Of Mousse and Men

I’ve recently started teaching part-time at my old high school to supplement the ever unpredictable life of a freelance writer. It’s very surreal walking the same hallways without my beloved green plaid kilt and trusty backpack, calling former teachers by their first names, and giving the same speeches to my own students that I used to hear seven years ago.

There were definitely high school classes that were not my strongpoint. Math was a disaster, and science was a constant struggle. While my freakishly smart classmates excelled, I had no clue what was going on 95% of the time. But like John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men, often “quality over quantity” rings true. Steinbeck’s perhaps most well-known work was a novella, rather than a full-length book. Its brevity didn’t matter, because the content was what made an impression on people. As with any novel, there are many parts that fall away in one’s memory, and only the truly fascinating parts that make a lasting impact.

When I used to look back on my two years of high school chemistry, I was convinced that the beautiful science was lost on me because as a whole, the courses were overwhelming,  the concepts were huge, and the AP exams were ultimately a disaster for me. But when I think to the individual things that peaked my interest, I realize that chemistry was probably one of the more significant classes in my high school career. Perhaps it was learning how heat reacts with different fats in a cut of beef. Or maybe it’s learning that gelatin can make flavorful beads of any liquid. But I owe my chemistry teachers a big thank you, for the bits of information that have lasted the test of time, and even shaped who I am as a chef.

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Chocolate Mousse:

8 oz. dark chocolate

2 tsp. cinnamon

1/2 tsp. salt

3 egg whites

1/2 cup sugar

1 cup heavy cream

Instruction:

1. Over double boiler, melt chocolate, cinnamon, and salt.

2. Whip whipped cream in Kitchen Aid until soft peaks begin to form. Fold into melted chocolate mixture.

3. Begin whisking egg whites in Kitchen Aid. Meanwhile, heat sugar to 120 degrees (use instant thermometer). When sugar reaches temperature, begin pouring into egg whites as they are being whisked. Increase speed to medium and whip until stiff, glossy peaks form.

4. Lightly fold whipped chocolate cream mixture into egg whites. Transfer to piping bag and pipe into ramekins. Chill in refrigerator for at least three hours.

Limoncello caviar:

1 cup limoncello

1/2 oz. gelatin powder

1/2 cup vegetable oil

Instruction:

1. Put vegetable oil in freezer for about twenty minutes. Remove right before you are ready to make the beads.

2. Bring limoncello and gelatin powder just to a boil (allow powder to dissolve) and turn off heat. Using an eye dropper, squeeze drops of the liquid onto the frozen oil. Beads will form and begin to sink to the bottom.

3. Allow beads to sit for several minutes as they continue to sink. GENTLY use a strainer to discard the oil, and place strainer on top of a paper towel to soak up the rest of the oil surrounding the beads.

Whipped Cream:

1/2 cup whipping cream

2 tbsp sugar

Instruction:

1. Begin whipping cream on low speed. Increase to medium speed and gradually begin to add sugar. When stiff peaks form, transfer to piping bag to garnish mousse.

Enjoy chocolate mousse and limoncello caviar with John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men, and check in at http://warandpeach.com for future recipes and book reviews!

Never Let Mango

When I was growing up, it was always considered a special occasion to go over to my cousins’ house. And while sure, it was nice to spend time with family, that’s not the real reason I looked forward to it. No, the second we arrived I would dash upstairs into the furthest bedroom down the hallway and prepare for a night of video games.

My parents were big believers that video games were antisocial and addictive, and as a result – we never had them in the house growing up. Like the three protagonists in Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go, being sheltered from the unknown only peaked my curiosity even further. And what my parents didn’t realize is that gaming is anything BUT isolating – in fact, many games have formed thriving and long-lasting communities.

Super Smash Bros. Melee has an absolutely flourishing community whose dedication to the game makes it an art form. The personas they take on are the varied ingredients that make for a most impressive product. Like a smooth simple syrup, Princess Peach fights sweetly and delicately. Like fresh mint leaves, Marth is cool, subtle, but most of all strong. And Falco is like a generous splash of vodka – a bit unpredictable, but proven to be timeless!

The greatest Melee players have even made a career out of their commitment to a game they love. And so, I’d like to dedicate this post to the Smash Community, and this mango mojito smoothie to Joseph “MaNg0” Marquez. Thank you all for proving to my mom and dad that video games are a good thing. And perhaps since I’m at an age old enough to spike my smoothies with vodka, I can also disobey my parents and break the longtime ban!

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Mango mojito smoothie:

1 cup vodka

2 fresh mangos

1/4 cup sugar

1/2 cup water

1/2 cup fresh mint

2 cups ice

Instruction:

1. To make a simple syrup, bring sugar and water to a boil in a small saucepan. As soon as sugar has dissolved into water, turn off heat and add fresh mint leaves. Allow mint leaves to steep for at least five minutes.

2. Peel mango and cut away from pit. Add mango flesh to blender, and puree until completely smooth. Using strainer, add simple syrup and puree again. Add vodka and ice, and puree until smooth.

3. Optionally using strainer to eliminate any lingering bits of mango, transfer blender contents to your desired glass. Add a sprig of mint and a festive straw to serve.

Enjoy a mango mojito smoothie with Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go and Super Smash Bros. Melee, and check in at http://warandpeach.com soon!

A Midsummer Night’s Bream

Over the weekend, I took a quick jaunt over to London for the Rugby World Cup. Edward got these tickets almost a year ago, but with my new job back in the States, I could only take one day off. The result was a 48-hour haze of joyful reunions, fierce England sporting patriotism, and – unfortunately – a steady battle against jet lag. Like the mortals who wander through hill and dale in William Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, most of the time I had no idea whether I was awake or dreaming. But there are some things in life that zing you awake – perhaps it’s the limey acidity and sharp red onion in a ceviche nacho dish; perhaps it’s an elixir from cheeky Puck in the forest; or perhaps it’s the feeling of being surrounded by 80,000 people singing “God Save the Queen” in support of England’s rugby team (who, incidentally, beat Fiji!).

 

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Ceviche Nachos:

1/2 pound white fish (sea bream, sole, tilapia, halibut)

1 cup fresh lime juice

1/2 cup black beans, drained and rinsed

1 red pepper

1/2 red onion

Zest of three limes

2 tsp chopped parsley (or a fresh herb of your choice)

Salt and pepper

1/2 cup shredded cheese of your choosing (I used a Mexican mix)

Four heft handfuls of tortilla chips

Instruction:

1. Cut fish into quarter-inch cubes. Pour lime juice until just covering fish, then cover with cling film and refrigerate for 20 minutes. The fish should be opaque.

2. In the meantime, dice pepper and onion. Toss together with black beans, lime zest, parsley, salt, and pepper. When fish is finished chilling, gently drain lime juice and add fish to the pepper and onion mixture.

3. Arrange tortilla chips on a plate, sprinkle with cheese, and microwave for about 40 seconds (cheese should be melted and bubbling). Serve immediately with ceviche.

Enjoy ceviche nachos with William Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and check in at http://warandpeach.com for future recipes and book reviews!

Grimm’s Dairy Tales

This week I’ve been working on a freelance piece about avoiding surface cracks in cheesecakes. Blessedly, the life of a food writer requires testing subject matter at home. And while this prospect seemed very appealing at the start, heaps of batter and billions of calories later have left me feeling a bit worse off than when I started. This same fate befalls anyone who reads “Grimm’s Fairy Tales.” Those who are looking for a breezy encounter (as these tales are portrayed in Disney films) end up feeling very weighed down.

Like the tales of these Brothers Grimm, cheesecake – despite its unfailing heaviness – has endured the test of time. But by portioning into these individual ramekins, you will serve up something closer to the Disney versions – sweet, light, and always a happy ending.

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(Pumpkin Cheesecake Terrines)

Crust:

3 ounces chocolate graham crackers

4 tbsp. salted butter, melted

Instruction:

1. Pulse graham crackers in food processor until fine crumbs. Remove blade and add melted butter, mixing until mixture has “wet sand” consistency.

2. Pack even amount of mixture into ramekins, pressing down with fingers to make an even and compact layer.

3. Bake at 325 degrees for 15 minutes. Remove and let cool.

Cheesecake filling:

12 oz. cream cheese

3/4 cup canned pumpkin puree

1/4 cup sugar

Pinch of salt

2 whole eggs and 1 additional yolk

1/2 tsp vanilla extract

1/2 cup heavy cream

Instruction:

*Note: All ingredients should be brought to room temperature before beginning!

1. In standing mixer, beat cream cheese, gradually adding in sugar. Add pumpkin, vanilla, and salt, and eggs (all gradually, and at medium-low speed). Finally, add heavy cream and beat until mixture is completely smooth. (You may need to scrape the sides and bottom of the bowl with a silicon spatula.)

2. Pour mixture evenly into ramekins with cooled crust. Create water bath by placing ramekins in roasting pan and pouring boiling water halfway up the sides.

3. Bake for about 45 minutes at 325 degrees – centers should still wobble slightly. Pull out of the oven and leave in water bath on stovetop for about 45 minutes. Transfer to wire rack and cool for another 45 minutes. Finally, transfer ramekins to refrigerator to chill for about two hours. (At this point, you can optionally add your mousse layer – see below.)

(Optional)

Bailey’s cream cheese mousse:

8 oz. cream cheese

1/2 cup canned pumpkin puree

1/4 cup sugar

Pinch of salt

1/2 packet gelatin

1/4 cup water

1/4 Bailey’s

Instruction:

1. Whisk together sugar, salt, and gelatin. Bring water and Bailey’s to a boil and pour immediately over dry ingredients, whisking until dissolved.

2. In standing mixer, beat cream cheese and pumpkin puree. Until smooth. Gradually add gelatin mixture in on medium-low speed. Pour over cheesecake right before the refrigeration phase. Chill cheesecake ramekins for several hours, allowing gelatin to solidify.

Enjoy individual pumpkin cheesecakes with Grimm’s Fairy Tales, and check in at http://warandpeach.com for future recipes and book reviews!

Char-Latte’s Web

When I was a child, my family owned the VHS of The Sound of Music. It’s such a long film that it was separated onto two tapes, the first of which conveniently ending with Maria and Captain Von Trapp’s wedding. My parents never put the second tape on, so until embarrassingly recently I had no idea the second half was filled with close escapes from the Nazis.

I don’t like sad endings or moments of distress in stories. Though E.B. White’s Charlotte’s Web is filled with pleasant farm animals and adorable friendships, there looms the theme of death and loss. But I understand the importance that there can be beauty in seemingly heavy things. The passing of Fern’s dear spider friend also reminded the young girl of the wisdom and joy Charlotte brought to her life. It is the same semi-sweet darkness that adds such richness to this summer drink (this time, in chocolate form).

There are some realities of being an adult that are necessary to accept. One is that sometimes we lose dear friends in the stories we read. Another is that we sometimes need to run through the Alps with our seven children while also singing in perfect harmony. And finally, one of the more pleasant realities to accept as an adult is that Bailey’s can really transform a coffee smoothie from good to great.

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Smoothie:

 

1 cup strong coffee, ideally cooled to room temperature

1/2 cup Bailey’s (or other irish cream)

3 scoops mint chocolate chip ice cream

2 tbsp chocolate syrup

1 cup ice

 Instruction:

1. Just blend it all together!

Enjoy a Bailey’s mint mocha smoothie with E.B. White’s Charlotte’s Web, and check in at http://warandpeach.com for future recipes and book reviews!

Ladle Women

My father and uncles have a summer garden at my Grammie’s house. Rows of eggplants, jalapeños, zucchinis, cherry and plum tomatoes are poking out of every corner of the little plot of land. It’s an exploding tangle and a bit hard to tame.

However, sometimes the things that appear wildest can be the most beautiful. As Jo March, the most dynamic sister in Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women, demonstrated, a sprawling landscape can also mean endless possibility and direction. The overflowing tomatoes in the Grammie garden are wonderfully flavorful and have so much complex depth.

Take this colorful soup, for instance. Like adventurous Jo, this dish breaks boundaries. Crossing the seasonal expectation of autumnal and wintry soups, the garden fresh flavors keep this soup light and summery. The hearty tomatoes, bright basil, and tangy goat cheese garnish take something seemingly overwhelming like an untamed garden and turn it into an absolutely delightful experience.

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Roasted Tomato Basil Soup:

8 ripe tomatoes

1/2 onion

5 garlic cloves

2 cups chicken stock

1 tbsp dried oregano

2 tbsp dried basil

1/2 cup fresh basil

2 tbsp olive oil

Salt and pepper to taste

Instruction:

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Core tomatoes and slice in half. Toss in olive oil, dried oregano, dried basil, salt and pepper. (Leave a bit of the herbs, spices, and oil to the side.) Spread in baking dish.

2. Make a small tin foil pouch. Toss garlic cloves and remaining herbs, spices, and oil together; seal in the pouch and tuck in a corner of the baking dish. Roast tomatoes and garlic for about an hour.

3. When tomatoes and garlic are finished roasting, set aside to cool a bit. In the meantime, in a large pot sauté onion in olive oil and a bit of salt until softened.

4. Add tomato, garlic, and all of the liquid, herbs, and spices from the baking dish. Add chicken stock and bring contents of pot to a boil. Reduce to simmer and let cook uncovered for about fifteen minutes.

5. Turn off heat, and ladle the solids out of the pot into blender. (Save liquid, as consistency of puree will vary.) Add liquid as necessary – the soup should be moderately thick.

6. Strain through a sieve for an extremely silky texture.

Whipped Goat Cheese:

150 g goat cheese, room temperature

1/8 fresh basil, chopped finely

1/2 tsp salt

Instruction:

1. Using an electric beater, whip goat cheese, basil, and salt for about 30 seconds, until creamy and combined.

2. Use a cookie scoop to dollop goat cheese onto each bowl of soup. Garnish with fresh basil.

Enjoy roasted tomato basil soup and herbed goat cheese with Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women, and check in at http://warandpeach.com for future recipes and book reviews!

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkebabs

I always associate the Harry Potter books with late summertime. My family proudly likes to claim that we were the first people in the USA to “discover” the beloved series, and I have vivid memories of my mother reading the first two books to me on hot nights in the only air-conditioned room in my childhood home.

However, my mom gave up on the series after book #2, claiming that “the weird weasel-y character” (Dobby) freaked her out. If she only could’ve continued on to the third, my favorite of the series.

As the summer quickly draws to a close, these chicken satay skewers are the perfect complement to a hot evening outdoors. Like Harry Potter’s beloved godfather, Sirius Black, the peanut sauce seems spicy and potentially dangerous, but after several bites the smooth, silky, sweetness takes over and wins all hearts.

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Grilled Chicken Satay:

4 chicken breasts, cut into 1-inch cubes

Marinade:

Pineapple yogurt (or plain if you prefer)

1/2 cup olive oil

Zest and juice of 3 limes

Plenty of salt and pepper

Instruction:

1. Whisk all marinade ingredients together. Coat cubed chicken in marinade, cover with cling film, and refrigerate for several hours (at least 2).

Peanut sauce:

1/2 cup peanut butter

1/4 cup brown sugar

3 tbsp soy sauce

Zest and juice of 3 limes

1/4 cup boiling water

1 garlic clove

2 shakes red pepper flakes

2 shakes chipotle powder

Salt and pepper

Optional: scallions to garnish

Instruction:

1. Combine all ingredients in blender (adding hot water last). Blend until smooth.

*If sauce is too thin (depending on juiciness of limes), transfer to saucepan and simmer until thickened to syrupy consistency.

2. (Optionally) top with chopped scallions.

Assembly:

1. Soak skewers for at least an hour in water. Then skewer four or five chicken cubes, allowing excess marinade to drip off.

2. Place skewers on grill set to medium-high and lightly coated with cooking spray. Cook on one side for about 5 minutes, then flip and cook other side for 4 minutes. (This will vary depending on strength of grill and size of chicken cubes!) Serve with spicy peanut sauce.

Enjoy chicken satay kebabs with J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, and check in at http://warandpeach.com for future recipes and book reviews!

The Shrimportance of Being Earnest

This week I said (a hopefully temporary) goodbye to London and moved back to my hometown of Bryn Mawr. Like Jack Worthing in The Importance of Being Earnest, I have come to regard London as a place where I can be someone else – someone more adventurous, more active, more exotic, even. (Suddenly having an American accent makes me of much more interest!) However, as this summer recipe proves by crossing the boundaries of hamburgers and fish cakes, it is indeed possible to incorporate two seemingly different ideas into something uniquely beautiful. I will keep this in mind as I try to retain aspects of my London life (with hopefully less farcical results than Oscar Wilde’s characters).

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Citrus Shrimp Burgers:

1 pound shrimp, peeled and deveined

1/4 cup breadcrumbs

1/2 cup mayonnaise

5-6 scallions, sliced thinly

1 lemon (both zest and juice)

1 lime (both zest and juice)

Pinch of cayenne pepper

1/2 teaspoon salt

¼ teaspoon pepper

1 tbsp olive oil

4 ciabatta rolls

4 leaves romaine lettuce

Instruction:

1. In food processor, pulse shrimp about 10 times (until a chunky paste consistency).

2. In medium-sized bowl, combine breadcrumbs, mayonnaise, scallions, lemon zest, lime zest, cayenne, salt, and pepper. Fold in pulsed shrimp until just combined. (Do not overwork the shrimp; otherwise it will become tough.)

3. Form four patties and refrigerate for at least twenty minutes.

4. While patties are chilling, slice ciabatta rolls in half using serrated knife. Drizzle with olive oil, then toast at 350 degrees for ten minutes.

5. Heat olive oil in sauté pan over medium-high heat. Brown patties for about two minutes on each side. Transfer to oven and cook for another ten minutes.

6. Combine mayonnaise, lemon juice, lime juice, and a dash of salt and pepper. Spread mayo mixture on both sides of ciabatta. Add a leaf of lettuce and shrimp burger. Serve with a fresh summer salad.

Enjoy shrimp burgers with Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest, and check in at http://warandpeach.com for future recipes and book reviews!

The Bun Also Rises

I am currently fulfilling a lifelong dream: being – and living – in London during Wimbledon. Though I love watching all of the big tennis tournaments, the traditions surrounding this particular one take it to a heightened, magical level. The all-whites rule is one that I believe should extend beyond the tennis courts. (Wouldn’t we all get along so much better in immaculate, dazzling apparel?) The strawberries and champagne diet should apply all year round. But ‘Breakfast at Wimbledon,’ the time in which the nation wakes up to a cup of tea and a quick gab about the day to come, is the best part of all.

Such morning gossips are made extra sweet by a plate full of cinnamon buns. But often times one is deterred from making them, because any yeast-based product requires so much patience. As the young protagonists in Ernest Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises demonstrate, waiting often seems impossible. Just as the sun will always return after a dark night, yeast will always activate if left overnight. But sometimes a catalyst is necessary to speed up the plot. For Jake Barnes, that was a few drinks at a bullfight. For these cinnamon buns, it is the combination of yeast and baking powder. You’ll be finished in plenty of time for the first match on Centre Court!

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Glaze:

3 tbsp buttermilk

3 tbsp cream cheese

1 tsp vanilla extract

2 tablespoon melted butter

1 1/2 cups icing sugar (or enough for glaze consistency)

1/4 teaspoon salt

Filling:

3 teaspoons cinnamon

1/4 cup brown sugar

2 tablespoons melted butter

Pinch of salt

Dough:

6 oz all-purpose flour

1 1/4 teaspoon baking powder

1/4 teaspoon salt

2 teaspoons yeast

1/8 cup plus 1/2 cup semi-skimmed milk

1 tablespoon sugar

3 tbsp unsalted butter

1 tsp vanilla extract

Instruction:

1. Heat 1/8 cup milk to barely a simmer. Take off heat, whisk with yeast. When yeast is dissolved, let sit for five minutes (letting mixture become frothy).

2. Sift flour, baking powder, sugar, and salt in medium bowl. Add rest of milk, yeast mixture, vanilla extract, and butter to form dough. Knead dough on a floured surface until a smooth ball is formed. (If dough is too sticky, add flour several tablespoons at a time.) Let dough rise in a greased bowl covered with a tea towel.

3. While dough is rising, combine cinnamon, brown sugar, and salt. Pour melted butter over the mix to create a paste.

4. Roll dough into a 6×9 (approximately) rectangle. Spread filling evenly, leaving a half inch border. Roll (beginning with the shorter length) into a tight cylinder. Pinch at the seam. Cut into six even rolls and place in greased muffin tin. Cover with tea towel and let rise for at least half an hour.

5. Bake buns in a 350 degree oven for 10-12 minutes (until golden brown). While the buns are baking, whisk together cream cheese, buttermilk, vanilla extract, (all at room temperature) and salt. Add icing sugar in batches, whisking until smooth. When glaze consistency is reached, finish with melted butter.

6. Allow buns to cool for five minutes. Drizzle with glaze.

Enjoy cinnamon buns with buttermilk glaze with Ernest Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises, and check in at http://warandpeach.com for future recipes and book reviews!

20,000 Leeks Under the Sea

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As brunch grows in popularity, particularly amongst twenty-somethings in big cities, booking a table becomes increasingly difficult. Reservations fill up sometimes weeks in advance, leaving many hungry and housebound on late Saturday mornings. But with very few flavors, our generation’s favorite mealtime can be easily recreated at home. Instead of organizing each guest’s individual order and trying to coordinate an assembly line in a cramped kitchen, why not make a one-stop spread in advance that packs all the flavors of brunch into one bowl.

This dip makes smoked salmon more accessible than ever. Each creamy, citrusy bite is carried by the luscious fish flavor. Like Captain Nemo in Twenty-Thousand Leagues Under the Sea, you can freely explore the wonders of the sea in an up close and personal way. When you wow your friends with this easy bagel brunch, they’ll want to reserve a place in your apartment months ahead of time!

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Leek and smoked salmon spread:

3/4 cup cream cheese (room temperature)

1/2 cup sour cream

3 leeks

(Juice of) 1 lemon

~4oz. smoked salmon, in bite-sized slices

Salt and pepper

Dash of olive oil (for pan)

6 bagels

Chives to garnish

1. Chop leeks, then sauté in olive oil over medium heat until softened (about 5 minutes).

2. In food processor combine cream cheese, sour cream, lemon juice, leeks, and a bit of salt and pepper. Transfer to bowl, and fold in smoked salmon. Season further to taste. Refrigerate for at least half hour, then spread on toasted bagels. Garnish with chives.

Enjoy leek and smoked salmon bagel spread with Jules Verne’s 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, and check in at http://warandpeach.com for future recipes and book reviews!