the urge for crème brûlée strikes, nothing can stop me.)
    • small kitchen torch

    Ingredients:

    • 1 vanilla bean split lengthwise, or 2 tablespoons pure vanilla extract
    • 2 cups heavy cream
    • 4 egg yolks
    • 1/4 cup granulated sugar
    • pinch of salt

    For the crunchy top:

    • a few tablespoons granulated sugar

    Heat oven to 325 degrees and boil a tea kettle or a small saucepan of water.

    Place the ramekins in a baking dish large enough to hold them comfortably and set aside.

    Add the heavy cream and split vanilla bean (or extract) to a small saucepan over medium-high heat. You want the cream to get hot, but not boil, so keep an eye on it, and if you see bubbles around the edge, turn off the heat.

    While waiting for the cream to heat, whisk the yolks, sugar, and a pinch of salt in a large mixing bowl until the mixture thickens and becomes pale yellow. When you lift your whisk a long ribbon should fall. (You can use a mixer, but I always feel like a very fancy French pastry chef when I do it by hand. Plus, it really isn’t worth dirtying a mixer.)

    When both your cream mixture and yolk mixtures are ready, slowly add the cream mixture to the yolks while whisking.

    Just as a curdle precaution I then pour this mixture through a fine mesh sieve set over a large measuring cup. (the measuring cup helps with the pouring process.)

    Next, divide the mixture evenly between the ramekins. Place your baking dish in the oven, and very carefully add the recently boiled water to the pan, making sure not to get any in the ramekins. Loosely cover the entire dish with foil and bake for 30-40 minutes. When you gently shake the ramekins they will be very loose and wiggly still, but set. They will firm up after refrigeration.

    Remove the ramekins from the water bath and let cool to room temp, or if you’re impatient like me, just stick them in the fridge as soon as they come out. Let chill for 3-4 hours (at this point you can let them sit in the fridge covered for 3 days before moving on to the next step)

    5-10 minutes before serving, sprinkle each ramekin with a light dusting of sugar. I like a very delicate layer of crispy sugar, but if you like it thicker, just add more sugar. Holding your kitchen torch close to the surface of the crème brûlée move slowly and constantly back and forth until the sugar bubbles and turns a caramel color. The sugar will harden within seconds. Enjoy!

    -ALH

  • 26Sep

    Carbonara 1Tuesday: I left my house at 7 am, had classes all day, a granola bar for lunch, raced off campus at 2:45 to make it to my daughter’s gymnastics class and blew in the door at 5:30 with my two hungry kids. I did not plan ahead for dinner; there was nothing happily simmering away in a crock pot on my counter.

    My answer, as it so often is, was pasta. But not just any pasta… My dad’s pasta carbonara (with a few of my small tweaks). I grew up eating it, it’s not fancy, it’s not quite traditional Italian–although pretty darn close. (Please excuse me for not stopping at Wegmans to buy cured pig cheeks.)

    Anyhow, in the time it takes to boil the pasta, I can  assemble the rest of the ingredients. It all gets tossed together and served. It really is that simple. This dish proves that comfort food doesn’t have to take all day, and that busy people don’t have to resort to take out, frozen food, or sauce from a jar. My son refers to it as “that creamy bacon pasta thing” and my daughter just likes anything involving noodles and/or bacon. It is a less than 30 minute meal that satisfies deeply and I can almost guarantee most people have the few ingredients it requires in their kitchens right now. And who doesn’t love the smell of bacon at the end of a long, crazy day?

    Cook’s note: Before getting started I recommend pouring yourself a cold glass of Italian Pinot Grigio. It helps make the experience more authentic… That’s my story and I’m stickin’ to it.

    Ingredients:

    • 1 lb of any long slurping noodle such as spaghetti or linguine fini
    • 8 ounces bacon (thicker cut the better) cut into small strips
    • 1/2 yellow onion very finely diced
    • 1 or 2 garlic cloves smashed
    • 4 egg yolks (place in a medium sized mixing bowl)
    • 1 1/2 cups parmigiano and/or finely grated Romano
    • 1 cup of reserved pasta cooking water
    • Freshly ground black pepper
    • handful of chopped parsley (optional)

    Instructions:Carbonara 1

    Bring a large pot of water to a boil

    Once boiling salt generously and cook your pasta according to the package directions.

    While waiting for the water to boil, begin crisping the bacon in a large skillet over medium heat stirring occasionally.

    When bacon is crisp, remove to paper towel lined plate to drain and pour off excess bacon drippings, leaving about 2 tablespoons in the pan along with any brown bits.

    Return pan to heat and add onions and garlic, cook until softened, but not brown-about 5 minutes.

    turn heat off and leave onion/garlic mixture to cool slightly.

    Meanwhile:

    When your pasta is almost cooked, scoop out a cup of the water, and very, very, VERY slowly drizzle the hot water into the egg yolks while whisking constantly. If you pour the hot water in too quickly, or without whisking, you will have scrambled eggs.

    When your pasta is cooked, drain it in a colander or scoop directly from pot to pan with tongs, and add it to the skillet containing the onions and garlic, and grind in as much black pepper as you can stand; I like about 20 grinds from my pepper mill. (They don’t call it coal miner’s pasta for nothing; the black flecks are said to resemble flecks of coal.) Quickly add the egg mixture, cheeses, bacon, and parsley if using and toss immediately with tongs until the mixture clings to the noodles and becomes silky. At this point the hot pasta will cook the eggs, but not curdle them, so it is very important to add the egg mixture to the noodles as soon as they come out of the water. Let this sit briefly, one or two minutes, and stir once again before serving.

    -ALH (Ani)

  • 14Feb

    I love Mexican food. What I don’t love are all the calories that usually come with it. So, when my heart tells me to go to a certain fast food burrito joint, my head tells me to make this recipe instead. Using the protein-rich quinoa as a substitute for rice keeps my stomach quiet through lab, and all the veggies make it guilt free. So cheap a college student can afford it, so easy and English major can make it, and so tasty it comes roommate approved! Enjoy!

     

    Mexican-Style Quinoa

     

    Ingredients

    1 ½ tsp. vegetable oil

    ½ Yellow onion (chopped)

    1 clove garlic (peeled and chopped finely, add more if you’re a garlic fan!)

    1 cup uncooked quinoa

    2 cups vegetable broth (or more as needed)

    ½ tsp. ground cumin

    ½ tsp. Mexican chili powder

    1 cup frozen corn kernels

    2 (15oz) cans of black beans

    ½ cup chopped, fresh cilantro

    Salt and Pepper to taste

     

    Directions

    1. Heat the vegetable oil in a medium to large saucepan. Stir in onions and garlic until both are slightly brown (about 5 minutes).

    2. Add uncooked quinoa to the pan and cover with vegetable broth. Mix in chili powder, cumin, salt, and pepper.

    3. Allow mixture to come to a boil, reduce to a simmer, and let cook for 15-17 minutes.

    4. Mix in corn and simmer for another 5 minutes until cooked. Stir in black beans and cilantro.

    -Guest Writter, Paige (EPC)

  • 05Nov

    I’ve always been a big fan of greens, and I practically live on the things then they’re in season.* But, I recently discovered a new favorite leafy ingredient: purples! Purple mustard greens, that is. These gorgeous babies range in color from bright green to bluish-red to right purple at times, and they taste like regular mustard greens except much more so. Actually, it’s kinda like eating Tellicherry pepper in leaf form. Bloody delicious!

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/jenwaller/2215577288/

    Photo by Flickr user JenWaller

    These are so lovely, cooking them is a cinch: just rinse and dice them, and place them (still a bit wet) in a medium-hot pan with a bit of oil (I prefer 1 part sesame and 3 parts olive). Sprinkle them with salt, turmeric, and just a tiny tiny bit of nutmeg. Toss to mix, cover, and let steam-saute (there must be a better term for this) till they’re just soft (about 5 minutes).

    As a bonus, if you deglaze with a light stock, you get a very pretty bright purple liquid as a bonus (hint: color your rice).

     *The lady at the farmers market might just roll her eyes and start bagging as soon as she sees me walking up.

    -MAW

  • 29May

     

    Falafel Batter.

    If I might paraphrase (500) Days of Summer:  This is a story of boy meets chickpeas.  But you should know up front – this is not a dinner story.

    On a recent weekend, my beautiful wife and I were dining out and she mentioned that she had a craving for falafel.  I love good Mediterranean food – you all have seen my write-up of the Cava Mezze Grill in Tysons Corner Center, and Plaka Grill in Vienna is another favorite among my friends at church.  And any longtime resident of the area has to have tried out one of the many Lebanese Taverna locations in the DC region.  For the uninitiated, though, falafel is a fried entrée made of ground chickpeas and spices, usually served with hummus or tzatziki sauce on a pita. 

    Falafel Balls

    I first dug up a recipe.  A few looks around the Web found any number of falafel recipes, but as I always place a premium on simplicity, I started with Mark Bittman’s recipe.  But Bittman called for dried chickpeas, and the shelves at my local Giant were bare.  They had plenty of dried red, pinto, and black beans (perfect for the next time I’m in a chili cookoff!) but no chickpeas.  Unfortunately, I think that’s where I first went wrong.

    A Bad Frying Attempt.

    I bought a 29-oz can of Goya chickpeas, drained them, and minced them in my food processor in batches.  I also chopped the onion, garlic, spices, and parsley and tossed all of that into the chickpea mixture with the last couple of ingredients.  I stirred the mixture together into batter, and I thought I was on the right track.  I even tossed in a tablespoon of flour, a tip that I saw in a number of recipes to keep the batter together as it fries.

    I pulled out a disher and scooped out a batch of falafel balls.  Most recipes I saw suggest forming them into ping-pong ball-sized fritters, which I thought would work well.  I heated a saucepan with vegetable oil to 350 degrees, and once it hit temperature, I dropped two fritters in.

    Hot Oven Couldn't Help.

    And that is where my errors caught up with me.  The oil started bubbling furiously, as it usually will do when frying.  But when I dropped a spider into the oil to fish out the falafel, the batter had completely disintegrated.  And that was when I knew that we weren’t having falafel for dinner that night.

    I’m not sure if it was the canned chickpeas that did it, or the fact that my food processor is small enough that I had to chop everything in batches.  I may have over-minced the chickpeas, or it may have been that they were so wet that they wouldn’t stick together enough when faced with hot oil.  In any case, the oil was ruined and I scorched my saucepan.  I’ll have to try again sometime soon.

    All was not lost, however – I had one final thought before I gave up.  I dropped a few falafel balls onto a roasting pan and set them in a blazing hot oven for about 20 minutes, hoping that the dry heat might achieve something like the hot oil’s crisping effect.  Alas – while the outsides browned, the insides remained decidedly moist, and my experiment had truly failed.

    Let me know in the comments if you try out a falafel recipe more successfully than I did, or if you have any thoughts on what went wrong for me!

    Falafel

    Adapted from Mark Bittman’s “Recipe of the Day,” February 12, 2008

    1 29 oz can chickpeas

    2 cloves garlic

    1 small onion

    1 tsp coriander

    1 tbsp cumin

    ½ teaspoon cayenne pepper

    1 cup parsley leaves

    1 tsp salt

    ½ tsp baking soda

    1 tbsp lemon juice

    Frying oil

    Drain chickpeas.  Mince all ingredients except frying oil in your food processor, working in batches if necessary.  Adjust seasoning and spices to taste once the batter comes together.  Add a tablespoon or two of flour if the batter is too wet to form.

    Heat the oil to 350 degrees.  Fry falafel balls for about five minutes.  Serve on a heated pita with hummus, tzatziki, and other toppings as desired. 

    -HML

    ——————

    Check out my friend Ami’s Costa Rica Tours and don’t forget to use the code “TOUCAN” to save money. He has some group tours that you can join, including an upcoming August tour, and I hear that airfare to Costa Rica is inexpensive right now for August.

     

    -JAY

     

  • 13May

    Fresh Asparagus.

    It’s springtime!  Love is in the air, and the produce section at your local grocery store is probably overflowing with great fruits and vegetables.  We’re a bit spoiled these days in that we can get almost any type of produce year-round, but it’s this time of year that a wonderful bounty of fresh, high-quality stuff hits the produce department.  Those of you with CSA subscriptions will be enjoying your weekly deliveries soon enough, but if you’re looking for good vegetables, there’s plenty to be had, even at the local Giant, Harris Teeter, or Safeway.

    Despite its (deserved) reputation for giving some people a distinctive aroma during a certain bodily process after eating it, I’m a big fan of asparagus.  But not how it’s usually cooked – I’ve been the victim of boiled-to-death asparagus too many times to count.  That product is not enjoyable at the dinner table – so tender it slides off the fork, with a nasty off-green color and a strong odor that overpowers the palate.  Sure, it’s nutritious, but we shouldn’t be condemned to suffering through our vegetables!  In a way it’s similar to broccoli – too many people have terrible memories of being forced to eat their broccoli by their parents, so they avoid it later on when they actually control their home menu.

    Prepped and Snapped Asparagus.

    But we have better ways of cooking vegetables!  We don’t have to boil them into submission; we can apply better techniques and enjoy them quite a bit more.  And before I lose you here – you don’t have to spend hours doing it, either.  High-quality produce doesn’t need to be shepherded through difficult sauce-making or other rigorous techniques.  While asparagus goes very nicely with Hollandaise sauce in classical French cuisine, those tricky emulsions still have me scared.  And when I’m making dinner for my wife, I’d rather not worry about a sauce breaking – I want my dishes to be ready reliably.  (The same holds true for any of you guys attempting to woo a lady with your cooking, which is a tactic I highly recommend.  Date night recipes shouldn’t be too labor intensive, and should be fail-safe!)  In any case, you have two big points to remember when getting high-quality vegetables into your kitchen:

    Cooked and Seasoned Asparagus.

    #1:  Prep.  This is probably the most important point for vegetable cookery, as you simply can’t bring veggies home from the store and toss them in the pot (most of the time, anyway).  With asparagus, you’ll want to “snap” them – bend the stalks along the length until the woody base naturally snaps off.  You wouldn’t want to eat that section anyway!  You’ll be left with tender portions of the green stalks that won’t at all remind you of biting into a tree.

    #2:  Method.  My favorite way to cook asparagus without absolutely killing it is high-heat roasting.  Many restaurants recommend blanching veggies first, but they mostly do that in order to save time on the line.  In the home setting, it’s easy enough to roast your asparagus all the way through without having to boil a pot of water.  It’ll take a little longer, but since you’re not firing dishes out every five to ten minutes, you can afford to wait.

    The beauty of asparagus is that it’s got a relatively strong natural flavor, meaning it will stand up to seasonings and spices pretty well.  You can play around with the flavor elements in this recipe as you like – some sources I’ve seen recommend sprinkling the cooked asparagus with nutmeg or allspice as it comes out of the oven.  I’ve also seen suggestions for using lemon zest, but I prefer the stronger flavor of fresh lemon juice.  You don’t want to drown your poor veggies, but a solid squeeze over the plate after they come out of the oven, followed by seasoning and whatever spices you’d like to enjoy, will elevate the dish far beyond your dreaded memories of the family dinner table in your youth.

     

    Roasted Asparagus

    1 bunch asparagus stalks

    Olive oil

    1 lemon

    Salt and pepper

     

    Preheat your oven to 400 degrees.

    Prep your asparagus stalks by snapping off the woody lower ends and washing thoroughly.  Toss with a tablespoon or two of olive oil until well coated and lay out in a single layer on a roasting pan or oven-safe plate (such as Pyrex).

    Roast for 5 minutes, then check the tray and turn any stalks that appear to be browning quickly.  Roast for another 5-7 minutes (depending on how thick your stalks are), then remove from the oven.

    Squeeze fresh lemon juice over the asparagus, then sprinkle generously with kosher salt and fresh black pepper.  Optional:  omit lemon juice and sprinkle with nutmeg or allspice.  Basil chiffonade is another nice option if you’ve got fresh herbs available.

    Enjoy!

    -HML

    —————————————-

    Check out my friend Ami’s Costa Rica Tours and don’t forget to use the code “TOUCAN” to save money. He has some group tours that you can join, including an upcoming August tour, and I hear that airfare to Costa Rica is inexpensve right now for August.

    -JAY

  • 23Feb

    Cooking for anyone on a low-carb diet is challenging – after all, American grocery stores have more carbohydrates available nowadays than at almost any other time in our history.  Sugar and wheat flour are the biggest culprits, but unless you check labels religiously, you’ll inadvertently serve carbs with every meal.  Going low-carb means eating lots of protein and fresh vegetables, avoiding many fruits (natural sugars aren’t good either), eliminating most breads, and never, under any circumstances, cooking up big, steaming bowls of pasta.

    But this is a challenge.  Seriously, any time you’re talking about a fundamental change to your diet, you’ll end up with cravings.  In some ways, it’s almost karmic:  if you tell yourself that you can’t have cookies, one of your coworkers will probably ask if you want to order Girl Scout cookies.  (What, is that just me?)

    I came across Dreamfields pasta on a suggestion from my sister-in-law.  She mentioned that she’d found a new brand of pasta that was actually okay to eat when trying to cut down on carbs.  And this, friends, is revolutionary.  A low-carb diet means, at least in the early phases, cutting down to 20 grams or less of carbohydrates in a day.  And that may not sound like much until you check the label and realize that one slice of bread has 20 grams of carbs on its own.  It forces a bit of an adjustment to one’s cooking!

    But as it turns out, you can fulfill that craving without completely destroying your Atkins-friendly diet.  Dreamfields claims that one serving of their pasta, which I found in three different shapes at my local Giant, has just 5 grams of net carbs.  I won’t pretend to know how exactly how they do it (they claim that their patented pasta blend “…creates a protective barrier to reduce starch digestion in the small intestine,” which isn’t exactly something I want to examine closely!) but I thought it’d be worth a look.

    As with so many other specialized diet foods, this stuff isn’t exactly cheap.  My local store has a 13.2 oz box of spaghetti for $2.89, while a 16 oz box of Barilla spaghetti costs just $1.25, and Ronzoni’s whole-wheat spaghetti goes for just $2.29.  That’s quite a premium, but if you’re eating low-carb, you’re spending more on your food anyway.  Just be aware of it.

    We tried out two applications for this pasta – a basic angel hair with marinara sauce and an old favorite recipe for comfort food, a variation on Mark Bittman’s baked macaroni and cheese (recipe below).  I think our impressions of the angel hair marinara were colored by it being the first pasta meal we’ve had at our house in months – it’s no exaggeration to say that we loved it – but when I made baked macaroni and cheese, I tested it on one of my wife’s friends to make sure that we weren’t just deprived and loving it.  All three of us cleaned our plates that evening.

    The beauty of this product (and I will admit that I’m neither Italian nor a pasta expert) is that it tasted like a near-perfect substitute.  I didn’t do anything special when I made it; I simply salted the water and boiled as long as the package indicated (5 minutes for the angel hair and 8 minutes for the macaroni).  No olive oil or family cooking secrets – this was about as simple as it could get, and it worked extraordinarily well.

    If you’re tired of avoiding your carbohydrate nemeses, Dreamfields is worth a shot.  You’ll pay a premium for it, but in our house, it was definitely worth it.

    Enjoy!

    -Michael (HML)

    Baked Macaroni and Cheese

    2 ½ cups milk

    2 bay leaves

    1 lb elbow macaroni (Bittman also suggests shells, ziti, or other cut pasta)

    4 tbsp butter, plus extra for greasing the pan

    3 tbsp all-purpose flour

    2 cups grated cheese – I prefer sharp Cheddar, but any flavorful cheese will do

    ½ cup grated Parmesan

    ½ cup bread crumbs – I used panko with dried Italian herbs)

    Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.  Boil salted water in a medium saucepan or stockpot.  Grease a 9×13 glass baking dish with extra butter.

    Heat milk over low heat with bay leaves for five minutes or so until hot.  Remove bay leaves and set milk aside. Boil the pasta until one minute shy of al dente – for the Dreamfields pasta, this meant boiling for 7 minutes – then strain and rinse in cold water to stop cooking.  Set aside in a medium work bowl.

    In a clean saucepan (and this can be done using just one pan for all of these tasks, though you’ll need to wash it out repeatedly), melt the butter over medium-low heat.  Add the flour and stir with a whisk until smooth.  (Technique note:  for any of you newbies out there, you’re making a roux, the base for many traditional French sauces).  Cook for about five minutes until the mixture is brown, whisking often.  Add the milk in ¼ cup increments, whisking until smooth with each addition, and don’t let the mixture sit over the heat until almost all of the milk is added.  Once smooth and fully incorporated, add both cheeses and stir until melted and smooth. 

    Add the sauce to the pasta and stir to combine.  Adjust seasoning to taste and add some freshly ground black pepper if you’re so inclined.  Pour the mixture into the prepared pan and top with bread crumbs, then bake for about 15 minutes.

  • 15Feb

    Chocolate Macarons

    When I first started writing for dcfüd, I mentioned that I’d be writing about my successes and my failures.  And much like the title screen for (500) Days of Summer did, I have to warn you up front:  this is not a success story.

    A while back, I tried making macarons, those small, French sandwich cookies made with almond flour, egg whites, and a lot of luck.  They didn’t work out for me – the batter ran out of my piping bag like water, the cookies ended up much bigger than I’ve ever seen commercially, and though they tasted okay, they just didn’t look very good.  I’ve been told that I’m a bit of a perfectionist professionally, and sometimes that bleeds over into my cooking.  But it’s for good reason – most professional chefs that I’ve read offer some variation on the cliché that we “eat with our eyes first” – so presentation really does matter.

    Go on: take a look at the photos of the “macarons” entry at Wikipedia (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Macarons).  I’ll wait.  Notice the beautiful pastel colors (though those are created by artificial food dyes), the symmetrical cookie halves, and the slight “foot” created during the bake?  Those are the hallmarks of a professionally made and well-executed macaron.  I wanted to try them out again this week.  (And I’m still competing with my coworkers over desserts, so this would be a coup if I could pull it off!)

    Step one:  sources and methods.  One of my go-to references for baking and desserts is the Baking Bites blog (http://bakingbites.com/), run by a Los Angeles-based author named Nicole Weston.  She posted her recipe for chocolate macarons with vanilla buttercream filling recently (http://bakingbites.com/2012/01/chocolate-macarons-with-vanilla-buttercream-filling/), and once I saw it, I put almond flour on my grocery list.  Fair warning:  one pound of that ran more than $10 at my local supermarket.  There’s not a whole lot of almond flour in one batch, so you can certainly try again, but don’t bother trying to chop your own almonds into flour in your food processor – you’ll end up with chunks rather than the fine powder you need.

    Step two:  prep.  I set up two roasting pans, but I only have one SilPat, so I lined the other one with parchment paper.  One equipment note here – every macaron recipe I’ve ever seen has specified measuring ingredients by weight rather than by volume.  This is a great tip for baking generally, and I’m told that most professional chefs use scales in their pastry work.  After weighing out the dry ingredients, I whisked them together in a mixing bowl and started separating my eggs.  Once the sugar syrup went onto the heat, the recipe started moving quickly, and it might be then that it got away from me.

    Step three:  failure.  Maybe macarons are my personal unicorn, but I just couldn’t get them right this time, either.  The almond dough came together fairly easily, but the Italian meringue that the Baking Bites recipe suggests either wasn’t whipped enough or not folded gently enough into the batter.  Not to blame the recipe, of course – those would be my fault!  After piping and baking (and my pastry bag skills leave something to be desired…), I found some flat macarons with cracked shells when I opened the oven.  Several of them stuck to the pans despite my best efforts with silicone and parchment paper, but I’m told that’s not unusual.  And worst of all, my frosting went wrong, looking grainy and brown rather than nicely whipped.  I tend to use a bit more vanilla in my desserts than recipes call for, and I think my vanilla extract might have done a bit more coloring than I wanted it to here.  Mea culpa!

    But all was not lost – I pulled a container of dark chocolate frosting out of the pantry and started sandwiching the cookies together with a dollop each.  They’re not the most visually appealing macarons I’ve ever seen by a long shot, but my beautiful wife (God bless her!) assured me that they’re quite good.  We’ll see what my co-workers say.

    This dessert is a real challenge, so I’d love to hear about your experience with it or with other macaron recipes.  Let me know in the comments if you’ve managed to conquer the French.  Enjoy!

    Chocolate Macarons with Vanilla Buttercream Filling

    Recipe courtesy Baking Bites

    180 g almond flour/almond meal

    200 g confectioner’s sugar

    30 g cocoa powder

    4 large room-temperature egg whites, divided

    180 g sugar (granulated)

    ¼ cup water

    For vanilla buttercream: 

    1/3 cup room-temperature butter

    1 ½ tsp vanilla extract

    1 tbsp milk

    2 cups confectioner’s sugar

    Prep two roasting pans with non-stick surfaces, either SilPats or parchment paper.

    Sift together almond meal, confectioner’s sugar, and cocoa powder in a mixing bowl.  Using the paddle attachment, mix with two of the egg whites until a thick dough comes together.  Be sure to scrape the bottom of the bowl to ensure all of the dry ingredients are mixed.  Once the dough is together, set aside and wash out your mixing bowl.

    In a saucepan, heat granulated sugar and water to a rolling boil, whisking to ensure sugar dissolves.  Boil for at least 30 seconds.

    Back in the stand mixer, beat the other two egg whites until soft peaks form.  Then slowly add the syrup into the egg whites while continuing to beat on medium.  Be careful here, as the syrup is hot and the mixer will send it everywhere unless you’re cautious.  Once the syrup has been fully incorporated, beat until you have a thick, fluffy meringue, set aside and wash out the mixing bowl again (unless you’re lucky enough to own extras!)

    Stir about 1/3 of the meringue into the chocolate dough, then fold in the remaining meringue in a couple more additions.  Using a pastry bag or a zip-top plastic bag with a snipped corner, pipe the resulting batter out onto the pans in tablespoon-sized portions with about an inch between them.

    Let the piped batter sit for 20 minutes or so while preheating the oven to 350 degrees.  Bake for about 12 minutes, then cool on the sheet or a cooling rack before frosting and sandwiching.

    Vanilla Buttercream Frosting

    Beat the butter until soft, then add the vanilla extract, milk, and confectioner’s sugar.  Beat until light and creamy, then spoon or pipe between your cookie shells.  And if nothing else, keep a backup frosting in the pantry!

    -HML

Please enter e-mail address below and click the subscribe button. Thank you!

Subscribe in RSS Reader

RSS Feed

Categories

Archives

Relay Foods

Gourmet Ads

Awesomelicious Foodies’ Blog Contest 2014