TWO SALADS AND A BLOG AWARD!

Three reasons to smile today, how about that? Two very colorful salads to counteract the somber days of winter and the even more somber political scenario.  Plus, the joy of receiving a blog award. Not bad to close the first month of 2017!

The first salad was inspired by a very nice food blog, Hanady Kitchen. She is a veteran food blogger, but only recently I got to know her site. Better late than never. Love her cooking style. The star ingredient is Halloumi cheese, very unique ingredient that is worth trying to find in your grocery store. Depending on where you live it could be tricky. It is a grilling cheese originated in Cyprus, made of goat and sheep’s milk. Instead of melting away as a regular cheese would, it stands up to the heat and develops a crust that will leave a lasting impression in your gustative memory. Instead of the grill, I used my All Clad fish pan, and it worked like a charm.

salad

HALLOUMI SALAD WITH TOMATOES AND AVOCADO
(inspired by Hanady Kitchen)

1 block of Halloumi, cut in small squares
1 tablespoon olive oil
a few grape tomatoes, cut in half or large tomatoes cut in chunks
1 avocado, cut in chunks
1/4 cup grape seed oil
2 tablespoons Verjus (or lemon juice)
1/4 teaspoon sumac
salt and pepper to taste

Heat the tablespoon of olive oil on a non-stick skillet. Add the squares of Halloumi and fry until golden brown, flip to fry the other side. Remove slices to drain on a paper towel, squeeze a little lemon juice over them. Reserve.

Add the tomatoes and avocado chunks to a medium size bowl. Make a dressing with the grape seed oil, Verjus (or lemon juice), whisking well to combine. Add sumac, salt, and pepper, whisk again.

Add the dressing to the veggies, then the pieces of Halloumi. Mix gently, adjust seasoning. Serve right away.

ENJOY!

to print the recipe, click here

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Comments: Halloumi will definitely become a constant guest in our kitchen. Nothing quite like it. That crust is perfect, the texture inside still firm with that delicate sharpness of the cheese. Perfect to nibble all by itself, or added to salads such as this one.

Moving on, the second salad comes from Fine Cooking magazine, and uses white asparagus as the main ingredient, but here’s the kick: it is raw and sliced very thinly. I know, mind-blowing…

shaved-asparagus-salad

WHITE ASPARAGUS, PARSLEY AND CRANBERRY SALAD
(adapted from Fine Cooking magazine)

12 oz. white asparagus, trimmed, sliced very thinly on a sharp diagonal
1/2 oz. (about 1 cup) fresh flat-leaf parsley leaves
1/4 cup dried cranberries
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup grape seed oil
2 Tbs. Sherry vinegar
1 tsp. honey
lettuce leaves, for serving

In a medium bowl, toss the asparagus with the parsley leaves and cranberries. Lightly season with salt and pepper. Whisk together the oil, vinegar, honey, and 1/4 tsp. each salt and pepper until emulsified. Toss the salad with enough dressing to lightly coat, and serve over lettuce leaves.

ENJOY!

to print the recipe, click here

Comments: The only “problem” with this salad is that one bunch of asparagus will make enough for two, three people tops. Making this for a crowd could be tricky, unless you don’t mind spending considerable amount of time slicing asparagus. Nothing wrong with that if it suits your mood… Be Zen, though. I was not sure Phil would like the salad, but he absolutely loved it, thought it was different from anything he’d ever had before.  I tell you, the combination of raw white asparagus with cranberries is perfect. Plus they look nice together too.

And now for the Blog Award!  I was surprised with a comment from Bernadine (Bern Bakes) telling me that she awarded me the Mystery Blogger Award.  Stop by here to read more about it.

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WHAT IS MYSTERY BLOGGER AWARD?

“Mystery Blogger Award” is an award for amazing bloggers with ingenious posts. Their blog not only captivates; it inspires and motivates. They are one of the best out there, and they deserve every recognition they get. This award is also for bloggers who find fun and inspiration in blogging; and they do it with so much love and passion.  Okoto Enigma

There are some rules, and of course I will break some of them, because as I mentioned before, I do not forward awards, so I hope I don’t offend anyone by it.

  • Display award on blog  DONE.
  • List rules DONE.
  • Mention creator of the award & provide link  DONE.
  • Thank the blogger who nominated you and provide a link DONE.
  • Say three things about yourself. CHECK BELOW
  • Answer five questions from your nominee CHECK BELOW
  • Write five questions for your nominees to answer (sorry, not nominating anyone)
  • Nominate from ten to 20 other bloggers. (see above)
  • Notify nominees by commenting on their blog (see above)
  • Share your best post CHECK BELOW

THREE THINGS ABOUT MYSELF

I decided to ask Phil to help me out, as I got in a kind of paralyzed mode trying to come up with something. Here is what he said, almost without blinking…

You are very determined (that is 100% true)
You are very organized (he is not talking about my bench, I can tell you that)
You respect people who are intelligent AND work hard (good sense of humor gets me too)

I guess these will do.  I think I’ll add I am very good at multi-tasking, but maybe that comes with organization?  And obviously it all melts away when faced with cake baking.

ANSWERING QUESTIONS FROM BERNADINE

Whats your current favorite T.V. show?
Big Bang Theory

What is your ultimate guilty pleasure?
White chocolate

Do you have a bad habit?
Worrying

Do you have a good habit?
My exercise routine. And I am very proud of it too…  (since you asked.. 😉

If you could meet one celebrity or person you admire who would it be? Why?
President Obama. I don’t think explanations are needed.

SHARE YOUR BEST POST

After almost 8 years of blogging, it’s very hard to choose my favorite. Instead, I will share the most popular on the blog, which happens to be one of my favorite cakes, I’ve made it plenty of times.

Here we go… The Ultimate Apple Cake

 

THANK YOU SO MUCH, BERNADINE!
Nice to be recognized!

 

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ONE YEAR AGO: When Three is Better than Two

TWO YEARS AGO: Somebody Stop Me!

THREE YEARS AGO: Zucchini Pasta with Cilantro-Cashew Pesto

FOUR YEARS AGO: Bran Muffins, Take Two

FIVE YEARS AGO: Brown Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies

SIX YEARS AGO: Mogo Mojo

SEVEN YEARS AGO: Slow-Roasted Chicken Thighs: an Ice-Breaker

 

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DANISH RYE BREAD

Back in November we were in New York City and took stepson Dr.A and his beautiful partner to a special dinner at Aquavit. Funny story here. I admit to having a virtual crush on Marcus Samuelsson the chef behind it. So when Phil surprised me with the news of our upcoming dining adventure, I almost passed out. Would Mr. Samuelsson come to our table to say hello? Would I be able to survive that without making a complete fool of myself? Then, the shock. Marcus has left the restaurant many years ago. I must be living in a cave or something. Well, it’s quite clear that I don’t follow the restaurant scene that closely.  The current chef is Emma Bengtsson, a beautiful 33 year-old Swedish chef who is one of only three women to run a restaurant with 2 Michelin stars. Isn’t that super cool? No wonder our meal was memorable! Seriously, the food was spectacular. Absolutely top-notch, one of those evenings to be remembered forever. I include at the end of this post a little slide show. One item I fell in love at first bite was their Danish Rye bread. They brought it in a small basket, three types of bread, the Danish Rye definitely not a heavy contestant for its looks. With no high expectations,  I tried a bite. Then I saw Phil’s expression when he took a bite of his little roll. Our eyes locked, and a symphony started to play in our minds… It was moist, it was dense, but not heavy. It had this incredibly sweet/savory  complex taste, like nothing I ever had before. I  simply had to try and make it at home. Once we flew back, I started obsessively searching for recipes, even wrote the restaurant (no reply, unfortunately), and finally settled on a recipe by Planet Earth’s Baking Goddess Extraordinaire, Karen.

cooling

RUGBRØD – DANISH RYE
(from Karen’s Kitchen Stories)

for the Rye Sour – (prepare 12 to 15 hours prior to the final dough)
300 g whole rye flour
245 g water
55 g sourdough starter at 100% hydration

Combine the ingredients in a medium bowl with a dough whisk or large spoon until you have a fully incorporated dough. Cover with plastic wrap and let sit for 12 to 15 hours.

for the Levain
103 g bread flour
103 g water
14 g sourdough starter

Combine the ingredients in a medium bowl and mix until smooth. Cover with plastic wrap and let ferment for 8 to 10 hours.

for the soaker
75 g rye chops 
150 g water

Mix the ingredients in a small bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Let sit overnight at room temperature.

for the Final Dough
130 g bread flour
200 g whole rye flour
180 g water
2.5 g instant yeast
16 g salt
All of the soaker
All of the rye sour
All of the levain
15 g black strap molasses
4.5 g whole fennel seeds, coarsely ground

In the bowl of a stand mixer, mix all of the ingredients with the dough hook on slow for about 4 minutes, then increase the speed to medium, and mix for an additional 3 to 4 minutes. The dough will be very sticky.

Heat the oven to 475 F.

Spray a 13 inch Pullman pan with spray oil, and sprinkle it with rye flour. Scrape the dough into the pan and smooth the top. Sprinkle the top with whole rye flour. Cover the dough with the lid of the pan, and let rise for 45 to 60 minutes, until the dough reaches about 1 inch below the top of the pan.

Bake the loaf at 475 F with the lid on for 15 minutes. Reduce the oven temperature to 400 F and continue baking for 15 more minutes with the lid on.

Remove the lid and reduce the oven temperature to 325 F. Bake for an additional 45 minutes, until the bread reaches about 205 F internally (check with an instant thermometer).

Remove the bread from the pan and cool on a wire rack. Let the bread sit for 24 to 48 hours to cure before slicing (this is important to avoid a gummy crumb)

ENJOY!

to print the recipe, click here

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Comments: Danish Rye is the most beloved bread in Denmark, consumed by everyone particularly at breakfast, but pretty much whenever the mood strikes. I suspect if I lived in Denmark I could survive on it alone. Ok, maybe some butter. A little cheese. Some smoked salmon, but the pièce de resistance would be the bread. I realize that it doesn’t look like much. A brownish, tight crumbed, dense-looking loaf of bread. Looks can be so deceiving! This is the kind of bread that speaks to your soul, each bite a little different, it plays with your taste buds in magical ways. Trust me, you need to bring it to your life if you’ve never tried it.  Plus, it’s pretty straightforward to make. You do not need the special pan with the lid, actually. Many recipes will bake it in a regular loaf type pan, and the bread will end up with a little crack on top. Nothing wrong with that.  Make sure to plan ahead, Danish Rye must sit for at least 24 hours before slicing. Rye is a temperamental flour, with a tendency to develop a gummy texture.

The important question is – did it match the Aquavit concoction? Let’s say it’s pretty close, close enough to make me thrilled about this baking project. I still would love to have their recipe, but so far, no cigar. So my plan is to continue assembling examples in books and blogs, and try a few more. The bread freezes beautifully in thin slices, by the way.  Removing from the freezer, in a few minutes it can go into a low oven to bring it back to life. It is quite simply put, a fantastic loaf of bread. Phil went nuts for it, in fact he now insists that at any given time we must have at least 4 slices in the freezer. Just in case. And of course, I am more than happy to make sure he is happy!

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One very tasty lunch!

I am submitting this post to Bread Box Round Up,
hosted by Karen, the Bread Baking Goddess.

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For those interested, a little slide show of the great evening we spent at Aquavit, NYC

November 2016

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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ONE YEAR AGO: The Best Sourdough Recipe

TWO YEARS AGO: Mini-Quiches with Duxelles and Baby Broccoli

THREE YEARS AGO: Quinoa and Sweet Potato Cakes

FOUR YEARS AGO: Pumpkin Bolo de Fuba’ Cremoso

FIVE YEARS AGO: Citrus-crusted Tilapia Filets

SIX YEARS AGO: Bran Muffins, not just for Hippies

SEVEN YEARS AGO: Flourless Chocolate Cake

SOUP SATURDAY: A NEW BLOG EVENT!

16114833_10211890414716031_5142216880039446529_nAs those who follow my site might remember, a blog event I participated for years – The Secret Recipe Club – recently came to an end. Some of the participants took matters into their own hands and came up with fun ideas to keep us connected and sharing recipes on a regular basis. With this post, I offer my first contribution to Soup Saturday, as launched by Wendy, from A Day In the Life on the Farm. We are all sharing recipes for healthy soups so if you’d like some serious inspiration, make sure to click on the link party at the end of this post. I loved the idea because if there’s one thing I should make more often, it’s soup. Any reason to make it more often sounds great to me.

To start things on a nice note, I will share not one but two recipes, both were a huge hit with us. I honestly don’t know which one would be my favorite. Phil leaned towards the second.  I wish I had made them on the same day to pour them in a bowl side by side,  making an Yin Yang kind of hybrid soup. I’ve seen that done before, it looks very stylish. Take a look at this version, for instance.

These are very low in carbs, especially the first one. The second involves some carrots (three for the whole batch), so it is slightly more fulfilling. Both are Paleo-friendly, in case you are interested…

asparagus-soup-2

ASPARAGUS SOUP WITH ADVIEH
(from the Bewitching Kitchen)

1 bunch of asparagus, tough ends removed (about 1 pound)
1 leek, white part only, minced
1 tablespoon coconut oil (or olive oil)
1 cup baby spinach leaves, well packed
salt and pepper
1/2 to 1 teaspoon advieh (or a mild curry mix)
2 + 1/2 cups water
1/2 cup coconut milk
fresh lemon juice to taste

Heat the coconut oil in a large saucepan. Add the leeks and saute until translucent. Cut the asparagus, in 1-inch pieces, add to the pan and saute gently for a few minutes, until it starts to get some color. Season with salt and pepper. Add the advieh, is using, saute briefly stirring constantly, until the spice mix releases its aroma.

Add the water, close the pan, and simmer gently until the asparagus is fully tender, about 20 minutes. Transfer mixture to a blender (preferably high power), add the spinach leaves, and blend. The spinach will “cook” in the residual heat of the soup. Return soup to pan, add the coconut milk, simmer until heated through. Squirt a little lemon juice right before serving. Adjust seasoning, and…

ENJOY!

to print the recipe, click here

Comments: Advieh is a mixture of spices that varies a lot depending on the region, but usually contains turmeric, cinnamon, cloves, cardamom, ginger and dried rose petals. I got mine not too long ago, and decided to give it a try. Good move by Sally. It turned out subtle, not at all as if you are swallowing perfume… I would define it as a floral curry. Quite unique, very flavorful. I find the idea of eating something with rose petals quite enticing…  don’t you?

carrotcaulisoup

LEMONY CAULIFLOWER & CARROT SOUP
(adapted from a recipe from Melissa Clark)

1 teaspoon ground coriander
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 shallot, diced
3 medium carrots, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch pieces
5 to 6 cups of water
1 teaspoons kosher salt, more as needed
1 tablespoon white miso
1 small head of cauliflower or 1/2 large one,
zest of 1 lemon
2 tablespoons lemon juice, more to taste

Rice the cauliflower in a food processor and reserve (you can also use the florets, in this case add them together with the carrots). Heat the oil in a large saucepan, add the shallots and saute until translucent. Add coriander and a little salt, saute until fragrant.  Add carrots, saute briefly, add 5 cups of water  and the miso, stirring well until it dissolves. Simmer for 15 minutes, add the riced cauliflower and cook everything together for 5 more minutes (riced cauliflower cooks fast).

Remove the soup from the heat. Using an immersion blender, purée the soup until smooth, or transfer to a blender. Return the soup to the pan, over very low heat add the lemon zest and juice. Adjust seasoning, and serve.

ENJOY!

to print the recipe, click here

Comments: The original recipe from Melissa Clark has a higher proportion of carrots and uses more miso, which in my opinion overpowered the flavor of the veggies. I liked my revised version a lot more. You can barely detect the miso, but it adds a nice exotic flavor to it.  This soup was my lunch three days in a row, and if there was more, I would have it on day 4 again. Nothing better in a chilly day, I can tell you that.  I topped it with black sesame seeds, and a swirl of yogurt and Sriracha. That really took the soup to a higher level, I love to vary the amount of Sriracha at each spoonful, testing my limits. Of course, if you prefer a more tamed version, omit the hot sauce, but the yogurt is perfect with it.

 

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ONE YEAR AGO: Salmon Rillettes

TWO YEARS AGO: Linzer Cookies

THREE YEARS AGO: Baked Ricotta

BOGEY QUIT THAT STRIKES AGAIN

calendar

This is what was left of a beautiful, shiny calendar that came with my new exercise program from Jessica Smith.

Said calendar was sitting over the kitchen counter top.

Bogey Quit That was unsupervised for five minutes. Six minutes tops.

I wasn’t thrilled. Had a little heart to heart with the big boy.

.

Do you agree with my assessment, or should I hope for the best?

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A SPECIAL BIRTHDAY DINNER

The planning of my beloved’s Birthday dinner went all backwards. First I settled on the dessert, covered in my previous two posts. You know, the dessert that almost killed me. Then, I chose the side dish. Rice. Rice for a Birthday dinner? Yes. But let me explain. Ever since I met Phil he talks about this Persian rice his roommate used to prepare when they lived in their communal house. I call those times his hippie-days, I’ve seen pictures, and can tell you he was almost as handsome then as he is today. Back to rice. It is very traditional in Persian cuisine, countless ways to make it, probably each family has its own way, like feijoada for Brazilians. The ultimate goal is to produce a golden crust at the bottom of the pan, which when the rice is served, ends up on top. You break that crust and enjoy it with the perfectly cooked and perfumed rice underneath it.  I don’t know why it took me so long to finally make it at home, but better late than never. And with the side dish decided, I picked a main dish to match:  chicken thighs braised in Middle-Eastern spices, cooked with dried apricots and prunes. Green beans tied it all together…

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So let’s start with the rice. The crust (tahdig)  in this case was a mixture of butter and grapeseed oil, which has a very mild taste, and helps prevent the butter from browning too much. That would make the rice bitter. Some recipes elaborate on this simple concept by making the crust with thin slices of pita bread, for instance. Or using yogurt, even potatoes. A nice culinary project to play with. I ended up using inspiration from several sources, but kept it simple, butter it was.

rice1
CHELOW (PERSIAN RICE)
(adapted from several sources)

1 + ¾ cups Basmati rice
2 Tablespoons salt for cooking rice
A pinch of saffron strands
A pinch of sugar
A pinch of salt
2 tbsp very hot water
2 tbsp butter, divided
2 tbsp grapeseed oil

Rinse the rice in several changes of cold water until the water runs clear, then leave to soak in a large bowl of water for 20 to 30 minutes. Drain and set aside. Bring a large pot of water to the boil and add 2 tablespoons of salt. Add the rice and cook for 5 minutes. The grains should still be pretty firm at this point. Drain, rinse briefly with cold water to prevent it from cooking any further. Reserve.

Make the saffron infusion by using a pestle and mortar to grind the saffron strands with a pinch of sugar and salt, then dissolve it with the very hot water.   Leave to steep for a few minutes. To make a plain tahdig for this amount of rice, you need an 8-inch nonstick saucepan with a snug-fitting lid. Melt 1 tablespoon of the butter with the grapeseed oil over medium heat on an 8-inch nonstick pan.  Add 1 tablespoon of the saffron liquid. When the oil is hot, sprinkle a thin layer of rice over the bottom and firmly press it down, covering the bottom of the pan. Carefully lay the rest of the rice on top, allowing it to form a domed shape at the center. Using the handle of a wooden spoon, make a few holes in the rice, almost reaching the bottom of the pan.

Place the remaining tablespoon of butter, cut in little pieces, in the holes you formed.  Sprinkle the rest of the saffron liquid on top of the rice, then put either a tea towel or four layers of paper towels on the surface, tucking the edges in. Cook the rice on medium heat for 5 minutes, then turn the heat down, as low as your stove will go, and cook for 15 minutes longer.  Take it off the heat and allow it to sit for a few minutes, while you fill your sink with a couple of inches of very cold water.

Place the saucepan in the water. That will loosen the crust at the bottom, and should allow you to un-mold it nicely.  Take the lid off, put a large plate on top, and without hesitation, flip the pan over to release the rice on the plate. If all goes well, you’ll be rewarded with a beautiful rice “cake”, a nice crust on top of perfectly cooked Basmati rice.

ENJOY!

to print the recipe, click here

Comments: I wanted to follow the recipe quite closely, so I was compelled to get a mortar and pestle for it. I know, life can be tough. But the Force was with me, because Marshalls had a few for sale – cannot beat their prices –  in fact they had two kinds, and I brought one home with me. The method of choice to deal with saffron in Middle Eastern cuisine is to crush it with a little sugar and a little salt. Water then is added to solubilize it as best as possible, and that beautiful golden liquid is used in the recipe.

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My heart was beating fast when I un-molded the pan, but it worked like a charm!  That crust is simply addictive. Even though Phil was the guest of honor for obvious reasons, I put up a mild fight for the real crusty bits, after all, I slaved away at the whole menu. Carioca Cake, remember? That should give me bids on 85% of the rice crust. But because I am of magnanimous nature, I settled for 60%.

Now let’s move to the main dish…

chicken

CHICKEN BRAISED WITH APRICOTS AND PRUNES
(adapted from The Saffron Tales, pressure cooker optional)

Grapeseed oil
2 shallots, finely chopped (or 1 large onion)
1/2 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp ground coriander
6 chicken thighs, boneless, skinless
1 + 1/2 teaspoon turmeric
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon black pepper, ground
1 + 1/2 cups chicken stock (approximately)
12 dried apricots
12 prunes
good pinch of saffron
pinch of sugar and salt
2 tablespoons very hot water
lemon juice to taste (a tablespoon or so)

Heat 3 tablespoons of oil in a saute pan and fry the shallots over very low heat until golden brown, take your time and allow the deep flavors to develop. Season the chicken pieces all over with salt, add to the saute pan with the caramelized shallots, then add the cumin, coriander, cinnamon,  turmeric and black pepper.   Cook until the chicken is golden on all sides, then transfer to a pressure cooker. Add one cup of stock, if it almost cover the meat it will be enough, if not add another half a cup. Close the pressure cooker and once it reaches full pressure, cook for 18 minutes.  In the meantime, add boiling water to the apricots and prunes in a small bowl, and let them sit to soften slightly. At the end of 18 minutes, release the pressure running the pan under the faucet with cold water.

Grind the saffron with a pinch of sugar and salt in the pestle and mortar and then transfer to a cup and leave to steep in very hot water for 2 minutes.

When the chicken is ready, add the softened fruit, along with the lemon juice and the saffron liquid. Simmer on low heat for 10 minutes with the lid off, until the sauce has thickened slightly. Adjust seasoning and serve over rice, or another side dish of your choice.

No pressure cooker? Use any heavy pan with a tight lid and cook the chicken for about 40 minutes, until very tender, then proceed with the addition of fruits and saffron liquid.

ENJOY!

to print the recipe, click here

sauteeing

Comments: Most important step of this recipe, taking your time to caramelize those shallots (or onions, if you prefer). I used the pressure cooker because I love the texture it gives to the meat, and also it speeds the preparation so much. But, you can definitely use a regular pan. This is a recipe that gets better next day, so you can make it in advance. I actually made it in the morning and we enjoyed it at dinner, when all I had to do was warm it up, and take care of the Persian rice and the green beans.  It was a delightful meal…

birthdaybw

One more Birthday celebration together!
Great food is mandatory, dressing up is optional… 

😉

a-special-persian-dinner-from-bewitching-kitchen

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ONE YEAR AGO: Duck Confit for a Special Occasion

TWO YEARS AGO: Tuscan Grilled Chicken and Sausage Skewers

THREE YEARS AGO: Celebrate Wednesday with Pork Tenderloin & Apples

FOUR YEARS AGO: Salmon Wellington

FIVE YEARS AGO: The Green Chip Alternative

SIX YEARS AGO: Weekend Pita Project

SEVEN YEARS AGO: Let it snow, let it snow, eggs in snow

CARIOCA CAKE, THE FINAL CHAPTER

(Missed the first chapter? click here)

This is the kick-ass cake by definition, although it could also be described as yet another cake that kicked my ass. But I won’t keep you curious for much longer. There was a happy ending to the epic saga, Phil was over the moon, told me it was the best cake I ever made!  I don’t care if he was embellishing the truth, let him. I need all the positive feedback I can get, because crossing the end of this marathon was no piece of cake. Forgive the lousy pun. Without further ado, here is the result of my ordeal adventure…

carioca-cake

FINALLY, MY CARIOCA CAKE!

What? Where is that herringbone pattern, you may ask?  It is not there. I went with swirls. Why? Because it is a much sexier name.  I see you are not buying it. Let me be honest instead. By the time I got to the ganache decoration, I was in such state of emotional turmoil, that the idea of manipulating a knife could prove dangerous to my physical integrity. Indeed, the herringbone pattern is best applied with a long serrated knife. Swirls are made with the back of a spoon. Has anyone ever been harmed by a spoon? Granted,  there is that gag me with a spoon saying,  but a spoon covered in luscious chocolate ganache would gag no one. I skipped the knife, and went with the spoon. Zero worries.

The coffee syrup. I did not have that much trouble with it. It is pretty straightforward, just spectacularly messy a bit messy. You simmer a huge amount of finely ground coffee (2 full cups) in a small amount of water and pass it through a double layer of cheesecloth, that may or may not spill over during the process. Essentially, you are making the strongest coffee ever, so strong that if you take a small sip you’ll get cross-eyed. The eyes will uncross after a few minutes, and the lips will also revert to their normal shape. Phew…

cofeesyrup

The chocolate mousse. That’s when things got chaotic. Mr. Hermé’s timing completely messed me up. You need to coordinate the beating of heavy cream with the making of a syrup that shall reach 257 F. According to the master, it would take 8 to 10 minutes. I was a bit involved with the melting of the chocolate, but kept track of my timer like a hawk. At 6 minutes, instant thermometer in hand, it already seemed too dark.  I let go a couple of highly colorful words, removed the syrup quickly from the burner, and poured it into a Pyrex bowl.  The whole thing solidified like a rock right in front of my eyes. Congratulations, Sally, you went pass the soft ball stage all the way into Titanium Land. You are now ready to start all over. My beloved entered the kitchen when he heard my screaming and once I explained the unfairness of what had just taken place, the man I married almost 17 years ago told me the following;

“My Grandma never left the side of the stove when she made sugar syrup.”

I will give you a moment to let this sink in. Without going into details, I’ll just say that he got a sharp lecture on how irrelevant, tactless, borderline cruel his remark was. “Maybe you’d like me to go ask for your Grandma’s advice right now in the after life?”  He denied. Profusely. Approached me to offer a hug, but added a don’t be silly that was definitely uncalled for. Hug aborted. Talk about a festive Christmas mood.

Now, have you ever had to wash hardened caramel from a Pyrex container? Oh, that is loads of fun, I highly recommend it when you need to redeem yourself of things like real nasty thoughts. For instance those I had going towards Mr. Hermé. Come to think of it, in a recent past I also directed dark thoughts to Thomas Keller for his fancy-schmancy macarons. But that’s another saga, left to another time.

So I was back to square one with the darn mousse, trying to re-negotiate the beating of the cream with the new syrup, and the melted Valrhona chocolate in waiting. This  time, I stood by the stove like a certain Grandma – although I will never ever admit, not even under torture, that her grandson had anything to do with my changed behavior. The mousse materialized with some imperfections. I detected a slightly grainy texture because I suppose the temperature of the melted chocolate was a little off after the whole drama. But what do I know? And at that point, did I even care?  Some could call it grainy, I would go with rustic.

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With all the components ready, I took another deep breath, grabbed a cake ring, and proceeded to slice the genoise, and assemble the final cake. I used toothpicks and dental floss to help me cut thin slices. Worked like a charm, I had to mentally pat myself on the back (hands were pretty messed up with chocolate stains). The Carioca calls for a bottom layer of cake soaked in coffee syrup, then mousse, then cake, then mousse on top. Straight to the freezer until the final step: coating with ganache, decorating it, and sticking the almonds on the side.

soaking

The making of the ganache. I’ve made ganache a gazillion times. I own it. I can make it in my sleep. For this particular coating, the ganache needs to sit at room temperature for a while until it sets. That’s when I got greedy. I decided that I had more than enough time to drive to a store in town that I heard was selling several kinds of bottled shrubs. I placed the cake and the ganache on top of the highest cabinet in the kitchen, which even if Bogey was part-dog, part-giraffe he could not reach. And off I went to get my shrub.  When I got to the store, it seemed closed. Through the glass window I noticed a couple of very agitated people inside, they came out briefly and said they were having computer issues. “Can you come back in 5 minutes?”  Sure, no problem. When they finally opened, 11 and a half minutes later, I picked one of their shrubs, Apple Ginger, and went to pay. The “computer troubles” were not over. The person working the cash register, a very nice German woman in her mid-fifties, was a nervous wreck, shaking a little as she could not get the machine to read my item, enter the price or do whatever it is that the machines must do these days. It was her second day on the job, in this tiny grocery connected to a big liquor store. The manager of the liquor store was the only one able to help, but he was busy with customers, so let’s say things were taking a sweet time to happen. The clock was ticking, I really needed to leave, almost told her to forget about my shrub, but she was in such distress, it would ruin her day further if I left. So I plastered a smile on my face, and said, in a performance worthy of Meryl Streep:  “I have all the time in the world, don’t worry about a thing” and stood there, like the Martyr Baker that I am.  By the time I got  home, the ganache was hard. Ready to be rolled as truffles (sigh). And I was fit to be tied.

Some very gentle microwaving, very gentle stirring, a little more waiting for the right magical temperature (114 F) when I finally poured the ganache all over my cake… But I could not, simply could not bring myself to attempt the herringbone. Long serrated knife? At THAT point of my life? Not wise. Honestly, I just wanted the cake to be on my rear view mirror. I went with swirls, then stuck the roasted almonds all over the sides, licked the spoon clean and collapsed on the sofa. Which, in retrospect, describes the end of almost every single cake I make. Except for the licking of the spoon. That was a first.

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And now for what matters most: how did it taste? It was absolutely wonderful! The coffee flavor is quite pronounced, a perfect match for the chocolate mousse (delicate and light, with underlying notes of rustic) and the ganache coating (real intense chocolate flavor). The almonds on the side did not look particularly beautiful, but they added a pleasant texture. Maybe if they were crushed instead of kept in slices it would work better from a cosmetic point of view.  My only other modification of Hermé’s recipe would be topping the Carioca with a cake layer instead of mousse. That would make it a bit easier to slice and eat. The genoise component would easily give three slices for the final cake, so my advice would be to use a third, thin layer of genoise on the very top. Then cover it all with the chocolate ganache. If you are feeling brave, go for the herringbone. According to my friend Gary, Patissier-Extraordinaire, you can practice with Crisco. I cringe imagining what my kitchen (and my hair) would look like after the combination of Sally + thick layers of Crisco + cardboard circles + long serrated knife. I will allow your imagination to take over…

guilty

That’s all for now, folks. I survived the Carioca Cake,
and so did our marriage!

Isn’t life grand? 

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