Saturday, December 15, 2007

Turkey Day

Alright, alright, I guess I'll go ahead and skip over things that have been waiting longer and move pumpkin pie and Thanksgiving to the front of the line (just so I don't end up posting next Thanksgiving about what I did the previous year.) So I made a cheesecake. Shocker, I know. And it was a pumpkin cheesecake, another huge surprise at Thanksgiving, but what are you gonna do?
I decided to celebrate Thanksgiving here in Spain by inviting all my American friends (and some Brits too, I mean, I guess the pilgrims were pretty much them , fresh off the boat) to come over and have a nice Thanksgiving feast. I would take care of the turkey, gravy and dessert, and they would provide the rest. And it turned out really well, and the best part was I got to keep all the leftovers and have a second Turkey Day and then some turkey-stock soup. Dericious. Just take a look at everything:
So, starting from the top and going clockwise we have: cranberry sauce (they actually sold cranberry sauce here at a British and American food store, but it still wasn't the giant cylinder we're used to, it actually had cranberries in it, but it was good), cheesey mushrooms, carrot and parsnip mash (courtesy of a brit), corn pudding (simple but extremely delicious), broccoli casserole (made with Campbell's cream of mushroom soup, also very delicious), a salad of lettuce, asaparagus, and orange, and finally turkey, gravy, and mashed potatoes.

So now back to the cheesecake. I've actually made a pumpkin cheesecake before, but it was years ago and I don't think I liked it very much, I've never been a big fan of pumpkin pie. But just for this occasion, on my last trip over from America I brought a can of Libby's pumpkin puree. And I'll just remind everyone once again of how old school Spain can be, if you'll kindly direct your attention to the photo of the can opener that 'bites' around the edges of the can…and you have to do each 'bite' yourself. I tell you, the muscles I'm gonna have at the end of this...Anyways, finding a recipe for pumpkin cheesecake wasn't too difficult, and it's pretty well-known what flavors go well with pumpkin. So, my recipe is based loosely on one from good ole

Pumpkin Cheesecake

125 g butter
200 g maria cookies
fresh and already ground cinnamon

1 can pumpkin puree
600 g cream cheese, room temp, as always
about 100 g butter, also room temp
1 Tbsp cream
about 60 g brown sugar (until it's sweet enough)
big pinch of cinnamon
pinches of the following: ground ginger, clove, fresh nutmeg, and salt
3 eggs

250 g quark (or sour cream)
lots of bourban
lots of sugar

First crush up the cookies and mix with melted butter. Then throw in the already ground cinnamon, mixing again. Press into the bottom and up the sides of a springform pan. Then take a cinnamon stick and grate it (it’s ok if you get some large pieces) directly onto the pressed crust, so that you get a nice sprinkling over the crust. Then put in the oven at 170 C for about 10 minutes
Now start mixing the cheesecake batter. Use your handy can opener (ahem), and open the pumpkin and mix it in a bowl with the cream cheese, then add the butter and cream and mix well. Now add the sugar and stir again. So now you have your basic batter and you can do what you want with the spices and alter them as you need. I start with a pinch of everything, just remembering that you always want more cinnamon than the other stuff (epicurious calls for 1 1/2 tsp cinnamon and just 1/2 tsp of the other three spices). But I'm not big on measuring, so I like to throw in and taste as I go (this is also why I put the eggs in last, but really, raw eggs never stopped me from eating dough). And remember to put in a touch of salt, as it’ll really bring out the pumpkin and spice flavors. Finally put the eggs in and give everything a good stir. Pour it into the crust and stick it back in the 180 C/350 F oven until the knife comes out almost clean and it's still wobbly except around the edges (maybe 35-50 minutes).
When you take it out, you can whip up the topping so it cools off a bit. Easiest part: it all goes on taste. Mix together the quark, powdered sugar, and bourbon until it’s sweet enough but you can taste the alcohol. Spread on top and put back in the oven for 10-15 minutes until it’s bubbling at the edges and take out and let cool at room temp. Finally, stick it in the fridge overnight and then on Thanksgiving stuff your guests full of turkey and sides until they think they can’t eat anymore, and then bring out the pumpkin cheesecake…

And it's only a month after the fact!

Thursday, December 13, 2007

New Brownie Recipe

I give snaps to all the boxed brownie and cake mixes like Betty Crocker, Pillsbury, and Duncan Hines. They are delicious. There are some things I don’t want to buy pre-mixed in a box, but I’m all for brownie mixes. And they’ve gotten creative, with cheesecake brownies and turtle brownies, etc. I’m very happy to support them.

Because of these miracle boxes, I very rarely had to make my own, homemade brownies, and if I did it was only a few times following a recipe from my kids cookbook that came with large, colorful, plastic measuring spoons. Well I left that book at home and there ain’t no boxed brownie mixes in Spain (there is however, already-ready cake batter in a bag in the refrigerated section, ready-to-pour into a pan and bake. I don’t think I’m going to go that far). So, when the craving for brownies hit, I had to make my own and I’ve found a new standby. It might even replace boxed brownies one day…

I do love and that’s where I found this recipe. It’s actually a recipe for brownies with peanut butter frosting and then a chocolate layer. I made it to the peanut butter frosting (I had some so-so peanut butter that was going to get eaten on it’s own), but I couldn’t wait for the cooling of a top chocolate layer. These turned out great: the brownie itself was totally dense and rich but very smooth and moist, almost like a fudge. And the peanut butter frosting had a bit of nutmeg in it, so it was a bit spicy, a nice variation, but I’m holding onto this recipe especially for the brownies.

One last thing should be noted: in Spain there’s no word for brownie. When I told my roommate it was a thick chocolate cake, he took a piece and took one bite and said “esto no es pastel, es una bomba!” And then proceeded to claim it was too rich to eat a whole piece (I, of course, thought this was rather a moderate, regular-sized piece, easy to get down).

Peanut Butter Brownies


3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter (170g)
7 ounces bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, chopped (about 175g)

3 ounces unsweetened chocolate, chopped (75g)
1 1/2 cups sugar (300g)
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon salt
4 large eggs
1 cup all purpose flour (125g)

1 cup peanut butter
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature (57g)
3/4 cup powdered sugar (90g)
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon fresh ground nutmeg
1 tablespoon whole milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

First, melt the butter and chocolate together, over the stove or in the microwave. Then add the sugar, vanilla and salt and stir well. Now crack in the eggs and mix in, and finally add the flour, mixing in until well combined. Now it's ready to bake, easy enough, huh? Now pour into a big baking pan (something like 13x9x2, but doesn't have to be) and bake in a 325 F (about 170 C) oven for about 30 minutes, but start checking around 15 to be safe, remember, you (or at least I do) want them a little underdone because then they stay moist.
While they’re cooking you can make the peanut butter frosting, but you have to wait until the brownies cool off a bit so it doesn't melt the icing completely. But the icing might be even easier than the brownies: mix everything together. First the peanut butter and butter, then add in the other stuff. Now remember, you can play around with all the ingredients; if you want, throw in some peanuts, if you like it really spicy, add more freshly ground nutmeg. It's your call. So when the brownies are cool enough, frost them, and eat immediately. Come to think of it, they might be even a little better slightly warm, I would put mine in the microwave to soften them up a bit, even though it was messier. So I say, throw on the icing when they're still a little warm inside and enjoy with a big glass of milk.

And p.s., remember to store in the refrigerator.

Saturday, December 8, 2007

Tanti Auguri a Te

How fitting: my Italian roommate’s favorite dessert if Tiramisu. I have to admit that I don’t love apple pie. I don’t even like it that much. So I’m not as ‘American as apple pie,’ I’d have to say. But my roommate, he’d be as ‘Italian as tiramisu’ if that were a saying. It was his birthday this month so naturally, I put myself to making some tiramisu.

I’ve made it once before, but it was years ago and I don’t remember where I got the recipe, so I looked at my standby, and found a traditional, simple recipe. My one concern was the marsala wine: sure you could find it here, but there are so many substitutions (I found out online), one of them being sherry. So, as I’m in the land of sherry, it wasn’t a hard decision to throw in some Pedro Ximenez.

Being in the land of sherry (Spain) this also means that I’m in the land without my appliances, so the whipping of the egg whites had to be done by hand (yall should see my arm now), as did the whipping of the cream. The latter was a bit harder. I had already spent about 15 minutes (including breaks) whipping the egg whites to stiff-ish peaks, so I was getting sore. I poured the cream into a metal pan and began to whisk and after about 10 minutes not much was happening except lots of little bubbles, but no thickening really. Then I looked at the box and realized I was using light cream (of course it didn’t say it on the front, where one might think to put it), labeled on the side as 18% fat. So then I gave up and poured some of the cream in, not all though, because it was still mostly liquid. So, my words of advice before making this: get full-fat, heavy whipping cream, and get egg-beaters. Oh my poor KitchenAid mixer back home, missing me…

Tiramisu, alle Spagnolo

3 eggs
¾ c sugar
1 c mascarpone
½ c cream
2 c coffee
2 Tbsp sweet sherry (like Pedro Ximenez)
a bag of ladyfingers
cocoa powder

First I got the coffee mixture ready, and since I’m not a coffee drinker I used instant powder, two bags for two cups boiling water. Then I added the sherry, stirred and let sit. Next, I separated the eggs and over very low heat on the stove, mixed the egg yolks with all but a tablespoon or two of the sugar, whisking the whole time so they don’t cook and stick to the bottom of the pan. After about 2 or 3 minutes, they’re done so take off the heat, and mix in the mascarpone. Now comes the whippin’ time. Use your electric mixer or your muscles and beat the egg whites until soft peaks, and then add the remaining sugar and beat until stiff peaks and fold into the mascarpone mixture. Then whip your cream and fold that in as well. Now you’re ready to assemble. First, get yourself a clear glass container, so you can see the layers when you’re done. Dip each ladyfinger in the coffee just to get each bit wet, but not soaking (although some of mine ended up soaking, this could have been a cause of the excess liquid when I served it…) and lay side by side in the bottom of the dish. Then spread with a layer of the mascarpone cream and sift some cocoa powder on top to give a thin layer over the cheese. Now you just have to repeat everything. Dip ladyfingers, lay side by side again, cover with mascarpone, and then again with cocoa powder. I got three layers out of mine, but it depends how big your dish is. Then stick in the fridge until you eat it. Important: make sure you make this plenty of time ahead of serving it. Some reviews on epicurious said it tasted better the second and third days, but I only had time to do mine the morning of. So at least six hours before so that it has time to firm up in the fridge.
All in all, I was happy with it, as I think were the Italian guests, but I think that cream gave me the shaft, or else it was my excessive dipping of ladyfingers, because the bottom layer was especially liquidy, but it was eaten all the same.

Saturday, December 1, 2007

Mexican in Spain

I’m going home in three weeks and besides seeing my family and my friends, there’s someone else I’m really looking forward to seeing: queso. Oh, my dear friend, he’s stood by me for so long, whenever I wanted, he was there, tasty as ever and he got along great with both chips and tortillas. He was always there for me, that is, until I moved to Spain and he stayed in Texas.

Queso doesn’t exist here because yellow cheese is hard to come by. They have so many great cheeses here, but they’re all white. No yellow cheese that’ll melt into a lovely puddle mixed with garlic, peppers, tomatoes, and onions. I did happen to find its cousin however, queso fundido. This is a lot easier to re-create, as it’s just white cheese melted to perfection in the oven and eaten with corn tortillas. I like to eat mine with a bit of chorizo, sometimes called choriqueso, which after regular queso, I tend to order a lot when I’m out in Austin.
The good thing about this is you don’t have to have a specific kind of cheese, just some good, white, melting cheese. I went to the deli counter at the store and asked what a good cheese would be to melt and they gave me some Danish or Dutch stuff, I can’t remember.

So with a bit of chorizo, corn tortillas, cilantro and a squirt of lime, I almost felt right at home.

Queso Fundido with Chorizo

a good helping of white melting cheese (depends on how many people you have)
about the same amount of cooking chorizo (not the already cured/cooked stuff)
plenty of corn tortillas
a handful of cilantro
a lime

It might be one of the easiest recipes ever, and it doesn’t have to be exact, as you can tell from the measurements above. It depends on how much you want to eat, and how much you like each ingredient. So first of all, preheat the oven to something pretty hot, around 400 F or 210 C and put the cheese in an oven proof dish (a lot of times it’s served in a heavy iron pan, but I didn’t have any oven-safe ones), and into the oven. To know when it’s finished, you just have to watch it until it’s bubbling and maybe a tiny bit brown around the edges. While the cheese is cooking, start the chorizo. If it’s in casings, as mine were, get all the meat out of it and put in a pan over medium heat on the stove. As it cooks it’ll start popping, releasing lots of grease and changing color. When it’s finished, it’ll be firmer. In the meantime, chop the cilantro roughly and heat your tortillas either in the microwave or in the oven with the cheese. And that’s pretty much it. You wait for everything to be cooked and hot and then you assemble: take a tortilla in hand, and spoon on some cheese (you know you’ve got the right cheese if it’s super stringy and starts getting more so as it cools). Then add some chorizo, a sprinkling of cilantro and a tiny squirt of lime juice. Roll up and don’t drip grease on yourself.