Tuesday, December 26, 2006

truffles with cayenne pepper

temptation with cayenne

After I graduated college, I set off, with a friend in tow, to backpack through as much of France as five weeks allowed us. I was armed with a few changes of clothes, a Lonely Planet guide, a little cash, a mighty credit card (and it was all worth it!) and an appetite that was determined to fit as many foodstuffs into my stomach as possible. Whereas my friend might have been on a cultural expedition, I was on a gastronomical one. Foie gras, baguettes, unpasteurized cheese, wine, raw seafood and sausisson sec – all these were to be consumed in massive quantities, not to mention other things like pain au chocolat, cassoulet, boudin noir and the famous Marseille soupe de poissons.

It never occurred to me to include chocolate in the mix. I was always a spotty chocolate eater. Whenever I was home, I wouldn’t touch the stuff. Same went for any Hershey’s or Nestlé’s around. I thought Godiva’s are quite nice, but haven’t had enough to develop my palette, and I always seemed to be picking out the dark chocolate ones, leaving the milk and the white chocolates without much attention.

Something, for me, was missing in chocolate. Some necessary hue of flavor. And I didn’t know it at the time, but looking back, it now makes perfect sense.

I think it was somewhere in Nantes or La Rochelle that my friend and I wandered around a farmer’s market. In France, these things are so prevalent that were I to reside there, I’d never shop for produce in a store. Along the fruit and vegetable vendors, we spied a little chocolate stand. Among the bon bons and the patisserie were sheets of dark chocolate with bright red swirls – it was chocolate with cayenne pepper, something I’ve never tasted nor heard of.

Naturally, it was the thing we bought and tried. And then my chocolate world flipped on itself and was never to be the same. I instantly realized what was missing from chocolate for me, was a flavor that was going to intensify the complexity of chocolate itself. In this case, the cayenne pepper gave the bitterness more depth and, in a strange way, added a little sweetness all the while warming up my throat. It was so good, in fact, that I ate an entire sheet we bought, licking my fingers afterwards. In my broken French, I chatted with the vendor hailing the cayenne as the greatest thing to happen to chocolate. He agreed. We parted with him gifting me and my friend more of the spice-filled goodness.

After I moved to New York and got my bearings, I quickly figured out the artisanal chocolatiers, making sure to sample each one’s work, and without fail, try the spicy versions of their creations. Among the mix were Katrina Markoff’s Vosges chocolates – a store so pretty it made me want to have everything in aubergine. And I’ve stayed a loyal fan through the years, sampling all her whimsical creations. So when I spied her truffle recipe in Bon Appetit this month, I was on a mission – to make cayenne spiced truffles.

Truffles

Ah, but I’m waxing poetic and lengthy with this post. It’s just that this is chocolate, people! And good quality too. Yes, I know, the cost might sound prohibitive, but the high end chocolate makes all the difference in making the proper ganache. Also, what if you hate cayenne? Can’t you then, try something else? Well, absolutely – create new flavors, see what suits you best. I think my next flavors will be lime-basil, earl grey tea, and vanilla-black sesame. Just be sure to use good quality chocolate, like Scharffen Berger, or Vosges. You’ll thank me later.

The truffles are not difficult to make, but it’s a very time consuming process. Make the ganache, then chill it. Roll the truffles, then chill those too. Then you have an option of dipping in melted chocolate (chilling that too) before rolling in anything from unsweetened cocoa powder (my pick) or chopped nuts, seeds, and so on. And then putting them back in the fridge. Finding those little cups for the truffles was not an easy feat. Luckily, my boyfriend spied some in his pantry and kindly shared.

32 pieces of heaven

Some recipes call for piping the ganache through, some ask for latex gloves for rolling. I didn’t have either at my reach, so I did everything by hand, periodically dipping my hands into a bowl of iced water (it’s not pleasant, I warn you) to keep them cold and prevent from making the chocolate. Lastly, I find it’s easier to knead the ganache with one hand before rolling it into a ball, or shape of your liking with both hands. If you’re imitating Maison du Chocolat, your truffles will be slightly potato-shaped. Otherwise, it’s a lumpy sphere for you – the classical truffle shape.

Whatever flavor and shape you use, these will, undoubtedly, add sparkle and zest to any holiday table. You should try to consume them within 8-9 days of the creation though – fresh ingredients only last so long.

While the Radish is off to a little sojourn in the Hamptons, I’ll be cooking there as well, and depending on internet access, try to post there too. Should I be cut off from all things online-related, I wish you all a very Happy New Year full of champagne and soirees!

Continue reading truffles with cayenne pepper.

Sunday, December 24, 2006

cookies with white chocolate, pine nuts, and dried cranberries

Cookies - White Chocolate, Cranberry & Pine nuts

Now I am not normally someone who you’d say has a sweet tooth. I can walk past bakeries and cupcake shops without a problem. I almost never order dessert and don’t keep any sugary snacks at home save for some dark chocolate from Scharffen Berger.

However, the holiday spirit calls to me. Be it Channukah or Christmas, I answer to the festive call like a Pavlovian dog salivates hearing the bell ring. And what is truly bizarre is that the sweets I concoct are consumed by someone other than me. I enjoy making them. And then giving them away! I know what you’re thinking – weirdo – and I completely agree. What sane person would not eat homemade sweet goodies? Exactly!

While Thanksgiving came and went, my longing for Thanksgiving flavors haven’t yet been satiated. As far as I’m concerned, I’m still reliving the last Thursday of November with much gusto. A little pumpkin something here, some cranberry something there. Which is probably why the white chocolate cookies with cranberries and pine nuts appealed to me so much this time of year.

Normally, I like to create my own recipes and share them with you, but when it comes to cookies, I rely heavily on books, magazines and cooking shows. While I love to bake and create desserts, I like to follow exact measurements and proportions to get the job done. Some say that while cooking is an art, baking is a science and I couldn’t agree more. Thus, for this recipe, which I spied in the December 2006 issue of Bon Appetit I consulted the trusty Epicurious.com and instead of macadamia nuts, used pine nuts which I find a bit more buttery in flavor.

I’ll confess to you now, that I got the steps of the beginning mixing process a bit wrong and had to throw in an extra egg to make it a bit more moist. However, this proves to me something I suspected all along – you can’t really mess up a drop cookie recipe. For baking times, I think it all depends on your oven. Some are hotter than others and while mine takes about 12 minutes to bake a batch of cookies, yours might be a few minutes more.

Continue reading cookies with white chocolate, pine nuts, and dried cranberries.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

easy potato latkes

Potato

Sunday morning was not a gentle awakening to some. Some of us, and it wasn’t yours truly, were recovering from a night of mixing rum, tequila and karaoke in one headache-inducing cocktail, making a solid, hangover-recovery breakfast (or lunch, in our case) an imperative cure.

Being that grease and starch go hand in hand to ease the next morning ache, and that Hannukah is upon us in full force, I thought it would be appropriate to fry some grated potatoes in oil and serve it up with sour cream. Latkes – were the main reason for the last minute, yet festive Sunday afternoon meal. For good measure, to round out the offering, I threw in some French toast, and some artisanal cheeses, Humboldt Fog*** among the selection.

Over the years, I’ve collected quite a few nouveau latke recipes. There are the zucchini and dill ones, the sweet potato and chili and cumin ones, the yellow squash and Parmesan ones and so on. I have about half a dozen and these are just the ones I’ve decided to keep
after trying all the recipes that came my way.

hannukah

However, during Hannukah, nothing quite speaks to me like a plain, traditional latke – a recipe so simple, it seems almost lazy. I don’t even add onions or pepper to mine – I like the plain taste of salted, crispy potato so much! And so, after a quick consultation with my mom, I went straight to business. I avoided pureeing my potatoes in a Cuisinart, as that gives a bit of a soggy feel, and instead opted to grate the potatoes on the coarse side of the grater, by hand. I did a bit of approximating with other ingredients as the proportions are never quite exact – the starchiness of potatoes varies and it’s the consistency you’re after!

The result was nothing short of delicious – the latkes came out crispy on the edges and perfectly browned. I only wish I had photographic evidence, but my beloved SRL was left on the Upper East Side this weekend, while I stayed in Tribeca. Apologies to everyone for lack of original photography with this post. I am trying to make up for it with humor. And a recipe below.

Continue reading easy potato latkes.

Friday, December 15, 2006

warm canneloni beans with olive oil

white bean salad

I get all confused when winter rolls around. Do I get excited over wearing sweaters, or do I sit around all mopey that we get three hours of daylight? Do I start making a list of all the stews and soups I can make or start a countdown to the springtime equinox? Being a creature of all things comfort-related, sweaters and food finally win out. Sure, I mope a little about how it’s cold and dark outside, but I mope while shoving a forkful of food into my mouth.

Last Friday, I invited a friend for dinner, but given my current job-seeking status, I spent the day running about without so much as having given a fleeting thought as to what I was going to feed my hungry, weekend-ready guest. I got home with only an hour to spare and had to think on my feet – fast. I had very little in my cupboards, and even less in the fridge. A can of cannelloni beans caught my eye. And thus a simple dish was born.

Whenever I am at an Italian restaurant, I always look for warmed cannelloni beans in the appetizer section. I find it filling, comforting and delicious. So I wanted to make warm cannelloni beans, but spruced up a bit. You know, for the holidays. I added tomatoes, basil, onion, and some other ingredients and it turned out incredibly well!

the italian flavor triumvirate

I am telling you, people, this recipe is so simple and so good that you will make it over and over again. Unless you hate beans. In which case, you’d probably never even try to make it in the first place. My guest had seconds. And thirds. And then complained that I didn’t make enough. Which was true, I was craving more of it myself.

If you plan ahead, unlike me, you can soak the beans and cook them, instead of resorting to canned ones. If, however, you’re like most people, you can hardly plan your next few hours, never mind dinner.

Continue reading warm canneloni beans with olive oil.

Tuesday, December 5, 2006

roasted acorn squash with cilantro dressing

Thanksgiving_2006 (7)

Among my favorite food, squash firmly holds its own. I like all kinds: spaghetti, butternut, acorn. While looking over a menu a few nights ago, I picked the tagliatelli mostly because it came with a butternut squash. My only complaint is that some squash can be so hard to cut. I’m a wee bit weakling and the squash is sturdy and hard. Trying to slice it feels like I am going to lose an appendage at any moment.

Unless of course, you have wonderful helpers, strong and manly, to do the dirty deed for you, leaving you to just waltz in and cook the vegetable – truly the easy part.

Acorn squash is both tasty and good for you. And if you took it, sliced it, and roasted it in the oven sans any spices, it would still come out delicious and great. And sometimes, naked squash, as I like to call it, is just what you need. But on other days, you might want to give it a little extra kick: some red, hot chile, and a dash of tabasco sauce to the marinade. Surprisingly easy to make and guaranteed to be a crowd pleaser!

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Monday, December 4, 2006

pumpkin bread pudding souffle

Pumpkin Bread Pudding Souffle

I was introduced to bread pudding at an embarrassingly late age. The concept of bread pudding isn’t known in Russia and save for Victorian English novels, I was unaware that this comfort food staple of England was such a delicious treat. Now, the first time I ever had anything that bore the name “pudding” was at my high-school boyfriend’s house, whose mother carried the old English tradition of making fig pudding for Christmas dinner.

Never one to why from trying a new dish, I requested, ignoring my boyfriend’s father’s warning, a bowlful of fig pudding with some extra clotted cream.

The cream I consumed in a matter of seconds – give me fattening dairy products and I’m a happy girl. But with the actual fig pudding, erm, well, there I had a bit of trouble. I tried, afraid to offend the matron of the house, to shove spoonfuls of it in my mouth, but that caused a bit of a gag reflex. My next strategy was to try to eat little bits and swallow them whole without so much as letting the thick fig concoction hit my tastebuds. That made the procession move about as quickly as a turtle race. And then, oh Lord, then, I was informed, perhaps in an attempt to induce vomit, that fig pudding, according to the tradition, uses suett. At that point, my 17 year-old heart and palate, could take no more (though now the concept of suett isn’t nearly as frightening). I apologized profusely, offered to do dishes and various clean up, but firmly and politely declared that fig pudding was just not for me. As it turns out, even though the pudding was made every year, it was never actually consumed by anyone. Except for the unsuspecting dolts like me.

So you can understand why I would try to avoid pudding at all costs from that point on. My only point of reference regarding pudding was less than enthusiastic.

That is until one afternoon, while wandering around Nolita I stopped at Cafe Gitane, tempted to try what they called a brioche chocolate pudding. Since I liked both, the brioche AND the chocolate, it seeemed like an awfully swell thought. The order was placed. And I was all trepidation. What, by some strange thought, if the whole process of pudding-making made the brioche and the chocolate both vile on the palate?

But when the dish arrived and I put a tentative spoonful of it in my mouth, I melted into a blissful smile, eyes closed. This was pudding I could not only live with, but crave.

And so a few years later, when I came upon a recipe for Pumpkin Souffle Bread Pudding, concoted by none other than Charlie Phan of the famed Slanted Door in San Francisco (only one of my favorite restaurants), I had to give it a try.

Challah back, yo

Last Thanksgiving, I made a small batch to test on guests – and it was gone in minutes. This year, I tripled the proportions only to see the same result, and several requests for recipes.

Pumpkin Mixed with Butter, Sugar, and other Goodness

And yesterday, while at Whole Foods, picking up a turkey for our Thankgiving Redux meal (because we like turkey leftovers and there were none from 2 weeks ago), the boyfriend requested the bread pudding as well. And so, when a dish is this popular and is so good, how can you not make it over and over and over? Especially when it’s so easy? And especially when you get pudding, souffle AND pumpkin into the same dish!

Continue reading pumpkin bread pudding souffle.