Tuesday, May 27, 2008

May Showers and Chocolate Chai Cheesescake

Spring is here and love is in the air! My dear friend Rachel is getting married in just a few weeks to the fabulous Dave, and as the matron of honor, I had the privilege of throwing a little wedding shower for her on the weekend. It's pretty easy to please ladies with chocolate, so I served it in several forms, the only deviation being some mini strawberry shortcakes.

These desserts, along with some sparkling white sangria (one of my favorite summer drinks) kept the bride-to-be and her friends happy and a good time was had by all!

A chocolate-themed shower is a no-brainer. If only everything about being a matron of honor was that simple.
How will I decide what to do with my hair?
Where will I find the perfect earrings?
And that upcoming speech? Yikes!

Mini Heart-Shaped Strawberry Shortcakes

A classic genoise sheet cake, cut into hearts, brushed with a simple syrup and topped with a strawberry. Just before serving, garnished with whipped cream. Light and elegant.

Chocolate Chai Cheesecake
Recipe below!

Chocolate-Dipped Cherries
The first cherries of the season-I could eat dozens of these simple sweet treats.

Coffee Liquor Truffles
Dark chocolate and Kahlua--oh-so-rich and good.

Gingersnaps and Mayan Chocolate Sparklers
You've seen these before!

Chocolate-dipped Strawberries

So, for that cheesecake recipe. At first I was going to make a standard chocolate cheesecake, but as I was in the process of putting it together, I decided to add some chai tea and spices to make it a little more exciting. My favorite cupcake in Montreal is chocolate chai and it's a combination made in heaven.

The chai and spices are added only to the topping, so they are not too overpowering. Also, I don't like crust that goes all the way up the sides, but if you do, just one and a half times the recipe for the crust and press it up the sides.

Chocolate Chai Cheesecake
Makes a 10-inch round. Serves 12 generously, 16 modestly.

for crust:
2 cups graham cracker crumbs

1/4 cup sugar

1/3 cup butter, melted
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground cinnamon

for filling:

500 grams cream cheese (2 pkg Philly), room temp.

3/4 cup sugar

1 teaspoon pure vanilla

1 cup 35% cream
250 grams semi-sweet chocolate, roughly chopped or in chips
3 large eggs, room temperature

for the topping:
1 cup chocolate

1 cup 35 % cream
1 chai tea bag (I used Stash Chai Spice)

three green cardamom pods, seeds remove and reserved, shell discarded

1/2 inch cinnamon stick

1/4 teaspoon whole mace
1/4 tonka bean (optional)

1/2 long pepper (optinal)

Preheat oven to 350F.

For the crust:
Combine all four ingredients and mix well. Spread mixture evenly over the bottom of a 10 inch spring form cheesecake pan.

Use the bottom of a water
glass to press crust down and pack firm. Bake 7 minutes and cool.

For the filling:
Melt chocolate and cream slowly in a bain marie. Mix well to ensure there are no lumps. Cool slightly.

Beat cream cheese and sugar in a mixer until creamy. Add vanilla and mix well. With the paddle attachment, slowly mix in melted chocolate mixture and combine well.
Add eggs, one at a time until they are all incorporated. Do not overbeat.

Pour mixture over crust in the spring form pan and place on the middle rack in oven. Bake 40-50 minutes, until the middle is set.
Remove from oven and cool completely.

For the glaze:
In a bain marie, gently bring the cream to a boil. Add chai tea bag and let steep for about 10 minutes. Remove and discard bag.
Add chocolate to cream and melt slowly.
Combine all spices in a spice grinder and pulse until finely ground.
Add to melted chocolate. Stir well.
Pour over cooled cheesecake and chill until set.

Garnish with shaved chocolate, fresh fruit, chocolate covered coffee beans or topping of your choice.

This cheesecake keeps well for several day as long as it is refrigerated and covered with cling wrap.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Monday Garden Update

L to R Top: White Turnips, Red Oak Leaf Lettuce, Lavender

Middle: Onions, Pansies, Oregano

Bottom: Purple Carrots, Radishes, Cherry Tomato Flower

The early beginnings of what promises to be a great gardening season; now if only it would warm up...!

That's all for now, folks.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Back indoors with Strawberry Galette

Spring is here! We've been spending as much time outside as possible, burying our toes in the sandbox, picnicking in the parks, and (with much less enthusiasm) digging dandelions. Cooking has taken a backseat to gardening, but it's that time of year right? I wasn't sure if I would have time to put the garden in this year, with a new baby and all, but it is promising to be a great season! Already poking up out of the ground are tiny radishes, beets, carrots, corn, turnips, zucchini, broccoli, onions, garlic and lettuces. Tomato and pepper plants are showing flowers already and the rhubarb is begging to be harvested and made into pies. I'm coming!I'm coming!

With the great outdoors calling, I tend to slip into the kitchen around 5 in the afternoon and whip up something quick for dinner. Of course with my sweet tooth, I can't go without a dessert too, and to satisfy that craving I tend to lean heavily on the fruit galette over the summer months. Seasonal fruit, flaky pastry? What's not to drool over?

I'm a big fan of the galette. I make mine with puff pastry (less time consuming than making a crust) and whatever fresh seasonal fruit I have on hand. When I saw this delicate strawberry galette in Martha Stewart Living May edition, I knew I couldn't resist it's prettiness and so here it is. It's worth coming in out of the sun to make!!

Strawberry Galette

adapted from Martha Stewart. Original recipe here.

1 pound strawberries, hulled
1/4 cup sugar
2 teaspoons cornstarch
1 egg yolk
1 tablespoon water
1 tablespoon cold butter, cut into pieces
250 grams puff pastry

On a floured surface, roll pastry to 1/4 inch thick round. Transfer to a parchment lined baking sheet and chill for 30 minutes.

Preheat oven to 350F.

Cut strawberries lengthwise into 1/4 inch slices. Toss with sugar and cornstarch and immediately arrange in concentric circles on dough. Start 1 inch from edge, overlapping slices slightly. Fold edge of dough over berries. Whisk together yolk and water. Brush dough with egg wash and dot berries with butter.
Bake until pastry is golden brown, about 40 minutes.

Friday, May 09, 2008

WFD? Seafood Creole Tagliatelle

Let the good times roll! Here is a pasta recipe worth blogging about and one that I am so excited to bring to you! I have to admit, most of my pasta dishes are usually inspired by a cleaning-out-the-fridge frenzy: Penne with….over-ripe tomatoes, wilted basil, molding provolone, and questionable slab bacon. It tastes great when it all comes together, but it’s nothing new.
However, I am happy to report that this recipe for Seafood Creole Pasta is much more than your average blah-blah pasta dish; it's decadent enough to serve guests at a dinner party. I tend to steer away from serving pasta when I entertain because it is so, well,
week-night supper, but I think this is going on the menu really soon!

I have to credit the talented Montreal chef Phillipe de Vienne for this recipe as it is yet another fantastic recipe from his titillating cookbook. Seriously, if you haven't bought it yet, go get it (available in French only).

Seafood Creole Pasta

1 lb shrimp, with their shells
1 lb Tagliatelle or Fettuccine
1 teaspoon lemon juice
1 cup butter, cold and cubed
6 cloves of garlic, chopped
1 bundle of green onions, sliced finely
1 cup lobster or crab or oysters or scallops

For the Shrimp Stock:

Shrimp shells
1 onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1 stalk of celery, chopped
1 cup white wine

Ground Spices:

2 teaspoons Cajun Spice Blend(see below)
½ teaspoon white pepper
½ teaspoon dried oregano
½ teaspoon dried garlic

Cajun Spice Blend:

3 Tablespoons paprika
1 teaspoon Cayenne
2 teaspoons black pepper
2 teaspoons white pepper
3 tablespoons dried onion flakes
½ tablespoon dried thyme

Place all the ingredients for the shrimp stock in a pot with 2 cups of water. Bring to a boil and let simmer for 30 minutes uncovered. Strain and reserve the fragrant stock. (I did this the day before.)

Combine in a spice grinder the Cajun blend, white pepper, dried oregano and dried garlic. Pulse until fine.

Bring a large pot of water to a boil, add some salt and cook pasta.

At the same time, place a large pot on medium-low heat. Add 1 1/2 cups of the shrimp stock, ground spices and lemon juice.
Bring it to a boil and add butter, shrimp, garlic and green onion.
Stir constantly until the butter is all melted and the sauce becomes creamy. Add the remaining seafood ( I used lobster) and cook gently another 1-2 minutes.

Check to see if the pasta is cooked and when it is ready, strain it well and add to the sauce.
Mix well, gently cook another minute and serve immediately.


Thursday, May 08, 2008

One Frosting.Two Cakes.Three Babies.

It's spring and the little robins in my backyard are hatching out of their sky-blue eggs. We find little pieces of shell on the lawn. Talk about natures' porcelain.

Three of my sister-in-laws are also about to hatch some babies!
We are eagerly awaiting the arrivals of one girl, a one boy and a surprise in June. My boys are finally going to have some cousins on their father's side and Baby Mateo, now a chubby-cheeked and smiling 10 lb bundle, is going to have some competition for the cuteness factor.

The girls are all due the same week in June-you'd almost think they got together and planned it eight months ago! (Hmmm, there was that family wedding back in late September...)

Anyway! Babies on the way means back-to-back baby showers and I managed to set aside the mountains of laundry for a while and put together two cakes for the events.

The first was a Lemon Mascarpone Layer Cake (boy) for a mama who loves lemon. I sketched the little umbrella lady by hand and then cut her out of marzipan. She is hand painted using food coloring and totally edible. The cake is a basic white cake and layered with lemon curd and a fantastic lemon mascarpone frosting. (See the bottom of the post for the recipe for the frosting)
I wanted poke-a-dots on the cake and as time was an issue (nothing like a crying baby to hasten one along!) I just used candies called Rockets and pressed them into the frosting. Since they are all pastel colors, they worked quite well for a baby cake.

For the second cake, unfortunately I was even more pressed for time; however, I put my Rockets to good use again. My MIL made a white cake and I decorated it with Strawberry Buttercream ( that's right, this one is the girl) and another pregnant lady out of rolled marzipan.

I have to credit the talented Melody of My Sweet and Saucy for the stencil template of the pregnant lady silhouette. To get the template for yourself or see her totally amazing baby shower cake, check out this post. This is the girl who should be doing your cakes, ladies, not me!

No recipe for this one...my strawberry buttercream separated ever-so-slightly (darn Martha!) so I wasn't to happy with it. It was all smooth and sexy until I added the pureed jam...

However, here is a recipe you must try out soon. Don't wait for an event like a new baby--this lemon mascarpone frosting would make a killer icing for cupcakes for any sort of occasion.

Lemon Mascarpone Frosting

2 cups chilled heavy whipping cream
3/4 cup sugar
24 oz mascarpone cheese
1 1/2 cups lemon curd

Beat whipping cream and sugar in a large bowl until peaks form.
Add mascarpone to lemon curd in a medium bowl; whisk until blended.
Fold whipped cream into lemon-mascarpone mixture and gently mix until combined.

Covers and fills a 9 inch layer cake.

P.S. OK, since this post is all about babies...

...here's Mateo at 2 months old. I'm hoping he will be less picky than his brother and hopefully a foodie since his shirt says "I'd rather be eating foie gras at Toque!." One can always hope.

P.S.2 On another personal note...Laura, you are far away and the third sister-in-law about to give birth. I love you and miss you and would give anything to make your baby shower cake...xxoo.

Sunday, May 04, 2008

The Root of Evil

Ed. Note: From time to time Under the High Chair will feature guest posts and I am pleased to introduce Kevin for the first of these installments. Kevin is a self-taught cook, an enthusiastic foodie, an even more enthusiastic engineer and also happens to be my brother-in-law. He lives here in Montreal and has a seldom updated blog.
Let's give him a warm welcome!

The Root of Evil: a.k.a Turmeric

I've been trying to make curry for a week. Each evening with the best of intentions, I get stymied every time. Two nights ago was the same. Nope, didn't make it then either. Not for lack of trying though.

As planned, I went grocery shopping for the remaining ingredients for my curry marinade: plain yogourt, cardamom pods, lamb. I had bought the other spices (chili, turmeric root) at Marché Jean Talon the previous weekend. (Note: the correct spelling is not "tumeric" but rather "turmeric". I still pronounce it "tumeric" though.)

My local grocery store doesn't have lamb. It's not a popular meat in my neighbourhood. I even ask the lady behind the meat counter, you know, the one who slices ham and other sliced meats. "Lamb" I say, met only by a puzzled look. "She must speak French" I say to myself. "Agneau." The same puzzled look. I repeat again, in each language, now questioning myself if I've used the correct words. I'm reminded of the prank my brother and I used to play when we were little when shopping with my mom where we'd ask the butcher for snake meat or fox or other bizarre requests. I'm getting through to this lady just as much, which is nothing. Just as I'm about to avoid language altogether and start baying and baaing with lamby gestures, another lady walks by and says to me "They don't have it here. No lamb."

Undeterred, I buy chicken. Chicken curry should be just as nice as lamb curry.

Back home, I quickly pull out my coffee/spice grinder and grind up the chili spices. Next I open the turmeric. Remember those hard little knobs of yellow turmeric root I bought? I break off, with great difficulty, a piece a little shorter than an inch. I drop it in the grinder and press the button. The hard turmeric gets stuck beneath the blade, causing an awful sound. I shake the root loose and get assaulted by the loudest sound ever to come out of my kitchen. I immediately stop thinking I may have dropped a pebble in there instead. Nope, no pebble, just the unscathed turmeric root. I think that perhaps the pieces need to be smaller to begin with, so I take the hard root out and try to break it by hand. No way. I double check to make sure this isn't some sort of prank, that this isn't a stick or stone. I drop the turmeric into my mortar and proceed to hammer it with my pestle. I think I'm going to break something and I'm getting afraid that when, not if, something chips off, my unprotected eyes will be in prime danger zone. So just before I make contact, I close my eyes. Again and again, hammering away. When I open my eyes a dozen blows later, the root is intact, with a yellowish smudge on the bottom of the mortar.

1. The bruised, but intact, turmeric root on the bottom. A fresh sample above.
2. The grinder which tried so hard, but failed.
I tell myself that I need to simply be more persistent with the coffee grinder and so plop it back in and press that button. This time I pulse, shake and wait. I can see yellow dust swirling around. Horray! I just need to hang in there! I look into the clear top of the spice grinder and see a white object. "So there WAS a pebble in the turmeric!" I open the grinder and pull it out. I can see other small white chips and bits lying at the bottom. But this is no pebble. It's plastic. I look under the blade and see a missing piece of plastic exactly the shape and size of this "pebble" in my hand. My grinder is being ripped apart by this stubborn turmeric root. And that yellow dust amounted to less than a mustard seed's worth of turmeric powder. Interspersed with the plastic from the grinder of course.

But I will not let this turmeric root get the best of me. I will smash it into bits and then add a bit of water before assaulting it with the mortar and pestle again. I go to my tool box and see my hammer and safety glasses. Yes! Then I catch a glance of myself in the mirror.
What am I doing?! At 10:30 PM no less. And what will the neighbours in the adjoining apartments think of this night time hammering!

3. The chipped (broken?) grinder.
4. Yes, I got this far, but no further.
I return to the kitchen, hammerless, and put the turmeric root back in it's container. Back to the shelf. I refuse to succumb to powdered turmeric from the grocery store though, with it's food colouring and sawdust flavour. I'll figure out a way. I'll grate, chop, pound, pulverize and destroy this evil root! I may even put it in whole with the marinade so it imparts it's flavour. I've heard that wetting it before grinding can help too. I'll try tomorrow. Something, anything!
But one thing is sure: I need a new spice grinder.

My persistence (and Google) paid off and I now know how to get a little mound of ground turmeric in quick order. Grate it. I simply used the fine portion of my grater, as I didn't have a "box" grater one normally uses for nutmeg and other nuts. I am curious to know if my Microplane would work equally well, but in case it doesn't, I don't want to risk having a dulled Microplane.

5. Grated turmeric root; in a mortar just in case hard bits got through.

Chicken Cardamom Curry

(adapted from the excellent Elaichi Gosht Kebab, or skewers of cardamom-flavoured lamb, from "Indian
in 6: 100 Irresistible Recipes That Use 6 Ingredients or Less

1 large onion, chopped roughly
1/2 cup of plain yogourt; do not use non-fat yogourt

2 heaping teaspoons of garlic ginger paste

1 teaspoon ground turmeric

1 teaspoon chili powder

1 teaspoon powdered cardamom

1 1/4 - 1 1/2 pounds of chicken or lamb, cut into strips or cubes

Put the spices, onion, yogurt and paste in a blender and blend until smooth.

Marinate the meat in the yogurt overnight.

On a lightly oiled baking sheet, place the meat and put in a 425 °F oven for 10 to 15 minutes or until slightly browned. Remove meat and place on a hot grill for a few minutes to char a bit. You can also try the grill exclusively.


Blog Widget by LinkWithin