January 22, 2014

Tangerine Tarragon Panna Cotta with Raspberry Sauce

Citrus is my favorite.  I cannot get enough of everything right now what with the blood oranges, meyer lemons, fun orange hybrids, and all of the rest.  I had a packet of gelatin leftover from the marshmallow experiment, so I decided to try my hand at a panna cotta with the beautiful tangerines I had.

Panna cotta means cooked cream.  Sorry, literalists, I did not cook my cream.  This being my first time with the dessert, I went to Bon Appetit for guidance and adapted a blood orange panna cotta.  The gelatin is bloomed in the tangerine juice, dissolved over low heat, cooled, and then the cream and some greek yogurt is added.  Oops.  Still tasted amazing!

So how did tarragon get into the mix?  To be honest, I was looking at the leaves attached to some of the tangerines and thought they looked like tarragon leaves.  No real burst of genius, just my weird brain being weird.  But can I just say, it was an amazing combination!  I love putting unexpected things in dessert and this was no exception.

To add a burst of color, I made a quick raspberry sauce to top the panna cotta.  More tangerine juice was combined with fresh raspberries, a little sugar, and more tarragon sprigs.  I strained the sauce to keep out the seeds and match the silky texture of the panna cotta.

For as impressive the final product is, there is very little active time in this recipe.  Just refrigerate for about 6 hours before serving and use a warm water bath (and a maybe a knife) to help ease the panna cotta out of the personal sized bowls.  Enjoy!

January 19, 2014

French Onion Jam

My favorite food in the entire world is caramelized onions.  They are the perfect combination of sweet and savory and when done correctly make a dish a million times better.  When I was first getting into cooking in high school, I used to make this salad almost every single day with spinach leaves, cucumbers, avocado and a touch of peanut sauce and then top it with a smattering of caramelized onions.  When I finally got a kitchen of my own in college, I would make egg white omelets that started with caramelized onions almost every single day.   If I'm out to eat and there are caramelized onions on a dish, you know that's what I'm going to order.

It is neither socially acceptable nor the basis for a well balanced diet to only eat caramelized onions.  Now, I incorporate them in tarts, pizzas, and anything else I can shove 'em in.  When I'm feeling fancy I pick up a bottle of red (maybe a bottle of white?) and a baguette and make myself a big pot of french onion soup. I've even shared my recipe with you on the blog.  Any time I am dreaming up a recipe or am inspired by something I see or read, there is always a little voice in the back of my head asking "Can this be made better with caramelized onions?"

Last Sunday was no different.  I woke up feeling like I could take on the world and wanted to run every single errand before noon so I could cook all afternoon.  I biked down to my favorite Trader Joe's (to be replaced by the U street TJ's in March!), picked up what I couldn't get there at two other places, and got home in time to force Lisa to go to breakfast with me at our favorite French Bakery.  The just-baked baguettes were calling to me, begging to for some french onion… jam?

Yes, french onion jam!  I did everything I would do to start a french onion soup from cooking the onions low and slow for almost two hours (patience is a virtue), deglazing with red wine, simmering with a little bit of stock to get the flavor of long-cooked soup, and reducing to make the most luscious onion jam I've ever had in my life.  This whole process will take you about 1 1/2 to 2 hours, but I refuse to give you exact times.  Keep the heat low, stay semi-close to the stove (I would check every 5-10 minutes), and trust your gut!

I used the jam in a sort of reconstructed french onion soup sandwich.  Sections of baguette were sliced for sandwiches, slathered with the jam while still hot, covered with thinly sliced gruyere cheese, and topped with a little bit of a baby arugula lettuce mix for some bite.  It could also work at a crostini for a party, like I tried below.  For an extra special touch, you could throw it under the broiler like you do the soup to get the cheese nice and bubbly.

It was a fun and lazy Sunday cooking project that left an almost full bottle wine to be enjoyed with the French Onion Jam sandwiches.  And I am not ashamed to admit that I ate the jam on almost everything for the rest of the week.  Judge me.

January 17, 2014

Panda Marshmallows for Bao Bao

As you may have heard me gush about before, I love my city.  Now I especially love DC because we have a baby panda to parade around for the world at the National Zoo!  After the surprise birth and then death of a baby cub to Mei Xiang in September of 2012, she was artificially inseminated this past March.  On August 23, Mei Xiang welcomed a baby girl panda and the next day a stillborn.  The surviving panda was a girl and made it the 100 days to receive her name, Bao Bao.  (I voted for Mulan, big surprise there)

Little Bao Bao has been doing her media rounds the past few days and she could not be more adorable.  I decided to get in on the cuteness and make some panda marshmallows to celebrate!  I went to the woman who literally wrote the book on marshmallows, Shauna Sever, for my first foray into the treat.  I used her basic vanilla marshmallow recipe and then added my own panda flair.

Can I just say something?  Everyone seems to hype up how hard the marshmallow is to make.  I had been scared of it for years!  You just need to set up all ingredients before doing ANY steps, have an accurate candy thermometer that you do not step away from, and resist the urge to put your fingers into anything lest you get the sticky goop all over everything!  And for easy clean up, immediately get any tools into soapy hot water after using.

To make the marshmallows, there are three basic parts.  First, the gelatin must bloom, dissolve, and then get a bit of a work out in the mixer.  Next, the sugar, water, and corn syrup mixture must be heated to exactly 240 F then immediately yet slowly (and carefully!) poured into the gelatin and cold corn syrup in the stand mixer.  Finally, the mallow has to be whipped into submission.  Start on a medium speed then work your way up to the highest setting; the mixture should triple in volume of the course of 10-15 minutes.

For the pandas, I poured the finished mallow into a well greased rimmed baking sheet then sprinkled a coating of cornstarch and powdered sugar mixture (to prevent sticking) over the top.  I probably should have used an offset spatula to spread it out evenly, but I kind of liked the rustic look at the end.  After letting the marshmallows dry for at least 6 hours, I cut out bear shaped with a teddy bear cookie cutter, patted cut surfaces in the coating, and let dry for another hour or two.

For the panda look, I dipped the arms and legs into melted dark chocolate and let set on a sheet of waxed paper.  I used a bamboo skewer (how appropriate!) to outline the ears in more dark chocolate.  The result was an adorable little panda teddy bear perfect for popping into a hot chocolate while waiting in line for the panda exhibit.  Of which the lines will be very long, get there early!

Welcome to the world, Bao Bao!

January 14, 2014

Meyer Lemon Linguine with Clams

For the longest time, my girlfriends and I have been talking about having a pierogi party.  I will be hosting it in two weeks (stay tuned), so I made sure to steal the pasta roller attachment from my parent's house when I was home for Christmas.  I couldn't let it sit there, all sad in the back of a cabinet, so I decided to pull it out for a cooking night with Brad.

Because this was right after the polar vortex went through DC, I wanted to make a stick-to-your-ribs pasta with cream sauce.  I immediately thought linguine and clams with fresh pasta and clams steamed in the cream sauce.  I've never really worked with clams before, but I grew up on mussels and thought I could handle the mollusk.

When I grabbed the clams, I talked with the fish guy to make sure I didn't need to do anything other than scrub the clams and do the typical flour and water soak to get out the grit.  I threw out any that are open or have cracked shells (only one, I was impressed!).  Pro tip: when you're bringing home the clams (or any other live shellfish) make sure you get ice in the bag and poke a few holes so the clams can breathe!

For the pasta, I used a simple recipe from Kelsey Nixon and added a bunch of meyer lemon zest to the dough.  This may have been a bit of overkill on my part for a dish with such a flavorful sauce, but I would love to try the pasta with just a simple garlic oil and some grated parmesan on top.  I rolled the pasta to the 5 thickness, cut the rolled pasta into noodle sized sheets, and then cut on the wide noodle attachment.

There are a few things that you need to remember to make successful homemade pasta.  When the dough is coming together, you want it to be a little tacky but never sticky.  Add a little more flour if the dough verges on sticky.  Always rest your dough for at least 30 minutes before rolling.  When rolling, keep everything well floured to avoid having to reroll (which I seem to forget once every time I'm making pasta).  And make sure to dry the pasta for about 30 minutes before cooking up al dente.

The cream sauce started with bacon, melted leeks, garlic, red chili flakes, and more lemon zest.  A glug of dry white wine and equal parts chicken stock and cream were allowed to simmer for fifteen minutes. Then the clams joined the party!  I got about 20 clams between the two of us, so we just nestled them into the sauce.  They opened up after about 5 minutes of steaming under a lid.

Once the clams were open and pulled from the sauce, we cooked the pasta al dente.  It took about 2-3 minutes with our recipe and noodle thickness.  The cooked pasta then got tossed in the cream sauce with a little pasta water to thicken it up.  The sauce was finished with juice from the meyer lemon, fresh grated parmesan, and flat leaf parsley.

We served up the pasta in the pan we used to cook everything, just nestled the clams back in and topped with the cooked bacon, more parsley and parmesan, and a little bit of white pepper to finish.  Brad declared it was one of our best, and I have to agree!  Just quality harmonious ingredients used simply, my favorite way to cook.

January 13, 2014

Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Apples and Pecans

I have three weird food things.  One, I cannot stomach melons other than watermelon.  They have such a strong flavor that permeates everything around it so that I cannot handle any fruit salad that I don't personally make.  Two, and this is the one I get the most flak for, unless they are sweet or very thin and fried I cannot handle root vegetables.  That means sweet potatoes, pumpkin, butternut squash, and all things similar are off limits to me.  Every time I make a dessert with pumpkin, I gag when I get the puree out of the can but want to lick the bowl by the time I'm cleaning up.  I get the courage to try savory squash dishes every month or so, but still no dice.  Still disappointing.

And my third thing?  I have extra bitter taste buds.  I'm super sensitive to citrus pith, just a little can ruin a dish for me.  Deep leafy greens need to be dowsed in dressing to make it palatable for me; I'll give my mom that excuse for not eating more kale.  Brussels sprouts had long been a forgotten vegetable because they are particularly bitter to me.  In fact, I wrote a post about the brown sugar, orange juice, and beer simmering sauce for drunk brussels sprouts that can be used to almost mask the flavor!  Won't lie, still kind of hated it despite the incredible sauce.  (Thanks, Dad!)

However, I do believe in trying everything when I'm at a dinner party.  I was at a friend's house recently and she served up a dish of roasted brussels sprouts with apples in them.  I took the "polite" portion, loaded with a lot of apples and only a couple of sprouts.  My first bite took me totally by surprise - I actually like brussels sprouts!

What a revelation!  Honestly, I felt so stupid.  I love everything roasted and have to restrain myself because if left to my own devices every post on this blog would start with the word "roasted."  This dish is a bit of an homage to the first brussels sprouts that I liked, with the apples and nuts.

I cut my sprouts into quarters to give them more surface area to crisp up (and downplay the bitter), paired them with thinly sliced and slightly wilted apples, added a little lemon juice for brightness, and finished with nutmeg to pair with the greens.  The combination of the lemon juice and the residual olive oil from roasting made an easy and flavorful bonus vinaigrette.  Paired with the roast pork, it was the perfect compliment!

My word of advice to you?  If you think you don't like something, keep trying.  It may not work, like me with sweet potatoes, but sometimes you'll surprise yourself!

January 10, 2014

Garlic Crusted Pork Roast

When is the last time you really looked in your freezer?  I know you might go in there every day for a few ice cubes or a bit out of the ice cream you try to hide from yourself, but there are probably a few secrets lurking in there.

Last week, when I made my food inventory (seriously, do it.) I found a bag of really good pistachios, a pint of my favorite sorbet, and the melange of meats thrown in when they were reaching expiration.  After getting through the ground chicken with the green curry chicken chili, I decided to make a lovely Sunday dinner with a sirloin pork roast.

For larger cuts of meat, I like to season the outside like crazy.  My pork roast was no exception; mustard seeds with a little bit of dried thyme were crushed in a mortar and pestle and then massaged into the seasoned pork roast.  In order to help the spices adhere, I dried the roast with paper towels.

I don't have a roasting rack, so I engineered one out of a bed of thick cut red onions and granny smith apples.  I propped the seasoned roast on the fashioned rack and then covered it with finely minced garlic and olive oil.  Before putting into a 325 F oven, I made sure to put in a temperature probe.

I cooked it low and slow for an hour plus, until the pork reached an internal temperature of 145 F.  The finely minced garlic crusted the pork roast without burning, thanks to the low temperature.  I was picking them off while slicing, so addictive!

To top the pork, I made a quick honey mustard finished by blending in some of the roasting rack onions and apples.  I think this was Lisa's favorite part!

To accompany, I made a quick side of roasted brussels sprouts with apples while the pork rested.  Hopefully, this recipe will prompt you to dig in your freezer and see what goodies are hiding in there.  I'm certainly pleased!

January 09, 2014

Roasted Red Grapes

"Your oldest friend will be your sibling."

That is the truest piece of advice I have ever gotten from my mom, and I'm so happy that I have that in my sister Lisa.  I remember hearing that a lot growing up, especially when we were at each other's throats.  We didn't really become close until we were both in high school, when we had an hour in the car with each other every day commuting to school.  She was too small to sit in the front seat so I looked like her chauffeur, but the forced intimacy turned into the best friendship I've ever had in my life.

Years later, we not only live together but still like each other after a year and a half of cohabitation!  We watch far too many disney movies, listen to way too much terrible 90s and 00s music on grooveshark while doing the Ger dance, and average seven jinx moments a night.  We're pretty embarrassing, but in the best possible way.

When we first moved into the condo, I "christened" it by making one of our favorite meals: chicken burgers.  I hadn't cooked in about three weeks by that point, due to my pilot light in the old apartment going out during a crazy summer thunderstorm and everything being packed up, so I went crazy.  Fresh buns from the bakery, roasted garlic to freeze up and put in some homemade mayonnaise, and roasted grapes.

This week, I had a bunch of chicken I roasted up after making stock.  We were brainstorming ways to use the rest of it when I mentioned the roasted grapes in passing.  Lisa stopped me immediately and said, "Wait, you can roast grapes?"  I guess she forgot about them in the chaos of moving in, so of course I had to remind her!

Roasted grapes are a simple way to add a savory-sweet element to a sandwich.  And it couldn't be simpler!  Just a hot oven, grapes tossed in olive oil and thyme leaves, and finished off with a little red wine vinegar.  Add it as a condiment, put into chicken salad, or just eat it plain like me!  Best part?  Lisa really liked it.

January 07, 2014

Roasted Cauliflower Puree

I'm so lucky to have people in my life who will indulge my food obsessions.  I grew up watching cooking shows on PBS with my Dad, can talk for hours with my Aunts about what to cook, and have one of the best cooking buddies in the entire world, my friend Brad.  We met in college in our intro to engineering class and have been close ever since.  Our junior year, we had a French cooking night where we made duck a l'orange, garlic roasted potatoes, haricot verts, and red wine poached pears.  It is in my top five of meals I've ever made or eaten in my entire life and we still talk about it to this day.

When he moved to the DC area last year, we started cooking together a couple times a month.  Wednesday nights were reserved for our most interesting of culinary creations.  The notable meals have included chorizo spiced mussels, beef wellington, and a fall inspired pork chops with apple cider gravy.    Right before Christmas, we attempted a roasted cauliflower puree that I could not get out of my head.  It was rich, flavorful, and the perfect complement for a great piece of steak!

I had to bring home this dish to my family for Christmas, but I wasn't as pleased with the texture this time around.  I think that our oven may have been a bit hotter than Brad's so the outsides of the florets got the beautiful caramelization provided by roasting but were still a bit "al dente" in the middle.  Not great for a puree.

Being a person who can't let sleeping dishes lie (read: two batches of bacon caramel in one week), I tried one more time.  This time?  I steamed the florets for about 5 minutes, dried them in the oven on a baking sheet at 400 F for five minutes, and then coated them in a little olive oil to roast at 400 F for 10-15 minutes until the florets developed some gorgeous roasted color:

While still warm, I put the (fully cooked!) florets into a food processor and added a little butter, a splash of cream, a couple cloves of roasted garlic, and salt and pepper (white pepper if you've got it).  Buzz it up until you have a smooth puree, adding a little more butter if you want a silkier finishing texture.  The results are incredible, described by my sister as "heavenly."  It's always high praise when a formerly picky eater loves your food; I will never stop delighting in any yum I elicit out of her.

Welcome, Brad, to your first of many posts on Everything in the Kitchen Sink!  Insert obligatory picture of us as babies in college…

January 05, 2014

Bacon Caramels

My Christmas present to myself this year?  A candy thermometer!  Despite originally buying it for homemade marshmallows, I wanted to play with my new "toy" as soon as possible.  So, I decided to make a batch of caramels as a host gift for New Years Eve.  And not just any caramels, BACON caramels!  I love the contrast of smoky, crunchy bacon in desserts and as "passé" as it may be I'm still obsessed over salted caramels.  And even more perfect, the hosts made bacon jam as one of their wedding favors.  This was just me repaying the bacon favor!

Unfortunately, I didn't love the ones I brought to the party.  I think I let the sugar-water-corn syrup mixture go a little too far before adding the cream, I candied the bacon so it wasn't as much of a contrast to the chewy caramel as I wanted, and I thought I could get away with not individually wrapping them.  That was a big goopy mistake!  All of the caramels managed to merge back together over the course of the evening.  Lessons learned, I guess, but I needed to get it right!

First thing to correct was to replace the candied bacon with super crispy pan fried bacon.  I let it cool completely and then crushed it up for topping the caramel.  Next, I had to start adding the cream mixture when the caramelizing sugar was a lighter color.  Once the sugar started to get a little bit of color, I stood with a watchful eye ready to turn off the burner and then add the cream.  This is one of those things where you probably aren't going to get it right the first time but you'll definitely learn your lesson when you taste the slightly bitter flavor of overcooking the sugar base.

And the final correction was the individual wrapping of caramels.  I cut out pieces of parchment paper just big enough to wrap around the cut up chilled caramels and then twisted the ends.  It is a bit of a finesse to get twisted ends without ripping the paper.  The best method I found was to wrap the parchment over the caramel like you're starting to wrap a present, push the loose ends on top together, and then twist at both ends in opposite directions.

I decided to make the batches half bacon and half salted because my sister is not a bacon fan (blasphemy, I know!).  About 6 slices of bacon will cover half of an 8x8 cake pan, so a whole package of would work for the entire batch with a few extra slices for the chef.  The side that wasn't topped with bacon got a healthy sprinkling of sea salt on top.  

Make these as a host gift and you will definitely get a second invite!
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