Monday, September 24, 2007

Roasted Tomato Pasta

If I could live off two foods in life, it would be chocolate (which might be evident already) and pasta. My tendency goes towards cooking desserts, but every now and then, my sweet tooth feels quenched and my carb tooth (if that exists) starts itching. This is when I turn towards pasta, which I could eat everyday and be happy. I might be fat, but I’d be happy.

What I love about pasta is it’s so good, but can also be simple. Every now and then I like to make my own homemade pasta, or follow some recipe for an elaborate sauce, but most of the time, I love just throwing random, simple ingredients together. I used to lean towards heavy, creamy sauces, but lately, I’ve been experimenting a lot with tomato or olive oil based sauces and I’m loving them.

My old favorite used to be simple garlic, olive oil, then tomatoes and sometimes a bit of cream and some parmesan. I’ve recently discovered roasted tomatoes, and I’m waiting for it to get cold outside (blasphemy, I know, I actually hate cold weather, but warm food is my consolation), and I can start roasting up warm, tasty tomatoes, which happen to be a part of my new favorite pasta.

Another love of mine is basil, so it was only natural that I put it into the mix. Again, it’s very simple because it’s only a few easy ingredients, but they mix so well together, and it’s prepared in a way I haven’t had or made before. So, I give you my Roasted Tomato Pasta, more a guide than a recipe.

Roasted Tomato Pasta

250 g pasta (enough for two people)
Extra virgin olive oil
about 5 medium red, ripe, juicy tomatoes
thyme (if you have it)
one whole head of garlic
a very generous handful of basil
freshly grated parmesan
dried chili peppers

First I cut the tomatoes into wedges and then put into a large glass oven-safe dish and drizzled with a good amount of olive oil. Then I three the time leaves in there, crushed a couple red peppers and threw them in along with lots of salt and pepper. Then I mixed everything together so the tomatoes were well coated.
Next, I took the whole head of garlic and trimmed off the top with a knife, taking one slice through while I laid it on it’s side so that most of the cloves were barely exposed. Then I wrapped in foil, and drizzled with olive oil, trying to get some oil covering each clove. Twist the top around, and then along with the tomatoes, they’re ready to put in the oven, a very hot oven, around 400-450F (200-230C) and let them roast. I just wait until the tomatoes are turning black around the edge of the pan and at the tips. The garlic might take a bit longer, but it’s ready when it’s soft and squishy. This might take around 35-45 minutes, it usually does for me.
While the tomatoes and garlic are roasting, put water on to boil for your pasta. While waiting for that to boil, you can grate the cheese and tear up the basil (I don’t like to cut it because I’ve heard it bruises very easily and after you chop basil, it leaves so much of the good juices on the cutting board).

Now you’re all ready to go. Put the pasta in when the water boils (and salt as well). Take out when to your liking and strain. Hopefully your tomatoes and garlic are finished now. The one annoying thing is handling the garlic when it’s hot, but it’s not too bad. I took the garlic, and sometimes you can get a whole clove out, the peel cracks and it’s easy to remove, or just take a knife and pop it out into the bowl of tomatoes. After you’ve gotten it all, pour in some more olive oil, mush up the garlic and stir around with the tomatoes. Put the pasta in, mix again, and then sprinkle on the cheese and basil, maybe with a few cracks of pepper and a bit of salt. Enjoy. Preferably with a glass of wine.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Last Berlin Kuchen

Alright, about a month after the fact, let’s see what I remember: I love hazelnuts. I love trying new desserts. I think that about sums it up. But really, I was looking in some Bon Appetit or Gourmet a couple months ago and found a cake called Gateau Breton, a regular, buttery, sugary cake with the added bonus. I like cake enough, but hazelnut cake caught my eye. That’s one thing that I will miss when I’m back in America, the lack of hazelnuts because they’re everywhere in Europe and it’s great. They're Europe's peanuts.

I wanted to try out the Gateau Breton earlier, but for some reason you can find hazelnuts everywhere in Spain, but ground hazelnuts are a different story. I searched high and low (the Boqueria Market and Pakistani shops) and no beans. So I shelved the idea of Gateau Breton until I could get a hold of a food processor or already ground hazelnuts. Enter Berlin.

Oh Kaiser’s, how I love thee. Just a big old grocery store in Berlin but it’s cheap and it's got loads of stuff. I can ponder over the multiple Ritter Sport candy flavors (pfefferminz, cappuccino, praline, etc.) and they have little, almost powder-like hazelnuts in a handy package, Gateau Breton-ready. So I figured it was my perfect opportunity.

The good thing about Bon Appetit and Gourmet is that it’s all online, so I had only to search on and found the recipe immediately. Most of the reviews that I read said it was very dense and rich, it was like shortbread, it was buttery, all promises which were delivered upon making it. Some said to serve with fruit like strawberries, others said flavored whipped cream, or simply crème fraiche. I threw some Kahlua into a container of crème fraiche and I got a few pleased tasters who asked ‘did you make the cream? It’s delicious.’ No, no. That’s the store-bought part. But the cake was well-received too. The cool, smooth cream is a good livener to the dense, buttery gateau.

My one change? Put in more hazelnuts. The recipe only called for a ½ cup, which wasn’t nearly enough. I think the cake was perfect if you’re in the mood for something rich but simple, but the hazelnut didn’t come out enough. Next time I’d at least double it, putting in a cup or more, and taking away some flour. Other than that, perfect.

I’m posting the recipe straight from because the only change I made at the time was using regular sugar because I didn’t have vanilla sugar on hand.

Gateau Breton

1 1/4 cups sugar, divided
1/2 cup hazelnuts, lightly toasted, husked
6 large egg yolks (preferably organic)
1 cup (2 sticks) salted butter, melted
2 cups unbleached all purpose flour

1 large egg yolk beaten with 2 teaspoons water (for glaze)
crème fraiche flavored with liquor (Kahlua, Frangelico, etc)

Position rack in center of oven and preheat to 325°F (170 C). Butter and flour 9-inch-diameter springform pan. Combine 2 tablespoons sugar and hazelnuts in processor; blend until nuts are finely ground but not pasty (or if you have already ground, just mix with a fork). Combine 6 egg yolks and remaining 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar in large bowl; whisk until well blended and slightly thicker, about 2 minutes (do not use electric mixer). Whisk in hazelnut mixture. Gradually whisk in melted butter. Sift flour over batter; stir just until blended (batter will be thick; do not overmix or cake may be tough).Transfer batter to prepared pan; smooth top with offset spatula (layer will be thin). Brush top generously with egg glaze.

Using back of tines of fork, deeply mark crisscross pattern atop cake, marking 3 times across in 1 direction and 3 times in opposite direction (I’m guessing this was just for decoration, I did it lightly and it didn’t really matter. I served it with a big blob of crème fraiche on top anyways). Bake cake until deep golden on top and tester inserted into center comes out clean, about 1 hour. Cool in pan on rack 15 minutes, then remove pan sides and cool cake completely.

Thursday, September 6, 2007

Berlin Kuchen: take two

For my second dessert experience in the land of abnormally-numbered ovens, I went back to my ever evolving cheesecake recipe (as I sit here writing this I’m making cheesecake: Chocolate Coffee…I’ll tell you how it goes soon enough). After some mulling over and consulting my principal taste-tester, we came up with orange and goat cheese with a rosemary crust.

Now rosemary is hard to come by in Berlin. At least in supermarkets and food stores, so the next best thing? A nursery. But I didn’t want to buy the whole plant, so I know confess I browsed some plant shops and hovered around the rosemary pots and took a sprig or two. The rest of the ingredients were easy enough.

I thought I had the ovens all figured out, and would not have any problems. And I didn’t at first. I made my crust (I had transported my springform pan from Spain. In a land with degree-less ovens, don’t expect a springform pan in your standard kitchen). I pulled the rosemary crust out of the oven and it was beautiful and I thought to myself this is gonna be good.

Then I mixed my cheesecake, looked good, tasted good, and stuck it in the oven. I know some people and recipes say do NOT open the oven during cooking, but I’m a curious, impatient type and I like to watch my stuff and see what it’s doing. Well about fifteen minutes through cooking, the top was already browning. A lot. I put tin foil on it and it was done in record time at about 25 minutes. Unfortunately what I couldn’t see was that the bottom was browning also. Too much. So I ended up with a superquick-bake cheesecake done in less than half the time of most cheesecakes, and a slightly burnt crust. It was like it separated into layers, and the part touching the pan was burned, but the part touching the cheesecake was fine. The cheesecake came out fine though, tasted of orange, not too much goat cheese flavor.

I don’t know if there wasn’t enough rosemary or the extra cooking of the crust caused it to lose its flavor, but we couldn’t really taste the rosemary. Next time will experiment with more.

Orange and Goat Cheese Cheesecake with Rosemary Crust

200 g digestive cookies (graham crackers, Maria galletas, whatever you have)
150 g butter
a few sprigs of rosemary

First pull the rosemary off the branch and finely chop. Then put the butter in a saucepan and add the rosemary, melting the butter and stirring. While the butter melts, crush up your cookies finely, my favorite method in the absence of a food processor is jumping up and down on them after they have been properly tied into many bags. Mix well with the butter and rosemary and then press into the bottom and up the sides of a springform pan. Bake at 170 C for 10 minutes, or until the edges start to darken.

400 g cream cheese
300 g goat cheese
50 g butter
150 g sugar
juice from half an orange and zest of whole orange
3 eggs
pinch of salt

Make sure your cheeses and butter are room temperature and easily whipped. Either with a whisk or electric mixer whip the cheeses together and then mix in the butter until smooth. Now mix in the sugar, and then juice the orange and grate it directly into the batter.
I still am undecided on if it makes a difference beating the egg whites or not. Dan thinks it does, so this time, the egg whites were beaten. First add the yolk to the batter and stir them in, then beat the whites until soft peaks form and fold them in until just mixed. Lastly put a touch of salt in. Pour into the springform pan and bake at 180 about 35 minutes, maybe longer depending on your oven, until the top is beginning to brown and a knife comes out almost clean. This means it will be perfectly creamy; I think if you take it out when the knife is clean then the cake is overdone. It firms up a bit in the fridge and turns out the perfect consistency. Let cool until about room temperature and the chill, best if overnight.

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

German Kuchen

It’s been a while. I was on a short “hiatus” in Berlin, but only from writing, not from cooking. It was a bit harder than here in Spain, although I didn’t expect the oven knob to have a number system from 1 to 8, or no visible numbers at all. This didn’t get me down, only a little burned (or a lot burned) at one point. But my first attempt at baking with the specially-numbered German ovens turned out as a success. Another problem to overcome was the fact that I didn’t have a scale, so it was fun throwing in what I guessed was the right amount and seeing how it ended up.

First on the list was a plum cake I used to make when I was in middle school. I remember it as being more like a cheesecake made with flour that had plums on the top. The recipe came from a Southern Living, and lately I’d been thinking about that cake, so my mom emailed me the recipe.

In Berlin there were plums everywhere, and even many pflaumen torten, at bakeries, at market stalls, more than I’m used to here in Spain. Getting my ingredients wasn’t so hard, the only thing I had a bit of a problem with was cognac. I got some cheap, tiny, airplane sized bottle of some not-so-good cognac because it was all I could find without buying a whole bottle.

The interesting thing about this cake was it turned out totally different than I had remembered it. Like I said, I remember a dense, cheesecake-like concoction with plums lining the top, and when I pulled this out of the oven and served it, it was a bit like a soufflé with plums that had sunk to the bottom (as you can see below).

And I’m not quite sure which is right…I only now started to wonder. Either way, make sure you use enough sugar, because if you don’t then the cream cheese is a very subdued flavor and you won’t taste much except a bite with plum. So, let me know how yours turns out: heavy, cheesecake topped with plums, or light, airy soufflé with a base of plums…

Plum Cake

½ (8-ounce) package cream cheese, softened
1 ½ cup sifted cake flour
½ cup sour cream
1 teaspoon baking powder
4 large eggs, separated
1 pound small plums, cut into thin wedges
¾ cup powdered sugar, divided
2 tablespoons brandy
¼ teaspoon cream of tartar

First beat the cream cheese with a whisk until fluffy, then add the sour cream and mix in well. Now beat yolks and ½ cup sugar in a separate bowl at medium speed until thick. Then add the cream cheese mixture and brandy, beating until blended.
Beat the egg whites and cream of tartar at high speed until foamy (or if you don’t have an electric mixer, find a male and hand him a whisk). Add remaining ¼ cup sugar, 1 tablespoon at a time, beating until stiff peaks form and sugar dissolves. Combine flour and baking powder; fold into cream cheese mixture. Fold in egg white mixture. Pour batter into a greased and floured 9-inch springform pan, and arrange plum wedges on top (I always remember them resting on top and staying there, however, this most recent time they sunk to the bottom as I took my time placing them in a nice pattern. Maybe when I was younger I didn’t understand the concept of “beating egg whites” and this could explain my denser cake…). Now bake at 350 F (or oven knob Low, somewhere around the 2 I think it was) for 45 minutes (or until you open the oven and realize it’s cooking extremely fast, browning on top after 10 minutes). Cool in pan on a wire rack 5 minutes. Remove sides of pan. Sprinkle with powdered sugar; serve warm or at room temperature.

unfortunately my pictures did not come out at all for this....I think the best one I got was on the floor in someone's room, you might be able to see a hint of oriental rug under the clear plate in a few of these...