November 9, 2008
The campaign field office has been cleaned out, the lawn signs have been taken down, and I’ve had a few days to reflect on the extraordinary occurrences of the past week. I suppose when you dive head first into a cause that you believe in with your entire being, the effects of its successes are magnified. The surfeit of joy was matched by the exuberant pride I felt in my country, my countrymen and the democratic process. It was truly an honor to participate in Barack Obama’s presidential campaign and those election night memories will stay with me forever.
One thing I was happy to turn the page on was the glut of convience and junk foods that are a hallmark of any campaign, from those ubiquitous boxes of Entenmenn’s doughnuts to the countless hoagies from Wawa. Food was calories in the most basic sense, something to fuel you as you knocked on hundreds of doors. But that part is over for me, thankfully, and I can get back to making food the way I like it.
I decided to make these brownies since I received the recipe on a card at Le Pain Quiotidien in Manhattan, where I lunched with my mother and sister-in-law on Friday. There were only 5 ingredients, all of which I had in my pantry. (One exception – I did not have pastry flour, but it can easily be made with a 1 : 2 ratio of all-purpose flour to cake flour).
These need to baked in cupcake papers since they are extremely crumbly and will fall apart when cut if you try to bake them in a traditional baking dish. They are rich and chocolaty, yet paradoxically light and airy. If you love a heavy dense brownie, you might not like these as much. However, if you simply love chocolate, you should give this recipe a try. It has a wonderful crunchy top and is very moist in the middle. We had this with a tall glass of organic milk (classically delicious), but I think it would be amazing warm with a scoop of vanilla bean ice cream.
Brownies (from Le Pain Quiotidien)
yields 20 brownies
9 oz. bittersweet chocolate (60-64% cacao)
1 C. + 2 Tbs. butter, cut into small pieces
5 eggs, lightly beaten
1 1/3 C. superfine sugar
3 Tbs. pastry flour
Roughly chop the chocolate into pieces. Transfer to a medium bowl and add the butter. Place bowl over a saucepan of simmering water until the two ingredients have melted. Mix well and transfer to a large bowl and set aside.
Preheat the oven to 325º. Sift the sugar and flour together, then stir into the chocolate. Add the eggs and mix well. Cover and let rest at room temperature for 30 minutes. The batter will thicken as it stands.
Line a muffin tin with cupcakes papers. Spoon 1/4 C. of the batter into the paper-lined cups. Bake 30 to 35 minutes. The brownies will still be moist when done. They will puff up and fall slightly as they cool.
September 18, 2008
If you haven’t already noticed, I’ve slowed down quite a bit here at A Beautiful Mosaic. I’ve decided to become very active in a political campaign and as a result, I won’t be blogging here as much. I plan to participate in the September and October Daring Bakers Challenges and perhaps a few other entries here and there. I promise I’ll be back in full force after November 4th!
August 6, 2008
The mercury is hovering above the 90 degree mark and the humidity is palpable. Ahhh, time for … a steaming bowl of chicken soup? Yes, Koreans eat a special chicken ginseng soup on the hottest days of the summer, which counterintuitively is believed to cool and rejuvenate the body. According to tradition, sam gae tang replenishes the body of essential nutrients while sweating out the toxins. So in sweltering weather, the hotter the soup, the better. (We’re an ornery people).
I like to eat sam gae tang both in the winter and the summer, especially if I feel a cold coming on. And when they’re sick, both my husband and children can only palate a bowl of chicken soup to nurse them through a cold – it’s Korean penicillin and cold-eeze, all rolled into one.
To be honest, I never cook sam gae tang with the ginseng root since it is commonly believed that ginseng is potentially harmful to young children or to people with hypertension. While neither I nor my husband have high blood pressure, my mother does and never uses it in any of her cooking, and consequently, neither do I. I did include some in this batch since I thought it was only proper as the name of the soup is “chicken ginseng soup.”
Precooked whole chestnuts may be hard to come by in some areas, but try your local Asian market. I get a vacuum sealed packet (back of above photo) for $.99.
Korean Chicken Ginseng Soup (Sam Gae Tang)
3 Cornish game hens, rinsed and patted dry
1 1/2 C. glutinous sweet rice, rinsed and soaked in water for an hour (chap ssal)
8 whole cloves of garlic, peeled
8 dried jujube red dates
8 precooked or dried chestnuts
2 fresh or dried ginseng root
salt and pepper
6 round coffee filters
2 scallions, sliced
Place about 1/4 C. of pre-soaked glutinous sweet rice in a coffee filter, being careful to leave room as it will expand during cooking.
Place one garlic clove, jujube date, and chestnut inside the Cornish game hen’s cavity.
Follow with a bag of glutinous sweet rice.
Close the cavity up with a toothpick.
Place stuffed hens, ginseng, remaining garlic, jujube dates, chestnuts, 3 remaining packets of sweet rice and enough water to cover the hens in a large stock pot. Bring to a boil and skim off fat and foam. Lower to low heat, cover and simmer for about 1 1/2 hours.
Season the broth lightly with salt and discard the ginseng. Ladle the soup into large bowls, including a whole chicken, jujube, garlic, chestnuts and an extra packet of the cooked sweet rice per bowl. Garnish with sliced scallions. Serve with salt and pepper mixed in a small bowl on the side so you can dip the chicken directly into the seasonings. Kim chi is also a must. (An empty bowl for the skin, bones, date pits and coffee filters is helpful).
I hope you give this soup a try and if you’re not up for chicken soup in the summer, give it a whirl this winter. I know you’ll love it.
August 3, 2008
I am still savoring our week-long vacation at the beach, which sadly ended yesterday. The cool ocean breeze, the warm sand between your toes, the sound of crashing waves and crying sea gulls, the jangling bells of the ice cream truck are all hallmarks of our annual trip to the Jersey shore. A house by the beach also means a constant flow of friends and family, and we are always delighted to play host. While eating out is one of the expected benefits of a vacation, cooking and eating locally caught crabs on the patio is one family tradition we look forward to every summer.
Atlantic Blue crab is a deliciously frustrating type of food since such a small percentage if its weight is meat. The large amount of work to amass the smallest amount of succulent crab meat is enough to give anyone pause. Add the drippy mess of shells, cartilage, and crab juice and you have pretty much assured that the vast majority of the population sadly will never try eating whole crabs.
Blue crabs is something I only eat in the privacy of my own home with family, outdoors with a big table covered in newspaper, wearing old clothes with my rings and watch safely tucked away in my jewelry box (trust me, you don’t want your watch smelling like crabs). Loosen your pants and turn on the patio light – you’re going to be still digging for crab meat well after the sun sets. Add some cole slaw, corn, potatoes, cold beer and large box of wet wipes and you’ve got the makings for a great crab night.
There are two ways to cook crabs, boiling or steaming. I like to steam – I think it keeps the meat more tender and delicate than boiling. Some refrigerate the crabs before cooking to sedate them. I never do since I want to see lively crabs (to ensure they are still alive) before they go into the pot.
How to Cook Blue Crabs:
Live blue crabs (4-6 crabs/person)
Old Bay Seasoning
Fill a very large steamer pot with 2 inches of water. Add about 1/2 – 1 C. vinegar to the water. Place live crabs on top of the steamer insert, sprinkling each layer with Old Bay seasoning. Cover, bring to a boil and cook until the shell is bright red (about 10 minutes).
To eat: Take off the large outer shell by pulling the arrow-shaped “pulltab” on the belly and removing the top shell. Tear off the fern-like gills and crack the inner body in half. The sweetest meat is in the body – some eat the cartilage, I do not. Use a nut-cracker or crab hammer to open the claws – chopsticks are very handy for getting the meat out.
July 22, 2008
photo by lilxerica on Flickr
Summers seemed to last so much longer when I was a child. There were books to read, bikes to ride, creeks to explore, and pools to swim in. I didn’t watch television (yes silly, television was invented when I was a child); in fact, I rarely was ever home during the day in the summertime (I am sure the lack of central air conditioning was a contributing factor). I was on my bike playing bike tag on carless streets, at the playground sliding down scorching hot metal slides or at the pool.
The pool was a unusually large community pool, or it just seems large in my memory. Nothing can take me back to age ten faster than a whiff of coconut suntan oil and the vision of leathery septuagenarians (or at least appeared to be septuagenarians) smoking cigarettes on woven plastic chaises sunning themselves well before the term sunscreen was even part of the lexicon. It was always a happy day when my mother would give my sister and I each a quarter to buy an ice cream or, oh the joy!, a dollar bill to buy french fries and a fountain drink.
Since I spent so much time there as a child, there are certain foods and candies I will always associate with the pool. Airheads, Fun Dip (formerly known as Lik-M-Aid), Swedish Fish – they might as well be time machines. And eating fries in that red checked paper bucket drizzled with ketchup from the red plastic squeeze bottle? Pull up a pair of striped athletic socks and play Foreigner’s “Hot Blooded” on a crackly transistor radio – it’s 1979 all over again.
What is it about sitting in a wet swim suit that makes the fries tastier and the hot dogs juicier? Is it the chlorine that sharpens your palette? Or is it simply the increased physical activity that whets the appetite to appreciate any sustenance? Or perhaps it’s the freedom of going to the snack bar with money clutched in your hand and ordering food like a grown up? Maybe it’s a combination of all of those things, but I do know that the smell of cooking oil and chlorine makes my stomach growl no matter what age I am.
We decided to celebrate my son’s fifth birthday at our swim club and naturally, the menu selection was of great importance to me. If you have not been a member of the 5 year old birthday party circuit, it consists of three things- pizza, pizza and more pizza (and a little cake thrown in). Now we love pizza every now and again, but frankly, the pool and pizza … it just doesn’t go together like a burger and fries do. At any rate, we settled on burgers, dogs and fries as the main fare catered by the pool snack bar. And yes, the little red and white gingham paper baskets are included.
July 11, 2008
photo by v. daddi
A photo of me, talking about … me?
I admit it - for a food blogger, I do not spend nearly enough time immersing myself into the food blogosphere as I should. Which is why I was so woefully ignorant when Mrs. Ergul ”tagged” me in a comment last week. (I thought “tag” was another way of say ”link.”) I had occasionally seen the word on various blogs, but never read enough to actually discover what it entailed. *blush* A meme is an idea or practice that is spread from one person to another and this game of tag is a most diverting way to get to know bloggers.
- Link to the person who tagged you.
- Post the rules on the blog.
- Write six random things about yourself.
- Tag six people at the end of your post.
- Let each person know they have been tagged by leaving a comment on their blog.
- Let the tagger know when your entry is up.
Ok, so six random things about me:
1. I am a horrible singer and if I had three wishes granted to me, having a beautiful singing voice would top the list.
2. I love pie. More than cookies. More than cake. And just slightly more than chocolate.
3. My very first job was as a produce stand cashier in the Reading Terminal Market in Philadelphia at the ripe old age of 14. I became a real pro at bagging melons and to this day, I can distinguish almost all varieties of apples, pears, lettuces, herbs, mushrooms, and peppers.
Photo by 09traveler on Flickr
4. Sometimes, when I look at my children, my toes tingle with happiness.
5. I have a sweatshirt I bought 21 years ago in my closet (and I still wear it).
6. My guiltiest pleasure? Reading a trashy historical romance novel while eating salt and vinegar potato chips.
June 18, 2008
Ever since I received my June issue of Bon Appétit over a month ago, I’ve been waiting impatiently for sour cherries to come in season. Featured on the front cover, that Circean slice of lattice top sour cherry pie has been mocking me for weeks. Normally ready for picking at the end of June in this area, montmorency sour cherries have become ripe earlier and earlier, (no) thanks to global warming trends. Montmorency cherries are bright red, not to be confused with dark Morello sour cherries, which ripen later in the summer.
Montmorency sour cherries are ready to be picked.
I am extremely fortunate to have wonderful neighbors with not one but two sour cherry trees in their backyard and an open invitation to help myself to their veritable garden of eden along with enormous and prolific fig, blueberry, blackberry and quince bushes. Thankfully, they’re always bemusedly tolerant when they discover my kids with cherry or blueberry stained shirts in their backyard. Pies, jams and other baked goodies made with their fruit are always the perfect apology.
Picked with permission.
Sour cherries are perfect for baking since they retain their firmness better than sweet cherries and inherently have that needed tartness for successful pie filling. Sadly, sour cherries are hard to come by in even farmer’s markets since these small soft cherries bruise easily and do not travel well.
Pitting cherries can be, well, the pits. Unfortunately, with cherries these small, you need to pit a subtantial number of cherries for any given recipe. You do not need a fancy cherry pitter – these are really just too soft for it. A small metal paper clip shaped into a “j” shape will do the trick. Simply press the “j hook” into the top and scoop (or squeeze) out the pit. Works like a charm.
This recipe has a perfectly flaky crust and just the right amount of sugar for these tart cherries. It truly is a classic recipe, with only the most basic of ingredients. I think you’ll like it.
Classic Lattice Top Sour Cherry Pie (from Bon Appétit)
2 1/2 cups unbleached all purpose flour
1 tablespoon sugar
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup (2 sticks) chilled unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
5 tablespoons (or more) ice water
1 cup plus 1 tablespoon sugar
3 tablespoons cornstarch
1/4 teaspoon salt
5 cups whole pitted sour cherries or dark sweet cherries (about 2 pounds whole unpitted cherries)
1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice (if using sour cherries) or 3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice (if using dark sweet cherries)
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 tablespoons (1/4 stick) unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
1 tablespoon milk
Whisk flour, sugar, and salt in large bowl to blend. Add butter and rub in with fingertips until small pea-size clumps form. Add 5 tablespoons ice water; mix lightly with fork until dough holds together when small pieces are pressed between fingertips, adding more water by teaspoonfuls if dough is dry. Gather dough together; divide into 2 pieces. Form each piece into ball, then flatten into disk and wrap in plastic. Refrigerate at least 30 minutes. Can be made 2 days ahead. Keep chilled. Let dough soften slightly before rolling out.
Position rack in lower third of oven and preheat to 425°F. Whisk 1 cup sugar, cornstarch, and salt in medium bowl to blend. Stir in cherries, lemon juice, and vanilla; set aside.
Pie crust/pizza dough lifter is a must-have for anyone who loves to bake pies.
Roll out 1 dough disk on floured surface to 12-inch round. Transfer to 9-inch glass pie dish. Trim dough overhang to 1/2 inch. Roll out second dough disk on floured surface to 12-inch round. Using large knife or pastry wheel with fluted edge, cut ten 3/4-inch-wide strips from dough round.
Transfer filling to dough-lined dish, mounding slightly in center. Dot with butter. Arrange dough strips atop filling, forming lattice; trim dough strip overhang to 1/2 inch.
Fold bottom crust up over ends of strips and crimp edges to seal. Brush lattice crust (not edges) with milk. Sprinkle lattice with remaining 1 tablespoon sugar.
Place pie on rimmed baking sheet and bake 15 minutes. Reduce oven temperature to 375°F. Bake pie until filling is bubbling and crust is golden brown, covering edges with foil collar if browning too quickly, about 50 minutes to 1 hour longer. Transfer pie to rack and cool completely.
Serve with vanilla ice cream or just by itself.
June 16, 2008
Almost a month ago, I embarked on a culinary journey that would make most wise bakers give pause. A crusty loaf of French sourdough seems simple enough, right? It calls for no yeast – how hard could it be? As jealously insecure as a fourth wife whose husband just hired a 20 year old former Playmate as his new secretary, a sourdough starter is demanding, insisting you look at it rise and carefully watch for it to fall. You must then refresh the dough, kneading in new flour to the sticky mess, only to have to repeat the ritual two days later. This process lasts longer than most Hollywood marriages and by the time you graduate on to the actual bread making, you already intimately aquainted its tempermental nature.
Which is exactly why I knew deep down that this was not going to work out. I should have gone with my instinct and drawn up the pre-nup papers since I knew I wasn’t ever going to make my planned grilled paninis with it. But just like all those celebrities who still tie the knot even though we all know how it’s going to end, I just closed my eyes and plunged in.
I’ll spare you the gory details of how horribly my sourdough bread turned out, but in the end I was stuck with a huge loaf of partially risen, dense as brick bread. Throwing out still edible bread just went against everything I was taught (not to mention the three weeks I already invested in it). What to do…
Three weeks of my life I’ll never get back.
6 large eggs, lightly beaten
1 1/2 C. sugar
4 C. milk
1 C. heavy cream
1 Tbs. vanilla extract
1 1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
1 (1 pound) loaf bread, cut into 1 inch cubes (about 10 C.)
1/2 C. golden raisins
1/4 C. almond slivers
Preheat oven to 300 º F.
In a medium bowl, whisk eggs and sugar together. Add milk, heavy cream, vanilla and cinnamon. Whisk until smooth. Arrange bread cubes in a 9 x 13 x 2 baking dish and top with golden raisins and almond slivers. Cover with the milk mixture, allowing the bread to become completely saturated.
Bake for one hour, until lightly brown.
Bread pudding happens to be a favorite of mine (anything remotely custard-like in it makes me weak in the knees), the yardstick by which I measure the quality of a diner (dessert is often included with dinner, and bread pudding is almost always an option). I’ve tasted many bread puddings in this state known for its diners, and this bread pudding recipe is a keeper.
I guess the sourdough fiasco didn’t end too badly.