Sunday, July 27, 2008

Creme Brulee--Fancy Word for 'Not Chocolate'

Generally, I'm not a fan of creme brulee as it divides my attention from true dessert: chocolate. But, I find that perhaps I need to adopt a more sophisticated approach to dessert and allow for all types, including custards, bread puddings, fruit tarts, and so on. In truth, I never stray from a decadent chocolate cake or fudgy brownie when I peruse any dessert menu, but I am slowly beginning to appreciate dessert in another medium.

That is why I'm posting this recipe. Not only did I once believe that creme brulee was a fancy word for 'not chocolate', I also didn't think it was anything special. Yet, I found myself positively enjoying this wonderful custard with the burnt sugar on top. I hope you will too.

Creme Brulee
2 cups heavy cream
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3 egg yolks
pinch of salt
1/4 cup sugar
4 tablespoons fine sugar

Preheat oven to 300F. Have a pot of boiling water ready. Add the cream to a heavy saucepan over medium-low heat. Warm the cream until bubbles start to form around the edges of the pan and steam begins to rise from the surface. Remove from the heat, add the vanilla extract, and set aside to steep, about 15 minutes.
In a large bowl, whisk together the egg yolks, salt and the 1/4 cup sugar until smooth and blended. Gradually add the cream to the egg mixture, whisking until blended. Pour the custard through a fine-mesh sieve set over a bowl. Divide the custard among four 5- or 6-oz. ramekins and place the ramekins in a baking pan. Add boiling water to fill the pan halfway up the sides of the ramekins. Cover the pan loosely with aluminum foil and bake until the custard is just set around the edges, 35 to 40 minutes.
Transfer the ramekins to a wire rack and let cool to room temperature. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 4 hours or up to 3 days.

Just before serving, sprinkle 1 Tbs. of the sugar evenly over each custard. Using a kitchen torch, melt the sugar. Serve immediately.

Vienna Waits for You!

The first Saturday I spent in Vienna, I made a wonderful discovery. Our program director took us to the Naschmarkt, which was essentially a large, semi-permanent farmers' market. Among all the purveyors of stinky, foreign cheeses and pungent, marinated olives, I found a treasure: the Doner kebab. Greatly influenced by Turkish flavors and cultures, Austria is certainly the place for such a meal. But in America, you probably only find them in New York.
You may have heard of kabobs, but these are nothing like that. First off, they're pronounced 'kay-bop', but I don't know if that was the German or the Turkish talking. Second, the meat is cooked on a skewer, but it isn't served that way at all. The meat is cooked on a rotating spit (which is where American gyro comes from), and then it is shaved off and paired with lettuce, tomato, onions, and a fabulous sauce in pita bread. Yum!
Sounds pretty standard, but if I only could describe to you how far from prosaic this sandwich actually is. The meat is generally lamb, but for us Americans, chicken is often substituted. The meat alone is fabulous, which its rich and juicy flavor. Skipping past the vegetables, the sauce is fabulous. I believe it is a type of tzatziki sauce, but I've never been able to replicate it. Finally, the bread they stuffed this into was unlike any pita bread I've ever had. It seemed a lot closer to focaccia bread, which I also discovered for the first time at the Naschmarkt.

I recently tried to recreate this wonder in my own kitchen, but I failed to do it justice. Maybe one day I'll visit my beloved Vienna once more and reunite with my friends at the Naschmarkt.
grilled or pan fried meat, sliced
shredded lettuce
sliced tomato
sliced onion
pita bread
tzatsiki sauce

1 8 oz. container plain yogurt
1 cucumber; peeled, seeded, and diced
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/4 lemon, juiced
salt and pepper
1 1/2 teaspoons fresh dill, chopped
1 1/2 cloves garlic, peeled

In a food processor or blender, combine yogurt, cucumber, olive oil, lemon juice, salt, pepper, dill and garlic. Process until well-combined. Transfer to a separate dish, cover and refrigerate for at least one hour for best flavor.

Stay tuned for some true Viennese cuisine: Wiener schnitzel, apfelstrudel, and Sachertorte!

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Strawberry Cream Cookies

While strawberries are in season, this is a great way to use them. The creamy filling is refreshing, and the cookies themselves are sweet and snappy. These are small cookies, so don't be fooled by the picture.

Strawberry Cream cookies
4 ounces cream cheese, softened
1/4 cup sugar
2 tablespoons seedless strawberry jam
1/4 cup cool whip

1/2 cup sugar
1/3 cup flour
2 egg whites
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup butter, melted and cooled
1/2 cup chopped strawberries

For filling, in a small mixing bowl, combine cream cheese, sugar and jam until blended. Fold in cool whip. Chill.

In a bowl, whisk the sugar, flour, egg whites, vanilla and salt until smooth. Whisk in butter until blended. Line baking sheets with parchment paper. Preparing four cookies at a time, drop batter by 1 1/2 teaspoonfuls 4 in. apart onto prepared pan. Bake at 400 for 5-8 minutes or until edges are browned.

Immediately remove one cookie at a time from parchment and form into a tube around a greased clean round wooden clothespin. Press lightly to seal; hold until set, about 20 seconds. Remove cookie from clothespin; place on waxed paper to cool. Continue with remaining cookies.
Just before serving, pipe or spoon filling into cookie shells. Dip end of each cookie into strawberries.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Dairy Products: Make Your Own!

As much as I love store-bought ice cream (especially the loaded Coldstone variety), there's nothing more simple and tasty as homemade ice cream. With a basic ice cream maker (hand-crank or electric) and a few simple ingredients, you're on your way to a fabulously, easy dessert on a hot summer day. That's what made my 4th of July!
I could focus on that, but I think you've been there and done that. So, how about homemade yogurt! All you have to do is grow your own bacteria culture using the live cultures in store-bought yogurt. The trick is to keep the culture in a warm, dark environment so that it will grow. (Much like yeast.) A yogurt maker would probably be easiest, but let's face it--we're not all going to go buy yet another single-use, low frequency appliance.
Homemade Yogurt

1 quart whole or 2 percent milk
1-2 tablespoons yogurt as a starter

Warm up the milk in a saucepan over medium-low heat until bubbles appear round the edge and steam rises from the surface. Pour the warm milk into a large bowl to cool until the temperature reaches 110 to 115 degrees.

Put the starter in a small bowl, add some of the heated milk, and stir until well blended. Return the mixture to the large bowl, a third at a time, making sure to stir and blend well after each addition. Cover with a heavy towel and keep in a warm place 6 to 8 hours or overnight. You could put it in the oven with a saucepan of hot water to help raise the temperature.

When set, cover the bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 8 hours before serving. If thicker yogurt is desired, empty chilled yogurt in a muslin bag or cheesecloth, suspend over a bowl, and drain.

Yes, it really is that simple. You could (and should) add fresh fruit, jam, granola, honey, wheat germ, you name it! This is a fabulously simple and healthy snack, and real yogurt with live cultures works wonders on your digestive tract. Plus, you can make it without all the extra sugars and preservatives that come with store-bought yogurt.