Sunday, November 30, 2008

An Italian Thanksgiving...and more

Lana and our brother came to visit for Thanksgiving this week. No one was too excited about having a bird for the holiday meal, so the DH and I suggested an Italian theme instead. We had recently tried out a recipe for meatballs that we'd seen on an episode of Bobby Flay's Thrown Down. The challenge was over meatballs (DUH!), and the competition's secret recipe involved the use of four eggs per pound of meat. I'd never heard of using so many eggs in a meatball recipe - it was so decadent. Anyways, the meatballs turned out beyond expectations - soft and tender, almost souffle-like. They were better than any we'd ever had in a restaurant, and it's made it into our standard roster of meals.

So, on Sunday I threw eight eggs into two pounds of ground chuck, mixed in chopped parsley, onion, black pepper, salt, and a cup of pecorino. I then added enough bread crumbs to make everything stick, formed golf ball sized meatballs, baked at 350 for 25 minutes, and froze them for T-day. For sides we had garlicky green beans (so the DH would have some greens) and golden-crusted brussels sprouts, from a recipe.

Dessert had to be Italian, of course, and tiramisu is always a crowd pleaser. Lana and I made a tiramisu using a recipe my friend Andrea gave me from when she worked at the Mandarin Oriental hotel. I had asked if she had a tiramisu recipe using a pate a bomb (egg yolks whipped with sugar cooked to softball stage) so that we wouldn't have to choose between eating raw eggs or trying to find pasteurized yolks, which is what most tiramisu recipes ask you to do. My friend's recipe turned out excellent - thick and rich-tasting but with a texture that was light as a cloud. We soaked Italian Savoiardi with a mix of espresso, Godiva liquor, and Amaretto and laid down two layers of cookie. I dusted pure cocoa powder on each layer of cookie and on the top layer, and sprinkled grated chocolate over everything just before serving. The recipe is below - our 2.5 qt vintage pyrex cassesrole was filled to the brim. Unfortunately I didn't think to take a picture before it was completely demolished by my brother, who claimed not to like tiramisu.

Andrea's Mandarin Oriental Tiramisu

mascarpone 500g
gelatin 12g

Pate a bombe:
yolks 140g
sugar 260g

whipped cream 500g

Savoiardi dipped quickly in coffee and liquor combination of your choice (do no oversoak - center of cookie should still be hard)
Grated chocolate
For pate a bombe:
- Add about 1/2 cup of water to the sugar, stirring with your finger to make sure there are no dry spots. Heat the sugar to 121 celcius, or softball stage. Meanwhile put the yolks in the bowl of a mixer and give it a minute or two of whipping.
- When the sugar has reached softball stage, restart the mixer on high and immediately pour the hot sugar in a slow and steady stream down the side of the mixing bowl onto the eggs. Try to keep the whipping attachment from whipping the syrup around the bowl before it hits the yolks - this is best done by directing the sugar syrup straight down the side of the bowl. Pour all the sugar out, but do not scrape the bottom. Immediately set the pot in the sink and fill with hot water.
- Whip yolk-sugar mix at high speed until increased in volume, pale yellow and forms ribbons. - Set pate a bombe aside and continue with rest of recipe.

- Pour cold water over gelatin and let sit until soft.
- Meanwhile, whip the 500g of cream until stiff and set aside in refrigerator.
- Drain gelatin well and place in medium-sized pot over low heat until liquified.
- Add mascarpone to pot and stir/whisk vigorously until mascarpone is just liquified and warm, with no lumps, but NOT hot.

To combine:
- Fold mascarpone mixture into pate a bombe in two additions.
- Fold whipped cream into this in two additions.

- Lay down a 1" layer of tiramisu cream in your container.
- Dust with cocoa powder.
- Add layer of cookie and try to fill in all corners.
- Add another layer of tiramisu.
- Repeat above.
- Smooth tiramisu over, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate at least overnight to allow it to set and flavors to develop.
- Before serving, remove plastic wrap, dust with final layer of cocoa powder, and finish with grated chocolate.
- Buon appetito!

Everyone likes tiramisu except for the DH, so I also made up a batch of pate sucree and pastry cream for these pretty fruit tarts that we later during their stay.
We had them with the HUGE grass-fed steak Lana's advisor gave her when he was cleaning out his freezer. It was literally enough to feed a family of four. Anthony gave us a break and whipped up this classic steak dinner for us the day after Thanksgiving, and learned how to roast brussels sprouts during the same meal. The spices he used on the steak made the house smell good for two days after. With luck, next year he'll be making a standing rib roast for us.


My husband has the tolerance of a militant five year old for all things green. It's not that he's a huge meat-eater either. He is just very particular and can happily get by on a sandwich or a bowl of cereal for dinner. Unfortunately, I can't do that, so I've been spending much time and energy trying to come up with new ways to make green foods enticing for him. I draw the line at pureeing food for him. He is not a baby.

We have had some successes. For green beans, that has meant copious amounts of garlic or bacon in a quick saute. Since we cannot live on garlic green beans alone though, I have tried other vegetables too. Turnips are out. As are parsnips. No cabbage. He cannot stand the smell of cooking brussels sprouts or cauliflower. He pretends that Shanghai bok choi and broccoli rabe don't exist when they appear on his plate. Peas are the devil's spawn. Celery is tolerated as long as it is minced into oblivion.

A few weeks ago I picked up a beautiful multi-colored bunch of swiss chard at the farmer's market up the street. When I came home, I showed the DH the pretty bouquet, hoping that the rainbow colors and innocuous-looking green leaves would pass muster. Below are pictures of the dishes I came up with that even my picky DH managed to polish off.

First, I promised to chop everything up SMALL and toss with a sausage over pasta. (I have discovered that pork is my friend in my quest to make vegetables palatable.) That went over quite well, and to my relief there were few "green bit" casualties at the end of the meal.

As there was a LOT of chard, I had to figure out another way to use them. Ironically, that was even harder as I discovered that I did not like chard very much either.

It's been freezing cold here and as we'd been making a lot of barley-based soups, we had some barley on hand. Instead of putting the chard in a soup though, I came up with this barley, sausage, onion and carrot dish that was actually very quick to prepare. Start boiling water for the barley and let the barley simmer away while chopping and sauteing the other ingredients. By the time that's done, the barley is ready to be tossed with the rest, making a very warm, satisfying meal in itself. I used this to stuff some roasted red peppers, which made for a pretty presentation, but taste-wise wasn't really worth the effort.

Even I didn't mind the chard in this dish.

Lastly, I used all the rest of my chard in another recipe from 101cookbooks, the Chickpea Hot Pot. I had a giant cauliflower hanging out in my window sill, and a carton of brown rice left over from a meal at P.F. Chang's, so I threw everything into a pot and had a lovely soup for three meals. I have to say though, that after 8 meals featuring it, I was glad to see the last of my bouquet of chard!

Friday, November 28, 2008

Chocolate marshmallow cookies

We had a very warm autumn this year. It stayed hot throughout September. And then October. You could wear a t-shirt outdoors at night for half of November...then bam, it got cold. Winter's finally here, giving me a craving for baked goods. Baked goods with lots of chocolate. Nothing like chocolate to relieve anxiety over grad school applications. (I hope there's a special circle of hell for people who write application forms. Three essays for one school, are you kidding me?)

I modified a cinnamon cookie recipe to make these cookies. Pure chocolatey goodness.

100 grams butter, softened
1/2 cup sugar
1 egg
1 cup plain flour
1/2 cup cadbury's drinking chocolate powder*
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup dark chocolate shards or chips
1/2 cup mini marshmallows

Cream the butter and sugar together in a bowl. Whisk in the egg.

In another bowl, sift the flour, salt, baking powder, and cocoa powder together.

Thoroughly combine the flour mixture with the butter & egg mixture. Chill in refrigerator for 2 hours, or freezer for 1/2 an hour.

Preheat oven to 175 degrees celcius

In your palm, take a spoonful of dough, place a chocolate shard and a marsmallow on top, and then another spoonful of dough on top. Roll it into a 1 - 1.5 inch ball.

Place on cookie sheet lined with baking paper, at least 1 inch apart. Bake for 10-12 minutes.

Makes about 2 dozen cookies.

The chocolate and marshmallow melt together in the oven and permeate the cookie. They also makes the centre slightly soft. Remind me to post a picture when I get a chance. Boyfriend's got the digital camera and he's working late. For now you're just going to have to trust me. These are good.

* I didn't have pure cocoa powder. If you're using pure cocoa, increase the sugar and flour content, and reduce the cocoa powder. I don't know by how much. Experiment.