Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Raspberry Rose Tiramisu

A few weeks ago a brown paper covered treasure chest full of French confections arrived in the mail for me. I had been contacted by the French company, Histoire Sucrée to ask if I'd be interested in trying their products. Mais oui, bien sûr, I answered!! I immediately started dreaming of all the ways I could use their delectable goodies. I spread them out as I thought about it. I had wanted to make Bernachon's Palet D'or Gâteau from Rose Levy Beranbaum's book, Rose's Heavenly Cakes, for a while. This was the perfect opportunity since I envisioned the plump fruits confit from Histoire Sucrée sitting on top, alongside flecks of edible gold leaf. It was even prettier than I imagined as the glossy chocolate glaze of the cake reflected the shapely fruits. The soft delicate pink of the Biscuits de Reims, made me think of raspberries and roses and creamy whipped cream. I experimented with a Raspberry Rose Tiramisu using the biscuits and loved the flavor combination. I tried a few ways to layer it and think that any way that suits your serving dish will work. It can be made in individual dishes or in one larger one. For the larger one I used a polished shell and garnished it with a crystallized rose. A final topping of finely crushed biscuits makes it look like it was sprinkled with fairy dust. It tasted as good as it looked. And wouldn't a glass of pink Champagne go well with it? À votre santé!

Raspberry Rose Tiramisu

1/3 cup seedless raspberry jam
1 tablespoon Crème de Cassis
4 ounces mascarpone cheese, room temperature
1 tablespoon powdered sugar

1 cup whipping cream, whipped
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1/4 teaspoon rose water
20 mini Biscuits Roses Reims
2 tablespoons Kirsch

1/2 pint raspberries

Have a medium serving dish or 4 individual dessert dishes ready.

Thoroughly mix the Crème de Cassis with the raspberry jam in a small bowl, and set aside.

In a chilled bowl, whip the cream until it holds soft peaks. Beat in the vanilla and set aside. In a medium bowl, whip the mascarpone cheese a few minutes until light. Add the powdered sugar until mixed. Stir a few tablespoons of whipped cream into the mascarpone cheese to lighten. Gently fold in the remaining whipped cream. Add the rose water a few drops at a time, testing after each addition for how much rose taste you prefer.

Lightly brush one side of the Biscuits Roses Reim with Kirsch and place on a serving dish or in individual dishes. If using individual dishes, break the biscuits to fit the bottom if necessary. Add a layer of the jam mixture and then a layer of the mascarpone and whipped cream mixture. Top with a single layer of raspberries. Repeat the layers one more time, ending with the mascarpone cheese mixture. You will add the final layer of raspberries just before serving. Lightly cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 3 hours or until the biscuits become soft but not soggy. Just before serving, top with a layer of raspberries and sprinkle with a dusting of finely crushed Biscuits Roses Reims.

Serves 4.

Many thanks to Histoire Sucrée!

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Monday, March 21, 2011

Heston's Fresh Pea Soup

Spring has arrived! Things are new and colors are fresh. It is a time of rebirth. It is my time of the year. There is still a bit of chill in the air here in the northeastern US, so soup is always welcome. I came across this soup by the brilliant Heston Blumenthal in London. He is the chef du jour there, with his restaurant, The Fat Duck and now his recently opened restaurant, Dinner. Stylist magazine calls Dinner,"the best restaurant in London right now, maybe even the UK." Heston's recipes are part of the Waitrose Recipe Collection, and that is where I picked up this fresh looking recipe. The final garnish of shredded ham gives it some heartiness and the finishing drizzle of mint oil has us thinking of daffodils and the fresh air of springtime.
Happy Spring!

Heston's Pea and Ham Soup

32 ounces (907g) frozen peas
1/4 cup (20g) fresh mint leaves
2 ounces (50ml) grapeseed oil, or other light tasting oil
4 tablespoons (65g) unsalted butter
1 shallot, sliced
1 clove of garlic, peeled and chopped
6 oz (160g) unsmoked bacon,* sliced in 1 inch pieces
3 cups (750ml) vegetable stock
Pulled or shredded ham for garnish
salt and pepper to taste
*pancetta or salt pork may be substituted for the unsmoked bacon. Do not use smoked bacon.

Spread the peas out on a baking tray lined with a layer of paper towels and allow to defrost.
Bring a small pan of water to boil and drop in the mint leaves for 15-20 seconds. Remove the mint and submerge immediately in a bowl of ice water.. Remove the mint leaves and dry with a paper towel. Put the mint and oil in a blender or small food processor to blend for 10-15 seconds. Strain the oil through a sieve and reserve for finishing the soup.

Melt 1 tablespoon of the oil in a medium/large pot and add the shallots, garlic, and unsmoked bacon. Cook for 5 minutes over medium heat until soft, but not colored.
Add the stock and simmer for 5 minutes. Add all but about 2/3 cup of the peas and the remaining butter and remove from the heat immediately. With a hand-held blender, liquidize the soup.

Strain through a sieve, pressing through as many solids as possible and pour the soup into a clean pot. Season to taste and gently rewarm the soup.

Blend with a hand-held blender until foamy, and then add the remaining peas.

Ladle soup into 4 bowls and garnish with shredded ham and mint leaves. Drizzle with the reserved mint oil and serve.

Serves 4.

Notes: I only put 1/2 of the soup through a sieve since this reduces the amount of soup and also I like some texture. I then added more stock than called for. This is Heston's recipe, but texture is a personal choice, plus all of the straining can be messy. The less you strain, the more additional stock you'll need. Experiment for your own personal choice and level of time involved. I also didn't strain the mint oil, but made sure it was very fine in texture. This gives more of a mint flavor.

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Monday, March 14, 2011

Steak and Guinness Pie

It was a rainy weekend in London which often spells an afternoon at the museum to me. Amazingly, after all of my years in London, I had never been to the British Museum. The typical Saturday crowds and tour groups were there, but the vastness of this museum filled with antiquities and artifacts handles it well. The main attraction was the Rosetta Stone. The onlookers were about 12 deep so getting a nice front and center view took some time, but it was well worth it. This stone tablet from 196 BC holds the key to understanding Egyptian hieroglyphics. Seeing such history puts so much in perspective. My friends and I had hardly ticked all of the boxes of what we wanted to see, even though we stayed until closing. How fun it might have been to be in the museum all night long with nary a soul except a few mummies. The Science Museum in Boston has sleepovers for kids among the dinosaurs. But we were in London now and needed to make our way back through the mist and rain to the hotel. By the time we got back it was definitely dinner time, and we all agreed that hearty pub food sounded pretty appealing. Off to the Hereford Arms we went and the group of 5 of us soon settled into its well worn banquettes in a cozy corner. Without hesitation 3 of us ordered Steak and Ale Pie. My eyes must have been as big as a pub platter when it arrived. The puff pastry reached for the sky and the mound of mashed potatoes daunted even me, a potato junkie. We sat and talked and ate, and I was never able to clean my plate. That left me dreaming of those leftovers the next day...and the day after, and until I finally made it myself. My puff pastry (how did they get it so high?) was more manageable as well as my sides of veg. While making the stew, I added red wine along with the Guinness Extra Stout to the slow cooking beef. Mushrooms were put in for good measure. I don't think it gets much heartier or easier than this. The rich flavor belies the simplicity of the recipe, so you won't feel like you just cracked an ancient code to make it. The stew part can be made in advance and actually tastes better the next day, just reheat in one of your saucepans before putting it in a casserole and topping with the puff pastry. It can be baked and served in individual casseroles or made in one large one.

Gotta run....I think I have one more serving calling my name in the fridge!

Steak and Guinness Pie

1 1/4 pounds beef chuck, cut into 1 inch cubes
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
8 ounces baby bella mushrooms, sliced
5 cloves garlic, peeled and finely chopped
2 tablespoons tomato paste
2 bay leaves
1 teaspoon dried herbes de Provence or equivalent mixture of herbs
1 cup (8 ounces) Guinness Extra Stout beer
1 cup dry red wine
15 ounces beef broth
1 tablespoon flour
1 tablespoon butter, softened
salt and pepper to taste
1 sheet puff pastry, thawed if frozen

In a large dutch oven or heavy pot, heat the olive oil over medium high heat. Add the beef and sear until brown on all sides. Add the chopped onion and mushrooms, lower the heat to medium and continue cooking until the onion is translucent and the mushrooms are done. Stir in the garlic and cook about a minute more. Add the tomato paste, bay leaves and herbes de Provence, stirring until well blended. Pour in the beer, wine and beef broth, stirring well. Cover, reduce heat and simmer for an hour. Take off the cover and taste for richness. If it needs more flavor and reducing, simmer for a short while longer uncovered.

In a small bowl, work the flour into the butter to form a ball. Stir the butter/flour mixture well into the simmering stew to thicken. Salt and pepper to taste. At this point you may cool the stew and refrigerate to use later. If serving right away spoon into a casserole or casseroles, and top with a layer of puff pastry. Brush the pastry with milk or beaten egg for added color, and bake in a preheated 400 degree oven until golden brown. Serve with vegetables on the side.

Makes about 6 cups.
Serves 4-6.

Cutting the Puff Pastry:

Lay a sheet of puff pastry on a lightly floured surface. Using the lid from your casserole as a template, cut around the puff pastry dough with a knife. Place on top of the casserole before baking.

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Monday, March 7, 2011

Over the Hill Cupcakes

It was my last trip out of Boston before my transfer to New York, along with 3 other of my colleagues. It was also the birthday of one of us. A Big One! Propitious and momentous at the same time, so we had to celebrate on our London layover. Throughout the years, we felt that London has been our home away from home and have many favorite places to go. One of those is Da Mario's Italian Restaurant. Mario often sat at a nearby table and greeted airline crews with a smile and sometimes sent over a little something extra. Princess Diana and her children used to stop in here from their nearby home of Kensington Palace. That seems so long ago now, with her handsome son getting married next month. There is a large painting on the wall of Mario with the princess. Sadly, they are both gone now.

Since it was my friend, Debbie's birthday, we had to have cupcakes. I brought the crew Whoopie Pies for our Valentine's Day trip last month and everyone loved the combination of chocolate cake and Italian Meringue icing.
It is my all time basic combination, as you know if you visit here often. Sometimes I dress it up and sometimes not. The Whoopie Pie cake is a different recipe, but still chocolate. I was telling a friend about bringing cupcakes to London as a surprise for Debbie and she asked how could I transport them without them getting smashed. Ah, I said, I made a special box with circular cutouts for them to rest in. Brilliant, she replied. I baked them in animal print cupcake liners and added toasted coconut to the top, since Debbie loves coconut. They were beautiful with their swirling updo of icing and animal print bottoms. Packed in their special box, they were loaded into my car for our last trip based out of Boston. They carefully went through airport security, onto the plane, to the hotel and then to the restaurant. I wanted to surprise Debbie, even though she astutely noticed I was always carrying around that bag with a box in it. I guess she's not quite over the hill yet. After we finished our pizza and paid our bill, we were brought a complimentary toast of Limoncello. Mario's tradition was being carried on. We decided to have our cupcake dessert at the hotel since the restaurant was emptying for the night. Soooo, I carried the cupcakes back to my room where we gathered for a birthday surprise. Everyone stood around while Debbie and I carefully pulled back the tape and opened the box. The others said they thought the box was full of snakes by the look on our faces! I think we laughed for 5 minutes before taking our first bite. I suppose I don't have to worry about getting a patent for that box! They still tasted as good as they used to look. And fortunately for youthful looking Debbie, the only things that looked like they'd gone over the hill were her cupcakes!

Chocolate Cake
(Adapted from Hershey's "Perfectly Chocolate" Chocolate Cake)

2 cups sugar
1 3/4 cups flour
3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
2 eggs
1 cup milk
1/2 cup vegetable oil
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 cup boiling water

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease, flour and line with parchment 2 9-inch cake pan or line a muffin tin with cupcake baking cups.

Combine dry ingredients in a large bowl. Add eggs, milk, oil, and vanilla; beat on medium speed for 2 minutes. Stir in boiling water (batter will be thin). Pour into lined muffin tin or 2 9-inch cake pans. Bake 30-35 minutes for cake and 20-25 minutes for cupcakes or until wooden toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool on a wire rack.

Makes 30 cupcakes or 2-9 inch layer cakes.

Meringue Frosting

1 cup sugar
1/3 cup water
3 egg whites
pinch of salt
1/8 teaspoon cream of tartar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

Combine the sugar and water in a heavy medium saucepan and bring to a boil without stirring. Boil until it reaches the soft ball stage, 240 degrees on a candy thermometer.

While the syrup is cooking, beat the egg whites with the salt and cream of tartar until stiff peaks form. When the syrup reaches 240 degrees, pour 1/4 cup of the syrup into the stiffly beaten egg whites, drop by drop, beating at high speed. Gradually add the rest of the syrup in a fine stream and beat for 8 to 12 minutes, or until the mixture is cool. It should be glossy and thick, but not dry.

Makes about 3 cups.

Toasted Coconut

Evenly spread desired amount of shredded, sweetened coconut on a baking sheet and bake at 350℉ a few minutes until just golden. Keep an eye on it since it only takes a few minutes, and stir to make sure it browns evenly. It should be light with a crunch and not at all chewy.

To top marshmallows with toasted coconut, moisten the marshmallow with water where the coconut will be put and lightly press on the coconut. Let dry.

Animal cupcake liners from Kitchen Krafts are found here.

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Tuesday, March 1, 2011

New York, New York

"We'll cut your hair and send you anywhere," seemed to be the mantra of the Flight Attendant Training Center or Charm Farm as we called it. And cut my hair they did. I cried and called home. It seemed to be a violation of my personal self and I didn't even know at that time that I'd be dropped by jet plane in New York City, like relief aid to the needy. That's me near top of the stairs.I adjusted, as did most of the newly graduated stews, while we filtered through ads for Manhattan apartments. Most ended up in high rise buildings in the upper east side with 5 other roommates. I had 2 roommates and lived in a 36th Street brownstone. There usually weren't 3 of us there at the same time, so the 1 bedroom worked...sort of. At rush hour the cars backed up along the front of our building as they inched their way toward the Midtown Tunnel leaving a plume of exhaust behind. New York, New York....so nice they named it twice. That's what my t-shirt read that I wore back home to Ohio on an occasional visit or layover. My hair grew back longer a year later along with the list of new cities and states I flew to. Las Vegas layovers were exotic and about as far away from Ohio as you could get, with its casinos and wedding chapels along The Strip. I flew on double decker 747's to LA, carrying celebrities, musicians, businessmen and women, tourists and folks who just wanted to get somewhere. That's Bryant Gumbel and his co-host with my friend Marcie and I in this photo after a NY-LA red-eye flight . I lugged back Coors beer strapped to my suitcase even though I didn't drink beer, because you couldn't get it east of the Rockies. Dining on real Mexican food in Phoenix under the desert sky made me feel multi-cultural. There were no laptops, iPods or video games onboard the aircraft then. The passengers had books, stereophonic music through airline headsets, conversation with eye contact, and us to amuse them. We were respected. That was many take off and landings ago. Over the years, I've been to the Oscars, hung out backstage with the Grateful Dead, and calmed Carly Simon's fear of flying nerves. I've transported young men and women home from war, played cards with unaccompanied children, and tended medical emergencies. I've given water to deportees who tried to flee their country and failed. I've stepped over high school ski teams as they slept exhausted on the airplane floor. I've held the trembling hands of the elderly and the sure, delicate hands of the young. Mine eyes have seen. We learned that fear is a 4-letter word and if we want it to happen we have to make it happen. Airline deregulation, economic booms and busts shaped the way people traveled with each twist and turn in altitude and attitude. Five years into flying, I transferred to Boston, married and started a family while flying in between. And so the circle turns. My family is grown, I am single and the skies have opened up again. An opportunity to transfer to New York became available and I thought, now is the time....but was it? It is comfortable staying with the familiar, but I took the plunge remembering that 4-letter word, fear. So I am coming full circle and have transferred to fly out of New York's JFK as of today. For now, I'm still living in the Boston area and commuting to New York by plane. My first month will take me to Tokyo and the months ahead will be Budapest, Rome, Milan, Brussels, Madrid, Barcelona, Zurich, Rio, Buenos Aires, Sao Paulo and of course, Paris, plus many more destinations around the world. It is a long way from the beginning...many take off and landings away. New York, New York, so nice I'm going there twice.

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