Inga's Indulgence

Friday, February 25, 2011

The Greatest Thing Since Sliced Bread...

When I was little, my mother told me to never throw away bread. I don't remember whether she meant that this was a bad omen, or just didn't want me to be wasteful, but it kind of stuck with me. Today, I continue the practice for my own reasons; sometimes I think about starving children in third world countries, and sometimes I just can't bring myself to throw out something as beautiful and profound as bread.

Yesterday, I made brioche french toast for my cookbook photo shoot, and was left with mounds of brioche scraps. Now I would be perfectly content just snacking on these scraps all week, but something told me to take this rich, buttery, sweet bread to the next level. I made bread pudding - a dessert that, in my opinion, can  be a vestibule for any sort of flavors. My flavors of choice were chocolate and hazelnuts...mmm.

With the help of some milk and eggs, I was able to make this decadent dessert between burping and changing baby Zelli.

Here's what I used:
4 oz semi-sweet chocolate, chopped
1/2 cup roasted hazelnuts, chopped
3 tbsp honey 
2 cups whole milk
3 eggs
3 1/2 cups brioche bread, cut into 1-inch cubes (you can use hallah bread as well) 
butter, as needed (for greasing)

1. Melt the chocolate in a double boiler: Fill a heavy saucepan with 3 inches of water and bring to a simmer over medium heat. Place chopped chocolate into a medium bowl, and rest bowl on top of saucepan. Stir occasionally, until chocolate is melted and smooth. Stir in the chopped hazelnuts and honey. Set aside to cool for a few minutes.

2. In a large bowl, whisk together milk and eggs. Add bread and cooled chocolate mixture. Stir to coat all of the bread cubes. Cover and refrigerate for at least 1 1/2 hours.

3. Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Butter a rectangular or oval baking pan. Pour soaked bread into pan, making sure to get all of the liquid from the bottom of the bowl.  

Place pan into a large roasting pan, and fill roasting pan with water to reach halfway up the sides of the smaller pan. Bake 30-35 minutes, until top is set, but not too firm. Serve warm or room temperature with whipped cream or ice cream.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Soup's On

Spiced Carrot Soup   
Desperately trying to warm up on a cold day, I found myself going to my refrigerator for refuge. By juggling some ingredients that are always in my fridge and pantry, I was able to concoct a delicious, soul-warming soup.

A velvety blend of vegetables and bold, aromatic spices, this soup can be a light option (if that's what you need it to be) or a decadent, rich, robust, and incredibly satisfying option (if that's what you want it to be).

                                                                (Yield: 5-6 servings)

2 tablespoons canola oil
3 medium carrots, peeled & roughly chopped
1 parsnip, peeled and roughly chopped
3 medium leeks, (white parts only) roughly chopped
4 cloves garlic
6 cups chicken stock (you may use vegetable stock)
½ teaspoon cumin
½ teaspoon coriander
¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 teaspoon curry powder
1 cup heavy cream
Salt and pepper, to taste
Chives, chopped (for garnish)

1.   In a medium stockpot, heat the oil briefly over medium-low heat, and add next 3 ingredients. Sweat vegetables for 2-3 minutes then add garlic, cumin, coriander, cayenne pepper, and curry powder. Stir to coat vegetables with spice mixture. Cook for another 2 minutes.

2.   Add chicken stock. When soup comes to a boil, skim off any foam that floats to the top. Reduce heat to low, and cover pot with lid. Simmer for 25-30 minutes until vegetables are tender.

3.   Remove pot from heat, and blend the soup with an immersion blender until completely smooth (you may also use a conventional blender). Once soup is blended, return to heat and add the heavy cream. Cook for another 5 minutes. Season with salt and pepper, and garnish with chives and a sprinkle of smoked paprika (optional).

Friday, February 11, 2011

Let Them Eat Cake Part II

I’m proud to say that I conquered my cake-making phobia. I finally completed the cake for my friend’s baby shower, and, surprisingly enough, it was not a horrendous disaster. Having put a lot of thought into the cake’s design, I ended up settling on a onsie-shaped cake. Simple enough for an “experienced amateur” like myself, but cute and bold enough to win some smiles, I decided that this design would work best.

 I started by making fondant the night before.  I know the word “fondant” and the process of making it might scare many of you off, but hang in there. It’s really not that difficult.
So, as I mentioned in my previous post, fondant is the smooth cake covering that has gained sort of a bad rep lately. It’s rubbery texture and uber sugary taste causes most people to peel it off of their cake and leave it behind on their plates. I found an alternative, marshmallow-based fondant recipe that, not only tastes better, but is much easier to make than the one commonly used by pastry chefs.

Here’s how I did it…
You will need:
2, 10 oz packages of marshmallows
4 tbsp water
Canola (or vegetable) oil, as needed
Blue food coloring (drops or paste)
4 heaping tbsp cocoa powder
1lb box confectioners’ sugar
1 large microwave-safe bowl
1 medium microwave-safe bowl
Wooden spoon or spatula
Parchment paper or aluminum foil

*I chose a blue/brown color scheme because my friend is having a boy, but feel free to experiment with whatever colors you want.

  1. Prepare materials: Grease the inside of your bowls and wooden spoon with oil. Place 15 oz of the marshmallows (1 ½ bags) into the large bowl, and the rest of the marshmallows into the medium bowl. Line your work surface with parchment paper, taping it down so that it doesn’t move. 
  2. Work with one bowl at a time: Microwave the large bowl until marshmallows have puffed up, 1 ½ -2 minutes. Add a few drops of the food coloring, and stir with greased spoon. Continue to add food coloring until the marshmallows are a baby blue color (Make it slightly darker than what you want the finished product to look like, because the confectioners’ sugar will lighten the color).
  3. Begin to sift the confectioners sugar into the colored marshmallows: Continue to sift and stir until the mixture is still sticky, but forms a uniform mass. Sprinkle some confectioners’ sugar on your work surface, and transfer mixture from bowl to work surface. Oil your hands and dust with confectioners’ sugar. Begin to knead the mixture by hand, working more sugar in as you go. Try to add as little sugar as it takes to form  a soft dough. It should still be somewhat sticky, but just as you feel that it is manageable enough to form into a ball of dough, stop adding sugar. (In total, you should have used at least half of the box of sugar)
  4. Repeat process with medium bowl, using cocoa powder instead of the food coloring to form a pastel brown color (Add more cocoa powder to adjust color, if necessary). This dough will obviously require less sugar than the blue dough.
  5. Brush each piece of fondant lightly with oil, and wrap tightly in plastic wrap. Store the fondant at room temperature until ready for use. It can be stored at room temperature for up to a month as long as it is tightly wrapped.
Pheww... that wasn’t so bad, was it?

Now the cake…
I decided to make a chocolate cake, cause what pregnant woman (or woman, in general) wouldn’t want chocolate.

You will need:
4 cups All Purpose flour          1 cup vegetable oil                      
   2 cups cocoa powder              4 eggs                                           
4 cups sugar                             4 tsp vanilla extract                    
2 tsp baking soda                    2 cups sour cream                        
2 tsp baking powder               2 cups coffee, room temperature                                        
1 tsp salt                                  
parchment paper
non-stick cooking spray
1/2 sheet pan(18"x13") though a large square pan of similar dimensions is ideal                                  

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit (if your oven has a convection option, use it). Spray sheet pan with non-stick spray, and cover with parchment, spraying parchment as well. If you have more than 1 sheet pan, great. If not, you’ll have to bake in 3 batches.
  2. Using an electric mixer with a whisk attachment, combine all of the dry ingredients (first 6) in a large bowl. You may also work by hand, using a whisk.
  3. In a separate bowl, combine remaining wet ingredients. With the mixer on medium-low speed, add the wet ingredients to the dry, and mix until batter is smooth. Distribute batter evenly among sheet pans, or if working with only one, pour 1/3 of the batter into sheet pan. Bake 15-17 minutes, until inserted toothpick comes out clean. Allow cake to cool in sheet pan before removing. Repeat until you have made 3 cakes.
For the filling:

I decided to fill the cake with a chocolate pastry cream and an almond whipped cream.
Now, I know what you’re thinking. Pastry cream, really? I had those very same thoughts. And even though I’ve made pastry cream in the past (and it’s really not that hard,) I opted for a short cut. That short cut was chocolate pudding. Crazy, right?! Hear me out before you judge me.
A. It’s a great time saver – instant takes 5 minutes.
B. It gives the cake a richer chocolate flavor, and makes it super moist.
As for the whipped cream, that’s easy enough for anyone to do. You whip it; that’s pretty much it.

For the filling, I used:
1 package instant chocolate pudding (which requires 2 cups of milk to prepare)
2 cups heavy whipping cream
4 tbsp sugar
3 tsp almond extract (you can use any extract or flavoring you want)

Combine the heavy cream, sugar and almond extract in a medium bowl. Using a standing mixer, beat the mixture until stiff peaks form. Oh, and if you want to prepare the whipped cream a few hours ahead of time, make sure to chill your bowl and whisk in the freezer for 15 minutes before using. 

And now for the fun part…assembly

Pick a platter on which to assemble your cake. Make sure it’s big enough and not too heavy, because once you start assembling your cake chances are you won’t be able to move it.

  you will need:
  Your baked and cooled cakes
        Prepared chocolate pudding
        Prepared whipped cream
        prepared fondant
        Confectioners sugar
        Offset spatula
        Rolling pin
        Parchment paper
        Pastry brush
        ¼ cup vodka
        Candy buttons (you can get these at a cake supply store)
        3 oz semi-sweet chocolate
        2 oz white chocolate (optional)

  1. Place one cake layer onto platter. Top with half of the chocolate pudding. Using the offset spatula, spread the pudding evenly across entire cake, leaving about ½-inch border on each side. Follow, by spreading 1/3 of the whipped cream on top. Top with second layer of cake. Repeat with a layer of pudding, and a layer of whipped cream. Top with final cake layer, and frost with remaining whipped cream.

  1. Cut the cake into the shape of a onsie. If you happen to have a 6 or 9 month onsie laying around the house, you can use it as your guide. If not, your imagination will work just fine (it’s a pretty straight forward shape). Don’t discard the excess cake pieces just yet; you might need to use them to adjust your cake. Set cake aside.

  1. Cover your work surface with parchment paper, and dust with confectioners’ sugar. Dust your rolling pin with sugar, and begin to roll the blue fondant. Work from the middle outward, turning fondant 180 degrees every now and then. Roll into a large rectangle that is a little over than a ¼-inch thick (don’t make it too thin, as it may tear). Transfer rolled fondant from work surface to cake by rolling onto rolling pin and then unrolling over the cake. Cover all but the sleeves of the cake with the blue fondant. Gently smooth the fondant over and around the cake, and trim off excess, leaving an extra inch at the bottom just in case. Tuck the ends under the cake.

  1. Roll out the brown fondant. Cut 2 large pieces to cover the sleeves of the cake, a 5”x4” rectangle to go in the center of the onsie, and reserve a few small pieces of fondant for details. Cover the sleeves with the fondant as you did the rest of the cake. Attach fondant rectangle to cake by brushing some vodka on the back. Use the vodka to attach a button at each corner of the rectangle. Cut three strips out of the reserved piece of fondant, and use for details on onsie. Use vodka to attach pieces to the cake as well.

  1. Place the semi-sweet chocolate in a microwave-safe container and microwave for about 45 seconds, stirring every 15 seconds until it is completely smooth. Transfer melted chocolate to a ziplock bag, and snip a small piece off one edge of the bag. Use the chocolate to write a message on the cake (in the brown rectangle).
*If you want to add some extra details to the cake, like a collar, you can melt white chocolate.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

What is a Chef to do without her Tastebuds??

I am currently in a very bad predicament. I cannot eat anything without experiencing a foul, bitter taste in my mouth afterwards. This has been going on for 2 days now, and I'm going insane!

Seconds away from scheduling an appointment with a gastroenterologist, I decided to google my problem. My findings - apparently, I'm not alone. People who have experienced such an occurance, and who like me don't suffer from medical conditions like diabetes or jaundis, all have one thing in common. That thing is pine nuts.

Guilty as charged; I had me a few handfuls of the delicious culprit the day before my tastebuds became intoxicated. But sources say it's not just any pine nut that causes "pine mouth"; it's those grown in China. Recently, my mom brought me a bag of pine nuts that she purchased from a local organic foods store. Naturally I threw a few into pretty much everything I made. The one thing that perplexes me, however, is the fact that my husband doesn't have this problem even though he ate all of the dishes I prepared. Well, come to think of it, I did sneak a few handfuls in without him.

Food glorious food, when will I reunite with your true flavors? I guess all I'm left to do at this point is wait. Just so you know, this is not my idea of fun.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Salads that Satisfy

People really underestimate how difficult it is to make a good salad. When I say good, I mean a salad that tastes and feels good, one that leaves you feeling satisfied but not full and regretful about consuming empty calories. If you think about it, just like with any other food, a great salad has to achieve the perfect harmony of flavors and textures.
There’s nothing I hate more than a plate of mushy greens drenched in a bad dressing. A dressing has to dress the salad like an accessory, adding to the salad’s components rather than overpowering them. It’s all too often that you order a salad in a restaurant and it comes soaked in a cloyingly sweet dressing that makes you think you would  have consumed less sugar just having dessert.
 It’s taken me long enough, but I think I’ve finally pinpointed what I want in a salad.

 Here are my top 5 requirements:
  1. It has to have the perfect balance of salty, sweet, and acidic.
  2. The greens have to be crisp and fresh, not wilted and soggy.
  3. The textures of the salad components should contrast (i.e.: creamy, crunchy, meaty, juicy, etc.)
  4. The consistency of the dressing should NOT be thicker than ketchup, and there shouldn’t be a puddle of dressing at the bottom of your plate (just enough to lightly coat everything)
  5. The flavors of your salad ingredients should NOT conflict with those of your dressing (it probably wouldn’t be a good idea to use a raspberry vinaigrette in a salad with things like anchovies or olives).
Here's one that did it for me the other day...
                          Hearty Arugula Basil Salad  
(White Beans, Pecorino Romano, Poached Egg & Pomegranate Vinaigrette)
The sharpness of arugula and Pecorino was complimented by the tang and slight sweetness of the vinaigrette. The acidity of the vinaigrette also cut the richness of the poached egg and beans. But perhaps the best part of the whole thing was breaking into that perfectly poached egg, letting it ooze all over the place, and then mopping everything up with some crispy whole grain toast. Mmmm...salad nirvana.
                                              yield: 4 servings
                                         Pomegranate Vinaigrette 
                                                 3 tbsp pomegranate molasses
                                                 1/2 oz red wine vinegar
                                                 1 tbsp shallots, finely chopped
                                                 1/4 cup canola oil
                                                 salt & pepper, to taste

                                                 6 cups water
                                                 1 tbsp white vinegar
                                                 4 eggs
                                                 4 cups baby arugula
                                                 1/2 cup basil leaves, torn
                                                 1/2 small red onion, thinly sliced
                                                 3 plum tomatoes, halved & sliced
                                                 1/2 cup canned cannelini beans, drained & rinsed
                                                 1/2 cup shaved Pecorino Romano cheese

1. Make the vinaigrette: In a small bowl, whisk together first 3 ingredients. Continue to whisk as you slowly drizzle in the oil. Season with salt and pepper. Set aside. 
2. Poach the eggs: Bring water to a small simmer in a saucepan. Add the vinegar. (Make sure that the water is not at a rolling boil when you add the eggs) Working with one egg at a time, crack an egg into a small bowl or ramekin. 

Gently lower the ramekin into the simmering water, introducing some of the water into the ramekin before releasing egg into water. Repeat with remaining eggs. 

 Allow a few seconds for the eggs to set, and skim off any loose whites that float to the top with a slotted spoon.


Simmer eggs for about 3 minutes, or until whites are fully cooked and the yolks are still soft to the touch. Remove eggs from pan with a slotted spoon, and allow excess water to drip off.
 3. Assemble salad:  In a large bowl, toss arugula, basil, red onions, tomatoes, and cannelini beans with reserved vinaigrette. Top with poached eggs and shaved Pecorino Romano. Serve with whole grain toast.