Sunday, October 31, 2010

Rigatoni with eggplant & sausage - week 43 of 52

Hi everyone! Have been traveling lots in the last couple of weeks (work) and am going away again next week. This weekend the fall chill is really starting to set in, so I wanted to make something hearty, and easy.

I brought my trusty Tyler Florence book and found this recipe. I’ve recently started enjoying eggplant, so this seemed like an easy way to throw into a dish (and who doesn’t like a dish that has a 1pound of mozzarella cheese?)

I shared this with my friends and they liked it! Needed a little bit of salt (probably in the tomato sauce), but otherwise, it was a great hearty dish for the chilly fall days. I would boil the tomato sauce for about 25 minutes so it gets thick and also, I would use a little less pasta than suggested. The best were the bits of pasta with the crunchy parmesan cheese that had crisped up a little!

This is a make again – I really enjoyed it!

Bon appetit!

Bake Rigatoni with Eggplant & Sausage – courtesy of Tyler Florence
Rating (out of 5) ****
Cost $$
Ingredients – serves 6-8

• Kosher Salt
• Extra-virgin olive oil
• 6 links fennel pork sausage (about 3/4 pound)
• 1 large eggplant (about 1 1/2 pounds), cut into 1-inch pieces
• 1 large onion, chopped
• 3 garlic cloves, chopped
• 1 large can (28 ounces) peeled whole tomatoes, preferably San Marzano
• Leaves from 1 small bunch basil
• 1 pound rigatoni
• 1 pound fresh mozzarella
• Freshly ground black pepper
• 1 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil over high heat for the pasta. Get yourself a 9 by 13-inch glass or ceramic baking dish.
Heat a 2 count of olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the sausages and toss in the hot oil for 3 to 4 minutes, you want them nicely browned on the outside but still rare on the inside. Put the sausages in the baking dish.

Turn the heat down to medium. Add a generous 1/3 cup of oil to the skillet and get it hot. Add as many eggplant pieces as you can comfortably fit in a single layer and sprinkle well with salt. Cook, turning, for 7 to 8 minutes, until the eggplant is nice and browned, crisp on the outside and soft on the inside. Use a spatula to put the eggplant into the baking dish with the sausage. Cook the rest of the eggplant pieces, adding more oil to the pan, as needed, and putting the finished eggplant into the baking dish.

Add another 2 count of oil to the skillet, then your onion and garlic, and cook for 3 to 4 minutes, until translucent. Dump the whole can of tomatoes and their juices into a bowl and crush the tomatoes with your hands to break them up; add that to the pan with the basil and cook it down until pulpy and relatively thick. This will take about 15 minutes.

By this time your pasta water will be boiling. Add the rigatoni, give it a stir, and cook for 6 to 7 minutes, it should be slightly firm as it will cook further in the oven. Ladle out 1/2 cup of the pasta cooking water and reserve; the drain the rigatoni.

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F. Chop the sausages into nice big, bite-size chunky pieces and return the pieces to the baking dish. Add the tomato sauce, rigatoni, and the reserved pasta water. Break up half the mozzarella over the mixture, season with salt and pepper, and gently mix with your hands or a spatula. Dust with the Parmigiano and drizzle with more olive oil. Bake for 15 minutes. Spread the remaining mozzarella in an even layer over the top and continue to bake for another 10 minutes or until golden brown and bubbly.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Amaretti cookes - week 42 of 52

This week is amaretti cookies courtesy of Canadian Living. Ameretti are almond Italian macaroons - name translate to "bitter ones" since they are flavoured with bitter almonds. These cookies can be made with almond paste of ground almonds.

I went to the grocery store for ground almonds and they were incredibly expensive! I decide to make my own by blanching the almonds and then grinding in coffee grinder. The texture of the ground almonds is a little coarser than the the store boughts almonds.

These cookies are very rich in almond flavour - quite different from the store bought kind. Light and crispy! These were a hit with the co-workers! I may try the next time with almond paste and see if the flavour is a little subtler.

Bon appetit!

Amaretti cookies
Rating (out of 5) *** 1/2
Cost $

2 egg whites
1 cup (250 mL) granulated sugar
1/4 tsp (1 mL) almond extract
2-1/2 cups(625 mL)ground almonds

2 tbsp(25 mL)granulated sugar

In large bowl, beat egg whites until soft peaks form; beat in sugar, 2 tbsp (25 mL) at a time, until stiff glossy peaks form. Beat in almond extract; fold in ground almonds.

Drop by generous 1 tbsp (15 mL) or pipe using piping bag, 2 inches (5 cm) apart, onto parchment paper–lined baking sheets.

Topping: Sprinkle sugar over cookies. Bake in top and bottom thirds of 300°F (150°C) oven, rotating and switching pans halfway through, for about 20 minutes or until firm to the touch and light golden. Transfer to rack; let cool completely. (Make-ahead: Store layered between waxed paper in airtight container for up to 3 days.)

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Chocolate eclairs - week 41 of 52

Inspired by my recent trip to Paris, I wanted to make some chocolate éclairs. From my experience today, French pastries seem to be a little fussier than most (read - lots of steps) but is worth it! Amazing tasting - the pastry cream instead of whipping cream filling makes all the difference!

The pastry for éclairs is same as the one used for cream puffs – a choux pastry. It is a cooked water, flour & butter mixture to which eggs are added. When cooking, the choux pastry is almost like a polenta. Then to it, you add the eggs. The first batch of éclair pastries turned out horribly! They barely rose and had a heaviness to them – they almost looked like ladyfingers. Although the taste was fine, texture terrible – so into the garbage. I called my friend who recently took some pastry courses and got some advice:
- Before adding in the eggs to the cooked flour mixture, beat the mixture for 2 minutes to let us much heat out as possible
- Add 4-5 eggs instead of the 3 – makes the éclairs lighter.
The second time round – perfect! As well, when making the filling keep an eye out on it as it can turn from runny to thick quite quickly.

Bon appétit!

Chocolate Eclairs
Rating (out of 5) *****
Cost $
Make 16 medium sized eclairs
Courtesy Gale Gand, “Butter Sugar Flour Eggs” by Gale Gand, Rick Tramonto, Julia Moskin, Clarkson N. Potter Publishers, 1999


• 2 cups whole, 2 percent fat, or 1 percent fat milk
• 1/2 vanilla bean, split lengthwise
• 6 egg yolks
• 2/3 cup sugar
• 1/4 cup cornstarch
• 1 tablespoon cold unsalted butter
• 1 cup water
• 8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter
• 1/2 teaspoon salt
• 1 1/2 teaspoons sugar
• 1 cup all-purpose flour
• 3 eggs, plus 1 extra, if needed – Foodie Girl’s notes – 4 or 5 eggs is better
Egg Wash:• 1 egg
• 1 1/2 teaspoons water
Chocolate Glaze:
• 1/2 cup heavy cream
• 4 ounces semisweet chocolate, coarsely chopped

In a medium saucepan, heat the milk and vanilla bean to a boil over medium heat. Immediately turn off the heat and set aside to infuse for 15 minutes. In a bowl, whisk the egg yolks and sugar until light and fluffy. Add the cornstarch and whisk vigorously until no lumps remain. Whisk in 1/4 cup of the hot milk mixture until incorporated. Whisk in the remaining hot milk mixture, reserving the saucepan. Pour the mixture through a strainer back into the saucepan. Cook over medium-high heat, whisking constantly, until thickened and slowly boiling. Remove from the heat and stir in the butter. Let cool slightly. Cover with plastic wrap, lightly pressing the plastic against the surface to prevent a skin from forming. Chill at least 2 hours or until ready to serve. The custard can be made up to 24 hours in advance. Refrigerate until 1 hour before using.

Pastry: Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Line a sheet pan with parchment paper. In a large saucepan, bring the water, butter, salt and sugar to a rolling boil over medium-high heat. When it boils, immediately take the pan off the heat. Stirring with a wooden spoon, add all the flour at once and stir hard until all the flour is incorporated, 30 to 60 seconds. Return to the heat and cook, stirring, 30 seconds. Scrape the mixture into a mixer fitted with a paddle attachment (or use a hand mixer). Mix at medium speed. *** Foodie girl’s notes – beat for about 2 minutes so the batter isn’t too hot when the eggs are added. With the mixer running, add 3 eggs, 1 egg at a time. *** Foodie girl notes – add 4 or 5 eggs. Stop mixing after each addition to scrape down the sides of the bowl. Mix until the dough is smooth and glossy and the eggs are completely incorporated. The dough should be thick, but should fall slowly and steadily from the beaters when you lift them out of the bowl. If the dough is still clinging to the beaters, add the remaining 1 egg and mix until incorporated.
Using a pastry bag fitted with a large plain tip, pipe fat lengths of dough (about the size and shape of a jumbo hot dog) onto the lined baking sheet, leaving 2 inches of space between them. You should have 8 to 10 lengths.

Egg Wash: In a bowl, whisk the egg and water together. Brush the surface of each eclair with the egg wash. Use your fingers to smooth out any bumps of points of dough that remain on the surface. Bake 15 minutes, then reduce the heat to 375 degrees and bake until puffed up and light golden brown, about 25 minutes more. Try not to open the oven door too often during the baking. Let cool on the baking sheet. Fit a medium-size plain pastry tip over your index finger and use it to make a hole in the end of each eclair (or just use your fingertip). Using a pastry bag fitted with a medium-size plain tip, gently pipe the custard into the eclairs, using only just enough to fill the inside (don't stuff them full).

Glaze: In a small saucepan, heat the cream over medium heat just until it boils. Immediately turn off the heat. Put the chocolate in a medium bowl. Pour the hot cream over the chocolate and whisk until melted and smooth. Set aside and keep warm. The glaze can be made up to 48 hours in advance. Cover and refrigerate until ready to use, and rewarm in a microwave or over hot water when ready to use.
Dip the tops of the eclairs in the warm chocolate glaze and set on a sheet pan. Chill, uncovered, at least 1 hour to set the glaze. Serve chilled.

Vacation food bites - London & Paris

Hi all – had an amazing vacation in London & Paris and here are some food tidbits

Pret a Manger – my favourite chain of fast-food restaurants! Not fast-food in the sense of hamburgers & fries, but fresh sandwiches, salads, pastries & wraps. Since the continental breakfast at my London hotel was terrible, I had Pret every morning! Love it! They are everywhere in London – about as many as there are Starbucks in Toronto. There are now several in New York and Chicago. Definitely think they should open in Canada!

Hix – first night went to dinner with a friend at “Hix” in Soho, near Picaddilly Circus. Hix is one of Mark Hix’s many restaurants in London and was also voted best new restaurant 2010 by “Time Out” travel magazine. It was good - we had the prix fix which included smoked salmon on a toast and pan-fried pickerel.

Cider – that night we went out to bar for some stand-up comedy and I found my new favourite drink – cider! Cider is an alcoholic drink made from apples – available in sparkling or still. I prefer the sparkling kind (even though it gives me little cider hiccups)

Tea – we had tea at Brown’s Hotel, voted one the Tea Guild’s one of London’s top teas! Started off with a tower of finger sandwiches, scones and little desserts (and tea of course). Finished tea with some chocolate and white cake. It’s a great tradition that we should have here in Canada – nothing like a little afternoon pick-me up. Finger sandwiches and tons of little desserts is more filling than you would think - or maybe it was the clotted cream – that filled me up until dinner!

Harrods – in the basement level of the “store that sells everything” are the incredible food halls. The food variety is incredible – fresh fruit (a $16 pomegranate), baked goods (a £4000 cake), fresh seafood and teas, coffees and candies. This is also a great place to pick up some souvenirs (there are some very affordable ones, don’t worry!)

Fish & chips – I had to have fish & chips – we went to a pub near the British Museum for the classic UK dish (along with a pint of cider). My friend who lives in London said that it was not the best fish & chips he’s had, but I thought it was pretty good!

Leon de Bruxelles – this is a chain in Paris with very tasty mussels and fries. I went to the one on Champs Elysees. Prix fixed seems to be a big thing in Europe and I got the white wine mussels & fries and finished the meal off with crème brulee! Excellent – you must try!

Gelato wars – apparently there is a rivalry between two gelato/ice-cream chains – Amorino (from Italy) and the Berthillon (from France). Of course I had to try both.
- Amorino – from the Lafayette store (go to the 6th floor for some delicious gelato & beautiful views of Paris. I got strawberry, mango & vanilla
- Berthillon – after dinner went to Champs Elysees, got two types of sorbet – cassis (black current) and passionfruit.
And the winner is... Amorino (Berthillon a close second)! I loved the clean, fresh flavours a little better, but it was difficult to pick a winner.

Fauchon – this store is at the Madeleine subway stop and is foodie heaven! There are two stores – one with pastries & bread and caviar. The 2nd store is just across the street and a must visit (and a great place for souvenirs). This store carries wines, teas, coffees, cookies & chocolates – it’s such a beautiful store and amazing merchandise!

Cafe de la Paix – across from the Paris Opera (Palais Garnier), the inside of this restaurant is just beautiful! They have some of the best millefeuille ever – flaky with a rich creamy filling (for €14 it must be!). I was too full from lunch to eat the dessert so I took it to go and carried it for half a day around Paris before wolfing it all down in my hotel room. Delicious and super rich – must try!

Cafe de Flore – in St Germaine de Pres, this cafe has be great view of the bustling street St Germaine. I ordered a cheese sampler plate for €20 and thought I would get literally a “sample”. I ended up getting 3 humongous pieces of cheese. I barely good through ½ of it! The cheese in France is a little more pungent, brie is a little sharper but I really enjoyed the blue.

Relais de entrecote – this restaurant only
serves two things – steak and fries! Some of the best I’ve had. When you get there they only ask you two things – what would you like to drink and how would you like your steak done. They then bring you two servings of steak & fries. Be prepared for a wait – but worth it!

Macarons – these are a little treat, made mostly of egg whites & almonds and comes in a variety of flavours such as raspberry and chocolate. I tried several while I was in Europe and thought they were a little overrated (gasp!). However, they are some of the cutest little desserts I’ve ever seen!!

McCafe – anyone who knows me well knows that I love Mcdonald’s (yes, it’s true, a foodie with a thing for McDonald’s). They have amazing McDonald’s in Europe – the one that I visited in Europe had McCafe – with lattes, pastries & macarons – amazing!

Three and a half days in each city was certainly not enough to experience everything – I will definitely be back for more foodie adventures.
Bon appetit!