Sunday, December 25, 2011

You Say Meringue, I Say Pavlova

     Today I’m presenting a recipe for a meringue or ‘Pavlova’ (Named in honor of a Russian born ballet dancer sometime in 1920’s.) So if you want to sound pretentious or impress your foodie friends go ahead a wow them with that gem. On to the recipe…

     They say the third time’s a charm; whoever ‘they’ are might be right. I attempted a similar recipe to this one a while back and was unsuccessful. It was a spur of the moment, off the cuff attempt to make a flourless dessert in order to create a tasty, creative, gluten free dessert. (Gluten free seems to be all the rage these days, so it’s nice to have a go-to if such a need arises.) I walked away from that attempt defeated and read up on some other similar recipes and felt compelled to give it another try. My second attempt was close to successful but not exactly what I was looking for. Determined, I went back to the drawing board and simplified the recipe and focused on the technique. The real key to this recipe, I found, is beating the eggs properly and monitoring the baking closely.
2 Large Eggs Whites
½ Cup Sugar
½ tsp. Vanilla Extract

1 Cup Fresh Berries. (I used raspberries this time)
1/2 Cup Water
1/2 Cup Sugar

Preheat oven to 250 degrees F. and place rack in the middle. Prep a sheet pan with parchment paper or silicon baking mat.

In a medium mixing bowl separate eggs and either discard the yolks or set aside for another recipe. Cover with plastic wrap and let egg whites come to room temperature (about 20 mins.) as this will aid in the whipping process. Begin to beat egg whites on medium until frothy; at this point gradually begin to incorporate sugar slowly, I sprinkled about 1 tbsp. at a time until all the sugar was in the mix. Add vanilla extract. Turn up the mixer to med/high, and beat until shiny and stiff peaks form.

**What are stiff peaks? – When you turn your mixer off and pull the beaters up straight out of the mixture peaks will form on the end of the beaters, turn your mixer 90 degrees and stiff peaks will hold their shape on the beaters. If the peaks sag or drip, continue beating.

So now you’ve got stiff peaks, distribute the mixture on the prepared sheet pan creating approximately six individual ‘cakes.’ Place pan on the middle rack and bake at 250 for 45 minutes. When the 45 minutes is up turn off the oven, and slightly crack the door and allow cakes to cool in place. This will ensure the crispy exterior while maintaining the creamy marshmallow inside.

**Side note – if you notice a lot of syrupy droplets forming on the surface of the cakes while they are cooking that is a sign of overcooking, and if there is liquid oozing from the edges of the cakes, this is indicative of undercooking. Make sure to monitor closely as you may have to adjust your cooking time accordingly.

To make the topping – Combine sugar, water and half of the berries in a small sauce pan, cover and put over medium heat. As soon as the mixture begins to simmer, and form bubbles on the top reduce heat to the burner’s lowest setting. Let the syrup steep for about 5 minutes and then strain with a fine mesh strainer to remove the seeds. Remember that the syrup will be thin while it’s still warm, it will thicken when cooled.

At this point you’ve got a fruit syrup fit for a variety of applications; put it in your tea or other drinks, use it in smoothies or milkshakes, or kick up your yogurt.

**Optional embellishments: Add a touch of freshly grated cinnamon, clove or ginger for a spicy kick, steep the syrup with orange zest or a dash of balsamic vinegar, or rather than water start with your favorite variety of tea for a complex flavor.

**MORE side notes – if you want more syrup to store and use later, simply increase all the quantities proportionally. The syrup is simply a 1:1 ratio, the fruit and/or flavoring is complete up to your personal taste.

Serving suggestions – Top cake with remaining fresh berries and syrup, sprinkle with shaved/chopped mint dark chocolate. (pictured) OR top with mixed fresh fruit and a dollop of whipped cream OR drizzle with chocolate sauce and sprinkle with candies. The possibilities for serving this dessert are essentially endless at this point.

     One final bit of advice, as with any recipe, don’t get too discouraged. If it doesn’t come out right the very first time, take time to research and recognize where improvements can be made and when you’re ready give it another try. It’s always a learning experience in the kitchen regardless, win, lose or draw.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

The Evolution of a Recipe

     I know, I know it’s been a while…like, a loooong while since I blogged about anything but after a long weekend of good food I’m feeling a bit inspired. This installment will deal with one of my most favorite recipes in the entire world. Taco Soup.

     This recipe (like so many other great ones) was introduced to me by my mother and is a great way warm up from any winter adventure or enjoy durring the big game. I’m not really sure where she found it, but if I had to venture a guess I’d say either Cooking Light or Better Homes & Gardens.

The original recipe is very basic and simple and absolutely delicious, looks something like this …

1 lb. Ground beef, chicken, turkey, browned and greased drained.
1 - can crushed or diced tomatoes
1 – can kidney beans
1 - can of corn
1 - can green beans
1 - Taco seasoning packet
Tortilla Chips
Shredded Cheese

     Literally this is it, you brown/drain the meat, throw it in a crock pot or slow cooker with all of the other ingredients (including all the liquid from the canned veggies) and let it cook on low for 8 hours or more. Serve in a bowl topped with cheese and the chips on the side (to act as the crackers you might have with a traditional chicken noodle soup).

     The first time I made this dish I stuck to the recipe and was very pleased with the results, but since that time I haven’t made it the same way twice. Therein lies the beauty of this recipe, it’s so versatile. There’s really no right or wrong way to make this dish, it’s all based on personal preference of flavors so go nuts with it! I’ll give you a few of the varieties I’ve used in my preparation.

     Sometimes I want it a bit thicker than a soup so instead of using all of the liquid from the veggies I’ll drain off the cans and add a bit of tomato paste. For best results I suggest adding the paste to the meat just after draining off the grease, let it heat through and add your can of tomatoes to this mixture while still in the skillet. This will really help the tomato paste to thicken the sauce rather than sitting like a lump in the bottom of your crock pot. I almost always forego the taco seasoning these days also, I tend to use my own combinations of spices including ground cumin, red pepper flake, chili power, coriander, salt, and pepper. These ingredients should also be added to the meat mixture in the skillet in order to bring out their full flavor potential. A few other quick and easy variations are, using black beans instead of the green beans, adding sautéed onions and peppers, try different varieties of peppers for varying degrees of spiciness, and top with sour cream or guacamole.

My most recent incarnation is as follows (I would say this recipe is moderately spicy, leave out the serranos for a milder bite)…

1.5 lbs. Ground meat (half chicken, half turkey)
1 – 28oz. can, diced tomatoes in juice
1 – can, red kidney beans
1 – can, black beans
1 – can, corn
1 – medium onion, diced
1 – red bell pepper, diced
2 – Serrano peppers, diced
2 – jalapeno peppers, diced
1 – clove garlic, chopped.
4 Tbsp. Olive Oil

Spices/Herbs list: Ground cumin, Chili Powder, Coriander, Red Pepper Flake, Salt, Pepper, Thyme, Oregano.

     Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat; add 2 tbsp. oil followed by ground meat. Heat for 12-15 minutes or until cooked, stirring occasionally. When meat is cooked through, add 1 tbsp. each of cumin and chili powder along with 1 tsp. of coriander, red pepper flake, thyme, oregano and a pinch of salt/pepper. Let this mixture cook for another 3-5 minutes stirring often to incorporate spices. Transfer this mixture to crock pot. Put the skillet back on the burner and add 2 tbsp. oil along with onions, peppers (all three) and garlic. Add a pinch of salt and pepper and sauté these veggies for 4-6 minutes, until soft and add the same combination of spices and herbs; add veggies to meat in the crock pot. **Yes, you can absolutely cook the meat and veggies together in the same skillet, I personally don’t have a skillet big enough to accommodate this volume of ingredients.** Drain off liquid from canned veggies through a sieve or colander, reserving the liquid in a separate bowl. Add drained veggies to crock pot and stir thoroughly to incorporate.

     At this point, what you do with the reserved liquid is totally up to you, here is what I chose to do with it. Add liquid to the hot skillet in order to deglaze, or pick up all the little stuck-on, left behind bits in the pan. Simmer to reduce this liquid by about half (3-5 mins.) stirring frequently. Add liquid to crock pot, let cook for at least 4 hours and I would recommend 8+ hours as the flavors will become more fully developed with time. I generally plan ahead and make it at least one day in advance.

Serving suggestion: Top with freshly chopped cilantro, dollop of sour cream and a few slices of avocado.