Friday, November 20, 2009

Pie Oh My!

pear tart
Those who know me know that pie is my go to dessert. Unlike my arch-foe cake (hiss!), pies usually come out well, and feature fresh fruit with minimal adornment.
This year the pears seem to be exceptional. Every single one I’ve tasted has been terrific. So when friends asked me to bring dessert to dinner the other night, nobody should have been surprised with I turned up with a pear pie. Well, to be precise, a pear tart with brown butter and anise.
This one blew me away. It looked as good as it tasted, which isn’t really always the case with pies. Or things that I cook in general. I even liked the anise flavor, which I often take pains to avoid. In fact next time I make it, I may up the amount of anise just a tad, then I am going to make this yet another time and spice it with cardamom.
Unlike most tarts, this recipe claims that the crust doesn’t need weighting. It also doesn’t require an hour of chilling time before baking so the procrastinators among us have something to cheer.
This recipe is one that I clipped from the San Francisco Chronicle years ago. My heartfelt thanks to whoever originally created it.

Brown Butter Pear Tart with Anise

makes one 9" tart
1  1/3 cups flour
1/4 cup sugar
4 oz. unsalted butter
pinch salt
1 egg
1 tsp vanilla

2 oz. butter
1 egg
1/3 cup sugar
1/4 cup flour
1/4 tsp anise seeds
3 small ripe pears, preferably Bartlett or other squat-shaped pears

Make the pastry:
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. In a food processor bowl, add the flour, sugar and salt. Process just to blend, then cut the butter into pieces and add. Process in short pulses until just mixed - about the texture of breadcrumbs. Add the egg and vanilla and process until combined.
Roll the dough out into a roughly 10" circle - about 1/8" thick. lift the dough and place in a 9 inch tart pan. (I used a 9 inch springform, as I don't have a tart pan in that size and draped the dough over the to try to keep it from sinking down. this worked perfectly - just trim the drapey edges once you're done with the pre-bake and you're good to go).
Prick the dough on the sides and bottom with a fork, then bake for 20 minutes or until set.
Place the pan on a wire rack to cool while you work on the filling.
Increase the oven temperature to 375 degrees.
Make the filling:
Melt the butter in a small saucepan until it starts to brown, about 5-6 minutes. Remove from heat and pour it into a bowl to help cool it down. In a medium bowl, whisk the egg, then whisk in the sugar. Grind the anise seeds in a mortar and pestle, then add to the mix along with the flour and vanilla. Gradually whisk in the brown butter until the butter is fully incorporated.
Peel and halve the pears, then cut each pear crosswise in 1/8 inch slices. Try to keep each half intact, as this is the secret to the pretty fans.
To assemble:
Pour about half the filling into your pre-baked tart shell. One at a time, lift the pear halves into the tart with the narrow end facing center. You might find a spatula helpful for this. Gently press down on the pear to separate and fan the slices so that the half occupies one radius or spoke of the pie. Once all the pear halves that will fit are in place, pour the remainder of the filling around them (try to avoid pouring directly on top of the pears).
Place on a baking sheet, then into the oven for 50-60 minutes.
Cool on a wire rack for at least 15 min before removing the tart ring (or springform ring if you're me..)
You could serve this with whipped cream or caramel ice cream, but it is so good plain that you really don’t need to.
brown butter pear pie

Saturday, November 14, 2009

No-Sea Sushi

The November 2009 Daring Cooks challenge was brought to you by Audax of Audax Artifex and Rose of The Bite Me Kitchen. They chose sushi as the challenge. They provided an outstanding recipe for the rice and three variations of sushi forms. Our challenge was to make (at least) a dragon roll, a decorative spiral roll and nigiri.

When the challenge was first announced, I think our collective reaction was 'uh-oh...' - since one of us (she) does not eat fish, and sushi means fish, right? Well, no - as Audax and Rose told us, sushi actually means vinegared rice, and the other ingredients can be many and varied. That did it - our creative juices started flowing, and over the next few days we thought up and wrote down all kinds of ideas for wild and crazy sushi creations. Having bought some sushi rice at our favorite local Asian market, we set out on our sushi adventure.
He's not kidding - the ideas wouldn't stop! Laquered duck sushi, Sukiyaki rolls, Carpaccio, Beef Stroganoff rolls, prosciutto and tomato; the list was endless. If it goes with rice it will probably make good sushi

Here's the sushi rice recipe as described by our challenge hosts:

SUSHI RICE (makes about 7 cups of cooked sushi rice)
Preparation time: 1¾ hours consisting of :-
Rinsing and draining rice: 35 minutes
Soaking rice: 30 minutes (includes 5 minutes making the vinegar dressing)
Cooking and steaming time: 25 minutes
Finishing the rice: 15 minutes

· 2½ cups uncooked short grain rice
· 2½ cups water
· For superior results use equal volumes of rice and water

Optional Ingredients
· 3 inch (75mm or 15 grams) square dashi konbu (or kombu) (dried kelp seaweed) wipe with a damp cloth to remove white powder & cut a few slits in the sides of the kelp to help release its flavours (we didn't use this)
· 2½ teaspoons (12.5 mls) of sake (Japanese rice wine)

Sushi vinegar dressing
· 5 Tablespoons (75 mls) rice vinegar
· 5 Teaspoons (25 mls or 21 grams) sugar
· 1¼ Teaspoons (6.25 mls or 4.5 grams) salt

Rinsing and draining the rice
1. Swirl rice gently in a bowl of water, drain, repeat 3-4 times until water is nearly clear. Don't crush the rice in your hands or against the side of the bowl since dry rice is very brittle.
2. Gently place rice into a strainer and drain well for 30 minutes.

Soaking the rice
1. Gently place the rice into a heavy medium pot with a tight fitting lid (if you have a loose fitting lid use a piece of aluminium foil to make the seal tight).
2. Add 2½ cups of water and the dashi konbu.
3. Set the rice aside to soak for 30 minutes, during this time prepare the sushi rice dressing.

Preparing the Rice Vinegar Dressing
1. Combine the rice vinegar, sugar and salt in a small bowl.
2. Heat on low setting.
3. Stir until the mixture goes clear and the sugar and salt have dissolved.
4. Set aside at room temperature until the rice is cooked

Cooking the rice
1. After 30 minutes of soaking add sake (if using) to the rice.
2. Bring rinsed and soaked rice to the boil.
3. Reduce heat to the lowest setting and simmer, covered, until all the water is absorbed, 12-15 minutes. Do not remove the lid during this process. Turn off heat.
4. Let stand with the lid on, 10-15 minutes. Do not peek inside the pot or remove the lid. During this time the rice is steaming which completes the cooking process.

Turning out the rice:
1. Moisten lightly a flat thin wooden spatula or spoon and a large shallow flat-bottomed non-metallic (plastic, glass or wood) bowl. Do not use metallic objects since the vinegar will react with it and produce sour and bitter sushi rice.
2. Remove the dashi konbu (kelp) from the cooked rice.
3. Use the spatula to loosen gently the rice and invert the rice pot over the bowl, gently causing the cooked rice to fall into the bowl in one central heap. Do this gently so as not to cause the rice grains to become damaged.

Dressing the rice with vinegar:
1. Slowly pour the cooled sushi vinegar over the spatula onto the hot rice.
2. Using the spatula gently spread the rice into a thin, even layer using a 45° cutting action to break up any lumps and to separate the rice. Don't stir or mash rice.
3. After the rice is spread out, start turning it over gently, in small portions, using a cutting action, allowing steam to escape, for about a minute.
Fanning & Tossing the rice
1. Continue turning over the rice, but now start fanning (using a piece of stiff cardboard) the rice vigorously as you do so. Don't flip the rice into the air but continue to gently slice, lift and turn the rice occasionally, for 10 minutes. Cooling the rice using a fan gives good flavour, texture and a high-gloss sheen to the rice. The vinegar dressing will be absorbed by the hot rice. Using a small electric fan on the lowest speed setting is highly recommended.
2. Stop fanning when there's no more visible steam, and all the vinegar dressing has been adsorbed and the rice is shiny. Your sushi rice is ready to be used.

Keeping the rice moist
1. Cover with a damp, lint free cloth to prevent the rice from drying out while preparing your sushi meal. Do not store sushi rice in the refrigerator leave on the counter covered at room temperature. Sushi rice is best used when it is at room temperature.

Whew! Although it sounds like a lot of work, the actual process wasn't too much trouble, though it was really helpful to have two people for the fanning and turning part.
Finally a use for junk mail - it made a good fan.
Now on to the specific recipes: Since we made 3 separate attempts at sushi preparation, we'll divide this up into 3 parts in chronological order.

Part I: New Orleans meets Japan

Our first idea was inspired by some of the classic dishes of Southern American cooking - jambalaya, red beans and rice, gumbo. However, we thought that disaster had struck when I forgot to turn down the heat under the rice (see step 3 under 'Cooking the rice' above). Remarkably, it seemed to come out OK, though we did lose quite a lot of rice that stuck to the pot.

The first dish was a deconstructed Jambalaya. There were some ebi nigiri sushi, some andouille sausage nigiri (with 3 little coins of sausage), ham-wrapped nigiri with a topping of red beans, and an inside-out (nori) roll filled with vegetables - red bell pepper, green bell pepper and celery. To accompany, we made a spicy tomato sauce with thyme, oregano, and white, black and cayenne pepper. (The sauce recipe was pretty much made up on the fly, but here is an approximate version:

1 tbsp butter
1/2 small onion, finely diced
2 tsp tomato puree
4 roma tomatoes, chopped
1/4 tsp each black, white and cayenne pepper
1/4 tsp each oregano, thyme
1 bayleaf
salt to taste

Fry the onion in butter and blend in the tomato puree. Add all the other ingredients and simmer for 20-30 min until the tomatoes are soft. Puree using a hand blender, goblet blender, or pass through a chinois/food press.

Here's the finished jambalaya platter:
I am mortified by the ugly, wrinkly tablecloth..

Close-up of the different components:   

We also made a vegetable roll with ham instead of nori, and decorated the outside with little stars of okra

Finally, since we’d just made some pork chile verde for later in the week, we decided to take our sushi from New Orleans to Mexico. We made a dragon roll filled with chile verde and wrapped in thin slices of avocado.
Of the 3, the chile verde was maybe my favorite. It was wonderful with the avocado. Next time, though, no nori. it added a fishy taste that I didn't like.

Part II: Sushi Sandwich Saturday!
For our second attempt, we decided to make sushi versions of some classic American sandwiches. This time, we remembered to turn the heat down after the initial boil and the rice came out perfectly!

BLT (bacon, lettuce, tomato) nigiri:
OMG these were good. I am now a sushi convert, in my own way.

Reuben (pastrami-wrapped nigiri with sauerkraut topping, garnished with caraway seeds and served with mustard and Russian dressing; I think a Reuben is usually made with corned beef, but the pastrami in the store looked better)

Philadelphia Cheese Steak Rainbow Roll (We used thinly sliced roast beef in place of nori; the roll is stuffed with grilled onions, wrapped in roasted bell peppers and served with a provolone cheese sauce)
This also was beyond good. The sliced deli beef made a great substitute for nori.

 And finally, in honor of our challenge host Audax and the other Australian daring cooks, a cheese and green tomato pickle spiral roll!

Sushi Part III – Finally some fish!

After weeks of pleading, The Monkey finally got his way and included some fish on the menu. We found some nice-looking smoked salmon at the farmers market and made this into potlatch salmon nigiri. (Potlach is a  festival held by Native Americans in the Pacific Northwest). In our interpretation, we flavored the sushi rice with a few juniper berries, ground up with a little extra salt and sugar. To accompany this we made a sake-infused shiitake mushroom roll. Also in keeping with the seafood theme, we made an inside-out roll with smoked oysters and cucumber, coated in tobiko roe and served with a sour cream and dill sauce. (I thought this was a really nice combination).

Close-up of the salmon nigiri and and oyster roll - I know the salmon slices are too thick for traditional sushi but it was really good salmon and I almost never get to eat it at home!
I had a rerun of the BLT sushi.

For dessert – what else but rice pudding, served in a cinnamon tuile cone. This was our first attempt at making tuiles; they may not be the prettiest or crispiest on the planet (no sirree, they aren't) but they tasted pretty good.

Made with sushi rice of course