Welcome Back!

March 21, 2012

It’s been a while… but I’m back! I’ve been eating and cooking some pretty yummy things over the past 18 months, and figured it’s high time to hop back on the blogging bandwagon. I’ll try to update this blog with restaurant critiques, culinary finds, and other gastronomic musings. 


French Onion Bread Pudding

March 13, 2010

I know I’ve been writing a lot of sweet entries as opposed to savory. The reason? Desserts always go over well. Yeah, a braised lamb shank will get you some attention, but a molten chocolate cake is always appreciated. Here at Tufts, there are a lot of vegetarians and unadventurous eaters (think Bacon Ice Cream), but everyone loves desserts. After all, why do you think BAKE sales are so popular? Who knew that clearing one’s conscience only takes a $1.00 and a couple of brownies!

So with that in mind, here’s a twist on a popular dessert, Bread Pudding. I’ve had some pretty amazing bread puddings in my day, so I was eager to try out this recipe. Here are a couple of reasons to love it.

1.)    The thing is made in a casserole dish, which means easy cleanup and preparation. This is a HUGE plus when you don’t have a dishwasher (or a kitchen sink).

2.)     Carmelized Onions. Lots of them.

3.)    Since it’s based on French Onion Soup, the requisite use of cheese helps to bind it together. And who doesn’t love gooey melted cheese?

4.)    The use of grainy mustard helps to give this pudding a nice kick.

5.)    Did I mention caramelized onions?

I thought that the pudding was good; however, I still prefer bread pudding as a dessert. But if you’re looking to try something easy and different, give this a go. It tastes a lot like a quiche, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. While they say it’s an appetizer, my friends and I found the pudding to be pretty heavy and thought that it could just as easily be the main course, depending on the occasion.

French Onion Bread Pudding (adapted from The Cookworks, 2003)
Serves between 8-10 people as an appetizer, and 6 as a main course)

Ingredients

1 1/2 pounds onions (2 to 3 medium onions), thinly sliced
1 teaspoon sugar
3 teaspoons kosher salt
3 tablespoons clarified butter*
1 tablespoon sweet sherry ( I didn’t have any Sherry, so I used apple juice as a subsitute)
1 large Italian or French bread loaf, crusts removed, cut into 5 by 1-inch pieces
6 eggs
2 cups heavy cream
1 tablespoon grainy mustard
1 teaspoon finely chopped fresh thyme
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 cups grated Gruyere cheese

Directions

1.) Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

2.) In a large skillet, saute the onions, sugar, and 1 teaspoon of the salt in the clarified butter over medium-high heat; stir constantly to prevent burning. They should go from opaque to translucent to golden brown. They should be quite soft by this point. If the heat is too high, you’re gonna end up frying the onion to crisp, so just be aware. Add sherry and stir to lift any caramelized onion on the bottom of the pan. Remove from the heat and set aside.

3.) Spread out the bread pieces evenly on a baking sheet. Place in the oven for about 5 to 8 minutes to dry the bread slightly but not to add color. Set aside to cool.

4.) Whisk together the eggs, cream, mustard, thyme, the remaining salt, and pepper. Soak the bread in the egg mixture for 5 minutes.

5.) In a casserole dish, layer the bread with the onions and cheese. Pour the remaining egg mixture over the top.

Bake for 35 minutes or until the egg mixture is set.

*About clarifying butter: Clarified butter is unsalted butter that has been slowly melted, separating the milk solids from the liquids. Milk solids are the things that foam up to the top of butter when you melt it down. Since these milk solids can burn and tarnish the taste of the butter, cooks often remove it when they decide to saute food. Do this by removing any foam/milky residue off the top of the melted butter. Clarified butter is used to cook at higher temperatures because it has a higher smoke point. If you aren’t comfortable doing this, just use olive oil, since it has a high smoke point. Butter is used for the flavor, but don’t worry about it


Kickass Cupcakes–February Happy Hour

February 25, 2010

“One day it started raining, and it didn’t quit for four months. We been through every kind of rain there is. Little bitty stingin’ rain… and big ol’ fat rain. Rain that flew in sideways. And sometimes rain even seemed to come straight up from underneath.”
-Forrest Gump


Seriously, February, are you kidding me? One full week of rain? This is Boston, not London. I’m going through socks like Kleenex thanks to these oceanic puddles.  Luckily, February is about to end. This past Monday was the last of the month. And we all know what the last Monday of the month means… free Kickass Cupcakes!

Like always, the free mini-cupcakes come in three different “cocktail-inspired” flavors, which got me makes me think of LMFAO’s magnum opus, “Shots.” In this song (assuming you can call it that), Lil Jon enumerates his favorite drinks. Surprisingly enough, his alcoholic regimen fits in line with Kickass cupcakes’ menu. Desipte his usual policy of exclusively yelling monosyllabic words, Lil Jon catalogs various drinks, such as “Lemon Drops” and “Kamikazes.” At one point, he loudly declares his affinity for “jello shots.” Cue the Strawberry Jellow Shot—a Vanilla cake with a strawberry jello shot center and whipped cream top.

When the song reaches its crescendo, Lil Jon ebulliently erupts into an expletive-laced climax—“Fuck all that shit, give me some Gin!” Cue the Chartwoozy, a Gin soaked cupcake with chartreuse frosting and lemon sugar. This was the real winner of the evening. I could pick up on the Gin, but it wasn’t overbearing. And the frosting did have hints of Chartreuse (liqueur made from brandy and aromatic herbs) and a vaguely citrusy aftertaste.

There was also a chocolate cupcake with brandied chocolate ganache center and chocolate frosting dusted with nutmeg called Chocolate Hot Toddy. This was decent, but disappointed in comparison to Kickass’ previous chocolaty efforts, such as the Brandy Alexander and the Somerville Glory.

Even though I could’ve left without buying a cupcake, I couldn’t help but get a Champagne Cupcake. I’ve made a couple of batches of champagne cupcakes in my day, so I figured this would be a good comparison. The cupcake was filled with fresh strawberry, which I actually preferred to the Jello filling of the free mini.

Rain sucks, but I’ve learned that it can be easily smothered with baked goods. Because who really needs umbrellas when you’ve got cupcakes?


Sweet Potato Gnocchi

January 11, 2010

Ah, Gnocchi: the Italy’s answer to dumplings. Literally meaning “lumps,” Gnocchi has existed as a traditional pasta dish since the days of the Roman Empire; however, the potato-base of today’s gnocchi has only existed since the 16th century. But enough with the history lesson, let’s just dive in.

As a kid, I enjoyed gnocchi, as it was a nice respite from all the inexorable servings of spaghetti. This recipe seemed to be a perfect alternative to standard pasta fare. My previous attempt with homemade pasta left a bad taste in my mouth, but that might have to do with the fact that I don’t have a pasta-maker. But gnocchi doesn’t require any special tools—just a fork and a child-like sense of wonder (if you haven’t seen “Youth in Revolt,” then you’re missing out).
Making gnocchi is a lot like playing with play dough, except that this dough tastes good. My inner child giggled with delight as I rolled out long, serpentine bits of the dough. Cooking suddenly felt like kindergarten arts and crafts.
I used the food processor to properly blend the potato and the ricotta. And the ricotta I bought barely even drained over the course of the two hours. But maybe that was just my brand, I dunno.


The Browned Butter Sage sauce paired with this gnocchi was tasty, but there was definitely far too much of it. You could easily cut the amount of butter from 2 sticks to 1 ½ and be fine. It does require a fair share of salt and pepper.
As for the gnocchi itself? Well, I think it turned out alright. The problem is that no one in my family really eats gnocchi, so I had nothing to compare it to. My mom doesn’t like gnocchi and wasn’t sure if the consistency was right, and my Dad was of no help either. They both said it was the most flavorful gnocchi they had eaten, but that doesn’t mean much from people gnocchi-player-haters.
If you’re looking for a new way to spice up pasta night, or want a different sort of side dish (this is so rich that I think that it would work better as a side or an appetizer), or want to reconnect to your inner seven-year-old, then make some of this gnocchi.


Recipe (adapted from Bon Appétit, December 2005)

Sweet Potato Gnocchi with Brown Butter and Sage
Makes 10 servings (as a side or an appetizer—six or seven pieces a person)

Depending on how thick your ricotta cheese is, drain the ricotta in a sieve for two hours before starting the recipe.

Ingredients
2 1-pound red-skinned sweet potatoes (yams), rinsed, patted dry, pierced all over with fork
12 ounces fresh ricotta cheese, drained in sieve 2 hours
1 cup finely grated Parmesan cheese (about 3 ounces)
2 tablespoons (packed) golden brown sugar
2 teaspoons (for gnocchi) plus 1 ½ tablespoons salt (for boiling water)
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg
2 ½ cups (about) all purpose flour
¾ cup (1 ½ sticks) unsalted butter
5 tablespoons chopped fresh sage plus whole leaves for garnish

Preparation

1.)    Microwave on high until tender, about 5 minutes per side.
2.)    Cut in half and let cool. Scrape sweet potato flesh into large bowl and mash. Add ricotta cheese; blend well (I blended the two in a food processor to fully blend it).
3.)    Add Parmesan cheese, brown sugar, 2 teaspoons salt, and nutmeg; mash to blend. Mix in flour, about 1/2 cup at a time, until soft dough forms.
4.)    Turn dough out onto floured surface; divide into 6 equal pieces. Rolling between palms and floured work surface, form each piece into 20-inch-long rope (about 1 inch in diameter), sprinkling with flour as needed if sticky. Cut each rope into 20 pieces. Roll each piece over tines of fork to indent. Transfer to baking sheet.
5.)    Bring large pot of water to boil; add 1 ½ tablespoons salt and return to boil. Working in batches, boil gnocchi until tender, 5 to 6 minutes. Transfer gnocchi to clean rimmed baking sheet. Cool completely. DO AHEAD Can be made 4 hours ahead. Let stand at room temperature.
6.)    Melt butter in heavy large saucepan over medium-high heat. Cook until butter solids are brown and have toasty aroma, swirling pan occasionally, about 5 minutes.
7.)    Add chopped sage (mixture will bubble up). Put stove stop on simmer. Season sage butter generously with salt and pepper.
8.)    Add gnocchi to pan and sauté until gnocchi are heated through, about 6 minutes. Divide gnocchi and sauce among shallow bowls. Garnish with sage leaves.


Clementine Cake

December 31, 2009

Clementines are a fruit that you only see in December and in 5 lb packages. I don’t think I’ve ever seen clementines at the grocery store in any other month or in any other amount. My mom grew up getting clementines in her Christmas stocking; however, Santa’s never been that kind to me.
A quick background—clementines are essentially seedless tangerines—tangerines being the little brother in the Orange family. Their sweetness, thin rind, manageable size, and lack of seeds make them ideal snacks and in my opinion superior to your average orange.
I came across this recipe on Smitten Kitchen and was excited by the prospect of baking with Clementines. Since my grandma hadn’t figured out a dessert for Christmas Day, I figured this could be one of the offerings.
The cake uses the entirety of the Clementine, rind and all. Also noteworthy is the cake’s lack of butter or flour. I didn’t have a springform pan, so I improvised by lining a regular pan with parchment paper and then greasing the hell out of the bottom of it. I prayed for a Christmas miracle—that the cake would come out in one piece. For whatever reason, I ended up with more than enough batter to fill an 8 inch pan, so I made 12 cupcakes in addition to the cake.

For Ground Almonds that have considered suicide when the food processor is enuf.

If you make this recipe, make sure to grind the almonds as much as possible. My fear of over-processing the almonds to a paste left me with a coarser cake. Don’t make my mistake; you want finely ground almonds.
Other than that, the cake turned out all right. I found the cake to be tolerable at best, but some of my family members really enjoyed it. They said it was refreshing after scores of chocolate and lemon and yellow cakes. Personally, I think I’ll keep my cakes and my clementines separate but equal.

Clementine Cake
Adapted from Smitten Kitchen, who got it from Nigella Lawson

5 clementines (a little less than 1 pound)
6 eggs
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons (225 grams) sugar
2 1/3 cups (250 grams) ground almonds
1 heaping teaspoon baking powder

1½ cups of Powdered sugar for glaze

Put the clementines in a pot with cold water to cover, bring to the boil, and cook for 2 hours. Drain and, when cool, cut each clementine in half. Place clementines in processor and pulse until you have a smooth paste.

Preheat the oven to 375°F (190°C).

Butter and line an 8-inch springform pan with parchment paper. (If you don’t have a springform, use a regular pan and just line with buttered parchment paper—it worked fine that way for me)

Beat the eggs, and then add the sugar, almonds, and baking powder. Mix well, adding the clementines.

Pour the cake mixture into the prepared pan and bake for about 40 minutes, when a skewer will come out clean.

Remove from the oven and leave to cool in the pan on a rack. When the cake is cold, you can take it out of the pan and dust it with powdered sugar. Alternatively, you could make a glaze (powdered sugar and boiling water and a teensy bit of clementine juice) and drizzle it on top. Just sift sugar into a bowl and slowly add small amounts water (maybe a teaspoon or two at a time) until you get the right consistency. I did the glaze, and didn’t have a problem with that.

The cake was still moist when it was served three days later, so it holds up rather well. Just glaze it the day of.


P(r)esto!

December 30, 2009

Snow is overrated. As a kid you love it, but once you take school cancellations out of the equation, snow becomes a bit of a nuisance. So with nothing else to do, I decided to harvest Count Chocula, my basil plant, and make some pesto. With all the traveling I do over break, it just wasn’t feasible to take him with me. Seeing as I had spent all semester tending to his needs, I thought that this would make a perfect culinary capstone for the semester. So for my final dorm-cooking of the decade, I made pesto.


Note to self (and all other collegiate cooks), the cafeteria is a great place to get ingredients. I didn’t feel like buying some ingredients, so I just got them from the dining hall, Carmichael. The staff was more than willing to give me a teaspoon of white pepper from the kitchen. As for the walnuts… well, I took them from the salad bar. Technically, I don’t think that counts as stealing. At least that’s what I tell myself.
The recipe was a little too olive oily for my liking, so I’d just do it to taste if I were you. Test it after a half of a cup and add more bit by bit until you get the flavor you want. Other than that, the pesto was delish. We brought it to dinner and used it on the cafeteria pasta and pizza. Who wants a watery marinara when you’ve got fresh pesto? Our BYOP dinner couldn’t have gone any better. I used some of the leftovers for a turkey and cheese Panini. There are really no limits when it comes to pesto. Give it a go, see what you think.

Before

Basic Pesto (Adapted From Colorado College Cookbook)
½ cup pine nuts
½ cup walnuts
1 teaspoon coarse salt
½ teaspoon ground white pepper
1 tablespoon minced garlic
3 cups of loosely packed, fresh basil leaves
4 ounces Asiago Cheese, grated
2 ounces of Parmesan Cheese, grated
1 cup Olive Oil

In food processor, pulse first 6 ingredients until finely chopped.
Then add the two cheeses, and process until smooth.
While the machine running, gradually add the olive oil “in a slow steady stream.”
Once fully blended the pesto can be kept for up to one week in a sealed jar.

After


Snappy Sushi

December 18, 2009

Finals suck. They are truly the bane of my existence, the academic equivalent of a dementor’s kiss. Thanks to my tests, I have been unable to cook, exercise, or have any fun this past week. My only outlet—supporting the Beelzebubs on the show NBC’s The Singoff—pales in comparison to cooking/eating, my ultimate stress-reliever. Having completed my exams, I decided to let loose a little and hit the town.

My friend Lily suggested Snappy Sushi, an offbeat sushi spot in Davis Square. Let me preface this with a confession—I’d never ordered sushi before. I know a lot of people are like addicted to sushi, but not me. It’s not that I dislike sushi; in fact, the one or two times I’ve had it I kind of enjoyed it. I figured that tonight was the night to break loose and pop my sushi cherry.

Unconventional would be the best way to describe Snappy Sushi’s rolls. Snappy features “fancy rolls,” which are made with brown—not white—rice and contain different sorts of ingredients that what one would normally see in sushi (or so I’m told). I went with the flow since I lacked any preconceived notions about what sushi should be, but I imagine that Snappy’s methods could grate the nerves of sushi purists.


Lily served as my mentor, helping me decipher the myriad of options on the menu. While they had conventional fare, I went for a few of the more avant-garde alternatives—the Boston Lobster Roll (avocado, cucumber, and green leaf rolled together, and dressed with chopped lobster meat mixed with red onion and flying fish roe) and the Newbury Fashion Roll (eel over avocado, cream cheese, cucumber, and flying fish roe).


All of my nervousness over exams melted away as I savored the rich flavor of the Lobster Roll. It was served piping hot, a Godsend given the hypothermal weather outside. Maybe this is an ignorant suggestion, but I would’ve diced the cucumber in the roll, it was a little overwhelming to get one big piece. Other than that, I had no other issues. Since it was my first time eating “real” sushi, I have nothing to compare it to. I realize that the method and ingredients may not be legit, but fidelity can be overrated.

I have an 8-page paper due on Monday concerning Deconsolidation and Democratization in Venezuela and Mexico for my Latin American Poltics class. As thoughts of Hugo Chavez, the PRI, and Rafael Caldera swim through my mind, I can’t help but smother them with thoughts of lobster sushi.