Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Quince is not a number...

...it is a fruit. Well, so it IS a number also - the number 15 to be exact. In Spanish. As my [actually, not Spanish] coworker, Chinmayi confusedly thought when I typed to her that I had brought a "quince tart" into the office. It was sorta like that Abbott & Costello routine:

Bossy Lisa: "I brought in a quince tarte tatin!"
Chinmayi: "Does it have 15 slices of fruit on it? What kind of fruit is it?"
Bossy Lisa: "It's quince. Why 15?"
Chinmayi: "Quince is 15. What kind of fruit?"
Bossy Lisa: "Quince..."

The beauty of a simple tarte tatin always amazes me

Yes indeed, quince (rhymes with "wince" in English and sounds like "keen-sey" in Spanish) means 15 in Spanish, so Chinmayi thought I had put 15 slices of some elusive fruit on the tart. It was really pretty funny. Most people in the office hadn't heard of quinces. And I suppose, were I not the Michelin-star restaurant dining über foodie that I am, I too might not know what quinces are. But it seems like SO OFTEN I'll get some type of quince compote served to me with foie gras as one of my 8+ chef's tasting menu courses when Michelin-star dining. *DROOL*

Apple? Pear? Asian Pear?

So, when a different coworker brought a box full of quinces into the office in early December, I pounced on them. Seems most people weren't taking them that day anyway... likely because they didn't know what they were!

They turned brown before I'd even finished coring each piece!

I surfed the web looking for a tasty sounding recipe for these quinces and finally settled on this quince tarte tatin on epicurious. The ratings from those who had reviewed it were high, though it wasn't heavily reviewed to begin with. But I was gonna try it anyway.

Notice the sugar becoming...caramel colored

Butter/cream (dairy) is what turns cooked sugar into caramel...

You wouldn't believe what a strong perfume these fruits emanate. I had them at my desk for the afternoon and was overcome by the powerful fruity scent. Then once I had brought them home, they kept reminding me of themselves from my kitchen counter!

Cool that caramel quickly by placing the pan into a larger pan of ice

I'd never worked with quinces before but I assumed they'd be something like a pear or apple. But they really weren't. I'm not sure if the quinces I had were overly ripe or if they were normal, but they were sort of soft and not crisp like I'm used to apples/pears being. They were difficult to core because I felt like the core was rather wide, so I had to dig into each slice a bit deeper to get the core out. They turned brown almost immediately after peeling too. Good thing they were just going to be baked anyway!

My cast iron skillet was the perfect vessel for the job

The other way quinces are different from apples and pears is their flavor. While I consider both apples and pears to have a rather mellow flavor, quinces are tangy. Not as tangy as citrus, but definitely a standout taste. I hesitated before putting in the tablespoon of honey but was so glad I did afterward. It complimented the tangy quince flavor so nicely.

A simple food-processor crust

I followed the recipe precisely as it was written, with no problems. However, it's worth noting that I think I only used about 1 ½ pounds of quinces (weighed before coring & peeling). And I only baked the tarte for about 50 minutes before checking -- the quinces were nice and soft already, so out it came.

I probably could have rolled this thicker so as to fit the skillet perfectly
instead of having to tuck the sides down

It's always a scary moment when you overturn that upside down cake / jello mold/ bundt cake / tarte tatin. One holds their breath while praying that the whole thing has actually landed on the serving plate as opposed to merely a portion of said masterful creation. But as promised by the recipe reviews: my whole tarte was on my serving plate. WHEW!

Yah, not so pretty - next time, thicker crust cut better to size

This tarte tatin was stupendous!! It came together so easily. I loved how simple the dough was and how nicely it complemented the flavor of the quinces with the honey and cinnamon. I found myself wishing I had more of it after it was all gone. It might only have been improved with a dollop of crème fraîche or maybe even vanilla ice cream (I'm such an American).

Oooh the ugly crust certainly didn't affect the flavor or beauty of the end product!

I got so many compliments on this tarte - such is always the case. Make something simple and rustic and get applauded. It almost doesn't seem fair.

The quinces turn a beautiful reddish orange color as they bake

I'll be paying attention at my markets for more quinces now. They're an autumn fruit, but so are apples and we all know those are available year 'round... As I type up this post I can't help but taste that tarte again. And I want to make more!

Friday, December 25, 2009

My Christmas

I guess I don't need to tell YOU this, but my blog has definitely been neglected the last couple months. I wish this weren't the case, but it is. There are some things in the works around here and it's just not giving me time or energy to update my blog.
Lucca was the star of the Christmas card this year

For now I'm here, merely to wish you a very Merry Christmas. If that's what you celebrate, of course. It's what I celebrate so I can and will wish you a happy celebration of your own.
Mom puts poinsettias all over the house

Nutcrackers line the mantel and guard the stockings

I spent yesterday happily baking away at my parents' house and preparing to see family last night. This is what it's all about. My presents were all wrapped and under the tree. My Christmas cards had all been delivered. Cookies and fudge were made and distributed to various friends throughout the month. I'd watched my fair share of Christmas specials and listened to so much Christmas music that I officially hate "A Wonderful Christmas Time" by Paul McCartney (sorry Beatles fans).

For some reason I've been making cream puffs for Christmas Eve
dinner for ~15 years
. It's our tradition! ("puff" recipe below)

Today we rose at 9am - oh the joys of all in the house being over the age of 30 15. We assumed our positions around the living room and opened our stocking gifts; taking turns to giggly "ooh" and "ahh" over underwear and See's candy and calendars and kitchen gadgets. Next stop: breakfast. Homemade French Toast every year. Then to tackle the rest of the gifts. We gaze upon the abundance which flows out from under the tree each year and can't believe how generous we've all felt. However, each year is the same "I thought we were going to spend less this year?" followed by "you know we can't do that!"

Even Lucca got a stocking...

Christmas is big in our house.

Decorations EVERYWHERE - both vintage and new

It's interesting and comforting how, at least for me, whether life is happy or challenging - there is always a magic at Christmas. Whether you celebrate Christmas or celebrate solstice or celebrate family or love or just celebrate not having to work today - enjoy the day.

Smile and enjoy today
And Merry Christmas.

Cream Puffs
(makes about 8)

1 cup water
1 stick salted butter
1 cup flour
4 eggs

Heat water & butter to a rolling boil. Stir in the flour all at once. Reduce heat and continue stirring until it forms a ball, ~1-2 minutes. Remove from heat. Beat eggs in 1 at a time quickly. Drop ~1/3 cup of dough on a Silpat ~3" apart. Bake 15 minutes at 425 and then 20-25 more at 350. Make SURE your oven is 425 before you put them in or they won't puff!

Fill with your favorite pastry cream, whipped cream, custard, ice cream etc...

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Haute chocolate

It's my absolutely, totally, completely, entirely, magnificently favorite time of the year: The Holidays. I start loving life around the beginning of October and there's practically nothing that can get in the way of my joy during the Fall and overall holiday season. In fact, I was just commenting the other day that I wished it was December 5th all the time. The reply back was "but then Christmas would never come". And my answer was "yes, but the anticipation of Christmas would be there...always." I love anticipating Christmas. I don't even love Christmas day because by then I'm already mourning the season's close. So right about now - I'm living it up! I'm watching all the Christmas specials on TV. I've decorated my house with *only* real pine (it would not be Christmas without the smell of pine trees inside). I'm buying ingredients for fudge and restocking my wrapping paper. I'm filling up on Peppermint Mochas and baking with cranberries. And I'm making hot chocolate at home...

"Haute" Chocolate? I think it's totally classy to make this at home, don't you?

Most people wouldn't even think of making hot chocolate from scratch, 'cuz it's just SO easy to rip open a pack 'o Swiss Miss and mix it with hot water. But People - making hot chocolate isn't really much harder and it tastes SO much richer. It's like drinking a chocolate bar!

I remember my mom used to make us hot chocolate when I was little. But I've never asked her what she put in it. I'm going to go out on a limb here and assume milk, cocoa powder and sugar. However, since I wasn't sure and it was too late to call her... I decided to just make up my own recipe. I liked the idea of using my trusty Vahlrona so I opted for a 71% bittersweet chocolate instead of cocoa powder (though semisweet Nestlé chips will work just fine.)

Use WHATEVER you want here. Anything will be just fine - milk, cream, half & half...

We only keep nonfat milk in the house, however I almost always have a pint of heavy whipping cream around too. So when I need a "richer" milk for baking I typically go about 25% cream to 75% fat free milk. I figure that might sorta = whole milk? Fat free milk, half & half, 2% milk, whole... it'll all work just fine.
Sugar, chocolate, spices - check

I like the idea of adding spices to hot chocolate; typically cinnamon, but I wanted to do something a little creative so I decided to throw in a bit of five spice. It's very subtle but gives the chocolate a bit more complex flavor - which I thought was quite nice.

Make a paste with the spices or else they float on top
and it can be hard to get them mixed in

Whether using fat free milk or whole this hot chocolate is surprisingly thick. I didn't have any mini marshmallows around so I had to use a big one, but it is a REQUIREMENT to drop at least some type of marshmallow into your hot chocolate. I suppose some sweetened whipped cream will do as well.

Bring to just a boil - but watch it or it'll quickly boil over

It's been ridiculously cold here in California. Not getting out of the 40°s during the day. I ♥ it. I absolutely ♥ it. But ♥ing it doesn't mean it's not still darn cold outside. So make a big pot of this and keep your own lovies warm. It's that wonderful time of year to cuddle inside with them over a warm mug of chocolate.
THICK. RICH. Even with Fat Free milk!

Homemade Hot Chocolate for 2
2 1/2 oz. semisweet/bittersweet chocolate (~70% cacao)
2 cups milk
2 t sugar
1/2 t cinnamon
1/4 t five spice
pinch of salt

Combine everything but the milk in a pot and heat over low until the spices combine with the melted chocolate to make a paste. Add the milk and bring to just a boil, stirring often.

Warm your hands on the cup and your body with the chocolate - Happy Holidays!

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Sweetish fish

No not these. "Sweetish" like 'sort of sweet'. I know, it sounds a bit odd doesn't it? But lemme tell you - if you can stomach the decadence....it's GUUUUUUD.

Salmon with Brown Sugar and Garlic - mmmmm

The first time I had this salmon was at a high school girlfriend's house back in college (follow that?) I'd gone over to a BBQ while home for the summer and her parents made this on the grill. It was so deliciously delectable I knew I wanted to try it on my own. However I neglected to get the recipe - and I'm not totally sure there was a recipe anyway.

So over the years (quite a few of them in there) I've managed to sort of come up with my own recipe and while - yes, it's sweet fish. It's sublime!

Salmon swimming in brown sugar and butter *drool*

I suppose sweet fish isn't so far out since Teriyaki Salmon is frequently seen at Japanese restaurants and Miso Glazed Sea Bass isn't exactly un-sweet either. Yet each time I slather a piece of salmon with brown sugar it strikes me as a bit out there. I guess I need to get over it!

My recipe goes like this:
1 pound salmon fillet
4 T softened butter
5 cloves minced garlic
1/2-3/4 cup of brown sugar
1/4 t salt

Might not be a bad idea to fry that garlic a bit first

It might be good to cook the garlic a bit if you're not prepared for sort-of-delicious yet sort-of-disgusting, garlic breath post dinner. However I haven't ever cooked the garlic...I don't mind breathing a little fire.

Season your piece of salmon

Mince the garlic and make a paste with the brown sugar, butter and salt. I also season my fish with salt, pepper and garlic powder. Cover the fish with the brown sugar spread and wrap it in a piece of heavy duty foil. Then put it on a baking sheet or in a baking dish and bake for about 20 minutes at 400° (time will depend on the thickness of your fillet).

Slather it on - the more, the better (depending on your perspective)

Wrap it all up to bake

It's absolutely delish. I try not to prepare my fish like this too often since it sorta seems to take all that heart healthy goodness out of a beautiful piece of salmon. But once in a while it's okay to splurge, right? Let's look at it this way. How else can you get your Omega-3's with your dessert?

Somehow I don't crave dessert after eating this for dinner.
OK, well...maybe... um, not always.