Thursday, May 31, 2007

Lots of grilling adventures

Summer always puts me in the mood for easy, quick meals that don't heat up the house too much - at least until I get bitten by the baking bug. But that's usually only once a month or so. While I don't have any pictures to post of my recent cooking adventures, I do have recipes.

One of the best and quickest things that I tried this week was a recipe for grilled pork chops. I had some bone-in quick fry (less than 1/2 inch thick) chops from Whole Foods and wanting an easy recipe that didn't require marination, I went to the Internet. Whole Foods' website actually provided this recipe. It calls for salt, pepper and extra virgin olive oil. I just rubbed the chops with the salt and pepper. On a whim, I added some chopped thyme to the oil and brushed it onto the pork chops. Then I let them sit for a few minutes while I heated up my grill. Since the chops were thin, I had to be careful to not cook them too long, about 2 minutes a side. To make extra sure, I took a meat thermometer and stuck it into the chop near the bone to check that it measured up to 140 degrees. I served the chops with sauteed zucchini, pasta with tomato and basil sauce and an arugula and mache salad with lemon dressing and parmesan cheese.

The second recipe of the week was for grilled salmon with lime butter from the Epicurious website. The trickiest part was making the lime butter. The recipe for the lime butter called for mixing together in a blender:

1 large garlic clove, chopped

1/4 cup fresh lime juice
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1 stick (1/2 cup) unsalted butter, melted

Before squeezing the limes I also zested them to toss onto the salmon after it was cooked. To cook the salmon, I seasoned it with salt and pepper and placed them on an oiled grill. I think I actually overcooked them because the pieces were a little dry. I would suggest cooking the pieces for 2 minutes a side. After they were cooked, I put the lime zest and the butter on them. I served the salmon with rice, guacamole and salad.

With the preparations for the wedding going on in full force, there hasn't been much time for me to do elaborate meals like the ones I've written about in the past. Hard to believe that in another week the wedding will be done and we'll be headed to Montana.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

After a long hiatus

Wow, my first year in graduate school was quite a doozy. It really took all of my concentration to work part-time, go to school full-time and plan a wedding. Needless to say, things have been a little hectic for me and my schedule. But I did survive and actually did pretty well. Now I need to start focusing in earnest for the wedding which is scheduled for the beginning of June and there are a lot of things to deal with in the meantime.

So the blog has suffered a bit as I have had to give priority to other things. But for the summer, I'm looking forward to updating a bit and cooking a lot more.

Speaking of cooking, I wanted to write about a recipe that my friend and I tried this past summer for a crepe cake. My friend had tried one from Lady M Cake Boutique and found the recipe from the New York Times website. It initially seemed daunting but actually turned out to be pretty easy. Well, pretty easy as long as you have someone willing to make 50 crepes for you.

For the pastry cream, I used some of the vanilla that I brought back from Tahiti, which has such a lovely flavor. Afterwards, I dried the beans and put them in a small jar with some sugar to make vanilla sugar.

Here's the recipe:
For the crepe batter:
6 tablespoons butter
3 cups milk
6 eggs
1 1/2 cups flour
7 tablespoons sugar
Pinch salt

For the vanilla pastry cream:
2 cups milk
1 vanilla bean, halved and scraped
6 egg yolks
1/2 cup sugar
1/3 cup cornstarch, sifted
3 1/2 tablespoons butter

For the assembly:
Corn oil
2 cups heavy cream
1 tablespoon sugar or more
3 tablespoons Kirsch
Confectioners' sugar.

1. The day before, make the crepe batter and the pastry cream. In a small pan, cook the butter until brown like hazelnuts. Set aside. In another small pan, heat the milk until steaming; allow to cool for 10 minutes. In a mixer on medium-low speed, beat together the eggs, flour, sugar and salt. Slowly add the hot milk and browned butter. Pour into a container with a spout, cover and refrigerate overnight.

2. Pastry cream: Bring the milk with the vanilla bean (and scrapings) to a boil, then set aside for 10 minutes; remove bean. Fill a large bowl with ice and set aside a small bowl that can hold the finished pastry cream and be placed in this ice bath.

3. In a medium heavy-bottomed pan, whisk together the egg yolks, sugar and cornstarch. Gradually whisk in the hot milk, then place pan over high heat and bring to a boil, whisking vigorously for 1 to 2 minutes. Press the pastry cream through a fine-meshed sieve into the
small bowl. Set the bowl in the ice bath and stir until the temperature reaches 140 degrees on an instant-read thermometer. Stir in the butter. When completely cool, cover and refrigerate.

4. Assembling the cake: Bring the batter to room temperature. Pour a splash of water into the batter to loosen it up. Place a nonstick or seasoned 9-inch crepe pan over medium heat. Swab the surface with the butter, then add about 3 tablespoons batter and swirl to cover the surface. Cook until the bottom just begins to brown, about 1 minute, then carefully lift an edge and flip the crepe with your fingers. Cook on the other side for no longer than 5 seconds. Flip the crepe onto a baking sheet lined with parchment.

You want 20 perfect crepes.

5. Pass the pastry cream through a sieve once more. Whip the heavy cream with the tablespoon sugar and the Kirsch. It won't hold peaks. Fold it into the pastry cream.

6. Lay 1 crepe on a cake plate. Using an icing spatula, completely cover with a thin layer of pastry cream (about 1/4 cup). Cover with a crepe and repeat to make a stack of 20, with the best-looking crepe on top. Chill for at least 2 hours. Set out for 30 minutes before serving. If you have a blowtorch for creme brulee, sprinkle the top crepe with 2 tablespoons sugar and caramelize with the torch; otherwise, dust with confectioners' sugar. Slice like a cake.

The cake turned out beautifully. My friend's boyfriend was able to make 25 perfectly round crepes for us and everyone was able to enjoy the meal.