Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Save the Flavor of Summer in a Jar--Figgy Berry Jam

I learned another new technique at work recently.


I've never seen people preserve fruits before. My mom used to kimchi at home. We would get a large shallow pot, fill it up with chile flake, white cabbage, and a lot a lot of salt. The best part is dancing on the cabbages with our bare foot. I think my feet were clean...the purpose of that was to break the surface of the cabbage so it can absorb as much flavor as possible during the preserving process. We would make kimchi early in the fall and have several vases of kimchi throughout the winter. Right before spring arrives, overly ripened kimchi were used up in stews and stir-fried dishes. My favorite is kimchi fried rice with bacon. Thinking about the sour, spicy, and fatty fried rice make my mouth watery...yummmmm

To my preserved foods are salty. I didn't know sugar is another preserving agent. Jams--if sterilized and stored correctly--have a very long shelf life too.

Jam was never part of my breakfast growing up. In fact, cereal and milk were barely present too. My mom always make large breakfasts for my brother and I. We have pasta, double layered burgers, fried rice, dumplings...anything my mom thinks will fatten us up. Raising chubby kids was a sign of accomplishment for her. It shows that she took care of us.

We weren't fat and lumpy. No, we weren't built on junk foods. Foods like cereal and Pop-Tart had no space in our pantry. My brother and I loved sleeping over at friends' so we could satisfy our cravings for Oreos, popcorn, soda, and even something as simple as a bowl of Lucky Charm and milk! To this day I still feed myself big breakfast, and I don't categorize food into breakfast, lunch or dinner. If I want some lasagna for breakfast, let the parmesan, heavy cream, lasagne, tomato sauce and minced meat be my fatty friend in the morning. I am also content with a bowl of fruits, granola and greek yogurt.

When Elizabeth suggest that we make black figgy jam the other day, I paused...and thought you can make jam at home? I would never have guessed how many bloggers have shared their canning tips and advices. I was a newbie to the world of preserving. If you've never made jam before, it is a hot and messy job. You will certainly end up with more than one jar of jam (with most recipes) so be prepared to make a lot of cakes and muffins to use them up or start thinking of a list of friends to bribe!

Before you go to the nearest farmers market or the grocery store for fruits, gather the following tools. They're essential for canning.

Canning utensil set from Ball
Jars & lids

None reactive pot (like copper or cast iron)

Now that you've got your gadget ready, go off and buy:
1 lb black figs
6 oz rasperries
6 oz blackberries
1 1/2 cup sugar
1 cup pomegranate juice
1/4 cup lemon juice

A day ahead, trim the stems off the figs and cut them in quarters. Toss the fig pieces with the berries and sugar in a bowl. Add pomegranate and lemon juice. Cover with plastic and wrap and let macerate overnight in the refrigerator. Put 5 jars and lids in the dish washer to sterilize.

Next day, cook the fruits and juices in a nonreactive pot on high heat. Stir frequently to dissolve sugar and to prevent burning. When the pot comes to a boil, skim off the scum with a spoon or a sieve. Continue stirring and cooking until the juice fall in a double drip* from the tip of the spoon, about 35-54 minutes.

While the fruits are cooking, prepare a pot of boiling water. When fruits are done, ladle into jars, close the lid, wipe the glass, and place jars in boiling water for 12 minutes. Take jars out and store in a cool place.

*A double drip happens when the second drip joins the first drip before the first drip has the chance to fall off.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Simple Treat for a Hot Summer Day--Basil Gelato

After making macarons last week I was left with a dozen egg yolks in the fridge. They were begging me to turn them into ice cream. Can I say no?  It's ice cream we're talking about...velvety sweet thing that cool your tongue when you are sweating like a dog!

This basil gelato recipe comes from Saveur. I clipped it after a visit to Hatfield's. It's rare to find herb flavored ice creams in the grocery store, so the only way I can enjoy my favorite herb other than with tomatoes is to make it myself!

Basil Gelato
adapted from Saveur
yields 1 pint
2 cups basil
2 cups milk
1 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup sugar
4 egg yolks

Put everything into a blender and blend till smooth. Pour into a pot and heat over medium heat until sugar dissolves, 3-5 minutes. Let cool in the fridge over night. Churn in ice cream machine.

If you have a vitamix, simply blend everything for 10 minutes. The motor will give out enough heat to dissolve the sugar. Chill the cream in the fridge over night. Churn in ice cream machine.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Never Give Up--Macaron filled with Chocolate Ganache

Over the past two weeks, I browsed a handful of popular food blogs for work and personal interest. Some of the blogs have more than fifty comments per post on average. It would make my day to see more than 50 visitors on Chez Ma Cuisine. What is their secret? How do they get people to procrastinate just to wander over some tortuous food photos.

Without doubt, they all have great photos and mostly shot from a DSLR. To me photos are everything. I am a "food gawker", and I make the decision to scroll on or exit the webpage based on quality of the photos. Like many others I am constantly refreshing Pinterest and Tastespotting.

A good photos correlates with quality writing. The more established a blog is, the better the writing. Dorie Greenspan, for example, has a calming yet instructional voice. I read through her posts and I'm craving for more at the end. She has so much to offer. Sometimes it is about the history behind a pastry or a friend she once worked with. 

Good writing read smoothly. I never think Dorie is writing a post. Her words flow out in my mind as if she's talking to me. I think people are most natural when they share their experiences because it is coming from their heart. When you write something close to you, the words aren't forced out of you. They flow out, like silk, like water, like time. 

A good blog is made up of many elements: from good photography to a well written recipe and fluent writing. My goal is to blog what is important to me and write so in a way that will make you know more about me.

Now moving on to sharing my most recent triumph chez ma cuisine. After battling with macarons for a year (yes 365 days), the French almond meringue cookie finally submitted to my electric hand mixer. It was last year around this time that I took a macaron class form Sur La Table. I was impressed by how macarons are made with three ingredients in simple steps but at the same time difficult to perfect. 

One of the many failed attempts
After class I went to practice making macarons. I don't know what I did wrong but either the top cracked or the cookie never had feet. Some people shared a few hints on how to tell what you did wrong, but a cracked cookie can have multiple reasons such as under mixing or overly heated oven. I've tried various recipes and ingredients. I used eggs left out in room temperature for one day, two days, three days, and up to a week. Nothing worked.

All this time I've been using my electric hand mixer. I thought of buying a used stand mixer. But people in the old days don't have kitchen appliances and they still made bread, tarts, and macarons!

I gave up on my maracon project when school started in the Fall of 2011. Recently, I revisited my macaron recipes from Sur La Table and decided to give this stubborn treat another go. I watched more youtube videos and focused more on their techniques. I could tell the difference between a soft peak and stiff peak. And that's the problem of my macarons.

My batter is always watery because I don't whip the egg white long enough. When I fill my pipping bag, the almond mixture just flow out like melted milkshake. Because of the excess moisture, the macarons never dry out at room temperature. Hence lack of feet and hard shell. 

Macarons have three ingredients and three important steps. To bake perfect macarons, each step must be fully executed.

1) Sift almond meals two times to get rid of big lumps. 
  • This will give you a smooth top and texture
  • Macarons are such delicacies that you don't want a grainy texture
2) Beat egg white till stiff peak
  • It doesn't matter how old your egg white is! Just make sure it's at room temperature
  • Start a slower speed
  • Hold off on sugar till you reach a foamy stage--egg white is white and have small air bubbles all over
  • Increase speed to medium after you add the sugar
  • When you notice the whip is leaving marks on the egg white, increase speed to high
  • Continue beating till you get stiff peak that doesn't fold over
  • The beating process can take up to 15 minutes on a hand mixer and a little less than 10 minutes on a stand mixer.
3) Fold almond meal and powder sugar into egg white
  • Use a spatula to fold from bottom to top (incorporating almond meals at the bottom of the bowl to the top)
  • Repeat till almond meal barely disappeared
  • Gently gather batter into a rough ball
  • Insert spatula into the center of the batter and smear out against the bowl clockwise
  • In the opposite direction, gather the batter back into the center
  • Repeat for 5 times, check for consistency
  • You want batter to flow off from your spatula in thick-ribbon like texture and the ribbon keeps its shape for 20 seconds
The recipe I used comes from Syrup and Tang:
Egg white 50g
Almond meal 65g (=1.3 x weight of egg white)
Powder sugar 80g (=1.6 x weight of egg white)
Sugar 40g (=0.8 x weight of egg white)

Read the instruction above
Measure out the ingredients
Line baking sheet with either silpat or parchment paper
Beat egg white
Fill pipping bag with a round tip
Pipe quarter sized rounds on baking sheet (I count to three and move on to pipe another macaron)
Hold baking sheet on both sides, drop on counter top to release air bubbles
Leave to dry out in room temperature for at least 15 minutes and up to 2 hours
Preheat oven to 350F
Bake for 12 minutes
Wait for cookie to cool before removing it from the silpat
Pipe filling on half of the shells, top off with the filling less shells
Wait at least 6 hours before serving.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Morning Made Easy: Breakfast Bagel with Fruits

What do you eat everyday for breakfast?

I'm not the type that eats the same breakfast everyday. I cannot do milk + cereal and I definitely cannot eat the same flavor of cereal e-v-e-r-y-d-a-y. Thank god cereal doesn't go bad, ever (or do they?) because I keep at least two boxes of cereal in my pantry, and even more when I still lived with Evelyn. 

Thinking about cereal...I don't think I drink the same milk from week to week. I switch it up with soy, coconut, low fat, none fat, and vitamin fortified milk. Tonight I'm planning on soaking some almonds to make a almond+kale+spinach milkshake! More update on that later...maybe I won't ever mention it again if it turns out too healthy for my liking. You see I'm struggling between indulging good and eating healthy.

I guess what I had for breakfast a couple days ago is tasty and healthy at the same time? Although bagels are loaded with carbs and cream cheese heavy in fat, they fill you up and prevents me from snacking in between breakfast and lunch.

This breakfast idea is adapted from Vegetarian Times. What VT suggested was whip cream cheese with a little sugar and vanilla extract for extra flavor then spread onto a tortilla topped with fresh fruits. You roll everything up to make a breakfast burrito! I don't think I have time in the morning to take out my electric mixer and whip some cream cheese when I can spread the cream on bread and be done with  it. 

What I'm sharing today is a new way to enjoy bagel in the morning, no fuss.

Toast bagel
While bagel is toasting, slice up seasonal fruits
Take bagel out from toaster, spread cream cheese, pile fruits on top of one bagel slice
Close the bagel like a burger.

You can prepare the vanilla flavored cream cheese the night before by whipping 1/4 cup cream cheese with 1/2 teaspoon sugar and 1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract. If you are craving for a sugar high, marinate fruits with a sprinkle of sugar overnight. Remember to leave the sliced fruits in a strainer and placed over the bowl. This way you won't have a soggy bagel on the way to work.