Friday, March 29, 2013

A Lovely Shade of Spring

Can you believe that it's almost April?  We're just over a week into Spring, Passover began three nights ago, and now Easter is this coming Sunday.  Baskets full of fake grass overflowing with chocolate bunnies, jellybeans, and marshmallow Peeps in bright pink and purple will be in homes soon.

Then there are the eggs.  Despite the fact that I was not a fan of hard-boiled eggs (I would only eat the whites, and that's only if they were heavily coated in salt), dyeing and decorating Easter eggs was something I looked forward to every year when I was young.  There was the obligatory box of Paas tablets, along with the wax crayon, little hexagonal wire egg holder, and the rub-on transfers of rabbits, lambs, flowers, and other signs of Spring.  We used the same melamine coffee mugs year after year.  They were large enough to dunk and swirl an egg in.  (I'd bet money those mugs are still in my parents' basement.)

I loved building up the shades, dipping an egg into two different colours, carefully balancing it on the wire.  I would write my name on an egg, drawing a flower, or a band, or dots, dipping it back into the dye and watching the colour bloom, leaving smudgy, waxy designs in the dye's wake. 

Thirty-some years later, I decided to bypass the Paas tablets in lieu of colours little more natural, and found in the kitchen or pantry.  This is nothing new.  Martha  Stewart did this a few years ago, as I'm sure thousands of families have done before her.  You can watch Martha here.  I love hearing her East Coast inflection in 'water,' something you might catch me saying if I don't think about what I say before I open my mouth!

My measurements weren't quite as precise as Martha's, except for using 2 tablespoons of vinegar in each colour.  Whatever bowl or pot or measuring cup I was using is the amount of water I filled it with.  Not everything worked out well.  I originally started with a blood orange in a pot of water, and when I wasn't getting   the pale orange I envisioned in my head, I added a carrot...when that didn't work, I added paprika.  But even that didn't work out, so down the drain went that pot of water and it became a pot of coffee.  I also brewed a very dark and strong measuring cup of Earl Grey tea, which made two very pretty tea-stained eggs.  Tumeric does indeed become a beautiful warm gold and the liquid from a jar of pickled blueberries made a pale, pale violet that I darkened by actually mashing a tablespoon of the pickled blueberries into the bowl and rubbed onto the eggshell.

I only got fancy-schancy on two eggs...wrapping one in twine before dipping it into the tumeric water and putting smiley face stickers on another egg looking to get a polka dot effect.  I've got a couple more days of egg salad on the menu, but it was worth it.  

Happy Easter!

The non-cooperative orange dye

Tumeric and tea results with blueberries and coffee in the background

Sunday, March 24, 2013

With Subtle Notes of Blackberries

If you read about wine, go to tastings, collect wines, or hell, even buy wine, chances are you've seen phrases like this--'with the subtle note of blackberries', 'starting off with tropical notes ending with vanilla tones', 'hits the palate with a citrus wave ending with a buttery mouthfeel'.  Now, I love wine...but try as I might, more times than not, wine will invariably taste like...well, wine.  I can tell the difference between a good and bad wine (no Mad Dog here!) and absolutely appreciate a Justin cab or a Stony Hill chardonnay, but I could probably count on one hand the times where I have actually been able to discern individual notes in a glass of wine, but that won't stop me...I'll keep drinking away.

It was those wine liner notes that came to mind after baking the other day.  Although it was those 'subtle notes of blackberries' that I was after, this post has nothing to do with wine.  What this post does have is chocolate.  And blackberries.  And brownies.  All rolled into one gloriously dense, gooey, fudgy pan of cake with a slightly caramelized, thick swirl of jam throughout.

My sweet tooth, really my chocolate tooth, has been out of control lately.  I'm going to blame it on the Cacao Noel pastilles I bought at the Epicure Imports warehouse sale last month.  A small handful of their 64% dark couverture chocolate and a cup of tea has been dessert on a number of nights since I brought them into the house.  After a sample tasting at the sale, it was a no-brainer to buy a pound of them.  (It was also another no-brainer to pick up a second bag at the sale yesterday.)  I immediately wanted to make brownies with them.  Smooth, dark, and a touch bitter.

Why did I add blackberries?  Sure, I could  have just saved them for a breakfast smoothie, or added them to a bowl of yogurt and granola, but, why not brownies?  If you can pair dark chocolate with orange and thought was that it certainly couldn't hurt to try pairing chocolate with blackberries.

I had a clamshell of blackberries in the fridge and made a quick jam out of it.  You can do the same or use any good brand of jam that you may have on hand.  What you'll end up with is a dense brownie where every once in a while you'll get a hint of berry or a jammy taste depending upon how your swirls are mixed in.  I'm sure there are some of you out there saying 'Blasphemy!' for mixing anything into brownies (except maybe nuts and a glaze on top), but open your mind and your tastebuds for a few minutes.  You might be delightfully surprised.

Chocolate Blackberry Brownies
(Adapted from Dorie Greenspan's Classic Brownies)
Makes 16 squares

5 tbsp butter, cubed
4 oz bittersweet chocolate, chopped
1/4 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
3/4 cup sugar
1/2-3/4 cup blackberry jam
2 large eggs
1 tsp vanilla
1/4 tsp salt
2/3 cup flour

Pre-heat oven to 325 degrees.  Butter the bottom of an 8x8 inch pan and line with parchment.  Butter the top of the paper too.  

In a saucepan, bring about an inch or so of water to a simmer.  Nestle the bowl with the butter, chocolate, and chocolate chips on top of the pan.  Making sure that the bottom of the bowl does not come in contact with the water, continually stir the butter and chocolate until melted.  Remove from heat.

Whisk in sugar.  It will be grainy.  Add eggs one at a time and mix thoroughly.  Add vanilla and stir.  Gradually add flour and salt.  Pour into pan, using a spatula to spread batter to edges.  Spread blackberry jam on top of batter and swirl into batter.  

Bake until toothpick inserted into center comes out relatively clean, about 40-50 minutes.  It's okay if it comes out with a little chocolate, but you don't want it wet with batter.  If you use more jam, you'll require a little more time.

Let cool on rack and cut into squares.

Note:  If you make your own quick jam, use one package of blackberries (4-6 oz) with 1/2 cup water and 1/2 cup sugar.  Bring to boil, lower heat and let simmer until it thickens a bit.  I used a potato masher to mash the berries.  

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Bringing It All Together

I am not a very positive person.  I may have mentioned this once or twice in past posts.  It's a fight I have with myself not see the negative in things, to not see the glass as half empty, to not think of the worst that can happen.  There are days when I manage to push it all away (or at least to the side), but it rarely lasts.  Sometimes I think I'm doing serious damage to my ch'i with this way of thinking.

But when I'm in my kitchen, fiddling around with ingredients, thinking about how certain flavours will play against others...all those negative thoughts go flying right out the window.  Here in my kitchen, I focus on measuring ingredients, sprinkling salt in a pot of water, peeling the skin off an onion, or kneading the dough for a crust.  Nothing else matters, except watching the outcome of what I'm making.

This is why I made a quiche a couple of Sundays ago.  Reading the Sunday paper could only divert my attention for so long, even watching hockey didn't fully encompass my interest.  Off to the kitchen I went, in search of something to eat.  I wasn't necessarily looking for something quick, but I wanted something to satisfy me...and satisfy more than hunger.  The more involved the recipe, the longer my mind would focus on what was in front of me and not what was in my head.

I don't usually make quiche with a crust, but sometimes it's worth having the whole package, so to speak.  The best part?  This quiche is delicious hot, warm, and room temperature.  It served as breakfast, lunch, and dinner over the span of a few days.

Cauliflower, Leek, and Rainbow Chard Quiche
Serves 6-8 or 1-2 for a few days

1 cup cauliflower florets, broken into small pieces
1 cup rainbow chard, stems and leaves, chopped
1 leek, sliced thin (white and light green parts)
2 tbsp clarified butter
2 tsp green za'tar
1 tsp minced garlic
3 tbsp crumbled bacon (optional)
1/4 tsp pepper
pinch of salt
6 eggs
1/2 heavy cream
1/2 cup milk
1/2 cup shredded sharp cheddar
1/2 cup shredded mozzarella
1/4 cup grated Grana Padano

For the crust:

8 tbsp unsalted butter, cold, cut into cubes
1 1/2 cups flour
pinch of salt
5-6 tbsp ice water

In a large bowl, add the butter, flour, and salt.  With a pastry blender, combine the ingredients until it resembles pea-size bits.  Add the ice water tablespoon by tablespoon, until a dough comes together and can be formed into a ball.  Wrap in plastic wrap and chill for at least 30 minutes.

When ready to make the crust, pre-heat oven to 425 degrees.  Roll dough out into a circle to about 1/4 inch thick.  Lay in 9-inch pie plate and prick dough with a fork. Lay foil in the center and fill with beans.  Bake for 15 minutes.  Remove beans and bake for an additional 5 minutes.  

For the filling:

Steam the cauliflower for a minute or so and set aside.  In a skillet, melt the clarified butter and saute the leeks until translucent.  Add the garlic and chard and saute for 3-4 minutes.  Add the steamed cauliflower and sprinkle the bacon, salt, pepper, and za'tar in and mix thoroughly, allowing the flavours to mingle for a few minutes.  Remove from heat.  

In a large bowl, whisk the eggs, cream, and milk together.  Add the cheeses and vegetables and mix thoroughly.  Pour mixture into pie pan with crust, making sure everything is evenly distributed.  Bake in a 425 degree oven for 30 minutes or  until center is set.  Remove from oven and let set for 5-10 minutes before serving.

You can leave the bacon out and have a perfectly lovely vegetable quiche, but the bacon adds a note of smokiness that, well, rocked my little world.