Thursday, December 23, 2010

Triple Layer, Triple Chocolate Peppermint Bark

Apparently some traditions do not take a long time to be established.  This is only the third year I have made peppermint bark for the holiday season and yet my boys have been talking expectantly about it for several months now.  I suspect that peppermint bark only took 2 years to become a tradition because of how good it is.  Something about the dark smooth chocolate peppermint ganache alongside the sweetness of the white chocolate and the crunch of the cool peppermint pieces is evocative of the season.

When I went to make this years batch I found I did not have enough white chocolate so I decided to punt.  Instead of going out for more white chocolate used milk chocolate as one of the layers.  There is happy agreement in the house that the new version is actually better then the original recipe.  So I guess now we have a new tradition.

Triple Layer, Triple Chocolate Peppermint Bark
Adapted from Orangette

Use only the highest quality chocolate in the recipe.  With such a simple recipe the ingredients all have to bring everything they can to the final confection.  White chocolate should list "coco butter" as one of the ingredients.  Steer clear of hydrogenated oil and artificial flavors.

9 oz's milk chocolate
30 striped peppermint candies (this year I used red, white and green ones, they were out of red and white ones.  I have often subbed 6 oz's of candy canes, but the store only had weird flavored ones left)
7 oz's bittersweet chocolate
6 Tbsp heavy cream
3/4 tsp peppermint extract
9 oz's white chocolate

Coarsely crush the peppermint candies using a can, a meat pounder, hammer, rolling pin...  Cover the back of a large baking sheet with foil and mark off a 9 by 12 inch rectangle on the foil.  Place the milk chocolate in the top of a double boiler or a bowl on top of a pot of barely simmering water.  Make sure the bowl is absolutely dry before adding the chocolate or it will not melt correctly.  The bottom of the bowl should not touch the water.

Gently heat the chocolate until smooth and completely melted, the temperature should be about 110° on a candy thermometer.  (I no longer bother to check the temperature, when it is completely melted it will be the correct temperature).  Remove the bowl from over the water and dry off the bottom before pouring the chocolate on marked rectangle on the foil.  Use an icing spatula to spread the chocolate out to evenly fill the rectangle.  Sprinkle 1/4 cup of crushed peppermint candies over the chocolate and chill until set, about 15 minutes.

While the chocolate is setting wash and dry the bowl and spatula.  You won't use the bowl again until melting the top layer but even the tiniest amount of water will cause the chocolate to seize instead of melting.  Alternatively you can just use a different bowl for the top layer, preventing the white chocolate from seizing and having to explain to your children that they "only" have homemade cracked wheat bread and jam for their teachers.  In my experience children do not like being told they cannot share a favorite treat with their teachers.

Stir bittersweet chocolate, cream and peppermint extract in heavy medium saucepan over medium-low heat until just melted and smooth. Cool dark chocolate ganache 5 minutes before pouring the ganache slowly all over the milk chocolate and spreading in an even layer with the icing spatula.  Refrigerate 25 minutes until very firm and cold.

Place white chocolate in dry bowl over barely simmering water and melt until smooth, 110°.  Pour white chocolate all over dark chocolate ganache layer and spread into an even layer with the icing spatula.  Sprinkle with remaining peppermint candies before placing in the refrigerator to set.  Chill until set, about 20 minutes (alternatively you can chill it for longer, it will just need to warm up a little out of the fridge before you can cut it).

Carefully lift the foil and bark off the baking sheet and transfer to a large cutting board.  Begin by trimming the edges until they are straight.  Cut bark into 1 1/2 inch wide strips and slide strips off foil onto cutting board.   Cut strips into smaller pieces on a slight diagonal, forming diamond shaped pieces of bark.  Store in an airtight container in the fridge.  The bark is best when it is allowed to come to room temperature for 15 minutes before serving.  However nobody ever seems to complain when served a piece straight from the fridge either.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Soy Braised Cabbage

I made this dish for the first time ever as part of lunch for the preschoolers.  Turns out my terrible habit of preparing new dishes when making dinner for company extends to cooking food for a preschool.  In my defense what was the worst that would happen if the dish was not good?  Several preschoolers would say they hate cabbage, wait, they said that before I cooked it for them.  Hah, one of the rare instances of recipe roulette where a bad outcome would just maintain the status quo.  I had this beautiful, organic, local red cabbage that was donated and I needed a way to prepare it.  I could have made Creamy Red Cabbage with Fennel and Mustard Seed, but I thought it would really lose something without the wine.

I found a recipe for Red Cooked Cabbage in Andrea Chesman's The Garden Vegetable Cookbook and while it did call for sherry, I was not worried about leaving out a single tablespoon.  (If you want a copy of this cookbook I would recommend buying Serving up the Harvest instead.  It is the paperback version and is still in print, instead of the original title which is out of print, and expensive).  The combination of soy sauce and rice vinegar reminded me of some of my favorite tricks for vegetables so I put it on the next days menu.  At first I could not find the soy sauce at work so I used bragg's liquid amino acids with a touch of soy sauce added later when someone told me it was in the fridge (who stores soy sauce in the fridge?)  The final dish was even better then I was imagining, with a sweetness from the slow cooking, savory notes from the soy sauce and a complexity that seemed beyond the simple list of ingredients.  It was good enough that I decided to make it again that night for dinner at home.

When I made it for dinner I added the dry sherry originally called for in the recipe and I noticed five spice powder I should have used in the list of ingredients or at the very least I should have noticed I was omitting it.  When making it home I used star anise in place of the five spice powder I already knew would overpower the simple dish.  My conclusion is leave out the sherry and any spices beyond pepper.  The complexity of the dish comes from the subtle sweetness of the braised cabbage being complimented by the soys salty unami and the richness of the sesame oil.  The sherry and spices just detract from the dishes balance.  If I had served it with the sherry and spices at work not only would I have lost my job for serving alcohol in the preschool but it wouldn't have been worth it, because none of the children would have eaten it.

Soy Braised Cabbage (also called red cooked cabbage)

3 Tbsp Extra Virgin Olive Oil
1 small cabbage, red or green, thinly sliced (about 8 cups)
1/2 cup water or broth
1/3 cup braggs liquid amino acids (or substitute soy sauce)
1 Tbsp Soy Sauce
2 Tbsp rice wine vinegar
1 Tbsp Dark Sesame Oil
freshly ground black pepper to taste

Heat the oil in a large pot over medium high heat.  Saute the cabbage in the oil until it is wilted and everything is coated in oil.  Add the remaining ingredients and stir well.  Cover the pot and lower the heat to a gentle simmer.  Cook for about 20 minutes, stirring occasionally.  When done the cabbage should be very tender and well flavored.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Potato Latkes

I prepared these potato latkes the night before Hanukah began because I wanted to have the time to post the recipe before Hanukkah was over.  When Sebastian asked what was for dinner he was overjoyed and curious.  "Why are you making latkes, Hanukkah doesn't start until tomorrow night."  When I told him I wanted to photograph the latkes for my blog he understood right away.  "Oh, that way your readers can make them for the holiday."  Maybe it is just me but I feel his logical thinking has recently improved.  For example the other night I was tucking him into bed while Lewis and Julian were at the ER.  Julian had swallowed a penny and then begun throwing up.  Sebastian looked at me, in that straight man way only a child can, and started to list off the reasons each of them have visited the ER.

"Julian ate a pebble when he was a baby, burnt himself on a pan of Brussels Sprouts and now he swallowed a penny.  Every time Julian has gone it has been for something he has done.  I went when I was dehydrated because I had gastroenteritis," (he really did say gastroenteritis, which just shows how often he has heard the story), and then there was the time I stepped on a piece of glass"  My favorite part is he was so matter of fact, and really it does tell you a lot about both of my children.

Like when they each decided they were walkers not crawlers.  They were both late walkers at right around 17 months.  However when Sebastian became a walker he had been practicing while holding our hands for so long that he could practically run.  I had read that new walkers can not turn corners or carry things while walking.  Sebastian could turn a corner while carrying anything he wanted.  Julian however just decided one day that he was done with crawling, even though he was completely unsteady and fell down as much as he walked.  But he had chosen and steadfastly walked (and fell) from then on without reverting to crawling.

For all their differences in how they approach the world they are also remarkably similar.  They may take a slightly different path to get there but they both think of inventive ways to possibly injure themselves.  Like the time I discovered them tying a rope around their waist so they could repel off the porch.  They also used to agree that latkes are yucky, until I started precooking the potatoes before shredding them.  Now they agree they are one of the best dinners.  Soft inside with a crispy outer crust.  As an added benefit for the cook there is no chance of the potatoes discoloring, so the batter can be made up in advance.  You also do not need to drain the shredded potatoes.

Potato Latkes
Before starting to cook these go and close any doors in your house.  Latkes are delicious but the lingering scent of latkes is best avoided.  After all the latkes are made you can help cleanse the air by boiling a large pot of water with fresh ginger or citrus slices in it.

2 1/4 lb. potatoes (I used Yukon Golds, you can substitute your favorite potato)
1 onion (mine was 6 oz.) grated on the second largest holes on a box grater
5 eggs
1 1/4 tsp salt
1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
2 Tbsp matzo meal or flour
Oil for frying, I used olive oil as the frying temperature should never be above olive oils smoke point

Scrub the potatoes and remove any eyes or blemishes.  Cut the potatoes to the size of the smallest potatoes and steam until not all the way tender but a knife can be inserted.  I steamed mine for about 13 minutes, the pieces were about 2 inches wide.  Remove from the heat, drain out the hot water and cover the potatoes with cold water.

Grate the potatoes on the second largest holes on a box grater.  Grate as much of the skin as you can by continually turning the potato to grate new skin.  Reserve any skin that does not grate and chop it all finely at the end.  Add the grated potatoes to the remaining ingredients except oil.

Preheat oven to 250° and place a rack on a sheet pan.  Heat 1/4 inch of oil in a large saute or frying pan to about 350°.  Scoop the batter out by tablespoons into the hot oil and flatten down some.  Fry until crisp and brown before flipping over and cooking the second side.  Once both sides are cooked transfer the cooked latkes to the prepared rack and place in the oven.  The oven will keep them warm and also crisps up the outside.

Serve with applesauce and sour cream or full fat greek yogurt