Friday, January 29, 2010

LEMON SOUFFLÉ PUDDINGS & BEST BROWNIES

ARGH!!!! AM I REALLY FIF-FIF-FIF-COUGH-COUGH? (she hits the floor)


“If it was only the other way! If it was I who were to be always young, and the picture that were to grow old! For this--for this--I would give everything! Yes, there is nothing in the whole world I would not give!"
- Oscar Wilde, The Picture of Dorian Gray

Generations ago the women of our family made a pact with the devil. Birth dates move around, jump up, jump back, a little black magic and time fades and we retain our beauty, our youth for always. Our sons grow up, our men turn gray, yet we remain forever young.

Or was it that summer day long, long ago, that day I drank from the fabled Fountain of Youth, that legendary spring that gives back the gift of youth to anyone who sips of its clear, cool water? I vaguely remember that afternoon after driving up to St. Augustine in the old green station wagon with dad, Sue, Michael and Andrew, climbing up and wandering around the ramparts, posing in front of the statue of the old Seminole, buying plastic swords in the gift shop and, yes indeed, patiently waiting in line to visit Ponce de Leon’s Fountain of Youth. And of course I, basking in the aura, the mesmerizing glow of the golden rock, drank that tiny paper cup full of this magical elixir! Little did I realize, mere slip of an 8-year old that I was, how this one sip would change my life! But drink I did! And can’t you tell? Need you even ask?


Inside every older lady is a younger lady wondering what the hell happened!
- Cora Harvey Armstrong

“She’s not getting older, she’s getting better!” So why try to hide, why run away from ‘fessing up to the truth? For years I played with fire, avoiding the question, allowing lies to slip out from betwixt my lips. Changing the subject when the subject was broached, feigning ignorance, pretending that I just hadn’t heard. Was I afraid that merely uttering the number, any number, would age me in and of itself as if touched by the Evil Witch’s wand: that my hair would turn gray, my face shrivel, my shoulders hunch, my youth wither and fade? Yet there comes a time in a woman’s life when she, throwing caution to the wind, stands up (shoulders back, boobs out, please) and proudly exclaims “I am 50 years old! Yes, yes, believe it or not but it is so!” Oh, we can take the high road: color our hair, botox the face, plump up the lips, redo the bust, the whole nine yards, and run away from who or what we are, live behind the veil of illusion, pretend to be what we are not, but, you know, you can’t run away forever! It takes more than that to stay young. Like the young man staring at the horrible portrait, it catches up one day.


Old age ain’t no place for sissies.
- Bette Davis

Is there, you ask, a magic formula? Maybe. But, then again, maybe it’s not so secret. A kind heart, a happy soul, act young, think young, laugh a lot. Half a century! Wow! Seems like practically forever! My life has been a series of adventures, ups and downs, zigs and zags. I haven’t achieved half of what many people have achieved by 50 and at times I think my life has been boring and uneventful, yet, as my brother reminded me to do every so often, I try to look at all I have done, all I have accomplished, the places I have seen, the people I have met and the friends that I have made. Everyone, I believe, lives their own adventure, has a tale to tell, a book to write. And as we get older we realize that there is most definitely something to be said for aging, adding up the years, getting, yes, older; lines may mark our face, we may have to work that much harder to keep the body looking good, we may have to swallow our pride and accept the fact that strangers no longer call us “Mademoiselle” but now say “Madame”, our teen sons may scoff at us and accuse us of no longer being in the loop, of not understanding how things work today, but we know that many of their worries are long behind us, we can wend our way through the world getting by on knowledge gleaned over the years, revel in the joy of acting as wild and free as we feel, confident in who we are and the road we’ve traveled to get here, no longer concerned about what others may think of us, laughing at their judgmental eyes. We are who we want to be, know how to get up every morning and face the world, sure of what we have become over the long years.


We turn not older with years, but newer every day.
- Emily Dickinson

Time is fleeting, life is ephemeral, youth is a game. As Dorian Gray stayed young, so his portrait aged, the image withered, the eyes grew sunken and evil, jealousy, hatred painted lines across the face. Youth, lovely youth stared back out at him from his mirror, yet inside he aged, the age of struggle, spite, meanness and fear. His youth was mere shadow, beauty seen between squinted eyes. Beauty, as they say, is in the eyes of the beholder and I am satisfied with the beauty inside, the youth that makes me laugh and cry when I feel the urge, the youth inside that allows me to be crazy with friends, silly with husband, not afraid to kiss in public or laugh out loud. I spend my days baring my soul to you who read what I write, feeling the bond of old friends, doing what I love best: writing. And baking. Baking what gives me pleasure, brings pleasure to others. Baking what I want, when I want it, how I like it. And eating without guilt. I am actually liking being grown up!


May you love all the days of your life.
-Jonathan Swift

And I baked: Sweets for the Sweet! Perfect, delectable, chewy, nutty, not too bitter chocolate brownies for the boys, scrumptious, tangy, fluffy, intriguing Lemon Sponge Pudding for JP and I. Or maybe we can mix and match! Lemon and chocolate are so perfect together. And, besides, it’s my birthday and I can do – and eat – just what I please!


BEST BIG PAN BROWNIES

2 ¾ oz (80 g) bittersweet chocolate (Lindt Excellence 85%)
2 ¾ oz (80 g) semisweet chocolate (Lindt Excellence 70%)
1 1/3 cup (300 g) unsalted butter
2 ½ cups (500 g) granulated sugar
¼ tsp salt
1 ½ tsps vanilla
5 large eggs
1 ½ cups (180 g) sifted flour (sift before measuring)
1 ½ cups coarsely chopped pecans, walnuts or a mix of both


Preheat the oven to 350°F (180°C). Grease a 15 ½ X 10 ½ x 1-inch (38 X 27 x 2-cm) jelly roll pan (mine has ½-inch sides).

In a large heat-proof (pyrex) bowl over a pot of simmering water, melt the chocolates and butter together, stirring up from the bottom so it melts evenly and quickly. Remove from the heat while some of the chocolate and butter are in small chunks and stir until everything melts. Return to the pot of simmering water if needed. This process allows the chocolate-butter to begin cooling as it melts. Allow to cool slightly.


Using a whisk or wooden spoon, stir the sugar, salt and vanilla into the chocolate-butter mixture. It may be grainy. Now, using a wooden spoon, beat in the eggs, one at a time, just until smooth and blended after each addition. The batter will turn from grainy to smooth and creamy.

Stir the flour and coarsely chopped nuts into the batter just until blended and smooth.

Pour the brownie batter into the prepared pan and smooth to even out and make sure it fills all the way into the corners.


Bake for 25 – 30 minutes until puffed and shiny (it may begin to crack) but still moist. Don’t forget that it will continue to bake a bit after removing from the oven and you want moist brownies!

Cool the brownies in the pan on a cooling rack before cutting and eating. Lots of brownies.


LUSCIOUS LEMON SOUFFLE PUDDING

Serves 6.

1 cup (200 g) sugar, divided
3 Tbs (45 g) unsalted butter softened to room temperature
3 large eggs, separated
1 tsp vanilla
1 Tbs lemon zest
1/3 cup (50 g) flour
¼ tsp salt
1/3 cup (80 ml) freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 cup whole milk (I used half low fat milk + half light cream)
1/8 tsp cream of tartar (if you don’t have cream of tartar replace with a few grains of salt and a drop or 2 of lemon juice)


Preheat the oven to 325°F (170°C). Butter 6 individual ramekins or pyrex bowls.

Remove and set aside 2 Tbs of the sugar. Separate the eggs: place the yolks in a large mixing bowl and the whites place in a separate bowl preferably plastic or metal.

Cream the butter with the rest of the sugar (1 cup less the 2 Tbs) until blended and fluffy. Beat in the yolks, one at a time, beating after each addition until blended. Beat in the vanilla and the lemon zest. Add the flour and the salt and beat just until combined. With the mixer on low, beat in the milk and the lemon juice. It will be very liquid.


In the separate bowl with very clean beaters, beat the egg whites with the cream of tartar until foamy and then until soft peaks form. Continue beating the whites as you gradually add the 2 tablespoons sugar. Beat until stiff peaks form.

Fold the whites into the yolk/lemon batter just until incorporated and you have no more chunks of whites.


Using a ladle, fill the 6 ramekins with the batter almost to the top. Place the filled ramekins in a large baking pan (placing a piece of newspaper on the bottom of the pan keeps the water of the water bath from boiling) and very carefully (so as not to get any water in the lemon batter) fill the pan with hot water, so that the water is halfway up the ramekins. If you like, place the baking pan in the oven and then pour in the water; this will avoid you having to lift and move the baking pan after it is filled and risk splashing the water into the batter.


Bake for 40 – 45 minutes. The tops will be puffed up, maybe ½ to 1 inch (1 – 2 cm) above the rim of the ramekins, and a deep golden brown.


Remove the baking pan from the oven then carefully remove the ramekins from the water bath onto a kitchen towel. Allow to cool slightly before serving. Like a soufflé, the tops will sink a bit when cooling.

Serve hot or warm – they can be eaten later but are best when fresh from the oven or just slightly cooled – with a sprinkling of powdered sugar or a dollop of whipped cream.


These mini soufflé puddings will have a top layer of puffed, light as air soufflé and the bottom layer will be creamy, almost like a pudding. They are tart and lemony like the best of lemon pies but warm, light and soothing and oh-so elegant.

The top soufflé layer.

The creamy pudding bottom.

Monday, January 25, 2010

ROASTED WINTER VEGETABLES AND CHALLAH

JUST ANOTHER DAY IN THE LIFE OF A FOOD BLOGGER


The alarm trills at 6:45 a.m. Sluggishly, I push off the blankets, roll over and groan. My feet hit the floor and, bundled up in the warmest fleece sweatshirt I have, I, the chosen one, stumble my way to the kitchen in the dark. Wiping sleep from my eyes, I grope for a filter and the coffee can and light the little blue flame under the pot of water. It is my turn this morning to make the juice that courses through our veins and gives us life: coffee. The other, him, JP, meanwhile, relieved of the day’s burden of making the coffee, snuggles down a little further under the covers and waits for that luscious coffee smell to permeate throughout the house, beckoning him to begin his day.


Once the day has been kick started, JP off to the office, Marty walked, I wend my way over to my desk, hit the button on my laptop and think about how long I should decently wait before pouring myself a second cup of coffee while I wait for the blue backdrop to signal the computer’s awakening and my day as a food blogger to begin.


Now I rarely use my blog to write about my daily life, the successes and the failures, the discoveries, the simple repetitive errands and just the boring ho hum of the every day. Maybe because I think no one would be interested, maybe I believe that there’s nothing exciting to be told, but once in a while I feel that maybe I should bare a little more of my soul, open up my home to curious eyes and let you into my crazy world. Yes, I have a husband who adores me, yes, I have a funny little Boston Terrier who is happy to snuggle up on a cold winter day or entertain you when you are down, yes, I have 2 grown sons, both talented, smart and kind, and yes yes yes I live in France. And yes, I bake, pardon my French, out the wazoo, but life is no bowl of cherries.


I leave many of you breathless with the amount of baked goods popping out of my oven on a regular basis. Well, it’s not all chocolate cake, lemon tart and the sweet life. Sometimes I’m forced to eat crow, other times I end up eating my heart out. If truth be told, much ends up in the trash, the occasional flop, yes, burned this, undercooked that, or just plain yucky tasting, but the bread and cake and cookies and, yes, macarons, that they just plain refuse to eat as well. One sulks, complaining that he doesn’t understand why I make new things all the time, things that it is just so obvious he won’t like, imploring me to just keep baking the same 4 or 5 things I can be sure that he has always enjoyed. The other one takes the political route, a stand off, a sit down strike against any and all that I bake, openly and adamantly accusing me of force feeding them against their will, child abuse, dangerous and reckless behavior and simply willfully trying to embarrass them in front of their friends. And the husband? He waves his arms around, voice raised, ranting against waste and frivolity, urging me in no uncertain terms to put a halt to the mad baking, pointing to his growing girth. And so next day, the uneaten, the stale, the unwanted finds its poor way into the trash.


My days, when not on twitter and facebook, are spent running around town in a mad search for ingredients for this dish or that baked good, madly flipping through cookbooks for ideas, pulling out bowls, trying to figure out where husband has decided is the appropriate storage space for measuring spoons, lining up and measuring out ingredients, trying so very hard not to mix up two or even three recipes I’ve decided to attack at once, balancing bowls, hand mixer and buttered pans on the edges of counter, rickety table and sink praying nothing flops off onto the floor, piling up ingredients and baking sheets on chairs (for lack of any more table space) all the while pushing little dog nose away, trying like hell to find a flat, even surface in this ages-old apartment with warped floors like a roller coaster on which to place my liquid measuring cup in order to be assured of an exact reading, juggling this thing and that, praying, cursing, flicking batter all over the walls and washing dishes. Lots and lots of dishes. Dishes piled up in the sink from last night, dishes the sons have dumped on the countertop too busy to wash, dishes I need for my next project or simply dishes in the way. This lovely old apartment we moved into in July? Gorgeous rooms, authentic wooden parquet, lovely, gracious marble fireplaces and gilded mirrors and quiet? Well, kitchen from hell! Sons plead with me to stop cursing, stop banging pots and pans against countertop in frustration, stop muttering “I hate this kitchen! I hate this kitchen! I hate this kitchen!” over and over again like some crazy lady mantra. No space, no room, uneven floors which cause sloping counters and a 30-year-old school desk in the guise of a table, the only piece of furniture that would fit into this ungodly space, in which everything that can rolls off onto the floor, oven door that won’t open unless the furniture is moved, fridge door that opens backwards which means I must wedge my body between open door and shelving in order to find anything, faucet too low and sink too small leaving my dish and glass collection growing smaller each week and counters flooded. And no dishwasher. And the dirty dishwater that goes down the drain and up into my shower on the other side of the wall.


And in between I rush frantically back and forth between kitchen and computer, checking mail, checking cake in oven, clickety clacking on the keyboard as thoughts rush through my head, download my pictures and pull up iPhoto. And here is where my lack of organization and non-existent concentration comes into play. Writing a blog post – sometimes two at a time, - visiting a few blogs that I’ve neglected, write a few more sentences, back to the kitchen, back to the computer to touch up the latest pictures, write a few more sentences, visit another blog, see who on twitter is looking for me, back to the kitchen. Hang up the laundry, do some dishes, walk Marty (where is Simon?), promise myself that I will clean the bathroom tomorrow and back all over again. Surrounded by utter mess spread willy-nilly around me: books, cookbooks, dictionaries, my beloved Thesaurus, scraps of paper, agenda and more, pots and pans and bowls and on and on. Get the picture? Is anyone else as totally unorganized as I am? At least I don’t have Deeba’s problem of losing electricity for hours at a time!

And then, of course, 6 o’clock rolls around and cake is cooling on the table, cookies are baking in the oven and I’ve just realized that I forgot completely about buying or preparing anything for dinner. 7:30 and JP slams in. Singing. Chattering to Marty who runs to greet him at the door. Calling out my name. And here I am still wearing my gym clothes that I put on in the morning hoping to find the time to work out (maybe I have and maybe I haven’t), frosting smeared across my face, bits of dough stuck in my hair, chopping vegetables, hoping Simon doesn’t get home too late with the salad and fruit I sent him to pick up, and putting on my happy housewife smile.


So sometimes, just sometimes, I want something simple, something good, something wonderful that won’t make me crazy in the making. Something lo-cal, healthy and fresh that counterbalances all the cookies and cake, all the chocolate and popcorn I’ve been nibbling all day, something homemade and not reconstituted out of a box to make the man happy and everything will be all right.



I would like to send this gorgeous Challah over to Yeastspotting, our favorite weekly yeast baking extravaganza created and hosted by Susan of Wild Yeast.

OVEN-ROASTED WINTER VEGETABLES


4 – 6 small Amandine potatoes, washed *
2 medium sweet potatoes, scrubbed and peeled
2 fennels, rinsed, trimmed of tops, bottoms and outer layer if need be
Chunk of pumpkin, about 1 lb/500 g
3 – 4 medium carrots, scrubbed, trimmed and peeled
Several whole garlic cloves, peeled or unpeeled (I left mine peeled for roasting)
Olive oil
Course or regular salt, freshly ground black pepper
Fresh or dried thyme leaves
Balsamic vinegar


* you can keep the skin on, no problem, they hold their shape while the roasting makes them luscious and tender with a wonderful nutty flavor

Preheat the oven to 400°F (200°C). Lightly grease a large oven tray or baking sheet.

Once all of the vegetables are cleaned and trimmed as needed, cut them into chunks or slices, taking into consideration that you want them all to roast together and be tender at the same time. Here’s how I sliced mine:


Place all of the sliced/chunked vegetables in a large bowl, add a couple of tablespoons of olive oil – again, depending on how many veg you are cooking; you want each piece lightly coated with olive oil, not drenched – and toss, making sure all the vegetable pieces are evenly coated.

Spread the vegetable slices/chunks out on the prepared baking tray in one layer. Sprinkle lightly with salt, generously with freshly ground black pepper and thyme leaves.

Pop in the oven and roast until done – this can take anywhere from 30 to 50 minutes depending on your choice of vegetables, the size of chunks and the oven.

When all of the vegetables are tender – even slightly caramelized – remove from the oven and arrange them on a serving platter. Dribble a little bit of Balsamic vinegar evenly over the vegetables and serve.


I reheated the leftover vegetables the next day by simply tossing in a non-stick frying pan over a medium flame until heated through. They were delicious!

CHALLAH
From the fantastic book Artisan Bread in 5 Minutes a Day by Zoë François (adorable!) and Jeff Hertzberg; M.D.


This recipe makes four 1-lb (500 g) loaves.

1 ¾ cups lukewarm water
1 ½ Tbs active dry yeast
1 ½ Tbs Kosher salt
4 large eggs, lightly beaten
½ cup honey
½ cup unsalted butter (or neutral-tasting vegetable oil)
7 cups flour
Egg wash (1 egg beaten with 1 Tbs water)
Poppy or sesame seeds for the top, optional


In a large mixing bowl, stir together the yeast, salt, eggs, honey and melted butter (warm, not hot) with the water.


Mix in the flour without kneading, using a wooden spoon, a food processor or stand mixer. I used the spoon. Stir and fold just until all of the flour is blended into the wet ingredients and is moist.


Cover with plastic wrap (not airtight) and allow to stand at room temperature for 2 hours. The dough should rise then collapse. This actually took longer to happen for me with this dough (it did happen in 2 hours when I made their Olive Oil dough for both my Focaccia Farcita and my Olive, Sun-dried Tomato and Pine Nut Focaccia). I actually put the dough in the fridge after 2 hours when it looked like this:


And it continued to rise in the refrigerator.


The dough can be used right away but is easier to work with when chilled. I made the dough the day before I made the Challah.

To prepare the Challah:

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Remove the bowl of dough from the refrigerator, dust the surface of the dough, your hands and your dough scraper all with flour, keeping extra flour handy, and scrape the dough down the sides of the bowl. The dough will sink and flatten. Dipping your hands and the dough scraper in flour as needed (the dough is sticky) break off one 1-pound (500 g) piece of dough for each Challah you would like to make and place on a well-floured work surface. Dust the dough with more flour and shape it into a ball.


Divide the ball of dough into 3 equal pieces and, using your hands, form each piece into a long, thin rope (remember making Play-doh snakes? Same thing: roll between your hands with the rope hanging down and roll back and forth on the table.) If the dough resists shaping just let the pieces rest fo about 5 minutes and try again. Place the ropes of dough lengthwise on the baking sheet.


Braid the ropes starting from the middle and working towards one end, tucking the ends underneath the braided dough, then turning the baking sheet and braiding the other half down from the middle to the end, again tucking the ends underneath.


Allow the dough to rest and rise for 1 hour and 20 minutes (only 40 minutes if using freshly made, unrefrigerated dough).

Preheat the oven to 350°F (180°C).

Brush the loaf with the egg wash. Sprinkle with the seeds if desired.


Bake the loaf or loaves for about 25 minutes until risen and uniformly golden brown. The braids near the center will offer resistance to pressure.


Allow to cool before slicing and eating.


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