Saturday, November 24, 2012

Caramel Flan from the Caramel Dessert Family

A couple of weeks ago, while walking on the streets of Washington, I passed by "Jaleo", a famous restaurant owned by José Andrés. On early Sunday afternoon, the place was packed with people, who finished their lunches, and were awaiting desserts and coffee.

A young couple sitting next to the window was just served crème caramel, which looked very appetizing: shiny and wobbly with brown caramel around. I had no time to walk in and try it but when I came home I could not forget the dessert and decided to make crème caramel myself.

Somehow, I have never made crème caramel and I was looking for a recipe that would be easy enough but would work. I found one in my son's International Cooking Camp Cookbook. This recipe differed from others in that it called for eggs and two types of canned milk.

Crème caramel made with such ingredients is a little bit more firm or textured than its traditional version made with just milk and cream. But I liked it even more as the taste of eggs in not too strong and the two kinds of milk make it taste a bit like white chocolate.

Last week, talking to a friend from Mexico, I learned that what I made was a traditional Mexican dessert called there caramel flan.

All in all, crème caramel, caramel flan, or creme reverse are many variations of the same similar dessert with caramel on top, which is easy to make and delicious in taste.

Caramel Flan

4 large eggs, preferably organic,
one 14 oz can of sweetened condensed milk,
one 12 oz can evaporated milk,
1 tsp vanilla essence,
1 cup sugar.

1. To make caramel, pour sugar and four tablespoon of water in a small pot and bring them to boil. Cook on high heat until it bubbles. This will take about 5-8 minutes. At first, sugar will turn almost white and later it will be gradually getting darker. When it turns gold watch it carefully not to overburn it. Caramel should be light brown color.

2. Divide hot caramel among six oven-proof ramekins and place them on a baking form with relatively high walls.

3. Preheat oven to 350 F.
4. To make custard, place both milk and eggs in a large bowl and whisk just to mix well all the ingredients. In can also be made in a food processor or mixer.
5. Divide custard among the ramekins with caramel at the bottom. Pour around the ramekins enough hot water up to about half of the ramekins' height. Put the whole baking form in the oven and cover the tops of the ramekins with a sheet of aluminium foil.
6. Bake for about 40 minutes. Water should not boil around the ramekin. If it does, lower the oven's temperature to 325F. After 20 minutes you need to check how your flans are doing. Flan should be set but still wobbly.
7. Remove ramekins from the water and cool at first in room temperature. Place them later in a refrigerator and chill for four hours.
8. Before serving, run a small knife around the edges of the ramekins, cover the ramekines with small serving plates and turn them upside down (one by one), to release the flan with caramel on top.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Parsnip and Potato Gratin--Variation on an Old Theme

Many people confuse parsnip with parsley root. Although quite similar in their look, they are different in taste and aroma. But the most distinguishing difference between them is that parsley leaves (flat leaved parsley, also called Italian parsley) are very good and are used widely as a herb in many cuisines, while parsnip leaves are toxic and cause a similar to poison ivy reaction. For that reason, parsley root is often sold with leaves, but parsnip never.

Being Polish I am very familiar with parsley root, which we use in soups and salads for its strong aroma, but much less with parsnip. However, I have been happy to learn recently that this unassuming and easily available tuber, especially in the fall, is also very healthy. It is very reach in vitamins, most of all vitamin C, antioxidants, vitamin B complex group, folic acid, and vitamin K.

Among many parsnip recipes I found in different culinary sources there was one idea that sounded interesting--parsnip and potato gratin. Adding parsnip makes this well-known and easy potato dish slightly sweet and more aromatic. I made it last week and served it with green salad as a main dinner dish.

Parsnip and Potato Gratin

1 lb potatoes,
1/2 lb parsnip,
1 medium onion,
2 garlic cloves,
1/2 cup shredded Gruyère or Cheddar cheese,
one cup table cream or half and half,
1/2 stick of butter,
salt, freshly ground pepper,
a pinch of nutmeg.

1. Preheat oven to 350F.
2.Peel off potatoes, parsnip, and onion. Slice them thinly.

2.Grease a shallow oven-proof dish with butter.
3. Put half of the potatoes on the bottom of the dish. Cover with sliced parsnip and onion. Put on top small pieces of butter and half of the cheese.

4. Cover with the rest of potatoes. Season with salt, pepper and nutmeg. Sprinkle the rest of the grated cheese on top.
5. Heat the cream until hot and pour over the vegetables.
6. Bake for an hour until vegetable are soft and the cheese bubbling and gold.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Spicy Sweet Potato and Goat Cheese Cream or Soup

So far, I knew only one way of serving sweet potatoes the way I like them--roasted. I cut them in wedges, add a few garlic cloves, drizzle with a very good olive oil, sprinkle with coarse sea salt and fresh rosemary, and bake until slightly brown. Roasted, they become attractively crispy and lose some of the sweetness that, otherwise, I find overwhelming.

But since sweet potatoes are very healthy (rich in Beta-carotene and Vitamin A) I have always been looking for more good ideas on how to prepare them.

When I recently saw in a French magazine a recipe for a spicy sweet potato cream (velouté), I instantly decided to give it a try. Moreover, the recipe included goat cheese and in my refrigerator there was a log of goat cheese waiting to be used. I made some changes to the original recipe to make it less sweet and even more spicy. I think it worked very well--the cream was definitely savory and almost not sweet at all.

I admit this dish is very rich, not only owing to the sweet potatoes but also the generous amount of goat cheese. But, probably because of that, it is also so good. Served in small, testing dishes it can be a nice Thanksgiving party snack that I am sure everyone would enjoy. By adding extra broth you can turn it into a cream soup.

Spicy Sweet Potato and Goat Cheese Cream

1 lb sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into cubes,

2 medium shallots,
3 oz goat cheese, at room temperature,
2-3 cups of vegetable or beef broth,
1 tsp harissa or cayenne pepper,
salt and black pepper,
1/4 cup chopped chives,
2 tbsp olive oil.

1. Heat the oil in a large heavy duty pot. Add chopped shallots and fry until transparent. Add potatoes cubes, mix and fry them for about 3 minutes.
2. Pour in 2-3 cups of broth, enough to cover the potatoes, and cook on low heat for about 30 minutes, until potatoes become soft.
3. Take the pot off the heat and using a hand blender make a smooth purée. Put the pot back on the medium heat, add half of the goat cheese and, stirring often, let the cheese melt in the purée.

4. Bring it to boil, let simmer for a minute, and turn off the heat. Let it stand for 5 minutes.
5. Put the other half of the goat cheese in a small bowl, add harissa or cayenne pepper and, using a fork, make a smooth paste.

6. Divide the potato cream among small serving dishes, top with a bit of goat cheese paste and chives. Serve warm.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Chestnut Mousse with Persimmon Sauce--Dessert in no Time

Last year, when I shared a recipe based on chestnuts, it was a savory dish--cornish hens with chestnut stuffing. The chestnut season is upon us and I decided to experiment with chestnuts again. For this purpose, I bought several bags of the organic shelled and roasted chestnuts to make a dessert based on chestnuts.

I was inspired by the Italian cuisine and my Italian cookbooks where chestnuts appear often as a main ingredient of many desserts: cakes, creams, and mousses. I chose a chestnut mousse, a very simple dessert that can be prepared in no time. I was full of doubts how it would turn out after my chocolate and chestnut cake disappointment a few years ago. This time, I was pleasantly surprised.

I liked the taste of the mousse very much--it was delicate but chestnuts gave it a kind of earthy flavor. And the whole dessert was not too sweet. I also added a tablespoon of the hazelnut liqueur, which made it taste even more "earthy and nutty".

But I needed something extra to finish the whole dessert and create a nice presentation. I chose the persimmon sauce. Persimmons, like chestnuts, are typical fruits of the season. It was a good combination, since the delicate persimmons did not overshadow the taste of the chestnuts. Overall, chestnut mousse, although somewhat unusual, seemed interesting enough and very in season to be a Thanksgiving dinner dessert.

Chestnut Mousse with Persimmon Sauce
(Serves six)

1 cup (7 oz) of roasted and shelled chestnuts, or a full cup of raw chestnuts,
1/4 cup of sugar,
1 tbsp of hazelnut (Frangelico) or walnut liqueur,
1 cup heavy whipping cream,
3 persimmons,
a pinch of cinnamon (optional),
juice from half a lime,
mint leaves to decorate.

1. If you use raw chestnuts, blanch them in boiling water for 5 minutes then drain and peel off. Put the peeled chestnuts in a small pot of boiling water and simmer for about 30 minutes. Drain them and chop. If you use cooked or roasted chestnuts just chopped them roughly.

2. Put sugar in a small pot, add two tbsp of water and bring to boil. Boil briefly stirring until sugar dissolves. Turn off the heat. Add to the pot chopped chestnuts and using a hand blender make purée. Let it cool down.
3. Add hazelnut liqueur and cinnamon, if you like. Mix well.
4. Pour heavy whipping cream into a medium bowl and beat until stiff. Add chestnuts purée in two batches gently folding in. Chill the mousse in a refrigerator for half an hour.

5. Meanwhile, peel off persimmons and remove the hard parts around the stem.

6. Cut two persimmons in small pieces, add lime juice and, using a hand blender, make a smooth sauce. Cut the third persimmon into slices and use for decoration before serving.
7. Remove the chestnut mousse from the refrigerator. Dip a soup spoon in a hot water, get a spoon of mousse and place two spoons on each serving plate. Drizzle with persimmon sauce, decorate with persimmon slices and mint, and serve.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Fava Bean Salad with Herbs--Greek Style

This simple salad comes from the Greek tradition. I found it in a book about Mediterranean food. I made this salad for the first time in the summer, two years ago, to serve with grilled meats. I think it turned out pretty good. Someone even asked me for the recipe. Recently, I made it again to use the rest of my most delicate herbs from my garden, which already suffered a few cold nights.

First time, I made this salad with Fava beans and mint, which the recipe called for. Since I am not a big fan of Fava beans, last time I used baby Lima beans (can be fresh or frozen) and I like this version better. I also replaced mint with the last harvest of dill from my herb garden.

Bean salads, especially this one, enriched with feta cheese, can be very filling. But chopped herbs (dill or mint) and lemon juice neutralized this sensation. In fact, I find this salad rather refreshing, although also nutritious.

Fava or Lima Bean Salad

2lb baby Fava or baby Lima beans (fresh or frozen),
juice from half a lemon,
lemon zest grated from one lemon,
1 cup crumbled feta cheese, preferably Greek,
1 garlic clove, minced,
4 tbsp extra virgin olive oil,
1/ 3 cup chopped chive,
2 tbsp chopped fresh dill or mint,
freshly ground pepper.

1. Cook beans in a large pot with a tbs of salt, until soft. Drain and cool down. Transfer to a serving bowl.
2. In a small bowl make dressing by whisking lemon juice, lemon peel, olive oil and pepper.
3. Add feta cheese, chives and dill or mint to the beans. Mix gently to coat the beans with feta and herbs.
4. Pour the dressing over the beans and again gently mix all the ingredients.

Leave in a refrigerator for 30 minutes to let the flavors infuse. Serve cold.

Sage Fried in Butter--To Top Fall Dishes

Even though I try to make my recipes as simple as possible and easy for everyone, I feel rather uncomfortable sharing such an obvious idea as my today's post. But it is worth talking about, as long as there is at least one person who has never tried fried sage leaves. They are absolutely lovely and worth trying especially if you happened to grow sage or have some spare sage leaves.

Sage is my favorite fall herb. I grow three large bushes of it in my garden and use for many seasonal recipes. When fresh, it is very aromatic and I like it just chopped, for instance added to meat sauces. Fried sage is crispy and still very fragrant and could provide a very intriguing finishing to many dishes. I particularly like it with all the pumpkin family vegetables, as a topping on some other vegetables, such as carrot or puréed potatoes, and of course on pasta and many Italian family noodles, like gnocchi. Try, experiment, and you cannot go wrong. If you ever wonder what to do with sage this may be the answer.

Sage Fried in Butter

one stick of good quality, high fat content, butter (about 115 g),
a bunch of fresh sage, about 20-30 leaves,

1. Place butter in a small non stick pot. Heat it until it bubbles and turns slightly gold.
2. Add sage leaves to the hot butter and fry them turning them with a wooden fork, until they curl and become kind of dried and light brown in color.

3. Drain the fried leaves on a colander.

Serve to finish fall dishes: