Sunday, December 19, 2010

Invention! Chocolate Almond Shortbread Bars.

This week Derek and I found ourselves with some extra almond filling. This is a common problem in our house. You know sometimes you make almond turnovers and then you have leftover filling. This filling should not go to waste.

On Friday night we split a bottle of Prosecco and invented a new dessert. The recipe sounds complicated and it was a lot of steps. It is worth it, in the end.

Chocolate Almond Shortbread Bars

Almond Filling
2/3 cup blanched slivered almonds
1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
7 tablespoons sugar
6 tablespoons (3/4 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 large egg
1/2 teaspoon almond extract

1. Grind almonds and flour into food processor until it is a fine powder. Add the sugar, butter, and almond extract. Blend this until it is smooth. Mix in the egg.

2. Transfer the almond mixture to a bowl and cover it. Chill this for 3 hours (it can be chilled for a couple of days).

10 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
1/4 cup powdered sugar
1 1/2 tablespoons sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

1. Preheat the oven to 300 degrees Fahrenheit.

2. In a mixer, beat the butter, powdered sugar, sugar, and salt until they are fluffy. This will take a minute.

3. Sift flour over the butter mixture while stirring.

4. Lightly knead until blended and smooth. If the dough is too dry to hold together add a few drops of water, do not add too much water. Firmly press the dough evenly into 9 by 9 inch pan. Prick the pan with a fork all over.

5. Bake the shortbread for about 25 minutes. Take out the shortbread and spread the almond filling onto shortbread. Bake this for 20 minutes more. Take out the bars and let them cool.

Chocolate Topping
6 to 8 ounces Bittersweet Chocolate
1 Tablespoon Butter

1. Heat up the chocolate in a double boiler. When it has started to melt add the butter. After it has all melted, pour this on the bars.

2. Use a spatula to spread the chocolate over the bars. Let this cool until the chocolate has hardened.

These are truly amazing. Worth the three step process. Try me.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Vegetarians Avert Your Eyes...

Really, this might be the post to skip if you don't eat meat. In fact, I think you should just read my post about Arugula Pecan Pesto. Scroll down quickly too.

We love bacon in this house. Every Saturday morning we religiously make bacon and eggs with toast, my week would not be complete without this meal. At some point in my obsessions with food, I always try to recreate my favored item from scratch (this can be disastrous and has resulted in many failed candy experiments). Recently, we have made our own bacon with great success! I will document the whole process below.

Warning! The gross out factor is a little high here...

Homemade Bacon
modified from Charcuterie by Michael Ruhlman and Brian Polcyn

1. Obtain a pork belly. This was not difficult for us in Chapel Hill, pork belly is for sale at our farmers market in Carrboro or at our local butcher.

2. This is the gross step. Remove skin from pork belly, if it is present. I made Derek do this. You could wait to do this later, but the skin grossed me out. *

Note bag of skin in photo

There is no easy way to remove the skin. It is gross and time consuming, but I promise it will be worth it. The answer is to buy pork belly with no skin. It is available like this, but we did not know to ask.

Derek removing skin.

3. Make dry cure. Ingredients: 1/2 cup Kosher salt, 1/4 cup sugar, 1 tablespoon pink curing salt.

Pink curing salt is obtained from specialty stores, it is also known as nitrite salt and it prevents the botulism, makes the meat a nice color, changes the flavor, etc. It is also toxic in large quantities. Life lesson = use for curing, not for the table.

4. Add about 1/4 to 1/2 cup of the salt to a tray of some kind with a couple of tablespoons crushed black peppercorns and about 1/4 cup of dark brown sugar. Stir.

5. Wash and pat the belly dry. Coat in salt mixture, shake of excess. Place the belly in a plastic bag and get as much air out as you can.

Yummy dry cure

6. Put the pork in the fridge and let it cure sitting flat for about 7 days, flipping it every other day to redistribute the juices.

7. After 7 days if the thickest part of the belly feels firm it is cured. If it is still feeling squishy keep it refrigerated for another day or two.

8. Rinse the belly thoroughly and pat dry with paper towels. Curing liquid should be discarded.

9. Preheat oven to 200 degrees (Fahrenheit).

10. In a roasting pan, roast belly until it reaches an internal temperature of 150 degrees (F), this will take a couple of hours, maybe longer. This will now smell delicious and look like bacon. You could also remove the skin here while it is hot (and probably easier to remove). I was not willing to wait this long, because it weirded me out to have pig nipples curing in my fridge (yup, I said nipples).

11. Allow bacon to cool to room temperature, when it is cool, wrap, refrigerate and enjoy at your leisure. It will keep for about a week like this, but you can freeze it to make it last longer. Remember when you cook homemade bacon, it is really best cooked at low temperatures for a longer time period. It will still get crispy, but it needs longer and lower...

Homemade bacon on Saturday morning

*Derek asked me, "So you are willing to eat meat, but you don't want to think about it belonging to an animal?"

I replied "I know it belonged to a pig, I just don't want to see nipples hanging out in my fridge. It is weird."

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Boat Captain

Captain Me (supervised by Lee)

Last weekend our dear friends Rachel and Lee sailed into my 'hood and we drove out to the coast to say hey. Rachel and I were in graduate school together in Denver. When I finished, I came out to North Carolina to drive around and dig stuff up. Rachel and Lee moved onto a sailboat. She blogs about her life on the sea and it is a pretty grand adventure.

On their way down south to the Carribean (because who would stay up north in the winter if they lived on a boat?), they stopped by me. We drove out to water to meet them and they took us sailing. We brought lunch out to the boat and sat in the galley (I love nautical words) to share some Weaver Street Market olive bread, sourdough bread, a nice aged gouda, and a Giacomo's Italian Market salami sampler. This lunch also made me happy. Nothing like a quick lunch of bread, cheese, and freshly made salami to give a person the energy to go out and sail a boat around.

The boat was particularly exciting, because I learned that day that I love sailing! They even let me drive the boat. I got to stand behind the wheel, widen my stance, put one hand on my hip and say things like "turn up" and "tighten the hatches" (by the way, I am making this all up. I said none of these things). When we were going upwind the boat was tilting very dramatically. I thought we were going to roll over. But Rachel and Lee did not let me crash their house. Apparently, it is supposed to tilt like that, something about keels. I am now going by Captain Sarah, or just Captain for short.
Note Lee making sure I did not tip the boat over.

Then we drove back to Carrboro and made a feast for weary sailors.

Pan Fried Flounder

1/4 cup flour
cajun seasoning
1 whole flounder, filleted
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon unsalted butter

1. Heat a large heavy frying pan with olive oil and butter at medium high heat.

2. Mix flour with cajun seasoning, salt, and pepper (seasonings to taste).

3. Rinse flounder fillets and pat them dry with paper towels. Dredge the fillets in the seasoned flour, shake off excess flour.

4. Place fillets in the frying pan skin side up for about 4 or 5 minutes, flip and pan fry other side for an additional 4 minutes.

5. Serve the fillets with lemon wedges.

Rotini with Pecan-Arugula Pesto
(modified slightly from A Year in a Vegetarian Kitchen by Jack Bishop)
3/4 cup pecans
1 1/2 cups packed arugula (stemmed)
2 cloves garlic, peeled
1/3 cup good tasting extra virgin olive oil
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesean Cheese (and more for topping)
1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1 pound rotini

1. Heat a heavy frying pan on medium heat. Toast the pecans on medium heat until they start to get aromatic, then remove them from the heat and allow them to cool completely.

2. In a food processor, pulse the garlic cloves several times. Then add the arugula and pecans and pulse further until the leaves start to break up. While the food processor is running, add the olive oil slowly. Pulse in the grated parmesean cheese.

3. Scrape the pesto into a large bowl. Grate the nutmeg into the bowl and add salt to taste (this needs to be generous because it has to season the entire pound of pasta.

4. Meanwhile, bowl a large pot of water. Add the rotini pasta and bowl for about 7 or 8 minutes, you want the pasta to be cooked al dente. Drain pasta, reserve 1/2 cup of pasta water.

5. Add some of the pasta water to the large bowl, stir together the two until it has a saucy texture. Stir pasta into the sauce. Add more pasta water, if it is needed to help distribute the sauce.

6. Eat.

This feast was wonderful! Sorry for the lack of food photos. Bad blogger, bad...