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Chocolate + Tahini

6 Feb
Photo by: Jonelle Weaver

Photo by: Jonelle Weaver

I was among the first to make ganache from chocolate and tahini (instead of cream) and invented a recipe in 1999 for a Gourmet magazine cover story.  I created a chocolate petits fours for a kosher-style meal where the mixing of meat and dairy was not allowed.  This idea is now a hot new trend and lots of chefs are exploiting tahini (sesame seed paste) to the max.  Here’s my recipe from Gourmet for Chocolate-Tahini Cups.  They are radically simple to make and taste like a sophisticated Chunky bar.  A great idea for Valentine’s Day.

Chocolate-Tahini Cups
1/2 cup dried currants
1 cup boiling-hot water
8 ounces best quality semi-sweet chocolate (like Valrhona)
3-1/2 tablespoons tahini (Middle Eastern sesame seed paste)
vegetable cooking spray
18 – 1-inch candy papers/liners

Soak currants in hot water for 5 minutes.  Drain and pat dry with paper towels.  Melt chocolate with 3 tablespoon tahini in a metal bowl set over a saucepan of simmering water, stirring until smooth, and stir in currants.  Lightly spray liners with cooking spray and spoon chocolate mixture into candy paper liners.  Cool 5 minutes. Decorate candies by dipping tip of a skewer or toothpick into remaining 1/2 tablespoon tahini and swirling over tops.  Chill until set.  Makes 18.  Will keep, covered and chilled, for 1 week. 

Valentine’s Day 2013

14 Feb

childrens-valentines-fortune-cookie-sayingsHappy Valentine’s Day. I got my love of cooking from my beautiful Hungarian mother, Marion, who made meatloaf in the shape of a heart. Not until I was much older did I ever realize it didn’t always come that way! Her secret to the meatloaf was putting a few small ice cubes into the mixture to keep it extra moist. More precious than gifts were the edible expressions of love she would prepare: my favorite comfort food — cabbage and noodles or ultra-thin crepes known as palacsintas filled with jam. The tradition continues with my 16-year old daughter Shayna who helped me write my cookbook for teens “Eat Fresh Food: Awesome Recipes for Teen Chefs.” The book, to our delight, was reviewed in the Science section in the New York Times, helping us spread the secret about healthy eating. There you will find another style of meatloaf — made with sun-dried tomatoes, grated carrots and chives, but today I am sharing my mother’s original recipe…complete with ice cubes and seasoned breadcrumbs.

And while you might swoon from my intensely delicious and ridiculously simple chocolate mousse, you might also consider making palacsintas, thin Hungarian crepes, and fill them with scarlet red strawberry jam and dust with powdered sugar. It’s a simple and sexy way to finish a Valentine’s dinner. What to drink? Consider the selections in Wines for Valentines.  And just what do farmer’s give their wives for Valentine’s Day?  Hogs and kisses!  Enjoy the day.

A Heart-Shaped Meatloaf (adapted from Little Meals)

1-1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter or olive oil
1 cup finely chopped onions
1-1/2 cup ground sirloin (or a combination of sirloin and chuck)
1/4 cup seasoned breadcrumbs
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
5 tablespoons ketchup
1 clove garlic
1 egg yolk
2 tablespoons ice water plus 2 small ice cubes

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Melt butter in a medium pan.  Add onion and cook until soft and lightly browned, about 10 minutes.  Set aside.  In a medium bowl put chopped meat, breadcrumbs, mustard, 3 tablespoons ketchup, and the cooked onions.  Mix lightly.  Add egg yolk, 1/2 teaspoon salt, black pepper to taste, and ice water and ice cubes.  Mix well with hands and form into a large heart shape that is 1-1/4 inches high.  Place on rimmed baking sheet.  Glaze top with an even coat of remaining ketchup.  Bake 35 minutes.  Serves 4

Palacsintas with Scarlet Jam & Powdered Sugar (adapted from Eat Fresh Food))
Use the best quality strawberry you can find or a variety by Tiptree called Little Scarlet.  You can also top the rolled crepes with fresh raspberries, lightly sugared.

1 cup whole milk
1 cup plus 2 tablespoon flour
2 tablespoons sugar
2 eggs
1 tablespoon melted butter
2 tablespoons cold butter
1/2 cup strawberry jam
powdered sugar for dusting
optional:  fresh raspberries

Preheat oven to 250 degrees.  Blend milk, flour, sugar, eggs, melted butter, and a large pinch of salt in a blender.  Process until smooth.  Melt 1 teaspoon butter in an 8-inch skillet until ti sizzles.  Coat bottom of pan with batter so that you have a very thin layer.  Let crepe brown lightly and turn over.  Cook 30 seconds.  While still in pan, put 1 tablespoon jam in a line down center of crepe and fold like a jelly roll, pressing down as you roll.  Remove to a baking sheet and keep warm in oven until you have made 8 crepes.  Serve 2 per person on large warm plates.  Dust with powdered sugar and garnish with raspberries, if desired.  Serves 4

Wines for Valentines

12 Feb

wineWhoever came up with that catchy phrase about ‘the way to a person’s heart is through their stomach’ was mostly right. Add wine into the mix and you’ve really got it made. This is especially true when sipping these spectacular wines that come from premiere producers with stellar pedigrees. This fabulous list, made exclusively for me for you, was created by Carol Berman, founder of Class in a Glass and Take Home Sommelier. I’ve known her for years and have always trusted her smart picks. Romance begins at the table. Where it ends, you decide.
SPARKLING
CA’DEL BOSCO, PRESTIGE BRUT, FRANCIACORTA, LOMBARDY, ITALY
Franciacorta wines are going to be the next big trend in the sparkling category. This amazing, elegant blend of Pinot Bianco and Chardonnay will make your heart beat faster! Average retail price $35.00

RAVENTOS I BLANC, BRUT ROSE ‘DE NIT’, CAVA, PENEDES, SPAIN
Romantically pink and quite gregarious! It seduces sip-by-sip. Average retail price $23.00

WHITE
CANTINA TERLAN, PINOT BIANCO RISERVA, VORBERG, ALTO ADIGE, ITALY, 2009
Voluptuous and insouciant. Average retail price $24.00

RED
J.L.CHAVE, CÔTES DU RHONE, MON COEUR, 2010, FRANCE
From one of the most masterful wine makers in the Rhone region, Chave’s seductive, gripping blend of Syrah and Grenache, Mon Coeur is appropriately named (my heart). Average retail price: $22.00

DESSERT
ALBA VINEYARD, RED RASPBERRY DESSERT WINE, MILFORD, NJ
Valentine red in color and enticingly sweet, tart and lively! Average retail price: $16.99 (375ml)

***

And here’s a Valentine from me: A recipe for Insanely Simple Chocolate Mousse. Adapted from my book, Cooking 1-2-3, it is virtually fool proof, and good for fools in love.

Insanely Simple Chocolate Mousse

10 ounces best-quality semisweet chocolate
1/4 cup brewed espresso, at room temperature
5 extra-large egg whites

Chop chocolate into small pieces. Put in a heavy saucepan with espresso. Over very low heat, melt chocolate, stirring constantly until smooth; cool slightly. In the bowl of an electric mixer, beat egg whites until stiff. Slowly add the slightly warm chocolate mixture, beating on low for a moment, then folding gently with a flexible rubber spatula until thoroughly incorporated. The whites will deflate dramatically but the mixture will become smooth and creamy. Do not over-mix. Spoon mousse into four wine glasses. Refrigerate several hours before serving. Serves 4

Tastes of the Week and Valentine’s Day

14 Feb

Feb. 6 through Feb. 13, 2012

Happy Valentine’s Day! If you’re not going out for a candlelight dinner tonight, why not make one at home? You might enjoy a radically elegant Filet of Beef with Wasabi Cream (recipe below from Radically Simple) or my heart-shaped meatloaf from Little Meals. Share the love.  A St. Amour beaujolais would be a nice wine to drink.  And of course, serve something chocolate for dessert. Perhaps a “Little Black Dress Chocolate Cake” accessorized with fresh raspberries and powdered sugar (or gold leaf!)

Tastes of the week:  In a nutshell, two terrific meals last week at Le Bernardin and at abckitchen. I haven’t been to Le Bernardin in years and was eager to see the new design. While I am still partial to the original “look” created by uber-architect Phil George (with the wonderful paintings by Abelard Favela — a revered artist from Mexico), the new Le Bernardin is arresting in its cool, warm look and remarkable 24-foot painting (I swore it was a photo) of a stormy sea by Brooklyn artist, Ran Ortner. In celebrating my cousin’s special birthday, we had the three-course prix fixe lunch with an additional “middle course” of ethereal fettuccine with a truffle bolognese. Sublime. But the most stunning dish was a first course of barely cooked shrimp and foie gras. The most “French” tasting dish I’ve had in a long while. The rest of the menu — octopus, red snapper, lobster, were all first-rate as were the desserts — not too crazy (as so many have become) but intelligently crafted and beautifully executed.

At abckitchen, I had my favorite starter, the kabocha squash and ricotta bruschetta, the famous roasted carrot salad, a wondrous sashimi, and a pizza to share, laden with spinach, herbs and goat cheese.  Chef Dan Kluger has perfect “flavor” pitch.

And then there was the very good guacamole at Rosa Mexicano on East 18th Street. The size of a small neighborhood, the place felt very democratic and alive. The signature dish is the table-side guacamole, made from perfectly-ripe avocados, mashed and tossed with tomato, jalapeno, lime juice and more. I loved that it was served at room temperature (those avocados never saw the inside of a refrigerator.) And while I rarely drink margaritas, no less a pomegranate one, and no less a frozen one, Rosa Mexicano’s version rocks. Almost ordered a second. It is interesting that Jonathan Waxman decided to become the executive chef of this upscale chain and no doubt will bring his formidable expertise to the kitchen. I always think of the amazing woman who started it all — Josefina Howard — who was among the first to bring sophisticated Mexican food to New York — in stylish surroundings, with a sexy vibe, excellent food, and those…wonderful pomegranate margaritas. She is greatly missed and one of  New York’s great women-in-food.

Happy Valentine’s day. Food is love.

Filet of Beef with Wasabi-Garlic Cream (from Radically Simple)
serves 6

2 tablespoons olive oil
1-3/4-pound filet of beef, tied
1 tablespoon sugar
1-1/2 cups heavy cream
2 very large garlic cloves, peeled and smashed
1 tablespoon prepared wasabi

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Drizzle the oil on a rimmed baking sheet; roll the filet in the oil. Combine the sugar and 1 tablespoon kosher salt.  Rub into the top and sides of the filet, but not the bottom or it will burn. Roast the beef 25 minutes, until an instant-read thermometer registers 125 degrees for rare. Meanwhile, bring the cream and garlic to a boil in a saucepan. Reduce the heat and cook, stirring, until reduced to 1 cup, about 15 minutes. Push the softened garlic through a press; whisk back into the sauce. Add the wasabi, cook 1 minute and remove from the heat. Add salt. Transfer the beef to a cutting board. Let rest 10 minutes. Gently reheat the sauce. Remove the strings from the beef and thickly slice. Serve with the sauce.

Chocolate Oblivion with Sun-Dried Cherries

14 Feb

As promised, here it is.  A romantic dinner for two, or four, (and 10 for dessert!) with all the recipes posted to date. (Feb. 12, 13, 14th.) This is one title that says it all:  A single bite will distract you from anything else going on at the table.  Somewhere between a chocolate truffle and chocolate mousse, your fork glides through it effortlessly.  The cake is baked in a water bath which helps give it its unusual texture.  Use a great-quality chocolate, one from Valrhona, perhaps, not unsweetened, and not semisweet, but one with a slightly bitter edge, around 70%.

Happy Valentine’s Day.

Chocolate Oblivion with Sun-Dried Cherries
12 ounces bittersweet chocolate
2 sticks unsalted butter
7 extra-large eggs
1 scant cup sugar (7/8 cup)
1 teaspoon almond extract
1 cup unsweetened dried cherries

Chop chocolate and butter into pieces.  Place in a heavy saucepan over very low heat until chocolate and butter melt.  Stir occasionally so that the mixture is completely smooth.  Break eggs into bowl of electric mixer.  Beat on high with sugar, almond extract and a pinch of salt.  Beat for several minutes until slightly thickened.  Using a flexible rubber spatula, add melted chocolate to eggs and beat briefly until ingredients are just incorporated.  Butter a 9-x-2 inch round cake pan.  Line with a circle of parchment paper.  Pour batter into pan and smooth on top.  Scatter evenly with dried cherries, cutting them in half if they are large.  Cover pan tightly with foil.  Place pan in a larger pan to make a water bath.  Pour boiling water half-way up the sides of the cake pan.  Bake 1 hour and 10 minutes.  Remove from the oven.  Remove cake pan from water bath.  Remove foil (the center will still be soft.)  Let cool.  Serves 10 to 12

A Valentine Supper: Pasta with Truffle Butter

13 Feb

Few dishes evoke luxury so easily.  There are truffle butters on the market that you can purchase but the easiest way to prepare this dish is to simply stir a bit of white truffle oil into softened unsalted butter.  It keeps beautifully in the fridge.  You may use fresh or dried pasta, filled or plain.  Delicate half-moons of cheese-filled fresh agnolotti would be divine, as would a dried pasta, such as cappellini, also known as angel hair. If you don’t want to wait until Valentine’s Day to eat this, simply have it tonight for a pre-Valentine supper.  That’s pretty romantic. Follow with the gorgeous ruby beets below and get an early start.  Champagne, anyone?

9 ounces fresh or dried pasta
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/2 teaspoon white truffle oil
1-1/2 ounce piece Parmigiano-Reggiano
2 teaspoons fresh thyme leaves

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil.  Add pasta and cook according to package directions (depending on the shape and size of the pasta or whether it is fresh or dried). Cut butter into small pieces and place in a large bowl with truffle oil.  When just tender (al dente), drain pasta very well, shaking dry.  Add to the bowl.  Toss until butter melts; add salt and pepper to taste.  Grate cheese with microplane; scatter on top, then top with thyme leaves.  Serves 4

Ruby Beets with Balsamic Syrup, Mint & Walnuts

This recipe, adapted from Radically Simple can be successfully made with small canned beets or beets you roast yourself.  There were some large gorgeous specimens in the farmers market this weekend.  The radical idea here is my balsamic syrup, which adds a level of elegance to the earthy root.  Vibrant bits of mint, preferably spearmint, tie all the flavors together.  This can be served slightly warm, room temperature or chilled.

1 cup walnut halves
1/2 cup balsamic vinegar
2 medium garlic cloves
2 (14-ounce) cans small beets, drained well
2 tablespoons olive oil
3/4 cup coarsely chopped mint
4 ounces firm goat cheese, coarsely crumbled

Lightly toast the walnuts in a small skillet over medium heat until fragrant, about 2 minutes.  Remove from the pan and set aside.  Put the vinegar in the skillet; add 1 clove garlic pushed through a press.  Bring to a boil; boil until reduced to 3 tablespoons.  Cut the beets in half; put in a large bowl.  Add the reduced vinegar and walnuts.  Put the oil in a small bowl; add the remaining garlic clove pushed through a press.  Toss the garlic oil with the beets.  Add salt and pepper.  Transfer to a small platter and top with the mint and goat cheese.  Serves 4

The Food of Love

12 Feb

The food of love often includes truffles and chocolate and champagne.  Pommes d’amour, or love apples, as the French call tomatoes, are also appropriate on Valentine’s Day.  (You’ve got to hand it to the French regarding romanticism in music and in vegetable nomenclature, as potatoes are called pommes de terre, or apples of the earth.) Dates, are suggestive, as are the juicy seeds of the pomegranate.  I say, put them all in your Valentine’s Day dinner, and invite another couple to dine.  Whether your goal is to eradicate winter’s doldrums, or immortalize Cupid (once a religious holiday, it was Chaucer who first shifted the focus to romantic love), now’s the time to scoot some chairs in front of the fireplace and delight in the warmth of a splendid meal.  Don’t have a fireplace?  Then set a table, even a card table, in an unexpected place — a living room corner, for example, that’s warm and cozy.   My menu for this day of affection features:

Champagne with a splash of pomegranate juice, served with fleshy Medjool dates and chunks of Parmigiano-Reggiano
Fresh Pasta with Truffle Butter
Wine-Dark Beef Stew
Horseradish Potato Puree
Roasted Beets With Balsamic Syrup & Walnuts
Chocolate Oblivion with Sun-dried Cherries

What to drink?  Open a bottle of Saint Amour — a sleek French red wine that is fuller-bodied than most other Beaujolais.  With dessert, a snifter of Malvasia (a sweet dessert wine from Italy) would be nifty.

If you’re so inclined, you can make the lusty beef stew two days before Valentine’s Day, as it improves with age.  Even the mashed potatoes can be made and gently reheated.  Tomorrow I’ll post the recipes for the radically simple pasta dish and the ruby beets.  Chocolate Oblivion is my Valentine gift to you on the morning of February 14th.

Wine-Dark Beef Stew
The secret ingredient here is…hoisin! It adds great complexity to the flavor of the sauce.  Use shin meat, also known as shank meat for the most tender results.

3 pounds beef shin or chuck (net weight)
3 tablespoons olive oil
3 heaping cups finely chopped yellow onion
1/2 cup hoisin sauce
2 cups cabernet sauvignon
14-ounces diced tomatoes with herbs
5 fresh bay leaves
1 pound long, slender carrots
1 tablespoon arrowroot
a handful of fresh pomegranate seeds, or fresh thyme leaves, for garnishing

Cut meat into 2-1/2-inch pieces.  Season with salt and pepper and set aside.  Heat oil in a large heavy casserole with a cover.  Add onions.  Cook over medium heat until soft and brown, stirring often.  Add meat in stages and cook over high heat until browned on all sides.  In a medium bowl, stir together hoisin, 1 cup wine, and diced tomatoes with its liquid.  Pour over the meat and add bay leaves.  Cover pot and cook over low heat 1 hour.  Peel carrots and cut on the bias into 1-inch lengths. Add to the pot.  Cover and cook 1-3/4 hours longer until meat is fork-tender.  Transfer meat and carrots to a large bowl using a slotted spoon.  Add 1 cup wine to the pot and cook over high heat until the sauce is reduced to 2-1/2 cups.  Add salt and freshly ground black pepper.  Dissolve arrowroot in 1 tablespoon water and add to sauce. Continue to cook over medium heat until thick.  Return meat and carrots to pot and heat gently.  Garnish with pomegranate seeds or thyme.  Serves 4 to 6

Horseradish Potato Puree
If you follow the steps below, you can process potatoes in a food processor without them becoming glutinous provided you follow the simple steps below.

2 pounds Yukon gold potatoes
1-1/2 cups milk
1 large clove garlic
1/3 cup prepared white horseradish
6 tablespoons unsalted butter

Peel potatoes.  If large, cut in half.  Place potatoes in a large saucepan with salted water to cover.  Bring to a boil, lower heat and place cover askew.  Cook until tender, about 40 minutes.  Meanwhile, put milk in a medium saucepan.  Push garlic through a press and add to the milk.  Bring just to a boil.  Lower heat and simmer 10 minutes. Drain potatoes, saving 1/4 cup of the cooking liquid.  Place in a large bowl and use a potato masher.  Add hot milk and horseradish, mashing until creamy.  Cut butter into pieces and stir into potatoes.  At this point you can briefly process them, add a little cooking water.  Add salt and pepper.  Heat gently before serving.  Serves 4 to 6

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