Monday, February 27, 2012

Spice it up

When I sat down a few weeks ago with the designer to discuss my new kitchen, the very nice lady suggested we incorporate a roll out spice rack into the cabinets.  You know, the thin, neat looking, pull out cabinet that can be made look like cabinet trim.  When she made the suggestion, I laughed, how naïve of her.  My spice cabinet now is a full size, four shelves, packed to the gills in double or triple layers.  When I open it, I have to make sure that nothing falls on my head.  Surprisingly enough, I know my inventory and use everything, provided I can find it in the back rows.  I also must admit to being a spice hoarder.  I am forever afraid to run out of my favorites, such as Herbs de Provence or various chilies, so I stack up… just in case.  Judging by the amounts I have accumulated, I must be stacking up for nuclear winter…  I also love collecting spices from all over the world, whether from my own travels or from my friends, I have quite a few prized possessions.  From Japan, Morocco, Himalayas, China, Spain, everyone knows what to bring back…   This explains three different types of cardamom and sixteen types of chili powder.
As I am getting ready for kitchen demolition, I had to empty out my cupboards, I took this opportunity to clean and sort out all my spices.  Here are a few highlights:
La Boite A Epice Spice blends created by the master spice blender Lior Lev Sercarz are my new favorite obsession.  These are exquisitely chosen spices of best quality, highly though after by the most famous of chefs.  They do make a huge difference, one whiff and you are truly transported to your favorite origin.   

There is also my prized Himalayan collection of different salts and peppers brought to me by a colleague straight from the source

Anyone thinking that black pepper is all there is, should try these freshly ground.  Each is so different, floral, spicy, fragrant….  I am so glad I sacrificed my coffee mill to become the spice grinder and invested in the good mortar. 

Then there is salt.  Although recent studies have suggested that a human palate cannot detect different salt tastes.. salty is salty.. I am very partial to different salts for different things. 

There are pink Himalayan salts that I use as finishing salts for salads.  There are black salts (Himalayan and Hawaiian) that I am still trying to figure out where to use, as they change the color of dishes ( gray is usually not the most appetizing color).  There is a smoked salt that I love to enhance the flavor of anything smoked. 

There is a Flower salt that is so fragrant and light, it makes a perfect finishing salt for deserts. 

There is hugely coarse Sea Salt that is crunchy and perfect on roasted veggies or fish.  There are crunchy salt flakes, Sea Salt and Lemony salt, to use on fish, salads and anything where you want crunch.  This salt does not dissolve, so a light hand is better. 

Finally, there is my beloved Fler De Sel, which I use in deserts and sprinkled on pretty much anything.  Of course there is plain Kosher Salt, why mess with perfection.

All in all, after going through dozens and dozens of jars, I decided that I absolutely have to have them all, but if I was marooned on the deserted island I must have these two:

Herbs de Provence.  There are quite a few brands out there; I particularly like the ones that contain lavender.  This is France in a bottle, and can instantly transform any dish. 
As much as I love everything French, the one spice I cannot live without is Smoked Paprika, which comes from Spain.  Mild or Hot (or both), there is no other spice or method that can transform any meat or vegetable quite the same way.

I cannot wait to put all of my newly organized spices into the new kitchen and get cooking!

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

The last thing to come out of my kitchen

Well, not really last, and not “forever” last… Just the last thing worth blogging about to come out of my old kitchen.   I am very excited, finally, the day I am getting an all new kitchen is here.  I have been dreaming about this day for a long, long time… So in the next few weeks, while I cannot cook, I can still entertain you with kitchen tales (hopefully not horror stories).
So where do I begin?  Let’s just say, I have gone nuts and decided that if I can’t live on an old vineyard, in an old farmhouse in France, I am going to re-create it in New Jersey in the house build in 1995.  Combine this nuts idea and a limited budget and you get me, trying to be really, really creative…  Some people get to live in Paris and just happen to “discover and preserve” old brick walls and beams while renovating (yes, it’s the shot out to David Lebovitz here…), and some get to fake them from scratch.

So here I am, spending all weekend distressing wood (Why?  To make it look old, silly!).  Staining wood to make it look like it was burned, bleached and dirtied with time (Why, you ask?  Because it will look better this way!).  The “Whys” coming out from the skeptical men of my house, they just don’t get it.
And here are my tools of the trade…  Nothing like a hatchet and a nice glass of Pinot with that wonderful, subtle aroma of the wood stain… note the paint fingerprints on the glass, these do not come off.

 It took me a full two days to get the paint off my hands, just in time to hand-roll the chocolate truffles for my son’s school language fair.
I was happy with the way the wood came out, oozing with distressed character and looking all beat up and dirty.  It takes a lot of effort to take new wood and make it look 100 years old, who knew?


Makes about 30 truffles
  • 9 ounces bittersweet chocolate
  • 2.5 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream
  • 1 tablespoon light corn syrup
  • 1/4 cup brandy or Amaretto
  • 1/2 cup Dutch process cocoa powder,
  • 8 ounces semisweet or bittersweet chocolate

Combine the chocolate and butter in the heat proof bowl and melt over a double boiler, stirring often until just melted and smooth.  You can also do the melting in the microwave, using 40 second intervals and stirring well between the zaps.
Combine the cream, corn syrup and liquor (if using) in the small pot and heat until small bubbles appear on the sides.  Do not boil.  Pour the mixture over the melted chocolate and whisk until smooth.  Pour the chocolate mixture to a 9’ by 13’ glass dish, cover and park in the fridge for 1 to 2 hrs.

After the chilling time, scoop chocolate with a spoon and roll in the palms of your hands.  Do not make the truffles too large, these are very rich.  Place the rolled truffles on the parchment paper lined baking sheet.  The truffles do not need to be perfectly round or smooth, hand-rolled truffles rarely are.  If you feel that your hands are getting too hot and begin to melt the chocolate, run them under some cold water (just make sure to dry thoroughly before handling chocolate again).

Let the rolled truffles rest and set in the fridge for another 1 to 2 hrs.  When ready to coat, melt the remaining chocolate slowly over the double broiler or microwave.  Stirring often, taking care not to let it reach beyond 90F – 95F degrees.
Working quickly, dip each truffle into the chocolate, drizzle off the extra and roll in the ditched cocoa.

Place in the individual wrappers or on parchment pepper.  You can use a toothpick to do the dipping, rolling and transferring of the truffles or your hands.  Regardless of the method, it does get petty messy around you… good thing I do not care if my kitchen remains messed up… it will be gone soon.
Park the ready truffles in the fridge one more time for a few hours.  At this point you can keep them in the fridge in an airtight container for a 2 weeks.  Remember to bring to room temperature before serving; truffles are best when they are creamy.

Next time my teenager snarls at me, I will remind him of the hand-rolled truffles.... Oh, I just remembered I have to make Russian Blini for his Social Studies class this week… Oh well, so much for the last thing coming out of my kitchen…I guess this was not it

Friday, February 3, 2012

The best desert I ever made ( and the simplest) - Salted Butter Breakups

If there is such a thing as pure joy, this is it.  These “cookies” have got to be the food’s version of crack-cocaine, they are that addictive.  You get the buttery, the sweet, the salty, crunchy, and soft all at once and if I had to choose one food to eat for the rest of my life, this would be it. The edges are a bit crunchy and darker, the interior is moist and buttery, and because you bake these “cookies” as one giant one, everyone gets to choose which ever part they like most.  I like it all.  This is the kind of a treat, that if you have it in the house you can’t pass by it or ignore it, until you finish it.  Hours after all kinds of decent eating deadlines have passed you are haunted by their immediate presence.  The call on you, they mock you, and you go for another bite.
 The simplicity is mind boggling.  I wish I could claim this recipe as my own, but I can’t.  The sheer stroke of Dorie Greenspan’s brilliance is all in this recipe.  I can only say “Wow!”
The reason I am blogging about this recipe, which is not mine, is because I think that it needs to be shared with the masses.  It comes from my favorite French cooking book “Around my French Table”.
This cookie has only four components, so don’t skimp on the quality of the ingredients.   You can taste everything! So go for the best French butter you can find, it makes all the difference!  Go for the Fleur De Sel or Sel gris, which is the finest of French salts.  And remember, you are only about 90 minutes away from sheer bliss.
The recipe if by Dorie Greenspan from “Around my French table”
1 ¾ cup all-purpose flour
2/3 cup sugar
1 tsp of Sel gris or Fleur de Sel
9 oz of cold cubed butter (French is best, Belgian or Irish if you cannot find French will do)
3 to 5 tbs of ice cold water
1 egg yolk + ½ tbs of cold water for the glaze

The best French butter, you can really taste the difference.
The "reall good" salt

In the food processor combine flour, sugar and salt, pulse to combine.  Add the butter and pulse until the butter is broken up into pea size clumps.  With the food processor on, start adding ice cold water one tablespoon at a time.  As soon as the dough comes together into a ball, stop mixing.


Turn out the dough onto a floured surface and shape it into a square.  Wrap with plastic and refrigerate for at least an hour.

Preheat the oven to 350F.  Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.  On the floured surface roll out the dough to about 1/8 of an inch thick trying to keep it into a rectangular shape.  The dough will be very crumbly, so if you can’t keep the shape, don’t worry about it too much.

With the back of the fork, make a crisscross pattern all over the top side of the cookie.  Brush with the egg yolk mixture.  Transfer the cookie, glazed side down, onto the parchment paper.  Repeat the crisscross pattern and the glazing on the top side.
Bake for 35-40 minutes until the edges begin to brown and the middle is perfectly golden.  Cool on the baker’s cooling rack (or the bottom will be soggy).

Break apart and try to leave some for the family!

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Pocini and Sun Dried Tomato Pork Roll

In preparation for my kitchen remodeling project, about which I hope to post in the near future, I thought I would cook out of my freezer and pantry for a while.  After all, I will need to unplug my fridge and transfer the remaining contents to the basement one, which is full of venison, so the less in my freezer, the better; I hate to see good food go to waste.  Truth be told, if I decide not to go grocery shopping for a few months, aside from fresh fruits, veggies and milk, my family can survive on the stuff I have hoarded in my cupboards and freezer.  Heck, I can probably feed the whole neighborhood in case of a natural disaster… God forbid.  And these would not be canned or frozen food choices; we are talking beautiful ingredients for gourmet dinners.  Next time your power is out, you know where to go…
So let’s see… what do we have… a pork loin, some dried porcini mushrooms, some sun dried tomatoes… good, sounds like a grand solution to my son’s every day school sandwich problem.  And this will not be any type of ordinary lunch meat, this pork roll will be good enough to pile on sandwiches or serve as the main course… but mostly cut little pieces of and eat hastily over the sink the minute we all step through the door in the evening.  You know, the perfect snack to tie you over till dinner.
Porcini and Sun Dried tomato Pork roll.
1 large pork loin
½ cup dried porcini
½ cup sun dried tomatoes
2 cups fresh button or baby bella mushrooms, chopped
1 small onion chopped
2 cloves of garlic chopped
2 tbs chopped parsley
Olive oil
1 cup of dry white wine
½ cup apple juice or apple cider
3 tbs soy sauce
Salt and Pepper to taste

Preheat the oven to 375F.  Prepare the pork loin by cutting into it at an angle.  Working slowly with the full edge of a butcher’s knife, cut it into a flat sheet, approximately ¼ inch thick.  Or ask your butcher to do it…

Pour 2 cups of boiling water over the porcini and the sun dried tomatoes.  Let them soak for 15-20 minutes.  Drain and reserve the liquid (discard the grit at the bottom). 
In a large skillet, heat the olive oil and sauté the onion on low / medium heat until soft, add garlic and sauté another minute or so.  Add the fresh mushrooms and cook until they are tender.  Add chopped porcini and sun dried tomatoes.  Season the mixture with salt and pepper and cook for 10 minutes.  Turn off the heat, add chopped parsley and transfer the whole mixture to the bowl of a food processor.

Flattened pork loin

Pulse the mixture until just combined and not to pasty.  You want the filling to have some texture.  Season the flattened pork loin with salt and pepper on both sides.  Spread one generously with the mushroom filling and roll the whole thing up tightly.

Secure the rolled up pork with kitchen twine, making sure to tie it both vertically and horizontally.

Preheat a heavy bottom, oven safe pot.  Add a few tbs of olive oil and sear the roll on all sides on high heat, until it is brown and crusty on all sides.  Turn off the heat, pour the wine, apple juice and soy sauce over the Pork roll.  Transfer to the preheated oven.  Bake uncovered for 1 to 1.5 hrs, depending on the size of your roll.  Turn the occasionally so that all the sides can take advantage of the beautiful pan sauce that will form on the bottom of your pan.

Cool fully before cutting, although you can serve it warm, cold, room temperature, whatever.  Try it on a piece of crusty sourdough bread with some spicy brown mustard. 
How is that for cold cuts?