Monday, December 29, 2008

Daring Bakers: French Yule Log

This month's challenge is brought to us by the adventurous Hilda from Saffron and Blueberry and Marion from Il en Faut Peu Pour Etre Heureux. They have chosen a French Yule Log by Flore from Florilege Gourmand

When I saw this challenge, I nearly had a heart attack. What’s more, I knew we would be out of town for Christmas and new years, so I had no idea when I would make this or where I would serve it. I ended up tackling it right away and serving it for the Philly Food Blogger Potluck on December 5th.

My log had hazelnut dacqouise, dark chocolate ganache, hazelnut milk chocolate crisp, vanilla crème brulee, and hazelnut chocolate mousse with dark chocolate icing. Here's a picture of the finished log on my table. I will post a picture of the inside when I return from my holiday travels.

All in all, this is one of those very fancy shmancy desserts that is tasty, but just isn’t something you crave, like a piece of chocolate cake or an ice cream on a hot day.  But it was a great learning experience, so I must thank our hosts and the Daring Bakers for this chance to stretch my skills!

This is a looong recipe- but it really boils down to 6 simpler recipes

Element #1 Dacquoise Biscuit

Preparation time: 10 mn + 15 mn for baking

Equipment: 2 mixing bowls, hand or stand mixer with whisk attachment, spatula, baking pan such as a 10”x15” jelly-roll pan, parchment paper

Note: You can use the Dacquoise for the bottom of your Yule Log only, or as bottom and top layers, or if using a Yule log mold (half-pipe) to line your entire mold with the biscuit. Take care to spread the Dacquoise accordingly. Try to bake the Dacquoise the same day you assemble the log to keep it as moist as possible.

2.8 oz (3/4cup + 1Tbsp / 80g) hazelnut meal
1.75 oz (1/2 cup / 50g) confectioner’s sugar
2Tbsp (15g) all-purpose flour
3.5oz (100g / ~100ml) about 3 medium egg whites
1.75 oz (4 Tbsp / 50g) granulated sugar

1. Finely mix the hazelnut meal and the confectioner's sugar. (If you have a mixer, you can use it by pulsing the ingredients together for no longer than 30 seconds).
2. Sift the flour into the mix.
3. Beat the eggs whites, gradually adding the granulated sugar until stiff.
4. Pour the almond meal mixture into the egg whites and blend delicately with a spatula.
5. Grease a piece of parchment paper and line your baking pan with it.
6. Spread the batter on a piece of parchment paper to an area slightly larger than your desired shape (circle, long strip etc...) and to a height of 1/3 inches (8mm).
7. Bake at 350°F (180°C) for approximately 15 minutes (depends on your oven), until golden.
8. Let cool and cut to the desired shape.

Element #2 Dark Chocolate Mousse

Preparation time: 20mn

Equipment: stand or hand mixer with whisk attachment, thermometer, double boiler or equivalent, spatula

Note: You will see that a Pate a Bombe is mentioned in this recipe. A Pate a Bombe is a term used for egg yolks beaten with a sugar syrup, then aerated. It is the base used for many mousse and buttercream recipes. It makes mousses and buttercreams more stable, particularly if they are to be frozen, so that they do not melt as quickly or collapse under the weight of heavier items such as the crème brulee insert.

2.5 sheets gelatin or 5g / 1 + 1/4 tsp powdered gelatin
1.5 oz (3 Tbsp / 40g) granulated sugar
1 ½ tsp (10g) glucose or thick corn syrup
0.5 oz (15g) water
50g egg yolks (about 3 medium)
6.2 oz (175g) dark chocolate, coarsely chopped
1.5 cups (350g) heavy cream (35% fat content)

1. Soften the gelatin in cold water. (If using powdered gelatin, follow the directions on the package.)
2. Make a Pate a Bombe: Beat the egg yolks until very light in colour (approximately 5 minutes until almost white).
2a. Cook the sugar, glucose syrup and water on medium heat for approximately 3 minutes (if you have a candy thermometer, the mixture should reach 244°F (118°C). If you do not have a candy thermometer, test the sugar temperature by dipping the tip of a knife into the syrup then into a bowl of ice water, if it forms a soft ball in the water then you have reached the correct temperature.
2b. Add the sugar syrup to the beaten yolks carefully by pouring it into the mixture in a thin stream while continuing to beat the yolks. You can do this by hand but it’s easier to do this with an electric mixer.
2c. Continue beating until cool (approximately 5 minutes). The batter should become thick and foamy.
3. In a double boiler or equivalent, heat 2 tablespoons (30g) of cream to boiling. Add the chopped chocolate and stir until melted and smooth.
4. Whip the remainder of the cream until stiff.
5. Pour the melted chocolate over the softened gelatin, mixing well. Let the gelatin and chocolate cool slightly and then stir in ½ cup (100g) of WHIPPED cream to temper. Add the Pate a Bombe.
6. Add in the rest of the WHIPPED cream (220g) mixing gently with a spatula.

Element #3 Dark Chocolate Ganache Insert

Preparation time: 10mn

Equipment: pan, whisk. If you have plunging mixer (a vertical hand mixer used to make soups and other liquids), it comes in handy.

Note: Because the ganache hardens as it cools, you should make it right before you intend to use it to facilitate piping it onto the log during assembly. Please be careful when caramelizing the sugar and then adding the cream. It may splatter and boil.

1.75 oz (4 Tbsp / 50g) granulated sugar
4.5oz (2/3 cup – 1 Tbsp/ 135g) heavy cream (35% fat content)
5 oz (135g) dark chocolate, finely chopped
3Tbsp + 1/2tsp (45g) unsalted butter softened

1. Make a caramel: Using the dry method, melt the sugar by spreading it in an even layer in a small saucepan with high sides. Heat over medium-high heat, watching it carefully as the sugar begins to melt. Never stir the mixture. As the sugar starts to melt, swirl the pan occasionally to allow the sugar to melt evenly. Cook to dark amber color (for most of you that means darker than last month’s challenge).
2. While the sugar is melting, heat the cream until boiling. Pour cream into the caramel and stir thoroughly. Be very careful as it may splatter and boil.
3. Pour the hot caramel-milk mixture over the dark chocolate. Wait 30 seconds and stir until smooth.
4. Add the softened butter and whip hard and fast (if you have a plunging mixer use it). The chocolate should be smooth and shiny.

Element #4 Praline Feuillete (Crisp) Insert

Preparation time: 10 mn (+ optional 15mn if you make lace crepes)

Equipment: Small saucepan, baking sheet (if you make lace crepes).
Double boiler (or one small saucepan in another), wax paper, rolling pin (or I use an empty bottle of olive oil).

Note: Feuillete means layered (as in with leaves) so a Praline Feuillete is a Praline version of a delicate crisp. There are non-praline variations below. The crunch in this crisp comes from an ingredient which is called gavottes in French. Gavottes are lace-thin crepes. I used Special K, but you can also use rice crispies or other crunchy cereal to replicate the effect.

Ingredients for the Praline Feuillete:
3.5 oz (100g) milk chocolate
1 2/3 Tbsp (25g) butter
2 Tbsp (1 oz / 30g) praline
2.1oz (60g) lace crepes(gavottes) or rice krispies or corn flakes or Special K

1. Melt the chocolate and butter in a double boiler.
2. Add the praline and the coarsely crushed lace crepes. Mix quickly to thoroughly coat with the chocolate.
3. Spread between two sheets of wax paper to a size slightly larger than your desired shape. Refrigerate until hard.

Element #5 Vanilla Crème Brulée Insert

Preparation time: 15mn + 1h infusing + 1h baking

Equipment: Small saucepan, mixing bowl, baking mold, wax paper

Note: The vanilla crème brulée can be flavored differently by simply replacing the vanilla with something else e.g. cardamom, lavender, etc...

1/2 cup (115g) heavy cream (35% fat content)
½ cup (115g) whole milk
4 medium-sized (72g) egg yolks
0.75 oz (2 Tbsp / 25g) granulated sugar
1 vanilla bean

1. Heat the milk, cream, and scraped vanilla bean to just boiling. Remove from the stove and let the vanilla infuse for about 1 hour.
2. Whisk together the sugar and egg yolks (but do not beat until white).
3. Pour the vanilla-infused milk over the sugar/yolk mixture. Mix well.
4. Wipe with a very wet cloth and then cover your baking mold (whatever shape is going to fit on the inside of your Yule log/cake) with parchment paper. Pour the cream into the mold and bake at 210°F (100°C) for about 1 hour or until firm on the edges and slightly wobbly in the center.
5. Let cool and put in the freezer for at least 1 hour to firm up and facilitate the final assembly.

Element #6 Dark Chocolate Icing

Preparation time: 25 minutes (10mn if you don’t count softening the gelatin)

Equipment: Small bowl, small saucepan

Note: Because the icing gelifies quickly, you should make it at the last minute.
For other gelatin equivalencies or gelatin to agar-agar equivalencies, look at the notes for the mousse component.

4g / ½ Tbsp powdered gelatin or 2 sheets gelatin
¼ cup (60g) heavy cream (35 % fat content)
2.1 oz (5 Tbsp / 60g) granulated sugar
¼ cup (50g) water
1/3 cup (30g) unsweetened cocoa powder

1. Soften the gelatin in cold water for 15 minutes.
2. Boil the rest of the ingredients and cook an additional 3 minutes after boiling.
3. Add gelatin to the chocolate mixture. Mix well.
4. Let cool while checking the texture regularly. As soon as the mixture is smooth and coats a spoon well (it is starting to gelify), use immediately.

How To Assemble your French Yule Log

Depending on whether your mold is going to hold the assembly upside down until you unmold it or right side up, this order will be different.
You will want to tap your mold gently on the countertop after each time you pipe mousse in to get rid of any air bubbles.

1) Line your mold or pan, whatever its shape, with rhodoid (clear hard plastic, I usually use transparencies cut to the desired shape, it’s easier to find than cellulose acetate which is what rhodoid translates to in English) OR plastic film. Rhodoid will give you a smoother shape but you may have a hard time using it depending on the kind of mold you’re using.

You have two choices for Step 2, you can either have Dacquoise on the top and bottom of your log as in version A or you can have Dacquoise simply on the bottom of your log as in version B:

2A) Cut the Dacquoise into a shape fitting your mold and set it in there. If you are using an actual Yule mold which is in the shape of a half-pipe, you want the Dacquoise to cover the entire half-pipe portion of the mold.
3A) Pipe one third of the Mousse component on the Dacquoise.
4A) Take the Creme Brulee Insert out of the freezer at the last minute and set on top of the mousse. Press down gently to slightly ensconce it in the mousse.
5A) Pipe second third of the Mousse component around and on top of the Creme Brulee Insert.
6A) Cut the Praline/Crisp Insert to a size slightly smaller than your mold so that it can be surrounded by mousse. Lay it on top of the mousse you just piped into the mold.
7A) Pipe the last third of the Mousse component on top of the Praline Insert.
8A) Freeze for a few hours to set. Take out of the freezer.
9A) Pipe the Ganache Insert onto the frozen mousse leaving a slight eidge so that ganache doesn’t seep out when you set the Dacquoise on top.
10A) Close with the last strip of Dacquoise.
Freeze until the next day.


2B) Pipe one third of the Mousse component into the mold.
3B) Take the Creme Brulee Insert out of the freezer at the last minute and set on top of the mousse. Press down gently to slightly ensconce it in the mousse.
4B) Pipe second third of the Mousse component around and on top of the Creme Brulee Insert.
5B) Cut the Praline/Crisp Insert to a size slightly smaller than your mold so that it can be surrounded by mousse. Lay it on top of the mousse you just piped into the mold.
6B) Pipe the last third of the Mousse component on top of the Praline Insert.
7B) Freeze for a few hours to set. Take out of the freezer.
8B) Pipe the Ganache Insert onto the frozen mousse leaving a slight edge so that ganache doesn’t seep out when you set the Dacquoise on top.
9B) Close with the Dacquoise.
Freeze until the next day.

the assembly order is:
1) Mousse
2) Creme Brulee Insert
3) Mousse
4) Praline/Crisp Insert
5) Mousse
6) Ganache Insert
7) Dacquoise

Unmold the cake/log/whatever and set on a wire rack over a shallow pan.
Cover the cake with the icing.
Let set. Return to the freezer.
You may decorate your cake however you wish. The decorations can be set in the icing after it sets but before you return the cake to the freezer or you may attach them on top using extra ganache or leftover mousse, etc...
Transfer to the refrigerator no longer than ½ hour before serving as it may start to melt quickly depending on the elements you chose.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Thank You POM!

Last month, I entered my Pomegranate Panna Cotta recipe into a contest at the Foodie Blogroll. My entry was selected, and I am now the happy recipient of a case of pomegranates and a case of pomegranate juice courtesy of POM Wonderful products.

I haven't started working with them yet (enjoying the pomegranates as it), but my co-worker Abby wins the award for best idea- clusters of pomegranate seeds covered in dark chocolate!  yum!

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Merry Christmas Cookies!

Every year, I bake and give away a crap-ton of cookies.  I always think I have baked too many, but predictably end up with just the right amount.  I won't post recipes here, since I bet you've all made most of your cookies already.

Here's what I made:

Pecan Tassies
Linzer Sables
Sugar Cookies
Seven Layer Cookies
Cranberry Noels
World Peace Cookies
Almond-Spice Cookies
Cranberry Pistachio Biscotti
Hazelnut Orange Shortbread
Mexican Wedding Cakes
Chocolate Espresso Snowcaps

I also made Aunt Bill's Brown Candy, which is like nut studded, praline fudge.  

several of these are old standbys, that I make year after year, but I am constantly trying to find new ones to add.  This year's standouts are the World Peace Cookies, chocolate wafers made with salt and studded with mini chocolate chips, and Seven Layer Cookies, which are layers of colored almond cake sandwiched with jam and chocolate.

What's your favorite christmas cookie??

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Christmas Adventure!

If you are reading this, it means I am in Spain.  P and I will be celebrating Christmas with  trip to Barcelona, Madrid, and Lisbon with our friends.  I am counting on lots of deliciousness to report back on upon my return.  

Have a wonderful holiday and see you in 2009!


Tuesday, December 23, 2008

TWD Round-Up: Buttery Jam Cookies, Linzer Cookies, Grandma's All-Purpose Sugar Cookies

Things have been a bit slow for me on the Tuesdays with Dorie front.  I decided to post my cookie adventures all at once.  No pudding or cheesecake for me this month, :(

First up, Linzer Sables, chosen by Noskos of Living the Life

I have always been intrigued by linzer cookies, so I was glad of the chance to make them.  I filled them with my American Spoon red raspberry jam, which is a beautiful deep color and tastes of fresh raspberries.  The dough was not as sandy as I expected it to be, and they benefitted from the quintessentially-linzer dusting of powdered sugar.  They did make a beautiful cookie though.  

Next, Grandma's All-Purpose Sugar Cookies, Chosen by Ulrike of Kuchenlatein

these are beautiful and crisp, deliciously buttery and an easy dough to work with.  I dipped mine in dark chocolate and added sprinkles.  This was a great choice, perfect for the season. 

Lastly, Buttery Jam Cookies chosen by Heather of Randomosity and the Girl

I made these with applesauce instead of eggs, and added my mom's homemade peach jam.  No pictures of these, although they weren't especially photogenic.   They were moist and tasty had a nice hint of cinnamon.  

head on over to the host's sites for the recipes, and the TWD blogroll to see what everyone else has created.
I can't wait to see what is in store for us in the new year!

Monday, December 22, 2008

Trip to the Philippines!

For our last trip before the holidays, the My Kitchen My World crew traveled to the Philippines.  With guidance from some of P's Filipino co-workers, we got some tried and true recipes for fresh lumpia and pork adobo which we cooked up for a quick dinner.

I loved the lumpia-  it was very different from the little fried rolls I am used to having- much fresher and brighter in taste.  The wraps were easy to make
 and the filling mixed up quickly.  I loved the added crunch that the lettuce in the wraps added.

The pork and chicken adobo was also very good- slightly acerbic due to the vinegar in the recipe, but the meat was surprisingly tender and flavorful.  Our dishes got the seal of aproval from Evelyn and Jim, who helped us select the menu.

Again, something I would never think of to make at home, but satisfying and easier then I would expect.  I love these little travels of ours that we take every week from our kitchen!

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Review: The Oceanaire Seafood Room

There is nothing casual about the Oceanaire. Well, maybe the tins of Old Bay, bottles of Tabasco and cellophane-wrapped servings of oyster crackers on each table - but that's the contradiction of the upscale seafood house, where the $1200 suit meets food you can only reasonably eat with your hands. I donned my considerably cheaper suit, and we headed out to give it a go.

Our visit to the Oceanaire's Philadelphia outpost was precipitated by our receipt of a gift card from my parents for our first anniversary. Make no mistake about it: if you're dining here, you are most likely on a big date, a rich old coot of some kind, or using your corporate Amex. It's not so much because of the prices (though they're not exactly cheap), but the air of formality about the place. The maitre d' greets you by your full name and introduces himself with a handshake when you check in. Wearing dark clothing? Someone will swap your white napkin out for a black one so as not to risk any unwanted lint ending up on your clothes. Though it all sounds a little over the top, in fact, everyone we encountered was very nice and professional, and the service pulls off the feat of being formal without being stuffy. The only thing that is slightly odd is that the servers are dressed in what look like lab coats, with their IDs worn visibly on the outside. You almost wonder if they'll want to test your cholesterol before selling you the shrimp cocktail.

"Buy local" types beware: the Oceanaire has its seafood flown in daily from all over the place. But, right at the top of the menu, they tell you where it comes from, so if you want to keep it semi-local (or at least East Coast) then you have that option. Alternatively, you can order crab legs that were caught by the Time Bandit from cable TV's Deadliest Catch. Anyway, there's a wide variety of undersea creatures on the menu, with a particular emphasis on raw-bar items like oysters and clams. The menu changes daily, and we were told if we fancied something that wasn't on the menu, the chef would be happy to make it for us. In the middle of this explanation, a very nice amuse-bouche of trout tartare on a potato crisp arrived.

After that bite and much deliberation, we started out with the "petite shellfish platter", which arrives as a two-foot mound of crushed ice studded with oysters, clams, shrimp, mussels, crab legs and claws, and topped with half a steamed lobster. All of the shellfish was was impeccably fresh and really tasted better without any of the provided sauces (mignonette, soy, mustard aioli and cocktail sauce). The cooked items were good as well, though the shrimp were a little tough, perhaps owing to their jumbo size. The only hitch here was getting all of the ice out of the shells without spilling any of their liquors - though the presentation is impressive, serving the shellfish on top of the ice rather than jammed in it might help. That, and I simply don't have the skill or patience for extracting crabmeat from the shell, but I hold not the restaurant but Mother Nature accountable for that, for designing an creature that is so inconvenient to eat.

Next we split the BLT salad, which was a blend of crisp iceberg and romaine lettuces with tomato in a buttermilk dressing, topped with few slices of delectably porky bacon. Beware - this was truly a huge salad; even split into two portions, it was more than enough.

Prior to the arrival of our entrees, Drew, our eager server, offered L a bib in the form of a napkin alligator-clipped around her neck. Naturally, I did not let her decline, nor could I resist snapping a photo of the spectacle. Out of respect for my wife, I will not post it.

Bibbed and ready for action, L welcomed her bouillabaisse to the table. Prawns, scallops ("People actually go diving and get these by hand! What a cool job!", said Drew), mussels, clams, and a white fish of some kind, all served in a rich, if slightly salty, broth flavored by the aforementioned Deadliest Catch crabs. Delicious and satisfying.

I had a filet of Washington State trout, served crispy skin-side-up over large slices of potato with a butter and caper sauce. Everything on the plate was cooked perfectly, and the simplicity of the dish demonstrated admirable restraint. We also ordered one of the a-la carte sides, mixed roasted vegetables, which we ended up mostly taking home.

If you're in the mood for something more involved, there are crab-topped-this and cedar-planked-that things on the menu, and if you don't like fish at all and have been dragged there by a pescavore, well, you can either re-examine your relationship or order chicken or a steak.

Though we were pretty full at this point, we had a gift card to extinguish, so we decided to split the baked Alaska for dessert. This could not have made Drew happier, or my earlier use of the word "extinguish" any more relevant, because we were in for a tableside presentation in which a sauce boat full of rum is set aflame and theatrically poured over the Alaska's meringue to toast it. The dish mostly lived up to the spectacle, though the un-burned-off alcohol lent a not particularly welcome sting to the dessert.

To reiterate, service was great. There are many wines available by the glass, and you are offered a courtesy tasting pour before you commit to one to make sure you like it. This was great because the Pinot Grigio I ordered turned out to have a skunkier flavor than I would have liked, but quick-thinking Drew offered up a fine alternative (an Italian Sauvignon Blanc). And you do get a healthy pour of wine indeed.

So we walked out of the Oceanaire with some leftover bouillabaisse, a whole lot of roasted vegetables, and the feeling of having been pampered and entertained for several hours. The best part? It only cost us a $40 tip! But I can't help but wonder what my disposition would have been if we had to pay. I think it just underscores that eating at this restaurant is (rather by design, I would say) a "dining event". Perhaps an old-fashioned notion, but sometimes, a comforting one. As long as you've got the coin, they've got the clams.

Oceanaire on Urbanspoon

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Review: Izumi

Like the many arms of a hungry octopus, globalization has reached into every corner of our world - even East Passyunk Avenue, which for decades was known more for red-gravy Italian and the odd BYOB than for anything as "exotic" as Japanese food. But a smart newcomer has seized that global octopus and, ever so skillfully, sliced it, popped it on some rice, and created a memorable sushi dining experience. The place is called Izumi (which means "fountain", after the fountain in the triangular patch of pavement across the street, where such culinary luminaries such as Muggsy's Steaks and Iggy's once stood).

Izumi's interior is small but very nice, in that high-class yet serene sushi restaurant way. Our kimono-clad waitress was very attentive on our Sunday night visit, bringing out an ice bucket to keep our beers chilled and popping tops as necessary.

As for the food: Much has been made of Izumi's miso soup. It's more opaque than the average bowl and has a uniquely smokey aroma and flavor. Cubes of silky tofu and seaweed make it an overall satisfying experience.

The seaweed salad is not what you normally get at a Japanese restaurant: rather than the usual chewy thin bands of seaweed studded with sesame seeds, theirs is more of a composed salad of four types of seaweed that each have their own personality, presented with little more than a lemon wedge as seasoning. Subtle and delicate as it was, there's not a lot of flavor going on, and it was not a favorite at the table. Unless you're into seaweed, it's probably not worth the seven bucks.

Seaweed Salad

I was excited to see okinomiyaki on the menu. This Kansai-style "pancake" loosely translates to "whatever you want, grilled". At Izumi, though, there's no choice in the matter of toppings. The pancake was topped with a mayo-based sauce, another sweeter sauce, pickled ginger, and bonito shavings that eerily danced in the wind currents as we waited to eat it. As it was my first time having the dish, I'm not sure how it stands up, but it was decent, if a little mushy.

Vegetable tempura came with two dipping sauces and was crispy and not overly greasy. The sashimi sampler is complex, with each of five offerings complemented by sauce and garnish. The squid served atop a slice of lemon is particularly nice.

Izumi has a relatively small but impressive battery of special rolls. Tops among these was the Paradiso roll, which features lobster tempura and tobiko. There was maybe a little too much sauce on top for my taste, but still tasty overall. A simpler tuna roll felt a little bit lacking - one thing I didn't care for was the soft texture of the nori that it came wrapped in.

Sashimi Sampler

I would classify Izumi as a "welcome newcomer". Not only does it bring more dining diversity to its neighborhood, the food is genuinely good, too, and the BYO policy and reasonable prices keep the tab on the light side. Despite not living particularly close to it, I would happily go back, as I'm interested to try out some of the simpler sushi and sashimi offerings. Maybe I'll even try the tako next time.

Izumi on Urbanspoon

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Trip to France!

The My Kitchen, My World bloggers are traveling to France this week. Our culinary trip involved the classic bistro dish soupe à l’oignon gratineé, or French onion soup.  This was a perfect end to a day where the Philadelphia temperature dropped below freezing.

2 large yellow onions
1 shallot
1 tbs butter
Worcestershire sauce
Stock (beef, chicken, vegetable; we used turkey)
2 tbs chopped parsley
Gruyere cheese, shredded

Thinly slice onions and shallot on a mandoline. Melt butter in a saucepan. Add onions and shallot with a pinch of salt, and cook over low heat for 15-20 minutes, stirring occasionally so they don't burn. Once onions are caramelized, add a few dashes of Worcestershire sauce, a pinch of thyme (dried or fresh), a few grinds of pepper, and the stock. (Something I should have done but did not - before this step, deglaze pan with 1/2 cup of red wine. A shot of cognac would be nice here too - just watch for flames! Failing that, add 1 tsp apple cider vinegar with the stock.) Season to taste if stock is not salty enough. Bring to a boil, then lower to a simmer for 5-10 minutes.

Add parsley. Toast one thick slice of French or Italian bread per bowl and place one in bottom of each. Ladle soup on top and top with shredded cheese. Place under broiler for a few minutes until cheese bubbles and gets slightly browned.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Review: Ekta

I could eat Indian food every day, especially if it’s made by the chefs at Ekta. This Girard avenue spot run by a former chef at Tiffin makes quality food at great prices, and they deliver far and wide. 
P and I ordered delivery over the weekend, and were happy when the 1 and a half hour estimated wait took only 40 minutes. Our Samosa Chat, Saag Panner and Chicken Tikka Masala were accompanied by fluffly, buttery rice, raita, mint sauce and free Kheer for dessert.

The Samosa Chat is described as Samosa topped with chickpeas, tamarind, and yogurt. I’d never heard of this before but it sounded tasty. That’s what I put on my Samosas anyhow, so why not? When it arrived it looked like the Indian version of seven layer dip. It was also cold, so I assumed that was the temperature it sould be eaten at. It was mighty tasty (both cold and warmed up), with crispy bits of samosa slathered in the smoky tang of tamarind and the coolness of raita.

Saag Panneer is quickly becoming my gold standard dish by which all Indian restaurants are tested. Theirs in creamy and gingery, with bit of spice. Plenty of spinach and nice, tender-firm chunks of paneer.

Chicken Tikka Masala was also excellent. A slightly creamy, complexly spiced sauce with lots of tender chicken. In both entrees, Ekta was generous in the amount of protein added- sometimes there are only 4 or 5 chunks of chicken floating in all that (albeit delicious) sauce.

2 entrees and an appetizer (we had naan in the freezer) came to $23 dollars. Plenty of food for dinner and 2 lunches. Cheaper, in fact, then the bad Chinese we ordered last week, and miles tastier. The only complaint I have is that we’ve eaten it all.

Ekta on Urbanspoon

Thursday, December 11, 2008

A Delicious Birthday Gift

Last week I celebrated my birthday with red velvet cupcakes, a sushi dinner, and a food blogger potluck.  Thanks to everyone who made my birthday extra-special- but two contributions are especially blog-worthy.

My sister-in-law got me the neatest cookbook collection from Octopus Pulishing Group.  It's called Sugar and Spice by Keda Black and contains 16 mini books, each one about one or two sweet and spicy ingredients.  It has books on old standbys like chocolates and fruits, and well as more unusual ones like flowers (violet, rose) and things like nougat.  It comes in this fun hatbox and just looks cool.  This makes a fun gift for friends who love to bake (or for yourself!)

P also made me a lovely birthday cake using Martha's recipe for yellow cake with chocolate frosting.  He decorated with a stencil he made himself.  He worked very hard on it, and it was not only delicious, it was cute too, so I must display his efforts here. 

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Review: The Pop Shop

The Pop Shop sits on Haddon Avenue, the main strip in Collingswood’s downtown. It’s a throwback diner/soda fountain decorated with bright modern colors.

The menu is huge: breakfast all day, build your own burgers, 20 types of grilled cheese, several varieties of fries. There are vegetarian and vegan options, so everyone can come hungry and leave happy.

For the kids (or the kid in you) you can get endless flavors of soda and amazing sounding milkshakes. All the ice cream concoctions sound great, in fact. I’d love to go back for dessert alone.

As I said, the menu is huge, which is a little overwhelming. I was pretty sure I wanted a grilled cheese, and even deciding which one was a challenge, mainly because they all looked so good.
My Edison,(grilled cheddar, smoked ham, and green apples on ciabatta) was tasty, although I would have liked more apples and loved a little honey mustard. P’s Ogden (classic American and tomato on white) was well made and tasty for the straightforward sandwich that it was. They use good quality, thick country white, making a substantial sandwich. P’s tomato soup was warm and creamy (yet not cream based). My hand cut fries were nice and crispy, and not too greasy. Service was friendly and efficient  

Pop Shop serves up solid, inventive diner food at an affordable price (less than $10 each). I wouldn’t make a special trip over the river (well, maybe to try the dessert), but it sure beats the food court at the mall.

Pop Shop on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Philly Blogger Potluck!

A big thanks to  Messy and Picky, who opened their home to host the Philly Area Food Blogger Potluck this past weekend. It was great to meet so many of the bloggers whose words I have been reading for months, and to taste their delicious creations. I’ve added a lot of my new friends to my Philly Reads section, so please visit their blogs and see what they are making and where they are eating! I will be blogging about the super secret dessert I brought later in the month, so stay tuned!

Check out fun photos from the evening on Messy and Picky's flickr stream!

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Trip to Ethiopia!

Once again, Elra's list provided a great location for the My Kitchen, My World bloggers to travel to this week: Ethiopia.  I am a big fan of ethiopian food, but to be honest, I'd never thought to attempt it myself.  We have several good ethiopian places in town and a cheap, tasty fix can be found readily. 

There are two dishes I love to get when we go out for Ethiopian food, Yemisir Wat and Yemisir Alecha.  We decided to make a version of Yemisir Wat, a lentil dish spiced with a traditional Ethiopian spice blend, which traditionally includes chile peppers, ginger, cloves, coriander, allspice, rue berries, and ajwain. 
We made our wat the lazy way, in a crock pot.  The exact recipe is now lost to cyberland as the site,, is now unacessible (curses!).  In it we put lentils, tomato paste, onion, garlic, and spices, and added peas at the end.  When I can access it, I will update this to add the recipe.  Our wat came out tasty and, while not exactly what I would get at a restaurant, a very servicable attempt.  

We made quick injera to serve with our wat, as I can't imagine ethiopian food without the ever-present springy bread that is used as both a service and eating utensil.  While we did not use the traditional teff flour, the recipe below mimicked the soft, bouncy texture and slight sourness of the bread. (Bob's Red Mill does sell Teff flour at my local natural foods store, for those of you interested in sourcing it.) In my mind the injera made our meal go from an interestingly spiced lentil stew to a true world-at-home experience. 

 We served our wat on the injera, with more on the side.  We shared a communal plate, and yes, we ate with our hands.  

Quick Injera

This recipe approximates the true injera, which is made from a fermented sourdough batter. Most recipes don't call for the lemon juice, but I find it necessary to supply the essential sour flavor that real injera adds to a meal.

6-8 crepes
All-purpose flour -- 1 1/2 cups
Whole wheat flour --1/2 cup
Baking powder -- 1 tablespoon
Salt 1/2 teaspoon
Club soda -- 2 to 2 1/2 cups
Lemons, juice only -- 2 each

Preheat a large cast-iron skillet over a medium flame. Mix the flour, whole wheat flour, baking powder and salt together in a large bowl. Stir in the club soda and mix to a smooth batter. It should have the thin consistency of a pancake batter.
Wipe the skillet with a little oil using a paper towel. Ladle about 1/2 cup of the batter into the skillet and spread it with a spatula to make a large crepe. Let bake in the skillet until all the bubbles on top burst and begin to dry out, about 2-3 minutes.
Carefully turn the injera over and cook on second side another minute or two. Try not to brown it too much.
Remove the injera to a warm platter and repeat with the rest of the batter, wiping the skillet clean with an oiled paper towel each time.
After the batter is used up, brush each injera with the lemon juice. Serve immediately or hold covered in a warm oven.
You can substitute buckwheat flour for the whole wheat flour if you like. Or you can just use all white flour. If you can find teff flour at a health food store, by all means use it.


2 teaspoons cumin seeds whole
4 each cloves whole
3/4 teaspoon cardamom seeds
1/2 teaspoon black peppercorns whole
1/4 teaspoon allspice whole
1 teaspoon fenugreek seeds
1/2 teaspoon coriander seeds whole
10 small dried red chiles
1/2 teaspoon ginger grated
1/4 teaspoon turmeric
1 teaspoon salt
2 1/2 tablespoons hungarian paprika
1/8 teaspoon cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon cloves ground
In a small frying pan, on a low heat, toast cumin, cloves, cardamom, peppercorns, allspice, fenugreek and corainder for about 2 minutes, stirring constantly.

Remove from heat and cool for 5 minutes.

Discard stems from chilies. In a spice grinder or with a mortar and pestle, finely grind together the toasted spices and chilies.

Mix in remaining ingredients. Store in refrigerator in a well sealed jar

Friday, December 5, 2008

Review: Tap Room on 19th

For as long as I've been walking back and forth between my parents' house and my grandmother's, there's been a bar on the corner of 19th & Ritner Streets in South Philly. Aside from Relli's Bakery on the other corner (good cakes, lousy pastry), it's never been a culinary destination. But some new owners have taken over the former dive and are trying to drag it into the Gastropub Century. Will they succeed?

They're off to a good start. The bar has been tastefully refurbished, and there are four high-top round tables for dining. It turned out to be a little awkward since there were six of us that night, but the second floor is currently being remodeled for restaurant seating. A fairly decent selection of beers on tap, though it would be nice to see a few more local brews occupying the Stella and Blue Moon taps. But, they were half-price since we were there for the 5-7 happy hour, so I won't complain.

We tried out the cheesesteak spring rolls for a starter, what is by now a pretty common item. They were done well, not too greasy and suitably beefy and cheesy. I had the fish and chips - nice crispy batter on the fish, and mutant-ly huge (though perfectly cooked) potato wedges and some nice coleslaw. L went for the burger, which was flavorful and cooked correctly, though a wider selection of toppings aside from American, Swiss, cheddar or provolone would be welcome. Fries were good and fresh, though a bit on the lighter side for my taste. My parents both got a slow-cooked brisket entree which looked delicious and was certainly generously portioned.

The menu is pretty huge, with 'small, medium and large' plates. Honestly I don't think it would be a bad idea to trim it down a little, but maybe they're at the stage where they're throwing things against the wall to see what sticks. The item everyone's talking about is the crab fries, which in this case are topped with real crab and not just Old Bay. They may be worth a shot on our next visit. The only thing really missing here (which is a little surprising in this day and age) are some decent vegetarian options, but that may come in time as well.

All in all, a pleasant surprise in the old neighborhood. If you are coming in from out of the area, you may consider SEPTA or parking a few blocks away unless you're comfortable with double- and triple-parking. Or if you're lucky enough to live nearby, just walk in. You've finally got a bar to be proud of in the neighborhood.

Tap Room on 19th on Urbanspoon

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Espresso Panna Cotta

If you like coffee ice cream, this dessert is for you.  Why?  It tastes like melted coffee ice cream. Hello, yummy.  This is your basic panna cotta with espresso powder added to give it that punch of flavor (and caffeine). I like it served like this in a martini glass, but it would also look lovely unmolded from a ramekin with a little chocolate syrup and shavings.

Espresso Panna Cotta
Adapted from

1/3 cup skim milk
1 (.25 ounce) envelope unflavored gelatin
2 1/2 cups heavy cream
1/2 cup white sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1-2 tsp instant espresso powder

Pour milk into a small bowl, and stir in the gelatin powder. Set aside.
In a saucepan, stir together the heavy cream and sugar, and set over medium heat. Bring to a full boil, watching carefully, as the cream will quickly rise to the top of the pan. Add espresso powder and stir. Pour the gelatin and milk into the cream, stirring until completely dissolved. Cook for one minute, stirring constantly. Remove from heat, stir in the vanilla and pour into six individual ramekin dishes.
Cool the ramekins uncovered at room temperature. When cool, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate for at least 4 hours, but preferably overnight before serving.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Lemon Meringue Cake

The minute I saw this cake in the bakers case at Tartine Bakery, I knew I wanted to try it.  Alas, Tartine charges $60 for a cake, and since they are located in San Francisco, it's not exactly an easy trip for my next special occasion.  Luckily for me, my mom bought me the cookbook, and this recipe is first in the cakes section!  

I wanted to make this for my sister-in-law's birthday, but she declined (lame), so it appeared on our Thanksgiving table instead- and it looked magnificent, if I say so myself.

This in one of those looks-complicated-but-is actually-several-easy-recipies-together jobs.  Lemon genoise is soaked with lemon syrup and layered with lemon cream and caramel, then covered in italian meringue and beautifully blow-torched to toasty perfection.

Who doesn't love a recipe that calls for a blow torch??

I won't post the recipe since it isn't mine, but look for it in the Tartine Cookbook.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Review: Cochon

It's all in a name, and Cochon means "pig". What comes to mind: earthy, substantial, intelligent, playful, perhaps a bit raunchy, and perhaps unexpectedly, noble. I'd say these all apply to the restaurant as well.

Cochon is a relatively small BYO in the space at Passyunk & Catherine that used to house the stealth pastry shop called Sud. The interior is simple, with a pretty small open kitchen and just two waiters to handle the dozen or so tables. (It's also a bit dark this time of year, which explains the lack of pictures in this post.) This was our second visit, and we were part of a somewhat rowdy party of eight celebrating our friend J's 35th birthday.

The menu is just the right size: seven or eight appetizers and the same number of mains. In addition, they're now offering a four-course prix fixe menu that for our visit consisted of a squash soup, salad Lyonnaise, Kobe beef tips, and a chocolate orange torte. One of our companions went for that, but the rest of us took the a-la-carte route.

My appetizer was escargot, served out of the shell and matched with parsley butter, tomato, and addictively crispy pancetta. L went for the arugula salad which sported a fantastically orangey vinaigrette. Other highlights from around the table were the whole-grain mustard that accompanied the house-made pâté, and the fried chicken livers with a sweet raisin and balsamic glaze.

For her entree, L once again went for Cochon's signature dish, which is braised pork shoulder served with lentils and roasted brussels sprouts and topped with a poached egg. L will not permit me to omit her opinion that the first time she had this, it was "so good it made you close your eyes when you ate it". This time, it was very good, but from my taste it fell a little short of the way it was made on our last visit: the pork seemed just a little dry and not quite as fall-apart tender. My entree was the incredibly moist and tender pan-roasted chicken breast, served with mushrooms, green beans, potatoes Dauphinoise and a slightly salty jus. Birthday boy J went for the lamb shank, which he declared he would have picked up and gnawed on, were it socially acceptable.

The only misstep during the second course was H's gnocchi. Apparently they got lost in the shuffle of our large party's order, so they didn't show up until what seemed like ten minutes after the rest of us got our entrees. Unfortunately, they were not really worth the wait: kind of grainy in texture and in a pretty unremarkable sauce. The lesson here is to stick with what Cochon does best: rustic, succulent, simply but expertly prepared meats. Next time, though, I would like to see how they fare with seafood, as there was a nice-looking trout dish on the menu.

Aside from an espresso for me and the torte that came with friend R's prix fixe meal, we skipped dessert, as we had a pumpkin pie L and I made waiting for us. You're probably better off doing the same, as on our last visit they were nothing to write home about aside from a very nice creme brulee.

It may be going out on a limb to say this having not been to all of the options, but I think that for the money, Cochon might be the best bistro in town. It's certainly worth a try and a repeat visit. You might say it represents some terrific, radiant, humble thig-a-majig of a pig.

Cochon on Urbanspoon

Monday, December 1, 2008

R2R: Squash Soup with Vanilla Creme Fraiche

Recipes to Rival is back with a savory seasonal sensation- squash soup!

Our host, Meg from Joy Through Cooking, not only picked a recipe perfect for the ever-colder weather, it has a fun provenance too- this is the recipe from Top Chef Chicago where the cheftestants Spike and Andrew were asked to make a dish that embodied these words: yellow, vanilla, love. 

I do like squash soup, but the ones I am ususally drawn to involve at least a bit of cream.  But this soup, probably owing to the honey and miso in the base, was so delicious that I couldn't stop eating it!

The vanilla creme fraiche was , a lovely suprise that made this dish- it brought out the sweetness in from the honey and a beautiful, flowery flavor in the vegetables that was just addicting.  I think that was the love in the dish. 

Squash Soup with Vanilla Creme Fraiche

Please see the original inspiration:

Prep Time: one hour and 30 minutes
Serves: more than 8

3 sliced leek bottoms (rinsed)
4 carrots (peeled and sliced)
10 shallots (peeled and sliced)
1 clove garlic
1/2 lb butter
1/2 cup honey
1/2 cup miso stir
Salt and pepper

5 acorn
5 butternut
Oil for rubbing
Salt and pepper

Vegetable Stock:
4 quarts water
2 white onions
4 carrots, peeled
2 leeks
6-8 button mushrooms
Bouquet garnish (parsley, bay leaves, peppercorns)

Vanilla Creme Fraiche:
Creme fraiche
2 vanilla beans

Additional Ingredients:
Salt to taste
Cayenne to taste

Sweat all of the vegetables with butter. Sweat down and deglaze with honey. Stir and add miso. Season with salt and pepper.

Cut squash in half, scoop out seeds and reserve one butternut head for garnish. Rub squash with oil and season with salt and pepper. Place one piece of sage under every piece of squash. Place squash face down on a sheet tray and roast at 350 degrees until done. Scoop flesh out and pass through a ricer.
Vegetable Stock:
In a pot, boil all ingredients together with the exception of the bouquet garnishes. (NOTE: allow to simmer for at least 1 hour)

Vanilla Creme Fraiche:
Whip creme fraiche and scrape vanilla beans and fold in.

Combine squash and vegetable stock to desired consistency. Add mirepoix and cook. Blend with a vita prep and strain through a chinois. Season with salt and cayenne.
To Plate:
Add 6 ounces of soup in bowl and spoon in creme fraiche. Garnish with bouquet garnishes.