Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Popover experiments

Have you ever made a popover?  I never had the desire until an abundance of summer fruit led me to make small batches of jam and hunt for decadent ways to savor it.  I have a few vintage popover pans that I've always intended to fiddle with but never had the time.  I was suddenly inspired to give the pans a whirl - but getting the perfectly perky popover with an impressive, airy dome was not an easy task.  

It's amazing, actually, that without any leavening agent this very simple mixture of eggs, milk and flour can develop into a light, airy and impressive-looking little item.  It's all about harnessing the power of steam, and there are a few tricks to maximizing popover potential that only became clear after several rounds of experiments:

1.  Don't overmix the batter - every recipe warns of this.  Don't do it.
2.  Pour the batter into a popover pan that has been heated in the oven - don't pour it into a cold pan.
3.  The pan matters: my vintage ones, that have the requisite air pockets in between the cups, created nicely shaped popovers, but no matter how much I greased and prepped the pans, I could not release the popovers.  Some research churned up these amazing pans (and an emergency mail order) - they truly work.
4.  Don't open the oven - keep the steam inside.
5.  Lower the oven temperature midway through.
6.  Enjoy when hot out of the oven - no matter what tricks you employ, they'll never be as crisp and delectable as they are when freshly baked

The batter itself is very basic.  Here's one to try.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Winter-inspired still life

A series of five limited edition fine art prints, available individually or as a set, just-in-time for holiday gifting. Please inquire by email if interested.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Garden gifts: Heirloom tomatoes and a special tomato tart

This weekend, we picked close to the last of the tomatoes, some butternut squash, an eggplant, a couple of bulbs of celeriac and some peppers (hot and sweet).  While the crisp air lent itself to a wonderful bike ride down the Harlem Valley Rail trail, I couldn't help but be sad that the days of harvesting a portion of dinner straight from the garden are almost over for the season.  Our own tomatoes in particular have been so wonderful - heirloom and bursting with flavor.  We've enjoyed them in salads with mozzarella or burrata, slow roasted with a drizzle of olive oil and some slivers of garlic, and most recently, in a wonderful, fresh tart.  I had high hopes of canning and preserving some of the flavor of summer - but alas, we were so excited to eat as we went, we left nothing behind.

The idea behind the recipe started here.  But the free-form shape was tricky and the dough a little too loose to be easily worked with.  Some poking around churned up this and the dough was lovely and a keeper.  Similar to the first recipe, I grated a semi-hard cow's milk cheese onto the unbaked prepared crust that I placed into a removable bottom fluted tart pan, and then used a mixture of multi-colored heirloom cherry tomatoes and the most wonderful currant tomatoes to fill the tart.  The cherry tomatoes were fine mostly cut in half (larger ones quartered) and the currant tomatoes were left whole (if you can find some, buy them - they are bursting with flavor and so unusual to look at).  The result?  A wonderfully flavorful roasted tomato tart that was as beautiful to look at as delicious.  It was a treat to explore a new way to savor the last tomatoes of summer.

Tomato Tart (adapted from Harvest to Heat)

Homemade tart dough, try this one (or in a pinch, use defrosted puff pastry blind baked for 20 minutes at 400°)
1 pint tomatoes cut into halves or quarters as necessary (multi colored cherry and currant make a beautiful presentation)
1/3 pound semi hard cow's milk cheese, grated (love this one)
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
Olive oil, for drizzling
Fresh herbs (basil, chive - oregano also would be nice)

Preheat oven to 375°.  Roll chilled dough into a rectangle about 1/8 inch thick.  Press into a removable bottom tart pan of desired shape.  Sprinkle with cheese.  Fill with tomatoes.  Season with salt and pepper.  Bake for ~40 minutes or until crust is golden and tomatoes are popping.  Remove from oven and allow to cool.  Sprinkle with additional salt and pepper to taste, fresh herbs, and drizzle with a nice olive oil.

Tuesday, September 04, 2012

Savoring the last days of Summer with berry popsicles in the country

We have been enjoying an extended stay in the country.  A special time spent mainly cooking at home, exploring outdoors, and dunking in the pool.  We have been in the rhythm of checking the garden each morning and harvesting what's there, with a promise to use at least one garden item in each meal.  We went through waves of vegetables so fresh we never tired of them: snap peas, green beans, cucumbers, eggplant and tomatoes to name a few.  The perimeter of of the garden has berry bushes planted last year that provide berries all summer long.  First with black raspberries, then blueberries, then red and yellow raspberries - the latter being the sweetest of the lot.

We get a generous handful of new berries each day, and it seems impossible to think of wasting a single one.  My little one who loved blueberries as a baby, has now decided he's no longer interested in berries, with the exception of strawberries, which are a bit on again off again.  I figured a popsicle might change his perspective?  I started with mixed berry popsicles of local strawberries plus our blueberries and raspberries.  They were so fresh and divine, but apparently not acceptable to him.  He requested purple popsicles.  I moved on to blackberry lime popsicles, a deep purple in color, that we made together (he operated the blender proudly), and apparently hit the spot after some coaxing.  Later this week, having discovered a recipe for fudgesicles in this month's edition of Everyday Food, we made the creamy classic together.  There was no encouragement needed to devour those.

Homemade berry popsicles (will yield ~10 popsicles depending on size of moulds)

Mixed berry popsicles

5 cups mixed berries (strawberries, raspberries, blueberries or whatever you prefer)
1 cup water
1/2 cup sugar (adjust to taste or sweetness of berries)
Juice of one lemon

Blackberry lime popsicles

5 cups blackberries
1 cup water
1/2 cup sugar (adjust to taste or sweetness of berries)
Juice of one lime

Combine ingredients in blender until berries are processed into fine pieces.  Taste and adjust sweetness and acidity to taste (note that mixture will taste less sweet when frozen).  Strain through a fine-mesh strainer to remove seeds and any remaining pieces of skin.  Pour into moulds and freeze for at least six hours.  To unmould, run moulds briefly under hot water until popsicles release.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Tuesday, August 07, 2012

Making ricotta

One of my new favorite weekend treats is Caputo Brothers ricotta.  We have been entertaining on weekends, which always provides an excuse for a cheese sampling.  I discovered Caputo Brothers ricotta in Chelsea market while waiting to check out at the cheese monger.  A very generous portion of ricotta was for sale in the mould it was presumably drained in.  Not being able to resist good packaging, and the enticement of a 2-for (cheese and mould to experiment with on my own), I was sucked right in.

The ricotta did not disappoint: it was creamy, fluffy and sweet.  In fact, I'm not sure I've ever had ricotta as wonderfully fresh and decadent.

I soon set out to make use of my moulds.  I started with Mark Bittman - a favorite and always at the ready with my geeky iphone app.  The recipe couldn't be simpler: milk and buttermilk cooked and strained in four easy steps.  I purchased the highest quality ingredients I could find and followed the directions carefully.

The result?  Not bad, but not Caputo Brothers.  Mine was not as creamy (I would not let the curds drain quite so long next time) and not quite as flavorful.  But it was a nice, quick, and satisfyingly easy home version.  Next time, I'll take some cues from here and poke around a bit elsewhere and see what else I can learn.

Next time I have an urge to make cheese - I might check out these or these (and what fun gifts these would make?).  Do you have any ricotta-making secrets?