Sunday, August 30, 2009

Tiramisu, the Italian Way

Mhm, just plain tiramisu with chocolate shavings and cocoa powder. Pretty darn tasty. Made my own sponge ladyfingers a bit too thin/small so it might be lacking a bit of texture. I had a difficult time finding mascarpone cheese-- I tried Albertsons and Smart & Final but to no avail. I'm just glad I found some at Ralphs last night. For your dictionary:
mascarpone cheese-- soft mild Italian cream cheese
^ I licked some off the wrapper and it tasted like creamy barf. The texture is similar to Philadelphia but without the tart taste. Maybe next time I can substitute mascarpone with heavy whipping cream-- to cut down the cost. Not exactly the authentic Italian way though.

<- Feast your eyes! can you tell that the chocolate shavings were made using cheap chocolate? Yep, I used Hershey's milk choco. Here's the recipe: It's no-bake so it can't possibly go wrong-- not inedibly wrong at least :)

Classic Italian Tiramisu
(uses raw eggs)

  • 4 eggs, separated
  • 4 oz sugar, divided
  • 12 oz mascarpone cheese
  • 1 c strong coffee/expresso
  • 1/4 c rum
  • Ladyfingers or Savoiardi biscuits
  1. Beat yolks until frothy, slowly add half of the sugar. Keep beating until pale yellow in color.
  2. Beat in mascarpone until mixture is creamy and thick. Set aside.
  3. Beat egg whites until frothy, add remaining sugar. Continue to beat until stiff peaks form. May take a few minutes.
  4. Using a rubber spatula, fold 1/3 of the egg whites into the cream mixture. Then the rest of the egg whites. Don't stir too much or you'll knock all the air out of the whites.
    to fold- to gently combine one ingredient with another ingredient (as in folding dry ingredients into moist ingredients) by using two motions, cutting vertically through the mixture with a spoon or spatula and gently turning the ingredients over on top of each other, rotating the bowl 1/4 turn with each stroke. The term often is used in instructions relating to whipped cream and beaten egg whites.
  5. Time to start layering! Coffee in a bowl with rum. Dip ladyfingers or Savoiardi biscuits in coffee until soft but not mushy. Lay them out on the bottom of pan (use glass, aluminum, whatever) After you have set out a layer of ladyfingers at the bottom, spread half of the cream mixture evenly on top. Dip and arrange another layer of ladyfingers. Finish with the rest of the cream. Sift on cocoa powder and finish with chocolate shavings.
    To make chocolate shavings: make sure chocolate bar is cool/cold. Run a vegetable peeler along the side of the bar.
  6. Refrigerate for > 3 hours and enjoy!
You can also serve individual portions in a glass!

How-to on youtube:

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Preserving the Season's Best Fruits: Strawberry Jam

I dug through the fridge this morning to find a box of strawberries that I had completely forgotten about since my trip to Las Vegas. They were still edible though, but on the mushy side. I decided to turn the strawberries into jam. I am leaving to Canada tomorrow for a week so I am trying to clear out the fridge. I don't want them to turn into a moldy mess when I get back.

I don't have the exact measurements because I find that the amount of sugar varies depending on the sweetness of your fruit. The strawberries I had today were very sweet so I didn't have to put in too much sugar. This is what you will need:

  • 1 lb Strawberries
  • 1 1/2 cups Granulated Sugar
  • 2 tsp Lemon Juice
  • Water, as needed ~1/2 cup

Here's the basic method for making jam:

  1. Quarter the strawberries and macerate with sugar. (Say 1 pound of strawberries to 1 cup of granulated sugar) Add about 1 tbsp of lemon juice (per 1 pound) and leave it alone for at least an hour-- or overnight. This will soften the strawberries so they can break apart easily when boiled.
    - macerate: To soak fruit or other food in liquid in order to soften and flavor
  2. After at least an hour, you will find the strawberries soaking in a syrup. Optional: puree the strawberries for a less lumpy jam. Otherwise, turn strawberries and syrup into a saucepan and bring to a boil on med to med-high heat.
  3. Check 5 minutes later to see if strawberries have broken up. When strawberries have been boiled to mush, check flavor and add sugar as needed. Add some water if syrup is getting too thick and bring to a boil again. At this point the syrup should begin to thicken. If not, keep boiling until it is the right thickness. A helpful note: Jam will get thicker when it is cooled.

How much sugar to use: It really varies. Strawberry puree thickens very quickly when boiled so water (and less sugar) is needed. On the other hand, raspberries and blueberries are more sour so we need more sugar to balance that flavor out and thicken the jam. In some cases, pectin is needed to set the jam. By all means, experiment with the jam. Just add water when it is too thick, sugar to sweeten and thicken, and lastly pectin to set the jam if it is still too runny. & don't burn the jam!

Monday, August 10, 2009

4 Ways to Get the Party Started

#1: Magic Potion: In other words, fruit punch with dry ice. I threw a party at my house last night and the fruit punch had all eyes on it. The dry ice isn't just for show; it did well to keep the drink icy cold. I got it from Smart & Final for $1.09 per pound. You can do a lot with dry ice (like make sorbet) so it was definitely worth it. Since it goes directly from its solid state to gas, releasing carbon dioxide (sublimation) there is no mess to clean up. Just fun.

#2: Spinach and Artichoke: Runner-up is the spinach and artichoke dip. I made about three quarts of dip and it was all gone along with two pounds of chips by the end of the party! People loved it.

Here is approximately what you will need:

  • 1/2 c unsalted butter
  • 1/2 c flour
  • 1/2 white or yellow onion, diced
  • 2 c heavy cream
  • chicken broth as needed
  • 1 1/2 c spinach, coarsely chopped
  • 1 can of quartered artichoke hearts soaked in water
  • 5 oz Parmesan cheese (about one handful)
  • 4 slices of swiss cheese or some white cheddar
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 3 tbsp lemon juice
  • hot sauce, optional
  1. In a medium-sized pot melt butter and sweat onion until translucent or clear.
  2. Add flour for roux. Stir for about 30 seconds.
  3. Add cream, stir for about 1 minute. If consistency is too thick, add chicken broth as needed. Continue to cook for about 5 minutes.
  4. Add salt and pepper to adjust the taste. Then the spinach and artichoke. Give it a good stir then add the lemon juice and optional hot sauce. Stir.
  5. Add about 5 oz of Parmesan and swiss/cheddar to taste. Stir until cheese is melted. Serve.
The spinach and artichoke dip is very easy to make and tastes the best when served warm. When it does get cold, just plastic wrap it and warm it up in the microwave.

#3 Salsa works well as a dip for chips as well as a filling for quesadilla! Will expand this section later, but for now... here are the ingredients:

  • 3 Roma tomatoes, diced
  • 1/2 red or white onion, diced
  • 2 tbsp Cilantro, finely chopped
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 2 tsp lime juice
  • 1/2 finely chopped jalepeno

For the quesadilla:

  • Mexican blend cheese OR Monterey Jack & Cheddar
  • Salsa
  • Sauteed mushrooms, sliced
  • Grilled chicken
  • Sour cream to dip
Fold and grill until crispy.
That's my version; you can put in anything you like!

#4 The Finale, setting dessert on fire.
perform at your own discretion

Need: rum (40% alcohol), pan to enclose the flames, dessert to set on fire.
Science is great.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Tea Time Blueberry Scones

I love blueberries. I love them in pastries, and I love them more when they're on sale. After I bought them, I soaked 1/2 a cup of blueberries in a sugar syrup and left it in the fridge. The next day, I used them for some quick blueberry scones over a cup of afternoon tea. When I took the scones out of the oven and broke it in half, I was in ecstasy. The dark purple juice from the berries oozed out of the scones and the aroma of blueberry filled the house. It was just so beautiful that I just had to share this recipe. It's easy too. If anything, scones are about as easy to make as cake from a box of cake mix. Here's how:

Total time: 30-35 minutes
Baking time: 15-17 minutes

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/3 c sugar (more or less depending on your taste)
  • 1 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 c (8 tbsp) unsalted butter, chilled
  • 1/2 c blueberries
  • 1/2 c sour cream
  • 1 large egg

1. Preheat oven to 400 F. Mix together dry ingredients: flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt.
2. Cut cold butter into small chunks and using your fingertips, work together the flour and butter until mixture resembles coarse meal. (about 1 minute)
3. In another bowl, lightly beat egg. Save about 1 tbsp of egg before mixing in sour cream.
4. Carefully pour in the wet mixture into the dry mixture. Watch the wetness of the dough. Dough should not be runny. Mix so that it is incorporated but do not over-mix.
5. Pour in the blueberries and just incorporate the berries throughout the dough.
6. Generously flour work surface and transport dough onto surface. Form dough into a circular shape, 1/2 inch thick. Cut into slices and transport to baking sheet. Now using the saved egg mixture and pastry brush, brush a layer of egg onto the surface of each slice. This will make the scones golden brown when baked.
7. Bake for 15-17 minutes and enjoy!

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

The Frozen Treats of Summer

Oreo Ice Cream
Nothing like a sweet frozen treat to cool a hot day. One bite and it'll melt your worries away! Yes, I intend to work in the advertising department in the future. (not really)

Let's start with the ice cream. Ice cream is just a custard mixture churned and frozen in an ice cream machine. If you've never seen an ice cream machine, it's actually pretty... simple. I actually think I wasted my money buying, essentially, a motor that spins. Old fashioned ice cream machines have a motor at the top, and below an aluminum canister inside a plastic tub. The ice cream custard goes into the canister, which is inside a tub of ice and salt. The sodium chloride lowers the freezing point of the custard, allowing the milk to combine with the rest of the ingredients without turning icy. That's what I read at least. The churning process beats air into custard, turning it into fluffy ice cream. Mmmm, delicious!

Here is what makes 2 lbs of ice cream:

  • 1 ½ cups half n half
  • 1 cup light/heavy whipping cream
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 4 egg yolks
  • 1 vanilla bean (or 1 tsp. vanilla extract)
+ pieces of Oreo cookies

Directions: In a saucepan, bring half n half, light or heavy whipping cream, sugar, and vanilla to a simmer. (don't let it boil!) Stir to make sure the sugar has dissolved.

Then in another bowl, lightly beat the yolks. When the hot cream mixture is ready, begin by pouring a very small amount into the yolks, mixing constantly. This process is called tempering and it is done to ensure that we do not scramble the eggs with the heat.

When you have gradually and slowly poured about half of the cream into the yolk mixture, turn the heat back on to a med-high and transfer the cream-yolk mixture into the saucepan again to make the custard. Remember to stir constantly as we do not want the custard to curdle up! Cooking the custard will take about 8 minutes. The custard is ready when you dip your spoon into the custard and are able to use your fingers to draw a line across. If you can't do that, then it is still too runny! Wait a little longer.

When the custard is done, transfer to a pitcher or bowl and use plastic wrap to cover the custard. The plastic wrap needs to touch the custard so that a layer does not form at the top when refridgerating. Refridgerate for at least 5 hours, or better yet, overnight.

The next day you will be able to transfer this custard into your ice cream maker. Follow the manufacturer's instructions and enjoy! Churning will take about 20-25 minutes. It is ready when it looks like soft-serve ice cream. When done, use a rubber spatula (this is a must) to transport to container. Freezer for at least 4 hours before eating and enjoy!

Strawberry Sorbet
This is a bit easier and equally as delicious. If you are going for a tart, fruity taste, you might want to try the strawberry sorbet instead. You can make a sorbet out of... just about anything! If you want to use raspberries, or even beer, feel free to experiment! Here's a list of ingredients:

  • 1 lb fresh strawberries, capped and halved
  • 3/4 c sugar
  • 3-4 tbsp lemon juice
  • 1/3 c light corn syrup
  • 2 c cold water

In a glass bowl, combine strawberries with sugar and lemon juice. Mix well. This is called macerating and it is done to bring out the juices and sweetness of fruits. Leave the strawberries for at least half an hour, if not overnight. You will find yourself with a syrupy and juicy bowl of strawberries.

Then in a blender, puree strawberry syrup mixture with water and corn syrup. The corn syrup is essential when making sorbet, because it keeps the sorbet from turning into a solid, frozen brick in the freezer. So do not substitute or leave out! Then scoop puree into ice cream maker and churn away! Freeze overnight before serving.

Whichever tasty treat you decide to make, enjoy! You can always modify the recipes to fit your taste. Whether you like cherry ice cream, mango ice cream, or blueberry sorbet, make it to suit your tastes! Summer's always better sweet!

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Pickled Cucumbers and Canon Speedlite

Pickled Cucumbers
My mom loves growing vegetables in the garden, so we'd often get baskets of cucumber and melons that we would never be able to finish in a week. So we pickle them. By pickling our cucumbers, we are able to preserve them for a little longer-- sometimes up to 4 weeks. Pickled cucumbers also make a tasty appetizer and afternoon treat. And it's easy too! Here's how we do it:

Rinse and slice the cucumbers. Leave the skin. The skin is great and it's perfectly edible. Then salt them for a few hours or overnight. Salting draws out the excess water in the cucumbers, leaving the cucumbers light and crunchy when we pickle them. For maximum crunchiness, try Persian cucumbers.

After at least an hour, wring the excess water from the cucumbers. Set them aside.

Next in a glass bowl or jar, combine equal parts vinegar and sugar. I use Heinz white vinegar. After a few minutes the sugar should dissolve. If not, just agitate the solution a little more. (Stir it) Note that you should not use aluminum bowls.

For a little kick, we add about 1 tablespoon of toasted sesame oil (heat it up in the pan until it starts smelling good) and a few fresh peppers from the yard.

Then soak the cucumbers in the solution for at least a day in the refrigerator and it's ready to eat! Don't leave them out for too long or they will turn yellow!

Canon 40D and Speedlite 580EX II
By the way, do you see that hideous SHADOW on the bananas? Know what? That can be corrected with the "bounce" feature in Canon Speedlites! I've been aching for one for the longest time. I read there was less recycle time between pictures. I hate waiting 30 seconds after every few shots with the built-in flash. But I'll probably get it AFTER I get a job, and AFTER I get a Canon 40D. Yes 40D, not the 50D. I'm not paying that much more for a few extra megapixels. But I guess I have to wait... Here are my dream babies: