BUTTERMILK PANNA COTTA AND CHOCOLATE GANACHE

I’ve been watching more of my DVDs from The Great Courses and the Culinary Institute of America. I have particularly enjoyed “The Everyday Gourmet: Baking Pastries and Desserts.” The presenter is Chef Stephen L. Durfee who is an instructor at the Greystone campus of the CIA. He certainly has earned his chops – he is a James Beard Foundation winner and has been the pastry chef at The French Laundry, among many other accomplishments and awards. His lessons have been very instructive, and his style has been friendly and conversational.

The lessons have come in handy. Susan has had a minor procedure needing a soft diet for a few days. That seemed like a perfect time for me to try out Chef Durfee’s recipe for panna cotta. What could be easier than panna cotta?  On top of that it’s very tasty. Another nice thing about the recipe is that it invites variations. Buttermilk gives an interesting flavor, but the usual fruit toppings were out. What could be easier than chocolate ganache?

RECIPES

Buttermilk Panna Cotta

Ingredients

  • 2¼ cups buttermilk
  • 1 envelope unflavored gelatin
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • ½ cup sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Method

  1. Place 1 cup of the buttermilk in a wide-rimmed bowl, reserving the rest
  2. Sprinkle the gelatin evenly over the surface of the buttermilk and let rest for 5 minutes to bloom the gelatin.  The surface should wrinkle up as the gelatin blooms. You can ensure an even process by exposing more of the buttermilk by breaking the surface with a whisk.
  3. In a medium sauce pan, dissolve the sugar in the cream and bring to the boil.
  4. Pour the boiling cream into the bloomed gelatin mixture and stir to completely dissolve the gelatin.
  5. Add the vanilla extract and reserved buttermilk to cool the mixture.
  6. Strain the mixture through a fine-meshed sieve. This step is very important to remove any clumps of undissolved gelatin and buttermilk..
  7. Pour the strained, cooled mixture into 6 serving dishes or ramekins. The mixture should be cooled before pouring it into the dishes or ramekins. Otherwise it might separate into layers.
  8. Refrigerate several hours or over night until the panna cotta is set.

Chocolate Ganache

Ingredients

  • 8 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped
  • 5 ounces heavy cream
  • 1 ounce corn syrup
  • 2 tablespoons orange liqueur (optional)

Method

  1. Chop the chocolate into small pieces about the size of an M&M candy to make sure it will melt with the added hot cream before the cream cools off. . Transfer to a medium bowl.
  2. Combine the cream and corn syrup, stirring to make sure the syrup is completely  dissolved. Bring to a rolling boil in a small saucepan..
  3. Pour the hot cream and corn syrup mixture into the chopped chocolate. Let sit undisturbed for a moment or two to let the chocolate begin to melt.
  4. With a spatula, stir the chocolate from the center outward until the cream has been completely and evenly incorporated.
  5. If desired, add the orange liqueur and stir until completely incorporated.
  6. Cool for 10 minutes or so until just warm to the touch.
  7. Ladle one or two tablespoons onto each of the tops of the chilled panna cottas. Return to the refrigerator and chill for 1 hour. This will form a  firm chocolate layer. If you want something softer, use more cream when you make the ganache.
  8. Serve.

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BENNE WAFERS

“Open sesame,” was the phrase that the miscreants used to open their cave filled with treasure in the story, “Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves”. Popeye said, “Open sez me,” in a cartoon version of the story. It is not entirely clear whether the phrase relates to the spice, sesame, or whether it is a mistranslation of an Arabic phrase. What is certain is that sesame has been used in cuisines throughout the world and throughout history. Some say it is the first spice discovered, and it has been identified in ancient Egyptian tombs.

Say “benne wafers” and you immediately think of Charleston, South Carolina, where they have been part of the local cuisine for hundreds of years. The first time I ever ate one was many years ago in a charming restaurant on Church Street in the middle of that city.  In fact, I think that may have been the very best benne wafer I have ever had. It was a crispy little cracker, not unlike lavash, filled with toasted black and brown sesame seeds. The traditional story of how these tasty bites got their name is that the word “benne” is West African for sesame seeds that the black soon-to-be-slaves brought with them, perhaps even sewn into their clothes and subsequently used in their cooking. The sesame-rich foods found their way to the plantation house and soon became embedded in South Carolina cuisine. There are two versions of benne wafers: one that is sweet and one that is savory. I prefer the savory version. Whatever the real story of benne wafers, there is no doubt that the modern versions are delicious.

During a recent visit to Los Angeles, Susan and I paid a visit with Carol to the Surfas kitchen store in Culver City. There I found a bag of black sesame seeds which reminded me of those long-ago benne wafers in Charleston. Brown sesame seeds are, of course, ubiquitous, but black seeds are not as common, so my find seemed like the perfect chance to try my hand. The recipe is actually a version of a pie crust dough, so it is important to keep your ingredients chilled and not over mix the dough to make sure it is crisp and flaky when baked.

RECIPE

Benne Wafers

Ingredients

  • ¼ cup mixed brown and black sesame seeds
  • 1 cup flour
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • cayenne pepper, to taste
  • 3 tablespoons chilled, unsalted butter
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 4 tablespoons ice water

Method

  1. In a dry skillet over low heat, toast the sesame seeds for 15 minutes, stirring frequently, until lightly toasted and fragrant. Be very careful not to burn the seeds.  Cool and set aside.
  2. In a medium bowl, mix the flour, salt, and cayenne. Work in the butter with your fingers or a pastry blender until the mixture resembles corn meal.
  3. Add the cooled sesame seeds, egg yolk and ice water to make a dough. It should be soft, but not sticky.
  4. Form the dough into a ball, wrap with plastic wrap, and chill in the refrigerator for 30 minutes.
  5. On a floured work surface, roll out the dough into a 12-inch circle. With a biscuit cutter, cut into 2-inch rounds.
  6. Place the rounds on an ungreased cookie sheet and bake in a preheated oven at 350°F for 15 minutes or until lightly browned. Cool on a rack. Makes about 2 dozen wafers.

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COOKING FOR THREE-YEAR-OLDS: GNOCCHI, CHICKEN, MUSHROOMS, PEPPERS, BEURRE NOISETTE

Susan and I just returned from another trip to San Francisco. We babysat our 10 months-  and 3 years-old grandsons while Sarah and Evan travelled to Dallas. They were invited to cook with the staff at a hot, new Dallas restaurant, FT33. Sarah and Evan and the local chef alternated dishes for an 8-course tasting menu with wine pairings. The place was sold out, and Sarah got to see Corey and Megan, school friends of our other daughter, along with a fellow member of her crew team at the University of Texas.

My cooking task was more challenging: I was charged with feeding the two little ones. Actually, the 10-month-old was not difficult. He is still drinking a lot of liquids, and he will eat anything else you put in front of him.

The three-year-old was another story. The first morning, he wouldn’t eat his cheerios until I added some milk, so the next morning I anticipated him and poured in the milk. That morning he decided he didn’t want milk, so I had to scrap the first bowl. The next morning I made French toast with maple syrup. He didn’t like it, but the 10-month-old polished it off.

My greatest failure turned out to be lunch. I put together some things for his lunch box for nursery school. My first thought was a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. What child doesn’t like PB&J? Besides, PB&J is not forbidden at his nursery school as it is in many places. As I was planning my menu, Sarah sent a text message that the toddler doesn’t like peanut butter. I made a quick change of plans and substituted some chèvre that I found in the fridge. Then, I reached for a jar of fig jam when he announced that he didn’t like jelly. For that, I substituted some hummus. I thought a goat cheese and hummus sandwich on whole wheat bread looked pretty tasty, so I packed it with freeze-dried strawberry slices, crispy apple chips, and a stick of string cheese. Imagine my disappointment when the lunch box came home at the end of the day with only the string cheese gone.

We took advantage of the kids being at nursery school by taking a little trip to the Embarcadero and enjoying a good lunch at the well-known Fog City Diner.

I was more successful with dinner one night. I found some packaged gnocchi and a cooked chicken breast in the refrigerator along with some mushrooms and colorful “snacking peppers”. I put it all together with some brown butter sauce, and it turned out to be a huge favorite with both kids.

RECIPE

Gnocchi, Chicken, Mushrooms, Peppers, and Beurre Noisette

Three-Year-Olds-1

Ingredients

  • ½ cup unsalted butter
  • juice of  ½ lime
  • ½ cooked chicken breast
  • 6 white button mushrooms, sliced
  • 1 each, red, orange, and yellow snacking peppers, sliced crosswise
  • 1 package prepared gnocchi
  • ½ cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • ½ cup grated Romano cheese
  • salt and pepper

Method

  1. In a small saucepan over low het, melt the butter. Heat gently until the milk solids float to the top and begin to brown. Skim off the solids with a tablespoon. Pour the melted butter into a small bowl, leaving any remaining solids on the bottom of the saucepan behind. Wipe the pan clean, return the clarified butter, and continue to heat over a low flame until it turns a nut-brown color. (hazelnut to be specific) Stir in the lime juice and set aside.
  2. Shred the cooked chicken with two table forks. Set aside.
  3. Sauté the sliced mushrooms in 2 tablespoons of the butter sauce over medium heat. Add the remaining butter sauce. Stir in the shredded chicken and pepper slices until heated through.
  4. In the meantime, boil the gnocchi in a pot of boiling salted water according to package instructions. Drain. Return to the pot, and stir in the butter sauce, mushrooms, chicken, peppers, and grated cheeses. Adjust seasoning with salt and pepper.
  5. Serve.

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TUNISIAN TAGINE RICOTTA

Lately I have been watching some DVDs I purchased from The Great Courses. If you are not familiar with that company, they offer video recordings, and sometimes accompanying books, prepared from the lectures of outstanding instructors. You can study art appreciation, Egyptian history, architecture, and just about any other topic you can think of. They have a series on cooking as well as on wine appreciation, so I bought both.

One of the instructors in the cooking series is Bill Briwa who is a Chef-Instructor at the Greystone, California campus of the Culinary Institute of America (CIA). Briwa has a very personal and comfortable teaching style, and on top of that he offers a lot of good information and easy-to-follow demonstrations.

The DVD set that I am currently watching is called The Everyday Gourmet: The Joy of Mediterranean Cooking. As the title suggests, there are recipes and demonstrations from Spain, Provence, Italy, Greece, Turkey, and North Africa.

My blogging friend, Happiness Stan Lives,  recently received a tagine (His had eyes), and so he demonstrated how to make a Moroccan tagine. I was surprised to learn from Bill Briwa that a “dry” tagine is made in Tunisia without the peaked hat cooking device.

Since I don’t have a Moroccan tagine (That is a hint to my family.) I thought I would give the Tunisian version a try.

Out of the oven ready to serve

Out of the oven ready to serve

Served with a small salad

Served with a small salad

RECIPE

Tunisian Tagine Ricotta

Ingredients

  • ¾ pound ground lamb
  • seeds from 4 cardamom pods
  • 4 whole cloves
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1 teaspoon coriander seeds
  • ½ teaspoon black peppercorns
  • ¼ cup olive oil + more to oil the baking dish
  • ½ medium yellow onion, diced
  • 3 garlic cloves, finely minced
  • 3 tablespoons ground cumin
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 6 eggs, beaten
  • ½ cup Monterrey jack cheese, grated
  • 2 hard boiled eggs, each cut into 6 wedges
  • 15 ounces ricotta cheese, at room temperature
  • 1/3 cup parsley, chopped

Method

  1. In a bowl, mix the ground lamb with the cardamom, cloves, cinnamon, ginger, coriander, and black peppercorns. Set aside.
  2. In a separate bowl, combine the beaten eggs and grated cheese. Set aside until ready for assembly.
  3. Heat the oil in a skillet over a medium-high flame. Add the onions and cook until translucent. Then add the ground lamb mixture, stirring until the lamb is well browned. Turn off the heat and let the mixture cool.
  4. Using a pastry brush, coat the inside of a shallow baking dish with olive oil. Then pour in 1/3 of the egg-cheese mixture, tilting the dish to completely cover the bottom.
  5. Spread ½ of the lamb mixture over the egg-cheese mixture. Spread ½ of the ricotta over the lamb. Press 6 hard boiled egg wedges into the ricotta, distributing them evenly.
  6. Cover with 1/3 of the egg-cheese mixture, spreading it as evenly as possible. Top with the remaining lamb and ricotta, pressing the remaining 6 hard-boiled egg wedges into the ricotta between the other wedges.
  7. Pour the remaining 1/3 of the egg-cheese mixture over the top, spreading it so that it completely covers the other layers.
  8. Bake in the middle of an oven preheated to 375°F for 40 minutes or until the eggs are completely cooked and the top is beautifully browned.
  9. Remove from the oven. Sprinkle with chopped parsley. Serve while still warm. Serves 4.

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BOSQUE DEL APACHE AND GREEN (RED) CHILE CHEESEBURGERS

Last week we drove south to the Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge in central New Mexico. The refuge sits on the bank of the Rio Grande and is one of the largest winter stopovers on the Central Flyway. There are thousands of water birds during the months of November through March. The largest colonies include snow geese, Canada geese, and Sandhill cranes; there are ducks of all sorts as well.

The main shows are always the flight at sunset when the geese and cranes settle in to ponds for safety during the night and then again at sunrise when the birds fly off in clouds to head to feeding grounds throughout the region. We were a little disappointed this year, because the evening spectacle was not as impressive as in the past. In part that is because some of the birds have already begun to head north in the spring migration.

Still, we enjoyed the birds of winter. We saw pintails, shovelers, mallards, many other ducks, and grebes. There were Gamble quails, red-winged blackbirds, herons, roadrunners, dozens of red-tailed hawks, and a merlin. Reportedly there was a trumpeter swan and a bald eagle around, though we didn’t see either one – we have seen them in the past.  We also saw a peccary and a skunk. It was a treat for anyone who enjoys wildlife.

After the evening flight, we stopped for a relaxed meal at the Buckhorn Bar in the nearby hamlet of San Antonio. This one-street town is probably the epicenter for the New Mexico green chile cheeseburger passion. Cafés and greasy spoons all across the state offer their version of this delicacy, but the Buckhorn and its big competitor, the Owl Bar and Café, sit just across the highway from one another, and both have at one time or another vied for the title of best green chile cheeseburger in the world if not the universe. Just down the interstate the McDonald’s and Burger King in Socorro, the largest nearby town, offer their versions of the sandwich, and a local gasoline station also serves a very tasty rendition, so there is no lack of opportunities to enjoy a GCCB, as the locals call it.

The standard question that is asked by the server in any New Mexico roadhouse is, “Red or green?” That means you are supposed to tell him or her whether you want red or green chile on top of whatever you order. If you can’t make up your mind, the standard reply is, “Christmas!” so that you get both red and green chile.

It has always been a puzzle to me as to why there is never a red chile cheeseburger choice, or maybe even better, a Christmas option. This is my effort to correct that culinary deficiency. For the green chile part, I roasted some Anaheim chiles – pretty conventional for a GCCB. For the red chile part, I decided to use chile colorado in two forms: the straight stuff and in mayonnaise. Forty years ago I learned to make chile colorado from our laboratory dishwasher who was from Mexico. This version is a little embellished from that recipe, but it is not very different from practically every recipe out there. The most important thing is to use ground chiles rather than commercial chili powder, which contains a mix of chiles along with garlic and onion powders, cumin and oregano, and probably a bit of MSG. The following recipe makes a lot more sauce than you will need for the cheeseburgers, so think about using the leftovers with fresh corn tortillas for enchiladas or chilaquiles.

RECIPES

Chile Colorado

Ingredients

  • ½ cup ground red chiles (your choice on the heat level)
  • 2½ cups water
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • ½ small onion, chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
  • 2 tablespoons AP flour
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin, toasted in a small  dry skillet
  • 1 teaspoon Mexican oregano, crumbled between your hands
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt (or to taste)

Method

  1. In a dry skillet over medium heat, toast the chile powder until it darkens lightly and becomes fragrant. Stir frequently and do not allow to scorch. Stir the toasted chile into the water and set aside.
  2. Wipe out the skillet, and return it to medium heat. Heat the oil and add the onions and garlic, stirring until the onion is translucent. Stir in the flour and cook for 2 minutes, stirring frequently.
  3. Stir in the chile and water, cumin, and oregano, and bring to the boil. Then reduce to the simmer for 40 minutes until the raw taste of the flour has cooked out and the chiles have mellowed. Adjust the seasoning with salt.
  4. Cool and store in a non-reactive container. (Red chiles can present a challenge for stains)
  5. Makes about 1 pint

Red Chile Mayonnaise

Ingredients

  • ½ cup mayonnaise (homemade or commercial)
  • ¼ cup chile colorado

Method

  1. Combine the mayonnaise and chile colorado
  2. Set aside until ready to use.

Green/Red Chile (Christmas) Cheeseburger

Ingredients

  • 4 good-quality hamburger buns
  • 8 tablespoons red chile mayonnaise
  • 4 Anaheim chiles, roasted, peeled, seeded, and opened
  • 1 pound ground beef
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 4 tablespoons chile colorado
  • 4 tablespoons chopped onion
  • 8 deli slices, cheddar cheese
  • condiments (lettuce, sliced tomatoes, dill pickle chips, ketchup, mustard as desired)

Method

  1. Slice the hamburger buns in half, and spread the cut-side of each half with red chile mayonnaise. Toast on a hot griddle until lightly browned. Set aside.
  2. Make 4 hamburger patties from the ground beef. Season with salt and pepper.
  3. Sauté  one side of the 4 hamburger patties on the griddle over medium-high heat for about 5 minutes. Turn the hamburgers only once. When you turn the hamburgers, coat them with the chile colorado using a pastry brush. Then top, in order, with chopped onion, cheddar cheese, and roasted green chiles. Saute for another 5 minutes or until the hamburgers are done to your liking.
  4. Place the cooked hamburger patties in the prepared buns and serve immediately with condiments as desired.

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WHITE CHILI

Too late for the Super Bowl, but not too late for a cold winter night. White Chili has some similarities with a bowl of Texas Red, but it is more like a cousin to green chile chicken stew and chicken posole. They all use some of the same ingredients with the main difference being the use of beans, potatoes, or hominy. Susan and I first had a bowl of white chili many years ago in Santa Barbara, California, when we were attending a conference. We both thought it was delicious, but couldn’t figure out how to make it. Some time later, I found a recipe in a magazine. Over the years, I have made modifications to that magazine recipe, and this version comes from our family cookbook, Let’s Cook! Let’s Eat!

RECIPE

White Chili

Ingredients

  • 1 pound dry great northern beans
  • boneless chicken breast + 2 chicken thighs
  • 4 cups chicken stock
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 large yellow onion, chopped
  • 7 ounce can diced green chiles (mild, medium, or hot according to your preference)
  • 4 garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 teaspoons ground cumin
  • 2 teaspoons dried Mexican oregano
  • ¼ teaspoon ground cloves
  • ¼ teaspoon cayenne (or to taste)
  • 1 cup grated Monterey jack cheese + more for garnish
  • salt and pepper
  • sour cream (for garnish)
  • salsa (for garnish)
  • chopped fresh cilantro (for garnish)

Method

  1. Soak beans overnight.
  2. Boil the chicken in the chicken stock for 20 minutes or until the chicken is cooked through. Drain and reserve the chicken stock. Cool the chicken and shred into bite-sized pieces. Set aside.
  3. In a heavy soup pot, heat the olive oil, and then sauté the onions until translucent. Stir in the chiles, garlic, cumin, oregano, cloves, and cayenne. Sauté for an additional 2 minutes.
  4. Add drained beans and chicken stock. Bring to the boil and then reduce to the simmer for 2 hours or until the beans are cooked through.
  5. When the beans are done, add the chicken and grated cheese, stirring until the cheese melts.
  6. Adjust seasoning with salt and pepper.
  7. Serve in individual bowls with the additional cheese, sour cream, salsa, and cilantro as garnish.

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QUESO FUNDIDO (MELTED CHEESE)/QUESO FLAMEADO (FLAMED CHEESE)

 

This is one of the easiest recipes around, but it is also easy to mess up. When it is done properly it cam be ethereal. The first time I ever had it was some thirty years ago in Tlaquepaque, Mexico, a small town filled with artisans on the outskirts of Guadalajara. We had taken our children and one of their friends on a family vacation to the Mexican west coast, and this was to be our day of tourist shopping. The array of handmade goods was overwhelming. There were weavings, pottery, jewelry, worked silver, paper flowers, hand-made furniture, and the requisite “onyx” chess sets.

After a full morning of going from one vendor’s stall to another, everyone was ready for lunch. We chose a huge open air restaurant, partly because there were enough vacant seats for all of us.

The first thing we ordered was queso fundido and freshly made corn tortillas to snack on with drinks until our main dishes came. Dipping browned and molten cheese out of a dish and heaping it on a warm tortilla was a treat for all of us. There was crumbled crisp chorizo on top, but no chiles and no spice. It was just plain good eating.  We ate quickly, and that was a good thing. When queso fundido cools off, it can set up into a solid chunk of cheese.

Since then, I have enjoyed queso fundido, aka queso flameado in many places along the US-Mexico Border. Most of those versions have been good, but none as good as that in Tlaquepaque. The dish is not to be confused with another stalwart, chile con queso. In its traditional form, that dish includes melted cheese and roasted green chiles. Neither queso fundido nor chile con queso is to be confused with versions you are likely to see in fast-food Mexican restaurants: Ro-Tel mixed with melted Velveeta, or worse, Cheez Whiz mixed with bottled taco sauce.

When you make your own queso fundido, use authentic asadero cheese if you can find it, Mexican chorizo of the best quality, and corn tortillas that you make yourself.None of that is really very hard. If you can’t find asadero cheese, any yellow melting cheese like Monterey jack, American Muenster, or mozzarella will do.

Serve with your favorite salsa or even guacamole or both.

RECIPE

Queso Fundido

Ingredients

  • 12 ounces asadero cheese, coarsely grated
  • ¼ pound Mexican (not Spanish) chorizo, crumbled and lightly browned

Method

  1. Heat a shallow baking dish, about 9 inches across, in the middle of an oven preheated to 375°F for about 5 minutes or until hot.
  2. Remove the heated dish from the oven. Sprinkle the grated cheese evenly in the dish. Top with chorizo, and return to the oven for 10-15 minutes or until the cheese is completely melted and lightly browned.
  3. Remove from the oven. Set on a heat-resistant surface. Serve immediately with warm fresh corn tortillas and spoons for dipping the melted cheese.

 

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