Fondant au chocolat

I've made this cake several times, but every time I make it, I have people chasing me for a bite. Ideally, the top is barely set and the inside is full of unbelievable gooeyness. It's beyond decadent, stops conversation and makes your brain freeze temporarily. It's the kind of dessert that can silence a party. 

The recipe I give you is my own, adapted from one off a box of corn starch in France. And yes, that means this is gluten free.

You'll need:

1/2 pound (225g) of unsweetened Callebaut (or other baking/confectioner's) chocolate (unsweetened, not dark!)
A stick and a half (180g) of unsalted butter
1 cup (180g) brown sugar
4 eggs
3/4 cup (100g) cornstarch

extra butter and cornstarch for the baking tin

In a small sauce pan, melt the butter and chocolate over medium to low heat.

In an ideal world, I would have chopped the chocolate before putting it in the pan but this isn't an ideal world. In an even idealer world, I might have used a double boiler.

When the butter and chocolate are just barely melted, take it off the heat (it will continue melting) and add the brown sugar. Stir until dissolved, then leave until it cools to almost room temperature.

Make sure the chocolate butter sugar mixture is lower than body temperature - the last thing you want to do, believe me, is make an omelette in this. Trust me, it's not tasty. I've done it.

Drop in the eggs, one by one, and stir well with a whisk until incorporated completely.

Add the corn starch and carefully mix until completely smooth. At this point, there should not be any significant bumps or graininess at all.

At this point, you can let the batter rest in the fridge for an hour or up to 2 days. For dinner parties I always make this a day in advance.

Here's the thing about what to bake it in: individual molds are best. Smear a muffin pan with butter and dust with cornstarch. You can also use cupcake (paper) liners, but paperless would be better, unless you are transporting them. The thicker the baking tin/pan/mold, the better - you want the heat to transmit slowly. Do not use just paper muffin cups - the cake will turn out dry and cooked through. Metal muffin pans are fine, but ceramic, such as ramekin dishes, are even better. And keep in mind that whatever you use, it must not be shallow - otherwise it will cook through in no time.

Preheat your oven to 350 F.

Bake for 15 minutes on the middle rack, or until barely set. The middle of each cake will still be slightly wet and jiggly. Do NOT overcook. I usually start checking in on it after 12 minutes.

If you are taking these to someone's place, you can nuke them for a few seconds each in the microwave to revive the warm gooeyness.

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Zucchini ribbon pizza

Zucchini is one of those things that you get so much of at the end of the summer that you don't know what to do with them.They can grow to the size of golden retriever puppies and whatever appreciation I had for them in the middle of the winter has dwindled away by August. 

That said, they can still be a colorful and tasty topping on pizza - especially in photogenic ribbons as shown above. On a base of garlic and thyme infused ricotta, this pizza makes a light summer meal.

I used:

1 pound pizza dough, rolled out as thinly as it will go
1 each yellow and green zucchini (you won't use them up)
1/2 ricotta cheese (I am a coward and used fat free but I'm sure the fatty kind will taste much better!)
2 cloves garlic
2 teaspoons dried thyme (or a tablespoon of chopped fresh thyme)
1/3 cup lightly grated pecorino cheese
several kalamata olives (I used pitted)
a shake of salt (not pictured)

Preheat your oven to 400F.

Mince the garlic as finely as you can and add to the ricotta. Add a shake of salt.

Add the thyme, and mix well with a spatula. Set aside, and make ribbons out of the zucchini using a vegetable peeler. You can make both yellow and green ribbons, or thin rounds out of one of them, or a mixture of everything.

Spread the ricotta mixture on the dough thinly. Sprinkle half of the grated pecorino, then heap on the zucchini ribbons. Be artistic! Accentuate with a kalamata olive here and there, and dust with another flurry of pecorino. 

Pop in the lower rack of your oven (preheated to 400F) for 12 minutes or until your crust starts turning golden and crispy. 

Serve immediately with a cool glass of white wine.   Enjoy!

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Sardine and scallion rice bowl

I'm so pooped from cooking all day last weekend, I made myself a 2-minute dinner now. And it was delicious! 

I think I saw this recipe on a TV some fifteen years ago as a recipe for bachelors. I suppose it's something you could make over a fire in a cave if one was so inclined. It's something I make occasionally when I'm too tired to do anything but don't want to eat junkish food and regret it later. It hits the spot. And if I drank beer, I'd say it would go well with beer. 

This is all you need:

a bowl of rice
1 tin of sardines in oil (not smoked or otherwise flavored!)
a bunch of chopped scallions (I like a lot of it - freshens up the dish)
1 tablespoon soy sauce

Most of this I always have on hand; a tin of sardines doesn't take up much space on the shelf and I usually cook several cups of rice at a time and freeze it in cling wrap. Freezing cooked rice is better than keeping it days in the fridge; nuke it a minute or two and it's almost as good as new. 

The original recipe said a man could plop the sardines, can and all, onto the stove top. I wouldn't - because it's easier to clean a small frying pan than a stove top with oil all over it. Just dump everything into a small frying pan, all the oil included. 

Loosely separate the sardines with a fork or spoon if they are stuck together. Heat up the pan - and yes, oil will splatter a bit. Move the pan around a little bit, and flip over the sardines after a minute, to warm up the other side. 

In the meanwhile, warm up your rice (if cold or frozen) and dump the scallions on it. 

Now, dump the entire contents of the pan, sizzling hot oil and all, onto the scallions. The hot oil will make some of it wilt - good. Immediately pour a tablespoon of soy sauce over the whole thing. (I'd hesitate to use more because tinned sardines are often quite salty already.)

Dig in with a spoon or fork. 

And don't leave the splattered oil on the stove surface until the next day. A quick swipe with a sponge will take care of it now, but tomorrow you'll have to scrub. 

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Asparagus and scallion pizza

Last weekend, I had a party and tossed pizza for several hours, feeding 10 hungry people. I made 6 different kinds of pizzas - and personally, I think this one was the winner, although I have never made it before. 

And if you're the one making it, pizza is not fattening - kneading all that dough then rolling it out is a major workout.

Recipe adapted from Smitten Kitchen 

1 pound pizza dough (you can buy it or make your own - I'll upload a recipe as soon as I figure out the best one!)
1/2 pound mozzarella cheese
1/2 pound asparagus
3 scallions (not pictured, because I was too frantic juggling dough and bottles and glasses and plates)
1 tablespoon lemon juice
2 teaspoons olive oil
a shake or two of salt and pepper

Set the oven to 400F.

Chop up the scallions and set aside. You'll be sprinkling this at the very end.

Roll out the dough as thin as it will go - this is a lot of work (as attested by my painful arms today) but worth the effort. Slice the mozzarella then shred it to pieces, sprinkling the dough evenly.

In a bowl, shave the asparagus using a vegetable peeler. This isn't as easy as it sounds, as the stalks can break to bits in your fingers. Shaving from the top down or the bottom up - whatever is easier for you. Make sure you discard the tough bottom ends. The heads of the asparagus are tender so can be left whole.

Toss with the olive oil, lemon juice and a shake or two of salt and pepper. Make an airy heap on the pizza and pop in the oven (400F) and bake for 10 minutes or until the bottom of the crust is nicely tanned. (Don't put this pizza on the top rack; the beautiful asparagus will shrivel and burn while your dough is still white and chewy.)

Sprinkle with scallions and serve immediately. I pity people who don't like scallions - it so nicely offsets the oiliness of foods and brings a fresh taste with a bit of a bite. The combination of creamy mozz, very green and spring-like asparagus and fresh scallion is divine. I made another one for myself the next day!

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One year in New York

Cooking has commenced... for a party I am throwing tomorrow to celebrate a year in New York. My friends and I arrived in New York a year ago to attend Columbia University, and while many of us have scattered to the four winds, a good portion are still living the good life in New York.

Sentimentality aside, this means an occasion to cook good food. The guest list has passed ten, and my pizza list has passed seven - yes, I will be tossing pizzas with one hand and my iPhone with the other, trying to master the art of cooking and photographing at the same time.

There will be pissaladiere, and pizza with ribbons of green and yellow zucchini and ricotta infused with garlic and pecorino, and plain simple pizza margherita and probably something involving shaved asparagus. Several heads of cauliflower will roast, and there is decadence melting in the kitchen right now - half a pound of Belgian Callebaut. An occasion for celebration, indeed.

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Rapini with oyster sauce

Oyster sauce is the Chinese version of ketchup. I think. It goes on just about anything, and it pretty much brushes up boring food into palatableness. I use soy sauce more often (especially in Japanese cuisine) but oyster sauce is my go-to when I make a stir fry.

Today I just chopped up some rapini (or broccoli rabe) for a 5-minute dinner. Quick, painless and delicious.

Here's what I used:

A bunch of rapini (broccoli rabe)
4 garlic cloves
2 tablespoon of sesame seed oil
1/2 cup of Shaoxing wine
Pinch of salt

Peer the cloves of garlic and slice thinly. 

Throw them in a frying pan with sesame seed oil and wait until they start to bubble nicely. 

While you wait for it to sizzle, wash the broccoli rabe in cold water, drain and chop roughly into inch-long pieces. 

Toss the thicker ends in the pan first - you want to give them a bit more time to cook. Toss (or stir if your left hand isn't complete master of tossing pans of unwieldy food!) and cook on high heat for a couple of minutes, then add the softer leaves.

Toss once or twice, and pour in that wine. Dry white wine or (water at a pinch) is fine, but this Chinese wine gives food a mellower and deeper dimension. It's worth searching out!

Add a pinch of salt, toss well and cook for a couple of minutes or so until the leaves are wilted and the stems a bit crunchy but no longer hard.

Pour over a bowl or plate of rice and realize that white rice on a white plate is not photogenic. 

Drip oyster sauce over the greens, and serve immediately. 

A bunch of rapini would make a light meal for two. You can substitute with bok choi - vegetables with a slight bitterness go very well with the complex sweetness of the oyster sauce. Enjoy!

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Roasted cauliflower

There are few things sadder on a plate than soft mushy cauliflower. The color is unappetizing, the smell isn't tempting, the texture is... let's not talk about it. 

But if there's one thing I love, it's cauliflower and cumin - the former still crunchy. For years I've made a kind of pilaf dish with plenty of cumin, turmeric and other spices, boiled eggs and cauliflower. it takes a pretty big pan to accommodate all those ingredients - but I've discovered another cauliflower-cumin combination, much easier and just as good, if not better. 

Here's what you need:
1 medium cauliflower
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons cumin seeds
1/2 cup of Greek yoghurt
1/4 teaspoon of salt

1 medium cauliflower makes a light meal for two people, or a side dish for three.

Trim away the leaves and bottom stem of the cauliflower and turn it over. Cut into the stems of the florets, separating them gently.

Rinse under cold water, drain and put in a bowl.

Add equal amounts olive oil and cumin seeds, and toss to coat throughly. If you're eating this cauliflower alone, as I did, you can set aside what you won't eat now and put it in the fridge until you need it.

Place a sheet of aluminum foil on a baking sheet or pan and arrange the cauliflowers so that they aren't too crowded. You want them to grill, not steam against each other. Bake in the oven at 400 F until it starts browning nicely. I usually start checking my oven (and tossing the florets a bit) after about 10 minutes. They should still have a little crunch to them.

Here's the part I love best - a wonderful thick dip that's easy to make, delicious and non-fat. Take some greek yoghurt (I only buy Fage, as most of the others seem to include pectin or some such gelling agent and other additives. Look for yoghurt made only with milk and bacteria!) and salt it to your taste. If your yoghurt has some liquid (whey) in the container, don't include that in the dip - you want it thick.

There's nothing else you need here - no olive oil, no herbs - although some have suggested mint. (I'm not a fan of mint in foods)

Enjoy! I have a little obsession with mixing temperatures in food, so I like to keep the yoghurt dip cold in the fridge until the last moment. This is about the simplest and healthiest recipe in my lunch repertoire, and I'm pretty sure I'll be making this often in the colder months to come!

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Black bean sauce stir-fry

Chinese, along with Italian, is one of the cuisines I make the most often - it's quick, easy, and you can pretty much clean out your fridge as well. Here I've used a couple of green vegetables and pork, but you can go vegetarian, replace the vegetables with other green vegetables or use some other kind of meat - or even squid would be nice. 

Here's what you need:

Broccoli - a bit more than a pound (500g)
Snow peas - half a pound (220g)
Pork chops - half a pound (220g) (you can use tenderloins, pork chops, anything you like)
Ginger - 1 tablespoon, diced
Garlic - 1 tablespoon, diced
Sesame seed oil - 1 tablespoon
Soy sauce - 1 tablespoon
Black bean sauce - 1 tablespoon (the one I have is "black bean garlic sauce" but it's not a huge difference)
Shaoxing wine - half a cup (this is a common cooking wine - if you don't have it, you can use the same amount of dry white wine. But if there's a Chinese grocery store near you, go find it - it makes a difference! And it's also cheap - the bottle here cost me only 2 or 3 dollars at Chinatown.)
optional: a tablespoon of hot sauce if you like it spicy!

Chop off the hard ends of the snow peas.

Cut the broccoli into narrow florets.

Finely mince the garlic (not shown) and ginger. It's safe to say that almost any Chinese stir fry starts with minced garlic and ginger simmering in oil. In fact, I keep ziplock bags of the stuff in a freezer and break off bits to use whenever I need. Handy if you have a food processor to do all the chopping at once!

Cut the meat into narrow strips. I used pork chops (trimming the fat away first) but you can use anything - beef is recommended, squid wouldn't be a bad idea either. 

Put the sesame seed oil, garlic and ginger in a frying pan (if you have a gas stove (I do not) use a wok!) and wait until it sizzles.

Add the meat and stir fry over high heat.

When the meat starts turning white, dump in the broccoli - or the hardest vegetables if you are using some other kind.

Don't be like me and realize belatedly that your frying pan is a bit too small. Struggle to toss everything and mix without splattering the stove top with vegetables.

Pour in the wine - Shaoxing if you have it; it really deepens the flavours - and give it a good toss/mix.

Add in the snow peas (or any other softer smaller vegetable you may be using) and continue stir frying on high heat. If you feel things are getting a bit too dry/sticking to the pan, you can add some more wine, or a few spoons of water. Yes, it's cheating. Probably the right thing to do is add another dollop of oil - but I try to go light on the oil at home. 

Add the soy sauce and give it another good stirring up. 

Add a tablespoon of the black bean sauce. It's pretty potent stuff, so a tablespoon should be enough. 

Give it another thorough tossing, and add a tablespoon of hot sauce if you like. I just added in some hot sauce that came with a Vietnamese takeout. 

Serve immediately with white rice. Feeds three appetites like mine, or four people if they eat like little birds.  Leftovers are pretty good the next day, hot or cold!

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©2009Figs in the Sun | by TNB