Spicy Cukes

A friend of mine introduced me a Japanese restaurant last week on Eat Street (Minneapolis) called KungFu Noodle.  They served a pile of these cucumbers as a starter on a lovely black lacquered tray.

Lucky for me, my dinner companion knew exactly how they were made. It doesn’t get much easier to recreate them. These spicy green spears were followed by a delicious ramen bowl in which mine included two strips of crispy chicken.

It seems overkill to list the ingredients in a “traditional” format as it’s so easy.  So here goes. Cut some cucumbers (about 4″ in length) in quarters  lengthwise and then in half across. Cut some radishes in half (an addition I made). I got both the cukes and the radishes at the farmer’s market.


Drizzle in some toasted sesame oil, Shichimi Togarashi (Japanese spice blend) along with some kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper.  Toss to blend. Add more of whatever is needed to suit your taste buds.

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Ice Cream with the Flavors of Provence

I enjoyed a black olive ice cream with a black olive caramel recently at HeyDay in Minneapolis. Of course, this got me to thinking about olives, which then led to my day dreaming about Provence. I then remembered the saying, “what grows together, goes together.”

Given that adage, and the fact that olives, lemons, rosemary, and thyme all grow in abundance throughout the Côte d’Azur and Alpes-de-Haute-Provence, it was further inspiration for this delicious ice cream.

I served it with poached peaches and a Bretonne biscuit.   The Bretonne biscuit recipe will be coming a little later as I still have to test it again. In the meantime, bake the Scottish Shortbread recipe that’s on my blog.

Zest of 1 lemon, preferably organic
1 cup (175 g) granulated sugar
1 sprig of fresh rosemary, leaves removed and stems saved
10 sprigs of fresh thyme, leaves removed and stems saved
6 large (1/2 cup/108 g) egg yolks
1 tablespoon karo syrup
1 cup (250ml) whole milk
2 cups (500ml) heavy cream
A pinch of salt
1/4 cup (3/4 oz) chopped dried black olives*

In a medium saucepan mix together the zest, sugar, and leaves of the rosemary and thyme using your fingers to massage the ingredients into the sugar. Set aside for about an hour to allow the essential oils to infuse the sugar.

When ready to make the ice cream, set up an ice bath by placing a 2-quart bowl in a larger bowl partially filled with ice water. Set a strainer on top of the smaller bowl.

Remove the large herb stems and reserve. Whisk the egg yolks into the sugar mixture. Stir the Karo syrup, milk, heavy cream, and salt into the sugar/egg mixture. Toss in the rosemary and thyme stems.

With a heat-resistant spatula or wooden spoon, cook, stirring constantly, over low heat until the custard thickens and coats the back of the stirring utensil.

Strain the custard into the bowl that is set over the ice bath. Discard the solids. Stir the custard until cool and then refrigerate to chill thoroughly. Preferably overnight.

Freeze the custard in an ice cream maker according to the manufacturer’s instructions. At the end of the churning process add the chopped olives and allow the dasher to incorporate the fruit. Transfer the ice cream to a container, cover with plastic wrap and freeze until ready to serve.

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Champagne poached peaches

Every recipe that I have come across reads to blanch the peaches in boiling water until the skin begins to pull away. Then plunge into ice water, peel and then add to the poaching liquid. I thought, why not just skip the blanching part and cook the peaches in the poaching liquid until you are able to peel them.  That’s exactly what I have done and it works just fine for me.

Makes 8 half peach servings

4 large ripe peaches, washed
750 ml champagne, sec or demi-sec, or more or less as needed
1/4 cup granulated sugar, or to taste
1 vanilla pod, split

Using a paring knife, cut about a 1/2-inch “X” in the bottom of each peach (end opposite the stem). Place the peaches in a saucepan that is just big enough to hold them. Pour enough champagne to cover. Add sugar and vanilla pod. If you’re short on champagne pour in cold water to just cover (or open another bottle and you’re have some to enjoy).

Bring the liquid to a simmer and cook for a couple of minutes or until the skin just begins to pull away at the “X”. Turn off heat, remove peaches from the liquid and allow them to cool until they can be handled. Peel the peaches and return them to the poaching liquid. Return the pan to medium heat and gently simmer, turning 3 or 4 times until they can be pierced with the point of a paring knife; about 10 – 15 minutes depending on the ripeness of the fruit.

Remove the peaches to a large bowl. Boil the syrup until it has reduced to a syrup (this will take about 10 minutes). Allow to cool and then pour over the peaches. When ready to serve cut the peaches in half, remove the pit and serve with ice cream or whipped cream.

The peaches will keep for up to 2 days, covered and in the fridge. Bring the peaches to room temperature, warm the syrup separately if desired and serve.

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Squid Ink Pasta with Uni (Sea Urchin) Butter

The inspiration for this dish was a fantastic dinner that I enjoyed at Bar La Grassa more than a year ago. Since that amazing evening I have made squid ink pasta many times, but pinned for the opportunity to toss it with an uni butter.

Oftentimes, maki sushi is topped with uni. Let’s just say that served in this manner is an acquired taste for some; me included. However, when mixed with butter and tossed with pasta and a sprinkling of minced chives it becomes an delightful combination of flavors.

Serves 6 as main or 8 as first course

1 pound squid ink pasta*
1 pound, about 4 per person (14 – 16 count) shrimp, shell-on
1/2 small onion or 1 shallot, chopped
1 small carrot, chopped
1 rib celery, chopped
1 bay leaf
2 sprigs fresh thyme
6 peppercorns
1/2 cup panko bread crumbs
10 tablespoons (5 oz/ g) softened unsalted butter, divided
1/2 tablespoon olive oil
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup uni (sea urchin)
1 cup dry champagne, optional (I enjoyed one from Gratiot-Pillière)
1 -2 cups seafood stock, freeze any remaining for another use.
Red pepper flakes or Piment d’espelette to taste
1/2 cup grated Parmigiano Reggiano
Chives, minced for garnish

Peel and devein the shrimp, reserving the shells. In a medium saucepan, place the shrimp shells, onion, carrot, celery, bay leaf and peppercorns. Cover with water by about an inch (start with at least 3 cups of water) and bring to a simmer. Reduce heat and allow to barely simmer for about an hour. Strain through a fine mesh sieve. Reserve the stock and discard the shells, etc. If making the day before, cool in an ice bath. Refrigerate what is needed and freeze any remaining for another use.

Place a small sauté pan over medium heat, add bread crumbs and 1 tablespoon butter. Cook stirring often until the bread crumbs become toasty brown. Remove from heat and transfer to a small plate to stop the cooking.  Set aside.

In a medium bowl, using a wooden spoon, whip together the remaining butter and uni. Set aside. When ready to proceed, set a pot of water on to boil for the pasta.

In a large sauté pan, heat 1 tablespoon of butter and the olive oil. Add the shrimp and sauté just until they are cooked through. Remove shrimp from the pan and set aside. Add the champagne, if using, and stock and deglaze the pan, scraping up any browned bits with a wooden spoon. Bring to a simmer and reduce to about 1/4 cup. Set aside. When pasta is cooked, drain and reserve about a cup of the pasta liquid.

Add the pasta to the sauté pan, stir in the uni butter, the cup of pasta liquid and the reserved shrimp.  Toss everything together until heated through. Divide pasta and shrimp among heated plates.  Top with toasted bread crumbs, cheese and chives and serve immediately.

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Squid Ink Pasta

I used to mix pasta dough on the countertop. Then one day I asked myself, why not make it in a bowl? It would contain all of the ingredients – you know so that there wouldn’t be flour everywhere! I’ve been making this dough in a stainless steel bowl ever since. This recipe is inspired by one from Thomas Keller as well as a recipe that I learned while leading one of my culinary tours to Provence. When we were in Provence we served it with seared scallops on rosemary skewers.

1 ¾ cups (8 oz) all-purpose flour, plus some for dusting countertop
6 large egg yolks, room temperature (freeze egg whites for another use)
1 large egg, room temperature
½ teaspoon kosher salt
1 ½ teaspoons olive oil
1 tablespoon milk
1 tablespoon squid ink*

Mound the flour in a large bowl. Create a well in the center that is large enough to hold the other ingredients without spilling over the sides.

Pour the remaining ingredients into the well. Using two fingers break up the eggs and begin stirring in a circular motion, keeping everything within the well. This circular motion allows the eggs to gradually pull in flour from the sides of the well. It is important that the flour not be incorporated too fast, otherwise the dough may have lumps.

Keep stirring the eggs while slowly incorporating the flour. The dough will begin to hold together. At that time add any remaining flour with a flexible pastry scraper by lifting the flour up and over the dough that’s beginning to form into a ball. Bring the dough together with the palms of your hands and form it into a ball. Note: If the time of year is very dry all of the flour may not be incorporated.

Clean your fingers of dough and wash your hands. (It’s surprising how much easier it is to knead the dough with clean hands.) Turn the dough onto a clean, smooth countertop dusted with a bit of flour. Knead the dough by pushing it away from you with the heel of your hand. Form the dough into a ball and knead it again.  If the dough becomes too sticky add a bit more flour to the countertop.

Keep kneading the dough by pushing it away from you until the dough becomes silky-smooth.  The dough is ready when you can push your finger into the dough and it snaps back into place. The kneading process can take anywhere from 10 to 15 minutes. Even if you think you are finished kneading, knead it for another 10 minutes. You cannot over-knead this dough! It is important to work the dough long enough to pass the poke test; otherwise, when it rests, it will collapse.

Double-wrap the dough in plastic wrap to ensure that it does not dry out. Let the dough rest for at least 30 minutes or up to 1 hour before rolling it through a pasta machine. The dough can be made a day ahead, well wrapped and refrigerated; bring to room temperature before proceeding.

Cut the dough into quarters setting 3 of the 4 pieces under the plastic wrap. Flatten the piece of dough so that it will fit through the first setting of the pasta machine. Fold the dough into thirds and roll again on the first setting. Do this 3 or 4 times before moving to the second setting. The dough gains strength, as it were, by re-rolling it through the first setting.

Next roll it once through the second setting and then move to the third setting. Proceed in this manner until you have reached the eighth setting. (Note – my machine has nine settings with the last one rolling the dough too thin.) After the final rolling out of the dough set it on a well floured surface and cover with plastic wrap. Do the same for the other 3 pieces of dough.

After all the dough been rolled out move to the linguini or fettuccine setting and cut each of the four pieces on this setting.  Hang the dough over a wooden dowel to dry for up to a couple of hours.

When ready to cook bring water to a boil in a large stock or pasta pot. Add a couple of tablespoons of kosher salt to the water. Cook the pasta for about 3 minutes or until al-dente. Top with a light sauce and serve.

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Chocolate-Mascarpone Buttercream Frosting

In theory large egg yolks should be the same size and weight, but in reality they are not.  Therefore, I would encourage you to purchase a kitchen scale to weigh not just the yolks in this recipe but to weigh all of your ingredients baking ingredients.

IMG_0484 (2)

Photo by Steve Young-Burns

Also, I learned a trick from Rose Levy Barenbaum. Add corn syrup to the sugar before heating.  The corn syrup allows the sugar to come to a temperature of 240°F without the need for an instant read thermometer. I used one anyway the first time to get a sense of exactly how big the bubbles become when 240°F is reached.

6 lg (4 oz/112 g) egg yolks (egg whites can be frozen for another use)
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
3/4 cup (5 1/4 oz/150 g) granulated sugar
1/2 cup (6 oz/166g) corn syrup
2 cups (1 lb/450 g) unsalted butter*, softened
1/2 cup (4 oz/115 g) mascarpone*
6 oz bittersweet chocolate, melted and cooled

Place the egg yolks and salt in the bowl of a stand mixer and using the whisk attachment whip them until pale yellow in color.  While the yolks are whipping, in a small pan heat sugar and corn syrup; stirring with a heat-proof spatula to dissolve the sugar.  Once the sugar is dissolved stop stirring and allow the syrup to come to a full boil (meaning large bubbles are covering the entire surface of the syrup).

After the eggs are whipped stop the machine and pour a small amount of the hot sugar syrup into the eggs.  Quickly whip the mixture. Continue stopping the machine, pour in another tablespoon and whip. As the eggs heat up (test by touching the outside of the bowl with your hand) you can add more at a time. I found that by stopping the machine each time less sugar syrup gets spun onto the inside bowl.

When all the sugar syrup has been added, increase speed to medium-high and whip the egg/sugar mixture until the bowl is cool to the touch. Reduce the mixer speed to medium and add a couple of tablespoons of butter at a time incorporating each before adding the next knob of butter. After all the butter has been incorporated, add the chocolate (and mascarpone, if using.) Return the mixture to medium-high and whip until the buttercream is fluffy, a couple of minutes.  Frost the cake and serve.

*Variation: Reduce the butter to  1 3/4 cups (12 oz/337.5 g) and increase the mascarpone to 1 cup (8 oz/230 g). Continue the recipe as above.

Chocolate Cake

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Chocolate Cake

IMG_0480There are a multitude of chocolate cake recipes both in print and in the blogsphere. Between a friend and myself, we tested at least a half-dozen recipes. Some included as many as six eggs in the batter while others had as few as one egg.

There were recipes that included melted chocolate, as well as cocoa powder, others only included cocoa powder. Through testing we discovered that melted chocolate creates a drier cake than I desired.  If I had read BakeWise before that trial and I would have discovered the results of melted chocolate. It was so dry, I opted to leave it out for the sake of the cake.

We also came to the conclusion that even though butter is taster, a canola or vegetable oil works better in a chocolate cake as it also counters the drying effect of the cocoa powder.  Buttermilk gives it a slight tang, but whole milk works fine too. I wouldn’t even think of using skim, 1 or 2 percent milk. I hope you won’t either. After many attempts this one is a winner.

3/4 cup (2 1/2 oz/70 g) non-alkalized cocoa powder, plus extra to dust sides of pans
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
2 cups (14 oz/400 g) granulated sugar
2 cups (9 oz/255 g) unbleached all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 tablespoon espresso powder
1 cup (8 oz) buttermilk
1/2 cup (4 oz) vegetable oil
2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 large eggs
1 cup (8 oz) boiling water

Set a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat to 350°F. Butter two 9-inch cake pans with 2-inch sides. Line the bottom of the pans with parchment paper and dust the sides with cocoa powder, tapping out excess. Set aside.

In the bowl of a stand mixer using the paddle attachment mix together the cocoa powder, baking powder and baking soda, sugar, flour, salt, and espresso powder. (If any of the ingredients have lumps, i.e., the cocoa powder, sieve first and then add to the bowl.)

In a 2 cup glass measuring cup add the buttermilk, vegetable oil, and vanilla extract. Using a fork, beat the eggs into the buttermilk mixture.

Add the buttermilk mixture to the flour mixture and beat on medium speed for 2 minutes. Pour in boiling water and beat for an additional minute. (The batter will be thin.) Be sure check that the batter at the bottom of the bowl is fully incorporated.

Divide the batter evenly between the two prepared pans. Bake until toothpick inserted into centers comes out clean, about 30-35 minutes. Cool cakes in pans on racks about 10 minutes. Turn out onto racks and cool completely prior to frosting the cake.

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Chocolate Tart with Orange Cookie Crust

I had two packages of Swedish orange cookies in my pantry long enough to be weary of staring at them. Knowing that chocolate and orange make a classic pairing, I gambled that a chocolate tart with an orange cookie crust would be a winner.

Butter is a key ingredient in this crust and since I had to melt it, I thought why not make it “browned butter.”  In some recipes you may see it referred to as beurre noisette. Use 3 1/2 ounces of butter for this recipe; not the amount called for in the link.

The brand of cookie I used comes in a 5.25 ounce package.  I tried making the crust with one package but there weren’t enough crumbs to easily form the tart shell. I thought about using graham crackers for the remaining 1 3/4 ounces of cookie crumbs but then decided to follow my original plan and opened the second package.

The key to making this tart shell is patience. It takes some coaxing to get the crumbs to stick to the side. Keep pressing and they will stay put. It can be formed and refrigerated overnight or made and frozen for about 2 hours prior to baking. It bakes off in no-time (okay 10 minutes) which it about the time it takes to make the filling.


For Crust
7 tablespoons (3 1/2 ounces) unsalted butter, melted
1 1/2 cups or (7 ounces ounces) crispy orange cookies
1/3 cup (2 1/2 ounces) granulated sugar
Zest of one orange, preferably organic

For Filling
1 1/4 cups (10 fluid ounces) heavy cream
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
5 ounces bittersweet chocolate (80% cacao), chopped
4 ounces semisweet chocolate (39% cacao), chopped
2 large eggs, room temperature
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

For Glaze
1 ounce bittersweet chocolate (80% cacao), chopped
1 ounce semisweet chocolate (39% cacao), chopped
2 tablespoons heavy cream
1 teaspoon light corn syrup
1 tablespoon warm water

Have at hand one 9-inch round fluted tart pan (1-inch deep) with removable bottom.

In a small saucepan, melt the butter (or brown it, if desired) and allow to cool. In the bowl of a food processor using the metal “S” blade, pulverize the cookies until they become crumbs. Add the sugar and zest; then pulse again to combine.  With the machine running pour in the cooled melted butter and pulse to combine. Pour into the tart pan and press evenly around the side of the pan first, about 1/4-inch thick; then press the remaining crumbs evenly on the bottom. Freeze for at least 2 hours or refrigerate for at least 3 hours. Bake until firm, about 10 minutes. Set aside on a cooling rack while making the filling.

Place chopped chocolate in a heatproof bowl; set aside. In a medium saucepan, bring cream to a boil; pour over chocolate and let stand 5 minutes. Gently stir until smooth. In a medium bowl whisk together eggs, vanilla, and salt and then temper the eggs into the melted chocolate. Pour filling into the crust.

When ready to bake off the tart place a rack in the bottom third of an oven and preheat to 350ºF. Bake until filling is set about 3-inches from edge but center is still wobbly, 20 to 25 minutes. (Center will continue to set as tart cools.) Set aside on a cooling rack.

Bring cream to a boil and remove from heat. Pour over chocolate and stir until smooth. Stir in corn syrup, then warm water. Pour glaze over the cooled tart, tilting and rotating so the glaze coats the top evenly. Let stand until glaze is set, about 1 hour.


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