Tuesday, February 21, 2012

French Onion Soup

The past few weeks have been rather challenging at work...ridiculously busy.  There hasn't been much time for making/baking (sadness).  However, there was a bit of time this weekend and some yummy comfort food was in order!  I'd been talking about making French Onion Soup for ages, and finally did it.

The results were fantastic.  This dark, sweet, and savory soup is just perfect for these gray and rainy (and uninspiring) days of late.  I'm a sucker for caramelized onions anyway, but feature them in soup and I'm a happy gal.

I used some local artisan rosemary bread to toast, and then some local cheese (Beecher's again!) to broil on top.  VERY flavorful and a perfect combination, as I had hoped.  I don't have any large oven-proof soup bowls, so I couldn't broil everything directly together, but making little toast crouton thingys worked great.

The only downside?  It only made four servings.  So, next time I'll definitely double the batch!

French Onion Soup
(adapted from the French cooking class at Cook's World - Chef Philippe Thomellin)
Serves 4

1 1/2 Tbsp unsalted butter
2 tsp. canola oil
3/4 lb. thinly sliced onions
2 Tbsp brown sugar
1 1/2 Tbsp flour
1 quart beef broth
1/2 cup red wine
1 bay leaf
1/4 tsp. ground sage
salt and pepper to taste
1 loaf of your favorite crusty bread, sliced into 1" slices, toasted
1 cup grated gruyere cheese (or favorite cheddar or mild blend)

In a heavy 4 quart saucepan or Dutch oven, melt the butter with the oil.  Add the onions, & stir to coat with the oil.  Cover the pan & cook over medium heat for 15-20 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the onions are tender and translucent.  Uncover pan & raise heat to medium-high and stir in sugar.  Cook for about 20 minutes, stirring frequently, until onions have turned an even, deep golden brown.

Lower heat to medium and stir in flour.  Cook slowly, stirring continually, for a minute or two, to brown the flour lightly.  Remove from heat.

In soup pot, heat beef broth with herbs, and stir in onions.  Deglaze onion pan with wine.  Pour into soup pot with other ingredients.  Stir and simmer for 30-40 minutes to develop flavors.

When done, preheat broiler.  Toast bread.  Remove from oven, and divide grated cheese and top bread.  (If you need more cheese - add it!  I'm always a proponent of more cheese!)  Put back in oven and leave under broiler until golden and bubbly.  Ladle soup into bowls and top with giant cheesy crouton.

If you have ovenproof mini crocks, ladle soup in, top with toasted bread and sprinkle on cheese.  Broil until golden and bubbly.


Monday, February 13, 2012

Honey Lavender Crème Brûlée

Lavender is a polarizing ingredient.  It seems people either love it or hate it.  I love it.  The delicate floral notes with a bit of sweetness - divine.  I first tasted it in a cupcake (still my favorite) and have enjoyed it in ice cream and caramels as well.  I've wanted to cook or bake something with it for quite awhile but I've been wary of the potential catastrophe of tasting "too soapy."  (The same way I fear minty things will taste "too toothpaste-y")

I found some edible dried lavender at a local spice shop and have been keeping it in our spice cabinet until I had a game plan.  I finally got up the nerve to give it a try with a favorite style of dessert - crème brûlée.  I wish I could say I came up with this recipe from scratch, but alas, I did not.  I found an established one (and trusted they would avoid the soapiness), and wow.

The first bite was epic.  Wonderful.  Amazing.  The boyfriend inhaled his (and he's not a huge lavender fan.)  I tried to take my time with mine while he licked his ramekin clean.  No shame when there are remaining particles of tastiness to be had!

We will be making this frequently.  And by frequently I mean "as-much-as-possible."  It. Is. Awesome!

Honey Lavender Crème Brûlée

Makes 8 four-ounce servings
(recipe from the girl & the fig cookbook, by Sandra Bernstein)

2 1/4 cups heavy cream
3/4 cup milk
1 1/2 tablespoons dried lavender
8 egg yolks
1/2 cup sugar, plus about 8 teaspoons sugar for sprinkling
2 tablespoons honey

Place the cream and milk in a saucepan and add the lavender. Bring to a simmer and turn off the heat. Let the lavender steep for about 10-15 minutes or until the milk has a lavender flavor. Meanwhile, beat the egg yolks, the 1/2 cup sugar, and the honey in a separate bowl until smooth.  Strain the lavender-cream mixture through a fine-mesh sieve.  Whisk into the egg, sugar and honey mixture and skim off any foam.

Preheat oven to 350F. Pour the mixture into 8 four-ounce ramekins. Set the ramekins in a baking pan and add enough hot water to reach halfway up the sides of the ramekins. Bake for 40 minutes or until set. (Test for done-ness by jiggling the ramekins.) Remove the baking pan from the oven and allow the ramekins to cool in the water bath for 5 minutes. Refrigerate for a few hours or overnight. Before serving, sprinkle the tops with a thin layer of sugar and caramelize with a small torch.


Saturday, February 11, 2012

Applesauce Biscuits (vegan)

The first vegan biscuits were such a success, I was itching to try another kind.  The boyfriend suggested applesauce biscuits.  I'd secretly been wanting to try applesauce as an ingredient anyway, so why not?

The applesauce I used is homemade by my dear mother.  It's awesome.  Seriously.  The boyfriend agrees.  I hoard the stuff anytime she sends me some (which is now quite the feat being four rather large states away).  And the boyfriend is under strict instructions to not open a jar without my leave.  I know it sounds crazy, but you would be the same way if it was in your cupboard.  And if the apocalypse happens, we'll be sitting pretty with our jarred applesauce!

So, I'm sorry you can't use my mom's applesauce for this recipe.  But, use an applesauce you like.  Perhaps even your own homemade!  (Someday I will learn how to do that, but our current kitchen is simply not designed for more than one butt at a time, let alone the counter space required for such an endeavor.)

Luckily, for this recipe, I already had a template of sorts to use - the Sweet Potato Biscuits.  I like it because with all of the moisture from the applesauce (or sweet potato puree), you need far less fat (butter, lard, or coconut oil), so this is a "healthier" version of a biscuit that still tastes good enough to not be identified as such.

Also, if you'd like to make them "regular" and not vegan, feel free to swap out the almond milk for cow's milk and the coconut oil for butter!

Applesauce Biscuits (Vegan)
(Heavily adapted from Smitten Kitchen)
Makes 12 to 14 2-inch biscuits

3/4 cup applesauce
1/3 cup almond milk with 1 tsp. lemon juice in it
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 tablespoons granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon (2 grams) table salt
5 tablespoons coconut oil, cold

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees, and line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

Scoop out coconut oil, put in bowl, and place in fridge for a half hour or so until it hard and cold, and take it out at the last moment when you need it.

Combine almond milk, lemon juice and applesauce.  Whisk until smooth and set aside.  Mix dry ingredients in your food processor, a few pulses will do it.  Scatter the coconut oil chunks (cold) over the dry ingredients and pulse briefly, until it resembles a coarse meal.

Dump the mixture into a bowl and stir in the almond milk and applesauce mixture by hand.  Stop when the dough forms a uniform texture.  (The food processor will overwork it and produce tough biscuits.  Tough biscuits = all the bad things in the world!)

Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead gently.  Roll it out evenly, until it's about 3/4 inch thick.  Dip a floured biscuit (or cookie) cutter into flour before cutting out the biscuits.  Place them onto the prepared pan.

Bake the biscuits for 5 minutes in the 450 degree oven, and then rotate the pan and turn the oven down to 400 degrees.  Bake for 10-12 more minutes.  Transfer to a wire rack, let cool a few minutes, and then enjoy! 

Monday, February 6, 2012

Boozy Cupcakes

A friend was hosting Super Bowl Sunday shindig, and I thought it required a fun and special dessert.  And preferably something with some booze, right?

After some major recipe scouring, and with the boyfriend's input, I decided on these cupcakes that are the baked embodiment of the drink - Irish Car Bomb.  Guinness? Check.  Whiskey?  Check.  Bailey's?  Check.

(For those detailed folks, I know the whiskey isn't Irish, it's Scottish, but Scotland holds a special place in my heart since I studied abroad there, so just go with it.  A Scotch-Irish Car Bomb, then)

For digging out the centers of the baked cupcakes for the ganache filling, I utilized an apple corer, and it worked perfectly.  (Ironically, I haven't used it for coring apples)  Bonus, there's lots of leftover cake centers that need to be eaten - yay!

The boyfriend and I had to taste each component as they were made (you know, for quality assurance).  The poor guy was trying to work at his desk and I kept interrupting him with various spoons or bowls of something to taste.  I have a feeling he didn't really mind.  Cake - fantastic.  Ganache - delicious.  Frosting - divine.

Now,  I doubled the frosting recipe, and it's a good thing I did because I just barely had enough frosting.  So keep the tasting of the frosting on a "need-to-taste-basis."

My only complaint with the recipe (and a slight one at that) is that the Guinness and the whiskey didn't really come through the chocolate in the cake and ganache.  No such problem with the Baileys, however.  BUT, everything tasted simply amazing together, so nobody minded!

They were a big hit at the party - whoo hoo!

Boozy Cupcakes (a.k.a. Irish Car Bomb Cupcakes)
(adapted from Smitten Kitchen)
Makes 24 cupcakes

Guinness Chocolate Cupcakes
1 cup stout (such as Guinness)
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter
3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
2 cups all purpose flour
2 cups sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
3/4 teaspoon salt
2 large eggs
2/3 cup sour cream

Whiskey Ganache Filling
8 ounces bittersweet chocolate
2/3 cup heavy cream
2 tablespoons butter, room temperature
1 to 2 teaspoons Irish whiskey (I added 4, so just keep tasting)

Baileys Frosting (this is the doubled recipe)
6 to 7 cups confections sugar
2 stick (1 cup) unsalted butter, at room temperature
4 tablespoons Baileys (to taste)

Special equipment: 1-inch round cookie cutter or an apple corer and a piping bag (though a plastic bag with the corner snipped off will also work)

Make the cupcakes: Preheat oven to 350°F. Line 24 cupcake cups with liners. Bring 1 cup stout and 1 cup butter to simmer in heavy large saucepan over medium heat. Add cocoa powder and whisk until mixture is smooth. Cool slightly.
Whisk flour, sugar, baking soda, and 3/4 teaspoon salt in large bowl to blend. Using electric mixer, beat eggs and sour cream in another large bowl to blend. Add stout-chocolate mixture to egg mixture and beat just to combine. Add flour mixture and beat briefly on slow speed. Using rubber spatula, fold batter until completely combined. Divide batter among cupcake liners, filling them 2/3 to 3/4 of the way. Bake cake until tester inserted into center comes out clean, rotating them once front to back if your oven bakes unevenly, about 17 minutes. Cool cupcakes on a rack completely.

Make the filling: Chop the chocolate and transfer it to a heatproof bowl. Heat the cream until simmering and pour it over the chocolate. Let it sit for one minute and then stir until smooth. (If this has not sufficiently melted the chocolate, you can return it to a double-boiler to gently melt what remains. 20 seconds in the microwave, watching carefully, will also work.) Add the butter and whiskey (if you’re using it) and stir until combined.

Fill the cupcakes: Let the ganache cool until thick but still soft enough to be piped (the fridge will speed this along but you must stir it every 10 minutes). Meanwhile, using your 1-inch round cookie cutter or an apple corer, cut the centers out of the cooled cupcakes. You want to go most of the way down the cupcake but not cut through the bottom — aim for 2/3 of the way. A slim spoon or grapefruit knife will help you get the center out. Those are your “tasters”. Put the ganache into a piping bag with a wide tip and fill the holes in each cupcake to the top.

Make the frosting: Whip the butter in the bowl of an electric mixer, or with a hand mixer, for several minutes. You want to get it very light and fluffy. Slowly add the powdered sugar, a few tablespoons at a time.
[This is a fantastic trick from Martha Stewart Living; when you added the sugar slowly, quick buttercream frostings got less grainy, and tended to require less sugar to thicken them up.]
When the frosting looks thick enough to spread, drizzle in the Baileys and whip it until combined. If this has made the frosting too thin (it shouldn’t, but just in case) beat in another spoonful or two of powdered sugar.

Ice and decorate the cupcakes.


Saturday, February 4, 2012

Chocolate Avocado Pudding (vegan)

You were mildly intrigued by this title that hints at unusual pairings, but wary.  Keep reading.  I was having a craving for something chocolaty and rich, but didn't want to have something that is the caloric equal of a few pounds of butter (astounding, I know.)  A friend of mine shared this recipe with me last year, and it's a nutritious and tasty alternative to a calorie bomb buttery, chocolate dessert.

It's also pretty easy, no-cook recipe, and who doesn't love that?  A short list of ingredients, and no added sugar.  You're probably thinking, "Sure, sounds like it would taste terrible."  I was skeptical at first, but, as they say, "the proof is in the pudding!"

My apologies for the lameness of that pun.  Moving on.

One little thing that I do with it that can be putzy, but helpful, is soaking the dates.  This is to loosen and peel off the papery, tough skin.  I don't care much for that texture in my pudding.  HOWEVER, if you have a pretty good food processor, and it's powerful, it'll grind everything down so that's not a concern and you can skip this step!

I would recommend, though, that you take the seeds out of the dates.  They sort of look like bugs, no?  Save that for a fun prank some day....

Also, you don't need a lot of this pudding, as it's quite rich.  A little goes a long way.  A more nutritious chocolate fix - yay!

Chocolate Avocado Pudding (vegan)
(from the Crazy Sexy Diet book)
Makes 4-6 small servings

1 ripe avocado, pitted
8-10 pitted dates (depending on the size of dates and avocado that you're using), soaked if necessary (I peel off the tough outer layer, but a great food processor would likely take care of it)
1/2 tsp. vanilla
4 heaping tablespoons cocoa or 2 tablespoons carob powder
1/2 cup coconut water (or plain water)
Place the first four ingredients in a food processor, and begin blending.
Drizzle in the water, stopping to scrape the sides of the bowl if need be, until the mixture resembles a thick chocolate pudding.  Let it continue mixing until smooth and creamy.