Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Caramel Fruit Tart

My mom makes the best fruit tarts in the world.  Really.  I have given up on trying other fruit tarts or experimenting with other recipes because it's just not worth it.  This one is The One.  With men, sometimes it's not always clear, but with baked goods, you just know.  So I'm telling you, you don't need to look anymore; I am sharing the secret with you.

Why is this fruit tart recipe so amazing?  Besides the fact that the pastry cream is delicious and honestly tastes just as good when it is hot and freshly made as it does when it is chilled and ready to be served, this tart also has an extra little oomph that no other tart has: a caramel crust.

After baking, the tart crust is covered with pure caramel—no cream, no butter, just pure, golden, melted sugar.  The beautiful amber liquid solidifies to add a textural dimension that is unique to this tart.  One bite and you'll know that nothing else will ever compare.  This tart will ruin all other fruit tarts for you.  And the caramel is what makes this tart The One.

If you look at the picture below, you may feel that the layer of caramel is too thin, but really the idea is not to smoother the crust in caramel, but to just have that surprising "shatter effect" upon biting into the tart.  Also, adding too thick of a caramel layer throws off the balance of sweetness.  I don't like my fruit tarts too sweet.

The recipe here is enough for two fruit tarts, which, trust me, you'll want to have, even if it sounds like a little bit much.  Remember, it's always nice to share!  But if you're feeling conservative, you can half the pastry cream recipe and only bake one tart shell.  And while the recipe instructions say not to wait more than six hours after assembly to consume this piece of art, I've eaten leftovers from the fridge more than a day after making the tart, and I've still found it to be delicious.

Assembling the fruit tart.

Caramel Custard Fruit Tart
adapted from The Dessert Lover's Cookbook by Marlene Sorosky

2 pre-baked tart shells

For the caramel
½ cup sugar
2 tbsp water (a little over)

For the custard
6 large egg yolks
½ cup sugar (roughly 115g)
1/3 cup all purpose flour (50g)
2 cups hot milk
1 tsp vanilla sugar (or extract)
1 stick salted butter, cut into small pieces
pinch of salt (optional)
assorted fresh fruit, like peaches, plums, kiwi, and strawberries

To make the caramel
Place the sugar and water in a small saucepan and heat over medium heat until the sugar has dissolved.
Increase heat to medium high and bring to a boil, stirring occasionally until the sugar turns copper. Watch carefully, as it burns easily once it has reached this point.
Working quickly, pour the caramel onto the baked crust, rotating and turning the crust to even coat the bottom. Do the same for the second crust (try to divide the caramel evenly).
Set the tart aside until the caramel cools and hardens. Remember, hot caramel causes very painful burns so use care.

note: If you prefer to have a more caramel, simply increase the proportions to 3/4 cup sugar and 3 tbsp water.

To make the custard
Whisks the yolks in a medium-sized heavy saucepan. Add the sugar and flour and whisk until creamy (I use a hand mixer here).

Slowly whisk in the hot milk. Place over medium heat and cook, stirring constantly until the mixtures begins to bubble. Lower the heat slightly and continue cooking, stirring constantly until thick and smooth.
Remove from heat and stir in butter, a small amount at a time. Stir in the vanilla.

Allow to cool. The custard can be refrigerated overnight, just be sure to stir before using.

No more than 6 hours before serving, spread the custard over the caramel crust. Decorate by arranging an assortment of sliced fruit in concentric circles.  My favorites to use are peach, kiwi, and strawberry.

Optional: To make a glaze, combine 1/3 cup apricot jam, seedless raspberry jam, or orange marmalade with 1 ½ teaspoons of water. Bring to a boil in a small saucepan. Brush the glaze over the fruit to cover.

Refrigerate until ready to serve, but not more than 6 hours, or the caramel will soften and melt and the tart shell will become soggy.

Serves 8.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Sauteed King Oyster Mushrooms

The other night, my friends and I were exhausted and it was past dinner time—about 9pm—but we were hungry and I had a dish I wanted to share. It was pretty simple.  It featured one star ingredient, plus a little love, and that was basically it.  And once it was done, three hungry girls swarmed in, eating right from the skillet, not even bothering with plates or bowl.  It was a true communal meal, and it was wonderful.

It's moment like that that I love.  Moments like that are why I cook, and why I truly do believe that food is love.  Food brings people together, and there is a feeling of closeness and intimacy created when someone cooks for you or when you cook for someone.  This dish is nothing fancy, but I made it because I love it, and I wanted to share it my friends.

Most people haven't heard of king oyster mushrooms, but they can be found pretty easily at any Asian supermarket, and occasionally it is also sold in regular grocery stores.  King oyster mushrooms are large white mushrooms that are both tall and fat, and have a lovely meaty and chewy consistency that is more comparable to abalone than oyster.  I like these prepared simply, as that allows the mushroom's natural sweetness to shine.  You may feel like you need to add water or more butter or something since the mushroom seem a little "dry," but the heat will do it's job and the mushrooms will soften up beautifully and caramelize.  Even if you're not a "mushroom person," I recommend you trying these.  They are unlike any other type of mushroom.  I'm not a huge fan of white button mushrooms or shiitake, but these I will eat any chance I get.  They are simple, hard to mess up, and full of flavor.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Black Truffle Sea Salt

I have an unhealthy obsession.  It's not with chocolate or carbs or ice cream or anything relatively normal.  I have an obsession with Black Truffle Sea Salt.  It has an intoxicatingly addictive scent.  It is mineral-esque, dark, earthy, and complex.  And it melts on the tongue for a full, round taste that can't be compared to anything else.  All I can tell you is that since I started writing this, I have three times stolen a taste from my jar.

I've enjoyed it sprinkled generously on some beautiful medium-rare steak, over a lightly poached egg, and with some roasted baby potatoes.  I imagine you could steam some broccoli and enjoy it over that.  Or cauliflower.  Or spinach.  Maybe even asparagus.  Or chicken.  The possibilities are endless.

If this delicious sea salt was the only thing that came of my New York City trip, I may even dare to say that the [rather expensive] trip would have been worth it.  Yes.  It is that good.

I promise I shall post a real recipe soon, I just thought I would let you know what it is I am spending my time doing when I am not here posting recipes:  I am stealing tastes of Black Truffle Sea Salt from my little glass jar.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Chocolate Mousse

Growing up, I remember one of my favorite desserts to order when my family went out to eat was chocolate mousse.  At my favorite restaurant, they served it in a tall fluted glass and I thought it was so classy.  Of course, this illusion of class was completely shattered when I diligently and repeatedly scraped down the sides of the glass to make sure I scooped up every single last bit of that delicious chocolate mousse and licked my spoon clean when everything was gone.

Sadly, you don't find chocolate mousse much now in restaurants; it appears to have fallen out of favor, perhaps because food trends moved towards chocolate bacon and salted caramel.  In fact, while looking at food blogs recently, I remember reading a post where someone called it a dessert of the 80's.

I think it's time we brought this dessert back.  Nothing else can compare to a good chocolate mousse, with its silky, smooth texture and airy lightness.  I've never met anyone who didn't like chocolate mousse.  And with Valentine's Day coming up, if you're planning on making something nice for your loved one (or for yourself!) this recipe is a nice option because it can be made ahead of time and then enjoyed leisurely at the end of a meal without being overkill.  Plus, eating chocolate mousse is sexy.  Eating chocolate chip cookies, not so much.

Some chocolate mousses can be incredibly rich, but I think that this recipe is perfectly balanced.  It is creamy but light and not too sweet.  It also has a teensy bit of alcohol.  The original recipe calls for brandy.  I've never had brandy.  When I bake or cook, I generally use rum.  I grew up in a house that always had rum.  When we make cake mix at home, my mom always substituted some of the water with rum.  I learned from her genius.  Rum makes things better.  This may sound like the motto of an alcoholic, but considering that I don't really drink and when I do, I prefer a glass of sweet white wine or dessert wine, I really don't think you have any need to be concerned.  That said, this recipe is not at all boozy.  The scent of the rum is very faint, but if you're serving it to young children and you're concerned, you can always replace it with water.

This recipe also uses raw egg whites.  I've never had any problems with using raw eggs, but I know some people who have concerns.  I don't really have any suggestions, except to use the best eggs you can.  I used organic free range brown eggs.  Avoid this recipe if you are pregnant or are serving it to someone else who is pregnant.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Lunch at JoJo's (NYC)

So continuing on my weekend trip to New York City...

Since we were going into the city, E. and I figured that we would do lunch at a nicer restaurant. I did some research and looked into a couple restaurants. NYC Restaurant Week was going on, but for some reason, restaurant don't do a Restaurant Week menu on Saturday for lunch. I was a bit miffed by this, but it ended up being fine, since many places have prix fixe brunch/lunch menus.

I ended up making a reservation at JoJo, which is owned by the fairly famous chef and restaurateur Jean-Georges Vongerichten. JoJo serves brunch on the weekends from 12pm to 2:30pm, but during the winter they have a special prix fixe "Winter Promotion" menu (different from NYC Restaurant Week) which offers a three-course meal for $26.

After we arrived at the restaurant, the hostess seated us fairly quickly. The restaurant was small and the tables were fairly close together, but I never felt bothered by it. The menu is true to what is posted online, and for each course there were a good number of options available to choose from.

After we ordered, breadsticks were brought to the table along with butter.  On the table was also a small bowl of coarse salt, with a tiny spoon, which I thought was a nice touch.  The breadsticks were warm, with a nice crust and an airy, light interior.  Four were brought to our table before the appetizers arrived.  We never asked for any more, and no more were brought once we finished the "basket."

For our first appetizer, we ordered peekytoe crabmeat with mango and cumin crackers. The dish felt very light and reminiscent of spring. The crab was very fragrant and perfectly balanced in seasoning, with a little bit of spiciness to it. The cracker was lightly scented with cumin and the cubed mango was soft, ripe, and sweet. Together, all the elements of the dish came together to make a perfectly balanced bite that had texture and great flavor.  A solid 8 out of 10.  While we liked it, we couldn't give it a higher score because it felt a bit timid and there wasn't really a wow factor.

Our next appetizer was a butternut squash soup with black trumpet mushrooms. The bowl was brought to the table with cubed butternut squash and sauteed mushrooms. The soup was then poured tableside. It was creamy, full bodied, and well seasoned (although perhaps leaning a bit more on the salty side). I loved the sweetness of the cubed squash and the chewy texture of the mushrooms.  The soup itself though was a little bit overwhelming; I think if it had had just a little bit less salt or perhaps a little bit more balancing sweetness it would have been better.  A 7.5 out of 10.

For our first entree, E. brother ordered organic chicken roasted with ginger, green olives, and coriander. Chick pea fries were served alongside the chicken.  E. and I both thought that the fries were very creative and texturally fun to eat since they were crispy on the outside but somehow had a very nice creaminess on the inside.  (They weren't actually creamy, they just taste that way)  The chicken was surprisingly moist, a little salty, but well seasoned even on the inside.  It was a very solid, good dish, but again, nothing amazing.  A 7 out of 10.

For his entree, E. ordered shrimp with lemon risotto and caramelized fennel. As you would expect of any good restaurant, the shrimp were perfectly cooked. The acid from the lemon balanced the creaminess of the risotto perfectly, so that it was rich and smooth without being heavy. There was also a quiet background, a taste that lingered, of fennel that was pleasant and warm.  A 7.5 or 8 out of 10.  Good, solid, but not stunning.

For my main course, I ordered cod roasted with marinated vegetables in an aromatic tomato sauce.  I was in love with this dish.  Even though E.'s dish was good, once he tasted mine, he told me that he wished he had ordered it as well.  The fish was moist and tender with a crispy skin/exterior.  The marinated vegetables tasted a bit sour, like they had been pickled, which I wasn't particularly fond of, but the tomato sauce was full of character and I liked the mashed pea and potato combination.  I was very pleased overall.  A 9 out of 10.

Because we ordered from the prix fixe menu for the Winter Promotion, they did not offer us their entire dessert menu; instead we had only a choice of two of their dessert.  Online, their dessert menu offers 6 choices.

Does this picture not say all?  Look at it.  That was our first dessert: a warm molten chocolate cake with vanilla ice cream.  It was rich, but not overwhelming and not too sweet.  It had just the right amount of chocolate intensity to satisfy a person without making the tastebuds feel gross after two or three spoons.  (You know how that happens when something is just too chocolate.)  The vanilla ice cream was nothing to write home about--honestly it felt a bit timid and meek next to the delicious molten chocolate cake, but it provided a nice balance.  Both E. and I were sad when we finished our chocolate cakes, and I was glad we ordered two, because I think our relationship would have been tested had we been forced to share it; I would not have been happy to hand over my spoon.  Clearly, this was a 9 out of 10.  I would definitely order it again.

Our second dessert was an exotic fruit salad with white chocolate ice cream.  The fruit salad included pineapple, banana, kiwi, and chopped dates all in a soupy passionfruit syrup which was spiced with a hint of cinnamon.  The white chocolate ice cream didn't taste particularly of white chocolate to me, and because I really enjoyed the passionfruit flavor we were already quite full, we pushed aside the ice cream and ignored it.  Because a fruit salad is fairly easy to make, I have to give this a 6.5 out of 10.  Nothing stunning, and the ice cream disappointed us a little.

Service was not fantastic.  Certainly no one was negligent, but there was a mix up with the water that I found somewhat surprising.  At our table of three, two of us had glasses of regular water, while E. ordered sparkling water ($7, overpriced Pellegrino).  When the servers saw the liquid levels in our glasses dip below halfway, they refilled, as per usual.  But they took E.'s sparkling water and poured it into everyone's glasses, thus mixing still water with sparkling water.  Then, later, a server poured still water into E. glass of sparkling water.  This time, when we pointed this out, they were kind out enough to replace E.'s glass with one that was just sparkling water, but I still thought that it was astounding that they would so easily mix things up.  Especially when the sparkling water cost $7.  There should be no mix ups; as a customer paying that much, I expect my sparkling water to be pure.  I did not pay for a glass of half sparkling, half still water.  Other than that, it was fine.  I don't know if I will ever return, because NYC has so many great restaurants, but I certainly wasn't disappointed.  It's just... JoJo was just fine.  That's it.  We ate, we were satisfied, and we left.  It was like having a good day.  In the grand scheme of thing, you have so many good days in your life, one good day stands out no more than any other good day.

160 East 64th Street
New York, New York 10021
Tel. 212.223.5656
Overall rating for the price: 7 out of 10 (average)

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Chelsea Market

This past weekend, I went to New York City with a couple of friends and then met up with some friends in the city to do a little bit of food tourism. Of course, one of the places that we visited was Chelsea Market. Don't know what Chelsea Market is?

In New York City's Meatpacking District, there is a large warehouse type of structure that was, in the past, a large bakery. Over time is transformed and today it is called the Chelsea Market. Chelsea Market is essentially a large enclosed, upscale food court located between 9th and 10th avenue. Inside the market, are shops including Ronnybrook Dairy (with it's famous milk bar), Lucy's Whey (a cheese shop), Fat Witch Bakery (which specializes in brownies), and Amy's Bread.

I found one of the most interesting places to visit was The Filling Station. Located in the middle of the market, this little shop has different flavors of salt, oil, and vinegar. This might not sound like the most exciting venue, but everything was available for tasting.
I've read many recipes that involve fancy balsamic vinegars and salts and occasionally grapeseed oil or such, and I've never had any idea what flavor these ingredients would impart upon a dish. Until I went to The Filling Station.
With my friends, I tried Himalayan pink salt, black truffle salt, white truffle salt, grapeseed oil, black truffle oil, Blood Orange oil, ginger honey vinegar, champagne vinegar, pomegranate balsamic vinegar, fig balsamic vinegar, and many more. It was quite an experience.
I was so hooked on the black truffle sea salt, I ended up buying a small container for about $10, and my friend fell in love with the Cinnamon Pear balsamic vinegar and ended up purchasing a bottle for herself, also at $10. The prices, we felt, were very reasonable.

While exploring, we also spent a good amount of time in a little shop called Chelsea Market Basket. Besides selling, yes, baskets, this shop also had an extensive collection of candies and chocolates. We were allowed to sample one free chocolate (Leonidas) or caramel each, and following the recommendation of one of the workers behind the counter, we tried the sea salt caramel. It was delicious. I've have salted caramel before, specifically the well known French caramel beurre salé, but this was different. The caramel was sweet, but there were actually crunchy flakes of sea salt within the chewy candy. It was a delicious surprise. We liked it so much, we ended up buying a few to take home. They also had cheese to sample and buy, which my friends enjoyed but I obviously did not partake it. (I don't eat cheese)

Very close to the Chelsea Market Baskets, in a little back corner, we saw L'Arte del Gelato. The flavors looks very good, and so we decided to share a cone with two scoops of gelato. Ultimately that flavors we settled on were Williams Pear and grapefruit. Both were incredibly fragrant and delicious. The pear was full of flavor and was absolutely true to the scent of Williams Pear. The grapefruit was very strong and sour, but it was fullbodied in a way that wasn't (surprisingly) at all overbearing.

On our way out of Chelsea Market, I decided to stop by Jacques Torres's shop for some of his famous hot chocolate. I got the Wicked hot chocolate, which is flavored with cinnamon, sweet ancho and ground chipotle chili peppers. It was thick and dark with a little kick at the end. It wasn't as spicy as I expected it to be, and although I am a lover of dark and bittersweet chocolate, I actually put in a packet of sugar because I felt that the drink wasn't sweet enough. In all honestly, it was probably not worth the ticket price (roughly $3.50), but my opinion may be affected by the fact that I drank the hot chocolate slowly and it became more tepid and lukewarm as time passed.

There are many more shops to explore in Chelsea Market which I didn't even begin to describe, and I do think I will be returning on my next trip into the city. So many great places to explore all packed into one space... What more could you want?

Location: 75 9th Avenue (Between 15th and 16th Streets), New York, NY 10011
By Subway: to 14th Street and 8th Avenue on the A, C, E, or L
Hours: Mon - Sat: 7am to 9pm, Sun: 8am to 7pm