Monthly Archives: October 2009

mini chocolate chip scones

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why make things normal sized, when you can just make them mini!  everything is so much cuter in miniaturized form. take for example, these scone nibbles — another excellent recipe from maestros at king arthur flour.  golden brown after 18 minutes, they are incredibly fast to whip up (probably less time to make than to line-up at your local starbucks to buy) and so addictive.  i couldn’t stop popping them into my mouth all of last night. good thing the mini-size also makes the scones quite convenient for sharing!

note: the recipe calls for the scones to be glazed but i didn’t really think they needed it flavour-wise.  the glaze does, however, allow the scones to keep for longer.

baked fried green tomatoes

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every so often, i need to clip, prune and wrestle my tomato vines into a semblance of order. i did so again this weekend and several green tomatoes fell off their vines in the process. they seemed too cute to throw away and not knowing what else to do with them, i went with my husband’s suggestion to make them into baked fried green tomatoes (i guess it’s one of those food names akin to chicken fried steak, is it chicken or is it steak?).

i don’t eat tomatoes unless they are sun-dried or pulverized into ketchup or a stew.   my husband says that they are tasty, so i suppose at least they have one customer.  i’ll have to find a true southerner, though, to see if they pass muster. they are, however, a lot less morbid than those from the whistle stop cafe.

Baked Fried Green Tomatoes
(a very inexact recipe)

Green Tomatoes                                 Whatever you’ve got on hand
Salt & Pepper                                       A sprinkle of each
Egg                                                         Figure about 1 egg per a lb of tomatoes
Panko Bread Crumbs                         Enough for coating
Olive Oil                                                Apply a light drizzle

  1. Cut tomatoes on their sides
  2. Toss the tomatoes in Salt & Pepper
  3. Dip the tomatoes in the beaten egg mixture and dredge through the panko bread crumbs
  4. Drizzle the bottom of a baking sheet with a light coat of olive oil. (I lined my pan with foil for easy clean-up)
  5. Place each coated tomato on the baking sheet
  6. Drizzle with the top of the tomatoes a light coat of olive oil
  7. Sprinkle some additional salt & pepper for flavour
  8. Bake at 350ºF for 25 minutes or until golden brown

hojicha (ほうじ茶) gelato

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i have a special place in my heart (or rather stomach) for tea-flavoured gelatos. it is the perfect combination — imagine the serenity of tea in a japanese afternoon sweets house combined with the happy satisfaction of licking gelato in front of the trevi fountain on a summer evening. when i’m eating it, i’m half lulled into thinking that it’s really something holistically healing.  with my daily dose of tea flavoured ice cream, i can take on the world!

matcha ice cream has become so pervasive these days that it’s really like vanilla in my book.  for something special enough to justify lugging out my 30lb gelato machine (i.e. something you can’t find in stores), i like to raid my tea cupboard and concoct my own flavors.  my current favorite is hojicha (a roasted green tea with a slightly nutty caramel taste), though earl grey is quite good, so is jasmine, or english breakfast. . . oh my!

Hojicha Gelato
(makes ~3 pints)
(nb. hojicha is lower in caffeine than green tea, and is suitable for children or the elderly.  you can eat it before bed too)

Hojicha ¼ cup of loose leaves, ground into powder using a spice grinder.  You can buy hojicha in most asian supermarkets and definitely in a Japanese grocery store
Egg yolks 6
Heavy Cream 1 cup
Whole Milk 3 cups
Sugar ¾ cup
Salt A small pinch
  1. Heat cream, milk and half of the sugar in a sauce pan.  Bring it to a boil but watch the pot carefully as it will easily boil over.
  2. Whip together egg yolks and remaining sugar until it reaches the ribbon stage (the yolks will have tripled in volume).
  3. With the mixer on low speed, pour the heated milk mixture into the yolks.  Continue to mix for 30 seconds.
  4. Pour the entire mixture back into the sauce and allow the liquid to thicken.  Continue to whisk while you are heating it. Stop when the liquid is just about to boil.  Do not let it reach a boil.
  5. Take the sauce pan off the heat.  Add the hojicha powder, salt and mix until evenly combined.
  6. Allow the gelato base to cool to room temperature.
  7. Then, pour it into an gelato / ice cream machine and follow the manufacturer’s instructions.  [Note:  I didn’t pour the liquid over a sieve, but you can certainly do so to get a yet smoother gelato. I kinda like the larger specks of hojicha.]
  8. The resulting gelato will be quite soft.  It should rest in the freezer for at least 1-2 hours before eating.

ph’s viennese chocolate sables

IMG_2420sablé in french means sand, and these cookies very much crumble once you put them in your mouth.  i did find them similar in taste and texture to the other chocolate cookie recipe I posted, but somehow the squiggly shape makes them a lot more elegant and fun.  pierre hermé writes in a side note to this recipe from his book Chocolate Desserts by Pierre Hermé that he learned how to make the cookies from wittamer pastry shop in vienna. he also goes on to say that the traditional version of these cookies is never made in chocolate but that he decided to make a chocolate version because they seemed like the perfect vehicle for delivering the chocolate flavour.  i’m thinking that these might be delicious in matcha form too!

hermé also advises that these cookies are typically formed into a W  — perhaps an ode to the Wittamer pastry store.  s decided to make mine into little S shapes.  S for sablé!

PH’s Viennese Chocolate Sablés
(makes ~65, or about 2 half sheet trays)

Flour                                  260g
Cocoa powder                    30g  (Valrhona preferred)
Butter                                250g @ room temperature
Confectioners’ Sugar      100g
Salt                                     a pinch
Egg whites                        3 tbsp (lightly beat 2 egg whites and then measure out 3 tbsp)

  1. Whisk together flour and cocoa, and set aside
  2. In the bowl of your stand mixer, beat the butter until it is light and creamy.
  3. Add sugar and salt, and then the egg white
  4. Slowly add the flour & cocoa mixture.  Blend it until it is just incorporated.  Do not over mix or you will lose the crumbly characteristic.
  5. Pipe the cookies into whatever shape you desire using a medium star-tip.  [Note: the dough is really thick.  PH advises working in small batches.  I piped it in one fell swoop, but it required quite a lot of elbow grease on my part.]
  6. Bake at 350ºF for 10-12 minutes.

poached pear mont blanc cake

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fall is the time for chestnuts, and the idea entered my head a few weeks ago that i should really try my hand at making a mont blanc cake.  rather than making the standard chestnut creme and chestnut paste covered cake, i decided to insert some poached pears into the equation.  i thought it added a nice fruity punch that lightened the rich, nutty taste of the traditional mont blanc.

Poached Pear Mont Blanc Cake
(makes 1 nine-inch cake)

Another multi-step process.  Here’s what you need:

To assemble:

  1. Carefully cut génoise cake into two even layers.
  2. Using a pastry brush, dampen the inside surface of the cake layers with the pear poaching liquid.
  3. Spread a thin layer of chestnut cream on the bottom layer of cake, and gently place the 2nd layer on top.  [note: i’d probably make this cake in the future using only one layer. two layers of cake is really too thick.]
  4. Cut the poached pears in half.  Remove the core.  Place the pears flat side down on top of the cake, leaving a 1 inch border from the edge.
  5. Spread the remaining chestnut cream on the top of the cake and pears, making sure to leave a clean 1 inch border from the edge.
  6. Using a small piping tip or a spaghetti tip, completely cover the pears and chestnut cream with the chestnut paste. [note: if you want a thicker layer of chestnut paste, you should double the chestnut paste recipe below.  the amount in the recipe below makes enough to evenly cover the top of this cake in a single layer.]
  7. Top with a few berries or even gold foil if you’ve got it.

PH’s Génoise
(from Desserts by Pierre Herme)

Butter                          4 tbsp
Eggs                             6
Sugar                           1 cup
AP Flour                     1 1/3 cups sifted

  1. Melt the butter over a double boiler and set aside to cool.
  2. Whisk together the eggs and sugar in the mixing bowl of your stand mixer.  Then, place the mixing bowl over a double boiler.
  3. Continue whisking until the mixture becomes foamy and slightly pale.  The temperature should be between 130ºF-140ºF.  Takes about 4 minutes.
  4. Put the mixing bowl back into the stand mixer and continue to beat on high until the mixture triples in volume and you reach the ribbon stage.  The batter should be pale and smooth.
  5. Stir 2 tbsp of the mixture into the butter and set-aside.
  6. Working with a large rubber spatula, gently fold the sifted flour into the bowl.  (You may need to add the flour 2-3 times by shaking it through a strainer).  Take care not to deflate the cake too much.
  7. When the flour is almost completely folded in, at the butter mixture and gently continue to fold 2 or 3 more times.
  8. Immediately pour the batter into a floured and dusted 9-inch cake pan.
  9. Bake at 350ºF for 30 minutes.
  10. Let rest in pan for 5 minutes before removing and cooling over a rack.

Chestnut Cream
(adapted from Daniel Boulud)

Heavy Cream or Creme Fraiche                               3/4 cup
Chestnut Paste                                                             1/4 cup  (I used Clément Faugier’s spreadable chestnut paste.)

  1. If using creme fraiche, you can just put all the ingredients in the mixing bowl and beat until you get stiff peaks.
  2. If using heavy cream, whip the heavy cream until you get soft peaks.
  3. Then add the chestnut paste.  Continue to whip until you get stiff peaks.

Chestnut Paste
(adapted from Daniel Boulud)

Chestnut Puree                                                           3/4 cup
Chestnut Paste                                                           1/2 cup (I used Clément Faugier’s spreadable chestnut paste.)
Rum                                                                               2 tbsp
Vanilla                                                                          1/2 tsp

  1. Put all ingredients in a food processor.  Puree until smooth. You really want to make sure there are no lumps, otherwise it won’t come out of the piping tip properly.

lion’s head stew (獅子頭)

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lion’s head stew is one of those things that i never really  appreciated growing up. in my mind, it was really a rather humble dish that my mom made when she ran out of ingredients in the fridge and had to cobble something together. a bunch of meatballs stewed over napa cabbage. nothing really that special. (although if you really squint your eyes, the meatballs surrounded by cabbage, kinda look like the mane of a lion — hence the dish’s name).

however, in my encounters with the dish later in life, i began to realize that lion’s head stew was a bit more than a throwaway dish.  in college, i recall reading ming dynasty texts, where the dish appeared in many banquet dining lists.  i always thought it odd that a dish as humble as meatballs in napa cabbage would make it onto grandiose chinese banquet tables. i settled on the explanation that electric meat grinders didn’t exist in the ming dynasty and so the meat was in fact chopped by hand.  the amount of work involved with chopping the meat with cleavers, thereby qualified it for the banquet circuit.

many years ago, when i lived in a tiny cramped nyc apartment, my friend F came over and cooked lion’s head stew for Y and i.  Y and i thought his version was rather good.  F revealed himself to be a bit of a lion’s head stew connoisseur.  he critiqued his own dish from a myriad of angles. but, from him i learned that the meatballs were supposed to be both fragrant and tender, and that the soup had to be flavorful and thickened with the starch of the napa cabbage.

the other day, i picked up cecilia chang’s book The Seventh Daughter and flipped to her recipe on page 123.  she makes her version with bean thread vermicelli, something i’ve never seen in lion’s head stew before.  i simplified her recipe quite a bit and replaced the pork with ground turkey. i was delightfully surprised in how it turned out.  for me, the true star of the dish, though, were not the meatballs; it was the napa cabbage — soft, stewed, imbued with the flavours of chicken broth and meatballs — that truly sung. while the dish might not qualify for a place on the tables of  grand banquet halls in this modern age of electric appliances, it definitely qualified for the chinese comfort food prize.

Lion’s Head Stew

Napa Cabbage                                       ~1.5 lbs, cut into 1 inch strips
Ground Turkey                                        1 lb (traditionally, made with ground pork instead)
Scallions                                                    2 stalks minced, white part only
Ginger                                                        1 tbsp minced
Salt                                                             2 tsp for the meatballs, 1 tsp for the cabbage
Soy Sauce                                                  1 tbsp
Rice Wine                                                  1 tbsp
Sesame oil                                                 1 tbsp
Pepper                                                       1 tsp
Veg Oil                                                      2 tbsp
Chicken Broth                                          2 cups

  1. Combine turkey, scallion, ginger, salt, soy sauce, rice wine, sesame oil and pepper in a bowl.   Mix the ingredients until well combined.
  2. With your hands, roll the meat mixture into meatballs about 2 inches in diameter. I got about 7.
  3. Heat the oil in a pot ( i used my 5 qt dutch oven) and brown the meatballs on both sides over high heat.
  4. Then, remove the meatballs from the pot and set aside.
  5. In the same pot, layer in the napa cabbage.  You should place the root ends of the cabbage on the bottom of the pot and the leafier layers towards the top.
  6. Arrange the meatballs back on top of the cabbage.  Add the remaining 1 tsp of salt. Pour in the chicken stock.
  7. Bring the stew to a boil and then turn down the heat to maintain a simmer until the cabbage has softened, and the stock reduced by 1/3 to 1/2.

fig and orange tart à la christine ferber

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in another life, i’d be christine ferber living in the enchanted alsatian village of niedermorschwir.  i’d wake up, smell the crisp alsatian air, waddle out into the alsatian market place, and be instantly inspired to make an alsatian tart.  new combinations of fruits and nuts, herbs and cheeses would spring alive around me in vivid colours.   i’d have published countless tart recipes in infinite variations. i’d be giving birth to new flavour profiles with the fecundity of the duggar family.  making tarts would be in my blood, my dna, and my soul.  i’d be snow white and her more than seven tarts…and my best friend would be none other than pierre herme.

living out in tribeca, i’ve got the greenmarket on greenwich street to look forward to every wednesday and saturday, the itinerant fruit stand on the corner of greenwich and chambers, whatever produce whole foods decides to stock for a particular week, plus my personal indoor garden. while my fig tree has sprouted about 20 still-green figs, i decided to spare my babies and buy a pint of figs from the fruit stand this morning.  they were cheap, in season, and perfect for russeling up my version of ms. ferber’s fig and orange tart.   (note: hers utilizes creme fraiche, semi-puff pastry, and walnuts — i don’t live in the enchanted village of niedermorschwir, okay?!)

Tribeca Fig and Orange Tart
(makes 1 nine-inch tart; my tart is a cross between ferber’s old bachelor’s tart and her fig and orange tart with walnuts from her book Mes Tartes)

Pastry Dough enough to make 1 nine-inch tart. i used pâte sucrée. in ferber’s original recipe, she suggests a rich flaky pastry with praline
paste and hazelnuts.
Almond Cream 200g. i used the recipe from the french pear tart
Fresh Figs 6
Fresh Oranges 1-2
Sugar ¼ cup
  1. Roll-out the pastry dough until it is about 1/8 inch thick and lift it onto a parchment paper lined baking sheet. Cut a 9.5 to 10 inch circle in the center of the dough.
  2. Using a heart-shaped cookie cutter, cut out enough hearts using the left over scraps to completely line the edge of the circle.
  3. Moisten the the edge of the circle with cold water and gently press the hearts onto the circle.  If your dough has gotten too warm, it may be easiest to freeze the roll-out dough for five minutes before transferring the hearts onto the circle.
  4. While you are heating the oven to 350ºF, let the pastry shell rest in the freezer.
  5. Blind bake the shell for 10 minutes and then let it cool.
  6. When the shell has cooled, spread an even layer of almond creme on the bottom of the tart.
  7. Clean and dry the figs.  Remove the stems and cut the figs into quarters.
  8. Peel the oranges and remove the white membrane.  You want the orange sections without the membrane.
  9. Place the fig quarters and orange creme on top of the almond creme in an alternating patter.
  10. When the tart has been completely covered with fruit, sprinkle it with the sugar. I also sprinkled on some sliced almonds because I couldn’t resist. I also had some extra hearts, so I stuck those into the tart as well.
  11. Bake the tart at 350ºF for about 40-45 minutes.
  12. You can coat the oranges with some apricot glaze (optional). The figs don’t need it as they produce their own glaze.

mon dieu! chez michel’s fish soup

chez michel

chez michel

on a brisk summer evening with the sunlight just softening into amber, my husband and i turned left away from the hustle and bustle of gare du nord station, and wandered down a quiet alley, sandwiched between several larger streets.  things did not look promising. rue de belzunce was under much construction, and it felt as if we had either gotten lost (again) or were headed to a ramshackle demolition site.

chez michel appeared, like an oasis, at the end of the block. cheery ruffled valances and patina-ed glass greeted us. it was the prototypical french bistro, except that it hadn’t gone out of its way to age its mirrors, dent its wood paneling, or import its dining chairs in a very complete effort to be a replica of the perfect french bistro.  no, it was the real thing, and more so than taking our first step off the plane into the streets of paris or biting into a pain au chocolat at laduree, chez michel transported us to a different place.  to us, we could very well have been sitting in the perfect french bistro at the end of an infinitely long highway running through the hitchhiker’s galaxy.

soupe de poisson

soupe de poisson

chef thierry breton serves classic breton dishes, the most spectacular of which was the fish soup, served with a quart size pitcher on the side (because they knew you would ask for seconds). hearty, velvety, oozing of umami. i would have to agree with another’s observation that the soup is a “life altering” experience.  it carried me to morbihan coastline. i could imagine myself a fisherman wizened with the wisdom of the sea, safely ensconced in my cottage by nightfall, listening to the waves lap up against the shore, slurping slowly a hot bowl of fish soup as the whisps of rising steam warmed my cheeks.

since coming back from paris, i’ve been thinking about that soup. a lot.  i haven’t been able to replicate it yet, but i think i’ve come up with something vaguely reminiscent. i keep hoping that one day, chef breton will speak and divulge his fish soup making process to the world, and until then i’ll keep tinkering away. . .

Rue de Belzunce Fish Soup (a recipe, like the street, very much under construction)

Olive oil                             ¼ cup
Red Onions                      2 medium ones, diced
Garlic                                5-6 cloves, mashed
Fresh Parsley                  ¼ cup, chopped
Fresh Thyme                   1 tbsp
Bay Leaf                           1 dried leaf
Potatoes                           ½ lb, peeled and cubed
Saffron                              1 tsp
Tomatoes                         2 lbs, peeled and chopped
Fish                                  4 to 5 lbs (i used cleaned fish fillets; cod, snapper, hake, perch. any white fish that isn’t too oily should work)
Fish stock                       2 quarts
Pernod                            1/2 cup
Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste

  1. Heat 1/4 cup of olive oil in a large pot over low heat. Add onion, garlic, herbs, potatoes, then tomatoes until lightly browned and softened.
  2. Pour in stock. Bring to a boil and then allow to simmer for 30-40 minutes until the soup has been reduced by 1/3.
  3. Bring the soup base to a boil again,  and then add large, whole fish first and boil for 5 minutes.  Then add the smaller more delicate fish and cook for an additional 5 minutes.
  4. Pour in pernod and sprinkle in saffron. Allow the soup to simmer for 30 more seconds.
  5. If you have an immersion blender, puree the soup in the pot until it’s mostly smooth but with tiny chunks.  If you don’t have an immersion blender, wait for the soup to cool and then puree with a blender or food processor.
  6. Flavour with salt and pepper, and serve with a few croutons and finely chopped parsley.

Chez Michel
Address: 1o rue de belzunce, 10e   (1oth arrondissement, Metro: Gare du Nord)
Tel: 01-44-53-06-20
Prices:  fixed price menu 35€; supplements additional
Reservations essential

a gallery of some other delights we enjoyed at chez michel:

Pot-au-Feu

Perfect Pot-au-Feu

breton kouign aman

breton kouign aman

paris-brest

paris-brest

ph’s ligurian olive oil lemon cake

i came across an article about olive oil cakes (apparently all the rage in artisanal coffee shops these days) in nymag this morning, and it jogged my memory about an olive oil cake from Desserts by Pierre Herme. i thought i’d join the olive oil cake fray and give the ligurian olive oil cake a go.  i found the recipe on martha’s website as well and have included some of my baking notes below:

  • i used a 9 inch springform pan instead of the 10 inch recommended.  as such the cooking time took me 40-45 minutes instead of 30-33 minutes.
  • even in a 9 inch pan, the cake instead is quite short.  it rose to a height of 2-2.5 inches.
  • i might even replace the meringue top with a fleecy layer of whipped cream instead.
  • i used bertoli’s extra virgin olive because that’s what i had in my pantry but the recipe recommends using the best olive oil you can find.  that might change the flavour profile a bit.

tastewise, i expected to be overwhelmed by the taste of olive oil in this cake, but instead it has a lingering effect that i could only pick up at the very end.  i probably would not even know that there’s olive oil in this cake if i hadn’t been the one pouring it in.  the raspberries add a fruity punch to the cake that offsets the density of the sponge. the lemons seem to enhance the flavour of the raspberries and then fade away into the background. the soft meringue (almost like a cream as the cooking process browns the top but doesn’t dry it out) contrasts nicely with the crunchy crust of the cake.  all in, the cake is a bit like something you would expect to be served to city dwellers after a long day of picking grapes while on vacation in the tuscan countryside.

pandan yogurt cake

an innocuous looking bundt cake

an innocuous looking bundt cake

but the incredible pandan hulk lurks underneath

but the incredible pandan hulk lurks underneath

my friend J invited G and i over for dinner  (yay! dinner party). with J & G both being malaysians albeit from different areas of the peninsula, i thought it’d be appropriate to bring over some pandan cake.  the recipes i had perused all required a lot of eggs (like 8 to 10) and because they relied on the whipped up eggs for their chiffon structure are also trickier to construct.  lacking the eggs but having quite a lot of yogurt (the good stuff too: creme bulgare), it dawned on me that i could make a pandan yogurt cake instead.

the cake came out incredibly moist (it’s still moist at day 3), imbued with the fragrance of pandan (which is like a cross between jasmine rice, vanilla and coconut), and well, a shade of psychedelic green.  my husband finds the colour disturbing; it really doesn’t look like something that should occur in nature. i used pandan paste and my guess is that the manufacturer added some food colouring to the mixture.  if i ever get my hands on some fresh pandan, i’ll let you know what the true colour of pandan should be.  personally, i find the bright green disturbing yes but oddly fascinating.  it’s a happy colour, one belonging to festivals, one of joy, kinda like the kid that shows up to school on the first day wearing bright green just because she likes it and doesn’t care about fitting in.

Pandan Yogurt Cake
(fills 1 nine-inch bundt pan)

Flour                            3 cups
Baking Powder          4 tsp
Salt                               ½ tsp
Sugar                           2 cups
Yogurt                         1 ½ cups (i used creme bulgare*, but plain whole milk yogurt or creme fraiche will work too)
Eggs                             4
Milk                             1/4 cup
Veg Oil                        1 cup
Pandan Essence        2 tsp

  1. Put all the ingredients into a mixing bowl and blend until well combined.  (about 3 minutes on medium speed using the paddle attachment)
  2. Pour the mixture into a greased bundt pant
  3. Bake at 350°F for 1 hour
  4. Let the cake rest for 10-15 minutes in the bundt pan before unmolding.  To unmold, place a pan or cooling rack on top of the bundt pan and slowing invert.  (i did it too quickly the first time and my cake slipped out of the mold and cracked in 3 spots!)
  5. Well-wrapped, the cake keeps for about 1 week at room temperature.

* creme bulgare is yogurt made with heavy cream, kinda like creme fraiche