Friday, March 19, 2010

Food news bites

In the past couple of days, I have received emails or links about some interesting food news tidbits.  Thought some of you might be interested to know about these as well so I've rounded them all up here.  Click away my friends.

Not sure what to do with all those wine corks cluttering up nooks and crannies in the kitchen?  Or maybe you are wondering where all those corks come from and if they have an environmental impact?  Click here for answers and info on a cork recycling program.

The South has some of the best food in the country. Next time you are driving through the region, you can plan your meals as well as your sightseeing with the Southern Food Alliance's nifty food map.

Yum, yum, yum.  Gotta try this outlandish and rich sounding milkshake.

I tried posting my review of John Besh's cookbook, My New Orleans: The Cookbook here on Blogger but I kept getting error messages.  So here is a link to my review I wrote on Goodreads.

Happy weekend everyone.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

The best Irish Soda Bread

Happy St. Patrick's Day to everyone a few days early.  Wanted to share with you a delicious Irish Soda Bread recipe before the actual holiday in case you actually want to make it for yourself.  As I type this, I am taking breaks to eat some of this very bread.  I made mine yesterday.

A friend at Harcourt made this one St. Patrick's Day for our pot luck lunch in the office.  It was so delicious that I had to have the recipe, which turns out, she found on Epicurious

I have made very minimal adjustments to the recipe when I have made this because the recipe is just so dang good as it's written.  The only things I have done differently, or could do differently, is add a touch more buttermilk if the dough is just a little too dry to fully combine (as it was last night for some reason).  Not being a fan of raisins, I also reduce the amount that goes in to just a cup and a half.  If you love raisins, you would probably like to use the entire amount called for.  I haven't tried it, but I bet you could make several smaller loaves from one recipe by using round cake pans.  Every time I've made it, I've used the 12-inch All-Clad skillet.  This turns out one monster huge loaf that is easy to cut up into chunks to give away or freeze. 

Here it is in it's entirely as written on the Epicurious website.  This bread also has a September 11th connection (see below), so now when I make this, I remember 9/11 as well as all my buddies and good times at Harcourt.  It's good bread in every way.

Irish Soda Bread with Raisins and Caraway
by Patrice Bedrosian, Brewster, New York
yield: Makes 8 to 10 servings

Patrice Bedrosian of Brewster, New York, writes: "In the days that followed September 11, 2001, I — like so many Americans — gravitated toward roast chicken, meat loaf, and anything that brought comfort and ease to my home. You see, my stepbrother, Jerry O'Leary, a 34-year-old chef working at Cantor Fitzgerald's corporate dining room in One World Trade Center, was among the many victims on that terrible day. "I feel quite certain that Jerry's love for cooking stemmed from his mother, Julie Lestrange. And as long as I can remember, she has always had something delicious waiting for my family whenever we visit.
"I would like to share a recipe that Julie has given to me. My hope is that you will, in turn, share it with my fellow readers, encouraging them to enjoy this delicious and comforting Irish bread, to smile, and to remember the love between a mother and a son."  Offer this easy-to-make bread with plenty of butter and your favorite jam.

  • 5 cups all purpose flour
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, cut into cubes, room temperature
  • 2 1/2 cups raisins
  • 3 tablespoons caraway seeds
  • 2 1/2 cups buttermilk
  • 1 large egg
Preheat oven to 350°F. Generously butter heavy ovenproof 10- to 12-inch-diameter skillet with 2- to 2 1/2-inch-high sides. Whisk first 5 ingredients in large bowl to blend. Add butter; using fingertips, rub in until coarse crumbs form. Stir in raisins and caraway seeds. Whisk buttermilk and egg in medium bowl to blend. Add to dough; using wooden spoon, stir just until well incorporated (dough will be very sticky).

Transfer dough to prepared skillet; smooth top, mounding slightly in center. Using small sharp knife dipped into flour, cut 1-inch-deep X in top center of dough. Bake until bread is cooked through and tester inserted into center comes out clean, about 1 hour 15 minutes. Cool bread in skillet 10 minutes. Turn out onto rack and cool completely. (Can be made 1 day ahead. Wrap tightly in foil; store at room temperature.)

Monday, March 8, 2010

Cookbook review: Rose's Heavenly Cakes

(Published yesterday on Goodreads) 

by Rose Levy Beranbaum
September 2009
Wiley, 978-0471781738

This book is gorgeous to look at. I've had my eye on it since Christmas.  It finally dawned on me that instead of pining for a $40 cake cookbook, I should just see if the library had it and give it a test run.  Tah-dah! They did! 

Several things I noticed about this book:
-The photography is excellent and while not every recipe has a photo, there are enough pics to make the mouth water. 

-all recipes have ingredient measurements by both volume AND weight. I love that the weights are included as that's the most accurate way to measure most ingredients.

-this is not a book for casual/beginner bakers. Most of the recipes contained are involved, time consuming, or intimidating in length. There is no way most home bakers will be able to get the same results as Rose. I think home bakers with cooking/baking experience and know-how should be able to turn out some of these recipes, but they will really have to commit themselves to the project. For example, the recipe for the cake on the cover of the book (a Bernachon Palet D'Or Gateau) is over four pages long.

-many of the recipes do not require unusual cake pans. Quite a number of them call for the standard 9x2 round cake pan or basic 9" springform. There are recipes where other pans are needed, but I think there are enough to choose from using the standard 9x2 to satisfy.

-Rose is picky; almost snobbishly so. It's her way or the highway. She's picky about what kind of flour, what size pan (and why not to use the size not listed for a particular recipe), high quality ingredients, the importance of weighing eggs rather than just cracking in an egg. The list goes on. I know baking has a reputation for being picky, but really, for an average home baker, such pickiness isn't really necessary to get a good, delicious cake. That being said, I do agree that the better quality of the ingredients, the better the result will taste and feel.

-there are some good, basic cake recipes as well as ganache and frosting recipes. All of the cake recipes in this book are for the complete cake - meaning cake, frosting/ganache/filling, and decorations. This is one reason why each recipe is so long. Many of the basic components could be broken out and used on it's own with another cake or frosting.

-a good list of sources for specialty ingredients and a long, informative, section defining and breaking down ingredients

Overall, I really enjoyed reading this book. Her tips and techniques are sound in their reasoning as she is a baker who makes an effort to understand the science behind everything.

I get to keep the book for three weeks thanks to the BPL and I will probably only get to try one of the cakes. I marked about two dozen of the recipes as ones I'd like to try. So what shall it be? Here are some of my picks:

-Karmel Cake
-Gateau Breton
-Chocolate-Covered Strawberry Cake
-Devil's Food Cake with Midnight Ganache
-Chocolate Layer Cake with Caramel Ganache
-Chocolate Genoise with Peanut Butter Whipped Ganache
-Lemon Meringue Cake
-Torta Las Tres Leches (one of my favorite cakes!)
-Lemon Cheesecake
-Mud Turtle Cupcakes
-True Orange Genoise

Bottom line:
-Not for beginners
-Almost text book in its approach to ingredients and technique; a great learning tool (but very few pictures illustrating those techniques; it's not a photo step-by-step book which is why the baker needs to have some know-how of baking basics before attempting)
-Gorgeous food photography
-A great variety of cakes is covered (including wedding cakes and how to construct them)
-Very thorough in recipe steps, ingredients, and technique explanations
-Only purchase for serious, experienced home bakers who love to make complicated and beautiful cakes (or for people who like to look at pretty pictures of food) 

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Down in the Big Easy

During the first week of February, I found myself in New Orleans. How, you ask, can an unemployed gal afford a four day trip? Simple - most of it was paid for by Steve's company. Steve was getting shipped down to NOLA for some web-techie something rather conference. His company covered his flight, hotel, taxis, and up to $40 a day for food. Steve had never been to New Orleans and he downright insisted I go with him simply because he wanted to have fun and not sit in his hotel room every night. So we hired our cat sitter and set off.

I didn't have a sightseeing itinerary but a culinary one. Knowing we weren't renting a car and trying to do things as frugally as possible, I limited our dining options to the Quarter, CBD, and possibly the warehouse district. Steve was also limited as to what he could go do since his conference was Tuesday and Wednesday from 9-5(6ish). Here's where we went and what we ate.  We split almost everything.

Mother's - Ferdi Special - roast beef, baked ham, debris & gravy po'boy. Red beans and rice on the side

Cafe Du Monde - um, Steve loved these little fried pieces of heaven and we wound up there three times in four days. Yeah.

Central Grocery - picked up half a muffuletta, two bags of Zapp's, and two Barq's in glass bottles

Acme Oyster House - chicken & andouille gumbo, catfish & oyster po'boy, and half a dozen chargrilled oysters

Deanie's Seafood - Crab Quartet, which included crab gratin, fried crab claws, stuffed crab, and fried soft shell crab

Coop's Place - Cajun fried chicken with rabbit & sausage jambalaya on the side (Steve didn't eat here. I met a friend for lunch.)  The resident cat slept in the windowsill by my shoulder.

Bayona - cream of garlic soup, broccoli-asparagus soup, goat cheese crouton with mushrooms in Madeira cream, peppered lamb loin with goat cheese and Zinfandel sauce. Saw Chef Spicer a couple times accepting compliments in the dining room.

As you can see we ate well.  (For some reason Blogger pictures aren't working. I have pics of several things but can't get them added to this entry.)

We liked just about everything. Some things were better than others, but all were delicious.  Some of my favorites were the entire meal at Bayona, the crab gratin at Deanie's, and the chargrilled oysters at Acme.

As I have mentioned in previous posts, Steve is a fan of Man v. Food, and likes to try the places Adam Richman, the host, goes to in various cities. The MvF New Orleans episode visited Deanie's, Mother's, and Acme.  We hit them all although we didn't necessarily eat everything that Adam did.  No  180 oyster challenge at Acme for us, thank you. 

For breakfast, he could get it at the conference, and I just got a simple croissant at nearby Community Coffee.  I did hit up Croissant D'Or Patisserie one afternoon and picked up a slice of French King Cake  - NOT at all like the familiar American King Cake - and a pain au chocolate for Steve.  Croissant D'Or is absolutely fabulous and I wish I had hiked across the Quarter every day for a pastry. 

Since I  had plenty of time on my hands during the day, I mostly walked around until my feet got tired.  One of my wanderings took me to the Kitchen Witch Cookbooks shop. I spent a good hour in there browsing through their well-loved collection of used (they have new books, too) and vintage cookbooks and social histories of New Orleans.  I would have loved to have picked up the copy of an etiquette book for ladies of New Orleans circa 1910, but it was over $100.  Oh well.  The proprietress, Debbie, chatted with me almost the entire time I was in there, and recommended two books, which of course, I bought.  Gumbo Tales: Finding My Place at the New Orleans Table by Sara Roahen and The New Orleans Cookbook by Rima and Richard Collin.  If you want to talk about cookbooks, New Orleans, or food, go see Debbie.  I was in the Tabasco store after going to Kitchen Witch, and the woman working in there saw my KW bag (a homemade brown craft paper bag that had curling ribbon on the handle and Kitchen Witch scrawled in black magic marker on the side) and asked if Debbie had been there.  People in the Quarter know each other. 

As with almost every trip to New Orleans, it's really about the food.  We skipped the drunken frat boys on Bourbon, caught enough music just walking around the streets to satisfy, spent as little as possible, and thoroughly enjoyed New Orleans in the calm before Mardi Gras and Superbowl Sunday. 

NEXT time, I hope we have more money and can visit places outside the Quarter.  Next time . . .