Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Linzer Torte


After weeks of backyard blackberry picking last summer, I ended up with 2 gallon-sized bags of berries in the freezer to tide me over until next August. I made muffins and jam, which I then used in cakes and cheesecakes. To make berry jam, you can either add pectin to help it thicken, a plant derived gelling agent, cook it with pectin rich fruits like apples, or cook the berries for a very, very long time until it's thick enough to set on its own. The third way is how I make my jams, pectinless freezer jams. I am too paranoid about botulism to can foods, so I opt to store them in the freezer. And I don't have or know (and a little lazy to learn) how to use pectin.

The benefit of pectinless jams is that it is cooked down so much that it is pure berry concentrate, one tiny spoonful is the flavor equivalent of a mouthful of berries so a little will go a very long way. But because it cooks down so much, the downside, though, is that a big pot of berries will yield only 1 or 2 cups of jam, and with seedy berries like raspberries or blackberries, the seed density becomes highly concentrated as well. Sure, seeds are rustic, but when they're so condensed like that, it's not too enjoyable. Some recipes give you the impression that you can simply push the berries through a strainer as if with a few smooshes with a spatula, you'll end up with perfect seedless puree in a bowl and the unwanted seeds left behind in the strainer. If you've ever tried this, you'll know that it's not the case.

blackberries + strainer = no go

I couldn't help but laugh when Jen wrote about the same thing. See? We food bloggers tell it how it is. What really happens is after about 10 minutes of pushing, smearing, and smooshing you end up with about a quarter cup of blackberry juice in the bowl in which you hoped would collect a bounty of seedless berry puree - half cup if you're lucky. And instead you get juice on yourself, the counters, and maybe even a few splotches here and there on the walls, and a strainer still full of mashed up blackberries. This is exactly why I dropped fifty bucks on a shiny new food mill. Gone are the days of stained wooden spoons and bent sieves. It still takes some elbow grease to crank the food mill but it's a helluvalot better than using a strainer. Plus, it's another sparkly toy to add to the kitchen.

I finally used up the last of my blackberry stash and made one last batch of seedless blackberry jam. The jam is sweet, without being cloying, with just the right amount of tart to make your lips pucker a bit and tastes like summer and sunshine. With the last of my 2007 blackberry jam, I made a Linzer Torte, a beautiful lattice topped tart named for the city of Linz, Austria. The buttery, crumbly crust is made from ground nuts (I used a combination of almonds and hazelnuts) and flavored with lemon zest and a hint of spices. It is traditionally filled with a currant or raspberry jam so blackberry jam isn't too much of a departure.

Or you can make linzer cookies.

Linzer Torte

1/2 C hazelnuts
1 C almonds (how to blanch almonds)
1 1/2 C all purpose flour
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/8 tsp cloves
1/8 tsp salt
1 stick (1/2 C or 4 oz.) unsalted butter
1/4 C granulated sugar
1 egg
2 tsp grated lemon zest (zest from 1 lemon)
1 tsp vanilla extract (or 1/2 tsp almond extract)
1 C jam (any jam would work)
Powdered sugar for dusting

Toasting the hazelnuts:
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Spread the hazelnuts in an even layer on a baking sheet and bake until they're brown and fragrant, about 8 to 10 minutes. Pour the hazelnuts onto a clean kitchen towel and cover them up in the towel and let them steam for a minute or two. Rub the hazelnuts together in the towel to get their skins off. Remove the hazelnuts and shake the towel out outside or carefully in the trash so the skins don't fly everywhere. Cool the nuts completely before using.

Pulse the hazelnuts, almonds, and sugar sugar in a food processor until they are finely ground. The sugar will keep the nuts from sticking together from the oils. If they are starting to stick together add a few tablespoons of the flour and continue to pulse.

Add the ground nuts to a large bowl with the flour, cinnamon, cloves, and salt, and whisk to combine.

Cream the butter in the bowl of a stand mixer or with a hand mixer. Add the egg, lemon zest, and vanilla extract and continue to beat until fluffy. Slowly mix in the dry ingredients and continue to mix until the dough has formed.

Turn the dough onto a lightly floured work surface. Gather the dough then divide it into two equal pieces. Wrap each piece in a piece of plastic wrap, flatten in a round disc, and chill in the fridge for at least 2 hours or in the freezer for 20 - 30 minutes, or until the dough is chilled and firm but not too hard.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F and adjust the oven rack to the lower middle position.

After the dough has chilled, remove one piece and roll it out into a circle large enough to fit into a 9inch tart pan. Press the crust into the tart pan. Trim the outer edge of the dough by cutting off the top 1/2 inch of the sides of the dough, otherwise the sides of the tart will be too tall. Spread the jam evenly in the crust.

The lattice top for this linzer torte is laid at an angle, not woven. Roll out the second piece of dough into a circle that's slightly larger than the diameter of the tart pan. Trim the edges of the piece of dough until it is a 9 inch circle. Cut the dough into 3/4 inch strips. Lay one set of dough strips across the tart in parallel lines. Then lay the second layer of strips at an angle on top of the first layer.

Bake at 375 deg F for about 25 to 30 minutes, until the crust is golden brown.

Let the tart cool to room temperature and can be kept at room temperature for up to 3 days. Some sources say the tart is best on the day it's made while others say it is best after sitting for a day. Dust with powdered sugar or top with whipped cream before serving.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Osso Buco with Risotto Milanese

Osso Buco
I finally made osso buco with the veal shanks I bought from Pike Place two months ago. Luckily, the shanks weren't freezer burned *whew* because they weren't cheap and were pretty difficult to find too. My local grocery stores didn't carry shanks thick enough to even tie a piece of twine around. What the heck are you suppose to do with a shank that's barely a 1/2 inch thick? I called around and found that Don and Joe's Meats in Pike Place carries appropriately-thick veal shanks, at $12.90/lb for frozen ones (slightly more for freshly butchered). At nearly $10 a serving, I would normally skip making a dish like this or use a cheaper alternative like lamb shanks but proper osso buco was on The List so I splurged and bought two whole servings! Cuz yeah, I'm such a high roller. I followed Marcella Hazan's recipes for both the osso buco and the traditional accompaniment risotto milanese (saffron risotto). The full recipe called for 6 - 8 shanks and when I thought about it, if you were making 8 servings of osso buco, the contents in the Dutch oven would be close to $100. *faints* Thankfully, both the osso buco and risotto turned out delicious. Worth the cost? Yes, but it's definitely not something I would make regularly.

Osso buco literally translates to "bone hole" and was most likely named after the marrow. This luscious meat butter is the highlight of this dish. You could use a marrow spoon (though I don't know of anyone who actually owns marrow spoons) or a butter knife to scoop it out or you can just shamelessly suck that baby out. Mmm mm! The surrounding veal was soft and tender, meaty but not beefy. I know some people have ethical objections to veal but there are sources for humanely-raised veal or feel free to use beef or lamb shanks.

This was also my first time cooking with saffron and honestly, I'm a little disappointed. Was I suppose to have a culinary epiphany where from the moment that risotto hit my tongue, I would understand why it's the world's most expensive and prized spice. I mean people pick the stamens by hand for crying out loud. What the heck is saffron suppose to taste like? I don't think I screwed up the risotto that badly because it was still the most delicious risotto I've ever made. I know my saffron (from Trader Joe's) isn't the best quality but I smelled it and it smelled... well, it smelled weird, nothing mind-blowing like the first time I smelled a real vanilla bean. As for the taste? How would you describe it? Because I haven't a clue. Could it be that I just didn't use enough? Some recipes called for just 3 or 4 threads but I used at least 6 to 10..

Hmm... I dunno. But anyway, onto the recipe.

Osso Buco
Adapted from Marcella Hazan (Below is the full recipe with minor changes, I scaled the recipe down to roughly 1/3 since I was only cooking 2 shanks)

6 - 8 veal shanks
Salt and pepper
Flour
2 Tbsp vegetable oil
4 Tbsp butter
1 C diced onion
2/3 C diced carrot
2/3 C diced celery
1 C dry white wine
2 strips lemon zest
1 C chicken stock
1 1/2 C tomatoes in juices
1/4 tsp dried thyme or 1 tsp fresh
2 bay leaves
3 - 4 parsley sprigs

Gremolada
1 tsp grated lemon zest
1/4 tsp finely minced garlic
1 Tbsp minced Italian parsley

Some notes from Marcella Hazan:
- Veal shanks are best no thicker than 1 1/2 inches, otherwise they will not cook evenly.
- Do not remove the white skin/membrane around shank, it adds flavor and creaminess to the dish
- Give yourself enough time to allow the osso buco to cook slowly and gently. It's not something you can rush.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Tie each shank tightly with a piece of twine to prevent them from falling apart during cooking.

Flour both sides of the veal shank and pat off the excess. Heat two tablespoons of vegetable oil in a Dutch oven over medium high heat. Sear the shanks on both sides until a brown crust forms, remove to a plate and set aside.

Turn down the heat to medium and add 4 tablespoons of butter to the Dutch oven. Add the onion, carrot, and celery and cook until the vegetables have softened. Add the wine and cook until it no longer smells alcoholic. Nestle the shanks back into the
vegetables. Add the lemon zest, chicken stock, tomatoes, thyme, bay leaf, and parsley. Bring the contents to a simmer, cover, and transfer to the oven.

Let it cook in the oven for about 2 - 3 hours or until the shanks are fork tender. Baste the shanks by spooning the cooking liquid over them every 20 - 30 minutes. If the pot is getting too dry, add a few tablespoons of water.

Optional step (it wasn't in the cookbook but this is what I did): After the shanks are done, carefully remove them from the pot and set aside on a plate. Puree the contents in the pot (the veggies and braising liquid) in a blender/food processor/immersion blender for a more uniform sauce.

Serve the osso buco over risotto milanese or polenta. Carefully snip the twine around the shank and spoon the sauce over it. Top with a spoonful of the gremolada (which I skipped in the picture).


Risotto Milanese
Adapted from Marcella Hazan

1 Tbsp olive oil (I used bacon fat)
1 Tbsp butter
1/4 medium onion, finely diced
1 C Arborio or Carnaroli rice
A small pinch of saffron threads (I used about 6 - 10?)
1/4 C hot water
1/4 C dry white wine
2 - 3 C chicken stock
1 Tbsp cold butter
1/3 C grated Parmigiano Reggiano

Note:
- Do not rinse the rice, the starches on the outside of the grains is what makes the risotto creamy.
- The chicken stock must be hot when you add it to the rice, so keep it in a saucepan on low heat on the stove while you're cooking.
- Add the saffron threads to the hot water and let it infuse.

Heat the olive oil and butter in a saucepan over medium heat. Add the onions and cook until softened. Add the rice and cook until the rice is coated with fat and starts to turn translucent around the edges.

Lower the heat to medium low, add the wine and cook while stirring until
the wine has been absorbed.

Add one cup of the chicken stock, keeping it at a simmer, and cook uncovered while stirring constantly until almost all of the liquid as absorbed. After this point add the chicken stock about 1/3 cup at a time. Keep it at a low simmer, and cook the rice while stirring constantly.

About 15 minutes in, after the chicken stock has been absorbed, add the saffron
water (threads too) and continue to cook and stir. If you start running low on
chicken stock, go ahead and use hot water.

Continue adding ladlefuls of broth, waiting until each addition has been almost absorbed before adding the next, cook while constantly stirring until the rice has is al dente, fully cooked but still retains a chew in the center.

Take off heat and stir in a tablespoon of cold butter and grated Parmigiano.

Saturday, June 7, 2008

Reuben

Reuben

I got some wisdom teeth pulled on Tuesday and I've pretty much been in hibernation, sleeping for about 18 hours a day, ever since. Lemme tell ya, the novelty of eating milkshakes and soups wears off real fast. I've been in a real pissy mood lately because after 5 days of eating mush all I want is some real food, something with texture, something with crunch. I just want a goddamn burger and extra large side of onion rings. Sadly, I won't be eating that anytime soon. But I swear as soon as I'm able to open my jaw again, I am going to make the biggest and best burger ever. Heck, I'll even make the bun from scratch.

In my desperation for real food, I started looking through all the recipes I have yet to post, and unsurprisingly, that didn't make things any better. This is a prime example of what I can't eat right now, which also happens to be one of my top 3 sandwiches. :( A big, fat Reuben that's crunchy on the outside and hot, juicy, and gooey on the inside. *siiigh* It was delicious when I made it a week or so ago though.

Reuben Sandwich

Rye bread (dark is preferable, though personally I like marbled rye because it looks cool)
Corned beef or Pastrami (but then it would be a Rachel), thinly sliced
Sauerkraut, drained
Swiss Cheese, shredded
Russian Dressing or Thousand Island
Butter

Cheater's Thousand Island:
Mix equal parts ketchup and tartar sauce or mayo if you don't have tartar sauce. Add a little vinegar for acidity then some Worcestershire to taste.

Feel free to use a sandwich press or whatever sandwich-making gizmo you like (I hear a George Foreman works well). But I just have a plain old cast iron skillet.

Butter 2 slices of bread, place them butter side down on the skillet. Cover one slice of bread with corned beef, then add some sauerkraut, and top with some dressing. Add shredded Swiss on the other slice of bread (shredded cheese melts faster). Turn the heat to medium low and cover the pan to keep the heat in. Check the bottom of the bread periodically. You want the bread to be a lovely golden brown, the cheese to melt, and the meat and sauerkraut to warm up a bit. Avoid turning the heat up too high otherwise the bread may burn very quickly.

When both pieces of bread are golden brown, cover the meat/kraut piece of bread with the cheese covered bread (not the other way around or stuff will be falling off everywhere). Smush it down a little to glue the sandwich together, cut in half, and serve hot.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Thai Red Curry Chicken

Thai Red Curry Chicken
When Steven said he didn't like curries, I suggested that he try a Thai curry. Unlike Indian curries that are spice based, Thai curries are made with a paste of aromatics and fresh ingredients and cooked in coconut milk. I made a chicken red curry and at first he was skeptical but after tasting it, he loved it! Hooray! He even told me he liked it more than his mom's curry. Score! +1 point for me. I'm usually not a competitive person, except with cooking, and it made me feel so special when he said that. :D

Thai curry paste contains a bunch of ingredients including: chilies, garlic, shallots, lemongrass, ginger, galangal, coriander root, etc. Red curries are made with red chilies, green curries are made with green chilies, and yellow curry are includes spices like turmeric and cumin. Although it seems counterintuitive, green curries are actually hotter than red curries. For convenience sake, I use a store-bought curry paste (Mae Ploy brand) because it's a lot of trouble making your own curry paste since some of the ingredients are difficult to find. Using a premade paste cuts down the ingredient list by half and makes things a whole lot easier. I like using dark meat so I can slowly simmer the curry without overcooking the chicken. The end result is delicious, flavorful, and reheats beautifully, in fact, it tastes even better the next day.

Thai Red Curry (Chicken)
3 pounds of chicken drumsticks
1 onion, chopped
1 14oz. can of coconut milk (my fav is Chaokoh)
1/4 C Thai red curry paste
Fish sauce (I like Three Crabs)
1 Tbsp palm sugar or brown sugar
Lime/Rice vinegar
Handful of Thai basil leaves

Optional step: Use a large cleaver and cut the chicken drumsticks in half, first cut through the flesh to the bone, then try your best to hit that spot with a strong whack. Sometimes you won't hit the first cut you made spot on, but it will be enough to break the bone. If you don't feel comfortable doing this, skip this step. Please don't hurt yourself doing this. After cutting the drumsticks in half, rinse the exposed bone area under some running water to loosen any bone shards. Do this over a sieve to catch the bone shards so they don't mess up your disposal. This step is completely optional, I just think it makes the curry more presentable and easier to eat.

Do not shake the can of coconut milk. Open the can and skim off the "cream" on top (roughly the top 1/3 of the can) and add it to a Dutch oven or large pan.

The first step is to "fry" the curry paste in the coconut cream. Add the paste to the coconut cream in the pan, stir and cook this over medium heat until the oils separate from the paste. First, the mixture will look soupy and very messy. Slowly, it will begin to cook down into a thick paste, then finally the aromatic oils will begin to separate from the paste. After you see the oil, add the chopped onion and cook the onion for about 1 minute.

Add the chicken and the remainder of the can of coconut milk. Bring this to a boil then lower to a bare simmer. Season with fish sauce to taste, a tablespoon at a time. Add a tablespoon of brown sugar. Cover the pot and simmer gently for about 40 min to an hour, or until the chicken is tender (the meat will start to retract from the bone). When the chicken has finished cooking, stir in the juice of half a lime to start with, taste, and if it needs more tang, add more lime juice. If you don't have a lime you can use rice vinegar. Add more brown sugar if it needs more sweetness (the sweetness should be subtle and not overwhelming). Stir in a big handful of Thai basil leaves that are torn in half. It's important to balance the salty, sour, sweet, and spicy with Thai food. Don't tear the leaves in advance or they will turn black.

Serve with rice.

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