Monday, February 22, 2010

Broccoli and Havarti - a Match Made in Heaven

Most cheese sauces served with broccoli are cheddar-based. I've gotten a little tired of the same-old, same-old, so I went looking for something new. I wanted a creamy cheese that had a strong flavor without being cloying. My eye fell on some Havarti in the cheese case and I realized I had my cheese sauce.

Broccoli in Havarti Cheese Sauce

1 or 2 crowns broccoli, cut into spears
8 oz Havarti cheese (I selected a creamy Havarti, but this will
work as well with regular)
2 tablespoons cornstarch
1 tablespoon vodka
1 cup 2% milk
1 tablespoon butter (reduce if the milk is whole, increase if the milk is skim)

Slice cheese into small pieces and mix with cornstarch. Havarti does not grate well.

Heat milk and butter until butter is melted. Add vodka and cheese mixture. Heat in a double boiler over medium heat until cheese is melted, stirring occasionally.

Cook for 10 to 15 minutes, or until the mixture thickens.

Meanwhile, steam broccoli for 7 to 10 minutes, depending on how done you like your broccoli.

Spoon sauce over broccoli.

Oh my, did this work. The cheese sauce was wonderfully rich and creamy, but not overwhelming. The cabbage notes in the broccoli cut through the cheese sauce, but only supported the green notes of the chlorophyll (if the broccoli is overcooked, the sense of the chlorophyll will disappear).

This sauce will also work well for cauliflower. Unfortunately, this was a lot of cheese sauce for two people, but the sauce reheats well with the addition of a little more milk and brief bursts in the microwave.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Molten Chocolate Cake

A few weeks ago, I was at a foodie celebration enjoying sampling all kinds of wine and yummy food. I also attended a demonstration on making a wonderfully impressive, but very simple, molten chocolate cake (also called chocolate lava cake) in just about 30 minutes. Further, he made a crême anglais, sugar swirls and decorations, and ice cream. I'm not that ambitious.

For Valentine's Day, I wanted a special dessert, so I decided to make the molten chocolate cake. But I didn't want serve it with heavy custardy (though quite yummy) add-ons. Instead, I made a simple strawberry sauce to go with it. Score!!!!

Molten Chocolate Cake with Strawberry Sauce
Chocolate Ganache
3.5 oz heavy cream (by weight)
3.5 oz good bittersweet chocolate (by weight), I used Ghiradelli's

Chop chocolate into smaller pieces. Heat both chocolate and cream in a double-boiler until chocolate is melted and the sauce is smooth. Do not let mixture boil.

Make this up and put in freezer the day before you are making the chocolate so the ganache has time to set.

Chocolate Cake
7 oz good bittersweet chocolate (by weight), again I used Ghiradelli's
8 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon chocolate extract (if you don't have this, just add this much vanilla)
3 eggs separated and at room temperature
1/8 teaspoon cream of tartar
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup sifted cake flour
1/4 cup granulated sugar (not superfine)
1/8 teaspoon ground achiote
1/8 teaspoon cayenne powder
1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon

Melt chocolate and butter in double-boiler.

Mix egg yolks, vanilla extract, and chocolate extract together. Remove chocolate and butter mixture from heat and quickly wisk the egg mixture in.

Sift flour 2x. Mix flour, sugar, achiote, cayenne, and cinnamon together. Blend into the chocolate mixture.

Whip egg whites, salt, and cream of tartar until soft peaks form.

Fold one third of the egg white into chocolate mixture. Once that is incorporated, fold the second third in. Then fold in the final third. This allows the egg whites to be incorporated without losing too much of their loft.

Grease four 6 to 8 oz ramekins with cooking oil, then dust with cocoa powder.

Fill each ramekin about 1/2 full. Place a largish cherry-sized piece of ganache in center. Fill until ramekin is just over 3/4 full.

Bake at 375°F (190°C) for 15 minutes. The edges will be starting to crack, but the center will be barely set. Be careful not to overbake.

Let cook for about five minutes, then remove from ramekins.

Serve warm.

Strawberry Sauce
8 oz ripe strawberries
1 tablespoon sugar (if the strawberries are very sweet, use less sugar)

Slice strawberries into small cubes. Add sugar and mix well.

Place in refrigerator for at least 2 hours to allow sugar to draw out juice.

Mash lightly with a potato masher.

Spoon strawberry sauce over chocolate cake.

This turned out wonderfully! The tart but slightly sweet strawberry sauce was a perfect foil to the bitterness of the chocolate. The spices added just a tiny touch of heat to the cake, not enough to create any burn, but enough to make the chocolate just a little complex. We really enjoyed it.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Beef Barley

I love beef barley soup, especially when it is cold out. Well, relatively cold as we're not buried in snow. But the temps this weekend still qualified as chilly.

However, I discovered that I didn't have time to make it like I normally would -- spending eight hours on the stove, unless I wanted to leave the stove on overnight. (Ummm, no, not a good idea). So, I grabbed my trusty crockpot.

Beef Barley Stew
2 lbs beef cut into 1 inch cubes
1 large onion, diced
1/2 to 1 pound carrots
3-4 celery stalks cut into bite-sized pieces
2 portabello mushrooms
1 lb barley
5 cloves garlic, chopped finely
Freshly ground black pepper

Put everything, except 1/2 pound of the barley into a crockpot and cover with water. Start simmering on low.

After at least 6 hours have passed, add the remaining barley and bring the water level back up to ensure everything is covered. Cook for at least two hours.

I like a long, slow cooked beef barley stew. The soup gets so rich and unctuous, like satin on the tongue. However, the barley is very cooked down with no firmness to it. This time, by putting the barley in at two different times, I got my unctuous broth and a delightful presence when I chewed.

Note that I didn't mention salt. I didn't salt the soup until I served it because barley is a salt-hog. And because I was cooking the soup with such a low and slow method, I didn't need it to ensure everything cooked properly. By waiting until serving, the barley didn't get a chance to absorb all the salt. And we could adjust the salt to our individual tastes.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Another fail

Sorry about this guys, but I've got another fail week here. Since Thanksgiving, I've been dealing with an allergic reaction to something -- we don't know what. We got it under control in December, but last week something set it off again. We're doing testing to find out what, but right now, I'm not cooking much because I've got steroid creams all over my hands, arms, and legs (and really don't want to be feeding it to anyone).

Tonight is quick and dirty nachos for dinner. Take your favorite tortilla chips, put your favorite shredded cheese on it, sprinkle some cumin/coriander/garli on them, add 1/2 cup of beans, and microwave for 1 minute. Top with avocado, salsa, sour cream, and anything else that floats your boat. It takes all of two minutes to make.