July 31, 2012

Chocolate Bourbon Creme Brulee

A month or so ago, I got an email from Dianna, a former colleague, asking if I'd consider a personal chef gig...she wanted to make a fabulous birthday dinner for her husband Jim. Of course, I said I absolutely would do that! 

The menu we designed featured some of Jim's favorite foods & flavors:

Salumi & Cheeses from Salume Beddu 
Lemony, Garlicky Kale Salad with Parmesan Crisps 
Coffee & Chili-Rubbed Ribeye Steaks
Pommes Dauphinoise
Creamed Summer Corn with Lime
Vanilla & Chocolate Bourbon Creme Brulee

Dianna mentioned that Jim's favorite dessert is creme brulee, so I suggested a bourbon creme brulee to fancy things up. I decided to make half of them chocolate because Dianna doesn't like traditional custards. In fact, she commented that if she liked this recipe, it would be the first creme brulee she's ever liked! 

The pressure was on.

However, everything turned out great. I felt comfortable & relaxed (as opposed to stressed & panicky). Dianna & Jim liked their meal, and I think they learned a little bit about cooking (since they were sitting around the kitchen island chatting with me and watching as I cooked). But, the best part was that Dianna ate ALL of her creme brulee! Success!
Chocolate Bourbon Creme Brulee
Thanks to the birthday boy Jim Rockwell for taking the photo.

9 large egg yolks
1/2 cup sugar
3 tablespoons bourbon
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 1/2 cups heavy cream
3 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped *
  • Preheat the oven to 350°F. Place six 3/4-cup souffle dishes or creme brulee cups in large roasting pan.
  • Whisk the egg yolks, sugar, bourbon & vanilla extract in a large bowl to blend. 
  • Bring the cream to boil in heavy medium saucepan. Gradually & slowly whisk the hot cream into the egg yolk mixture.
  • Whisk the chocolate into the warm cream mixture. Ladle into the souffle dishes.
  • Pour enough hot water into the roasting pan to come halfway up the sides of the dishes. 
  • Bake the custards until just set in center, about 30 minutes. Remove from water and cool completely. Cover &refrigerate at least 6 hours before topping with sugar & melting with a brulee torch or under a broiler. (Custards can be prepared up to 2 days ahead & kept covered in the refrigerator.)
* NOTE: To make the vanilla version, just leave out the chocolate.

July 21, 2012

Buttermilk Panna Cotta with Red Berries in Hibiscus Syrup

This afternoon, I met pastry chef Gale Gand at a cooking demonstration & book signing. She is shorter than I imagined. She talks a lot and is very funny & down-to-earth.

She told stories of cooking in her Chicago restaurant Tru, being on the Food Network, working with other famous chefs, feeding her family, teaching cooking classes at Elawa Farm in Lake Forest, IL, writing cookbooks, making root beer, sharing family recipes like her mother-in-law's ricotta doughnuts & her grandmother's pear streusel coffee cake, and preparing dinners for celebrities & dignitaries like the president of China. She showed off her madeleine pan that once belonged to Julia Child and her two James Beard awards.

I ate at Tru about 10 years ago. It was the first really fancy meal I'd eaten. I ordered an 8-course tasting menu; it was the first time I'd tried foie gras, caviar, venison, French cheese, saffron. It was the best, and most expensive, dining experience I've ever had. And, it was worth every penny. Looking back, I think it was that one meal that turned me on to good food & wanting to learn more cooking.

At today's class, Gale shared her stories and cooking tips (like fold whipped cream into risotto to lighten it) while she demonstrated a simple brunch menu (to promote her brunch cookbook) that consisted of a sparkling mango & lime cocktail, eggs poached in a spicy tomato sauce, chocolate madeleines, and buttermilk panna cotta with red berries in hibiscus syrup. 

I loved the eggs (which I plan to make for breakfast tomorrow with some duck eggs that I bought at the farmers market this morning), but my favorite dish was the panna cotta...tart from the buttermilk and sweet from the berries. Cold. Creamy. Perfect.

Buttermilk Panna Cotta with Red Berries in Hibiscus Syrup
Recipe by Gale Gand

July 16, 2012

Strawberry Fool

I have an unnatural craving for strawberry desserts. I bookmark and save all kinds of strawberry recipes...cakes, pies, ice creams, cookies...with the plan to try them all during the summer. The thing is, every dessert I make with strawberries doesn't satisfy my craving.

I'm always looking for a light, slightly sweet dessert that captures the essence of ripe summer berries. Recently, I made roasted balsamic strawberry ice cream. Sounds great, right? However, I didn't follow the recipe closely enough and it didn't have that WOW! BERRIES! taste I was hoping for.

My go-to strawberrilicous dessert is strawberry shortcake, but sometimes that's a little too heavy...particularly on these hot-as-balls summer days. No way am I turning on my oven to make shortcakes these days.

I finally made a "fool" tonight, an old-fashioned English dessert (I think I've bookmarked, saved, or pinned every fool recipe I've ever come across), and it was the PERFECT strawberry dessert. Exactly what I've been craving...light, fluffy, just a tad sweet, full of ripe berry flavor. And super easy to make.

This is so good that I ate the entire batch myself. And I'm not at all ashamed.

Strawberry Fool
recipe slighted adapted from Mark Bittman

1 pint strawberries
1/4 cup granulated sugar, or to taste (depending on how sweet your berries are)
1 cup heavy cream
2 tablespoons powdered sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • Hull the strawberries, then wash them and chop into 1/4-inch-thick pieces. Toss with the granulated sugar & wait 10 minutes, stirring occasionally, until they give up their juices. 
  • Place half the strawberries & the juice in a blender & purée. Pour purée back into the bowl with chopped strawberries. 
  • Whip the cream with the powdered sugar & vanilla until cream is stiff and holds peaks easily.
  • Fold berries and cream together & serve immediately or refrigerate for up to two hours. 

July 11, 2012

Tomato Bruschetta Pasta

I've been on summer break since the end of May. A non-teacher friend of mine recently asked me, "What do you DO all day?"

Well, I try not to do too much. I AM on vacation, after all.

But, really, I've been doing a lot...I usually work a few days a week. When I'm home, I try to clean something every day (mop floor, clean windows, etc). I'm keeping up with dishes & laundry around the house as well (something that I don't do very well during the school year when I'm drowning in essays to be graded). I just redid my home office (moved rooms, painted, got new bookshelves & curtains), cleaned out the extra bedroom, & took out a rug in my bedroom. I'm getting new curtains for a couple other rooms this month as well.

Doesn't that all sound totally glamorous and exciting?

Overall, I'm trying to stay fairly productive at home...while maintaining a leisurely "I'm on summer break" attitude...which includes tons of reading. I'm on my sixth book of the summer.

And I've been cooking a lot...eating lots of veggies from the farmers market, baking fruit pies, and making meals to take to my boyfriend's house.

Here is a light pasta dish that features a no-cook sauce, which I made for dinner during our recent 100+ degree weather. It's a perfect way to use garden-fresh tomatoes, basil, and garlic.

Tomato Bruschetta Pasta

July 1, 2012

No-Bake Cherry Mascarpone Tart

In case you haven't heard, it's damn hot in St. Louis. Lots of people are posting pics like this on Facebook & Twitter:

For past few days temperatures have reached over 100, with a high of 108 one day. It's REAL DAMN HOT, y'all. And there's no end in sight right now. While some people are tired of others complaining, you have to realize that this kind of heat is just NOT NORMAL for St. Louis in late June/early July. Apparently, though, it's hot everywhere these days:

pic from The Weather Channel

While it's sweltering outside, most of us don't want to spend any amount of time over a hot stove or turn on the oven. So, here is an easy no-bake dessert that is quite impressive-looking, perfect for July 4th parties this week.

I used some sour cherries leftover from the pie I made a couple weeks ago, but you could make this same recipe with any kind of fruit....strawberries, blueberries, blackberries, sliced peaches. You can also use a different cookie for the crust to go with the fruit you choose...a crunchy oatmeal cookie with berries or gingersnaps with peaches.

Cherry Mascarpone Tart

 recipe adapted from Nigel Slater's The Kitchen Diaries