Make Something New Every Day

This blog is inspired by all those who love to cook, whether experienced or not, and who continue to experiment with new ideas & ingredients, and best of all, share their passion with others.

The first entries are recipes prepared by the students of Lionel Wilson College Preparatory Academy in Oakland, CA. Fifteen students with varying cooking experience participated in my weekly workshop (via Tutorpedia), and successfully prepared various meals, snacks, and baked goods as part of an after-school program.

Along with the recipes from that class, I will continue to add new seasonal items, spanning every genre of the culinary world, as well as a helpful list of links to recipes, instructional videos, and places to shop and volunteer in your area.

Feel free to ask me questions and share your recipes and ideas as well. I look forward to cooking with you.

May 31, 2011

Blackberry Jewels in a Delicate Tart Crown

In 1994 I went to work in a French pastry shop and met my mentor & friend, Jule Vranian, who left me with a wealth of fool-proof recipes that I will continue to make until my wheels come off.

Although she & her husband Steve (then executive chef at Stars, now at Gianni's) moved back to Minnesota years ago, I think of them often. Jule's charismatic personality & positive attitude have left an even greater impression on me than her remarkable desserts. At a time when I was new to so many things, she taught me to be strong, decisive, relentless in my pursuits, and most of all, to laugh - at everything.

This tart embodies Jule's style to a T. You won't believe that something so easy to make could yield such an elegant result. I suspect that Jule's Midwestern roots have something to do with it.

Brown Butter Blackberry Tart
(serves 8-10)
Nutty brown butter, fresh vanilla bean, and lemon zest elevate blackberries to next level status. This time of year, pick your own berries, pluck a lemon off your tree (or a friend's), and serve your tart al fresco to complement a spring or summer meal. At first glance this may look like a complicated recipe, but though the descriptions are long, they are meant to help build & guide your technique. The recipe itself is quite basic, so more experienced cooks can gloss over the prose & just go for the gold.

Short Dough For the Shell (11" Tart Pan)
6 oz softened, unsalted butter (1 1/2 sticks or 12T)
3 oz sugar (a scant 1/2C)
1 egg yolk
pinch of salt
9 oz unbleached all-purpose flour (1C, spoon sifted)
3/4t baking powder
1/2t vanilla extract

Combine the salt, flour, & baking powder & set aside. Using an electric or stand mixer, beat the butter & sugar until light & fluffy (about 3 minutes). Scrape down the sides of the bowl to homogenize the batter, & beat in the egg yolk & vanilla (about 1 minute). Scrape the bowl again & stir in the flour mixture until just combined. Gather the dough into a ball & turn it out onto a piece of plastic wrap. Press it into a disc about 1/2" thick, wrap it tightly, & refrigerate for about an hour.
The Press Method
Alternately, you can take the soft dough (do not chill it) & immediately press it into the pan by dropping small balls of dough around the pan & flattening & pressing them together to form a flat unified base.
The Roll Method
Remove chilled dough from the refrigerator, & on a lightly floured surface, roll out to about 1/8" thick. Keep the dough moving & dust with extra flour to prevent sticking. Lift up one side of your rolled out disc, & flip it over your rolling pin. Slide the tart pan under the disc, & lower the dough over the pan. Don't worry if it cracks or breaks, just press it back together. Gently press the dough into the pan, using your fingers to ensure a smooth edge along the pan walls. Patch any holes with extra dough. Rolling your pin over the pan walls to cut off extra dough & create flush sides.

Place the tart shell on a sheet pan & freeze while making the filling. Preheat the oven to 350'.                    

The Filling
3 extra large eggs
1 1/4C sugar
1T lemon zest
1/2C unbleached all-purpose flour
6 oz unsalted butter
1 vanilla bean

6-8 oz fresh or frozen blackberries

In a heavy saucepan or skillet on medium-low heat, melt the butter with the vanilla bean, swirling the pan to avoiding burning the butter, while slowly browning it (about 8-10 minutes). The butter should have a nutty aroma & a deep golden color, but not burn, or it will taste bitter.

Let the butter cool a bit while you prebake the tart shell. Remove your tart shell from the freezer & bake for about 12-15 minutes until lightly golden. Because the filling is very moist, prebaking the shell will ensure you get a nice golden crust, and not a soggy mess.
Now, back to the batter...Whisk together the eggs, sugar, & lemon zest in a mixing bowl. Stir in the flour, then strain the butter through a fine sieve, & stir to combine. The mixture will be glue-like, & thicken slightly as the flour absorbs the liquid.
Once your tart shell has cooled a bit, scatter in the blackberries, and pour on the nutty, vanilla batter. When it bakes it will puff up a bit, but it won't rise over the pan, so use all the batter, filling your tart shell nearly to the top (but not higher than the sides of your tart shell). Bake at 350' on a sheet pan for about 40 minutes (or until the batter has puffed up & is uniformly golden). Cool the tart in the pan for at least 20 minutes before removing the outer ring of the tart pan. Dust with sifted powdered sugar right before serving (if you do it ahead of time the sugar will melt.) If by some bizarre stroke of luck you should have leftovers, keep them in the fridge, but the tart shell will suffer from the moisture & cold. So just eat it all at once!
A NOTE ABOUT THE DOUGH: If you're short on time or completely intimidated by making your own tart shell, you can buy a prepared, uncooked pie shell, then prebake it, fill it, and bake it following the directions above.

A NOTE ABOUT VANILLA BEANS: Because vanilla beans are expensive, you can use a dry pod saved from another recipe. For example, to get the most from one vanilla bean, split a fresh bean & scrape out the seeds. The seeds can be added to a pastry cream, whipped cream, ice cream base, pudding, or many other recipes. The scraped bean still holds a lot of fragrant vanilla oil & extra seeds stuck to its walls, so when you soak it, the flavor is transferred into the surrounding liquid. Use beans to flavor cream or milk for a recipe, soak in vodka to create your own extract, or dry and store them in sugar to add a special touch to your baking. In this case, a hollowed bean has plenty of juice left to flavor your butter. If all of this is too much for your brain, but you still want to stretch out each bean, just use half of one in the recipe.

May 10, 2011

Yo! This Is My Jam!

Tis the season for berries, & stone fruits, & fresh herbs - oh my!

This is the start of my favorite time of year for fruit, and I'm chomping at the bit to make all sorts of fresh & easy desserts with them. My hands-down winner for best fruit is the apricot, but they're not quite ready yet, so today we talk strawberries. (The photos are from a later batch made with apricots. The process is the same with most fruits.)

For Easter my Mom went a little nuts and bought enough strawberries to fill a field. They were ripe & beautiful, and two days later they were on life support. Knowing that freezing them was just a cryogenic delay from composting, I suggested we make jam.

This pectin-free recipe works with just about any fruit, and can be elevated with complimentary herbs such as basil, lemon verbena, and mint. The process allows the fruit to set naturally, and best of all, you can skip the tedious "canning" process, and just keep the finished product in the refrigerator.

Equal weights of (cleaned - no pits, etc.) fruit & sugar results in a very thick, sweet jam. If you prefer, you can use any ratio between that and 65% fruit to 35% sugar, yielding a much more fluid jam. So far I've only made this with refined sugar, but will be trying a more natural option next, and will report back.

Slightly underripe fruit has more natural pectin, and ripe, or overripe fruit has more sugar, so choose your sugar percentage accordingly.

To make things a little easier for you, here's a recipe including ratios of fruit to sugar (45% being ideal).

2 1/4C sugar (50% ratio); 2C sugar (45% ratio); 1 3/4C sugar (40% ratio); 1 1/2C sugar (35% ratio)
1 pound of cleaned fruit

To this you can add 1T of lemon juice, and 1-2t chopped fresh herbs. I happen to think that basil works well with strawberries, and lays a foundation of complexity for other recipes such as my Strawberry Jam Buttermilk Ice Cream. You can also double this recipe if you wish. 1 pound of fruit should yield about 1 1/2 pints of jam.

In a large, heavy-bottom pot, stir together your fruit & sugar until combined. Warm over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until the mixture is fluid. Bring to a boil, stirring to avoid sticky spots. Remove from heat, add lemon juice, and set aside for at least 8 hours to macerate. If you need to, after 8 hours you can refrigerate it before the next step.

After the 8-hour resting period, it's time to cook down small amounts of the jam. This will further thicken the sugar & pectin, creating the jam-like consistency you want.

In an ~8" nonstick skillet, add 2C of the fruit & liquid, & cook on medium-high heat until it thickens slightly & slides off the spoon/spatula in sheets (about 5 minutes). Ladle the jam into containers, & refrigerate once cool.

Even if I'm not sealing the jars, I like to use glass jars, as they protect the flavor better than plastic, and look nice when given as gifts. Just store the jam in the fridge and eat it within a few months. If you prefer, you can jar the jam according to manufacturer instructions & store at room temperature.

As always, if you have any questions, feel free to drop me a line, and I'll do my best to help you out.

Adapted from recipes by Sylvia Thompson.

May 4, 2011

I Now Pronounce You Strawberries & Buttermilk

Imagine freshly-made strawberry jam. Now imagine it whipped into a ridiculously easy, yet scrumptious strawberry buttermilk ice cream. The resulting flavor is ridiculous. Luscious strawberry & tart buttermilk combine in such a wonderful way that I've had to bolt the freezer shut to avoid eating the entire batch in one sitting.

This is how I did it. It was so easy to make, even if you don't have an ice cream maker you can fudge this & get decent results. Here are directions for both:

2C strawberry (or other) jam
2C buttermilk
1C cream or milk*

Stir the jam into about a cup of the buttermilk to dissolve the sugars & blend out the color. Stir in the rest of the buttermilk & cream.

*Note: Using cream will make your end result creamier. If you like, use milk, or all buttermilk for more tartness, so long as your "milk" adds up to 3C.

In a Machine:
Pour into your ice cream maker & freeze until nearly set. It should look very thick. Remove the paddle & quickly stir in any clumps of fruit to distribute them evenly into the ice cream. Immediately transfer to a quart-sized container & freeze to set.
I've used the carton from a quart of buttermilk, and it works great!

If you don't have an ice cream maker, try this method:
Combine the jam & milk(s) as above.
Pour into a shallow container & freeze until firm. (This could take a couple hours depending on your freezer.)
Working Quickly: Scrape into a bowl, & beat with a hand mixer (or a wooden spoon) until fluffy.
Spread back into the shallow container & refreeze until firm.

Add Basil for a Fresh, Unexpected Twist

I've also made this ice cream with basil to cut the sweetness & compliment the strawberries & buttermilk. I really liked this version. Two hours ahead, roughly tear up about 12 basil leaves & soak them in the cream. After steeping the cream for 2 hours in the fridge, strain out the leaves, squeezing them well. Combine the flavored cream with the buttermilk & jam, & prepare the ice cream by either method above.

Keep trying new things, and as always, feel free to drop me a line with questions or comments.