Macarons

Macarons

Mardi Gras is here in Saint Louis, Missouri, and a favorite of mine are macarons of lemon yellow, lavender purple, and  lime green. They are a delight to shop for if you have nearby a French pastisserie to select these colorful sweet deserts. I often wondered if I go for the flavor of the shell, or their filling. Of course, it’s the filling that most are interested in. The coloring given to their shells is playful. It is associated with their flavour.

Many hybrids of macarons can now be bought, though a professional pastry chef might still choose to cater to private parties while making them. I was reading today Pierre Herme’s book titled “Macarons” and discovered that he divided his book into chapters that organize the macarons according to: Classics, Fetish Flavours, Signature Macarons, Made-to-Order Macarons.  As one chef is noted on saying, “There is something very endearing about macarons”.

According to Hermes, there are thirty-two steps to making a great macaron:

“1. Weigh out the egg whites indicated in each recipe described as ‘liquefied’ egg whites. Separate the whites from the yolks.  Weigh out the necessary quantity of egg whites into two bowls.

2. Cover the bowls with clingfilm. Using the point of a sharp knife, pierce the film with holes. It is best to prepare the egg whites several days in advance, preferably a week, so that they lose their elasticity. Set the bowls in the fridge.

3. On the day you bake the macarons, prepare two piping bags. Disposable plastic piping bags are best.  The first is for the batter, the second is for the ganache or cream filing. Using kitchen scissors, cut the points off the piping bags 5 cm from the end.

4. Insert a nozzle right to the end of the bag.

5. To make sure the macaron batter doesn’t escape when you spoon it into the bag, push the nozzle firmly into the bag with  you finger.

6. Prepare the baking trays for the shells. Lay the template of circles on the first baking tray, then cover it with a sheet of baking parchment. Depending on their size, you will need three or four baking trays.

7.  For the macaron batter. Weight out the ground almonds and the icing sugar separately.

8. In a bowl, stir together the ground almonds and icing sugar. Place a medium-mesh sieve over a large bowl. Sift by gently shaking the sieve.

9.  If you have chosen a recipe that includes food colouring(s), mix it/them into the first bowl of egg whites.

10.  Pour the coloured (or not) egg whites into the bowl of ground almonds and icing sugar, but do not stir.

11. If you have chosen a recipe that includes food colouring(s), mix it/them into the first bowl of egg whites.

12. Pour the water into a small saucepan then add the sugar.  Put the probe of an electronic thermometer into the sugar.  Cook over a medium and as soon as the sugar reaches 115C, simultaneously start to whisk the second quantity of liquefied egg whites to soft peaks at high speed in an electric mixer with a whisk attachment.  Dip a pastry brush in cold water.  When the sugar boils, clean the sides with the damp brush.

13.  When the sugar reaches 118C, take the suacepan straight off the heat. Pour the hot sugar over the egg whites before the meringue is fully formed.  Continue whisking at high speed for another minute.

14.  Reduce the whisking speed to a medium speed and continue whisking the egg whites for about two minutes. You have just made an Italian meringue.

15.  Wait until the Italian meringue has cooled down to 50C by the electronic thermometer (about four or five minutes) before taking it out of the bowl of the electric mixer.

16.  Tip the Italian meringue out of the mixer bowl.  Using the spatula, stir it into the mixture of icing sugar and ground almonds folding in the batter and stirring outwards from the middle to the sides, rotating the bowl in your hands as you stir.

17.  Continue stirring, still from the middle of the batter out to the sides of the bowl and rotating the bowl as you do.  When the batter is just starting to turn glossy, it is ready.  The batter should resemble slightly runny cake dough.

18.  Take the first piping bag you prepared in your half-open hand.  Scoop up a little batter on the spatula. Scrape it into the bag.  Fill the bag with half the batter by scraping it on to the side of the bag.

19.  Squeeze the batter into the bag so that it slips right down to the end of the piping bag. This is important because there should not be any space or air bubbles in the batter.

20.  Twist the end of the bag down tightly with several twists to trap the batter firmly in the bag.

21.  Pull on the nozzle to begin piping the shells.

22. Position yourself about 2 cm above the first baking tray. Hold the piping bag vertically and gently squeeze the top to pipe out the first shell which should be just short of 3.5 cm in diameter, as the batter will spread during cooking.

23.  Stop squeezing the piping bag. Move forwards a little and give a quarter turn to block the batter. Continue piping the shells leaving a 2 cm gap between them and arranging them in staggered rows. This is why the template is very important.

24.  When you have used up all the batter in the bag, fill it up again with the other half of the batter.  Continue piping the shells on to the other baking trays (with the template).

25. To flatten out the points that have formed on the shells, lift up the baking trays one by one and rap them lightly on the work surface covered with a kitchen towel.

26.  Lift a corner of the baking parchment, slide out the template and lay it on the other baking trays, one by one as you use them.

27.  To make sure the baking parchment doesn’t move during cooking time in the fan oven, stick down the four corners with dabs of the batter. Press gently on the corner to make sure they are firmly held in place.

28.  Allow the shells to stand at room temperature for about 30 minutes until a skin forms on the surface.  The batter should not stick to your finger.

29.  Pre-heat the fan oven to 180C, but be aware that the cooking temperature in your oven may vary between 165C and 190C. The shells should not change colour during cooking.  You should set the Temperature of your oven according to the type of oven you have.

30.  Depending on the size of your oven, you can put all three or four baking trays in the oven together, otherwise, bake them in two batches.  Bake for 12 minutes, briefly opening and shutting the oven door twice to let out the steam. Open the door the first time after eight minutes (at that point the ‘foot’ of the shells will be cooked) then a second time for 10 minutes.

31.  As soon as you take the macaron shells out of the oven slide the baking parchment on to the work surface.  This is important:  if you leave the shells on the baking tray, they will  go on cooking. Allow the shells to cool on the baking parchment.

32. Carefully unstick half the cooled shells from the baking parchment, one at a time by hand. Lay them flatside up, side by side on another sheet of baking parchment.  They are ready to be filled. You can also store them for 48 hours in the fridge or freeze them.”

Here are my favourite macaron flavours: almonds, chestnuts, coffee, chocolate, green tea, lime and basil, pistachio, raspberry, and violet and blackcurrant.

Good luck with your baking and take your time to learn. If you have little patience, go to your local French patisserie and buy them!

 

 

February 4, 2015 – Culinary Book Club – Vegetables – Meets noon to 1 pm in Book Club Room @Central

On Wednesday, February 4th, between noon and 1 p.m. we will be meeting in the Central Library book club room near the Locust Street entrance to discuss vegetables. We will discover what new vegetables look like and, if interested feel and taste them. Ethnic vegetables, as many are known to be used by various cultures, are tasty and edible. We just have to learn where to buy them and how to prepare them to eat. Recipes and culinary experiences will be shared by members. As well, handouts will be given so that you can lunch and learn about veggies! Phone Spruce @ 314-539-0390 if you need more information. Looking forward to seeing new members next week!

Super Bowl Party Foods

In the midst of freezing temperatures and snow in parts of the United States, many are preparing for the Super Bowl game. However, many are also preparing for the party that surrounds Super Bowl watching. Favorites offered include vegetables cut-up, such as celery and fennel. Fresh little cherry tomatoes, black olives, or pickled mushrooms.

Chicken wings are a favorite to offer your guests. A recipe from Senegal called YASSA, is a spicy marinated chicken is delicious if you enjoy spicy chicken. Start this recipe by marinating your chicken for ten minutes to overnight. The longer it is marinated, the more spicier your chicken meat will become. Remember to lightly score your chicken wings or pricking them all over, before you place them in the marinate. This will help them absorb the flavor.

Marinade includes:
3 large onions, chopped Salt and pepper
2 small cloves of garlic, crushed Juice of 4 lemons
1/2 teaspoon red pepper 1 tablespoon peanut or vegetable oil
1/4 teaspoon ginger 1 cup water

Make sure you mix all the marinade ingredients, including the lemon rinds, in a large bowl. Stir well, then add the chicken pieces an allow to marinate for several hours (up to one day). Be sure each piece is either immersed in marinade or turned occasionally to be evenly coated. When ready to cook the chicken, remove it and pat dry with a towel, but reserve the marinade.

Grill over a charcoal fire for 10 minutes on a side or broil in an over. Return the chicken plus 1/2 cup water and the solid marinade to the skillet. Cover and simmer for 20-30 minutes. Serve with rice.

(Source: Muessen, H.J. 1981. How the World Cooks Chicken).

Veggies that Look Different

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Recently, while shopping in a local grocery store in Saint Louis, Missouri, I discovered an unusual looking vegetable. It was the Romanesco, also called Romanesco Broccoli or Roman Cauliflower.  It is sold alongside broccoli and cauliflower.   It’s Latin name is Brassica oleracea L. var. botrytis and it’s in the same family as broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, and Brussel sprouts.

I enjoy cooking it the same way as cauliflower – in a curry, with tumeric, Madras curry, cumin, and coriander. With its spherical shape, it adds texture to a flavorful chicken and potato curry.

Another way to eat this vegetable is with balsamic vinegar and olive oil.  Add minced garlic and season with salt and ground black pepper, and you will have a delicious side dish.

If you are curious to see what this vegetable looks like, come and attend the next Culinary Book Club meeting on Wednesday, February 4, between noon and 1pm. We meet in the Monthly Book Club Room that is located in the Locust Street Atrium of the Central Library, located at 1301 Olive Street, Saint Louis, MO, 63103.

January Culinary Book Club Event – Holiday Entertaining

Come spend your lunch hour at the January Culinary Book Club Event. Our January topic will be holiday entertaining. Share your stories of holiday entertaining and learn of new methods. A special time to gain knowledge of ethnic traditions for holiday entertaining.

Visit on Wednesday, January 7th, 2015, from noon until 1 p.m. in the Locust Street Atrium Book Club Room. All welcome! For more information please call (314) 539-0390 or email sfraser@slpl.org.

Looking forward to meeting new members!

Chicken curry to heat up your winter

A-chef-prepares-a-curry-dish-in-an-Indian-restaurant

Chicken curries have always been my favourite, especially during a cold winter evening. It is also popular for pot lucks and buffet dinners.

To make a good curry, you need to understand their origins. For example, a chicken vindaloo curry comes from the coastal regions of southern India. It was very popular with the old Portuguese enclave of Goa. Vindaloos use vinegar and mustard oil in their preparation, which is no so common in other curries.

A vindaloo curry marinade includes:

1 tsp cumin
2 tsp tumeric
1 red chili pepper, ground
1 tbsp coriander
1-inch of ginger root, ground
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp pepper
6 cloves
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 large onion, sliced thinly
1/2 cup wine vinegar
3-4 tbsp mustard oil (or ghee)

This mixture can be made beforehand, so that you can cut-up your chicken pieces, and marinade them overnight. I prefer using chicken thighs for my curries. The meat is tastier than white meat.

A chicken korma marinade includes:

1 tsp grated fresh ginger, or 1/2 teaspoon powdered ginger
1 tsp tumeric
1 tsp freshly ground black pepper
4 larges clove garlic, minced
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp coriander
1 tsp cumin
1 tsp mustard powder
1/4 tsp cinnamon

Again, mix the above ingredients together with your chicken pieces. Try to cut your chicken into similar sized pieces so that their cooking time is the same. Otherwise, you might have overcooked pieces of chicken. The longer you leave your chicken resting in the marinade, the more flavourful your meat. I like to keep it in the marinade overnight, turning every few hours.

Before cooking, heat your ghee and cook your marinaded chicken pieces in a large cast iron frying pan. Add one peeled tomato, 1 cups yogurt, cover, and cook for 30 minutes on a low heat. Serve with plain basmati rice.

Another favourite chicken dish, which can also be cooked with lamb, is a murghi biryani. A girlfriend from South Africa taught me about biryanis. It is a very popular rice dish mixed with many different flavours.

Ingredients for murghi biryani:

12 threads of saffrom
2 cups plain yogurt
2 teaspoons grated ginger
2 teaspoons tumeric
1 clove garlic
1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp ground coriander
1 tsp ground cumin
1/4 tsp ground mace
1/3 cup ghee
Salt to taste
1 onion, chopped
6 cloves, ground
1/4 tsp ground cardamon seeds
1 cup basmati rice
2 cups water

First, soak your saffron in 2 tbsp yogurt for 2 hours. Grind your spices together. Add this mixture to your yogurt. Pour over cut-up chicken pieces. Let sit overnight.

To cook, heat your ghee in a large cast iron frying pan. Brown the chicken for 20 minutes, until completely cooked, turning frequently. In a second skillet, use your remaining ghee and saute your onion until brown. Remove the onion, then in the same skillet, add your saffron, salt , closes, cardamom seeds, and rice. Stir continuously to coat each rice kernel for a minute or so, then pour in 2 cups of boiling water. Cook over medium to high heat for 8-10 minutes, or until the rice is half cooked.

Finally, in a casserole dish, spoon in half the rice, then add a layer of onions, almonds, and chicken pieces. Add the remaining rice, the pour over the remaining yogurt. Place the pot on a very low fire, cover and cook until the yogurt has been absorbed (about 10 minutes).

What is so nice about making this dish, is that you can serve this meal directly to your guests. This recipe will serve 4 to 6 people. It is the perfect pot luck item to prepare, as you have both your protein and starch in one container!

Plum Pudding Anyone?

 

Plum puddings were always a symbol in our family that either Christmas or New Year’s Eve was arriving. We were a family of short-cuts, where we would go in September to our local grocery store, pick up a cellophone wrapped pre-made plum pudding, then bring it home and soak it with brandy. My mother would flip it every few weeks and add a bit more brandy. After three or four months of repeating this procedure, by Christmas it was well soaked. To make it even more exciting, my mother would steam the plum pudding before serving. Of course, serving meant heating even more brandy and pouring in onto the freshly steamed plum pudding. Shutting off the dining room lights just as we were ready to serve it was the grand finale to lighting a match and lighting the plum pudding. There were ohhss and ahhhss as the heated brandy kept flaming for a few minutes. Now that was a Christmas tradition.

So…. this year I decided to make it from scratch. It takes time to find all the ingredients. As I learned, I had to visit several stores to find all of them. Candied cherries were not in the organic store that offered every colour of raisens that I needed. So it went. Store hopping and checking my ingredient list, until I was ready to put together the ingredients for my very first homemade plum pudding!

So, let’s get ready for holiday plum puddings in September. Some people might prefer twelve months of letting your plum pudding soak in brandy for twelve months. It will always have a stronger flavour the longer it sits with brandy.

Here is my recipe for plum pudding:

Ingredients
Fruit Mixture

1/2 pound white seedless raisins
1/2 pound dark seedless raisins
1/2 pound currants
1 cup chopped candied lemon peel
1 cup chopped green candied cherries
1 cup chopped red candied cherries
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 cup slivered blanched almonds
1/2 teaspoon mace
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/4 teaspoon allspice
1 1/2 cup brandy

Pudding

1 1/4 pounds (approximately) fresh bread crumbs
1 cup scalded milk
6 eggs, well beaten
1 cup sugar
Brandy

Hard Sauce
A hard sauce is considered “hard” because it includes alcohol. Although my mother used brandy for her hard sauce, I always preferred using dark rum to make my hard sauce.

Using equal parts of unsalted butter and granulated sugar, mix together adding enough rum to flavour. Put into fridge to solidify until using. Generously dallup a spoonful of hard sauce with each serving of your plum pudding. It should melt in your mouth.

Preparation

Blend the fruits, citron, peel, spices together in a bowl. Add 1/4 cup brandy, cover tightly, then refrigerate.

Soak the bread crumbs in milk and sherry or port. Combine the well-beaten eggs and sugar. Blend with the fruit mixture. Put the pudding in buttered bowls or tins, filling them about 2/3 full. Cover with a damp dish towel. Steam for 6-7 hours. Uncover and place in a 250°F. oven for 30 minutes. Add a dash of brandy to each pudding, cover with foil and keep in a cool place.

Just before using, steam again for 2-3 hours and unmold. When you are ready to present and serve to your guests, who are patiently waiting for the lights to be turned off, heat a cup of brandy, then pour over your plum pudding when warm. Ignite and bring to the table. Serve with hard sauce.

If you have dinner guests who are not familiar with Commonwealth traditions, this will be a memorable dining experience. Enjoy!

December Monthly Culinary Book Club – December 3rd

December is fast approaching (next week!) and our final culinary book club of 2014 will be on casseroles. When your day becomes packed with the end of a school term, or too many holiday parties, it is time to consider baking a casserole. What is so nice about casseroles is that you can prepare them in advance and just reheat them before your dinner party.

A favorite for kids is a cheeseburger casserole. This is made with pasta , ground beef, chopped onion, minced garlic, shredded American cheese, chopped tomatoes, milk, dried basil, and  black pepper. Better Homes and Gardens Biggest Book of Casseroles (p. 139) has the following cheeseburger casserole recipe:

Ingredients:

4   ounces dried penne pasta (2 cups)

1 pound ground beef or ground pork

1/2 cup chopped onion (1 medium)

1 clove garlic, minced

2 10 3/4-ounce cans cheddar cheese soup

1/2 cup milk

1 teaspoon dried basil, crushed

1/8 teaspoon black pepper

1 1/2 cups shredded Swiss or American cheese (6 ounces)

1 cup chopped tomatoes (2 medium)

Directions:

1.  Cook pasta according to package directions;  drain.  Set aside.  Meanwhile, in a large skillet cook ground beef, onion, and garlic until meat is brown and onion is tender; drain. Stir in soup, milk, basil, and pepper. Stir in cooked pasta and 1 cup of the cheese. Transfer to an ungreased 2-quart rectangular baking dish.

2.  Bake, covered, in a 375 degree F oven for 30 to 35 minutes or until heated through.  Sprinkle with remaining 1/2 cup cheese and the tomatoes. Let stand for 10 minutes before serving. Provides serving for 6.

 

 

Pumpkins are not just for Halloween

Pumpkins in a pumpkin patch in New York

Did you ever see the Charlie Brown show where they were talking of “the Great Pumpkin” and the pumpkin patch? Memories of childhood reflected by many the importance of one orange colored vegetable – the pumpkin. It is a plant that trails over the ground and produces many pumpkins.

Pumpkin festivals have kept this plant from being forgotten. Small-town pumpkin festivals keep the interest in this solid vegetable. The history of the pumpkin is a long one. However, it was never eaten by the Pilgrims’ famous 1621 feast. Instead, people have gotten a creative imagination.  They thought it was eaten then, and continued this dream. When in reality it was never present.

Volumes of pumpkins grown remind us how the pumpkin industry has grown. From 71,700 tons of pumpkin grown in the United States in 1949, to over 1 million tons in 2007, shows just how fascinated with pumpkins are Americans. Of course, if you enjoy celebrating Halloween, you no doubt have at least one carved pumpkin sitting outside on your doorstep, with either a candle burning inside or a flashlight left on. This shows very nicely the artistic abilities of the pumpkin carver.

Roadside stands of every shape and size of pumpkins adorn rural areas of the United States. Wholesale markets offer the buyer cheaper options than upscale grocery stores that might sell white or gigantic orange pumpkins. Pick-your-own pumpkin farms attract many families from suburban areas. Although they might not be cheaper than in a city store, providing the family experience of choosing the right pumpkin with your family is still very much done. I remember going on hayrides with other daycare parents and children as an annual daycare field trip. We would go bumping along, sitting tightly together in a wagon being pulled behind a farm tractor. It was exciting for our toddlers!

Check it out!

Ott, Cindy. 2012.  Pumpkin – The Curious History of an American Icon.

         Seattle, WA: University of Washington Press.