Thursday, April 30, 2009

BakeSpace Challenge #14 - April Showers - Spring Greens

I have mentioned the BakeSpace Challenge before. This is not so much a "Contest" as it it a way for us to flex our culinary muscle and expose those untapped fonts of creativity.
You should come join us at BakeSpace and see what the May Challenge will be.
The Challenge for April was to use 4 out of the following 5 spring time ingredients in a single dish.



Fava Bean



Spring is here, 'Old Man' Winter has past.
Till April's last day shall this challenge last.
4 of 5 must be chosen and in your pot cast.
Create something incredible for your nightly repast.

I chose the Rhubarb, Fava Beans, Leeks and Asparagus

This made things a little more difficult for me, since I suddenly had to think of Rhubarb in a more savory light. Mainly because I didn't think I could pull off Fava Bean/Rhubarb Pie.

A simple salad of blanched Leeks, Fava Beans, and Asparagus with blood orange segments dressed with a blood orange rhubarb vinaigrette.

Serves 2
1/2 cup Sliced Leeks
1/2 cup Shelled Fava Beans
1/2 cup Asparagus, cut into 1 inch pieces
1 Blood Orange (supreme)

Juice of 1 Blood Orange
1/2 cup of Rhubarb cut into 1/2 inch pieces
1 TB Honey
1/2 cup Olive oil
Kosher Salt
1/2 tsp Tarragon
White Pepper

Supreme a Blood Orange and set the segments aside (This is when you use your knife to slice off the skin, and cut the segments free.)

Prepare the Favas, Leeks and Asparagus by blanching in salted boiling water for 2 minutes.

Remove from water with a skimmer and plunge into ice water to stop cooking.
Drain and blot dry, then place in a bowl and toss with the blood orange segments.

To make the dressing:
Add Blood orange juice, honey and chopped rhubarb to a blender.

Puree the mixture and strain. (this should leave you with about 3 TB - 1/4 cup of liquid).
Place the blood orange/rhubarb liquid in a bowl and add a pinch of salt.

Whisk while drizzling in the olive oil, until the mixture becomes slightly thickened.
Season with Pepper and Tarragon.

Pour about 1/2 of the dressing over the vegetables and toss.

Serve with Crusty Bread.

It definitely tasted like spring.
The addition of the blood orange brings our the subtle berry flavors of the rhubarb.


Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Panini Pressing - A Simple Italian Panino

This is gonna be a really quick post, I got stuck at work tonight. Originally I had planned on a chicken dish, but you know what they say about the best laid plans of chicken and men.

So due to time constraints for dinner preparation, I made a simple panino. Yes, Panin'o' because I only made 1. Somehow, in the United States, "panini" became the trendy word, but it's actually the plural form. So, unless your eating more than one sandwich, which I have done on occasion, it's a "panino" not a "panini".

Oh and in Italy, panini are not necessarily grilled, and more often than not, serv ed on ciabatta or focaccia bread. I used Sourdough, just because it's my favorite.

Panino di Prosciutto y Finocchio

or Panini, if your making more than one ;)

2 Slices Sourdough bread
2 Slices Prosciutto or Speck (smoked Prosciutto)
2 Sliced Provolone
1/4 of a Fennel Bulb
Basil leaves
Black Pepper
Melted Butter

Begin heating your grill pan.
Shave the fennel as thin as possible with a Mandolin.

Spread a very thin layer of Aioli over each slice of bread... (Less is more, you don't want it to start oozing out of the sandwich during grilling.)

Fold the 2 slices of prosciutto and lay them over the aioli, then top with shavings of fennel, basil leaves and a few grinds of black pepper.

Top this with thin slices of Provolone or Scamorza (Monterey Jack will work in a pinch)

Top with the remaining slice of bread.
Brush both sides with melted butter. (I use butter because it browns so very nicely)

Lay sandwich on hot grill and set top plate on top to compress sandwich.
Grill for about 2 - 3 minutes or until set with grill marks.


Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Sugar..... Aw Honey, Honey - Flex Your Sweet Tooth

One of the key ingredients in almost all baked goods, whether being used for browning purposes, crispness, or it's basic sweet quality, sugar is mysterious ingredient. Derived from multiple sources, Sucrose (what we know as White Sugar) comes in MANY forms, some more refined than others.

Sucrose it primarily derived from Sugar Cane, however, Sugar Beets also provide a fairly high yield of the coveted crystal. Sago and Coconut palms, as well as the "Sugar" Maple and some species of Birch and Pine, can provide sucrose as well. Even honey contains some Sucrose, although it is mostly fructose, making it twice as sweet as table sugar, which is why most recipes call for 1/2 the amount of honey, as they would White Sugar.

I could actually sit here and type all night about the strange properties of sugar, like the fact that it is considered a wet ingredient when baking, due to it's affinity for water and its' humectant properties. (Pulling moisture directly from the air, which is why it clumps if not properly sealed) But I am going to try to get to the main purpose of this post.

Understanding all the different types of Sugar and Sweeteners. This is how I understand the differences, the information presented here is only the basics, and just the tip of the iceberg, as it were. So if you feel the need to add information, please feel free to leave comments and expand upon this information. Thank you.. :)

Powdered/Confectioners' sugar
- Smallest grain usually mixed with cornstarch up to 3% but not lower than 1.5% to keep it from caking. Application: Frostings, Fillings, Glazes, Icings, Mousses.

Super Fine (USA) - Personally, I have only seen the C & H brand in the US. Tiny crystalled sugar, quick dissolving, measures differently than regular granulated sugar (Castor Sugar in Europe; Berry Sugar in Canada) Applications: Meringues, Custards, ButterCreme,

Castor Sugar (EU) - See Superfine; Called caster sugar because the crystals are small enough to fit through the mesh of a "sugar caster"

Berry Sugar (CAN)- See Superfine

Bakers Sugar - Slightly smaller crystal than regular Granulated but measures the same - Dissolves quicker in cold liquids; Easier to use than Super fine because measurements need not be modified; Applications: Meringues, Custards anything where quick dissolving is required.

Granulated Sugar - Regular White Table sugar

Light Brown - Same crystal size as granulated, because is is granulated sugar, but with 3% molasses added back in.  Because of extra moisture, it must be packed down when measuring.

Dark Brown - Same crystal size as granulated, because is is granulated sugar, with 6% molasses added back in.  Like light brown, dark brown contains extra moisture and must be packed down when measuring.

Muscovado sugar - A type of unrefined brown sugar that is dark and sticky due to it's high moisture content.  Unlike most "Brown" sugar, which is originally granulated sugar with molasses added back into it, Muscovado retains it's original molasses content through the minimal processing. One of the "Designer Sugars", comes in light and dark varieties.

Turbinado Sugar - "Designer sugar" - is raw sugar that has been steam cleaned to remove contaminates... Holds more moisture than Granulated sugar, thus has fewer calories... 5 calories less per tsp to be exact, because of the water... Not all Turbinado sugar is created equal.

Barbados Sugar - "Designer Sugar" - Pseudonym for Muscovado, though may be finer grained. A very moist sugar that has been minimally processed retaining it's natural molasses.  If using, recipes need to have the moisture content altered slightly to account for the extra moisture in the sugar.

Demerara sugar another "Designer Sugar" from Guyana is a type of raw sugar - is slightly larger crystal size containing its natural molasses. Applications; Great for crusting desserts such as creme brulee or bread puddings.

"Raw"/"Washed"/Sanding sugars are about the same crystal size - Sanding sugar is usually colored or CAN be colored.

Pearl/Nib sugar - Like small uniform version of lump sugar. About the size of a Cardamom seed. Applications; Folded into Liege Waffle batters and sprinkled on various Scandinavian, Belgian, Dutch and German desserts

Lump sugar - Actual irregular compressed lumps of sucrose sugar, can be white refined, or contain molasses; sometimes known as "Coffee Sugar".  Dates back long before modern "cube" sugar, thus the question... "One lump, or two?"

Cube Sugar - Uniformly cubic lumps of White granulated sucrose sugar

Cone sugar (Panocha or Panela) - an actual cone of "Brown" sugar that has been compressed (You can still fine the mold in antique stores) usually has to be scraped.

As a side note regarding Raw Sugars ----- the Brand "Sugar in the Raw" is not really a raw sugar... It's a name brand of sanding sugar with molasses sprayed on it... The molasses is only on the outside of the crystals. It is created by boiling down, not steamed. I think that C & H "Washed" sugar is the same thing, but I am not sure. I will have to do more research...

The closest to actual RAW sugar, since even those that can technically claim to be raw, are still technically processed in some way shape or form, are products like Sucanat that are evaporated cane juice, leaving all the molasses and trace minerals behind, although even these methods can be suspect as to whether the product is actually RAW or not. These "evaporated" sugars don't really form a cohesive crystal structure and are slightly powdery when crushed, like maple sugar.

Sweetening sources besides Sugar Cane and Sugar Beets:

Date Sugar - is not really sugar as we now it for baking... it is finely ground dried dates and does not dissolve.

Maple Sugar - Sugar from boiling the sap of the sugar maple tree - it's about 90% Sucrose mixed with glucose & fructose... Slightly sweeter than Cane or Beet sugar due to the Fructose content.

Birch Syrup/Pine Syrup - More rare as the yield is much lower than the sugar maple, the Sucrose/Glucose/Fructose mixture is similar to that of Maple syrup.

Corn Syrup - Derived from Corn, primarily glucose with a few other sugars.
Applications; Candy making as it helps control the crystallization of Sucrose. Available in Dark and Light as well as the newer "brown Sugar" flavor.

This is unnaturally modified in a dual GMO enzyme process to create ....

High Fructose Corn Syrup -
The Bane of the American People as it is hidden in just about every item of processed food; contains more calories than Cane Sugar. OK, I am about to get a little opinionated.... Just a warning... HFCS is used in processed foods because it is a cheap sweetener, the reason it is "cheap" is that Cane sugar is expensive by comparison, the reason Cane sugar is expensive is because of Corn Lobbyist have succeeded in preventing the Import Tariffs on Foreign Cane Sugar from being lifted and that artificially inflates the cost. Thus the US's Cane sugar comes ONLY from Hawaii. Sugar Beets, however are grown in other states.
OK, I am done ranting now.... ;) Moving on ...

Palm Sugar - Similar to maple Sugar in process, it is produced from both Sago and Coconut palms; Jaggery is a type of Palm sugar from India as is Java Sugar (also in cake form)

Baker's Malt - 1/3rd the sweetness of granulated cane sugar. Produced from the "Malting" or sprouting and then kiln heating of barley (Just like beer, whiskey and malt vinegar) ... most people are familiar with "Malted Milk" which is a combination of Malt, wheat and milk powder, see also Ovaltine and Horlicks

Crystalline Fructose Sugar
- A Simple Sugar usually available in health food stores and natural markets. Although there is now debate on whether consumption of this type of sugar is really healthy. Unlike Sucrose sugar which is a disaccharide (2 simple sugars stuck together, one being fructose the other is Glucose), fructose being a simple sugar, thus it does not need to be broken down, and is processed by the liver. When used in baking, substitute half the amount as you would granulated since it is twice as sweet as Cane sugar.

Honey is high in fructose, this is why most honey recipes use half the amount that you would if using granulated sugar.

Updated - 07/12/10 - I left a couple of sweeteners out......

Agave Nectar - This has become extremely popular as it has a low glycemic index, thus can be consumed by diabetics without fear of blood sugar spikes.  It has also become favored by Vegans as it is produced without bone char as is most white sugars (yes, they use bone char in both beet and cane sugar processing - Unless it's evaporated cane juice)  Agave nectar is produced by boiling down the sap of the Agave plant.  Don't worry, it's a different species of Agave, there will still be plenty of Blue Agave for making tequila.  :)

Golden Syrup - Lyle's is the only brand I have ever seen in the U.S. as this is primarily a British product.  Golden syrup is a pale version of Treacle.  This is a form of inverted sugar. Inverted sugar is created by adding an enzyme (invertase) to a cane sugar/water solution in the presence of an acid... say lemon juice.  The enzyme breaks the Glucose-Fructose bond, so you end up with a syrup that has free glucose and free fructose.  Golden syrup differs from High-Fructose corn syrup in that the process ends with the breaking of the glucose/fructose bond. HFCS undergoes and extra enzymatic step that actually changes some of the glucose into fructose using Xylose Isomerase.  Golden syrup IS sweeter than regular granulated sugar even though it's made from cane juice....  this is due to the free fructose, making it similar to honey both in texture and sweetening power.  It is often used as a substitute by persons who abstain from honey.

I hope that sheds a little light on the scintillating world of sweeteners.

I think I need to go brush my teeth now....

Sunday, April 26, 2009

The Thrill Of The Grill - Gorgonzola Stuffed Horseradish Burgers

This is not really so much a recipe post as it is a post about the really cool portable grill that I found. Granted, it's not a typical BBQ Grill since it has no lid, it's pretty much for simple grilling preparations only. But I love cooking over an open pit full of glowing coals. It's a genetic predisposition due to my Y chromosome. Don't laugh. It's deep and it's real. It hearkens to a more base existence, reaching into the primal centers of the male brain...

OK, yeah, enough of that. I have been sans grill for over a year now. Truth is, I don't live in the best part of San Diego... I kind of moved back here, from Palm Springs, in a hurry for a job and, having a dog, was desperate for an apartment as the 120 mile commute was killing me. Yeah, San Diego is a very pet UN-friendly city. The point is, I did not have room for my humongous gas grill, so I gave it away to someone who would love it and use it. I bought a smaller one, as I have a small patio area off to the side of apartment, however, it is part of the walk through and some one stole it!! Grrrrrrrr.

Because of this, I have not purchased another one, due to storage issues inside my apartment. That is, until this weekend. I found a little charcoal grill that is completely portable, and includes a built in cooler. If BBQ'ing was still allowed at the beach, here, it would be completely awesome, alas it shall have to suffice as my "mini apartment grill that cannot be stolen" because it fits in my tiny "what is suppose to be a linen" closet...

This is what it looks like...... Yeah, it even has a shoulder strap... Awesome!!

The top zipper reveals a soft sided beverage (Beer) cooler.

The side zipper allows the cooler section to be folded back.

To reveal the small enameled steel charcoal pit.

With the extend-able handled press grill underneath.

All I needed was some Real Charcoal (I don't like briquets, cause I don't know what they use to hold them together)

Light 'er up.... Add Grill and Cook me up some burgers...........


So, because I wanted to play with my new grill, I scoured my refrigerator and freezer, and threw these together after I finished planting... Yes, I planted stuff this weekend too... But that is another post about herbes and citrus fruits...

Blue Stuffed Horseradish Burgers on Ciabatta with Aioli

1 lb Organic Beef
1 Egg
2 TB Chopped Flat-Leaf Parsley
1 TB Prepared Horseradish
Smoked Salt
Cracked Black Pepper
2 TB Panko or Italian Bread Crumbs

Mix everything together except the panko.

Then add the Panko (it just seems to work better that way)

Divide into 4 equal portions (They will be about 5 oz each because of the additional ingredients)

Divide each one of those into two pieces and flatten, placing crumbled Blue cheese in the center of one.

Cover with the other half of the patty and press together.

Repeat... then chill while the grill is heating up...

Take them to the grill and cook em up about 3 minutes on each side.

Meanwhile, slice Ciabatta rolls and apply copious amounts of Sauce Aioli (I have some left over in a squeeze bottle from a previous recipe) Oh, yeah, I was originally going to add Brown Mustard, but no one wanted it.

Place Burger and Romaine lettuce on the roll,

I did and press together and enjoy. (Sorry, I am so use to taking pictures inside under florescent lighting, that the outside ones aren't that great cause I forgot to adjust the camera)....