Friday, August 8, 2014

Bittersweet Chocolate Sorbet

When I was much younger, I backpacked through Europe for a few months.  I had no itinerary and was as free as the wind. Ah, those were the days! I remember making a quick decision to go to Belgium for their renowned chocolates. My taste buds were jolted! This was the best chocolate I've ever had.  Rich and creamy and tasting so fresh. Even the cheap supermarket Belgium chocolate bars were far better than anything I tasted back in the United States. I loaded my backpack with about a dozen Belgium chocolate bars to bring back to the US.  I wanted all my friends to share in this amazing experience.  Unfortunately, I don't think any bar made it on my plane ride back. But I always consider Belgium chocolate as the best you can buy.

Recently a friend who works at the United Nations told me of his office mates returning from trips to Russia with loads of dark bittersweet chocolates.  He scoffed at Belgium chocolate and said they were too creamy and milky. I was interested and had to try some...

Coincidentally, I live by a small Russian deli and I rarely go inside this place. In New York City, there are hidden surprises in small stores nestled between blocks filled with nail salons and bodegas.  New York is like that and you never know what you will find in one of these stores. I bought a huge bar of chocolate for just $5. Now, that is a NY deal. I couldn't read the packaging as it was all in Russian, but that luscious picture of dark chocolate on the cover told me all I had to know. The chocolate flavor was quite good and it was a nice deep dark color, though not quite as sweet as other chocolates. The cocoa content was a nice high 72%. Not bad at all.  They say the higher cocoa content has more antioxidants.

I couldn't eat the whole bar so I thought making a bittersweet chocolate sorbet. Here are some of the few ingredients for the sorbet. Try shopping for high quality cocoa such as Ghirardelli.

Here is the sorbet after churning in an ice cream maker.  Notice how it starts to form big chunks of sorbet.  If the sorbet is still runny after churning for the recommended amount of time (for me it is about 25 minutes), you may need to either chill the mixture more or freeze the ice cream bucket for a longer period of time.

Enjoy in bowls or in cones!  We had it both ways at my house last night.

Bittersweet Chocolate Sorbet
(Adapted from David Lebovitz's Perfect Scoop)
2 1/4 cup water
1 cup sugar
3/4 cup unsweetened Dutch process cocoa powder
Pinch of Salt
4 ounces bittersweet chocolate (72% cocoa, preferably)
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

1. Place the bittersweet chocolate into a food processor and chop fine.

2. In a large saucepan, combine the 1-1/2 cup water, sugar, cocoa and salt.  Bring to a boil and whisk frequently.  Continue boiling for 45 seconds and continue whisking.

3.  Remove from the heat and add chocolate until it is melted. Stir in the vanilla extract and remaining 3/4 cup of water.  

4. Transfer to a blender and blend for 15 seconds.  I use the "liquefy" setting on my blender.  This adds a bit of air into the mixture and makes the sorbet extra creamy.

5.  Chill mixture thoroughly. Transfer to the ice cream maker and whisk the mixture while pouring into the machine. Freeze according the ice cream maker's instructions.

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Saturday, August 2, 2014

Rustic Apple Tart

Today at the local farmer's market, we saw the first signs of apples. I know it is still summer, but I am a bit tired of the humidity. I guess my wish was granted, because today felt like a Fall day. With the cooler weather, I felt like baking and I remember a great rustic apple tart that I made a few times.  You can just shape the dough anyway you want and it still looks great. You can even make it a square or rectangle. It is much easier than an apple pie and oh so impressive and delicious. You can also swap apples for other firm fruit such as peaches or pears, or even have a mixture of different fruits.

This tart will remind you of the Tarte Tatine dessert at French restaurants, and with most french recipes, it has loads of butter.  The tart will impress any dinner guests, but even if you are baking just for your family, this tart will up the ante on your meal. It is much easier than making an apple pie. You don't even need to chill the dough and you are only rolling out one single crust.

I used a mixture of gala and Granny Smith apples.  You can also use Golden Delicious or any firm fruit.

The dough easily comes together in a food processor.  I used a mini-prep processor from my days in a small NYC studio apartment, and all the ingredients just fit.

Roll out the dough into a circle and you don't need to be precise. Remember, this is a 'rustic' tart. We will be folding over the edges later.

Start adding the apples at the outer circle. Imagine if there were three concentric circles, you are starting with the outermost circle. I like to choose apple slices that are similar in size and have the nice pointy edges.

Now the apple design is done. You just need to brush with butter and sprinkle the sugar and cinnamon mixture. Pretty easy, right?

Here is the finished tart!  

Rustic Apple Tart

1-1/2 cup plus 1 tablesppon all-purpose flour
Pinch of salt
1-1/2 sticks (6 ounces) of cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2 inch cubes, plus 2 tablespoons melted
1/3 cup ice water
3-1/2 tablespoons sugar
4 large apples - peeled, cored and cut into 1/4 inch thick slices
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1. In a food processor, pulse 1-1/2 cup flour with the salt.  Add the cold butter and process just until the butter is the size of peas, about 5 seconds.  Sprinkle the ice water into the mixture and process until mixture is just the size of peas, about 5 seconds.  Transfer dough to a lightly floured work surface and knead 2 or 3 times, until it comes together.  Pat the dough into a disk.  On a lightly floured work surface, roll out the dough into a 16 or 17 inch round, about 1/4 inch thick.

2. Line a large unrimmed baking sheet with parchment paper.  Roll the dough around the rolling pin and unroll it onto the prepared baking sheet. 
Note: I used a rimmed baking sheet and it turned out fine.

3. In small bowl, combine the 2 tablespoons of the sugar with the remaining 1 tablespoon of flour and sprinkle over the dough. Arrange the apple slices on top in overlapping concentric circles within 3 inches of the edge. Fold the dough over the apples in a free-form fashion.  Brush the apples with melted butter. Combine the remaining 1-1/2 tablespoon of sugar with 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon. Sprinkle over crust and apples.

4. Refrigerate the tart until slightly chilled, about 10 minutes.

5. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Bake the tart in the center of the oven for 45 minutes or until the apples are tender and tart is a golden brown.  Remove and slide the parchment carefully onto a cooling rack.

If you make the tart ahead, it can be stored overnight at room temperature. Reheat at 325 degree oven before serving.

The original recipe source is Food and Wine, with contributions by Jacques Pepin and Grace Parisi. I made a few modifications and instead of brushing melted apricot preserves after baking, I added cinnamon to the sugar and sprinkled on top prior to baking.  I also noticed my tart was ready at 45 minutes instead of the 1 hour noted in the original recipe.

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Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Sweet Asian Pickles

Do you know those tangy and sweet pickled vegetables served at Asian restaurants? This recipe is so easy (only 3 ingredients) and explodes with a tangy sweet punch of flavor.  My kids love sweet pickles from the pickle guy at the farmer's market.  And, I love those Asian pickled vegetables served as sides in restaurants. Truthfully, I can eat a whole bowl of those delicious crunchy pickles.  

We bought these lovely Kirby cucumbers at the farmer's market, which do not have seeds.  If you cannot find Kirby, you can use Persian cucumbers which don't have too many seeds.

Slice the pickles and sweat the pickles in a bowl to draw out the cucumber's liquid.  Just sprinkle a bit of salt, massage into cucumbers, and let it sit for 10 minutes or so.

After sweating the pickles, you will see liquid form at the bottom of the bowl.  The pickles also shrink a bit in size and look less firm.

I packed my pickles in old jam jars, which is great for recycling.  When not used as pickle jars, these jars are great as extra glassware for serving drinks.

I decided to pickle some carrots and string beans, too. The options are really limitless.

 After a day or two in the fridge, your pickles are ready to serve. This recipe passed the Kid-O-Meter with flying colors.  Great way for everyone to eat more veggies! They are handy to have in the fridge for adding to salads, for a snack or to compliment an entree.  We recently packed these pickles to eat at the beach as a healthy snack.

I reviewed a few online recipes and was drawn to the simplicity of the recipe from the "Mummy, I Can Cook" blog, but adapted by reducing the sugar.

Sweet Asian Pickles

Vegetables - I used 6 kirby cucumbers, 1 carrot and a few string beans
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1 cup rice wine vinegar
2 teaspons of kosher salt

1. Combine and stir the sugar and vinegar in a small saucepan and simmer on low heat, until the sugar is dissolved. Set aside to cool.

2. Slice the cucumbers and sprinkle with the salt. Massage the salt into the cucumbers to sweat. Let the cucumbers sit for about 10 minutes. You will see the cucumber juices form at the bottom of the bowl.

2. Rinse the cucumbers to remove the salt.  You may want to taste a cucumber at this point to ensure you have rinsed off all the salt.

3. Pack the pickles and veggies into jars with a tight lid. I used old jam jars.  

4. Pour the sugar and vinegar mixture over vegetables to cover.  Seal jars tightly and place in refridgerator for at least 12 hours before serving. The taste of the pickles evolves as they sit in the brine. 

I prefer my pickles to sit in the brine for 2 days to get a really nice strong flavor. Hmm, what can I pickle next?

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Sunday, July 20, 2014

Blueberry Sherbet

I'm cooking like crazy with berries lately. Summer is here and my kids gobble up all the berries in the house. This blueberry sherbert reminds me of that great tangy orange sherbert flavor, but with fresh blueberries.

I tried a few recipes and this one from Brown Eyed Baker got the winning vote in my household.
Blueberry Sherbert

3 cups of blueberries
1 cup of granulated sugar
1 cup of buttermilk
Zest from 1 lemon
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  1.  Puree blueberries and sugar in a blender until smooth.  Pour through a fine sieve to remove the bits of solids.  I strained twice to get as much solids removed. Discard solids.

2. Stir in buttermilk, lemon zest and vanilla extract.

3.  Churn in a well chilled ice cream maker.  I found that my ice cream maker is best chilled at least 2 days in the freezer.  Transfer to an air tight container and freeze until sherbert is firm.

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Saturday, July 19, 2014

Sweet Corn Risotto

Besides the abundance of summer fruits, I just love the fresh corn available this time of the year.  My family grew up only buying corn from supermarkets where the corn may have been sitting for who knows how long.  I'm lucky to live near farmer's markets where we can get corn that may have been picked the same day.

Corn is one of those comfort foods. It's just so good when it is the season, which is right now during the summer months. I went looking for a corn risotto dish and came upon this recipe from Food52 website and Sunshine Sweet Corn (I've made some minor tweaks to the recipe and included below). I really liked the idea of using the corn cobs for the homemade stock for that extra rich corn flavor. If you don't usually make homemade stock, don't get alarmed. This recipe is really simple.
Sweet Corn Risotto

Corn Stock:
6 cobs of sweet corn, raggedly stripped of kernels
6 cups of water
1 teaspoon kosher salt
4 cloves garlic, peeled and lightly smashed

1. Add water to a 4-quart pot with a lid.  Add salt, smashed garlic and corn cobs.

2. Bring water to boil and cover.  Simmer at low heat for 60 minutes.

3. Discard garlic pieces.  Using tongs, hold each corn cob by the end and using the edge of a spoon or knife, scrape each cob for juices.  Discard cobs and do not strain the liquid.  Add the 1 cup of chicken stock. Keep the stock at a simmer for making the risotto. You want the stock hot when you add it to the risotto.

Corn Risotto:
1 Tbl Olive Oil
1 Tbl butter
1/3 cup shallots
3 cloves garlic, minced
3 sprigs of fresh thyme leaves, finely chopped
1 cup arborio rice
1/2 cup white wine
7 cups of broth, simmering in separate pot
3/4 cup grated Parmesan Reggiano cheese
1-1/2 cup reserved uncooked corn kernels (you will have extra corn kernels for another use)
3 Tbl butter, cold and chopped into cubes

 1. Heat the olive oil and 1 tablespoon butter in a saucepan or pot on medium heat.  Add shallots and cook until they start to turn brown, stirring occasionally.  Add garlic and thyme, and stir to combine. Cook for 1 minute.

2. Add risotto to the pan and stir to coat each kernel with the butter/oil mixture.  Stir and cook for 2-3 minutes until rice absorbs all the fat.

3.  Add the white wine and stir to deglaze the pan.  Simmer until rice absorbs all the wine.  About 2-3 minutes.

4. Add 1/2 cup ladle of simmering corn broth to the rice mixture. Stir constantly as the broth is absorbed by the rice. The heat should be at a level which creates a slow simmering like bubbling oatmeal. Repeat ladeling and stirring until rice is al dente, with a small chew to it.  It should take about 20-30 minutes.  Rice should look creamy.  

5.  When rice is done, turn off heat.  Add cold butter and stir quickly.  Add parmesan cheese and uncooked corn kernals.  Stir to combine. Cover the pot and let stand for 5 minutes before serving.

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Thursday, July 17, 2014

Summer Strawberry Sherbert


Every weekend we hit the local farmer's market and now is the height of the summer berry season.  The rest of the year the strawberries just don't taste the same and are often shipped from greenhouses in California all the way to New York.  Well, I'm trying to enjoy the most of the berry season as the summer is winding its way down.  This is one fruit my kids will just eat, and eat and eat.  I love it!

Our ice cream maker has been getting a bit of a workout with the hot summer weather.  I've been making a lot of fruit sorbets. Making a frozen dessert keeps the berries around a bit longer than just gobbling them all up right from the basket. Strawberries and cream kept on calling me, but summer season begs for a slightly lighter alternative. I looked at several strawberry sorbet recipes and adjusted it a bit to make this strawberry sherbet.  I was inspired by David Lebowitz's Perfect Scoop cookbook and the Tasty Kitchen blog. The strawberry flavor is intense and cannot compare to any store bought strawberry ice cream. My kids are brutally honest taste testers and this one got a high-five!

Summer Strawberry Sherbert


1 lb. Strawberries, washed and hulled

3/4 cup granulated sugar

1 teaspoon lemon juice

1-1/2 cups whole milk

1.  Slice the strawberries and toss with the sugar.  Cover ad let sit for 1 hour so that the strawberries let out their natural juices.

2. Place the strawberries into a blender.  Blend until smooth.

3. Strain the strawberry seeds through a fine mesh strainer.  You may need to press the pulp and seeds with the backside of a wooden spoon to get all the juices.  

4. Add the lemon juice and milk. Stir to combine and chill thoroughly, preferably overnight.

Freeze according to the ice cream maker directions.  Note: I find my ice cream maker must be well chilled at least 24-36 hours in advance.
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Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Isreali Couscous Salad with Apples, Cranberries and Almonds

The days are hot and humid here in New York City.  I was looking for a light salad that would seem healthy and not just another green salad.  I've been exploring lots of grain salads lately and came across this salad from the Food Network (courtesy of Giada De Laurentiis).  My kids love to nibble on the tiny couscous balls.

I made some slight modifications while making the recipe. I pealed the apples, because the skin seemed a bit waxy and I also mixed whole wheat and plain couscous.  Be careful of toasting the almonds in the oven.  They get brown really quickly!  I was a bit hesitant using maple syrup in a salad dressing, but it really works to bring out the sweetness in the apple.  This salad is sweet, crunchy and tangy with the green apples.  Does that hit all those flavor profiles they talk about in those cooking shows?

Isreali Couscous with Apples, Cranberries and Herbs
Adapted from Food Network,  Giada De Laurentiis


2 tablespoons olive oil
2 cups Israeli couscous (or barley or orzo)
4 cups low-sodium chicken broth or vegetable broth
1/4 cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
1 tablespoons chopped fresh rosemary leaves
1 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme leaves
1 medium green apple, peeled and diced
1 cup dried cranberries
1/2 cup slivered almonds, toasted, see Cook's Note

1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
3 tablespoons maple syrup
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup olive oil

For the couscous: In a medium saucepan, heat the olive oil on medium-high heat. Add the couscous and cook, stirring occasionally until slightly browned and aromatic, about 3 to 5 minutes. Add the broth and bring to a boil. Simmer for 10 to12 minutes or until the liquid has evaporated. Transfer the cooked couscous to a large bowl and set aside to cool.  If the couscous seems a bit wet, you can spread it out on a parchment lined baking tray to dry out.  Add the parsley, rosemary, thyme, apple, dried cranberries, and almonds.

For the vinaigrette: In a small bowl, combine the vinegar, maple syrup, salt, and pepper. Whisk in the olive oil until smooth. Pour half the vinaigrette over the couscous and toss to coat evenly.  Taste before pouring the rest.

Cook's Note: To toast the almonds, preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Arrange the almonds in a single layer on a baking sheet. Bake for 8 to 10 minutes or until golden brown. Cool completely before using.

I hope you enjoy this salad!  

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