Wednesday, October 31, 2007

No tricks, just treats on Hallow's Eve!

Can you spot the Pumpkin in Cheesecake's clothing?

I truly miss the days of dressing in costume and excitedly knocking on each neighbourhood door, barely able to contain my yells of "Trick-or-Treat!" long enough for the door to be answered. My brother and I didn't carry around those cute little plastic pumpkin buckets, oh no, those were for amateurs! Instead we opted for pillowcases, large and deep, perfect for us seasoned pros! Door after door, the pillowcase would grow heavier, yet there would be plenty more room for candy. By the end of the night we'd make our way home, cases slung over shoulders, running our candy inventory through our minds. Once home, we'd dump out our bags for the necessary parental inspection. You see, these were the days when parents were finding razor blades in Candied Apples and poison in unwrapped candies. Anything homemade or unwrapped went straight to the trash. What a shame it is that some twisted individuals ruined the delights of homemade treats for all.


Well I'm too old now for trick-or-treating, so I decided to console myself with a grown-up treat. Can you think of anything better than a decadent Bourbon Pumpkin Cheesecake on Halloween? This is the kind of homemade goodness that you won't find in your pillowcase at the end of the night! Needless to say, pumpkin, ginger, nutmeg and cinnamon are a match made in heaven. Throw in some bourbon, tangy cream cheese and a buttery pecan crust and you'll forget all about the trick and settle in for the treat.


Bourbon Pumpkin Cheesecake - from Epicurious.com

For crust:

  • 3/4 cup graham cracker crumbs (from five 4 3/4- by 2 1/4-inch crackers)
  • 1/2 cup pecans (1 3/4 oz), finely chopped
  • 1/4 cup packed light brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/2 stick (1/4 cup) unsalted butter, melted and cooled

For filling:

  • 1 1/2 cups canned solid-pack pumpkin
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
  • 2 tbs heavy cream
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 1 tbs bourbon (optional)
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 tbs cornstarch
  • 1 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
  • 1/2 tsp ground ginger
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 3 (8-oz) packages cream cheese, at room temperature

For topping:

  • 2 cups sour cream (20 oz)
  • 2 tbs granulated sugar
  • 1 tbs bourbon (optional)

Garnish: pecan halves

Make crust: Invert bottom of a 9-inch springform pan (to create flat bottom, which will make it easier to remove cake from pan), then lock on side and butter pan.
Stir together crumbs, pecans, sugars, and butter in a bowl until combined well. Press crumb mixture evenly onto bottom and 1/2 inch up side of pan, then chill crust, 1 hour.

Make filling and bake cheesecake: Put oven rack in middle position and Preheat oven to 350°F.
Whisk together pumpkin, eggs, brown sugar, cream, vanilla, and liqueur (if using) in a bowl until combined.
Stir together granulated sugar, cornstarch, cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, and salt in large bowl. Add cream cheese and beat with an electric mixer at high speed until creamy and smooth, about 3 minutes. Reduce speed to medium, then add pumpkin mixture and beat until smooth.
Pour filling into crust, smoothing top, then put springform pan in a shallow baking pan (in case springform leaks). Bake until center is just set, 50 to 60 minutes. Transfer to rack and cool 5 minutes. (Leave oven on.)

Make topping: Whisk together sour cream, sugar, and liqueur (if using) in a bowl, then spread on top of cheesecake and bake 5 minutes.

Cool cheesecake completely in pan on rack, about 3 hours.
Chill, covered, until cold, at least 4 hours. Remove side of pan and bring to room temperature before serving.

Note: I actually forgot to add the ginger to the pumpkin batter (how could I?!) and so I added it to the sour cream topping. I actually think it worked out really well as it added a nice ginger kick that might have been lost otherwise.


Friday, October 26, 2007

Save the Ta-Tas!

The other day as I was stopped at a traffic light, the bumper sticker on the car in front of me caught my attention. "Save the Ta-Tas!" It made me laugh out loud but also made me realise how lucky I am that my family has not been touched by this particular strain of an awful disease. For those of you who don't know, (and how could you not?), October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. So in honour of this incredible cause, Marye at Apron Strings & Simmering Things has thought up a very worthy blog event - the Boobie Bake Off! With a name as fun as that, how could you not join in? More importantly, it's a party with a purpose. Events like this help to shed light on a disease that effects millions of people across the globe each day.
The best part is, you can vote for your favourite entry and make a difference. Marye will be collecting $1 per vote and donating the proceeds to Susan G. Komen for the Cure. So be sure to check out the round-up on her blog on November 2nd to cast your vote!

Strawberry Cheesecake Glazed Eclairs

The only stipulation we were given for this event is that the entry had to be pink. For some reason, the first thought that entered my mind was to make eclairs with a pink glaze. Where this came from still puzzles me. I have never made eclairs before, nor do I eat them! But I decided to roll with it and see what magic I could work. I decided on a choux pastry recipe from Gourmet Magazine and whipped it up in a breeze. Now that I know how easy it is to work with, I'm sure I'll be concocting all sorts of airy delights from profiteroles to gougeres! For the glaze, I knew I wanted to work with strawberries and cream cheese, so I messed around for a bit and came up with a delightfully pink topping for my eclairs - no food coloring needed! The filling was simply a lightly sweetened whipped cream. The result was a light as air dessert with hint of strawberry cheesecake.

Strawberry Cheesecake Glazed Eclairs

For the choux pastry: (recipe from Gourmet Magazine, July 2007)

  • 6 tbs unsalted butter
  • 3/4 cup water
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 3/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 3 large eggs

Preheat oven to 425°F with rack in upper third. Butter a large baking sheet.

Bring butter, water, and salt to a boil in a small heavy saucepan over high heat, stirring until butter is melted. Reduce heat to medium. Add flour all at once and cook, beating with a wooden spoon, until mixture pulls away from side of pan and forms a ball, about 30 seconds. Transfer mixture to a large bowl and cool slightly, about 5 minutes. Add eggs 1 at a time, beating well with an electric mixer at high speed after each addition.

Transfer mixture to pastry bag and pipe 4-inch-long strips (about 1 inch wide) onto baking sheet, spacing them at least 1 inch apart. Bake éclairs 15 minutes, then reduce temperature to 400°F and continue to bake until golden, puffed, and crisp, about 7 minutes more (leave oven on). Immediately pierce side of each éclair with tip of a paring knife and return to oven to dry, propping door slightly ajar, 5 minutes. Cool éclairs completely on a rack, about 25 minutes.

For the Strawberry Cheesecake glaze:

  • 4 plump strawberries
  • 4 oz cream cheese, softened
  • 1/2 cup icing sugar

Puree the strawberries in a blender. Beat the cream cheese together with the icing sugar until smooth. Add the strawberry puree and mix until combined.

To assemble:

Fit a pastry bag with a round tip and fill the bag with slightly sweetened, freshly whipped cream. Insert the tip into one end of the eclair and pipe the cream until you feel a slight pressure back. Dip the top of the eclair into the glaze and allow to set for a few minutes.

Pair with a pink purse and you've got yourself a pink party!

Monday, October 22, 2007

Breaking News: Drunken Tarts on a Sugar High Arrested Late Friday Night for Disorderly Conduct.

Mugshot: Rustic Apple Tart with Chambord Whipped Cream

I know what you're thinking, and no, it's not that kind of drunken tart! The kind of tart I'm talking about consists of thinly sliced apples soused in a Chambord-laced caramel sauce, sitting atop flaky puff pastry and finished off with a dollop of Chambord whipped cream. Nonetheless, while it may look sweet and innocent, this is one naughty little tart.

Drunken Apples was this month's theme for Sugar High Friday hosted by Andrew at Spitoon Extra. Seeing as this is my first entry for SHF, I couldn't have been more pleased with such a versatile theme as Apples and Alcohol. As we settle into fall and the last of the peaches and plums slowly disappear from the market, an abundance of apples happily take their place. Granny Smith, Gala, Golden Delicious, Fuji and Red Delicious - to name but a few - adorn the aisles, glistening and tempting you to turn them into a myriad of delicacies.

For this challenge, I turned to my liquor cabinet, fruit bowl and trusty dog-eared Gourmet Magazines for inspiration. I came across a Rustic Apple Tart with Calvados Whipped Cream in the September 2006 issue that looked beautifully understated yet delicious. It just so happened that the Gala apples it called for were awaiting comfortably in my fruit bowl. Calvados is not a staple in my liquor cabinet, so I reached for something that we often use in cocktails but with which I had not yet cooked - Chambord Liqueur Royale de France. Chambord is a liqueur that is made in the Loire valley in France, dating back to 1685. Made with raspberries, blackberries, Madagascar vanilla, Moroccan citrus peel, honey and cognac; it's velvety rich taste lends itself to countless cocktails, desserts and savoury dishes. The freeform rustic pastry held the most delicate of thinly sliced apples enrobed in a perfectly sweet caramel sauce. The hint of Chambord rounded out the flavours adding a deeper, sultry undertone. Served warm and topped off with a dollop of Chambord whipped cream, this is a heavenly end to any fall meal. The apples wilt but retain their shape and slightly crisp texture. The flaky and buttery puff pastry is the perfect vehicle with which to mop up the caramel and cream.

Rustic Apple Tart with Chambord Whipped Cream - adapted from Gourmet Magazine, September 2006

For tarts:

  • 1/3 cup plus 1/2 tbs sugar
  • 1/2 cup apple juice
  • 1 tablespoon cider vinegar
  • 1 lb small Gala apples (about 4; left unpeeled)
  • 1 frozen puff pastry sheet (from a 17 1/4-oz package), thawed
  • 3 tbs unsalted butter
  • 1 tablespoon Chambord

For Chambord whipped cream:

  • 1/2 cup chilled heavy cream
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • 1 tsp Chambord

Preheat the oven to 425°F.

Cook 1/3 cup sugar in a dry 10-inch heavy skillet over moderate heat, undisturbed, until it begins to melt. Continue to cook, stirring occasionally with a fork, until sugar is melted into a pale golden caramel. Tilt skillet and carefully pour in apple juice and vinegar (caramel will harden and steam vigorously). Simmer over moderately low heat, stirring occasionally, until caramel is dissolved.

While syrup simmers, cut apples into 1/8-inch-thick slices with slicer, rotating around core of each, discard cores (I sliced the apples thinly with a chefs knife as I don't have a mandoline). Add apple slices to hot syrup in skillet, gently tossing to coat. Remove from heat and let stand, stirring occasionally, until apples are wilted by syrup, 5 to 10 minutes.

While apples stand, roll out puff pastry sheet into a 12-inch square on a lightly floured surface with a floured rolling pin. Cut into quarters, forming 4 (6-inch) squares and brush off excess flour from both sides.Transfer squares to a baking sheet. Take the apples, allowing the excess syrup to drip off them, and then mound slices decoratively on each square, leaving a 3/4-inch border all around. Fold border over apples along edges, pinching edges together as necessary, then dot tops of apples with a total of 1 tablespoon butter and sprinkle with remaining 1/2 tablespoon sugar.Bake tarts until apples are tender, pastry is puffed, and edges and undersides are golden brown, about 25 minutes.

While tarts bake, boil reserved syrup in skillet with Chambord and remaining 2 tablespoons butter until thickened and reduced to about 1/3 cup. Drizzle hot syrup over tarts.

Make cream: Beat cream with sugar in a chilled bowl with a whisk or electric mixer until cream holds soft peaks. Fold in the Chambord and serve with tarts.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Waiter, there's something in my cake!

Red Velvet Cake with Fresh Berries and Cream Cheese Frosting

Ever since I was a kid, I've loved to bake. I remember sifting through my mom's 'Joy of Cooking' and picking out my next conquest; peanut butter bars, devil's food cake, oatmeal cookies. This passion however, I did not inherit from my mother. Don't get me wrong, if she puts her mind to it she can turn out some mean desserts. But baking is not her forte. It's too precise, and takes too much patience. Most of all, it requires measuring ingredients. That's precisely what I love about it. Sure it can be frustrating, turn out hard as a rock or swish about in all its unset glory. But there is something so ultimately homey about baking. The smell of freshly baked goods wafting through the house is the ultimate home fragrance. Why else would Yankee make Apple Pie and Vanilla Sugar Cookie scented candles? When I bake, I get in the zone and enter a zen like state. Concentration is key, something I've learned the hard way - through garbage bagfuls of baking disasters over the last few years. The irony is that after spending hours of sifting, measuring, mixing, creaming and waiting for the timer to go off; I'll eat a single cookie or a slice of cake and then be done with it and on to figuring out my next foray. There's just something about the process of baking something myself that satisfies my craving rather than actually eating it. I know it's sounds strange... I mean set a cake you've baked in front of me and I'll eat my fill. Of course, there are some occasions where I'll bake something that is so delicious, I can't keep my hands off it!


When I heard that this month's theme for 'Waiter, there's something in my...' (hosted by Andrew at Spittoon Extra) was layer cakes, I was thrilled! This is my first time participating in WTSIM and I felt like I hit the jackpot. It was hard to choose between my two favourite layer cakes that I felt obliged to share, Red Velvet and Carrot Cake. Red Velvet won out this time, but only because I felt the need to make the most of berries before their season is well and truly over. The first time I made this red velvet cake was on the 4th of July a few years ago and it was a raging success. Not only is it beautiful to look at, elegantly frosted in white and accessorised in red and blue berries, this cake is moist with a light texture. The slight hint of cocoa with the rich, creamy frosting and refreshingly sweet and tart berries make this cake a winner.


Red Velvet Cake with Fresh Berries and Cream Cheese Frosting - adapted from Epicurious.com

Cake:

  • 2 1/4 cups sifted cake flour (sifted, then measured)
  • 2 tbs unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 cup buttermilk
  • 1 tbs red food coloring
  • 1 tsp distilled white vinegar
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 2 large eggs

Frosting:

  • 2 8-ounce packages cream cheese, room temperature
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1 tbs vanilla extract
  • 2 1/2 cups powdered sugar

For Filling and Garnish:

  • 3 1/2-pint baskets fresh raspberries
  • 3 1/2-pint baskets fresh blueberries

Preheat oven to 350°F. Butter and flour two 9-inch-diameter cake pans with 1 1/2-inch-high sides. Line the bottom of each pan with a buttered circle of parchment paper.

Sift the sifted flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, baking soda, and salt into medium bowl. (Make sure to sift these together as it really affects the texture of the cake). Whisk buttermilk, food coloring, vinegar, and vanilla in small bowl to blend. Using electric mixer, beat sugar and butter in large bowl until well blended. Add eggs 1 at a time, beating until well blended after each addition. Beat in dry ingredients in 4 additions alternately with buttermilk mixture in 3 additions until just incorporated, do not overmix.
Divide batter between prepared pans. Bake cakes until tester inserted into center comes out clean, about 27 minutes but check earlier so as to ensure you don't overcook the cake. Cool in pans on racks 15 minutes. Turn cakes out onto racks; allow to cool completely.

Meanwhile, beat cream cheese and butter in large bowl until smooth. Beat in vanilla. Add the powdered sugar a bit at a time and beat until smooth.

To assemble, place 1 cake layer, flat side up, on a platter. Spread 1 cup frosting over top of the cake. Arrange 1 basket raspberries and 1/2 basket blueberries atop frosting, pressing lightly to adhere. Top with second cake layer, flat side down. Spread remaining frosting over the top and sides of the cake. Arrange remaining berries decoratively over top of cake. (Can be made 1 day ahead. Cover and refrigerate. Let stand at room temperature 1 hour before serving.)

Note: I always end up with extra frosting as I like a thin layer in the middle and then just enough to evenly cover the cake. This prevents the overall sweetness factor from becoming too cloying.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Fall Getaway - The Biltmore Estate

Biltmore Winery Rosé and Veranda View

Sometimes you just need to get away. Take a break from work, from home, from responsibilities. Escape from reality. And the rain. My husband Alex and I were in desperate need of a few days off, and so we decided to hit the open road for a roadtrip to Asheville, N.C. Why Asheville? We knew we wanted to have a combination of relaxing downtime, nature and of course, great food. Throw in some challenging mountain biking and America's Largest Home - The Biltmore House, and we were sold. Oh, and the 6 hour drive was a bonus!

This was the ideal time of year to visit Ashville. The leaves are beginning their transition from dark forest greens to deep ambers, ochres and burgundy. Upon entering the Biltmore Estate, you feel as though you've entered another time. It felt as though we were Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy strolling through the vast forest, until it opened up to wide open fields at the foot of rolling hills.

The fresh scent of pine and the crisp crunch of fallen leaves, what could be better than that? Perhaps the cerulean sky and billowy white clouds, a welcome change from the rain.

The Biltmore House





The Food, Glorious Food

There are so many wonderful aspects to the Estate, but the top prize goes to the food. George Vanderbilt wanted to create a self-sustainable estate, one where they could live off of what the land produced. The vegetables served are grown in the kitchen garden, the beef is from their very own cattle, dairy from their Jersey cows, mountain trout from the river. Anything that is not from the estate is purchased locally, resulting in some of the most flavorful food I have had the priviledge to feast on. The dishes are incredibly innovative with flavor pairings that taste like heaven on a plate.

Duck Breast and Leg Confit with Ricotta Gnocchi, Tomato and Pineapple Compote and Pea Shoot Salad

Pecan-crusted Mountain Trout with Stir-fried Baby Bok Choy and Peruvian Purple Potatoes

The duck was spectacular! The luscious tomato and pineapple compote was laced with a hint of allspice which proved to be a delightful contrast to the gaminess of the duck. The breast was cooked to prefection, the confited leg deliciously sweet and tender. The ricotta gnocchi were light and fluffy, and ideal little sponges to mop up the sauce.

The mountain trout was rich and buttery in flavor but light and flaky in texture, the crunch of pecans adding the desired contrast. The baby bok choy was sweet and crisp and the potatoes were savory and with a velvety texture.


Flat Iron Steak with Gorgonzola and Fingerling Potato Gratin, Sauteed Kale and Cabernet Sauce


Cider-braised ribs with Vanilla Sweet Potato Puree and Red Cabbage and Apple Slaw

Let me just start off by saying, this meal was out of this world. There is no way I can possibly convey how good these dishes tasted. My new mission in life is to recreate these at home! The steak was extremely tender and paired exquisitely with the full-flavoured gorgonzola potato gratin. The kale brought a warm earthiness whereas the rich, fragrant sauce brought the dish full circle, uniting all the flavours in perfect harmony.

These were the best ribs I have ever, ever tasted. Sweet, sticky, succulent and tender to the bone. The mouthwatering sweet potato puree was infused with vanilla and was silky smooth. The desired cut of acid and crunch came in a crimson package, red cabbage and apple tossed with apple cider vinegar.

Coffee Creme Brulee with Rasberry Sauce, Madeleines and Mini Mocha Brownies

I'm a sucker for Creme Brulee, so even though it's tried and true, I still adore it. The thin veil of caramelised sugar cracked open to reveal a dense and creamy creme with a hint of coffee flavour. A sublime end to a spectacular trip.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Will ya just taste the soup?!

Carrot and Ginger Soup

"Wait aminute, wait a minute, wait stop right there! Listen: Stop right there, man. A man goes into a restaurant. You listenin'? A man goes into a restaurant, and he sits down, he's having a bowl of soup and he says to the waiter, waiter come taste the soup. Waiter says: Is something wrong with the soup? He says: Taste the soup. He says: Is there something wrong with the soup? Is the soup too hot? He says: Will you taste the soup? What's wrong, is the soup too cold? Will you just taste the soup?! Allright, I'll taste the soup - where's the spoon?? Aha. Aha! ... Whadaya know from funny, you bastards?" - Eddie Murphy in Coming to America.

It's nearly twenty years later and I still can't get through a bowl of soup without exclaiming, "Taste the soup!" As the days grow shorter and the temperarture begins to drop (to a cool 85F), there's no denying that it's the start of fall. I look forward to the autumnal color show that is about to begin and the comforting foods that accompany it so well. A year ago I was in Canada on a month long business trip and was lucky enough to have a close friend there to stay with. We would cook together each night, inspired by the dropping temperatures and the falling leaves. It was there that I first created this carrot and ginger soup. Now I know this is no new culinary feat, but it was the first time that I had tasted this match made in heaven! As fall settles over us like a cozy blanket, a deeply warming and pleasantly fresh soup is just right. The sweetness of the carrots briefly cloaks the warmth of the ginger, whilst the cilantro adds a citrusy freshness. The consistency is silky smooth and thick without the addition of cream, making this soup satisfying yet tremendously healthy. Not only is this delicious but it looks like a burnt orange autumn sunset.

Carrot and Ginger Soup

  • 1 lb carrots, peeled and sliced about a 1/2 inch thick
  • 2 small onions, roughly chopped
  • 4 spring onions, white and green parts roughly chopped
  • 3 garlic cloves, roughly chopped
  • a large nob of ginger, peeled and roughly chopped
  • a large handful of fresh cilantro, finely chopped
  • chicken stock
  • olive oil
  • kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

In a soup pot, heat the olive oil over medium heat and add the onions, spring onions, garlic and ginger. Sweat until translucent, about five minutes.



Next, add the sliced carrots and season with salt and pepper. Cook for another three minutes.

Add enough chicken stock to just cover the vegetables and bring to a boil. Cover and reduce the heat to a simmer. Simmer for 15 minutes, or until the carrots are fork tender. Ladle half of the soup into a blender and puree until smooth. Repeat with the rest of the soup and return to the pot.


Adjust the seasoning and add more chicken stock if necessary to create a thick yet flowing consistency. Keep warm over low heat and then when ready to serve, stir in the chopped cilantro.


Serve garnished with a sprig of cilantro. We had this for dinner last night along with a sandwhich of sourdough baguette with rotisserie chicken, tomatoes, cucumbers, cornichons and lettuce with french vinaigrette. It was the perfect meal to welcome the changing seasons.


Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Who will be the next Top Chef?

Bacon Wrapped Shrimp on Polenta with Chipotle-Tomato Butter Sauce


Top Chef is one of my guilty reality TV pleasures. There's plenty of drama, crazy antics and personalities, but most of all, some fantastically creative food. Of course I don't love everything about the show. The product placement is growing more painfully obvious with each episode. Do they really need to be so in-your-face about it? I understand they need advertisers, blah, blah, blah. But seriously, a little subtlety never hurt anyone. I heart Tom Colicchio. He is a great judge and speaks his mind without trying to back pedal his way out of it like some of the other judges, cough cough - Gail Simmons - cough cough. Most notable in the last episode when she said Casey's dish wasn't memorable and Eric Ripert disagreed with her, boy she sure took that back fast! Forgive me, I digress. What I truly love about this show is the way these talented chefs are forced to think quick on their feet and produce delicious dishes on the spot. Sure, they often falter, fail even and sometimes serve raw chicken! But in each episode, someone rises to the top and creates a dish that makes you want to reach into the television and taste it. Since we're not that advanced in our technology yet, the folks at Bravotv.com have kindly posted the recipes for us to re-create at home. So in honor of tonight's Top Chef finale, I am posting my attempt at one of Tre's creations.

A few weeks ago I had a dinner party and was searching for a new starter to try. I remembered the episode where the chefs had to feed hungry nightclub-goers at 3 in the morning, out of a roach coach no less! Tre created a scrumptious looking dish of Bacon Wrapped Shrimp on Cheesy Grits with a Chipotle-Tomato Butter Sauce, and subsequently won the challenge. I decided this would make a lovely start to our meal whilst forcing me to finally try a Top Chef recipe! I did make some changes, mainly substituting a grilled sun-dried tomato polenta cake for the grits due to time restraints. This dish is a real winner! Succulent, sweet shrimp enrobed in a crispy, salty bacon blanket was met by the smoky spiciness of the chipotle butter sauce. A match made in heaven! The polenta added a nice contrast of textures, crisp giving way to creamy. I look forward to making this again when time allows me to make the Cheddar, Chile and Corn Grits as they sound delicious.


Bacon Wrapped Shrimp on Polenta Cake with Chipotle-Tomato Butter Sauce - adapted from Tre, Top Chef Season 3, Bravotv.com


For the shrimp:

  • 18 large shrimp, peeled and deveined but tail on.
  • kosher salt
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • 9 bacon slices
  • grapeseed oil

Season the shrimp with a little kosher salt. Heat a grill pan over high heat and sear each shrimp for a few seconds to impart grill marks, they should still be uncooked. Allow to cool. Wrap each shrimp in half a slice of bacon and then season with freshly ground black pepper. Sear each shrimp in grapeseed oil until crispy on both sides. Set aside until ready to plate.

For the Chipotle-Tomato Butter Sauce:

  • 1/2 a yellow onion, finely chopped
  • 2 tbs garlic, finely chopped
  • 3 roma tomatoes, chopped
  • 3 tbs chipotle peppers in adobo, chopped
  • 1 tsp black peppercorns
  • 2 cups chicken stock
  • 1/2 stick unsalted butter, sliced
  • 1/2 bunch cilantro
  • 1 lemon, juiced
  • 2 tsp kosher salt

In a saucepot, melt a dab of butter and saute the onions and garlic over medium heat. Next, add the tomatoes, chipotle peppers and peppercorns. Continue to cook for another three minutes. Deglaze the pan with the chicken stock and lower the heat. Cook for five more minutes and then pour into a blender. Allow the liquid to cool slightly before blending, then puree until smooth. Place liquid back in saucepot and back over low heat. Next, mount the sauce with the butter, whisking in a little at a time until the sauce emulsifies and has a nice sheen to it. Then season with lemon juice and salt and then submerge the cilantro. Turn off the heat and allow the cilantro to steep for five minutes. Strain the sauce through a fine mesh sieve and reserve, warm until ready to plate.

For the polenta:

Slice the polenta into rounds about a 1/2 inch thick. Heat a grill pan over medium high heat and grill the polenta until marked and crisp on both sides.

To assemble:

Place the polenta cakes in the middle of the plate and drizzle the sauce around it. Lay three bacon wrapped shrimp on top of the polenta and garnish with finely chopped cilantro.


Monday, October 01, 2007

Just a bowlful of chili...

Turkey Chili with White Beans

When the weather outside is frightful, i.e. you are getting pounded by a Nor'easter, a bowl of chili sure is delightful. For the second time in three weeks, we are enduring the effects of a Nor'easter. In fact, three weeks ago I had never even heard of such a term. But when it causes your roof to spring 3 leaks, you get over the niceties real fast. The sky reminds me of Holland, the perfect shade of Gray No. 2 as my dad called it. Though the endless buckets of water pouring down from the heavens is, I will admit, even a bit much for the low country. I don't recall ever seeing anything like this. Being awoken by a thunder storm at 4am with the house shaking and flits of lightning every few seconds is quite an experience. I love thunder storms, but only when my roof is sealed tight!


The good thing about this kind of weather, and yes there actually is one, the comfort food. The soul warming stews, hearty soups and smoky chili's never taste better than on a day like this. My go-to chilli is a richly flavored turkey chili with white beans. The smokiness of cumin and chili powder is grounded by the dry bitterness of cocoa powder and cinnamon. The turkey lends itself to a lighter chili, fire roasted tomatoes add another depth of charred flavor whilst the creamy white beans offer a much welcomed smoothness against the subtle spice. Topped off with finely diced red onions, cilantro and a dollop of light sour cream, this chili is a sight for sore eyes.

Turkey Chili with White Beans - adapted from Epicurious.com

  • 1 tbs vegetable oil
  • 2 medium onions, finely diced
  • 1 1/2 tsp dried oregano
  • 1 1/2 tsp ground cumin
  • 1 1/2 lbs lean ground turkey
  • 1/4 cup chili powder
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 tbs unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 28 oz can Fire roasted tomatoes
  • 3 cups beef stock
  • 1 8 oz can tomato sauce
  • 3 15 oz cans navy beans, drained and rinsed
  • cooked white or brown rice
  • finely diced red onion
  • chopped cilantro
  • light sour cream

Heat the oil in heavy large pot over medium heat. Add the onions and sauté until lightly browned and tender, about 10 minutes. Add the oregano and cumin and cook for 1 minute longer. Increase heat to medium-high and add the turkey. Cook, stirring until no longer pink, breaking up the pieces with the back of your spoon. Stir in the chili powder, bay leaves, cocoa powder, salt and cinnamon. Mix well to combine and then add the tomatoes with their juices. Mix in the stock and tomato sauce. Bring to boil, reduce the heat and simmer partially covered for 45 minutes, stirring occasionally.
Add the beans to the chili and simmer until flavors blend and they are heated through, about 10 minutes longer. Discard bay leaves. (Can be prepared 1 day ahead. Cover and refrigerate. Rewarm over medium-low heat before continuing.)
Layer a few spoonfuls of rice into the bottom of the bowls and then ladle the chili on top. Sprinkle the onions on top, add a dollop of sour cream and a final dash of cilantro.

Mighty Thai-sty

Thai Piquant Chicken Salad in a Lettuce Cup


To say that I love Thai food would be the understatement of the year. I dream about the spicy and silky coconut infused curries. I crave the sweet and crunchy Pad Thai noodles. A steaming, fragrant bowl of Tom Kha Kai soup will melt away the last of my worries. When I've had one of those days and I'm in need of a pick-me-up, a bright, crisp Thai salad will usually do the trick.

One of my favourite Thai salads is the Piquant Chicken Salad. My mom first made this when we were living in Holland, and it quickly became a mainstay. Shredded chicken is married in blissful harmony with a dressing of chili powder, lime juice, sugar and fish sauce. The way that the intensely savoury fish sauce plays off of the bright lime juice to me is the very definition of balance. Crunch is added by way of nutty toasted rice and thinly sliced shallots. A final spattering of chives and mint take the freshness to new heights. Scooped into lettuce cups, dressing oozing down your arm and a icy cold Thai iced tea to wash it all down with, now that's mighty tasty.


Thai Piquant Chicken Salad
  • 2 tbs glutinous rice
  • 10 small shallots or 6 medium
  • 30g chives
  • 40 leaves of fresh mint
  • 1 lb chicken breasts
  • 2 tsp chili powder
  • 4 tbs fish sauce
  • 4 tbs lime juice
  • 1 tsp sugar

Dry toast the rice in a pan until golden and then finely grind in a mortar and pestle or food processor. Set aside. Thinly slice the shallots and chop the chives into 1 inch lengths. Stack the mint leaves one on top of the other, roll up and chiffonade into thin strips.

Bring a large pot of water to the boil and add the chicken breats. Reduce the heat and simmer the chicken until cooked through, about 15 minutes. Remove the breasts from the water and allow to cool slightly before finely shredding it using two forks. Add the shredded chicken to a large salad bowl and toss together with the rice, shallots, chives and mint. Now add the chili powder, lime juice, sugar and fish sauce and mix well to coat the chicken. Cover and allow to marinate for an hour. Garnish with mint leaves and serve with lettuce cups and steamed rice.