Friday, March 29, 2013

Funky Cabbage Flowers - Lumaconi al Forno con Cavolfiore

If you have been following this blog for any length of time, you are probably aware of just how much of a cheese head I am.  In fact I have never met a cheese that I didn't like.

Then again, there are 2 cheeses that I do not consider to be cheeses.  One is the so called "American Cheese".  While I will admit that it does have it's uses in some, though very few, culinary pursuits, I find the fact that it is often labeled as "Processed Cheese Food Product" to be extremely disturbing.  The other is the Brunost/Mesost/Mysuostur/Myseost (Brown cheese), usually sold under the red Ski Queen label as Gjetost.  (yay-toast)  This is a "whey cheese", like ricotta. Unlike ricotta, however, this whey is cooked down until all the milk proteins caramelize.  It's similar to what happens when you cook sweetened condensed milk to make dulce de leche.  This gives it a really sweet flavor and a texture kind of like cold peanut butter.  Eww!  Sorry, this "cheese" does not speak to my Scandinavian roots. Nope, not a bit.

Bring on the funk!

It's true, I like my cheeses funky.  The funkier the better.  Seriously.  Good cheese should take you to Funky Town, otherwise you are wasting your time.  Look at Parmigiano-Reggiano.  There is a reason people refer to it as stinky cheese.  YET, it is of such paramount importance in SO many dishes that it has been dubbed the "Undisputed King of Cheeses".  Then there is Brie, the Queen.  Somewhat more subtle, but she don't smell like roses either.  There is definitely a slight ammonia odor to Brie and to a larger extent Camembert.  Roquefort....  Really goes without saying.  Limburger?  I actually LIKE Limburger, 1950's cartoon tropes aside, spread on Rye with Brown Mustard and Onion.  YUM! 

Needless to say, I was all kinds of excited when I saw Food & Wine's Taleggio and Cauliflower Mac & Cheese.  I am all about Cauliflower; especially in pasta dishes.  I have to admit that it smells funny when you are boiling or steaming it, but the flavor is always so delicate.  Taleggio is the same way, it's a pungent smelling cheese with a decidedly delicate flavor.  It's a washed rind cheese made from autumn and winter milk, after the cows have been brought down from the high pastures in the mountains.  Think of it as an Italian version of Brie or Camembert, in a way.  As it ages, it becomes softer on the inside, to the point of becoming gooey.  I was intrigued with the idea of this funky couple gettin' down with some baked pasta.  Taleggio is an EXCELLENT melting cheese.

Besides, I can always use another excuse to eat Taleggio, aside from consuming it with fresh peaches.  LOL
Taleggio & Cauliflower Mac & Cheese

(adapted from Food & Wine)
1 Cauliflower, cut into florets
1 TB Butter
3 Tb Olive Oil
1 large Shallot, finely chopped
2 Garlic Cloves, minced
2 tsp Rosemary, minced
Black Pepper
4 oz White Wine
12 oz Heavy Cream
6 oz Parmigiano-Reggiano, grated
8 oz Taleggio, remove rind and cube
1 lb Lumaconi or Conchiglioni (go with the shells)
4 Tb Panko

Preheat the oven to 450F degrees and bring a large pot of salted water to a boil.
Meanwhile, break down the cauliflower into 1 inch florets.

Remove the rind from the Taleggio.

Cut into 1/2 inch chunks.

Cook the Cauliflower in the boiling water for about 5 minutes.

Move to cold water to stop cooking, then drain and let dry slightly.

Melt Butter with Olive oil in a large saute pan.

Add the Shallot and saute for 3 minutes.

Add Garlic & Rosemary, sauteing for 1-2 minutes more.
Add Cauliflower and cook for about 8 minutes, until it begins to brown.

Add White wine and cook until evaporated.

Remove the pan from the flame and add the Heavy Cream along with 4 oz of the Parmigiano-Reggiano, then stir to combine.

Add the chunks of Taleggio and stir. (The sauce will thicken as the Taleggio melts and pulls everything together)

Let the sauce cool while you boil the pasta.

Drain well.

Return to the pot.

Pour the unctuous Cauliflower & Taleggio sauce over the pasta.

Toss to coat well.

Spoon 1/2 of the pasta to a 13x9 inch baking dish and sprinkle with 2 TB of the Panko.

Spoon the remaining pasta over the top and sprinkle with the remaining 2 TB Panko.

Top with the remaining 2 TB Panko and 2 oz Parmigiano-Reggiano.

Bake for 15-20 minutes (until it begins to bubble and brown)

Let stand 10 minutes before serving.

MMMMMM  Creamy, Crunchy, Cheesy, Cauliflowery goodness.  Smellin' kinda funky, but tasting divine!

How funky is your Mac & Cheese?


Sunday, March 24, 2013

Rooting Through Recipes - Root Beer Cake

My nephew has 2 great loves in his life. OK, 3 if you count his girlfriend, but we are talking about food right now.  Chocolate covered Cherries and Root Beer.  I am fairly sure that he does not consume them both at the same time, then again, he IS 19, so it's quite possible that he does. Because of his love for chocolate covered cherries, it has become a tradition for me to make him a Black Forest Cake for his birthday.   But this last October was a little bit different.

With the loss of my Grandmother, his Great-Grandmother, in October things just went all kinds of crazy 'round here and in with all the hubbub going on around his birthday... Well, his cake was sort of forgotten this last year.  Poor kid. :(

Since that time, I have been attempting to compile all of Grandma's recipes (lord have mercy, but there are tons) into some semblance of a cook book.  While going to the box of cake recipes (Yes, it was a box. A BIG box) I came across an interesting one for a Root Beer cake.  I am familiar with Coca-Cola cake, but I had never heard of Root Beer cake. I don't think it was one of Grandma's regular offerings.  Then again, she did A LOT of baking for A LOT of people.

I asked my nephew if he thought it sounded interesting, since he is such a root beer nut.  He was ALL over the idea.  That is, with the proviso that I use A&W Root Beer.  LOL

So, even though it's 4 months late....  Happy Birthday Blaine!

Root Beer Cake

with Root Beer Ermine Frosting
1 cup (8 oz)(226g) Unsalted Butter (plus more for the pans)
2 1/2 cups (10 oz)(283g) Cake Flour (plus more for the pans)
2 1/2 tsp Baking Powder
1 tsp Salt
1 cup A&W Root Beer
3 tsp Root Beer Extract
1 1/2 cups (10.5 oz)(300g) Granulated Sugar
4 large Eggs

Preheat the oven to 350F degrees.
Butter and flour 2 8-inch round cake pans.

Place Flour, Baking Powder and Salt in a medium bowl, whisking to combine.

In a small pitcher, combine Root Beer and Root Beer extract.

In the bowl of a stand mixer, beat butter and sugar until light and fluffy.

Add Eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition before adding the next.

Flour and Root Beer mixture, alternating, beginning and ending with the Flour.

Beat 1 minute longer to ensure everything is homogeneous.

Divide batter between the prepared pans and smooth the tops.

Bake for 30 minutes, turning once, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.

Move to a cooling rack and allow to cool in the pan for 10 minutes.

Turn the cakes out and allow to cool completely.

While you are waiting for the cake to cool, go ahead and make.............

Root Beer Ermine Frosting:
3/4 cup Whole Milk
1/3 cup Root Beer
3 1/2 TB AP Flour
healthy pinch of Salt
1 cup Butter
1 cup Granulated Sugar
2 tsp Root Beer Extract

Combine Milk, Root Beer and Flour in a saucepan, whisking until the flour "dissolves".

Place over medium flame and cook, whisking constantly, until it thickens enough for a line to show on the surface for 10 seconds before sinking into the mixture (I use a soap making term for this, called "Trace")

Remove from the flame and pour into a bowl to stop the cooking.

Cover on the surface with plastic wrap to prevent crusting.

In the bowl of an electric mixer, beat Butter and Sugar until fluffy.

Add Root Beer extract and beat until combined.

Once the Flour/Milk mixture is still warm, but not hot (a little warmer than "lukewarm"), set the mixer on medium speed and begin adding the flour mixture to the Butter mixture, 1 TB at a time, beating well after each addition.

Once you have added all of the Flour mixture to the Butter, beat for an additional 3-5 minutes.

You should hear the tell tale "slapping" sound that Butter Creme frosting makes.

Frost the cake, reserving about 1/2 cup for piping purposes and top with "Root Beer Barrel" Candy.

Refrigerate the cake until ready to serve. (Ermine frosting needs to stay refrigerated cause it begins to melt above 70 degrees)

It's REALLY not as sweet as you would think.  Which surprised me, but so moist and dense, yet tender that it would not have mattered HOW sweet it was.  It's just delicious.


Thursday, March 21, 2013

My Frond-ness for Fennel - Linguine con le Sarde

I figured, since I just finished touting the healthy deliciousness that is Fennel, I should probably post a recipe that uses something other than the bulb.  I mean, there ARE other parts to the plant, and as I stated in Risotto al Finoccho, they are all edible.   This particular recipe utilizes the feathery leaves.

Normally, when I cook Italian cuisine, I tend to stay in the northern area of the country.  True, I venture down to Lazio, on occasion, and delve into Campania for San Marzano Tomatoes and Mozarella di Bufala.  I even dip my toe in Abruzzo for Montepulciano. (which is awesome with lamb by the way) Most of the time, however, I tend to stay around Emilia-Romagna and it's northern neighbors Liguria, Piemonte, Aosta, Lombardia, Trentino, Veneto, and Friuli.  Heck, my last Fennel recipe was a risotto and risotto is a Northern Italian dish, at least for the most part.  But today, I wanna take a trip south.... WAY south.  Across the water.  Though it's really not all that much water.  The Destination?  Sicilia (Sicily).  In particular, Palermo.   For that is where this dish hails from. Though I have heard it said that the invading Moors are actually responsible for this dish, which is why it contains Currants.

I know this will not be everyone's cup of tea, but I cannot help myself.  I LOVE Sardines.  They are simply delicious and they're amazingly good for you.  Besides being virtually mercury-less, unlike some other long lived fish, sardines are chock-full of Omega-3 fatty acids and loaded with calcium. They're really like health food in a can, I swear.  But we aren't done yet.  This dish contains Pine nuts as well.  Those little nuggets of cholesterol lowering yumminess.  Pine nuts are high in Oleic acid (a mono-unsaturated fat which helps reduce LDL and increase HDL production) and rife with Vitamin E (a fat soluble antioxidant).  Now once we add in the cancer fighting, anti-inflammatory power for Anethole, from the Fennel, and you have a pasta dish of such healthy proportions, it is truly a fearsome thing to behold.

So this one is for the fish lovers out there.

Linguine con le Sarde

1/2 cup dried Currants (those would be Zante Currants, black currants are hard to find)
2 oz Fennel leaves (about 3 bulbs worth of fronds, depending on how they are trimmed up)
3/4 cup Olive Oil
1 cup Panko
1/2 cup Pine Nuts
3.5 oz Shallot, minced
5 Anchovy Fillets
3 4-oz cans Sardines (they are about 3 oz after draining)
pinch of Saffron
Salt and Pepper to to taste
1 lb Linguine (or more appropriately Bucatini)

Begin by soaking the Currants in enough hot water to cover them for 15 minutes.

Bring a pot of salted water to a boil and drop in the fennel "feathers" and blanch for 2 minutes.

Remove them with a slotted spoon to a cutting board and chop them roughly.

2 TB Olive oil in a skillet set over medium heat.

Toast Panko in the hot oil, tossing frequently, until all crispy and golden.

Remove from the pan and set aside.

Wipe the pan and toast the pine nuts too.

Set them aside as well.

Add 1/2 cup Olive oil to the pan.

When heated, saute the shallot until soft. (about 5 minutes)

Add Anchovy fillets and cook, stirring, until they break apart. (about 3 minutes more)

Add the Sardines and stir them in carefully, you don't want to break them up too much.

Add the Currants and Fennel, and simmer for 5 minutes.

Meanwhile, drop the Linguine into the same water you blanched the Fennel fronds in.

Remove the skillet from the heat and add the Pine Nuts.

When the pasta is done, quickly remove 1 cup of the pasta water and set aside.

Drain the Linguine well.

Pour the Linguine back into the pot and toss with 2 TB Olive oil. (this will help the sauce cling to the pasta)

Pour the Sardine mixture over the Linguine and toss gently.......

adding pasta water as necessary until everything becomes well blended and moderately "saucy".

(I only needed 3/4 cup of the pasta water this time)

Pour into a warm serving bowl

Then sprinkle with about 1/2 cup of the toasted Panko.

Serve with remaining Panko to be used at the diner's discretion.

And here is the gratuitous extreme close up shot....  :)