May 2013

Trimming Asparagus

imageI really have no idea what has come over me. I have been on a Paestry-posting roll! Aren’t you glad?

Today let’s talk about asparagus. This is my third recent post about delectable springtime vegetables.

I know many of you are great cooks already and the following will not be a revelation but attention asparagus novices:  trimming asparagus before cooking and eating is an absolute must. The bottom portion is woody and tough and will ruin perfectly cooked asparagus if it’s still there.

The conventional way is to snap off the bottom wherever it snaps when you bend it. But my dad recently showed me Jacques Pepin’s method and I was so charmed.

In the picture way above, I trimmed the asparagus, dressed them in S&P and olive oil and roasted them in the oven. Great way to eat them. But truly the most tasty way is to boil them in water like Pepin did. I hope you enjoy asparagus this season.

Radishes with Butter and Sea Salt

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I’ve really fallen in love with radishes. They are the manifestation of freshness. They remind me of their Asian counterpart, daikon, which I grew up eating all the time, usually in pickled or boiled form.

But who knew eating raw radishes, butter and salt together could be so delicious? I didn’t, until today.

I always read about this intriguing combination in David Lebovitz’s blog and Instagram photos. A Google search showed me it’s quite common in France as a snack with crusty slices of bread.

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Of course I had to try it for myself. I sliced some beautiful rosy radishes into thin disks, sprinkled some sea salt on them then dipped the slices in soft, unsalted butter. What a trio! Simplicity at its finest. The butter mellows the radish’s unique spiciness and crunch just right… and you can never go wrong with fleur de sel.

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Flourless Chocolate Mousse Cake

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Okay folks, the verdict is in and I can say this cake is obscenely good. I never knew chocolate, eggs, butter and sugar could become something quite amazing when combined a certain way.

The ingredients are few but the technique is immense. This is the beauty of baking.

I give full recipe credits to Noah, who is a music producer and DJ in Los Angeles. He served this cake at one of his dinner parties years ago and I never forgot it. I saved the recipe to try making it someday.

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If you want to give it a go, use quality ingredients. The recipe suggests Scharffen Berger semi-sweet chocolate, Plugra butter, good vanilla extract and the freshest eggs you could find.

Thank goodness I found these items at an organic supermarket in Huntsville. I have a thing for exceptionally good ingredients and in this case, I assure you the extra expense will make a difference.

Before you begin, get your situation in place because things are gonna get a little crazy. At least, it did for me. I like to have everything set-up in advance… like making sure my eggs are room-temperature, getting the pan greased and having the measuring spoons and necessary bowls out and ready.

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Separate the eggs. I’ve learned the best way to separate eggs (especially if you’re separating many) is to crack them all in one bowl then, with clean hands, scoop out the yolks from the whites. You can go with the traditional way using the shells or if you’re feeling really ambitious, you can use a water bottle.frametasticMelt the chocolate. The chocolate I bought came in block-form so I used a large kitchen knife to chop it up. Put the chocolate in a heat-safe bowl along with the butter and melt over a pot of simmering water.
frametastic(2)You could do this using a microwave too. Stir until it becomes shiny. Set aside.

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Whisk the egg yolks with 3/4 cup of sugar. I didn’t go too crazy with this process but I’ve seen some recipes that tell you to beat the yolks and sugar until it becomes very light and air-whipped. Stir in the vanilla extract.frametastic(1)Stir the melted chocolate mixture into the yolk and sugar mixture.

Beat the egg whites until soft peaks form. Add the remaining 1/4 cup of sugar and continue beating until stiff peaks form. Don’t overbeat. You don’t want the whites to become chunky.
frametasticFold the whites into the chocolate/yolk mixture. Don’t stir too vigorously or whisk; simply fold as you turn the bowl around and around to incorporate the fluffy whites. The mixture will triple in volume but keep going until it’s all mixed in.

By this time I am thinking, wow. This is quite a journey. I felt like such a novice…

Pour the batter into a 9-inch, greased springform pan. Save about half a cup of the batter for later. Bake for about 30-35 minutes in a 325-degree oven.frametastic(1)Once it’s out of the oven, the cake is high like a souffle but as it cools, it will deflate and crumble deliciously, as shown above.

Cool completely before pouring the remaining batter on top for a frosting effect. You can skip this step if you’re worried about raw eggs.

Place in the freezer overnight to set then serve.

You can serve this with a dusting of powdered sugar or a dollop of whipped cream.

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Just don’t faint after trying it because it is that good.

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In short:

Chocolate Mousse Cake
9.7 oz semi-sweet chocolate
1/2 cup unsalted butter
8 eggs, separated
1 cup sugar
2 tsp vanilla

Preheat oven to 325. Melt chocolate with butter over very low heat. Stir until smooth and set aside. Beat egg yolks with 3/4 cup sugar. Gradually stir in chocolate and vanilla. Beat whites until soft peaks. Gradually add remaining sugar and continue beating until stiff. Fold whites into chocolate mixture. Pour 3/4 of batter into a 9 inch springform pan. Cover and refrigerate remaining batter. Bake cake for 35 minutes. Let cool completely. Spread remaining batter over top of cake. Freeze overnight.

Preview: Chocolate Mousse Cake

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Wow. So that’s what it takes to bake a chocolate mousse cake. I just took it out of the oven and it looks beautiful.

It is flourless, it is difficult, and as you can see from the picture above, it uses only top-notch ingredients. Too exhausted to write the full entry now. Standby for my post soon!

Scharffen Berger Chocolate Chip Cookies

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Today was a chocolate chip cookie kind of day.

I already had most of the ingredients to whip up this batch on a last-minute whim but I still needed butter, chocolate chips and a baking sheet.

I picked up the needed items at Walmart and told the cashier lady, “guess what I’m doing today!” We chatted about baking and then she asked me, “are you a mom?”

I was surprised! I said no, no yet, (ha!) then said bye and left. I’m guessing she asked so she could wish me a happy Mother’s Day. If I were home, I would definitely have baked these for my mom.

This is my go-to chocolate chip cookie recipe ever since an old roommate introduced it to me during our grad school days. I didn’t use Scharffen Berger chocolate (Nestle’s semi-sweet morsels did the job just fine) but the recipe’s liberal use of butter always keeps me coming back to make these.

The recipe is as follows, courtesy of Chowhound.

Ingredients:
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
12 tablespoons (1-1/2 ssticks) unsalted butter, softened
1 cup packed light or dark brown sugar
3/4 cup granulated sugar
2 large eggs, at room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1-1/4 cup semisweet chocolate chunks (approximately 8 ounces)
3/4 cup coarsely chopped toasted nuts (your favorite), optional

Method
Position racks in the center and top third of the oven and preheat to 350 degrees F. Line two large baking sheets with parchment paper.
Sift the flour, baking soda, and salt into a medium bowl. Set aside.

In the bowl of a heavy-duty stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter, brown sugar and granulated sugar on medium speed until well blended, about 2 minutes; scrape down the bowl.

Beat the eggs and vanilla in a small bowl. Add to the butter mixture and blend well; scrape the bowl again. On low speed, add the flour mixture and beat until just mixed; scrape down the bowl. Add the chocolate and optional nuts and mix until incorporated into the dough.

Drop rounded tablespoons of the dough onto the prepared sheets, spacing them about 2 inches apart. Bake, switching the position of the sheets from top to bottom and front to back halfway through baking, until the cookies are golden brown but the centers seem slightly underdone, about 13 minutes. Do not overbake or the cookies will be crisp throughout instead of chewy. Cool for a few minutes on the baking sheets, then transfer to wire cooling racks to cool completely. The cookies will crinkle as they cool. (Store at room temperature in airtight containers for up to 1 week.)