Wednesday, May 29, 2013

PAVLOVA WITH CHANTILLY CREAM AND BUTTER TOASTED ALMONDS









I will go on record and say that this is a great recipe for pavlova. The best.  It has a meringue with a delicate, crunchy crust and a soft marshmallow-like center.  The cream topping is a flavorful Chantilly cream that goes great with the fruit, especially the strawberries.  The almonds?  Well, they are buttered and then toasted.  That gives them an incredible flavor.  The dessert melted in our mouths. Literally.  It was sweet, creamy, fruity, smooth, soft, heavenly. A great dessert for the Memorial day weekend!  We were in love. The recipe is based on instructions from the "The Joy of Baking," but I changed it around quite a bit.  I added lemon juice, it worked wonderfully!  I made Chantilly cream!  I had to have almonds! Plus I used a little extra cornstarch. I cooked my pavlova at a low temperature for a long time.  This and beating the egg whites extraordinarily well insured success.  I am in love with this recipe and this dessert. I guess I will make it again sometime next year and enjoy another slice.  Even though it's an angelic dessert, and one I have always wanted to make, ouch, those calories... 


Ingredients:
4 large egg whites at room temperature
1 cup granulated sugar
2 teaspoons lemon juice at room temperature
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 teaspoons cornstarch
sliced fresh fruit of your choice for topping
some butter cut up in small pieces
whole blanched almonds for topping, notes on preparation bellow
Chantilly cream for topping, recipe below

Directions:
Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.  Using a pencil, draw an 8 inch diameter circle on the paper.  Turn the paper over so that the pencil marking rests on the baking sheet side.  The circle will still be visible.
Add the granulated sugar in the bowl of a food processor.  Beat it until the granules become superfine and somewhat powder-like. This is superfine or caster sugar.  If you can buy it ready made, go ahead and get it, but this is an easy, convenient way to make your own. Caster sugar is best for meringues because its fine granules dissolve quickly.
Preheat the oven to 225° F.
Make sure that the bowl of your mixer is really clean and dry. Place the egg whites into it.  They should be free of any presence of yolk.
Begin beating on medium.  When the egg whites start to get frothy and form soft peaks, turn the speed up to high and add the sugar 1 tablespoon at a time, beating well after each addition. After all the sugar has been added continue to beat until the egg whites are very stiff and shiny.  If you think the meringue is done, beat it some more. (I took a short nap while the egg whites were being beaten)! The meringue should be smooth, and the sugar should be fully dissolved, so that if you feel the meringue it should not be at all gritty, but should be smooth and stiff, somewhat gluey, and it should look shiny.

At this point add the vanilla and beat to mix.  Remove the bowl from the mixer, add the lemon juice and fold well.  Sift the cornstarch over the meringue and fold that in as well. 

Place the meringue on the prepared tray with the parchment paper and smooth it into a round shape using the penciled circle as a guide.  

An offset spatula is best to use in order to shape the meringue.  

Leave a small indentation in the middle so that the cream can rest into it in comfort.

Place the meringue in the oven and bake it for one and a half to two hours, until the top of the meringue feels dry and somewhat hard.  Turn off the oven and let the pavlova shell stay in there until both it has cooled. Take out the shell. It will probably have one or two cracks, that's fine.  The outside will feel firm, but looking through the cracks you will be able to see the marshmallow-like interior. 
The shell can be stored on its parchment in a cool dry place until ready to use.  You can make the shell one day ahead of time.

To decorate:
Gently remove the parchment paper while sliding the shell onto a serving platter.  Place the Chantilly cream on top and gently spread it all over.  Top with the almonds and fruit, creating a decorative pattern.

TO PREPARE THE ALMONDS:

Spread whole blanched almonds on a baking sheet and top them with pieces of butter.  Stir them around with your hands so that the butter covers most of the surface of the almonds. Toast them in the oven until they begin to get golden.  Keep a close watch because once they start to get golden they are on their way to getting burned, so it's important that they are removed from the oven before that happens.  The butter gives them a wonderful and totally different flavor than plain toasted almonds.  It also makes them appear shiny.

CHANTILLY CREAM:

Ingredients:
1 cup heavy whipping cream, really cold
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon Grand Marnier
2 tablespoons sugar

Directions:

The best whipped cream is made with cold ingredients.
Refrigerate the bowl and the whisk attachment of your mixer until they are very cold.  Bring them out and place them back in the mixer.
Add the cream, vanilla and Grand Marnier into the bowl.
Beat on medium until frothy.
Add the sugar one tablespoon at a time and beat on medium high until soft peaks form, about 3 to 4 minutes.  
Do not overbeat.  You will know when it is done.  It will be nice and thick like whipped cream.  If you continue beating, the mixture will start to get grainy, and you will start to develop butter.  Or so I have been told.  Anyway, this is absolutely delicious.  It will remain thick.  Chantilly cream doesn't tend to get watery like regular whipped cream because it contains sugar.

Monday, May 27, 2013

THE COLOR OF TEA and a SLICE of PAVLOVA

Sometimes, in the old black and white movies I like to watch, a character, usually a dashing man in formal attire with an alluring British accent, will announce that he’s off to Macau. Or, perhaps he’ll say that he just returned from there.  “Adventurous, mysterious,” I’ll think.  “Macau…  I may visit one day.”  And just recently, I did.  The trip cost something like 15 US dollars plus tax, and I took it sitting in the comfort of my reading chair.  You can’t beat that.  I wasn’t wearing any formal attire either.  Seldom do.  As always, shoes off while sitting in my reading chair.  Barefoot.  A barefoot reader, that’s me.  So by now you’ve guessed it.  The way to visit exotic Macau for $15 US is through reading.  So pick up Hannah Tunnicliffe’s  novel “The Color of Tea,” and you too will be transported to that adventurous part peninsula part island in the Orient called Macau.  The author, a self- confessed nomad, is a New Zealander, who has lived in Australia, England, Macau, currently resides in Canada I believe, and has probably spent time in France, because she is an expert raconteur in the art of macaron making.  Her novel is set in Macau and we get a detailed description of the island and its everyday life, life as experienced by Westerners who are there to do business, life as spent by the native Chinese population, and life as toiled by foreign laborers whose lot sometimes is reminiscent of that lived by indentured servants of old. 
"The Color of Tea" is the selection for this round of COOK THE BOOKS CLUB.  Come read the book and then cook something inspired by your reading.  

After reading "The Color of Tea," I thought about making a PAVLOVA!  Now a pavlova is not mentioned anywhere in the book. "Lilian's" cafe, owned by the heroine of the novel, serves a lot of French macarons, though.  What is a pavlova I thought, but a deconstructed macaron?  Egg whites, sugar, creamy filling, almonds, fruit.  Take the macaron ingredients apart, rearrange them (which is where the cooking term "deconstructing" comes in handy), and you have a whole new dessert, one in the shape of a pavlova!  Plus, the pavlova is one of the most popular desserts in Australia and New Zealand.  Hannah Tunnicliffe is a transplanted New Zealander, and Grace, her heroine, finds ultimate fulfillment in Australia.  So a slice of pavlova fits in perfectly.  That and a cup of tea.  Steaming hot tea, fragrant, amber colored tea, soul warming tea.  Just as soul warming as the act of looking into a child's eyes, into Faith's eyes, the child whose amber colored glances restored Grace back to health.  

Making Pavlova...  Here's the before:





Below is a picture of the after, assembled and eaten the day after the shell was baked. Pavlovas should have a crunchy crust and a soft marshmallow-like center.  This requires a lot of whisking. That's why, right now, I would like to thank my Kitchen-Aid mixer:  "Thank you very much, you hard working thing.  Without you, this dessert would not have been possible!" 

The pavlova came out perfect.  It literally melted in our mouths! Plus it was topped with a luscious Chantilly cream which I flavored with vanilla and Grand Marnier.  On top of all that goodness I arranged strawberries, kiwis, and butter toasted almonds.  This was a very good and very decadent dessert. I felt guilty for hours after eating my slice.  I enjoyed it so much though.  I'll be doing a lot of repenting in the next few days...  (I've posted the recipe separately.  Click here for the post "Pavlova with Chantilly Cream and Butter Toasted Almonds").



Meanwhile, back in Macau.....
Macau, a bustling Chinese province surrounded by the South China Sea, was a former Portuguese colony.  Its sovereignty was transferred back to China in the late 20th century.  Today it is a busy place, whose economy is supported mainly by tourism.  Gambling is the predominant industry, and the building of casinos is a big business there. 
In “The Color of Tea” Grace and her husband Pete move to Macau where Pete has been assigned to oversee the building of a new casino.  Their once solid marriage has began to show strain, and Grace is depressed and withdrawn. The depression is caused by her inability to bear children and her several failures at fertility treatments. Both she and her husband are bewildered by the prospect of having to face a childless future. However, Grace is a fantastic baker, a gift she has inherited from her mother, Lillian.  Pulling herself up by her bootstraps, she decides to open a café (named after her mother), which turns out to be a successful venture.  Scores of French macarons, enticing in their variety, plus tea, coffee and sandwiches turn “Lillian’s” into a hot spot.  Grace becomes a confident entrepreneur and before long she develops warm, caring friendships with customers and staff.  The atmosphere in the café helps to bring her back to life.  Her marriage is reinvigorated and surprises await both Grace and Pete which will serve to make their lives more perfect than they could have ever imagined.  
“The Color of Tea” provides us with an interesting, fast moving plot. I was impressed by the author's resolve to portray a couple that stays together despite adversity.  Grace and Pete show us the lasting power of love by rekindling their relationship.  Particularly touching was the description of Grace’s relationship with her eccentric mother, told in epistolary form and through flashbacks.  Tunnicliffe's descriptions of baking make you want to run into your kitchen and create something spectacular, just as Grace always manages to do:  How about a huge, finger licking tomato tart?  How about a macaron of bergamot and cardamom with white chocolate ganache?  Or perhaps rather than baking, you’d like to visit Lillian’s for a plum and hibiscus macaron.  Or maybe you’d like to come chez moi for a slice of pavlova and a cup or two of amber colored oolong tea. Lots of options here.  One of the better options is to pick up a copy of “The Color of Tea,” find a comfortable chair, take off your shoes, and settle down for a quick and fun read! 
   

Monday, May 20, 2013

BORLOTTI BEANS IN A MEDITERRANEAN BEAN STEW (BARBOUNOPHASOULA)


Borlotti beans!  Gentile's, my favorite grocer here in suburban Philadelphia, had them for sale.  "Wow," I said to myself, "barbounophasoula!" I made a beeline to the display, got a  bag and filled it to the top.  Since childhood, I've loved eating these beans. Cooked with olive oil and tomatoes, seasoned with parsley and bay leaf, they are so good, even children with finicky tastes will not refuse them.  Or so I believe.  The bean shells have a bright red color, and I think it's the colorfulness of the crop that makes them attractive to children.  That's how I learned to love them.  I liked sitting in front of a table where the red borlotti beans had been scattered and helping to shell them.  

Once the shells were opened, pearls of beans spilled out, soft and fresh, their creamy flesh speckled with deep-pink markings. They were just beautiful!  

Of course, when cooked, the beans turned brown, but it seemed to me that the beautiful colors transformed themselves into tasty food notes that I just loved to gobble up. So I have always been excited about borlotti beans.  The Greeks call them barbounophasoula, which is quite a long word, I know.  The word describes the appearance of the beans.  "Barbouno" is taken from the word for red mullet, a fish that is very plentiful in Mediterranean waters and has the same red on white markings as the beans.  "Phasoula" is the word for beans.  Indeed, the common bean belongs to the genus Phaseolus vulgaris, and that is the genus that borlotti beans belong to.  They are widely cultivated in the Mediterranean region. Italians love to cook them in "Pasta e Fagioli" and also include them in minestrone. We Greeks stew them with tomatoes in a sauce that turns luscious from the flavor of the bean liquor. I believe the best way to enjoy them is while they are fresh, so stock up when you can find them, shell them and freeze them for later use.  Of course, they can be had dried, and then you'll just have to soak them overnight before cooking.  Borlotti beans are sometimes referred to as Roman beans, and they are related to cranberry beans, but don't confuse them with pinto beans, which have a somewhat similar appearance but quite a different taste.  Here is my recipe for borlotti beans cooked Greek style:

Ingredients:

About 2 pounds fresh, shelled borlotti beans
1 large onion such as Spanish, chopped
4 cloves garlic, chopped
1/2 bunch Italian parsley, chopped
1 can (15 ounces) diced tomatoes
1 tablespoon tomato paste
2 celery ribs, diced
1 bay leaf
dash of oregano
salt and black pepper to taste
olive oil
2 cups vegetable broth
water

Directions:


In a large pot heat the olive oil and sauté the onions and garlic. Add the beans, mix, then add the celery and parsley and stir for a few minutes. 


Add the tomatoes, the tomato paste, the oregano, the bay leaf, the black pepper, the vegetable broth, and mix well.  
Add enough water so that liquid covers the beans and comes about 1/2 inch over them. How's that for scientific measurement?


Bring to a boil, lower the heat to simmer and cover. Let cook for about 1 hour.  Check occasionally, to make sure that not all of the liquid has evaporated.  
About 45 minutes into cooking, season with salt and drizzle some olive oil (3 or 4 tablespoons), over the beans.  
By the end of one hour, the beans should be soft and most of the liquid should have cooked off.  The beans should not be soupy.  They should be mixed into a nice, slightly thickened sauce. 

Remove the bay leaf, place them into a serving bowl, and bring them to the table.  They are ready to eat. I hope you enjoy them! 









Wednesday, May 15, 2013

MUSTARD and GARLIC FLAVORED RACK OF LAMB, SERVED with FETA CHEESE, TOMATOES and OLIVES

I made this for dinner the other day.  What a quick, easy and delicious treat it was.  A fat free rack of lamb for two, coated with mustard and garlic then roasted and served with tomatoes, Kalamata olives, and crumbled feta cheese. We really enjoyed it.  Myself, I felt as though I was eating lamb lollipops!   

Directions:

  • Have a rack of lamb with fat removed.  Season it with salt and pepper. 
  • Preheat the oven to 400°F.
  • Make a marinade by combining Dijon mustard, minced garlic, soy sauce, olive oil and grated Pecorino Romano cheese.  The marinade should have the consistency of mayonnaise. 
  • Place the lamb on a baking pan and coat it with the marinade.  Bake for about 20 minutes for medium, or longer if you like lamb cooked to well done as we do. Remove from the oven and slice into chops (or lollipops). 













Arrange the lamb on a platter along with tomatoes, feta cheese and Kalamata olives.  Sprinkle oregano over everything, drizzle with a little olive oil, and serve.