Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Magical Lemon Curd

Lemons are the most versatile ingredient in the kitchen.  I use it for almost every recipe I make whether it be savory or sweet. If a dish is bland, I add some fresh lemon juice and all of a sudden "wow"! Too sweet, add some lemon juice. Too greasy tasting, add some lemon juice. Make my pancakes taste extra yummy and moist, add some lemon juice. Ensure I don't get scurvy (honestly, I don't even know what that is!), have some lemons. It really is the magic ingredient for so many things.

But the best way to use lemons is in a lemon curd.  Traditionally an English condiment, it is typically used for afternoon tea to top scones and bread in replacement of jam.  Sweet and sour, it is mouth puckeringly good.  There are so many various ways of using lemon curd, whether it is on top of your morning pancakes, lemon bars, cheesecake, a glaze for lemon chicken or simply spread lavishly on a slice of crusty toast. It was pretty good just by the spoonful.

Here, I used it swirled into some Greek yogurt topped with sweet summer berries.  Later on this week, it will share the spotlight in a special birthday cake I am creating to celebrate my friend's 30th birthday in the Hamptons. Make sure to check back next week for that!

The gorgeous intense yellow color of the lemon curd is a welcome addition to any dining table or perhaps in a hostess gift basket.  Once you learn the base recipe, you can easily substitute the lemons with grapefruit or blood orange.  This can easily be made a few days ahead and will keep in the refrigerator for a couple of weeks.

Makes 3 cups

2 tbsp lemon zest (roughly 2 lemons)
1 cup fresh lemon juice
1 cup sugar
4 large eggs
Pinch of salt
1 stick unsalted butter, cut into tablespoon pieces

1.  Whisk together zest, juice, sugar, eggs and pinch of salt in a large saucepan over low.  Add butter and mix together, whisking constantly to prevent eggs from curdling.  

2.  Continue whisking until consistency is thick and easily coats the back of a spoon.  This process should take 20-25 minutes. Be patient! It will thicken further once refrigerated.

3.  If curd has bits of egg or lumps in mixture, strain before reserving it in a resealable container.  That was unnecessary for mine. Place saran wrap or parchment paper on top of the curd to avoid a layer of skin to form when cooling. 

4.  Refrigerate until ready to use for whatever you please. 

*Adapted from Gourmet, April 2011

Friday, June 15, 2012

Father's Day Veal Osso Bucco with Gremolata

Sometimes it feels like one revolving holiday after another.  And Father's Day has somehow snuck upon us this coming weekend.  So all you daddy's girls cooking for your father this weekend, forget the barbecue and try my rich veal osso bucco with a refreshing gremolata!  Gremolata is usually nothing more than a topping of garlic, lemon, herbs and olive oil. Here, it is enlivened even more with the addition of lavender in the gremolata and to braise the veal.  The subtle floral aroma brightens the dish from a hearty winter dish to a special summer entrĂ©e.

My dad is a meat and rice kind of guy.  He loves his steak, pork belly and lamb.  He's usually pretty easy to please if you have any of those items on the plate.

Originally, we headed to Costco to pick up some steak to throw on the grill.  But that immediately changed when his eyes fell on these gorgeous veal shanks.

When I think of veal shanks, I immediately think osso  bucco.  Braised for several hours on the stove with tender, fall off the bone meat, it is an over-the-top dish that will make your dad (and diners!) salivate when you bring it to the dining table. Once you put it on the stove, just let it simmer on low and let it go and have a glass (or two) of wine while you wait for it to finish.

I love the citrusy-garlic of the gremolata which adds a bit of bite and wakens up all of your taste buds. The heat from the piping hot osso bucco releases all of the lovely ingredients in the gremolata.  Who needs to go to a restaurant when you have this osso bucco bubbling away at home? I served my osso bucco over some creamy mashed potatoes with some crispy, oven baked asparagus.  The reduced red wine broth the shanks cook in gets a deep, complex flavor from the long simmer on the stove and thickens slightly from the flour on the veal to create a tasty gravy to sop everything up.  With a bottle of red wine (or be a rebel and drink a crisp bottle of Sauvignon Blanc!), it is the perfect Father's Day meal.  I know my dad finished off his plate.  And even better, the dog got in on it too with the leftover shanks.

Serves 4-6

1 tbsp canola oil
1/4 cup flour
6 veal shanks, bone-in
4 whole cloves garlic, peeled
1/2 tsp dried lavender
3 medium size vine grown tomatoes, roughly diced
2 stalks celery, roughly chopped
2 carrots, peeled and roughly chopped
2 tbsp tomato paste
1 cup beef broth
1 cup red wine (used Shiraz Cabernet)
1 bay leaf
Zest of 1 lemon
Salt and freshly ground mixed peppercorns to taste

For gremolata:
2 cloves garlic, minced finely
Zest of 2 lemons
1/4 cup flat-leaf parsley, chopped finely
1 tsp dried lavender, crushed
1/2 tsp Maldon or flaky sea salt

1.  In a large braising pan, warm oil over high heat.  In a medium bowl, mix together flour and season liberally with salt and pepper.  Add shanks into flour mixture and then shake off excess flour. Carefully place shanks into the braising pan and brown for 4-5 minutes on each side. Remove from pan and reserve on a plate.

2.  Lower heat to medium-high and add garlic, lavender, tomatoes, celery and carrots.  Stir together until light golden brown. Do not let the garlic burn! Add tomato paste, broth, wine and bay leaf and bring to a boil. Add shanks back into the broth mixture and lower heat to low.  Cover and simmer for at least 1 1/2 hours.  The meat should start pulling away from the bones.

3.  For gremolata, place all ingredients in a small bowl and mix together.  Reserve in refrigerator until ready to use.

4.  Add lemon zest to veal, season with salt and pepper if needed and continue braising for another 20-25 minutes.  Remove from heat. For a more home-style approach, serve it at the table in the braising pan.  Otherwise, serve the osso bucco in a large platter on top of mashed potatoes and top with broth/gravy and gremolata.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Spiced Strawberry-Rhubarb Ice Cream Cookies Sandwiches

For the past couple of years, I've eyed that huge red celery-like vegetable called rhubarb with some skepticism at the farmers market and grocery store. How could that possibly taste good in desserts? I just didn't get it because I hadn't tasted it yet.

I tend to bring in any leftovers from my kitchen experiments to my friends and co-workers.  Lucky them, yes?  I am a thorn to the side of my friends in the office who seem to be consistently dieting. Most of the time, they watch on enviously or take a small morsel to test instead.

2012 has been the year of experimentations and trying new things. So of course I had to finally try my hand at using the rhubarb I had picked up at the farm last week. I have seen several variations with rhubarb in savory dishes as well as sweet. But I was really intrigued in using it in a dessert and particularly a compote which is basically a thinned jam-like fruit topping. Since rhubarb has a more acidic, tart taste it can usually be found paired with summer's luscious, sweet strawberries. It's still early in the season, but the ones I've picked up are already like nectar with juices dripping down the side of your mouth. Thus said, a strawberry-rhubarb compote was the natural choice! The intense red of the finished compote is gorgeous.

My original concept was to offer up these delicious, not overtly sweet, spiced strawberry-rhubarb cookies. It gets a ton of flavor from the warm spices I added to the dry ingredients. Everything you might find in apple pie like cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves.  It makes  your house smell insanely delicious and the perfect smell to greet dinner guests.  But that original concept got revamped slightly when one of my co-workers said, "These would be great as an ice cream sandwich!"  Ding, ding, ding!  How did I miss something so obvious?

Ice cream sandwiches. When I was a kid growing up in the suburbs of New Jersey, this meant the mushy, rectangular-shaped Good Humour ice cream sandwiches you can buy in the freezer section of your supermarket or your neighborhood Mister Softee ice cream truck. It was always somewhat melting when you bought it from the truck and I would be frantically licking at the vanilla ice cream oozing down my fingers before it melted onto the sidewalk in the blazing summer sun. But there was something about those sticky fingers and inevitable globs of ice cream on your shirt and shorts that made the entire experience sublime. To this day, I can't hear the familiar rinky dink song heralding the arrival of the ice cream truck without wanting to run down the stairs and buy a cone or ice cream sandwich...preferably with a handful of quarters, nickels and dimes; in desperate situations, those pennies definitely made their appearance!

These days, there are so many fancy ice cream sandwiches everywhere from the delights of Coolhaus to my ultimate favorite Big Gay Ice Cream truck. I love them all. And while this might not be the ice cream sandwich of my childhood. It is the ice cream sandwich of my adulthood. I mean really.  A nutty, caramel browned butter crumble dipped alongside the edges of two strawberry-rhubarb cookie filled with creamy vanilla gelato? It's a no brainer.

This over the top spiced strawberry-rhubard ice cream cookie sandwich may not be bikini friendly with summer just around the corner. But man, is it good!

The recipe has several steps that may look a bit intimidating.  But if you make each component separately on different days and put the sandwiches together a few hours before your guests arrive, it is only a matter of minutes to put together something so special. The one thing I would change the next time I made this is to follow Chocolate and Zucchini's advice of using a large pan with good size flat surface to allow the crumble to crisp up a bit more. As you'll see in my photos below, I used a small sauce pan.

You will definitely have leftovers of the compote and crumble. Use the crumble to top some spiced fruit for a cobbler and then drizzle with the compote when serving on top of the ice cream. I like to use my compote over pancakes/waffles instead of syrup. You can also use it in a refreshing summer cooler with just some club soda or gin/vodka. Cheers to the early dog days of summer!

Makes 12 sandwiches

For Strawberry-Rhubarb Compote (makes 1 cup):
1 stalk rhubarb *
1 1/2 cup strawberries
1 tsp ground Saigon cinnamon
1 tsp ground cardamom
1/4 tsp ground cloves
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
1/2 fresh vanilla bean pod, seeds removed
1/8 tsp ground black pepper
1/4 tsp salt
2 tbsp sugar
1/2 lemon, juiced
*Note that the leaves of rhubarb are toxic. Do not ingest.

For Spiced Strawberry-Rhubarb Cookies (makes 24 cookies):
2 cups all-purpose flour, spooned and leveled
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1 tsp ground Saigon cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground cardamom
1 tsp ground ginger
1/2 cup strawberry-rhubarb compote (recipe above)
1/4 cup candied ginger
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature
3/4 cup sugar
1 large egg
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/4 cup heavy cream
Adapted from Martha Stewart

For brown butter crumble (makes 2 cups):
3/4 cup white flour
1/4 cup almond meal
1/4 cup light brown sugar
1 green cardamom pod, finely crushed in a mortar or 1/4 tsp ground cardamom
1/4 teaspoon ground Saigon cinnamon
Pinch of freshly ground black pepper and sea salt
4 tbsp unsalted butter, diced
Adapted from Chocolate & Zucchini

1. For compote, add all ingredients into a medium pan over medium-high heat. Bring to a boil and then let simmer for 3-5 minutes until the rhubarb is softened and juices released. Remove from heat and add lemon juice at the end to brighten the flavors. This can be made a few days ahead and refrigerated.

2. For cookies, whisk all dry ingredients together in a medium mixing bowl.

3. In a mixer, cream sugar and butter together until fluffy yellow crumbles. Add egg and incorporate. Then add cream and vanilla extract. When fully incorporated, slowly add in dry ingredients until all mixed. Remove from stand and using a non-stick rubber spatula, fold compote through the cookie dough mixture. You can add more fruit if you'd like. Make sure to mix it all throughout.

4. Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Drop one tablespoon of dough on pre-greased baking sheet about 1 inch apart.  You should be able to fit at least 12 per sheet. Bake for 20-25 minutes until light golden on outside and still slightly soft in the center. Cool and put to side until ready to use.

5.  In a medium mixing bowl, add all dry ingredients for the crumble. Whisk together.

6.  In a large sauce pan, add butter over medium heat and swirl every so often.  It will bubble furiously or as Clothilde from Chocolate and Zucchini writes "sing"! Once it starts turning slightly brown, watch it carefully to make sure it doesn't burn on the bottom.  I had small little bits of caramelization on the bottom that I used up and added a nice caramel taste.  When you are able to smell the rich, deep caramel of the brown butter, you know it is done.

7.  Immediately add the dry ingredients at this point and use a rubber spatula to mix wet and dry ingredients together until it forms a crumbly texture.  Let cook for a few minutes before stirring to allow the bottom to brown and crisp up.  This will allow the flour to cook up to use for the ice cream sandwich.  Raw flour = bad. Reserve until ready to use.

8.  To form the sandwiches, take two cookies and scoop gelato on the flat surface of one cookie.  Top with the second cookie. Roll the edges in the crumble mixture.  The gelato should allow it to stick.  Place in freezer for at least a few hours until ready to serve. Defrost a few minutes before serving to allow it to soften a bit.

9.  Plate as you'd like! Get creative, wrap each one individually in parchment paper and serve in a metal bucket for your guests to grab or more elegantly as my presentation below.

10.  Lastly, always test before serving! Just to make sure it tastes good of course.  ;)   YUM.