Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Pastry Bag Technique: Needs Improvement

That's what it would say on my kitchen report card if such a thing existed.

Next time I'm just going to do alternating concentric circles of one type of cream, instead of trying to alternate within each circle. That'll probably look a little cleaner.


For everyday pies, I don't really see a reason to use anything but a crust-from-a-box. It's pretty much the same damn thing as a homemade pie crust, but without the hardest part - dealing with the cold, hard butter. The filling on this is just a standard lemon curd, and the topping vanilla and raspberry whipped cream.

Pre-heat oven to 450. Mix enough pie-crust mix (e.g. Betty Crocker) with water to make one crust. Roll it out to an 11 to 12 inch round. Butter a 9 to 10 inch tart pan (with false bottom) and drape crust over it. Press the crust down into the pan, taking care to move crust down from the sides into the dish rather than stretching the bottom crust to the walls - this helps avoid what every baker fears: shrinkage. Trim the crust so that about a half inch of overhang remains, and fold this overhang down to double up the thickness of the tart wall, so that about 1/4 inch of crust shows above the rim of the pan. Chill in the freezer for 10 min. Fork dough thoroughly and bake at 450 F for 10 minutes, or until golden. Set aside to cool

  • 4 lemons
  • 1.5 c sugar
  • 4 oz (1 stick) unsalted butter
  • 4 extra large eggs (at room temp - like the French do)
  • pinch salt
Zest the lemons (no pith, please) and chop the zest fine. The easiest way to do this is to mix the sugar and zest in a food processor and pulverize for a minute or so. Squeeze 1/2 cup of juice from your lemons and set it aside. Cream this lemon-sugar dust with the butter with an electric mixer for 2-3 minutes. Add the eggs one at a time, beating until incorporated. Add the lemon juice and salt and combine. Heat the mixture over LOW heat in a 2 qt saucepan, stirring constantly, for about 10 minutes. When the curd has started to thicken, and coats the back of the spoon nicely, remove it from the heat. Pour warm curd into the cooled tart shell and let it set at room temperature for a few hours.

  • 1 c heavy whipping cream
  • 1 heaping tbsp sugar
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
  • Handfull of washed raspberries
Before starting, throw a bowl and your beaters in the freezer for 10-15 minutes, and make sure the cream is ice cold. Mash the washed raspberries with a fork in a small bowl. Cover and refrigerate.
combine cream, sugar, and vanilla in a large mixing bowl, and beat for about 15 seconds. Remove half of the cream mixture to a small bowl, and beat the remaining mixture to stiff peaks. Remove the vanilla whipped cream to a small bowl. Transfer the unbeaten mixture to the large bowl and beat until barely thickened. Add raspberries and beat to reasonably stiff peaks (something about the raspberries - acidity or juiciness perhaps - prevents the cream from fully whipping). Using a pastry bag fitted with a star tip, top cooled tart with concentric circles of whipped cream dots. As I mentioned in the intro I think I'm going to try alternating circles of vanilla and raspberry cream next time - at least until I get a little better with the pastry bag.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Sandwich Triad

The Annals of Lunch

Sandwich. The word alone inspires salivation. Indeed, the incredible potential for deliciousness is surpassed only by the immense variety of style and form in the world of this lunchtime staple. Recently I found myself falling it into a rut sandwich-wise. It was a tasty rut, to be sure, but a rut nonetheless. It was time to branch out. I picked three of my most successful experiments to publish in this post. Hopefully this will inspire you to break out of your own sandwich habits. However, seeing as no one actually reads this blog, I'll probably only end up inspiring myself at some point in the future. That sounds dirty...

Open Face Italian Turkey

Whenever I'm trying to decide what to cook the first type of food that comes to mind is always Italian food. Maybe it's because that's all I ate growing up, I don't know - I'm not a psychologist. Whatever the reason I always find myself thinking 'why would I cook any other kind of food?' The influence of this thinking is pretty obvious here, and you'll find it in all three sandwiches (and really, damn near everything else I cook).
  • 2 (vertical) slices of fresh ciabatta* about a half inch thick each.
  • 2 medium thin slices of provolone cheese
  • a little under a quarter pound of tacchino arrosto (roast turkey), I like mine affumicato con miele (honey smoked)
  • 4-5 thin tomato slices, slightly mangled
  • 1 tsp good extra virgin olive oil
  • A pinch shredded Parmigiano-Reggiano
  • A pinch of dried basil
  • Fresh black pepper to taste
The goal with this sandwich is to create a slightly crunchy bottom to the bread on one side, and slightly browned cheese on the top. This must be done in two steps because, at least in my toaster, you can't get the cheese to start bubbling without completely blackening your bread. Alright, let's make this sandwich:

Layer the turkey on the bread. Don't be tempted into piling the meat too high. Normally, I'm all about more meat, but when this kind of cold-cut turkey heats up it tends to get really salty, so unless you want to chase this sandwich with a half-gallon of water, use moderation. Roll it up, tear it, crumple it, whatever makes it fit onto the bread. You want to minimize overhang, because any turkey that's not shielded by bread or cheese will burn and harden, and you'll have to trim it off. Not ideal. Next layer on your cheese, trying to cover all the turkey. Toast (in a toaster oven... do not try to jam this in a vertical toaster. please.) on the "medium" setting.

While that's toasting, you can prep your tomatoes. Cut them thin, about an eighth of an inch, then mangle them a bit so that they're more lines than circles, and drape them over the top of the sandwiches, when they're done toasting. Sprinkle some Parmigiano-Reggiano over the tomatoes, and crack some black pepper on top of that. Place the sandwiches on the toaster-oven's tray, and throw it on top-brown. When they come out, drizzle some olive oil on top.


*I always have this stuff on hand. I keep it "fresh" by cutting loaves into quarters the day I buy it, then wrapping the hell out of it and throwing it in the freezer. That way I can just bust out a chunk at a time. I usually use some of it for lunch, and have what's left with dinner. Simple.

Man-ini. You're Welcome.

The first half of this sandwich didn't survive long enough to be photographed. This is evidence of two features of this sandwich: first it's irresistible savory tastiness, second the relatively large amount of time it takes to make.
  • 5-6 inch long hunk of ciabatta (preparation explained below)
  • 1/2 cup bacon, chopped into small chunks
  • Enough asiago cheese (sliced thin) to cover the bread in a single layer
  • Enough white cheddar (sharp, sliced thin) to cover the bread in 3 layers
  • 5-6 oven-roasted tomato slices
  • A pinch of thinly sliced red onion
  • 1 drizzle extra virgin olive oil
  • 1-2 tsp of chopped Italian parsley
Bread Prep
So I read about this sandwich technique in Simple Italian Sandwiches, the 'Ino (a sandwich shop in NY) cookbook, and I found it confusing as hell the way they described it. The idea is that since ciabatta is fairly thin, it makes a heartier sandwich if you cut it "horizontally" or equatorially. Basically if you've got your bread sitting flat on your countertop, you want the plane of your cut to be parallel to your table. HOWEVER, before you make this cut, you're gonna want to trim your bread some. Shave off the domed top part of the hunk of bread, so that you're left with about a 1 inch thick piece of bread to work with. Cut that bread in half in the aforementioned way and you're left with two 1/2 inch slices. One with just crust around the edges, and one with crust all over the bottom.

Innards Prep
The "oven roasted tomato" idea is from that same Sandwiches cookbook. They recommend roasting the tomato slices in a single layer at around 350 for a half hour, or something like that. I didn't feel like waiting, so I arranged my tomato slices in a single layer on my toaster-oven tray and turned it on broil. Once I got those going, I started the bacon in a cold pan (the way it's supposed to be). Watch both of these, you want the bacon crispy, not burnt, and the tomatoes tender, not shriveled.

Layer your asiago cheese on one side of the bread, and your cheddar on the other. Throw down your bacon bits on the asiago side, followed by the tomatoes, onions, olive oil, and parsley. Put the two sides together and throw it on your pre-heated panini press (you do have a panini press, don't you?).

If you don't happen to have a professional panini press, a George Foreman type electric grill will do the job, you'll just need to put a cookbook or something heavy (and heat resistant) on top of it, otherwise the sandwich won't flatten properly. If you don't have a foreman, a grill pan and a brick will also work, but you'll have to flip your sandwich half way through to cook it evenly.

Toast in your press until the sandwich is golden brown and cheese is bubbling out of the sides. Cut in half, and eat. Serve it with chips, or don't serve it at all.

The Number Two-Point-Five

This sandwich is an hommage to my favorite deli sandwich ever: the Gourmet Heaven #2, without honey mustard. Turkey, brie, and green apples on a footlong grinder roll. I must have gotten that sandwich 3 or 4 times a week in college. I've modified the form and replaced the brie with Fromager d'Affinois, its slightly funkier cousin, but the soul of the #2 lives on.
  • 2 thin (3/8") slices of ciabatta
  • ~1/4 lb turkey, sliced thin
  • 5-6 long slices of Affinois cheese
  • 4-5 thin apple slices (something green)
Place the bread on a panini press or substitute (see above) and grill until lightly toasted, and cover each with 2 layers of turkey, 1 layer of Affinois, and one layer of apple slices (they fit better if you cut them in half).