Sunday, February 27, 2011

Creamy crunchy February

The February 2011 Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Mallory from A Sofa in the Kitchen. She chose to challenge everyone to make Panna Cotta from a Giada De Laurentiis recipe and Nestle Florentine Cookies. (This second link will get you the panna cotta too.)

I made the basic panna cotta recipe linked above, and then topped it with a port wine gelee. My first gelee ever, and let me tell you--don't be afraid of it.  Gelee is French for "adult Jell-O." (Or, with two cups of port in this recipe, this dessert is for adults. Maybe they aren't all that way. And to that I say, why not?)   And man is it yummy.

I will confess, however, that the panna cotta pictured above is actually my second attempt.  The first panna cotta was made on the same day as the florentines and it was made with the addition of pear puree and vanilla bean (like the recipe for the port gelee spells out).  It tasted lovely, but, alas, was not meant to be. The panna cotta separated into an icky watery lower layer and a beautifully set whitish upper layer.  Ick.  I asked my fellow daring bakers what I did wrong, and received no help. 

None. They may be daring, but they aren't helpful.

So then I poked about on the internets and learned that I haven't been giving gelatin the proper respect that it deserves. It is delicate, say the internets.  Don't get it too hot. Don't get it too cold. Chill your dish first. Let it cool to room temperature before putting it in the fridge. Coo at it while it cools. It can sense your lackadaisical attitude, and when it does, it won't set properly just to prove a point. 

Like the thugs on the corner, gelatin commands respect, yo.

So I was more careful the second time. And it worked a whole lot better.  See above. 

But the florentines. OH, the florentines. 

If I have one piece of advice from this month's challenge (besides Respect Yo Gelatin) it is this: Get thee some florentine ingredients. 

They are amazing, crispy, and luscious. They are also about the easiest cookies to make.  Just throw everything in a bowl, stir, and plop little piles on a baking sheet with loads of room for them to spread out. You can get fancy with the chocolate, or you can dip, or spread, or just eat the cookie with a square of chocolate on top (which we did the first night because it was late and the panna cotta had separated and I just wasn't up for anything else. And it was just fine.) 

By the way: I used Safeway brand milk chocolate bars, and I was scared and embarrassed to use grocery store chocolate but let me tell you: I am IN LOVE. So much cocoa butter in these puppies, you can't hold it without it melting immediately.  It kicks Hershey's butt.

So there. This month I learned the following helpful lessons which I now pass to you:  

  • Respect yo gelatin.
  • Make florentines.
  • Don't judge chocolate by its wrapper. (I mean, do. Read the ingredient list. Is cocoa butter featured heavily? Then buy it. Yum.)

Sunday, February 20, 2011

To my sister, on the occasion of your birth

Sending love, and warmth, and perhaps a bit of funky style to you and your neck this year.

And modeling it here, in case you have no idea what it is when you open it.  It's a cowl, and I made it from the most beautiful organic cotton yarn in the most sister color there is; it's called walnut, but it's more purple than nutty.  And it's so soft. And I hope you love it.

I found the yarn last year--my sister must have this!--and I've been thinking all of this time what to make with it.  I only bought two skeins, and then it promptly stopped being carried by my local yarn store.  So I was stuck with two skeins.  

And then this cowl pattern, which I absolutely adore, and which I think might just dress up even the most plain long-sleave t-shirt on a day when you're feeling festive. 

And festivity is what I wish for you this year--more to celebrate, more reasons to buy balloons, more streamers and confetti and fireworks and cupcakes. xxoo

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Number 4

I'm not a web designer. In fact, one of my lifelong goals is to never know enough html or css to have to make websites or answer questions.  I can parse my way through a page of code and find the bits I need to edit--photo sizes and links and the like--but every time (and I mean every time) I open up Dreamweaver I have to go running to my web guy at work and plead forgiveness and ask him to fix whatever I just broke. (I'm not sure why he keeps installing Dreamweaver on my computers...)

But, given a little time, and a willingness to be okay with good enough, I finally made us a website.  It's not going to win any awards, and it is missing a whole beak-load of examples of the amazing work that gavron has done, but it's a start, and it's happy enough that I can send people there without being embarrassed, which is the first step.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

When your CSA keeps sending parsnips...

You make a souffle. 

It's true. A souffle out of parsnips and cheese and fresh sage leaves from the garden.  And you eat it for brunch on a Sunday with coffee and chicken apple sausage. And you smile.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

best. tart. ever.

For the amazing dinner party my lovely husband threw for my birthday, I made a tart. The best tart I have ever made or had the privilege to eat.  And let me tell you, I have made many a tart. MANY. 

In fact, tarts were all I made for years, before I owned a rolling pin, and refused to make pie with its rolled-out crust.  No, the tart was the perfect lazy-woman's dessert--all the joy of crust, but none of the rolling. (For those of you who have no idea what I'm talking about--let's just say this: when you make a sweet tart crust, you can just push the crust into the pan with your fingers.  Yes, that means that I touched every part of that tart you just ate. You'll get over it.)

I've since mastered pie crust, but I still love a tart. And for some reason, in my many years of tart making, I never made this one.  This chocolate pear custard tart with a pate sucre crust that had me feeding my husband (who was up to his elbows making three kinds of salsa) globs of the raw dough in order to keep myself from eating all of the extra. Sweet, creamy, amazing dough (and I think the secret here is not just butter and flour but confectioner's sugar) that's so soft you have to chill it in the pan for an hour before you can blind bake it.

Once you blind bake the crust, you chop unsweetened chocolate--if you are me you use a mix of super dark and dark--and then fan out the pears in lovely succession.  Add to that a brilliant mix of custard--complete with a vanilla bean--and sprinkle with white sugar. Bake again until the whole thing is brown and crisp and screaming to be eaten. But don't eat it just yet. Let it cool a bit first, lest the whole thing doesn't set up correctly and/or someone burns his or her mouth and you have a lawsuit on your hands.

But I digress.  I can't even explain to you how good this is.  Get thee to a bookstore and buy In the Sweet Kitchen*.  Make this tart. It will change your life.

*If you are a baker, you must go buy this book.  The first half of the book is a compendium of sweet baking reference, of chemistry and explication you will find in no other recipe book. And the second half is filled with the most amazingly complex, but not difficult, recipes, including the one for this tart.