Thursday, December 29, 2011

Milk Punch

Sometimes I sit with a stack and cookbooks and go through them to see what I would like to make or experiment with.

And occasionally it's only informational, other times- I admit- it's just to look at pictures.

Going through one of the Canal House books, I came across a recipe for milk punch. So, initially it was a while back and too warm (to my mind anyway) to think about this type of beverage.
It's not the kind of thing that I would really crave in July.

I'm not always a fan of eggnog- especially store bought... I think I've decided it's a textural issue for me.

Something more akin to a "light" milkshake? Ok. Sounds good to me.

This, on the other hand, has a different texture. It's a frosty and boozy holiday drink. Boozy holiday drinks are all over the place. Boozy and frosty? Not so common.
Other than for flavor and kick, the alcohol helps keep the drink slushy instead of it turning into a complete block of ice.

Just make sure you have space in the freezer before you get started.

Milk Punch
Adapted from Canal House Cooking, Vol. 2
serves 8

3 c whole milk
2 c half and half (light cream)
1 1/4 c bourbon, whiskey, or brandy
1 T vanilla extract
1 c powdered sugar, sifted (measured and then sifted)
Freshly grated nutmeg, for garnish

Mix milk, half and half, booze, vanilla, and sugar in a pitcher or a bowl. Stir well to combine, cover with plastic wrap, and place in the freezer 3-4 hours or until chilled and slushy. Stir the milk punch to evenly distribute the ice crystals and pour into chilled glasses. Top with a nice grating of fresh nutmeg. 

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Pork Roast with Cranberry Sauce


Fruit and pork is a popular pairing (apples, for instance, are the ubiquitous choice).
However constant pork and apples may be, cranberries offer a more seasonal approach. Those glossy-red tart little ovoid antioxidant berries native to Canada and the U.S. 
It's too bad they're so tart they practically scream for sugar.

This dish comes from friends who have it for Christmas dinner.
At least that's what I thought I knew... and hopefully it's the correct information. But the point is that they were kind enough to share it and sometimes it happens to be the perfect thing to make.

Anyway, I wanted to get it out before Christmas just in case someone might need an idea for something relatively simple that tastes fantastic (with that great cranberry/orange/rosemary combination) and looks colorfully festive.

Luckily fresh cranberries are still available at the grocery (definitely a good thing if you want to make cranberry sauce). But it's very important that fresh cranberries get a good rinse and that those which are less-than-stellar are removed. The berries with characteristics such as "squishy" and "brown" certainly fit the bill here.


Pork Roast with Cranberry Sauce
Adapted from a recipe from Mrs. F
Serves 5-7

3 lb. boneless pork roast
2 T chopped fresh rosemary
1 T chopped fresh thyme
1 1/2 t freshly ground black pepper
Kosher salt
12 oz cranberries, rinsed, drained, and picked over to remove the baddies
3/4 c sugar
1/2 c catsup
2/3 c orange juice
1 t Worchestershire sauce
3 cloves of garlic, minced

Preheat oven to 325 degrees F.
Sprinkle the roast all over with kosher salt and black pepper, then evenly rub the herbs over the pork.
Place the roast in a 9x13 inch pan and roast until the internal temperature reaches 155 degrees F (it will be completely cooked in about 1 hour and 45 minutes total).
While the roast cooks prepare the cranberry sauce. Combine the cranberries, sugar, catsup, orange juice, Worchestershire sauce, and minced garlic in a medium saucepan. Bring the mixture to a slow boil and simmer 5-10 minutes, stirring occasionally, until all the berries have popped and the sauce has thickened. Remove the sauce from the heat and set aside until ready to use. 
During the last 20 minutes of cooking pour the cranberry sauce over the pork roast and baste every 5 minutes until done. 
Serve the pork roast warm with cranberry sauce to accompany it.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Herbed Sweet Potato Puree with Caramelized Shallots

Ok, so I know that many of us are familiar with sweet potato casserole- especially at Thanksgiving. And yes, it's often sweet sweet potato casserole with maybe some marshmallows or some sort of a crunchy sugary topping.

There are sweet potato chips and sweet potato fries- which seem to have much more flavor than their distant regular potato relatives. If I have to choose, I'd go with the sweet potato versions pretty much every time. But I can't recall having seen them at the store or on menus prior to about 10 years ago. Honestly, they seem to have been fairly recent additions.

Then again, maybe that's just me.
Anyway, this is a different version of sweet potatoes. A savory pureed version.

They're a little different, but sometimes you need a little different.

Sweet potatoes are harder in texture than potatoes, so you'll want to be a little more careful when cutting them since they require more force to get the job done. Maybe they're something like the hardness of a butternut squash if that gives any idea (just watch your fingers please).

Adapted from Cooks Country, December/January 2007.

Herbed Sweet Potato Puree with Caramelized Shallots
serves 5-6

2 1/2 lb. sweet potatoes
5 T butter, divided
2 T heavy cream, divided
1/4 c whole milk
2 sprigs fresh thyme
2 t kosher salt, plus more for seasoning
1/2 t pepper, plus more for seasoning
1 3/4 t sugar, divided
3 large shallots, cut into a large dice (about 1 cup of shallots)
1 rounded T sour cream

Peel and quarter the sweet potatoes, then cut each quarter into approximately 1/4 inch slices. 
Place the cut sweet potatoes, 4 T butter, cream, milk, thyme sprigs, 1 1/2 t salt, 1/2 t pepper, and 1 1/2 t sugar in a large heavy pot or dutch oven. Cook covered over low hear until potatoes are very tender, 40-50 minutes, stirring occasionally. 
While the sweet potatoes cook, melt the remaining 1 T butter in a small skillet and add shallot, 1/4 t sugar, and 1/2 t salt. Cook over low heat until shallot is caramelized, about 20 minutes. Set aside until sweet potatoes are done cooking. 
Once the sweet potatoes have finished cooking, take the pan off the heat. Discard thyme sprigs and mash the sweet potatoes with a potato masher. Stir in the sour cream and shallots. 
Serve warm.

*The recipe may be doubled, but the cooking time will also need to be doubled.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Dark Chocolate Mousse

I'm not sure how many people get into a mode where they must figure a certain something out.
It doesn't happen all the time for me, but it does occasionally- most notably when I'm cooking.
I usually make something several times within a short(ish) timespan.
This was one of those things.

The news is that there's almost always a base to start with. This wasn't just a chocolate mousse recipe created out of thin air- there's no need to reinvent the wheel. There are so many recipes out there. 

I made a little change one way, but it wasn't exactly what I was looking for. Then I tried a little something else...

Several mousses and a couple of weeks later... the whole thing now officially constitutes a project.
Is it completely finished? Maybe not. Maybe this will go on indefinitely, albeit at a slower pace.
If you make multiple recipes/renditions of chocolate mousse, you need a captive audience capable of eating it. True, it's not such a bad prospect. There are worse things than chocolate mousse (being stuck in traffic when you're already running late, losing your passport, and having your wallet stolen are all worse than chocolate mousse, let's be honest).  

That said, I believe there is such a thing as the chocolate mousse saturation point, and although I'm sure it's different for everyone, it's still one of those looming facts of life. 
You can't just make it once a day for several days- that's probably too much for most people.

And so, because of the potential and very real threat of being over-moussed, if you plan to work on recipes it's nice to have a variety of people to help you with your research. Another helpful thing is the ability to cut the recipes in half if at all possible. That way when you finally get things the way you want them, you haven't had tons of whatever it is you're working with, and all you have to do is readjust the numbers a bit.

From what I know of chocolate mousse history, it is said to have been invented by the French Post-Impressionist artist Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec. The more I think about it, I'd never have pictured him as the chocolate mousse inventing type (I have other thoughts, yes, chocolate mousse thoughts, no).  I do wonder whether his meringue and chocolate combination was an "accident" as ganache was, or if it was more of an  experimental endeavor. It is a pretty great invention though.

A couple notes: 

Folding a mixture is stirring it  by scraping the sides and bottom of the bowl so as not to deflate the mixture. Bring it up from underneath and turn it over while turning the bowl with the other hand. Personally, I scrape partially around the side of the bowl and then come up through the center with each turn. It's ok if there are a few streaks of cream in the mousse- it's better than over mixing it and losing the air and volume you worked so hard to get into it. 

Be careful when melting chocolate over water. Chocolate and water don't mix well, and in fact chocolate will seize and can be ruined by water. Also make sure that any of your tools that come into contact with chocolate are completely dry.

Adapted from The Best Recipe

Dark Chocolate Mousse
Serves 6-8

7 oz. (200g) 60-65% bittersweet chocolate 
4 T (57g) unsalted butter (or use salted and omit the pinch of salt)
Pinch of salt
1 t (teaspoon) vanilla extract
2 T (30ml) espresso (if you have instant, mix 1 heaping teaspoon with 1/3 c boiling water)
4 large eggs, separated
2 T (25g) sugar

2/3 c (160ml) heavy cream

Optional for serving:
Extra whipped cream, chocolate shavings, and/or raspberries

Melt chocolate in a medium bowl set over a pan of simmering water. Remove the bowl from the heat and add the butter, 1 T at a time, whisking to fully incorporate each tablespoon before adding the next. Stir in the salt, vanilla, and espresso. Add egg yolks, one at a time, and whisk each in completely (the mixture may look a little curdled and like it may have separated a bit, but it's ok). Set the mixture aside.
In another medium bowl whisk egg whites until foamy. Slowly add the sugar, whisking constantly until soft peaks form. Whisk about 1/3 of the whites into the chocolate mixture. Fold
about 1/2 of what egg whites are left into the chocolate with a rubber spatula. Once fairly well incorporated, fold in the last of the egg whites, being careful not to over stir- you want to keep all those airy bubbles in the mousse. 
Whisk the heavy cream with clean beaters or a clean whisk until soft peaks form, then fold about 1/2 of it into the mousse. Repeat with the remaining cream.
Spoon the mousse into cups, bowls, or glasses, cover and refrigerate at least 2 hours.
Serve with garnishes as desired. 
Mousse is best texture-wise within 24 hours.