Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Caramel Chocolate Chunk Tart

I have a thing for chocolate. And caramel. And slightly salty sweets. This is heaven. I first made it for my sister's birthday, but really, I think I was making it for myself. (She still appreciated it) Now it's appeared before my family on numerous occasions, including, of course, Christmas dinner. It is sinfully good.

A couple notes about the recipe beforehand:

Most books tell you not to stir or disturb your sugar-water when making caramel, but I’ve never understood why. Doing this will result in sugar crystals on the side of your saucepan. I always stir my caramels, with no adverse side effects, and better yet, with no sugar crystals on the sides of my pot.

Also, it is very important to temper in this recipe. When adding cream to the caramel, you want to do this slowly and you do not want to use cold cream. Adding the cream quickly or using cold cream will cause the caramel to harden, and while it will soften and dissolve again, it is a slow process. You will also want to temper the eggs before adding them to the caramel, so as to prevent scrambling them.

Finally, the original recipe calls for both bittersweet and milk chocolates, either chopped, or in large chocolate chip form, but I think the tart is sweet enough that milk chocolate would be overkill. I have done this recipe with bittersweet chocolate chips, chopped up dark chocolate bars, and with Lindt extreme dark chocolate truffles. I never use anything less than 60% cacao.

Caramel Chocolate Chunk Tart
Adapted from Emily Luchetti’s A Passion for Desserts


1 cup sugar
3 tbsp water
½ cup heavy whipping cream
¼ tsp salt (or more, to taste)
¼ tsp instant coffee
2 eggs
6 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped into ½ inch pieces, or in chocolate chip form
Pre-baked 9 inch tart shell

Preheat the oven to 325°F

· Measure out the heavy cream and allow it to sit out at room temperature while making the caramel. Have this cream at hand, along with a measuring cup, either 1/3 or 1/4 cup in volume.

· Stir together water and sugar over medium heat in a light colored saucepan (so you can see the color changes) until melted—about 3 to 5 minutes. Once dissolved, increase to high heat and cook, stirring frequently to prevent sugar crystals from forming on the sides of the saucepan. Cook until the sugar is amber, about 5 more minutes. It should be a dark coppery brown (but not burnt). Remove the pan from heat.

· Wearing oven mitts, carefully add 1/3 or 1/4 cup (depending on your measuring cup size) cream. THIS WILL SPLATTER, SO BE CAREFUL. Stir. Add the salt and instant coffee. Allow to cool.

· Lightly whisk together the eggs in a bowl. Whisk in about ¼ cup of the caramel mixture to temper the eggs. Whisk in another ¼ cup of the caramel before combining all the caramel with the eggs.

· Scatter the chocolate pieces in the bottom of the tart shell and pour the caramel filling over. Rap the tart shell once to get rid of any air bubbles.

· Place on a baking sheet and bake until set, about 25 to 30 minutes. Check on the tart after about 20 minutes. If the edges are brown too quickly, wrap the edges with tin foil. Remove the tart from the oven when it is just set, although the center may jiggle slightly, it will continue to cook as it cools outside the oven.

· This tart is good when warm, but when served at room temperature, it has a more complex flavor to it. It can also be refrigerated, although take it out at least 20 minutes before serving. The cooler the tart, the more solid the filling (and also the easier it is to cut and serve).

Friday, November 27, 2009

A Vegetable Flan for Thanksgiving

I know what you're thinking. Vegetable flan?? But it was good! It was velvety and didn't scream I CONTAIN ASPARAGUS or RUN AWAY CHILDREN, so please, don't judge me yet. I really liked it.

See? It looks good.

The one thing I would say is that the broccoli complicates things. Its tiny little floral buds will not blend down to anything other than those tiny little floral buds, and so the resulting flan is not as smooth as could be. I tried to pass it through a sieve, I really tried, but it would have resulted in losing most of the puree, so I decided to forget about it and just blend the vegetables as smooth as possible and then throw caution to the wind. Perhaps you might want to use all asparagus though?

The all asparagus version is actually what is pictured above (yes, I have made both versions), but I think the broccoli one is actually prettier, because of the aforementioned "buds" (what are they called?), which add a nice, dark green spottiness. Although maybe that's not what you're looking for in a flan.

Vegetable Flan
1 cup fresh asparagus, diced
1 cup fresh broccoli
2 large eggs
½ cup skim milk
1/6 cup heavy cream
1 tbsp freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
1 tsp salt
a pinch or two of freshly ground black pepper
a pinch or two of freshly grated nutmeg

Preheat the oven to 325
°F, and set a rack to the middle position. Butter four 5” tartlette shells. Wrap then with aluminum foil on the outside of the tartlette shells if they are the type with removable bottoms, as mine were. (That phrase “removable bottoms” sounds a little funny, doesn’t it?).

You will need a baking dish large enough to hold the tarlette shells and deep enough to safely hold at least an inch of water.

Fill a large pot with water, and bring it to a boil: this water will be used in the water bath.

Place the asparagus and broccoli in the pot and boiled till tender. Allow to cool briefly before transferring to a food processor or blender and processing till smooth.

In a large bowl, whisk the eggs to break them up. Add the milk, cheese, salt, pepper, and nutmeg, whisking to blend. Add the vegetable purée, and whisk to thoroughly combine.

Divide the mixture evenly into the tartlette shells. If needed, place one folded kitchen towel into the baking pan first (like seen to the side), then place the tartlette shells on top. (This is only necessary for extra stability)

Carefully slide the pan into the oven and pour the boiling water into the larger pan until it comes about halfway up the tartlette shells. Bake until the flan is set and beginning to pull away from the sides and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, 25 minutes. Transfer the cake pan to a rack to cool slightly, about 10-15 minutes.

Run a thin knife around the edges of the tartlette shells to loosen. Invert a serving plate over the shell, and invert onto the plate.

Yield: four-five servings (if using 5 inch tartlette shells)

Note: I suppose, to simplify life, you could just use seven or eight ramekins, but I am obsessed with presentation, and so I went with the tartlette shells.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Lunch at TenPenh

I went to TenPenh in DC on Tuesday to have lunch with a friend for my birthday.

At around 12:35 on a Tuesday, we walked into the restaurant (our reservation was for 12:30) and were promptly seated. There was outdoor seating, which was mostly taken, and a large amount of indoor seating. The restaurant was not full, but definitely had good amount of people already getting their midday meal.

My friend and I were given a table inside (my preference, though no one asked) with booth seating on one side. Then we were given a chance to look at the menu and wine list. There was cold, well seasoned and perfectly cooked (nice and firm) edamame for us to munch on while deciding what to order.

My friend had mentioned in making the reservation that it was my birthday, and so at the top of both of our menus, it read, “Happy Birthday [my name]!” which was a very nice touch. The waitress also wished me a happy birthday when she came by.
After giving us some time to think, our waitress recited some specials to us (which included a delicious sounding cold strawberry soup), and also told us about some drinks of the day, which included a passionfruit ice tea and ginger limeade. My friend ordered the latter (it was a bit sour, and only had a faint hint of ginger; neither of us thought it was fantastic, but it was freshing and different). We were both pretty sure what we wanted, so despite the very tasty sounding specials (including a bento box, which they said features a different country every day, with that day's being Vietnam), we stuck with our choices of Fresh Jumbo Lump Crabcakes for her and Crispy Softshell Crab Banh Mi "BLT" for me.
Don’t be put off by how ordinary they sound; they were delicious. Both of our portions were large; neither of us finished them and they were boxed for us.

My softshell crab BLT was arrange beautifully. The top piece of bread (ciabatta?) was toasted golden and offset to reveal the layers of the sandwich. The bottom layer was medium firm smoked tofu (about the texture of an omelette), then thinly sliced cucumber, an entire fried softshell crab (quite large), and three or four nicely crisp slices of bacon (good bacon, not the kind that is more fat than meat).
Thinking about it now, I do not think there was any lettuce or tomato, but that may be because the dish was supposed to be a take on the Vietnamese banh mi. As it was, the sandwich was very large, and fitting it in my mouth was rather difficult. It was easier to eat it with a knife and fork. There was a sauce on the softshell crab that was very tasty: black garlic remoulade. It complimented the crab and the bacon beautifully. The sandwich was well seasoned--not too salty or too bland--and the textures melted together very well. I really enjoyed it. This is what I expect of a sandwich that costs $14. Also on my plate were lotus crisps. I call them crisps and not chips, because there were impossibly thinly sliced and so incredibly crispy. They were also very well seasoned—just the right amount of salt—with a little bit of a chili pepper kick, which was a pleasant surprise. There was also a little saucer/bowl of extra spread for the sandwich.

My friend’s crabcakes contained many large pieces of crabmeat and were colorful with small pieces of scallion and peppers and such. The crabcake itself was cooked perfectly and the seasoned well. My friend also got a huge portion of cold peanut noodle salad with tempura beans in a jalapeno curry aioli. I did not try her noodles, but she said they were absolutely amazing, and they definitely looked it.

We agonized over dessert while our entrees were boxed and brought back out to us, along with the menus, nicely rolled up and tied with ribbon. There were so many choices, that we both decided to ask the waitress for her suggestion. My friend was debating between 1) Lime and Green Tea Layer Cake with White Chocolate Lime Ice Cream and 2) Saigon Cinnamon Doughnuts with Chocolate Pudding. The waitress said that both were good. The former was described as more tart, but very light and refreshing. The latter is their best selling dessert, and the doughnuts, we were told, are very light and the chocolate pudding is cool and perfect for dipping the doughnuts in. My friend ended up picking the doughnuts.

I was debating between 1) the Dark Chocolate and Caramel Torte with Sweet Soy Ice Cream and Caramel Pecan Sauce and 2) a White Peach and Lemon Verbena Crème Brulee with White Peaches Cooked in White Wine. The waitress said that both were her favorites, but suggested that since we already had chocolate flavors, that I get the crème brulee. I agreed with her suggestion.

When our desserts were brought out, my dish had a candle on it, which was a nice touch. After blowing it out, I [daintily] dug in, and so did my friend. My crème brulee had a beautiful burnt sugar crust on top, which cracked with a satisfying sound under my fork. I then used my spoon to spoon up the burnt sugar pieces and sweet custard below. Purists/traditionalists will have problems with the fact that this was called a crème brulee. The custard below the sugar was not at all the “appropriate” texture—it was more of a custard—but it tasted wonderful, and to me that is all that matters. The creamy spoonful melted in my mouth into a symphony of sweet white peaches, the mild scent of lemon, some subdued vanilla, and the gentle earthiness of verbena. The silkiness of that custard mixed with the crunch of the burnt sugar worked together perfectly, and when the soft wine cooked peaches—which were bursting with flavor—were added, it was enough to make me close my eyes in bliss. There were also a few little flowery cookies on the side, which when broken (they were not crispy, but like the texture of a very thick cake, or an oatmeal cookie), also tasted wonderful when combined with the “crème brulee” and a cooked slice of peach.

Her three doughnuts (regular sized, not little midgets in case you were wondering about the portion size) were impossibly light and airy. They melted on the tongue, and did not weigh you down at all. They were still warm, but not at all greasy, and generously coated in cinnamon sugar. Dipped in the chocolate pudding (which I believe was milk, because it was light in color), the doughnuts were heavenly. The chocolate pudding itself was silky, creamy, smooth, and not too sweet. The flavors were perfect.

All in the all, the meal was a delight. The bill was also brought out with two small white chocolate tamarind "blondies" which were soft, chewy, sweet triangles. They did not taste strongly of tamarind--indeed if I had not been told there was tamarind, I would not have known--but they melted pleasantly in my mouth and left a mild slightly nutty, slightly fruity aroma.

As a birthday gift, my dessert came with no charge, and so the total bill of two entrees, one dessert, and a drink with tax came to about $46 (before tip). For a lovely meal in DC which not only filled me up but also provided a little snack for later (the food I took home), I think that is rather reasonable. Granted, I would not pay for this type of meal every day, but for a special occasion, it is certainly nice.

TenPenh is a business attire type of restaurant. I would not walk in with jeans, but khaki or slacks with a nice shirt and nice shoes would probably work. There was seating outside available, as well as a bar with a large TV. The noise level of the restaurant was, for me and Ashley, just right. We felt completely comfortable talking and laughing normally, but that doesn’t mean that everything around us was loud. I never felt assaulted by anyone else’s conversation, despite the fact that seated as we were, we were both about two feet away from other people (booth seating). The wait staff was attentive and friendly, and our food was always served promptly so that what ought to have been hot was hot and what ought to have been cold was cold.
1001 Pennsylvania Ave NW # 4
Washington, DC 20004
(202) 393-4500

Overall rating for the price: 8.5 out of 10
**, 2 stars out of 4