Wednesday, February 27, 2008

The Black Beast (in a good way, think chocolate)

There’s sometimes where you’re craving something sweet, and there’s sometimes (more often than not) when you’re craving something chocolate, and no other sweet or sugary thing will do. Well, here ya go. Bête Noire. This is pure chocolate, you can, and should, eat it straight up, it doesn’t need to be cut with anything like cream or sauces or fruit. It’s basically a flourless chocolate cake, but it has one ingredient I’m not used to seeing, which is water. Butter, yes. Sugar, yes. Eggs, yes. Chocolate, please, obviously. But water? I’m not saying this is a bad thing, just something I was surprised to see. As far as I can tell, major difference it made was the fact that it wasn’t as heavy as eating flourless chocolate cake, perhaps the kind you might need to take with a bit of crème fraiche or something because it’s so dense. But Bête Noire was extremely rich, shot of pure chocolate but still able to be consumed completely on its own (although I always take my desserts with a glass of milk). I should do a side by side comparison, but I’d be willing to say same richness, just a bit lighter than your standard flourless cakes.

I actually got this recipe from the back of a card. You know that stationery with pretty drawings of desserts on the front and then the recipe on the back. One amendment: the recipe says bake for ‘exactly’ 30 minutes. I did this. Exactly. And I was so excited, and in one of my needing-chocolate moods, and it was not done. And I am the queen of underdoing desserts, purposely, because I like them soft and moist, but this was runny. I cut myself a piece and removed it in spoonfuls as the batter ran out from either side of the slices. Definitely needed more time. Not that this is a bad way to eat it, spooning warm cake batter into your mouth, but to serve to other people, I thought they might want it a little more done. So when it says ‘exactly’ 30 minutes, I think that’s more of a suggestion than an obligation. I popped it back in for 10 more minutes or so and it came out perfectly moist, with a crispy top as the recipe promises.

Bête Noire
From a lovely card which has now been mailed

8 oz unsweetened chocolate
4 oz bittersweet chocolate (total of 341 g chocolate…I just used all 70%)
1 1/3 c sugar (270 g)
½ c water (120 g)
2 sticks (8 oz) butter (227 g)
5 eggs

Preheat oven to 350 F (170 C) with rack in center position. Lightly grease a 9” layer cake pan and then line the bottom with a 9” circle of parchment (I used a springform pan and lined it with foil so the water didn't leak. Then I didn't have to grease, or do the inverting-business at the end). Lightly grease the parchment. Set the cake pan in a jelly roll pan or roasting pan.
By hand combine one cup sugar and the water in a medium-sized saucepan and stirring occasionally, cook over moderate heat until the sugar dissolves and the mixture comes to a vigorous boil. Turn off the heat and immediately add the chocolate to the boiling syrup and stir until it is completely dissolved.
Stir in the butter, one chunk at a time, stirring until each chunk is incorporated before adding the next. Beat the eggs together with the remaining 1/3 cup of sugar until they are foamy and slightly thickened and then whisk them into the chocolate, beating well to incorporate all the ingredients. Pour and scrape the mixture into the prepared pan and level the batter with a rubber scraper.
To bake place the cake pan and jelly roll in the oven and pour hot water to the depth of about one inch into the larger pan. Bake the cake for exactly 30 minutes. The top will have a thin dry crust on top, but the inside will be very moist. Carefully remove the cake pan from the oven (leave the water bath until it cools). Cover the top of the cake with a piece of plastic wrap and invert the cake onto a flat plate or cookie sheet. Peel off the parchment. Cover with a light, flat plate and immediately invert again. Serve hot, warm, or at room temp (I would suggest hot/warm).

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Queso and Mole, what more could a girl want?

This post is mainly for those who are not Texans. Or at least not Americans, but I think the rest of the United States could learn a thing or two from Texans and how to do their food right. After going home for Christmas this year, I brought back some absolutely necessary ingredients that just aren’t available here: Velveeta and Rotel. These two are best friends and when they get together, they make something just darn delicious, you might have heard me talk about it, called queso.

For those of you who haven’t, queso is the basis of Tex-Mex food. It’s melted yellow cheese, mixed in with onions, tomatoes, peppers like jalapeños, and garlic. You can also add in other stuff like avocado, but your basic queso is spicy melted cheese. It’s to be served with a basked of crispy tortilla chips, but can also be poured over enchiladas, burritos, chalupas, and any number of dishes, or, one of my favorite ways, spooned over fresh flour tortillas.

In my opinion, the best queso comes from restaurants, it’d be rare to go to an Austin Mexican restaurant and not find queso on the menu. It’d be even rarer not to order it. But for all those times when you have people over for parties or just for drinks, and you want to have a big bowl of queso, because who doesn’t, you need Velveeta and Rotel. I’m not going to lie, people here were very skeptical of Velveeta, especially after looking it up on Wikipedia and it described it as a “cheese product that contains less than 50% cheese.” I opened the silver block package of my 2 lb. hunk of cheese and a friend asked, “is this butter? It’s butter, right?” You’ve just got to ignore that stuff.

Rotel is just the other stuff that makes up queso neatly produced and sold in one can. It’s tomatoes and peppers, and there’s also more variety now, you can get it with cilantro, or extra spicy, which is what we had. I was asked why I couldn’t just cut up some tomatoes and peppers instead of using canned food, and I guess the answer is because then it’s not Rotel.

I was having a Tex-Mex night, so queso was definitely on the menu. And as cautious as everyone was, the second that bowl hit the table, chips and hands didn’t stop going in until the bowl was scraped clean. I don’t think it hurt either, that I put in chorizo and made my own chips from corn tortillas (how I miss El Milagro chips).

So now my friends are requesting ‘cheese product.’ I’m going to have to see about getting some more shipped over here. That night, there was even talk about importing Velveeta. So, this is the queso and the start to the Tex-Mex night, which was complete with Mexican beer and cowboy boots, and even a homemade Once Upon a Time in the West shirt. Enjoy.

Queso with Chorizo

2 lbs Velveeta (I guess if you can’t find it or have something against it, you could use regular cheddar cheese, mixed with some milk to make it melt easier)
1 can of Rotel (you could also do this yourself, just chop up some onions, tomatoes, peppers, and garlic)
Cooking chorizo

Cut the Velveeta into chunks, empty the can of Rotel and cook them together in the microwave until melted. In the meantime, cook the chorizo in a pan, and when it’s done and the queso’s melted, mix it in well. Serve with chips, and if you want to make your own, look here.

Now we have the main course: mole. This is more traditional Mexico than Tex-Mex, and it originates from Puebla, and if you google it, you can find out a lot more information than I can tell you. When people think of or try and describe mole they usually say a chocolate sauce. True, it’s made with chocolate, but it’s also got about 20 other ingredients, so it’s not just a chocolate sauce. It’s a chile sauce, but not spicy chiles, bigger, dried Mexican chiles that you have to prepare. So that was my first obstacle. I had snuck some Ancho chiles in my suitcase and I had two left over, but that’s not even 1/10 of what most mole recipes call for, but I decided to make it anyways, I mean, it does have all those other ingredients.

I made it one time, a couple years ago, and afterwards I took pictures of the kitchen and all the utensils because it was a mess. And everything was stained a nice reddish-brown from the chiles. And it took me seven hours. I learned from that day, and cut my time down to something like 2 hours or less. Something normal. First of all, since I had two chiles as opposed to ten, my roasting, soaking, and deveining time was decreased dramatically. And the second thing was I decided not to sieve the mole at the end. I remember doing that, standing in my kitchen, putting little batches of the sauce in a fine-mesh sieve and squishing it through with a spatula (thereafter staining both), and I don’t think it was worth it. Yes, it was creamy and smooth, but is there really a problem with a sauce with little bits of nuts and onions still present? No way, it’s less refined, but it’s a bit heartier, and I don’t know if those nuns who made the first mole stood there and strained it (I’m sure if you do search for mole you’ll read about that tale).

Mole is typically served with fowl. I’m not a huge chicken fan, but almost all recipes say, and whenever you go to a restaurant and see mole, it’s with some sort of bird. But I was ‘not allowed’ to do it with chicken. So stewing pork was prepared, and then mixed in with the final product and it came out pretty dang good. Here’s my recipe.

Oh, and one last thing. Mole does not photograph well. At all. Dang it. But I promise it tastes good.

Mole with Pork
Adapted from Café Pasqual’s cookbook and a big, fat Mexican cuisine book

lard or vegetable oil
1-2 slices hard bread
½ c raw peeled almonds
¼ c peanuts
¼ c sesame seeds
1 medium plantain
1 white onion
4 cloves garlic
2 plum tomatoes (fresh or canned)
50 g chocolate
cinnamon (ground and a stick)
1 chipotle chile (from canned chipotles in adobo)
now this is where my recipe goes a little off track because of limiting ingredients:
10 mulato chiles
10 pasilla chiles
10 ancho chiles
(out of all this, I had about 2 ancho chiles)

First roast the chiles, which means put them in pan over medium hot heat until they start to turn black, but not completely because you don’t want to end up with a burned chile, just slightly charred. Then let them soak in plenty of water until they get soft, for about 15 or 20 minutes. Save the water to add to the sauce later. When they’re soft, take them out and devein and de-seed, and then set aside the chiles. Now toast the almonds, peanuts, and sesame seeds in a pan. The sesames probably take less time, so throw them in when the nuts are almost finished. Now heat up your lard/oil and get your other stuff ready: quarter the onion, slice the plantain, and roughly chop the garlic and bread. Then add all these to the lard along with the cinnamon stick and tomatoes. Heat everything until the onion is translucent, at least 20 minutes. Now add the prepared chiles, the chipotles, the nuts and sesames, and a bit of the chile water and blend with a hand blender (you can also do this in your regular blender). You can add more water as necessary, if it’s too thick. Oh yeah, and don’t forget about that cinnamon stick—take it out. This is the part where you would strain, which by all means, you can, but I don’t think it’s necessary and having bits of the ingredients in the mole doesn’t take away from it at all. At this time, the sauce is almost ready and all you have to do it get your meat ready, so boil your chicken or pork or whatever until it’s done, then slowly reheat the mole, adding the chocolate and stirring until melted, and a dash of ground cinnamon, then add your meat to the mole and let everything heat up together. All the books say serve with toasted sesames, and it’s usually eaten with rice, but we went for tortillas, because we were already breaking the rules with pork, and it did not disappoint.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

La Taverna del Clínic

Too bad I didn’t have my camera last April when I went to San Sebastian, because those would have been some amazing pictures. It’s well-known among foodies (or siberitas, as they’re known here) that San Sebastian has some of the best food in the world, and more Michelin-starred restaurants per person than anywhere else. But even the regular restaurants and bars around town are of a different caliber. I wish this system could work in America, or everywhere else: you walk into a bar and the counter tops are filled with plates of little foods, called pintxos, the most typical are little tiny concoctions on bread ranging from grilled goat cheese, mango, tomato, and ham, to grilled beef and mushroom. But San Sebastian does more than the standard pintxo and bars have menus of gourmet food that come in bite size portions so you can try as much as you want. It’s kind of like going to a fancy restaurant and instead of having to decide between seared duck with porcini gnocchi, or scallops with black truffle shavings, or foie gras …, you can have them all. They come in compact size, perfect for sharing with one other person, and it allows you to try everything. And the beauty of it is these are not plates of, yawn, your run-of-the-mill appetizers, these are avant-garde dishes. Ok. I should really stop. This isn’t even a post about San Sebastian. And here I go, teasing you with tid-bits of San Sebastian, food mecca. So I will stop.

This is more to tell you about a place in Barcelona that is San Sebastian incarnate. So if for some reason you make it to Barcelona, and not to that food paradise of the Basque Country, you should try Taverna del Clínic in Barcelona and you’ll get a sampling of what your regular café/bar/restaurant in San Sebastian is like.

So if I didn’t wax poetic enough about the essence of that city a few paragraphs ago, the moral of the story is: it’s like going to a 3 star restaurant at normal prices and smaller portions. Taverna del Clínic looks like a typical bar from the outside (I’m very sorry to admit that it even has a slot machine, I still do not understand the Spanish frame of mind that drives them to put those in all their bars/restaurants), and it even has pictures of the food on the walls and placemats (which is also another no-no on my list) but the food is little works of art. I’ll stop my vague blabber and get right on with what we ate:

This is a montadito of Iberian pork and mushrooms. It’s got some grainy mustard spread across the toast and sea salt sprinkled on top. It is magic and I’ve gotten it all three times that I’ve been.
This is foie gras with caramelized apple and butter. If you recall from my Abac post, you’ll remember that foie is not the first ting I order on the menu, but it’s growing on me. I think it’s something that I hate to like, because it’s not the most humane, and it’s also not the healthiest, but this foie with caramelized apples is also something I’ve ordered more than once.
Ah yes, and these are the patatas bravas. Probably one of the most well-known Spanish plates, after tortilla (to come later) are patatas bravas. If you don’t know them, it’s just fried potatoes with a ‘spicy mayonnaise,’ is usually it’s most common description. Sometimes it’s a plate of home-fry potatoes with a blob of mayonnaise and a blob of spicy tomato sauce. These are nothing of the sort. I wish I had a picture of regular ones for comparison purposes, but I never thought it necessary to take a picture of patatas bravas anywhere else. These make your eyes light up when you see a plate with 5 cylindrical standing potatoes with little wells of sauce in each one. And if you’re not polite and you pop the whole thing into your mouth at once, the sauce explodes with the potato and it makes you appreciate patatas bravas.
This is more foie. Keep in mind, the orders weren’t only my decision, not that I objected, or would in the future. I'm just removing blame from myself. This one is seared foie with morel puree. Very rich.
This was a salad with bacalao (salt cod), nothing too special, but the sauce was something. That red sauce that you see in that little dish, that’s romesco. It’s Catalan, and it’s most commonly eaten with calcots (something similar to leeks or spring onions. It’s just about the season to eat them now, grilled and dipped in romesco). Romesco is made with tomatoes, red peppers, almonds, garlics, and oil, and it is gooood.
Here’s the tortilla. They have all different kinds, mushroom, bacalao, and they throw in a few pieces of pan con tomato (simple yet delicious bread rubbed with tomato). I don’t go crazy over tortilla, I mean, it’s an omelet, but it wasn’t bad, and neither was the bread.
And this is steak with asparagus and a little potato patty underneath. Perfectly cooked and seasoned, we were all very happy with this one.
Now, having been three times, I’ve tried more dished than this, but unfortunately only brought my camera one time. there was a memorable pasta dish with white truffle shavings. A tiny cup of a bowl, but delicious. So maybe I’ll come to you soon with more pictures from future meals. For now, I have a dessert to share with you. Most of the desserts, however, are not made in house, they are done by one of Barcelona’s chocolatiers, Oriol Balaguer. I’ve been to his shop and it was incredibly small and I couldn’t detect anything special, but the dessert was very nice. It’s simply called ‘texturas de chocolate’ because it has a mousse layer and a smooth, creamy, chocolate layer above that, and a chocolate candy on top.
So that’s Taverna del Clínic, I think it truly is an authentic taste of San Sebastian style food in Barcelona. They don’t claim to be Basque, but it was the first thing I thought of when we began to receive the little plates of beautifully presented, slightly modern food. The restaurant is great because it’s so unpretentious, which makes the food even more of a surprise.
Oh, and in regards to my literary drooling over San Sebastian, you only have to wait until May to see actual photos and read about the pintxos because that’s when my next trip is planned.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Soup: part II

I guess you could call this part of my ‘soup series.’ Just look here, that might explain things. So, the second soup I’m posting is one that I’ve started making frequently, because it’s so easy, uses readily available ingredients (at least in Spain, but I’m sure you could find some substitute for jamón, even bacon would be good). And I love it because it’s creamy without using loads of cream or butter. Not that I’m the type of person to shy away from creamy, rich soups, but I guess it’s a good thing when I find one that doesn’t involve lots of fatty dairy stuff and still satisfies me. And I feel kind of healthy afterwards…kind of. It’s pea soup, sprinkled with a bit of ham and mint, so you have some fresh, green things in there, but still, it’s nice and thick because at the end you give it a good whirl with the hand blender. I strongly recommend it if you’re experiencing cold or even cool weather and need something comforting.

Pea Soup with Jamón and Mint
From Moro the Cookbook

4 Tbsp olive oil
½ medium onion, finely chopped
1 medium carrot, finely chopped
2 bay leaves, preferably fresh (honestly, I didn’t have these the past few times I made it and it still turned out wonderful)
2 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
150 g jamón Serrano (cured ham), finely chopped
1 small bunch fresh mint
500 g podded peas, fresh or frozen (I always used frozen)
1 liter chicken stock
salt and pepper

In a large saucepan, heat the oil over medium heat, add the onion, and when it has turned golden add the carrot and bay leaves. Continue to fry for about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally, then add the garlic, two-thirds of the jamón and half the mint. Give everything a good stir, fry for another minute or so, then add the peas. Cook for a couple of minutes before adding the stock. Simmer gently until the peas are tender, about 2-3 minutes. Remove from the heat and blend with a hand blender or food processor until smooth. Return to pan and season with salt and pepper. Serve with the extra jamón and mint on top.

Saturday, February 9, 2008

Pecan Pie

Pecan pie is a staple for Thanksgiving, and a lot of times Christmas, or just a necessity in the South. I know I had my whole Thanksgiving here in Spain, but corn syrup (main ingredient in pecan pie, besides the pecans, of course) is non-existent here. So I did my pumpkin cheesecake, which was not a bad choice either. This meant that I had to make a pecan pie when I went home for Christmas.

I like to use a cook book called “Cook ‘Em Horns” (yall Texans will get it). They have a basic ‘Texas pecan pie’ recipe and then two pages of variations. I like to follow the basic recipe and then throw in a little Jack Daniels and some chocolate, because what isn’t made better by Jack and chocolate? I actually ended up making two pies, the second for my parents to take to their friends’ ranch. It had a few adjustments, and got better reviews than the first one, I think because I learned from the first one. For example, it called for 2 Tbsp melted butter and vanilla extract (which all add liquid), and I threw in some Jack, which made the end result pretty liquidy, even after being out of the oven for a while. So for my second one, I cut back on butter and took out the vanilla completely. I was also low on light corn syrup, so used half dark and half light, which I think adds maybe a bit more depth (I don’t know, they might be the same, but as I said, people liked this one better). And finally, it did not contain chocolate. I will not concede that this makes a better pie. This last change, I think is a matter of personal preference. I love chocolate, and I think it goes well with the pecans, but some might not.

So I’ve changed the recipe a bit from the original, mainly to make that goo that is pecan pie be a little thicker. So good luck to you in your pecan pie endeavors, maybe even give a shot with brown sugar and let me know how it goes.

Pecan Pie
Adapted from Cook ‘Em Horns

½ c light corn syrup
½ c dark corn syrup
3 eggs, beaten
1 c sugar
1 Tbsp melted butter
1 glug Jack Daniels
1 c pecans
½ - 1 c chocolate chips
1 unbaked 9 inch pie crust (you’ll find my recipe here)

It doesn’t get much simpler than this: mix the corn syrups with the sugar and eggs, then the butter and Jack, and finally the pecans and chocolate chips. Pour into the pie crust and bake for 15 minutes at 400 F, then 30 minutes at 350 F. And you can always take it out a few minutes early, that’s my philosophy, just to be sure it’s a tiny bit underdone and moist.

Monday, February 4, 2008

Long Over Due

How it’s possible that I have a blog called the Dough Ball, with a picture of chocolate chip cookie dough as my backdrop and have not yet actually posted about chocolate chip cookies, I don’t know. So finally, here it is. There’s not really much more to say. Cookies were one of the first things I learned to make as a kid, and it has stuck with me. It’s the best quick sugar fix you can get, and one of the most satisfying.

I always use the Nestle Toll House recipe on the back of the bag of chocolate chips without fail or problems, however, I’ve found that in Spain, as most foods go, the cookies don’t turn out exactly the same. For some reason here (I’m attributing this to the lack of baking soda and my subsequent necessity of using basic ‘levadura’ or rising agent), they kind of blob out and are very thin, not as thick as normal. I really prefer mine thick and still doughy in the middle, but these get crispy at the edges because they thin out, so I have to take them out even sooner than normal to keep them soft. Or it could also be the brown sugar, which isn’t as fine as I’m used to, but more like crystals.

So for a Christmas get-together I spiced up my regular, reliable cookies with clove and orange. Seasonal and very tasty with that extra spice, and for the rest of the year I suggest chocolate and orange.

Chocolate Chip Cookies to the Orange and Clove
from Nestle Toll House

2 ¼ c flour
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
1 cup (2 sticks) butter, softened
¾ c sugar
¾ c brown sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 eggs
2 c (12 oz.) chocolate chips (I just buy some dark chocolate and chop it up)
zest from one orange
orange flavoring
about 1 tsp clove (you really want to be able to taste it)

First, preheat your oven to 350-375 F. Now soften/melt your butter and mix with both sugars, then beat in the eggs, then the vanilla. A lot of recipes will tell you to mix the dry ingredients together separately before adding, but honestly, most of the time I don’t and I can’t tell a difference. So pour the flour, then salt, and baking soda into the sugar mixture and mix everything until you have your dough. Now you add your extras, so in this case it was chocolate, and then I zested the orange directly over the bowl because some of the juice squirts out when you do this, so you want it to go into the bowl. If you have some good orange flavoring, add a touch of this too, and finally, put in the clove. Give it another good stir to incorporate everything and taste. I had to keep adding clove because I didn’t want there to be any question about it’s presence, and I think it turned out really well, with the orange, and it’s not too strong b/c the cookies are so sweet. And I threw in an extra pinch of salt to help bring those flavors out. Then take spoonfuls of dough and put them on a baking sheet (non-stick or covered with foil) in big blobs (I like my cookies big) and put them in the oven, usually for about 8-12 minutes, but keep an eye on them and take them out when done on the edges but soft in the middle. Let cool a bit and then remove from tray and enjoy!