Saturday, March 27, 2010

Spiral of Citrus

Another dessert takes center stage at Daring Baker's. The 2010 March Daring Baker's challenge was hosted by Jennifer of Chocolate Shavings. She chose Orange Tian as the challenge for this month, a dessert based on a recipe from Alain Ducasse's Cooking School in Paris.

The tian is a layered dessert: a crispy crust (pate sablee), a layer of homemade orange marmalade spread over the crust, a whipped cream firmed up with some gelatine and flavored with a little of the orange marmalade, and finally, a layer of citrus sections - all topped with an orange caramel drizzle. The basic recipe called for oranges as the citrus; however, we were free to try other things. I used Meyer lemons, oranges, blood oranges, tangerines, limes and kumquats.

I had a few issues. It is tough to write a recipe which covers all the ground and anticipates questions. I did the caramel twice. Dry sugar caramel presents challenges for me - I never get it right. So I tried again, after checking "Caramel," my favorite caramel reference cookbook, and added some of the orange juice to the sugar at the beginning, along with a drop of corn syrup, which helps with the caramelization. That seemed to work, although when I added the rest of the orange juice, it seemed like way too much. While it did cook down and become more syrupy, it wasn't as thick as I would have preferred.

When I made the pate sablee, I cut out a piece that should have been the size of the mold I was using to construct the dessert. It may have spread a little or I misjudged somehow, but it was slightly too big, so it had cracks - but that's our little secret because the pate was on the bottom and not visible!

And unmolding a dessert, even a frozen dessert, is always a little scary. I really wanted this to look pretty, so I held my breath the whole time. That works, doesn't it? What also works, although this was a bit accidental, is that I used a springform pan for my mold. After I ran a knife around the tian, I carefully opened the springform and took it off before turning my tian right side up. Perfect!

Here is a slice of the tian with the whipped cream and orange marmalade filling. This dessert was a bit fragile. It was fine when it was frozen, but as it warmed up, the pastry softened a bit and the juices started dripping out of the citrus. Best kept refrigerated until consumed - and best eaten quickly, which was not a problem!

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Risotto Splendido!

I love risotto. Traditional risotto with lots of parmesan is fine with me, but there are lots of opportunities to vary the recipe with different stocks, wines, and condimenti, or additional ingredients.

The 2010 March Daring Cooks challenge was hosted by Eleanor of Melbournefoodgeek and Jess of Jessthebaker. They chose to challenge Daring Cooks to make risotto. The various components of their challenge recipe are based on input from the Australian Masterchef cookbook and the cookbook Moorish by Greg Malouf.

We were required to make the stock and risotto base (wine, rice oil, butter and cheese) but could choose any variation we wanted for the actual risotto.

I chose a salmon risotto. Theoretically, I should have made a fish stock, but I'm not a big fish stock fan. I recently made a hot and sour Thai prawn soup which used prawn shells in the stock. That worked pretty well, giving a seafood flavor without overwhelming anything. I didn't use Asian spices, since there was nothing remotely Asian about this dish, but the technique of adding the prawn shells and then straining them out creates a stock that works pretty well.

Fortunately, I was able to use fresh wild Alaskan king salmon, which is rich, flavorful and fatty. I cut the salmon into very small, almost slivery pieces. I also used chopped watercress to add some green to the dish. The rest of the condimenti included lemon juice and half and half - but no cheese, since cheese and fish do NOT go together in Italian cooking.

This photo is of my risotto cooking in my terra cotta Italian risotto pan!!

Risotto is really very straightforward, but does require constant attention. Lots of stirring, slow addition of 1/2 cups of stock, and patience until the rice absorbs enough of the stock to be tender but not gummy. At the very end, I added the slivers of salmon, the watercress, the lemon juice and the cream, stirred with some enthusiasm and by the time I took the picture, the salmon was cooked perfectly and the watercress had softened. This was really, really good and I will definitely make this variation again.

I don't usually post the actual recipe, but in case you are interested:

2 T butter
1 T olive oil
Finely minced onion (I used about 1/2 cup)
4-6 cups stock (fish, prawn (which I prefer), or chicken) - heat to simmer
1/2 cup white wine (I used an Oregon Pinot Grigio)
1 1/2 cups carnaroli rice (could use arborio or vialone nano)
6 ounces salmon, cut into very small flakey pieces without skin or small bones(!)
1 cup chopped watercress
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1/2 cup half-and-half

Melt the butter with oil. Add onion and cook until the onion is tender but not brown. Add rice and stir well until coated with butter/oil. Add wine and stir until absorbed. Add 1/2 cup simmering stock and stir until nearly absorbed. Continue adding stock 1/2 cup at a time until the rice is tender but still has shape. This will take approximately 20 minutes but taste - don't watch the clock! When the rice is tender, add salmon, watercress, lemon juice and cream and stir vigorously. The salmon should cook in the heat of the risotto because it has been cut into such slender pieces. Add salt to taste (depends on how salty your stock was) and serve immediately! Buon Appetito!

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Cooking But Not Telling

I have been doing a lot of cooking lately - mostly new things - but in my hurry to get dinner on the table, I haven't taken pictures or made notes. I can tell you what I made because I am anal and have lists of every dinner I have cooked for the past several years - don't ask me why. Each week, I plan the dinners, make the grocery list and locate the recipes I need. Sometimes things change if I run short of time or what seemed like a good idea on Sunday is simply out of the question on Thursday, but in general, I know what is planned and I do it. This is so different from when the kids were little and I worked. Every night I came home and just stared in the refrigerator, willing an inspiration to spring out at me. If I had done this kind of planning then, my life would have been so much simpler and we would have eaten so much better.

This week we had lasagna with Caesar salad and chocolate caramel mousse on Sunday. Turned out it was an Oscar meal because I had forgotten about the Oscars when I asked Sarah and Ron to join us (it was going to be a very BIG lasagna). I used a lasagna recipe by J. Kenji Lopez-Alt who writes for "Serious Eats," one of my favorite food blogs. He suggested making the ricotta but I was able to find a whole milk ricotta with no weird stuff in it, so I used that. The Caesar salad has a dressing I do routinely, which includes anchovies, lemon juice, an egg yolk, lots of Parmesan, garlic, Dijon, Worchestershire and Tabasco, blended with a good Italian extra virgin olive oil. I have no patience with bland Caesar salad dressings - they need that zing! And the mousse is so simple - Fran's caramel sauce with some Fran's chocolate sauce blended in, a little Amaretto and a cup of whipping cream whipped to stiff peaks and folded in. Takes all of 10 minutes and tastes so good!

Monday I made hot and sour soup and some really tasty little pork/shrimp meatballs which were eaten with a spicy dipping sauce and daikon and carrots, wrapped in lettuce. Very good. The soup was OK but I think it could use some tweaking. The meatballs will be done again.

Tonight we had salmon glazed with pomegranate molasses. The salmon was seared in a frying pan until quite brown on one side, flipped, brushed with the molasses, and put in the 400 degree oven for about 5 minutes. It was perfectly done and had a really appealing flavor. I made a butter lettuce, bacon, and tomato salad with homemade croutons and buttermilk dressing. This salad is also good with avocado and really makes a meal in itself when the avocado is added. Hmmm. Could probably throw chicken or salmon into the salad and have a one dish meal. Have to think about that...

Bob is gone most of the rest of this week, so the eating will be less interesting. I tend to make something I like when he's gone and then just eat it until I finish it. Not sure what I will do this week, but it will be something simple. I have several books to read and I've been trying to get 10,000 steps a day in, so the non-cooking time will be used in other ways.

Next post will be the March Daring Cooks challenge later this week. It was a success, so stay tuned!