Monthly Archives: October 2009

sweet potato chocolate tart with candied pecans


every year for thanksgiving, i used to order an amazing sweet potato pecan pie from balthazar’s bakery in soho.  my parents, who tend to be rather fussy asian dessert eaters with the usual “everything is too sweet or too rich” mantra, actually love the sweet potato pecan pie that i bring over.  my dad is nuts about nuts, and the tart is covered in pecans, and my mom adores sweet potato everything, so that too may have something to do with it.

it occurred to me that i could just as easily whip up a version for this year’s thanksgiving get together, and that i should really start testing turkey day tart recipes right about now.  i came across a pumpkin pie recipe on martha’s website that involved chocolate and that became my launching pad for the sweet potato chocolate pecan tart experiment below.

Sweet Potato Chocolate Tart with Candied Pecans
(Makes two 9.5 inch tarts, and six 3 inch tarts  — yes, you’ll have a lot to share with your friends or you can open up a tart factory)

Ingredients for the tart shell and filling

Pâte Sucrée 600g or 2/3 of a pâte sucrée recipe
Sweet Potato or Yam ~15 to 20 oz, 1 to 2 medium / large yams
Evaporated Milk 12 oz can
Light Brown Sugar ½ cup
Eggs 3 large ones
Cornstarch 1 tbsp
Vanilla 1 tsp
Salt 1 ½ tsp
Cinnamon 1 tsp
Nutmeg 1 tsp
Ground Cloves 1 tsp
Dark Chocolate 6 oz (I used couverture but about ½ a bag of dark chocolate chips will work as well)

Ingredients for the candied pecans

Pecan Halves 2 cups
Butter 2 tbsp
Brown Sugar ¼ cup
Water ¼ cup
  1. Blind bake pastry dough for 20 minutes at 350ºF.  Let cool afterwards and set aside.
  2. Steam the sweet potato until completely soft and easily mash-able (~45-60 minutes depending on the size of your root).
  3. Peel off the skin of the sweet potato with your hands and place it in the bowl of your stand mixer.
  4. Add in all remaining filling ingredients with the exception of the dark chocolate.
  5. Using the whisk attachment, whip together these ingredients at medium speed until well combined.  The mixture should become light and fluffy.
  6. Melt the dark chocolate over a water bath or using the microwave (to do so, put the chocolate in a bowl, microwave it for 1 minute.  take it out, stir it around, do a little jig and microwave it for another minute).
  7. Pour about 1/3 of the batter into a separate bowl and stir the melted chocolate into the batter.
  8. Divide the chocolate batter amongst the tart shells.  It should fill about 1/3 of the tart shell. Smooth the chocolate batter using an off-set spatula.
  9. Pour the remaining sweet potato batter on top of the chocolate filling.  Smooth the sweet potato batter using an off-set spatula.
  10. In a small saucepan, melt the butter, brown sugar and water.  When the ingredients are well combined and simmering, add in the pecan halves.
  11. Allow the pecans to simmer in the pan, until the liquid is mostly evaporated.
  12. Arrange the pecans on top of the sweet potato filling.
  13. Bake at 350ºF for ~40 minutes, or until the filling has set.

a cross section of a 3-inch tart, showing the two layers

the hunt for java sauce


my husband waxes poetic about the java sauce served at the aristocrat restaurant — self-proclaimed “The Philippines’ Most Popular Restaurant.” i’ve never been to aristocrat or much less stepped foot on the island of the philippines — although i’m scheduled to do so in a few months time.  i am looking forward to eating many many fresh mangos, and of course, coming face to face with all the people, places and things that hubby has been telling me about for the past few years.

based on my husband’s accounts, aristocrat is famous for its barbecue chicken — a chicken that is marinated in garlic, calamansi juice and soy sauce, served alongside java rice and dipped in java sauce.  it’s the sauce that forms the wellspring of hubby’s nostalgia for the land where he grew up.  i haven’t figured out yet where the name comes from — possibly it’s named after a similar condiment from the island of java in indonesia.  it tastes like a cross between peanut satay and hoisin.  in fact, i wouldn’t be surprised if someone had mixed those two sauces together while bored in the kitchen one day, and ended up with something that was kind of catching to the tongue.

mama sita (aka. the pinoy equivalent of condiment giants such as heinz or knorr or lee kum kee or kikoman) makes a java sauce that is available to overseas buyers but which has proven to be virtually impossible to trackdown in NYC.  i did find a place online based in LA that sells the stuff, and sometimes we can wrangle our west coast relatives to mail us some.

an acquaintance passed along a recipe for the sauce. i decided to make my own java sauce instead of being dependent on mama sita’s distribution capabilities.  that said, i’m not quite sure i’ve gotten it right yet.  i made one version that i thought was too salty and then added in more water and cornstarch to make it less salty. when hubby tasted it, he thought that it wasn’t salty enough.  so i guess if i stuck to the original recipe (as below) i would be closer.  i’ll post a picture and update to the recipe after the second trial.

Homemade Java Sauce Version 1.0
(revisions forthcoming . . . )

Roasted Peanuts 1 cup
Water 3/4 cup
Soy Sauce ¼ cup (i used kikoman but in retrospect i think if i used a pinoy brand or maybe ABC’s kecap manis, the taste would be closer)
Sugar ¼ cup
  1. Grind peanuts in a food processor until it is as smooth as possible.
  2. Combine peanuts, 3/4 cup water, soy sauce and sugar in a small sauce pan. Mix till well combined.
  3. Bring to a boil and then turn down to a simmer until the sauce reaches the viscosity of ketchup or hoisin sauce.

Note: the hubby likes to use the sauce to accompany bbq chicken, ribs and just about anything i make that he deems too bland.  i think he’d really prefer to drink the sauce like soup, if i left him to his own devices.

Note 2: mama sita’s website also mentions that the sauce contains fine wheat flour. i wonder if that’s the thickener used to give the sauce more bite.

the transformative power of shredding: sauteed brussel sprouts


my husband and i finally landed a spot at momofuku ko’s kitchen side table with help from my cousin E who has access to those nifty ethernet connections used for high velocity trading.  out of our nine course meal, i was really impressed with 3 things:

  1. grated cage free foie gras served over lychees in a riesling gelee
  2. the shredded brussel sprouts accompanying a venison dish
  3. the zen-like calm of the perfectly choreographed 3-man kitchen team

for as much as i’ve heard people say that david chang is over-rated, i really admired his creativity in re-imagining a classic ingredient like foie gras.  rather than being overwhelmingly rich, the grated foie came out light and airy with the requisite richness just melting as soon as it touched my tongue.

i am a neophyte when it comes to the preparation of brussel sprouts, and i think i was so enamoured of the shredded sprouts that evening because i had never imagined them being prepared in that manner.  having watched the chefs prepare the dish all evening, i realised that part of the reason seeing shredded brussel sprouts is so rare (aside from the fact that my sojurns to the south are rather limited), is no doubt related to the highly labour intensive process of shredding.  each sprout is run quickly up and down a hand held mandolin, and only about half the sprout is used until discarded. but, shredding transforms the brussel sprouts, becoming more flavorful with each bite and a lot less starchy. i think it’s worth the extra effort.

Shredded Sauteed Brussel Sprouts with Lemon Zest

Fresh Brussel Sprouts ~1.5 lbs, shredded.  The professionals use a mandolin or a Japanese benriner.  I’ve found at home that slicing it very finely with a sharp knife is actually quite a bit faster.
Garlic 3 cloves, minced
Butter 1 tbsp
Olive oil 2 tbsp
Salt & Pepper For taste
Lemon zest Zest of 1 lemon
  1. Heat the butter, olive oil and garlic in a sautee pan.
  2. When the garlic is lightly brown, add in the brussel sprouts and stir vigorously until the sprouts are evenly coated.
  3. When the brussel sprouts have soften over medium high heat (about 10 minutes), add salt & pepper for taste.
  4. Remove the sprouts from the pan, and sprinkle with lemon zest on top.

japanese cookie bread


Not exactly the best picture but the taste is fantastic — lightly sweet, soft, moist and squishy! I went to the newly re-opened Panya Bread at St. Mark’s Place over the weekend, where they were serving their famous cookie topped breads for ~$2.50 a piece.  Not a bad deal considering that there’s way more work involved than making a muffin or scone that goes for roughly the same price.

Or you can make your own as I did following this recipe:

[Note: when increasing the quantity of this recipe, you have to watch the amount of water used.  you really don’t need all of it.]

ripe figs at last


i woke up this morning to find that 2 of my figs finally have started to ripen.  happy fall harvest to all!

shiso leaf wrapped teriyaki chicken (青紫蘇)


oh shiso leaves! how i sing your praises. shiso leaves are a member of the mint family but as my dear hubby describes them, they kind of taste like a cross between cilantro and mint.  typically, found as a garnish to sashimi dishes, shiso leaves impart an incredible flavour and aroma when eaten raw or cooked.  i found a small package of fresh shiso leaves at mitsuwa and set about making a shiso leaf wrapped teriyaki chicken for dinner.  it’s incredibly easy!

Shiso Leaf Wrapped Teriyaki Chicken

Chicken Legs ~ 1 lb (I used jidori chicken legs with the skin on, that had been quartered)
Teriyaki Sauce ¾ cup
Shiso Leaves Enough leaves to wrap each piece of chicken
Toothpicks Enough to skewer each piece of chicken
  1. Wash chicken and pat dry.
  2. Marinate chicken in teriyaki sauce for 30 minutes.
  3. Tuck a shiso leaf inside a piece of chicken and roll it up.  The leaf should be on the interior of the chicken.  Secure the roll with a toothpick.
  4. Place the chicken in a sheet of tin foil and bed the edges up, forming a bowl-like shape. Place the foil bowl with the chicken onto a baking pan.
  5. Spoon about 5-6 tbsp of leftover teriyaki marinade onto the chicken rolls.
  6. In an oven set to 450°F or in a toaster oven set to broil, bake the chicken  for 15 to 20 minutes, or until the skin of the chicken turns brown.

Teriyaki Sauce
(Adapted from Shizuo Tsuji’s Japanese Cooking: A Simple Art)

Lately, in an effort to cut down on the amount of sauces I keep in my refrigerator, I’ve been making my own teriyaki sauce. It’s really easy!

Soy Sauce ¼ cup
Mirin ¼ cup
Sake ¼ cup
Sugar 1 tbsp
  1. Mix together ingredients above in a small sauce pan, and bring to a boil.
  2. When it reaches a boil, turn off the heat and allow the sauce to cool to room temperature.  That’s it!

a cauliflower panna cotta, per se


walking through whole foods the other day, i spied the most glorious and gigantic head of cabbage — creamy white florets surrounded by dewy green leaves.  it must have weighed 10 lbs by itself because after picking it up, i realised that i’d have a hard time lugging home another at the 2 for $5 price. we’ve been eating cauliflower for the past 3 days. i’ve had the chance to roast it, stir fry it and yes…to finally conduct an at home cauliflower panna cotta trial.

my lucky stomach has been to thomas keller’s per se twice thus far. and each time, aside from the fact that i feel as if i’m bursting at the seams with food, i walk away thinking that the degustatory evening was a rather zen-ish, cocoon-like experience — a bit, i suppose, like holly golightly falling in love with tiffany’s because nothing ever goes wrong at per se.

reading the cauliflower panna cotta recipe, i gained a deeper sense of chef keller’s genius.  the panna cotta itself is quite straight forward. but what i didn’t notice while eating it was the transparent oyster gelee he used to coat the top of the panna cotta.  that thin gelee layer leant both a glossy finish to the dish as well as adding a briny complexity which cut through the richness of the panna cotta. glancing through the other recipes, i realised that none of keller’s dishes are quite as simple as they might have looked at the restaurant.

for my home version (picture above), i made just the cauliflower panna cotta, leaving out the oyster gelee and the caviar.  i also took a shortcut and spooned the panna cotta into one serving dish — a definite mistake; it should have been separated into 12 servings. the resulting panna cotta is so dense and rich, that it really should be eaten in small quantities.  any serving size beyond the size of a 3 inch ramekin is really too much.

Cauliflower Panna Cotta
(adapted from the French Laundry cookbook)

Cauliflower 8 oz. Cut into ½ inch florets
Butter 2 tbsp
Water 1.5 cups
Heavy cream 1 cup
Gelatin sheets 1 sheet (note: these are kind of hard to find in the US grocery store.  I usually pick them up in London.  You can however order them online.  Additionally, gelatin sheets come in 2 sizes.  The ones I buy in London are about half the size of the gelatin sheets used in the professional kitchens.  By 1 sheet, I believe Chef Keller means those that are 8-9 inches in length (the width will vary).  Additionally, 3-4 sheets are roughly equivalent to 1 envelope of Knox gelatin)
  1. Spread cauliflower evening in a saucepan
  2. Add butter and water.
  3. Simmer for ~30 minutes, until the water is mostly evaporated.
  4. Add the cream and simmer for another 10 minutes. The cauliflower should be completely cooked at this point.
  5. Transfer the mixture in the saucepan into a food processor and blend until completely smooth.
  6. Strain it.  Chef Keller advises using a chinois.  Lacking one, I used the strainer I had on hand.
  7. Add salt for taste.
  8. Soak the gelatin in cold water for 2 to 3 minutes.  When the gelatin leaf has softened, squeeze out the excess liquid and add it to the warm cauliflower mixture.  If for some reason, you’ve allowed your cauliflower mixture to cool and the gelatin won’t melt, you can put it over a water bath.  That said, don’t overcook the gelatin — it will smell like fish bones if you do.
  9. Spoon 2 tbsp of the panna cotta into 12 serving bowls and refrigerate for at least 1 hour to set.
  10. When set, top the panna cotta with 1 tsp of oyster gelee and garnish with a quenelle of caviar (beluga, of course)

Oyster Gelee

Oyster juice ¼ cup (Chef Keller gives instructions in his book on how to make oyster juice from fresh oysters)
Gelatin sheet 1/3 sheet
Water 2 tsp
Freshly ground pepper 3 turns of the pepper mill
  1. Place water and gelatin sheet in a small bowl and set over a water bath.  Stir constantly to dissolve the gelatin.
  2. Remove the bowl from the water bath and add in the oyster juice.
  3. Stir until everything is well combined.
  4. Add in the pepper.
  5. Chill in refrigerator until it has thickened to the consistency of oil and the pepper bits are suspended in the jelly.

mixed fruit tart


sometimes when i’ve got some extra tart dough lying around that i want to use up, i whip up a fruit tart.  it’s really quite easy to do and a great way to display the jewels of mother nature’s creation.  first, i bake the tart shell (using any type of pastry) until it is fully cooked and i let it cool.  then, i whip up some creme legere (which is about 2/3 pastry cream and 1/3 whipped cream).  i spread a layer of creme layer on the bottom of the shell, and then arrange fruit to completely cover the top of the shell.  when using fruit that oxidizes (aka apples), i rub lemon on the fruit to prevent discoloration. And that’s all there is to it in a tart shell!

chestnut pear tart gone rogue

IMG_2461sometimes i start out well-intentioned in my kitchen. i mean to follow a recipe to the letter, and usually i do.  however, sometimes i realise that i haven’t got a particular type of ingredient in my pantry, and sometimes it’s obscure enough that i don’t feel like special ordering it or traveling 50 blocks in search of it from some specialty food store in nyc.  sometimes, i decide to go rogue!

i made a mental note a few weeks back that i wanted to test out pierre herme’s chestnut pear tart. then a few days ago, i decided that i should really use up the leftover poached pears and chestnuts paste from my montblanc experiment before they spoiled.  thinking that i had all the right ingredients at hand, i set out to reproduce ph’s tart from his book Desserts by Pierre Herme.  about 5 minutes in, i realised that i had misread some of the ingredients in his recipe.  i opted to forge ahead with a few improvisations.  i thought it turned out pretty swell nonetheless!

Tribeca Chestnut Pear Tart
(makes one 9.5 inch tart)

Pâte Sucrée About 300g, enough to make one  9-10 inch tart.  [Note: ph’s pâte sucrée recipe incorporates the usage of almond flour]
Poached Pears 2.5 to 3 poached pears. [Note: ph uses fresh pears in his tart]
Sour Cream or Crème Fraiche ½ cup
Chestnut Puree 1/2 cup
Chestnut Spread 3 tbsp
Rum 1 tsp
Eggs 2 large ones
Sugar ¼ cup
Milk 1/2 cup
  1. Prepare the tart dough in a 10 inch tart ring and blind bake the tart shell for 15 minutes at 350ºF.  Allow the crust the cool to room temperature, leaving it in the tart ring.
  2. Cut and core the poached pears into 1/3 inch cubes.
  3. In a food processor, mix together the sugar, eggs, milk, sour cream, chestnut puree and chestnut spread until smoothe.
  4. Fill the tart shell with the cubed pears.  Spread them evenly on the bottom of the crust.
  5. Then, pour in the chestnut filling from the food processor
  6. Bake the tart for 45 minutes at 350ºF., or until the filling has set.
  7. Optional:  [note: i tried to do so in the picture above but it’s not really a good example of how this should look]  the tart can be finished with a phyllo dough crown. To do so, take 3 sheets of defrosted phyllo dough (i didn’t defrost my dough, and it cracked as i was taking it out of the package). Scrunch the phyllo dough into a 10 inch tart ring, working with one piece at a time.  Lightly dust (i put too much on in the picture) the the dough with confectioner’s sugar.  Bake it for 5-7 minutes until the crown is caramelized.  When the tart and phyllo crust have cooled, carefully transfer the phyllo crown to the top of the tart.

an old recipe learned in bologna – part I: the tagliatelle


a year ago or so, my husband and i took a train from florence to bologna, the heartland of emilia romagna, and found ourselves making pasta at the “bologna cooking school.”  we had our misgivings at first.

we wandered up and down via c. boldrini–a rather nondescript street filled with office buildings and mostly closed shops–looking for building #6, or anything that looked like it could be a school for that matter.  we found #8 and #4 but were at a lost as to where #6 might be.  there was an iron gate between #8 and #4, and through the cracks we thought we could see a courtyard with an apartment building behind it.  it most definitely did not look anything like a cooking school.  we were about to head back to our hotel, which was fortunately nearby, when an elderly gentleman, tall, bearded and bespectacled, appeared around the corner.  he asked us, in a very thick italian accented english, if we were looking for the cooking school. why yes, we were! if my memory serves me correctly, his name was carlos, and for the past few weeks prior to our trip, i had been corresponding with him via email through his website to coordinate the evening.

C. lead us back down to via c. boldrini and through the very iron gate that we had walked past a half a dozen times.  we did in fact cross a small courtyard and into an apartment building that looked like it was built in the earlier part of the 20th century. as we squeezed into the old-fashioned elevator, i half wondered if i had made a giant mistake; if in fact, i should have bolted right then and there.  but my curiosity and desire to learn the secrets of pasta got the better of good sense.  as the elevator stopped, we hopped out, turned left on the landing, and entered C’s home.  he lived there with his sister luciana. they invited a close family friend, gabriella, over to teach us pasta making.  we had arrived to learn bolognese pasta making in a real bolognese home kitchen.

through the course of the evening, we learned how to make tagliatelle, tortellini, tortelloni, piadinia and ragù alla bolognese. gabriella showed us how to do so with only our hands and mattarello (a wooden rolling pin). the pastas we made were all shaped from a dough called sfoglia, or fresh egg pasta.  the recipe is simple enough:  1 egg (~60g) to 100g of flour.  mastering pasta making takes a bit more; gabriella told us that with practice, we will feel the right consistency with our hands and know the adjustments to make.   we do notice, as well, that the egg yolks in bologna are orange, not yellow — like the egg yolks that you’d find from a plucky organic free range chicken grazing in the berkshires.   i wonder if C and G would find our yellow american egg yolks an oddity as well.

making the sfoglia is easy.  rolling it out into sheets that are almost paper thin is more of a battle. even after resting,  the dough is elastic and rubbery. this is dough to be tamed. this is dough that after kneading, rolling, and shaping, becomes a pasta infused with perseverance, determination and at the bottom of all things, love.

i think that is what C meant later that evening.  as we enjoyed our handmade pasta, he explained to us why he opened up the cooking school in his home. several years back, C turned the spare bedroom in his home into a bed and breakfast.  an american girl, studying at another cooking school in bologna, stayed with them.  one day, C, being an amateur cook himself, asked her what they taught at the school. she said pasta, which they made using pasta machines.  even when recounting the story to us, C was noticeably aghast at the prospect of pasta milled through machines.  tragic pasta education aside, C got the idea to start his own cooking school to teach pasta as he had learned it, and as it had been passed down in his family through the centuries.  it was a pasta, whose secret lied not so much in the two components of the recipe, or in any special technique, but rather, in the process of making it and in passing that knowledge forward through time.  we would learn when making the ragù alla bolognese for how many centuries his family recipe had endured.

living in nyc, i’ve made a few adaptations to C’s pasta making process. i’m afraid he will be disappointed in what a poor student i turned out to be, but at least i’m still making fresh pasta from scratch, right?

Mostly Handmade Tagliatelle
(this recipe is easily multiplied. figure about 75-100g of flour per a single person. i used about 300g to make my batch of tagliatelle.  it keeps well.)


AP Flour                     100g
Egg                               1 egg (~60g)

  1. Mix together flour and egg in the bowl of your stand mixer using a dough hook (I made my batch using 300g of flour.  If you’re making a small quantity, you may find it easier to use the paddle attachment).
  2. Do not add water to the dough.  If you need more moisture, add some more egg white.
  3. When the dough comes together, remove it form the bowl and continue to knead on a well floured surface.  [Note: C believes that sfoglia should really be kneaded and rolled on a warm wo0den surface. A wooden cutting board can be used if you’ve got one handy.]
  4. The dough is ready when it is soft, smooth, and elastic.  It also should not stick to the surface.
  5. Cover the dough and let the dough rest for 30 minutes.
  6. On a well floured surface, start to roll-out the dough until it is about 1/2 cm thick. You will need to change directions and help things along by slightly stretching the pastry out as your roll it.  Doing so, takes me at least 20 minutes but don’t be surprised if it takes even longer if you’re doing this the first time.
  7. Flour the flattened dough and fold it into 1 long 3 inch wide strip.
  8. Cut the pasta with a knife into 1 cm long strips along the short end, such that when you unfold the strip, you’ll have one long strand of tagliatelle.
  9. Toss all the folded strips together with flour.  The strips should unfold to reveal the freshly made tagliatelle noodles.
  10. Fresh pasta cooks in less time than dried pasta – figure 1.5 to 3 minutes in boiling water depending on how al dente you like it.

Note: we ate our tagliatelle with ragù alla bolognese (forthcoming post).  The noodles were tossed in the sauce with some some pasta water.