Friday, December 26, 2008

Chocolate and Pistachio Yule Log

The traditional Christmas yule log has been our dessert of choice for years during the holidays - and this year I finally made my own. The versatility of this dessert is great. You can flavor the filling however you choose and add flavoring to the genoise cake too. You can also make a simple whipped cream to cover the cake instead of the more traditional Christmassy buttercream. I loved the green color of the cake - it made it look wonderfully festive for a night of family gathering around a plethora of food.

For the genoise:
4 eggs
120 grams of sugar
60 grams of flour
60 grams of powdered pistachios
A pinch of salt
For the filling:
1 container of mascarpone
2 tablespoons of melted dark chocolate, cooled
For the buttercream:
2 eggs
100 grams of confectioner's sugar
250 grams of butter
2 teaspoons of vanilla extract
A pinch of salt

For the genoise:
Preheat the oven to 350F. Separate the yolks from the whites. In a bowl, mix the yolks and sugar until the mixture whitens. Add the flour, and powdered pistachio gradually. In a separate bowl, add the pinch of salt to the egg whites and beat until the mixture forms stiff peaks. Gently fold the whites in the yolk mixture until the mixture is homogeneous and smooth.
Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and spread the batter to form a 1/4 inch thick rectangle. Even out the batter using a spatula. Bake for 12-15 minutes. The cake is done when you can gently press the cake with your thumb and the imprint disappears after a couple seconds.
Mix the mascarpone and melted chocolate in a bowl while the cake is baking, and place in the fridge until you are ready to use it.
Lay a damp dish towel onto a flat surface and cover with a large piece of parchment paper. Once the cake is done, immediately invert it onto the parchment paper. Gently start rolling the cake (as you would sushi) until you form a log. This must be done while the cake is still warm in order for it not to crack. Leave the rolled cake to cool down.
In a large bowl, beat the eggs with a whisk while progressively adding the sugar. Continue beating it over a bain-marie until the mixture thickens. Remove it from the heat and continue beating it until it cools completely. In a separate bowl, beat the butter and salt using an electric mixer until it ressembles whipped cream (5-10 minutes). Add the vanilla. Add the butter to the cooled egg mixture. The eggs must be cooled in order not to curdle. Mix until the buttercream is homogenous.
To assemble:
Unroll the cake and gently spread the mascarpone mixture on one side. Make sure the layer is even and not to close to the borders. Gently roll the cake up again. An additional, optional step is to wrap the entire cake in plastic wrap, twist it at the ends, and let sit in the fridge for 20 minutes to compress the layers together. Cover the cake with buttercream and decorate as you please. Enjoy!

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Venetian Food Delights

Recent traveling has made it difficult to post as much as I would want, but here is a little taste of the beauties found in the fish and vegetable market in Venice. More is to come, this is just a little amuse-bouche!

From left to right, red beans by the dozen, fruit and vegetables ready to be tasted by a passing bird, fresh sardines, purple artichokes, zucchini flowers, fresh scallops being served, octopus and a view of the Venice outdoor fish market at closing.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Grapefruit, Avocado and Mint Salad

As I can tell from the recent pictures I published on tastespotting, Christmas spirit in truly taken over the food-blogosphere! I couldn't get enough of all your wonderful cookie pictures, and published a dozen in the past hour alone. Well, I am in the Christmas spirit too, and have a list of cookies and treats I want to make for the celebration. I'm sure you all agree that the holidays can however also be a little over-bearing. Sometimes, as a counterpart to all the craziness, I need a simple salad to get me through. This does it every time. Although, this salad is wonderful on a warm summer day, I also find it deliciously refreshing when you want something light but still satisfying in the winter. So here goes! I also love this salad because the acidity of the grapefruit helps to keep the avocado nice and green (as does the lemon in the dressing) so it's easy to make in advance for entertaining. However, if after a light meal you still want a treat, chocolate truffles, lemon ricotta cookies or panettone and chocolate bread pudding should surely do, right?

Recipe (for 4)
1 large grapefruit, cut into wedges
1 large avocado, peeled and cubed
1 tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil
2 teaspoons of lemon juice
Salt and black pepper
A handful of mint leaves

Mix the grapefruit and avocado in a bowl. In a separate bowl, whisk the olive oil and lemon. Taste the vinaigrette and season with salt and pepper. Spoon over the salad and garnish with fresh mint. Enjoy!

Friday, December 12, 2008

Panettone and Chocolate Bread Pudding

Bread pudding has always been a great way to use up stale bread and give it a wonderful luscious second life. In French, bread pudding is called "pain perdu" which literally means lost bread - and was one of the great recipes cooks came up with to use leftovers. So by all means, this recipe could be made with sourdough stale bread, or any kind of bread that can be sunk in a flavorful liquid, but I cheated a little. I used panettone, a wonderfully fragrant Italian bread that resembles coffee cake. You can find panettone made with dried fruit, and all kind of elaborate concoctions. The bread itself is slightly sweet and dry and soaks up custard in the most beautiful way. I'm not sure the picture really does the dessert justice: when you take it out of the oven, the bread puffs up, the custard is almost bubbly and the chocolate seeps through. I took the picture a little late (yes.. I had to taste one of the batches first) so the bread isn't at its puffed potential, but I'm sure you get the idea!

Recipe (serves 4)
2 eggs
1 cup of whole milk
1/4 cup and 2 tablespoons of white sugar
1 teaspoon of Grand Marnier
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 small panettone loaf with candied lemon and raisins
2 tablespoons of bittersweet chocolate, coarsely chopped
Butter, to butter the ramekins
4 oven-proof individual-sized ramekins

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees F.
In a medium mixing bowl, combine the eggs, milk, sugar, Grand Marnier, and vanilla. Beat until well mixed. Roughly slice the pannetone into one inch cubes. Butter the ramekins and place half of the panettone cubes at the bottom of each. Disperse 1/2 tablespoon of chocolate in each ramekin and cover with the remaining panettone. Pour the egg mixture over the panettone, and lightly push down with a fork until the panettone is covered with egg mixture.
Bake in the preheated oven for 45 minutes, or until the egg mixture is just set. Serve warm with chocolate shavings. Enjoy!

Monday, December 8, 2008

Herbed Shrimp Brochettes with Mango and Red Onion Salsa

This recipe is inspired from a dish I used to make when I worked in the catering business. We used to serve individual bite-size shrimp skewers with a dipping mango sauce as a canape to be passed around by waiters at cocktail parties. The basic premise is that mango and shrimp are a great pairing, and that marinating the shrimp in herbs gives it great freshness and flavor. I like to serve it in a more casual way for family and friends, but it's easily made suitable for a fancier occasion.

I find shrimp to be a surprisingly easy ingredient to use. Meats, chicken and fish can be a little tougher because you often have to use a thermometer, or know how to touch the product to know its level of done-ness. Shrimp however, is done when it's entirely pink in color, which is generally very fast! The trick, I think, is to not overcook it, because it can quickly become rubbery and chewy. For this shrimp marinade, just be sure never to use the juice from the lime because the acidity in the juice will cook the shrimp in no time. To me, the more shrimp, the merrier!

Recipe (for 8 brochettes)
32 medium sized shrimp
2 green onions, roughly chopped
2 garlic cloves
1/4 cup of cilantro, coarsely chopped
1/4 cup of parsley, coarsely chopped
12 large mint leaves
Zest of 1 lime
1/4 cup of extra virgin olive oil
Salt and Freshly ground pepper
8 skewers

Juice of 1 lime
1 mango, finely diced
1/2 small red onion, finely diced
5 mint leaves, roughly chopped

In a blender, add the green onions, garlic, cilantro, parsley, mint and zest. Blend until the mixture is homogeneous. Continue blending while slowly adding the olive oil. The final result should look like a thick and chunky pesto. Season with black pepper. Place the mixture into a sealable plastic bag. Add the uncooked, peeled and de-veined shrimp. Close the bag and move the shrimp around to make sure the marinade coats each and every one. Marinate for a minimum of 1 hour, but preferably for 24 hours in the fridge.

Take the shrimp out of the fridge half and hour before you want to make it. Soak the skewers in a bowl full of water for 20 minutes to prevent them from burning. Preheat your oven to 375 F. Season the shrimp with salt and place 4 shrimp on each skewer. Place the skewers in one layer on an aluminum-lined baking sheet. Bake for 10-12 minutes or until the shrimp has just entirely turned pink in color.

While the shrimp is cooking, make the salsa. Add the diced mango and red onion in a bowl. Add the lime juice and stir. Add the chopped mint and stir again.

Serve the warm shrimp with the salsa. Enjoy!

Saturday, December 6, 2008

4 Ways with Chocolate Truffles

I love making these truffles anytime there is something to celebrate: they're always a great treat to bring over for a dinner party or for a potluck and are delicious. I used to make regular cocoa-dipped truffles for years, until I started dipping them in different coatings. I always serve truffles like this now - they are easy to make, lovely to serve and the toppings add a nice crunch to the velvety and smooth chocolaty inside.

I think Christmas platters should be able to please all tastes, which is why I would serve these rich balls of decadence with some lighter cookies (like the ricotta lemon cookies with lemon glaze). It's all about balance, variety and moderation is it not?

Makes about 50 truffles
1/2 pound good quality bittersweet chocolate, coarsely chopped
1/2 pound good quality semisweet chocolate, coarsely chopped
1 cup of heavy cream
Zest of 1 orange
2 tablespoons of Grand Marnier
1/2 teaspoon of good vanilla extract
One handful of shredded coconut
One handful of cocoa powder
One handful of chopped pistachios
One handful of ground almonds

Place the chocolates in a heat-proof mixing bowl.

Heat the cream in a small saucepan until it just starts to bubble. Pour the cream over the chocolate. With a wire whisk, stir the cream and chocolates together until the chocolate is completely melted and the mixture is smooth. Whisk in the Grand Marnier, orange zest and vanilla. Refrigerate for an hour or until the chocolate mixture has hardened.
Using 2 small spoons, form round balls of the chocolate mixture. Then, using the palm of your hand, make the balls as round as possible and dip in the respective toppings. Place onto a baking sheet lined with parchment paper and refrigerate for another hour. Remove from the fridge 10 minutes before serving.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Ricotta and Lemon Cookies with Lemon Glaze

It seems that Christmas started even earlier than usual this year. The Christmas lights have been put up for weeks in downtown Montreal screaming for me to get into the kitchen and start baking. It took me a little while to get into the spirit, but I think I'm finally there. I had seen these little Giada de Laurentiis' cookies on Deborah's blog, and I immediately knew I wanted to try them. Ricotta and lemon are a true match made in heaven in my book, and ricotta is a great way to ensure that cookies and cakes stay moist and light. Light and moist they were. I am adding these to my holiday favorites.

Recipe (adapted from Giada de Laurentiis)
Makes about 3 dozen cookies

2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 stick unsalted butter, softened
2 cups sugar
2 eggs
1 (15-ounce) container whole milk ricotta cheese
2 teaspoons of vanilla extract
3 tablespoons of lemon juice
1 lemon, zested
1 1/2 cups powdered sugar
3 tablespoons lemon juice
1 lemon, zested

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.

In a medium bowl combine the flour, baking powder, and salt. Set aside.

In the large bowl combine the butter and the sugar. Using an electric mixer beat the butter and sugar until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add the eggs, 1 at a time, beating until incorporated. Add the ricotta cheese, lemon juice, vanilla extract and lemon zest. Beat to combine. Stir in the dry ingredients.

Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper. Spoon the dough (about 2 tablespoons for each cookie) onto the baking sheets. Bake for 15 minutes, until slightly golden at the edges. Remove from the oven and let the cookies rest on the baking sheet for 20 minutes.

Combine the powdered sugar, lemon juice, and lemon zest in a small bowl and stir until smooth. Spoon about 1/2-teaspoon onto each cookie and use the back of the spoon to gently spread. Let the glaze harden for about 2 hours. Store in an air-tight container.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Penne with Prosciutto, Broccoli Rabe and Artichokes

As I have already mentioned, I am always trying out new pasta recipes to make on those days where you don't have too much time but still want something hearty and comforting to fill you up. I made this pasta a couple days ago, and I think it fits that motto pretty well. I used some leftover prosciutto from my eggs baked in tomatoes recipe, and some delicious broccoli rabe I had picked up this weekend. I've also taken a liking to using jarred artichokes. I usually try to get good quality ones that are stored in oil and spices and I find myself coming up with new ways to use them all the time.

On a different note, I will be taking Chocolate Shavings to France very soon! I'm going home for the holidays as well as a couple days to Venice which I am very excited about. I have a list of French cookbooks I can't wait to pick up, local markets I am planning on visiting and foods that I've missed and am looking forward to indulging in. As an early Christmas gift to all of you, I am taking any France-related food requests - so if there's a French dish you want to know more about or a type of recipe, ingredient or store you've been looking for, I am offering to be your official guide to Paris! I hope to hear from all of you!

Recipe (for 2)
180 grams of penne
4 cloves of garlic
2 small bunches of broccoli rabe, stems removed
8 artichokes, jarred
2 thin slices of prosciutto
2 tablespoons of freshly grated Parmesan, and extra for serving
Extra virgin olive oil
Salt and freshly ground pepper

Cook the pasta in salted water according to package instructions. In a separate pot, bring salted water to a boil. Add the broccoli rabe and cook for 2 minutes. Immediately strain, and transfer to a bowl of water with ice to stop the cooking process. In the meantime, thinly slice the garlic. Add a good drizzle of olive oil to a pan, add the garlic in a single layer and place the pan on medium heat. Cook the garlic on one side for 2 minutes and then flip them and cook for another minute. Add the broccoli rabe and saute for 2 minutes. Season with salt and pepper.

Coarsely chop the artichokes and add them to the pan. Cut the prosciutto into bite-size pieces and add to the pan. Make sure that the prosciutto has direct contact with the bottom of the pan, and don't move it for a couple minutes so it has a chance to crisp up.

Strain the pasta adding a couple teaspoons of the cooking water to the pan. Add the pasta gently, and mix the ingredients so they meld in nicely. Taste and adjust seasoning. Add the Parmesan and stir. Transfer to a bowl and serve with an extra drizzle of olive oil and some Parmesan cheese. Enjoy!
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