Sunday, March 22, 2009

Green Garlic Souffle

Spring is here! I love the change of season. Well, it's not as if we really experience different seasons in the San Francisco Bay Area, but the change in the quality of the light really affects me. There is a new brightness to the quality of the light that has me very excited about green things. Not the dark green kale of winter, but the bright green of baby spring vegetables. It seems like each week there are new crops popping up at the farmer's market.

Green garlic has been around for some weeks now, and I'm sure to grab some each time I'm at the market. I try to O.D. on certain vegetables during their time so that I'm ready to move on when they are no longer available. Green garlic could easily be mistaken for leeks, but they often have a little blush of pink that gives them away. Green garlic is baby garlic that has not yet matured into individual cloves. You simply slice it as you would a leek. Actually green garlic reminds me of what a cross between garlic and leeks would be like. A delicate perfume of garlic with the sweetness of leeks.

Asparagus has finally arrived at the farmer's market as well, and I could not help grabbing a couple of bunches. If I had to pick a favorite vegetable, it just might be asparagus. It's like candy when it's grilled. A little charred and crispy on the outside with just enough snap left to keep it from being stringy. I could make a meal out of grilled asparagus, but today I wanted to treat it delicately by just bathing it in some cream brightened with a bit of meyer lemon juice.

Actually, the asparagus with meyer lemon cream was a bit of an afterthought. My original plan was centered entirely on a souffle scented with green garlic. But after tasting the souffle batter, sweet with a richness from Gruyere, I knew I needed to serve something with it to introduce a bit of brightness. A salad dressed in a lemony vinaigrette would have also worked, but I had 3 whole bunches of asparagus waiting to be used.

This souffle is actually quite easy and stress free as far as souffles go. It would be perfect to serve for a brunch or dinner party because it can be cooked ahead of time and reheated just before serving.

Green Garlic Souffle
(Adapted from The Chez Panisse Cafe Cookbook)

4 tablespoons butter
1/4 cup flour
1 1/2 cups milk, slightly warmed
2 branches thyme
1 medium onion
1/2 pound green garlic, sliced (about 1 cup)
1/2 cup grated Gruyere cheese
3 eggs, separated

1 bunch asparagus
1 cup heavy cream
1-2 tablespoons lemon juice

Melt 3 tablespoons of the butter over medium-low heat in a heavy bottomed pan. Add the flour and cook for a few minutes, stirring to keep the flour from browning. Slowly pour in the milk, a little at a time, whisking each addition until smooth before adding more. Add 1/2 teaspoon salt and the thyme branches. Cook over very low heat for 20 minutes or so, until this bechamel sauce is medium-thick and lump free. Stir frequently to be sure it is not sticking. Cool to room temperature. Remove and discard the thyme sprigs and set the bechamel aside.

Dice the onion and cook over medium heat in the remaining tablespoon of butter. When the onion becomes translucent, after about 5 minutes, add the sliced green garlic and 1 teaspoon salt and lower the heat. Add a little water to keep the vegetables from browning. Cook until the garlic is soft and the water nearly evaporated, about 10 minutes. Add more water during the cooking if necessary.

Cool the mixture and puree in a food processor or food mill. Stir the puree into the bechamel. Add the Gruyere and some freshly ground pepper, and mix well. Taste and adjust the seasoning, the sauce should be fairly highly seasoned. Add the egg yolks, lightly beaten, and mix well again.

Preheat the oven to 400F. Generously butter six 8 ounce ramekins. Beat the egg whites until they form soft peaks and fold them into the souffle base. Fill the ramekins and place them in a deep baking dish. Pour hot water halfway up the sides of the ramekins. Bake for 20-30 minutes, until the souffles are puffed and golden brown on the top. Carefully remove the ramekins from the water bath. When the souffles have cooled a bit, unmold them by running a paring knife around the edge of each ramekin, invert the souffle into the palm of your hand, and place it in a shallow baking dish, top side up. The souffles can now be held at room temperature for a few hours.

While the souffles are cooking prepare the asparagus. Slice the asparagus on the bias. Place in a saute pan with 2/3 cup heavy cream and 1/4 teaspoon salt and simmer until the asparagus is cooked, about 5 minutes. Add some lemon juice t0 taste, about 1 tablespoon at a time. Correct for salt. Adding something acidic (vinegar, lemon juice) usually throws off the balance of salt, so it is important to taste and add a bit more salt or lemon juice to suit your taste.

When ready to serve, preheat the oven to 425F. Pour 1/3 cup of the cream over and around the souffles. Bake until the cream is hot and bubbling and the souffles are puffed up again, 6-8 minutes. Serve with the hot cream and spoon the asparagus around the souffle.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

St. Patrick's Day: A Celebration of Guinness

I'm really not much for holidays, especially those that involve gift giving. Don't get me wrong. I love giving gifts. I just don't like when I feel forced to. Maybe it's the stubborn side of my personality. I'm sure Louis could expand on the commentary here, but we'll just leave it at that.

I do however LOVE the ritual holiday celebration around food. Thanksgiving is in fact, my favorite holiday. It is purely about creating a meal to share with family and friends. And that just about sums up the most important things in life for me.

So when St. Patrick's Day comes around, it's just another excuse to make something that I would not normally make. Boiled beef and cabbage doesn't sound particularly appetizing. But when you have a beautiful pasture raised corned beef brisket and let it simmer for hours until the meat pulls apart, it can be the start of a lovely meal.

And when you end the meal with a Guinness chocolate cake and Guinness ice cream, it is even better. This chocolate cake is very moist, almost fudgy. But the star of the evening was the Guinness ice cream. It is somewhat redolent of coffee. Keri said it reminded her of black walnut which I also noticed once she said it. It's hard to pin down the exact flavor profile, but it is delicious and the flavor deepened when tasted with the chocolate cake. Even if you don't celebrate St. Patrick's Day, this ice cream is reason enough to look forward to it each year. Guinness Ice Cream
(adapted from Sunday Suppers at Lucques)

1/2 vanilla bean
1 cup whole milk
1 cup heavy cream
2/3 cup Guinness stout
2 1/2 tablespoons molasses
3 extra large egg yolks
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

Split the vanilla bean in half lengthwise. Use a paring knife to scrape the seeds and pulp into a medium saucepan. Add the vanilla pod, milk, and cream, and bring to a boil over medium heat. Turn off the heat, cover, and allow the flavors to infuse for 30 minutes.

While the cream is infusing, whisk the beer and molasses together in a small saucepan, bring to a boil, and then turn off the heat.

Whisk the egg yolks, sugar, and vanilla extract together in a bowl. Whisk a few tablespoons of the warm cream mixture into the yolks to temper them. Slowly, add another 1/4 cup or so of the warm cream, whisking continuously. At this point you can add the rest of the cream mixture in a slow, steady steam, whisking continuously. Pour the mixture back into the pot, and return to the stove.

Stir the beer mixture into the cream and cook the custard over medium heat, 6-8 minutes, stirring frequently with a rubber spatula and scraping the bottom and sides of the pan. The custard will thicken and when it's done, will coat the back of the spatula. Strain the mixture, and chill at least 2 hours in the refrigerator. When the custard is very cold, process it in an ice cream maker according to the manufacturer's instructions.

Guinness Chocolate Cake
(adapted from Feast by Nigella Lawson)
I found this recipe on various blogs and websites. There were some discrepancies between the recipes concerning the amounts of some ingredients. This is what I ended up doing. A kitchen scale is necessary here.

1 cup Guinness
10 tablespoons butter
75 grams cocoa
400 grams superfine sugar
3/4 cup sour cream
2 eggs
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
2 cups all purpose flour
2 1/2 teaspoons baking soda

Preheat oven to 350F and grease and line a 9 inch springform pan.

Pour the Guinness into a large saucepan and add the sliced butter. Heat until the butter is melted and remove from the heat. Whisk in the cocoa and sugar. In a separate bowl, whisk the sour cream with the eggs and vanilla until smooth. Add the sour cream mixture to the Guinness mixture in the saucepan and whisk to incorporate. Add the flour and baking soda to the mixture in the saucepan and whisk until smooth.

Pour the batter into the greased pan and bake for 45 minutes to 1 hour. Mine took the full 1 hour. You can check to see if the cake is done by inserting a toothpick into the center of the cake. If it comes out clean, the cake is done.

Cool completely in the pan on a wire rack.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Cookies for Molly: Ricciarelli

Wow, it's been over a month since my last post. It is really easy to get out of the habit of posting. I was sick for 2 weeks, but I think I was just really uninspired to write. I've always said that I hate writing, and it's true most of the time. I never thought that I would want to have a blog because of this. Unlike some of the most stunning blogs out there, I don't want to be a photographer or a writer. In the end, I just want to share with you some of my creations and experiences with food. I thought that some new and unexpected connections could be made through having this blog. Through the belief that shared experiences through food can bring us closer and touch us in ways that little else can.

The blog that has made the biggest impact on me is Orangette written by Molly. She has such an effortless way of writing. Molly has the gift of really making you feel like you are part of her world. She makes you feel like you could just crawl through your computer screen to sit at her table. I think her prose centered around food will be remembered in history with the likes of M.F.K. Fisher and Laurie Colwin. And she has just come out with her first book! It is truly a beautiful thing to behold and so is Molly.

I went to her book signing in San Francisco last week. I had never been to a book signing before, but I was not shocked to see the place packed with people winding through the rows of shelves. I think the store owner was caught a little off guard. It is just a testament to Molly's writing and the way that she touches people. I desperately wanted to be able to sit and chat with her, but I knew she was going to be swarmed. So I made her a little care package of treats. Three types of cookies and some tea cakes. Perhaps overkill, but I wanted to cover my bases.

I would be hard pressed to describe my perfect cookie. I don't know if I could decide between a tender dark chocolate shortbread, nubbly with cocoa nibs and a lingering hint of sea salt or a dense, chewy almond macaroon. Thankfully, Molly doesn't have to choose because I made both for her.

The almond macaroons, also called ricciarelli, are incredibly easy to make. The hardest part may be finding almond paste. I buy mine in bulk from Berkeley Bowl. It comes in pliable blocks, but I've also seen it packaged in cans or tubes although I can't attest as to how those would work in this recipe. I'm sure it would be fine, so if that is all you can find, go ahead and use them. And let me know how they turn out.

Ricciarelli (Italian Almond Cookies)
(The measurements for this recipe are given in weight. If you bake on a regular basis, a kitchen scale is a worthwhile investment, especially if you use chocolate. It's also much easier to dump ingredients into a bowl to weigh out rather than carefully chopping or measuring by cups.)

In the bowl of a food processor, finely grind the following:
1 pound almond paste
1/2 pound slivered or sliced almonds
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup sugar
3 3/4 teaspoons baking powder

Transfer this mixture to a mixing bowl.

Add the following and mix well.
2 egg whites from extra large eggs, slightly beaten (about 70grams)
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon almond extract

Preheat the oven to 350F. Measure out tablespoons of the dough and roll into balls. Roll the balls in powdered sugar and place on a silpat or parchment lined baking sheet. Press lightly to flatten the balls. Bake for 15-20 minutes or until cookies start to turn lightly golden brown. Remove from the oven and allow cookies to cool on the baking sheet. Store in an airtight container.

yield: 3-4 dozen

These cookies are pretty moist and I think would keep easily for a week. I haven't been able to find out because they're usually gone within 3 days in my house. I gave some to Keri and she says that they are also great straight from the freezer.