Friday, February 17, 2017

Merveilleux Two Ways: Egg & Aquafaba Meringues

Merveilleux is a sandwich of two light meringues welded with whipped cream, and then coated with whipped cream all around and dusted with chocolate shavings. I have not tasted or made them before.

In some ways, they are similar to macacrons. I have always been intrigued with macarons. In fact, macacrons were the first cookies I learned how to bake, starting with taking a class in Paris. I did not know I was in over my head at the time; I had never baked cookies before. But once I've mastered making macarons, everything else comes easy.

The challenge now is how to make a healthier version of them. I have been experimenting with aquafaba or chickpea liquid to make whipped cream. This recipe gives me another foray in exploring and comparing the taste and technique of using aquafaba, the vegan version of the eggs-based meringue cookies.

The picture on the upper left are merveilleux using egg whites to make the meringues, following David Liebovitz's recipe. The picture on the upper right are merveilleux made with meringue cookies, highlighted in a pink coloring, using liquid from a can of chickpea. Knowing the many uses of the chickpea liquid, I no longer pour it down the drain. (See the cheat sheet below for details.) Two different ingredients and recipes, both whipped to stiff peaks and baked in a similar fashion (in a 250°F oven, no convection, for an hour to an hour and a half). I can't say I whipped up the two batters to the same degree of stiffness -- due to the very subjective nature of look and feel of stiff peaks. The chickpea liquid certainly took longer to whip to a stiff peak.

I'm quite surprised that the results of these meringues were not that drastically different. I can't tell the difference in taste; the sweetness from sugar dominates. The egg version seems to be sturdier. But that might have something to do with how stiff the batter was whipped up. The pictures of the two kinds of meringue are shown below. Different sugars are used: confectioners' sugar with the egg whites and granulated sugar with the chickpea liquid. That might have accounted for the variation in texture. All in all, the vegan alternative is holding up nicely against the eggs and shows tremendous promise. I am encouraged to see that the vegan meringue is a robust and viable alternative.

Vegan meringues
Egg meringues

While the merigues are in the oven, the next step is to make the chantilly cream, a mixture of heavy cream, confectioners' sugar and instant espresso powder whipped at medium high speed to a stiff peak, as thick as that of buttercream. David tells us that it's important to beat the cream until it's as stiff as possible. In retrospect, I did not stiffen the cream enough. I left the cream in the fridge overnight. They became watery and I had to whip it up again to coat the meringue cookies the next day.

The next step is to sandwich the cream between two meringue cookies. Coat the outside with an even layer of the chantilly cream. I found that very messy to do, without a doubt.

Finally, each sandwich cake is rolled in shaved chocolate. The task goes faster and smoother when the cakes are chilled. I put them in the freezer for half an hour or longer, that makes rolling them in chocolate so much easier. I think the cakes taste better too when they are thoroughly chilled. However, the cakes get soggy when they spend too much time in the fridge. My underwhipped cream had wreaked havoc!

My takeaway from this bake: it's easier to make macacrons! It's also straightforward to make macacrons looking lovely and colorful, without getting your fingers all dirty and sticky. But that's like splitting hair. Macacrons or Merveilleux? They are both exceptional and fantastic cookies on special occasions when you have the time to make them.

cream of tartar is used to stabilize the meringues

Please visit Cook-the-book-fridays to see the comments and discussions on this recipe from the online group, a community of engaging home cooks, who are working through each and every recipe in David Lebovitz's My Paris Kitchen. You are welcome to join the group and cook along with us.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Healthful Double Chocolate Cookies - IHCC Food We Love

Talking about food we love is not an easy conversation. It's complicated. The matter of the heart is never straightforward. Admitting what you love is somehow like admitting some fundamental weaknesses or worse, something illicit.

I have a sweet tooth; I loathe sugar. I like the taste of a sweet dessert at the end of a meal or a cookie with a cup of coffee or tea. At the same time, my head is complaining that sweets are not good for my body. You have to take a stand against sugar these days considering all the talks and public health concerns about sugar consumption.

Part of my solution is to bake everything from scratch, quick breads and all manner of desserts, which gives me the freedom to substitute table sugar with something more healthful. My pantry is filled with all sorts of natural sugar alternatives: from organic cane sugar, palm sugar, coconut sugar, honey, maple syrup, dates to apple sauce. I have used them all in my baking. Thank goodness, there are suitable sugar substitutes out there and they work.

The latest one I've found is this cookie recipe from Heidi Swanson. Not only that it uses ripe banana as a sugar substitute and a binding agent, my first using banana in this capacity, there is more. There is no sugar, no butter, no eggs and these cookies are gluten free. I'm truly impressed that you can make these cookies and eat them too. Wow!

The recipe can be found in Swanson's blog Cookbook 101. These are double chocolate cookies, using both cocoa powder and dark chocolate chips. The taste of chocolate is clearly front and center. You really don't need much for the cookies to taste great. Use the best ingredients you can find, the cookies would come together magically and they are healthy to eat. I use Valrhona 100% cacao powder and 71% dark chocolate.

I made one third of the recipe, see the cheat sheet below for details. Experimenting with a smaller recipe allows me to try my hands on different flours and nuts. I've baked these cookies several times. I used oat flour and a combination of almond meal and oat flour instead of rolled oats in Swanson's original recipe. Experimented with pecan and pistachio instead of sunflower seeds. I made these changes so that the cookies take on the look and feel of cookies rather than cereal bars.

This is my takeaway: I would put in more nuts next time to give the cookies more crunch, if nut allergy is not an issue for you. I tried sprinkling some coconut sugar on top of the cookies for crispiness. I couldn't tell the difference, texture wise. I'd rely on adding more nuts, maybe doubling the recipe amount. Almonds, pecan and walnuts are all good choices. I've found this recipe to be very user friendly. Play around with whatever healthful flours and nuts you have on hand. Chickpea, rye and buckwheat flour have less gluten and high in protein. This recipe changes the way I bake cookies. These healthful double chocolate cookies have the undeniable advantage of being delicious, rich, satisfying and guilt-free. I can love them wholeheartedly -- without loathing sugar.

Happy Valentine's day!

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Eggplant with Buttermilk Sauce - IHCC Stuffed or Filled Dishes

This dish occupies the cover of Ottolenghi's Plenty. The jewel-like ruby-red pomegranate seeds spread over the buttermilk sauce on the eggplant halves grabbed my attention; I bought Plenty as a result. I must have the book for at least over a year and I finally made the dish. If I've known this dish is so easy to put together, I'd have probably made it many times over. The prettiness of the dish gives the impression that this plate is a labor of love, not so much of an everyday dish. How wrong I was. Well, it helps to think twice before making snap judgement and check out the facts and details of the recipe.

Nothing is as simple as cutting the whole eggplant in halves, straight through the stalk, which is part of the look. Make a cross-hatch pattern on the flesh with a sharp paring knife. Season and roast the eggplants in a 400°F oven for 35 to 40 minutes.

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Valentine's Day Share-a-Heart - TWD #cookiesandkindness

It's a beautiful thing you can make a bunch of these chocolate heart-shape cookies and give them to people you know or strangers you don't. These delicious cookies from Dorie Greenspan are the perfect medium for sharing. Thanks Dorie for the phenomenal idea of a share-a-heart cookie. You can find her recipe here.

These are shortbread cookies made mostly with all-purpose flour and confectioners' sugar. Cocoa powder gives them the chocolate flavor. Put all the dry ingredients in the food processor until the mixture are evenly blended. Then cut in cold pieces of butter until the mixture turns grainy, followed by an egg yolk and small amount of water. The batter comes together quickly after a few pulses. The hardest and time-consuming part of making the cookies is rolling out the dough and cutting them in heart shapes between sheets of parchment paper. But that's also the fun and creative part of it. I had to resort to series of chilling and rolling before I finally finished with all the cookie dough.

Friday, February 3, 2017

Coq au Vin - Cook-the-Book-Fridays

This is David Lebovitz's version in My Paris Kitchen of the classic coq au vin. Its rich dark sauce is made and thickened with chocolate. Yes, chocolate. Instead of blood, the slurry of cocoa powder is used. Forget about blood, it is not something accessible in the US, for better or for worst.

The common ingredients in the traditional coq au vin are red wine, bacon, mushrooms and pearl onions, this recipe has all these basic elements. However, I can't help but to digress. I wanted to see how Julia Child cooked her coq au vin. Sorry, David, it's hard to ignore the elephant in the room. Afterall, it was Julia Child who popularized the iconic boeuf bourguignon (beef stew in red wine, with bacon, onions and mushrooms), the beef version of coq au vin, and brought it to the dining tables throughout America.

I made the coq au vin following closely David's recipe and then reviewed that of Julia's; I learned a few things from this exercise. These are my observations. They are outlined in the cheat sheet below, comparing the two recipes side by side:

Monday, January 30, 2017

Cold-Busting Vitamin C Tea Blend - IHCC

I don't seem to be able to shake the drag of a developing cold and a scratchy throat. All I can think about is to find some relief to the discomfort and to booster the weakened immune system. It was just so handy that I came across Heidi Swanson's tea blends on her blog that suited my needs. I like the idea of using natural remedy from everyday food stuff. There is a big herbal tea section in Whole Foods filled with a bewildering mix of chamomile, ginger, ginseng, hibiscus, mint, pomegranate and other preservatives (which I can't start naming or spelling). I've found it difficult to make an informed selection. So I opted for Swanson's Vitamin C tea blend. It appeals to me because it's an approachable home-brew solution. After all, I have three out of the four ingredients on hand: hibiscus, saffron threads and lemon peels. I only need to get some rose hips.

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Whole Roasted Celery Root with Romesco Sauce - IHCC

Anytime I can whole roast anything, I'd go for it. The prep time is minimal, no knife skill is required. Perfect recipe for a robot or a young child. All you need is your ability to program an oven. My favorite whole roasted vegetable is the cauliflower. I have it programmed in my oven since I used the technique so frequently. Just clean the vegetable, season it with salt and pepper, rub olive oil all over it. I like roasting it in a cast-iron skillet. Place it in the oven. An hour or so later, the smell of the cauliflower would inform you it is done. The beautiful brown crust outside is another sign that it's ready to take center stage. I say that because anything tall and whole has a commanding presence; the whole roasted technique makes it possible.

It has been a while since I uncover another vegetable I can whole roast. It is the celery root. I found the recipe in Yotam Ottolenghi's NOPI. It's hardly a recipe since there is no other ingredient involved and the step is to roast the celery root in a 375°F (or 340°F convection) oven. Roast until a knife inserted into the flesh goes in easily. Ottolenghi says it takes 3 hours, it took me about two.

Friday, January 20, 2017

Salt Cod Fritters and Brandade - Cook-the-Book-Fridays

Round fritters pan fried more evenly than those shaped in balls

fritters with a tartar sauce
I was told the restaurant businesses have gone down across the board in Manhattan since the election, as compared to the same period in prior years. You can easily get a table in normally busy restaurants. The probable cause, as a restaurant owner explained to me, was that people didn't feel like going out. They wanted to hunker down and stayed home. To the contrary, take-out places were doing well. Obviously, these observations are simply anecdotal evidence, I did not think much of it. It didn't occur to me that our emotional state and behavior are so tightly linked to our political life -- until now. I've found myself having trouble focusng my thoughts to compose a coherent post in the gathering storm on this day. So I'll keep it brief.

I've made brandade before; it was not bad, but nothing special either. To make the David Lebovitz's fritters from My Paris Kitchen, it's necessary to buy the salt cod, soak it for 24 hours and make a cod and potato puree. At that point, I split the recipe, oven baked half of it in a gratin dish and made the fritters with the rest. I made the tartar sauce that accompanied the fritters.

I did not want to fry the fritters, for obvious reasons: too much fat. I used a spoonful of oil, dipped the fritters in a beer batter and pan fried them. Slowly, I figured out (my gears turning in fits and starts) that flattening the fritters, shaped initially in small balls followed by a short rest in the refrigerator, with the back of a measuring cup into rounds made more sense. I was able to turn the patties more easily and fried both sides evenly. The flat crusty exterior balanced well with just a thin layer of brandade inside.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Quinoa Skillet Bread - IHCC Face-the-Day

The Breakfast Book, is one of the most enduring cookbooks of its time from Marion Cunningham, a food writer and advocate of home cooking, who served as an assistant to James Beard and discovered many new talents, like Alice Waters. She tirelessly promoted the idea that breakfast ought to be the most important and the best meal of the day. (If you have a friend who is getting married, get her this book.) It is a classic and a treasure.

I'm certainly guilty of not following her sage advice, often favoring something fast and easy for breakfast on-the-go or nothing at all, besides a cup of latte. There is no denying that breakfasts can be very special, served in bed on birthdays and in a dining room somewhere while on vacation. It sets the tone of the day, if not creating some hard-to-forget lifetime memories.

Thanks to Marion Cunningham's custard-filled corn bread which Heidi Swanson adapted to become the quinoa skillet bread, I have uncovered the most unbelievable breakfast bread. If you have tasted Cunningham's corn bread, you'd understand what I mean. Or take a look at Swanson's recipe and see for yourself the magic behind a nutritious and custard-filled quinoa-based quick bread. A few strong points:

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Lemon Posset with Roasted Butternut Squash - IHCC Ingredient Challenge

Lemon posset got on our radar screens and captured our imagination when a group of us, volunteer sous chefs, got together and helped chef Amanda Cohen of Dirt Candy of New York City prepare dinner for 30 in Tuscany. Lemon posset with butternut squash was on the dessert menu. It is a classic English dessert that you'll find in the repertoire of every English celebrity chefs, like Nigel Slater and Yotam Ottolenghi. The posset is catching on in the US lately. Popularity aside, what I'm most impressed is the science behind the three magic ingredients and the ease of preparation.

I made this for dessert last week away from my home kitchen while skiing. Needless to say, I had limited access to ingredients or equipments. I had to make do with something very basic. The posset came to mind. All you need are three ingredients (cream, sugar and fresh lemon juice or citrus acid), a stove and a refrigerator. I served the posset to some friends with rave review.

From the first bite to the last, the well-balanced, sweet-tangy flavor and the silky velvety texture really set this dessert apart. From the practicality viewpoint of a home cook, this recipe is godsend. No worry about tempering the eggs or using cornstarch, flour or gelatin to thicken the custard. Just follow this straightforward recipe and boil the cream for a few minutes to break down the milk proteins. Don't be afraid to use heat. (Milk and cream can be boiled and reduced for hours.) Lemon juice increases the acidity of the cream to allow it to solidify.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Sprouted Buckwheat Spelt Loaf - Tartine Nordic-style Pan Loaf

This loaf of bread has the ultimate look of a healthy whole grains and seeded bread. In fact, the bread is dark, rugged, densely packed with seeds and grains, you have to strain to find the regular bread crumbs. You may reluctantly take a piece and eat it; you know it's full of fiber and nutritious goodness. I made the bread and put some of it away in the freezer thinking that no one in my family would be enthusiastic to eat it. I didn't have the time to make an elaborate sales pitch singing the praise of a low-gluten nutrient-dense brick of hearty bread.

Quite unexpectedly, when I put it out on the counter in the kitchen, the bread sells itself on its own merits: the grainy toothsome texture and its natural nutty sweetness. A bread with substance, tangy and surprisingly delicious. The bread is made with 80% spelt flour, 20% freshly milled buckwheat flour, 105% sprouted buckwheat groats, and 80% seeds, including sunflower, flaxseeds, sesame and pumpkin seeds. See the cheat sheet below for details.

Does rugbrod, or Danish rye bread, rings the bell for you? Rudbrod is a dense bread containing a coarse mix of grains and kernels. It provides the base of most open-faced Danish and similar sandwiches found in Nordic countries, served with herring, cured salmon, ground liver or smoked cheese. Rugbrod was the source of inspiration from which Chad Robertson drew to formulate what he calls Rene's-style pan loaves. I adapted one of his pan loaf recipes from Tartine Book No. 3.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Honey-Yogurt Mousse & a Vegan Version - Tuesdays with Dorie

There is a lot to like about this dessert. The recipe comes from Dorie Greenspan's Baking Chez Moi. As far as healthy dessert goes, this one comes close to be perfect. In addition, you need very few ingredients and it's simple to put together.

Low-fat Greek yogurt is the key ingredient to make the mousse. (Kefir yogurt can be substituted.) A plus if you want to lower fat intake. However, you do need half a cup of heavy cream, whipped to soft peaks, to lighten the texture of the mousse. I guess without the whipped cream, the mousse may not be as velvety and light as we'd prefer. If you worry about sugar consumption, sugar is not required here. Honey is the sweetener. By and large, these are mostly pantry items that you have around, with the exception of gelatin. You'd need it to bind everything together to form the mousse.

The Greek yogurt takes about two hours to strain. After leaving the strained yogurt in the fridge overnight, several tablespoons of whey were collected at the bottom of the bowl. Dorie mentioned that you may skip this step if you don't have the time. The flavor and the texture of the mousse may just be lighter.