Cheesy Rambles

To document my cooking and knitting experiments - hopefully many successes and few failures.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Bahn Xeo

Sooo my Mom, a true Iron Chef, made bahn xeo for the family over the weekend. Bahn Xeo is a type of Vietnamese crepe filled with pork, shrimp, beans sprouts and mung beans. The crepe itself is made of rice flour, coconut milk and a pinch of curry powder. The smell as it sizzles and pops is absolutely delicious!

Unfortunately my cellphone doesn't capture the true vibrant colors of this food.. nor does it relay the delicious aroma and taste.



Thursday, May 14, 2009

First Daring Cooks Challenge

Today is the big reveal date for the 1st Daring Cooking Challenge. Chosen as our first challenge is ricotta gnocchi. The recipe was taken from a cookbook written by Judy Rodgers, The Zuni Café Cookbook.

The recipe's author strongly recommended using fresh ricotta so fresh ricotta I made. It's actually a very simple process to create ricotta.. and actually the most daunting thing about it was finding the buttermilk. I had to go to a secondary grocery store to locate a bottle. Heat the milk and buttermilk together in a large pot until the temperature hits 170 degrees.. stop stirring and voila it's curds ahoy! Strain the curds from the whey using a cheesecloth and there's the ricotta!

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Okay the recipe is as follows:

For the gnocchi:

1 pound (454 grams/16 ounces) fresh ricotta (2 cups)
2 large cold eggs, lightly beaten
1 tablespoon (1/2 ounce) unsalted butter
2 or 3 fresh sage leaves, or a few pinches of freshly grated nutmeg, or a few pinches of chopped lemon zest (all optional)
½ ounce Parmigiano-Reggiano, grated (about ¼ cup very lightly packed)
about ¼ teaspoon salt (a little more if using kosher salt)
all-purpose flour for forming the gnocchi

For the gnocchi sauce:

8 tablespoons (227 grams/1/4 pound/4 ounces) butter, sliced
2 teaspoons water

Add the lightly beaten eggs to the mashed ricotta.

Melt the tablespoon of butter. As it melts, add in the sage if you’re using it. If not, just melt the butter and add it to the ricotta mixture.

Add in any flavouring that you’re using (i.e., nutmeg, lemon zest, etc.). If you’re not using any particular flavouring, that’s fine.

Add the Parmigiano-Reggiano and the salt.

Beat all the ingredients together very well. You should end up with a soft and fluffy batter with no streaks (everything should be mixed in very well).

Fill a small pot with water and bring to a boil. When it boils, salt the water generously and keep it at a simmer. You will use this water to test the first gnocchi that you make to ensure that it holds together and that your gnocchi batter isn’t too damp.

In a large, shallow baking dish or on a sheet pan, make a bed of all-purpose flour that’s ½ an inch deep.

With a spatula, scrape the ricotta mixture away from the sides of the bowl and form a large mass in the centre of your bowl.

Using a tablespoon, scoop up about 2 to 3 teaspoons of batter and then holding the spoon at an angle, use your finger tip to gently push the ball of dough from the spoon into the bed of flour.

At this point you can either shake the dish or pan gently to ensure that the flour covers the gnocchi or use your fingers to very gently dust the gnocchi with flour. Gently pick up the gnocchi and cradle it in your hand rolling it to form it in an oval as best as you can, at no point should you squeeze it. What you’re looking for is an oval lump of sorts that’s dusted in flour and plump.

Gently place your gnocchi in the simmering water. It will sink and then bob to the top. From the time that it bobs to the surface, you want to cook the gnocchi until it’s just firm. This could take 3 to 5 minutes.

If your gnocchi begins to fall apart, this means that the ricotta cheese was probably still too wet. You can remedy this by beating a teaspoon of egg white into your gnocchi batter. If your gnocchi batter was fluffy but the sample comes out heavy, add a teaspoon of beaten egg to the batter and beat that in. Test a second gnocchi to ensure success.

Form the rest of your gnocchi. You can put 4 to 6 gnocchi in the bed of flour at a time. But don’t overcrowd your bed of flour or you may damage your gnocchi as you coat them.

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Have a sheet pan ready to rest the formed gnocchi on. Line the sheet pan with wax or parchment paper and dust it with flour.

You can cook the gnocchi right away, however, Judy Rodgers recommends storing them in the refrigerator for an hour prior to cooking to allow them to firm up.

Have a large skillet ready to go. Place the butter and water for the sauce in the skillet and set aside.

In the largest pan or pot that you have (make sure it’s wide), bring at least 2 quarts of water to a boil (you can use as much as 3 quarts of water if your pot permits). You need a wide pot or pan so that your gnocchi won’t bump into each other and damage each other.

Once the water is boiling, salt it generously.

Drop the gnocchi into the water one by one. Once they float to the top, cook them for 3 to 5 minutes (as in the case with the test gnocchi).

When the gnocchi float to the top, you can start your sauce while you wait for them to finish cooking.

Place the skillet over medium heat and melt the butter. Swirl it gently a few times as it melts. As soon as it melts and is incorporated with the water, turn off the heat. Your gnocchi should be cooked by now.

With a slotted spoon, remove the gnocchi from the boiling water and gently drop into the butter sauce. Carefully roll in the sauce until coated. Serve immediately.

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While I thought it was interesting the make the ricotta, I have come to realize that I do not enjoy gnocchi. I do not like potato gnocchi and I do not enjoy ricotta gnocchi.

Also, in the midst of preparing this dish I had to venture into the animal ER as my little Riley cat apparently went to battle versus either a wasp or a spider.

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Yes I screamed when I saw one paw was twice the size of the other..

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The vet shaved her little paw, and gave her a shot of pcn, and kitty mobic and sent us on our way. She's fine now. :-)

I look forward to next months challenge and hope for a tasty less drama filled taste sensation!

Monday, April 27, 2009

April Daring Bakers Challenge

Drumroll please!

The April 2009 challenge is hosted by Jenny from Jenny Bakes. She has chosen Abbey's Infamous Cheesecake as the challenge.

In my past cheesecake creations I have stuck to the recipe on the box of graham cracker crumbs - very plain but very tasty cheesecakes made with cream cheese and sour cream. Our challenge for this month uses cream in place of the sour cream, and we were given the leeway to get creative with our cakes. I'm not a big fan of going crazy with a cheesecake.. it's so rich and delicious already.. so I decided on making an "Almond Crusted Amaretto Cheesecake." Heck.. the graham cracker crust has always been my least favorite part of the cake anyhow.

Here is the recipe as posted by Jenny.

Abbey's Infamous Cheesecake:

2 cups / 180 g graham cracker crumbs
1 stick / 4 oz butter, melted
2 tbsp. / 24 g sugar
1 tsp. vanilla extract

3 sticks of cream cheese, 8 oz each (total of 24 oz) room temperature
1 cup / 210 g sugar
3 large eggs
1 cup / 8 oz heavy cream
1 tbsp. lemon juice
1 tbsp. vanilla extract (or the innards of a vanilla bean)
1 tbsp liqueur, optional, but choose what will work well with your cheesecake

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (Gas Mark 4 = 180C = Moderate heat). Begin to boil a large pot of water for the water bath.

2. Mix together the crust ingredients and press into your preferred pan. You can press the crust just into the bottom, or up the sides of the pan too - baker's choice. Set crust aside.

3. Combine cream cheese and sugar in the bowl of a stand-mixer (or in a large bowl if using a hand-mixer) and cream together until smooth. Add eggs, one at a time, fully incorporating each before adding the next. Make sure to scrape down the bowl in between each egg. Add heavy cream, vanilla, lemon juice, and alcohol and blend until smooth and creamy.

4. Pour batter into prepared crust and tap the pan on the counter a few times to bring all air bubbles to the surface. Place pan into a larger pan and pour boiling water into the larger pan until halfway up the side of the cheesecake pan. If cheesecake pan is not airtight, cover bottom securely with foil before adding water.

5. Bake 45 to 55 minutes, until it is almost done - this can be hard to judge, but you're looking for the cake to hold together, but still have a lot of jiggle to it in the center. You don't want it to be completely firm at this stage. Close the oven door, turn the heat off, and let rest in the cooling oven for one hour. This lets the cake finish cooking and cool down gently enough so that it won't crack on the top. After one hour, remove cheesecake from oven and lift carefully out of water bath. Let it finish cooling on the counter, and then cover and put in the fridge to chill. Once fully chilled, it is ready to serve.

My alterations to the recipe:

Toasted the almonds a few minutes..

Ground 2 cups of sliced almonds in my beloved Cuisinart with 1/4 cup of sugar and 1/4 cup of butter.

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Lined the spring form pan with the crust and baked it at 400 degrees for 10 minutes.

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When making the actual cheesecake, I omitted the lemon juice and used about 1/3 a cup of Amaretto di Saronno.

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Mixed my cheesecake fixins together and into the spring form pan they went...

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I've never bothered with a water bath (with cheesecake - ha!), and I didn't really feel an overwhelming need for one this time either. I do tend to like my cheesecake a little bit dryer and was quite happy with my end product. The amaretto was not overpowering, it was nicely subtle and complimented the dense, heavy texture of cheesecake. Delicious stuff and I will definitely make Amaretto Cheesecake again!

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Hair Toy!

Check out what came in the mail today! I love this little Etsy shop. I've purchased a few barrettes and now this comb. This business is fast and friendly and their product is high quality, looks great and does a fantastic job of holding my long hair in check during my work day.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

My Heritage Website

One of the more amusing internet time vacuums I have found is the "My Heritage" celebrity look alike website. Upload pics of friends and family and the database on the website matches you to your celebrity lookalikes and counterparts. Endless hijinks and shenanigans here... I have gotten matches for people that include Whoopi Goldberg, J.K. Rowling and Pol Pot. Today one of my matches was Jake Gyllenhaal.. woot!

Saturday, March 28, 2009

March Daring Baker Challenge

Oops! I didn't realize I was supposed to post this on the 27th of March.

The March 2009 challenge is hosted by Mary of Beans and Caviar, Melinda of Melbourne Larder and Enza of Io Da Grande. They have chosen Lasagne of Emilia-Romagna from The Splendid Table by Lynne Rossetto Kasper as the challenge.

I've never made pasta before.. in fact never desired to TRY making pasta before.. but heck, I'm up for a good challenge. This was a very involved recipe for me, so I broke it down over a period of 3 days.

Day one to make the ragu..

I altered the challenge slightly and prepared my ragu as follows:

3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil (45 mL)
2 ounces/60g pancetta, finely chopped
1 medium onion, minced
8 ounces Hot Italian sausage
8 ounces chuck center cut
1 ounce/30g thinly sliced Prosciutto di Parma
1 &1/2 cups (12 ounces/375ml) chicken or beef stock (homemade if possible)
2 cups (16 ounces/500ml) milk
1 can plum tomatoes
1 can tomato sauce
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

I love my Cuisinart and used it as much as possible in this challenge.. Chopped the onions and cooked them in the olive oil till transluscent. Ground the meats together (sausage, beef and prosciutto) and then added this ground meat to the onions in the pan.. cooking until browned.

Added the chicken stock and continue to cook till liquid was absorbed/evaporated.
Added the crushed tomatoes and tomato sauce and milk cooking over low heat for about an hour, stirring as needed to make sure nothing nasty is going on in the bottom of the pan. Continue to simmer until the meat sauce is thick and stew-like. Add salt and pepper to taste!

I allowed the ragu to cool and off it was packed away in the refrigerator..

The following day I attempted the pasta. I never realized how much pain and exercise went into actually hand rolling noodles. My arms were sore for 2 days after this, but my results were very much worth the effort.

Spinach Pasta

#1 Spinach Egg Pasta (Pasta Verde)

The recipe gave me more pasta than I had expected, and unfortunately I ended up wasting a lot of this as I hadn't expected to produce so much noodle.

2 jumbo eggs (2 ounces/60g or more)
10 ounces (300g) fresh spinach, rinsed dry, and finely chopped
3&1/2 cups (14 ounces/400g) all purpose unbleached (plain) flour (organic stone ground preferred)

Out came the Cuisinart and in went the spinach. Removed the spinach and poured in the flour and eggs and let the dough blade do its thing. Added the spinach to my dough and this is what my product looked like.

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allowed my dough to rest for 30 minutes and then separated it into 4 lumps and commenced hand rolling those suckers. Yeah, that hurt. The directions say to keep rolling those bad boys till they are almost transluscent.. I didn't want overly doughy lasagna so I complied to the best of my abilities.

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Allowed the pasta to dry overnight and then on to day 3 of this challenge

I was supposed to make a "Bechamel sauce" for the lasagna, but my American sensibilities prohibited this.. I wouldn't have been happy eating it without my beloved ricotta..

So.. One large container of Ricotta, an egg, some slices of mozzerrella and some freshly grated parmigian would be the cheesy goodness portion of my dish.

To assemble, coat the bottom of the dish with a layer of meatsauce, then noodle, then ricotta, mozerella and parm, and repeat!


I brought my dish into work the next day to share with my coworkers. The feedback I received was really great. One kind person told me it was better than what she had when she visited Italy. So in closing, I definitely plan on making more homemade pastas in the future, and thank you Daring Bakers for such a tasty and fun March challenge!

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

In the Meantime...

I've been doing a bit of experimenting with things I have never tried before...

My attempt at shrimp toast came out pretty good...

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And then I decided to try my hand at "bahn cuon." One of my favorite Vietnamese treats, bahn cuon is a rice crepe filled with, in this case, beef and cloud mushrooms. Again, not a bad effort!

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Stay tuned for my next Daring Baking Challenge! With new and improved results!