Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Coeur à la Crème

Sometimes you just need something sweet.
Everyone is this way at least every once in a while. Granted, some people are far less frequent observers of this little maxim than others... and "sometimes" very easily becomes "all the time" for a portion of the others.

Then again, what does it for one person may not even come close to taking care of the craving that another person has. Maybe it has to be ice cream or nothing at all for one, but maybe yogurt and honey works just fine for the other. 
But what crazy 5-year-old is going to concede that an apple will do when what they really want is chocolate or cake?

My mother always used to make sun tea, and the giant jar of sun tea pretty much had it's consistent place in the fridge. There was a bottle of liquid artificial sweetener in the top shelf of one of the kitchen cabinets that was used with the sun tea (I can't think of anything else it might have been used for). It was a clear glass bottle with a long neck and vertical ridges, a little spout and a red label. 
Of course, the best thing to do when you know there's something sugary that you're not really allowed to take, and that you can't easily reach, is to climb up on the counter and get it yourself. Why bother asking? In this instance it wouldn't have mattered in the least if I'd asked nicely. Then again, could there be a reason it was on the top shelf?

However, it wasn't anywhere near the wonderful thing it was imagined to be. It's actually really nasty chemical stuff, intense and disgusting. Well, to be fair one has to admit that it wasn't meant to be drunk straight. 
So, you've got to just put it back carefully, be grateful no one walked in and found you standing on the kitchen counter, jump off the counter, get a drink of water, and be on your way while pretending that nothing ever happened.
I guess it's good to learn lessons on your own sometimes. 
I'd much rather have real sugar... and I can't believe that a bottle of low-calorie artificial liquid sweetener really takes care of anything at all for anyone- who are they kidding? 

Coeur à la Crème is a refined type of dessert that also happens to take care of a need for sugar (it does not take care of a need for chocolate, just a need for sugar). 
This is basically a cheesecake, but better- and I would have to say lighter, too.
So, if anyone out there is worried about Lent, perhaps this could be considered prep for Easter? You have to be prepared with dessert, right? Of course. It's called advance planning.

A coeur is an elegant finish to a meal, which can be pulled out and presented last minute.
I like to serve the finished coeur whole and on a large plate. I didn't do much setup in the photo since I had to take pictures while the lighting was good, and dessert wasn't actually eaten until it was pretty much dark outside. The sauce is served in a bowl alongside the coeur or poured around the outside so the coeur sits in a pool of crimson berry sauce. Fresh strawberries also make a nice accompaniment. People can serve themselves- just remember that it's rich!

Coeur à la Crème
serves 8

10 oz cream cheese, room temperature
2 c whipping (heavy) cream
pinch of salt
1 c powdered sugar (confectioners' sugar)
zest of 1/2 lemon (best if zested directly into the cream)
seeds from 1/2 vanilla bean
2 t vanilla extract

Berry sauce:
2 c blackberries, raspberries, or strawberries (or a mix), either fresh or frozen
1 c blackberry or raspberry jam (if I use blackberries for the sauce, I like to use raspberry jam and vice versa)
1/3 c water
1/2 c sugar
1 T freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 T fruit liqueur, such as Chambord or Cointreau (optional)

Line a coeur mould (or a footed colander) with two layers of cheesecloth that you have dampened under cool water and wrung out. Make sure there is excess cheesecloth hanging over the sides of the mould and place the mould on a pan with sides.
In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, beat the cream cheese, cream, and salt on low speed for a few minutes until relatively homogenous. Using a spatula, scrape down the sides of the bowl and the paddle attachment, remove the paddle attachment and replace it with the whisk attachment. To the cream mixture, add the sugar, lemon zest, vanilla seeds, and vanilla extract. Whip several minutes on medium speed until thick and creamy. Transfer the mixture to the prepared mould, making sure it is evenly distributed throughout. Fold the extra cheesecloth over the top of the cream mixture, cover the coeur with a plate and top with a couple cans to weight it down (I like to aim for 1 1/2 lb or so). Refrigerate the coeur on the pan overnight.

To make the sauce:
Bring the berries, sugar and water to a simmer over medium heat. Cook about 3 minutes, so the berries begin to break down a bit, stir in the jam, and cook about 1 minute longer. Remove the pan from the heat and pour the jam mixture into the bowl of a food processor. Process the mixture until the berries are completely incorporated. Add the lemon juice and liqueur and blend to incorporate. Refrigerate the sauce until ready to use.
Makes about 2 3/4 c sauce.
(*Any extra sauce can be used with plain yogurt, ice cream, in smoothies...)

When ready to serve, unwrap the top of the mould and remove the mould from the pan. Place a large plate upside-down over the top of the coeur, and while holding both tightly, turn it so that the plate is right side up and the mould upside-down. Carefully lift the mould from the coeur and pull the cheesecloth off the surface of the coeur.

Thursday, March 15, 2012


Hummus: the Middle Eastern and sometimes Mediterranean restaurant staple. Oh, yes. It's there, on the menu with the other appetizers. 
Then again, it's on lots of menus- never mind the culinary genre. 

But, yay for freshly homemade hummus! It's simple, healthy, and a great snack to have around for noshing on (it tastes pretty good, too). 
Hummus can be eaten with pita or lavash, raw carrots, celery, cucumber, and bell peppers, used as a spread for sandwiches, as a side with chicken or lamb, with a hamburger...

The best part is that you can take a basic recipe and blend in whatever sounds good to change the flavor: chopped olives, toasted pine nuts, roasted red peppers, sumac or other spices, sun dried tomatoes, herbs (like oregano, perhaps), extra lemon or garlic...

Basic Hummus

2, 15 oz. cans of chickpeas, drained and rinsed
4 cloves of garlic, minced
1/3 c fresh lemon juice
zest of 1/2 lemon
1/2 c plus 3 T extra virgin olive oil
1/3 c tahini (sesame paste)
Kosher salt
freshly ground black pepper

Garnish: extra virgin olive oil, paprika, parsley

Place the garlic and chickpeas in the bowl of a food processor. Process until the chickpeas are broken down and resemble wet sand. Add lemon juice, lemon zest, olive oil, tahini, 1 t Kosher salt, 1/2 t black pepper and process until smooth. Taste the hummus and add more olive oil, salt and/or pepper as necessary until desired texture and flavor are reached.
Place the hummus in a serving bowl or other container, cover, and refrigerate at least 2 hours prior to serving to let the flavors blend (it really does make a difference).
Hummus will last a week in the refrigerator.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Tom Kha Gai

Tom Kha Gai is a Thai coconut and ginger soup, and also happens to be a soup I like to order when going out for Thai food.

It's one of those things that's a little difficult to pass up- sometimes it can be hard to try something new when you know perfectly well that there's something else you like just fine (and you have no idea when you might be back to have it again- however, a panang curry will also suffice).

It's savory and a little sweet, a little citrusy, a little spicy, and very aromatic. It's got everything.

While it's good to go out sometimes, I can't do it all the time as it would get slightly expensive.

This is a version composed of what I could find at the grocery store. All-in-all, this is cheaper than ordering multiple rounds of soup, and it gives a sense of accomplishment when the soup is finished.
It SHOULD have pieces of woody galangal and Kaffir lime leaves floating in the soup. However, I don't happen to be in a citrus-growing climate, and these things aren't readily available in run-of-the-mill groceries. Asian, yes (but to go to an Asian grocery store takes actual planning).

The not exactly perfect but acceptable substitutions are fresh ginger and lime juice and zest. Along with the stalks of lemongrass and coconut milk, it's still in the realm of slightly exotic homemade soups. 
For a meat-free version, vegetable broth (or water) and shrimp can be substituted for both the chicken broth and chicken (but then it wouldn't be "gai").

And you know, although the cilantro and green onion isn't such a vibrant green, the overall flavor seems to improve after a little time (i.e., it makes for great leftovers).

Serve Tom Kha with a side of steamed jasmine or basmati rice, or sticky rice.

Tom Kha Gai
serves 6-8

4 c chicken broth (or vegetable broth)
1 c water
12, 1/2 cm large diameter slices of fresh ginger, plus 1-2 T grated ginger for later use
2 stalks lemongrass, bruised and sliced into 2 inch pieces
4 large cloves of garlic, minced
1 serrano pepper (or a jalapeno if you want a little less heat), halved lengthwise, seeded, and coarsely chopped (optional)
2 limes, washed
1 lb. skinless, boneless chicken, cut into 1 inch pieces (or 1 lb. shrimp, shells removed)
2 T fish sauce (nam pla)
2 T brown sugar
1/2 t red pepper flakes
1 1b. mushrooms
2, 14oz. cans coconut milk
4 T green onion, sliced
3 T cilantro, coarsely chopped

For serving: lime wedges, sambal oelek or sriracha

Place broth, water, sliced ginger, lemongrass, garlic, serrano or jalapeno pepper, strips of of zest from one lime and juice from one lime in a large pot. Bring the mixture to a boil over medium heat, reduce the heat to low, cover, and simmer 25 minutes.
While the soup simmers, prepare the mushrooms. Clean and slice the mushrooms and saute in a frying pan over medium heat with a little olive or vegetable oil. Stir occasionally, and cook until all the juices have evaporated.
Once the broth has finished simmering, remove the lime strips and sliced peppers. Add the fish sauce, brown sugar, chicken pieces, and 1 t salt to the broth and simmer about 5 minutes, or until the chicken is cooked through. Add the mushrooms, red pepper flakes, grated ginger, and coconut milk. Stir occasionally and simmer very gently about 10 minutes so the flavors meld. Grate the zest of 1/2 lime and squeeze the juice of 1/2  lime into the soup. Sprinkle on the green onion and cilantro, stir through, and taste for seasoning. Add more lime juice, zest, or salt as necessary.
Serve the soup with extra lime wedges, sambal oelek, or sriracha to suit individual tastes.