Archive for February, 2008
Two weeks ago, I saw some large bright red stalks of rhubarb at Whole Foods. I bought some on impulse but I had no idea what I was going to do with them. They sat in the fridge for a week before I decided to use them. I didn’t want to make a pie crust. I was thinking strawberry or raspberry rhubarb jam but I didn’t have any of those. What I do have, is a lot of vanilla beans.
Quick Vanilla Rhubarb Jam
3 – 4 cups chopped rhubarb
3/4 – 1 cup sugar
1 vanilla bean
1 cup of water
Cut up the rhubarb into one inch pieces. Split the vanilla bean, no scraping needed. Simmer everything together on medium high till you get the desired thickness. 20mins gave me a somewhat thin jam, light and tart with the vanilla adding a warm sweet undertone. You can add less water or simmer longer to get a thicker result.
Reusing a jelly jar, bottled with the vanilla bean. Made about a jar and a half’s worth.
On top of goat yogurt, the vanilla specks are pretty. Also tasty on oatmeal.
I’m still in the middle of working this week so I’m not writing out recipes. I found an unopened bag of herbal barley tea (from Japan) that my friend Tamaki gave me a long while back. It’s a mix of grains (seeds?) and herbs (grasses), some I’ve seen in Chinese herbal teas. It has a nice mild flavor and was good for keeping your sinuses clear during high pollen season. Unfortunately the bag had expired, I tasted to make sure. The bag list the company’s email and that led me to the Japanese site. I googled ‘murataen’ and found one English site that sell ‘Ban Noh Cha by Murataen; Japanese Herbal Mix’ but the ordering has to be done thru email or calling, I don’t like non-online ordering. Other Japanese barley teas I’ve tried never taste the same, and Chinese herbal teas have a similar flavor but also not the same.
I saw these at Jasmart yesterday and had to try them. The matcha one was really strong and rich, tasted exactly like matcha with a slight bitter finish. The strawberry was great and had a very natural strawberry flavor. The photos don’t really capture the deep colors; the green should be more of a deep olive and the pink darker.
In the city there are plenty of places to pay top dollar for chocolate but I refuse to drop the big bucks for anything other than La Maison du Chocolat. They have two stores in Manhattan and more in France, London, and Tokyo. When I went to Paris a few years ago, I didn’t go looking for them; instead I was totally infatuated with Fauchon, which had wonderful pastries but their chocolate wasn’t quite up to par.
The first time I had tasted their chocolates I was in college. My wise and most tasteful friend Tamaki bought and shared a Coffret Maison box and some cake from La Maison (I say cake but it was mostly ganache) with me and some classmates. At first my taste buds were out of tune from copious amounts of the much sweeter Lindt truffles earlier that day (it was college, chocolate was often a meal replacement). I was in a bit of a taste shock, unable to take in the flavors at first, but the texture was undeniable. It was the smoothest airy creamy chocolate I’ve ever had, and I was soon an addict for life before the day was over. The chocolate flavors were so rich but not bitter and did not have the cloying sweetness that I was accustomed to. I couldn’t go back to the way things were, every chocolate confection I taste would be compared to them.
My personal favorites are their macarons, fruit infused ganaches like the Salvador (raspberry) and Valencia (orange), and their truffles are the gold standard for me. After one Christmas when I treated myself to a large coffret and gaining 8lbs, I learned to enjoy in moderation more (and only a few times a year). So I stay away from boxes, except for the boxes of mini macarons (which are a bargain compared to the chocolates). The shells are perfectly delicate, crisp and chewy, and are filled with their amazing ganache. Flavors include dark chocolate, milk chocolate, raspberry, vanilla, caramel and coffee; a flavor I normally dislike but they made it great.
I don’t klnow what it’s called. It’s a 2 inch wide ball, with a hazelnut filling, rolled in hazelnuts and praline and coated in dark (milk?) chocolate.
I bought organic whole wheat filo sheets earlier this week thinking I was going to make something with spinach or peas. But the idea of a sweet red bean filled treat was more exciting. I didn’t make it in layers like a traditional baklava. Instead I had wrapped them up initially like a turnover (or pop-tart) roughly 4 x 5 inches, and then I decided to cut them into pieces. Thought it would be kind of like a cookie. After tasting and testing the sweetness, I decided to dip them into the honey syrup I made earlier. When they cooled completely, the syrup made it really more… baklava tasting. The red bean adds a smooth texture and works well with the cinnamon and honey. Guess it’s like East meets (near) Middle East?
Baklava with red bean and almond
1lb package of filo
1 1/2 cup sweet red bean paste*
2/3 cup almonds chopped
1/2 tsp cinnamon
2/3 cup (possibly more) of oil or melted butter **
1/3 cup honey
1/4 cup sugar
2/3 cup water
*I bought red bean paste from an Asian market; they are made from adzuki beans (a small red bean) and sugar, comes in cans or bags and in smooth or chunky style. Quality usually coincides with price. You can make it yourself from dried adzuki beans but it would take a really really long time.
**Sometimes I use (organic) baking spray to coat each layer with oil, but I had none this time. It’s faster than brushing them but does waste a can of the stuff.
Preheat oven to 325°. (In the past I had always baked filo at higher temperatures but 325° was really better at crisping up every layer evenly. However the color was a bit on the pale side, so maybe it’s just my oven or you might want to go up to 335° or 340°.)
Toast up the nuts briefly in a dry pan over medium high heat while stirring (3mins), add in cinnamon and mix into red bean paste.
Lay out the all the filo on work surface or baking sheet (the whole stack, mine had exactly 16 sheets, 15x18inches).
Brush a sheet with oil, pick up the sheet and flip it over onto the sheet under it and press together.
Place about 3 (or 4) tablespoons of filling on the right side center, a few inches in from the edge, spreading it into small rectangle (3.5×4.5 inches roughly).
Fold the edge flap (of the two sheets) over the filling, fold top flap over the center, and then the bottom flap. Then just keep rolling/folding it over onto itself, like wrapping a large flat egg roll. With my 16 sheets it came out perfectly to 8 filo packets, 4×5 inches.
Press on them gently to make sure the filling is evenly distributed.
Brush them all with oil.
Cut each packet into 3 equal pieces.
Space them out on a baking sheet and bake for an hour.
Bring honey, sugar and water to a boil; simmer for 5-6 minutes.
After baking, cool pieces for 5mins, and then dip each one briefly into the syrup, then cool for another 15mins.