Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Chestnut Rum Torte

I was intrigued by these packages of vacuum-packed chestnuts (already peeled and roasted) that I found at the Chinese Market a few weeks ago.  I tend to stay away from chestnuts in coking/baking, since I find them so hard to peel...  So I thought why not give them a try?

For the chocolate, you could use any good quality bittersweet (or dark) chocolate, chopped up into uniform pieces.  For my cake, I used leftover Ghirardelli bittersweet chocolate chips that I had in the pantry.  I ended up using a little less than two packages of chestnuts for the cake - the leftovers chestnuts from bag #2 became the topping/decoration.

Chestnut Torte:
 1 1/3 c. bittersweet chocolate (about 6 oz.)
1 1/2 c. whole roasted chestnuts (about 8 oz.)
1/2 c. unsalted butter
1 c. sugar
6 eggs
1 T. vanilla extract
1 tsp salt
1/4 tsp. cream of tartar
Rum Cream frosting:
1 1/2 c. heavy whipping cream
2 T. dark rum
1/4 c. sugar
Chestnut topping:
1/4 c. chestnuts, chopped
2 T. sugar

1.  Grease a 9" springform pan and line the bottom with parchment.  Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

2.  Grind the chestnuts in a food processor until the texture of brown sugar.

3. Melt the chocolate in the microwave at 50% power. (I used Ghirardelli chocolate chips, which melted after about 3-4 minutes.  Microwave in 1 minute intervals, stirring in between, until just melted.)

4.  Separate the egg whites from egg yolks.  Add the salt and cream of tartar to the egg whites and beat until stiff peaks form.  Gradually add in half of the sugar.

5.  Cream the butter and remaining sugar. 

6.  Add the chestnut puree and mix thoroughly.

7.  Gradually add the egg yolks.

8.  Mix in the vanilla extract and chocolate until uniform.

9.  Fold in the first 1/3 of egg whites to the chestnut mixture.

10.  Add the second 1/3 of egg whites, and gently fold.  It is ok to have some white streaks.

11.  Fold in the remaining egg whites, gently.

12.  Pour the batter into the prepared springform pan, and place in the oven.  Reduce the temperature to 350 and bake for 15 minutes.  Then, reduce the oven temperature to 325, and bake an additional 35 minutes.

13.  Turn off the oven, and allow to cool with the oven door ajar.

14.  When completely cool, remove the cake from the pan and prepare the frosting.  Whip the cream with the sugar and rum until stiff enough to frost.  Frost the top and sides of the cake with the rum cream.  Combine the remaining chestnuts and sugar, and sprinkle over the edges of the cake.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Shrimp Gumbo

The weather here in San Diego has been rainy and cold all week long... and like many native Californians, this kind of weather makes me want to curl up in a ball (and not get out of bed), turn the heater on full blast, and eat nothing but soup.  I can't exactly curl up into a ball... because, you know, I have to go to work.... (sigh)... and a certain husband (who is always hot and never gets cold) will not let me crank up the heater... so the only thing I can do to make myself feel a tiny bit better, is to make some nice hot soup!  I felt like making Shrimp Gumbo after watching a re-run episode (Bowl O' Bayou) of my favorite Food Network show, "Good Eats".

Alton Brown's method for baking gumbo roux in the oven is really great - it saves a lot of time, and you don't need to stand over the stove babysitting the roux so that it doesn't burn.  AB's recipe calls for file powder (ground dried sassafras leaves)... but I don't think we have that here in California.  (At least, I've never seen it, or even heard of it).  I prefer to add okra to thicken the gumbo - but not until the last minute, to prevent the okra from overcooking and turning into green slimy mush. 

Shrimp Gumbo:
1/2 c. canola oil
4 oz. (about 1 c.) flour
1.5 pounds raw shrimp, shell on
1 onion
2 bell peppers
2 stalks celery
2 cloves garlic
2 c. chopped tomatoes
1 1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. pepper
1 tsp. thyme
1/2 tsp. cayenne pepper
1/2 lb. andouille or spicy sausage, uncooked
1/2 lb. okra, sliced
salt to taste

1.  Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  To make the roux, whisk the flour and oil into a oven-safe pot.

2.  Bake the roux for 1.5 hours.  Every 20 minutes or so, open the oven and stir the roux with a whisk.  The color of the roux will eventually deepen to a dark brick color.

3.  While the Roux is baking, peel and de-vein the shrimp.  Put the shells into a medium pot.

4.  Add about 6 cups of water to the shrimp shells, and make shrimp stock by simmering for about 1 hour.  Add a little extra water if needed.  You can also add the end pieces of the celery and onion for a little extra flavor.  Set aside the cleaned shrimp, and put back into the refrigerator until ready.

 5.  Strain the shrimp stock.  You should have 4 cups - if not, you can add a little bit of water to make 4 cups.

6.  Chop the onion, bell pepper, and celery.  Mince the garlic. 

7.  Dice the tomato and okra, set aside.

8.  Cook the sausage in a pan, drain, and set aside.

9.  When the Roux is done, remove it from the oven and place it back over medium heat on the stove.  Add the onion, bell pepper, celery, and garlic.  Cook for 5-10 minutes, stirring constantly.

10.  Add the tomatoes and seasonings, and stir to combine.

11.  Add the shrimp broth while stirring, a little bit at a time.

12.  Bring the broth to a simmer, then cover with a lid and reduce the heat to low.  Simmer for 30-40 minutes.

13.  Remove the lid, increase the heat to medium, then add the okra and cook for 2 minutes.

14.  Add the raw shrimp and cooked sausage, and cook another 2 minutes.  Taste and add more salt if needed.

15.  Serve over rice.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Mohnkuchen (Austrian Poppy Seed Cake)

I love this poppy seed cake.  It is so rich and buttery, and tastes so wonderful when it's nice and warm - fresh out of the oven.  Serve it with a cup of tea for an afternoon snack, or for dessert.

Poppy seeds can be expensive, but I seem to have good luck finding them with the Indian Spices (they come in these huge jars, for almost the same price as the teeny tiny spice aisle bottles).  I have also found big plastic jars of poppy seeds at Smart and Final, for very reasonable prices.

3/4 c. poppy seeds
1/2 c. boiling water
3/4 c. + 2 T. unsalted butter (1 3/4 sticks)
1 c. sugar
4 eggs
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 tsp. almond extract
1 1/3 c. flour
2 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp sea salt
1/4 c. powdered sugar

1.  Mix the poppy seeds and boiling water, and allow to sit for 5-10 minutes.  Using a stick blender (or food processor) grind the poppy seeds until cracked.

2.  Sift the flour, baking powder, and salt.

3.  Cream the butter and sugar.

4.  Add the cooled poppy seed mixture and both extracts to the butter/sugar mixture.

5.  Beat in the eggs, one egg at a time.

6.  With a rubber or silicone spatula, fold in the flour mixture until just combined.  Do not over mix.

7.  Bake at 350 degrees in a greased angel food cake pan for 35 minutes.  (I sprayed the pan with Pam for baking to grease).

8.  Remove from the oven and cool for 5 minutes.

9.  Invert the cake onto a plate and dust the top with powdered sugar.  Serve warm, or at room temperature.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Matzo Ball Soup

Once in awhile, I will have a craving for the Matzo Ball Soup from Brent's Jewish Deli.  Their matzo balls are light and fluffy - and so good!  (Plus, they serve the soup with this wonderful cheese bread and pickles!)  The problem is that I don't live anywhere near Brent's anymore!  Sigh.

To satisfy my craving (since there is no way I can get a certain husband of mine to drive me 2.5+ hours to Brent's) is to make my own Matzo Ball soup.  After several unsuccessful attempts, I think I have finally stumbled upon the perfect recipe and technique.  Make the broth the night before and refrigerate to make it easier to separate the chicken fat (schmaltz) from the broth.

Backs and wings of 2 chickens
1 c. baby carrots
1 rib celery
1 onion
Matzo balls:
1 c. matzo meal (or 4 matzo)
4 eggs
4 T. chicken fat (schmaltz)
1 1/2 tsp salt.
1/2 tsp. pepper
4 T. chicken broth

1.  The night before you plan to make your matzo balls, make the chicken stock.  Boil the backs and wings of 2 chickens (save the breasts, thighs, and drumsticks for another use) with several quarts of water in a large stock pot for 2 hours. Strain the stock and refrigerate overnight.  Pick over the bones when cool, and remove any chunks of meat.  Save the meat for the soup, and throw away the bones and skins.

2.  The next day, you will have a congealed mass of chicken "jello", with a yellow layer of chicken fat on the top.  Immediately after removing from the refrigerator, remove the chicken fat and set aside. 

3.  Chop the celery, onion, and carrots.  Bring them to a simmer in the chicken stock.  10 minutes before serving the chicken soup, add the reserved chicken meat.

4.  Meanwhile, bring another pot of water to a boil, and add 2 tsp. salt.  Pulverize 4 matzo crackers in a food processor until you have coarse crumbs.

5.  Mix the matzo meal, eggs, chicken fat, chicken broth, and seasonings.

6.  The mixture will be soft and gooey.  Refrigerate for 20 minutes, or until stiffer in texture.

7.  With wet hands, loosely form 1 inch balls.

8.  Place the matzo balls into the salted boiling water.  Reduce the heat and gently simmer for 30 minutes.

9.  Remove the matzo balls with a slotted spoon into a soup bowl.  Ladle the chicken soup over the top and sprinkle with parsley.  Makes about 16 matzo balls.