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Archive for February, 2010

Flan

If you don’t know what flan is, I recommend you go out and find some right now. Flan is a just solid custard bathed in caramel – sounds good, doesn’t it? Normally served in individual portions, but you can also make one huge ass flan and then carve out pieces. It’s very common as dessert in Spain an other European countries – Italy for sure, since I used the recipe in The Silver Spoon. Over there you can also find commercial versions in the supermarket, next the yogurt, which are not that bad (as far as taste goes, ingredients-wise I imagine they’re the same sort of shit as most desserts commercially made) and I’m partial to the vanilla flavores ones – but homemade is better.

Ingredients

Ingredients

This all started because I needed to make something that would use up 500 ml of milk. The milk hadn’t gone sour yet, but we’d just bought a new bottle at the farmers market, so it needed to be used up. I was initially thinking of making natillas which is basically a custard, still liquid but with a bit of body; the problem was that the recipes I saw asked for more eggs than I had. Then I remembered about flan!

You need 2 eggs + 3 egg yolks, which would be these

You need 2 eggs + 3 egg yolks, which would be these

To my own shame I’ll freely admit that I later forgot to do anything with those 3 egg whites on the right. The just sat in the fridge for a week before they were thrown out.

The first step is infusing the milk with the vanilla bean (slit in half), so just quickly bring it to a boil and then turn off the heat.

Milk and vanilla

Milk and vanilla

This smelled divine, though the vanilla flavor wasn’t very noticeable in the finished product. Next time I’ll try scraping out the beans, and bringing it up to a boil slowly. We’ll see if that makes a difference.

Meanwhile you whisk up the eggs with 120 gr of white sugar, until the color slightly lightens up and the top becomes frothy. Then slowly add the milk.

The custard

The custard

Then pass it through a strainer, and there you go, the custard mixture is almost done.

Preheat the oven to 350 F and start making the caramel.

Also, bring a pot of water to a boil. These babies need to be baked au bain Marie.

Caramel is one of those things that is supposed to be easy – only one ingredient, how much easier could you get. It took me 3 tries to get it to work. The book suggests slowly heating up 30 gr of sugar with one tablespoon of water – DON’T DO IT THIS WAY. I tried twice following the book’s directions and ended up with a mess of rock hard sugar that hadn’t even begun to caramelize. Frustrating, to say the least; specially when I remember that my mother did this in the frekin’ microwave, so it can’t be that difficult!

After some Googling, I came up with an even simpler option, which would only require more sugar and a clean pan. So I gave it a try.

Put sugar in a layer on a stainless steel pan. Heat over medium heat. Wait until it starts caramelizing. Mix to make sure no areas burn and it is all uniformly cooked.

That’s it. And it worked. I knew it had to be easy.

Finally - caramel!

Finally - caramel!

Now comes another point where you have to deviate from the official instructions. Well’ not deviate as such, mostly don’t get frustrated that they don’t work. Or since you’re reading this, don’t even try.

You’re supposed to put a layer of caramel on the bottom and the sides of the containers you’re going to bake the flan in. Since your container will be cold, the caramel will become hard the moment it hits it. So just worry about having a thin layer that cover all of the bottom. And don’t fret about the fact that it becomes hard.

Maybe I should have mentioned before that this makes 6 individual flans. They will be a good size for dessert. But you can make 3 big ones, snack sized. Or one huge one, specially if you just double the recipe.

Oven proof containers, round. I suppose ramekins would be the idea option, I used wide mouthed 8 oz canning jars, and they worked great – specially because I could then store the already cooked flans in the fridge with lids on. So I recommend using canning jars if you aleady have them.

Into the oven they go

Into the oven they go

Remember to fill up the baking pan halfway with water (that’s what you were boiling it for). The book said to bake for 20 minutes, but mine were still liquid inside by then and needed a good 15 minutes more. So take a peek after 30 minutes and touch the top of one of them with a spoon – if it holds its shape then it’s done, if it still feels liquid below the top layer, leave 10 more minutes.

Be patient and let them cool

Be patient and let them cool

Once they come down to room temperature, the little flans are ready to be stored or eated.

Flan for a whole week

Flan for a whole week

Getting them out of the cotainers is not as difficult as it might seem, though it’s almost impossible to avoid getting small pieces of the flan cut off. Insert a knife along the edge all the way to the bottom so that air gets in. Then turn over fast onto a plate. If air has gotten to the bottom of the container, the flan should just fall out with the caramel (which through some magic will now be liquid, even if the flan is straight out of the fridge) behind it.

It's not that hard to get it out

It's not that hard to get it out

Even if you are tempet to eat it as is straight out of the container, try to pop it out into a plate. Otherwise you won’t get the right amount of caramel with every single bite.

Flan

Flan

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Coming up

  • Flan!
  • A visual explanation for this blog’s title: my pathetic attempt at brioche. I’m giving away the story before writing about it: it was a big FAIL. At least this time it was edible and tasted good, that’s an improvement compared to other bread making attempts.

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It has just come to my attention that I owed you guys a blog post from a loooooong time ago. It was mentioned on one of those ToDo type of posts, and I’d totally forgotten about this.

Smiley salmon eggs

Smiley salmon eggs

This is one of my to-go appetizers. Super easy to make, and really yummy. No cooking involved (unless you want to make it complicated).

The ingredients are pretty straightforward:

  • Smoked salmon.
  • Salmon roe – buy it at an Asian supermarket and it will be much cheaper that way.
  • Sour cream – you can substitute for creme fraiche and it will probably be better.
  • Chopped chives – optional, they’re mostly a garnish.
  • Some sort of thin bread like base. I like to buy a baguette and slice it thinly. Blinis will work as long as they have the right consistency to hold them together. I once made mini pancakes omitting the sugar in the batter and adding dried onions and chopped chives – they pancakes were great, but their flavor didn’t really shine through the strong salmon flavor, so probably not worth the effort.

And the one and only step is to assemble them. Trying to make them pretty.

Version one of the canapes

Version one of the canapes

My way goes: bread -> Smoked salmon on top -> blob of sour cream -> salmon roe on top of that -> sprinkle with chopped dill.

These are not small dainty one bite creatures; but rather two bite make-sure-the-cream-doesn’t-slide-off yummy pieces of salty salmony heaven. Or if you don’t care about looking graceful you can stuff the whole thing in your mouth. I’ve been known to do it with leftovers.

Depending on how much smoked salmon you have, it might not be enough to use up the whole bottle of roe, so you can make more just with the rest of the ingredients. They’ll be delicious either way – I just like how the bright salty pop of the roe in your mouth complements the smoked salmon.

Variations on a salmon theme

Variations on a salmon theme

Though if you go for version 2, don’t make the same mistake I did in keeping the size of the bread the same as for version 1. These should be smaller – one bite.

These little canapes are also fun to assemble with friends, conveyor line style. One person takes care of cutting up the smoked salmon, another spoons the cream, someone else spoons the roe, and a last person to sprinkle the dill and eat those that don’t look so pretty. Just make sure that last person is you.

Salmon and salmon canapes

Salmon and salmon canapes

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I love brunch. There, I said it.

What’s there not to like? Its a change to eat out on the weekends, normally with friends, have a hearty meal that always follows the same guidelines no matter where you go (pancakes if you want them, eggs in various ways with stuff inside, and other such things), it’s a great way to nurse a hangover, it doesn’t make you feel bad for not waking up before noon, and you can have breakfasty food for what really is lunch.

But sometimes going out for brunch seems like too much work. I just want to laze about at home in my pajamas. My friends don’t seem to be awake anyway. And none of our usual brunch places sounds appetizing. On some of those days coffee is about all I can manage, in others I feel like having real food is worth cooking and waiting for it to be done.

Oeufs en cocotte

Oeufs en cocotte

Lately I’m also having an obsession with baked eggs. They’re always good, no matter what they’re baked with. And if done properly, they go up to amazing. Runny yolks without the crispy whites – I know, blasphemy. What can I say, I never liked the Spanish style fried eggs. No need to have a side of potatoes. And the something else that goes in there is always good, be it spinach, ham, cheese, or – bacon. If you put bacon in there it just can’t be bad.

If we go out for brunch and there’s some kind of baked egg concoction on the menu, I’m likely to order it. Sadly, most places overcook the eggs to the point where the yolks are not runny any more. yes, I know that in a busy kitchen it’s hard to pay attention to the doneness of the eggs, but come on! Cafe Presse makes them pretty well, Smith and Oddfellows have nicer something elses, but overdo the eggs. But hey, if I’m going to be picky, I can always make them at home, right?

They’re actually pretty easy to make, but you’ve got to pay attention.

  1. Butter the container you’re going to bake them in.
  2. Put 1 Tbsp of cream.
  3. Add the other. In this case it’s bacon. Spinach works well. Ham and cheese (something tangy, like gruyere) is a classic. If you have nothing, it’s okay too.
  4. Put the eggs on top. Don’t forget a little bit of salt and pepper.
  5. Bake at 350 F in a bain Marie – in a baking pan halfway full with boiling water.

How long – how do you like your eggs? I like the whites to be barely cooked; in my oven that takes about 15 minutes.

Maneuvering the water bath contraption can be annoying. So experiment. Try a small cast iron skillet if you want. Try a higher heat, or under the broiler. Just watch the eggs and pull them out when you think they’re done. Don’t worry, as long as they’re not raw, even if you overcook them the taste will be good – and you’ll learn not to overcook them the next time.

Last weekend I was feeling fancy, and had some asparagus sitting in the fridge and no visible meals where I would use them. So they bacame part of our eggy brunch. My favorite way to make asparagus is to roast them at 400 F lightly coated with olive oil, salt, pepper, and lemon juice for 20 minutes. And so I did.

Roasted asparagus with lemon beurre blanc sauce

Roasted asparagus with lemon beurre blanc sauce

Since I was feeling fancy this particular Saturday, I decided to make a sauce. Lemon beurre blanc, to be exact. It’s a buttery sauce which includes lemon, white wine, and shallots (though the shallots are strained out at the end). I’m not going to give a recipe for it … it was bad.

Though I’ll admit it was my fault. At the last moment I decided to half the amount of butter (trust me, it was a lot of butter) without halving anything else. It was like sucking on a lemon and washing it down with a shot of butter. The asparagus themselves were good, though. And to make matters even worse, not even the photos came out all that well! I messed up the whites balance, and my very impatient post processing couldn’t fix it. And I’d rather not say what i think the sauce looks like in the above photo. Did I mention that the asparagus were fine once you got rid of the sauce?

Breakfast at our place is hardly even a meal. Grab some coffee if you’re not running late, maybe toast if you actually have time to spare. No frills, no trying to eat together. Watching the clock because we have to dash out of the door soon. There is great pleasure in making a real meal out of it, that’s for sure.

Brunch chez nous

Brunch chez nous

If you’re a bruncher like us, don’t give it up when you have no-one to go out with, or getting out of your pajamas seems like too much work.

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From my balcony to my table

Very local tomatoes

Very local tomatoes

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Say cheese!

A few months ago I decided to try my hand at making cheese. Did I already mention that sometimes I do weird things?

After a couple of very failed attempts at making mozzarella that yielded a white goop, which whilst edible was definitely not mozzarella, I decided to sign up for a cheesemaking class. It was fun, somewhat hands on, and I came out of it with a few cheese recipes. Did I learn how to make mozzarella there? ….Kind of: I learnt what texture and look it should have. I also bought some real rennet, which is what made the difference. Moral of the story: forget that junket rennet crap.

During the Summer I was all about cheese. Soft spreadable cheeses, fast to make – fast for cheese. I would love to try to make some real cheese – I can’t be the only one who thinks it’s a cool idea to make something and then wait months to eat it; months of careful monitoring and fretting and wondering if it’s even going to work. But that requires things that I don’t currently have, and getting them would imply that I was somewhat serious about this whole cheese thing – how stupid would I look if a got a small fridge and did all the temperature and humidity setup just to make one wheel of gouda and then decide aged cheeses are just too much work? But Alex did promise to make me a cheese press when I passed my last university class – which I did, yay me! – so maybe I should hold him to his word….

Draining the curds

Draining the curds

So I stuck mostly to soft cheeses: quark, cream cheese (so much better than anything you can buy at the store! Seriously. If you think you might actually make it – be warned, it takes about 3 days – ask and I’ll post the recipe), mozzarella, ricotta (okay, this one’s easy peasy), and a couple of others. Glaringly missing is goat cheese, but the truth is I never got round to it.

The one that was the most effort was not the cream cheese, those 3 days are spent draining and letting the buttermilk started cultures do their magic. The most effort was the queso fresco.

Lopsided queso fresco

Lopsided queso fresco

Queso fresco is a somewhat-hard-but-not-really cows’ milk cheese that needs about 6 hours of pressing and draining. Did I mention that I don’t have a cheese press? Gallon sized milk bottles filled with water were my weights, and a couple of cutting boards strategically placed in an ideally shaped sink did the trick. A little lopsided, but who cares!

It’s a somewhat tart, mild tasting cheese that crumbles when you bite into it. After a few days, the taste becomes yogurty. Nice and fresh, goes with everything. The only downside is that it has to be eaten pretty quickly. Downside for me, that is: my friends were perfectly happy to receive pieces of it.

Queso fresco

Queso fresco

And now … I’m not eating cheese. So I am not making it either. I blame the d- word, that’s keeping me apart from my first love and not doing much for me otherwise. But I will be back – once you’ve been bitten by the cheesemaking bug there’s no help! Just wait till the next time I want mozzarella, orĀ  some cream cheese.

I will be back! BWAHAHAHA!!!!!

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No, I am not becoming poetic and remembering a dish from my childhood. Neither am I going to share stories. I am just going to talk about something a made a long time ago in a galaxy far far away…

As you can see, I have kind of abandoned this blog. I could make all sorts of excuses and give tons of explanations – but lets just call it laziness.

This one started with leftover ravioli filling, and some weird looking squash I had no idea what to do with. Also a bit of leftover demi-glace. The filling was homemade ricotta, sundried tomatoes (out of a bottle – sorry, but I don’t have the patience or the amount of tomatoes for that), an egg for binding, and salt and pepper. Simple and good. The squash were those yellow ones that look like a cross between a squished tennis ball and an alien spaceship.

The process was pretty simple: first you cut the squash in half, empty them a little bit, and steam them till they become slightly soft (if you’re lazy like me, that’ll be done in the microwave). Then stuff with the ricotta mixture, and put in a 400F oven. Some grated parmesan on top will fo wonders for looks.

Looking good

Bake until it looks good. Or until the parmesan starts to crust. If you want me to give a number, I’ll say 20 minutes; but I have no idea how long it was. Writing it down would have been way too organized for me.

The demi-glace was reduced a bit more, with some balsamic vinegar.

The sauce

Voila le sauce!

Aaaaaaaaaand … that’s it. Plate and make it look pretty if you’re going to be taking photos of it. It wasn’t a quick meal what with all the steaming and baking time, but it was certainly simple.

Ricotta stuffed Summer squash

Ricotta stuffed Summer squash

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