Chocolate Mousse

September 30, 2012

For those who have never made chocolate mousse, here’s the secret: it’s one of the easiest and quickest desserts to make. Easier than ice cream, brownies or even cookies. People just assume it’s difficult; perhaps because of the double-boiler. My old recipe for making Chocolate Mousse always received lots of compliments, but after trying Chris Kimball’s I see that his is more chocolatey, lighter and more complex. The extra-chocolatey flavor comes from cocoa powder. The extra lightness comes from using both egg whites and heavy cream to incorporate air bubbles, whereas most mousse only uses one or the other. This recipe also breaks the golden rule of melting chocolate; never allow even a drop of water to come in contact with chocolate. Here I add 5 tablespoons of water. The results are 4-1/2 stars.

About 15 minutes of work

Comments:

  1. This recipe uses dark chocolate containing 60% cacao. Chris Kimball has another recipe for 70% cacao, which adds an extra 2 tablespoons of sugar, 2 tablespoons more water, and an extra egg.
  2. Sometimes I used Trader Joes’s dark chocolate, which contains 54% cacao, in which case I cut the water down to 4 tablespoons.

Rating: 4-1/2 stars.
Cost: $4,40
How much work? Low.
How big of a mess?  Medium.
Start time: 3:00. Dessert time: 6:00

Chris Kimball’s original recipe is here. The descriptions of how I prepared it today are given below:

8 ounces bittersweet chocolate
2 tablespoons cocoa powder
1 teaspoon instant espresso powder
5 tablespoons water
1 tablespoon brandy
2 large eggs, separated
1 tablespoon sugar
1/8 teaspoon table salt
1 cup + 2 tablespoons heavy cream

  1. Put the heavy cream into the freezer while the chocolate melts. Put a heatproof bowl over a saucepan of barely simmering water to create a double boiler. Either chop the chocolate finely (for faster melting) or break into small pieces.
  2. Melt chocolate in the double-boiler. When the chocolate is almost melted stir in the cocoa powder, espresso powder, water, and brandy. When the mixture becomes smooth remove the bowl from the heat.
  3. Separate the eggs; adding the whites to a mixing bowl and the yolks to the chocolate mixture.
  4. Add 1-1/2 teaspoons sugar, and salt to chocolate and yolks, and whisk until combined. Allow to cool for 15 minutes until just warmer than room temperature.
  5. Whisk eggs whites to soft peaks, adding another 1-1/2 teaspoons sugar half-way during mixing.
  6. Temper the chocolate by adding 1/4 of the egg whites, using a whisk to combine. Then use a rubber spatula to fold in the remaining egg whites. Stop folding them there are just a few white streaks.
  7. Now beat the heavy cream until it reaches soft peak. Again, use a rubber spatula to fold in the whipped cream. Stop folding them there are no more white streaks.
  8. Spoon into individual serving bowls. Sprinkle with chocolate shavings, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate for at least 2 hours.

Avocado Salad with Tomato and Radish

September 23, 2012

I love avocado, but usually only eat it with Mexican meals. In fact, this was the first avocado salad that I’ve made. The salad itself was easy to prepare, but it took a lot of effort shopping for the ingredients. After looking in 3 supermarkets, I eventually gave up on the ricotta salata. Had I been willing to make he 20 mile round-trip, I probably could have found. The salad was a little milder than I expected, but still generally well-balanced. 4-stars.

Delicious and easy to make; made for light dinner

Comments:

  1. I waited for the shallots to soak before cutting the avocado, cherry tomatoes and radishes. To save time you can begin your slicing and chopping about 10 minutes after you start soaking the shallots.
  2. Ricotta salata is very difficult to find. Perhaps the recipe should have been written using crumbled feta cheese.

Rating: 4-stars.
Cost: $14
How much work? Medium.
How big of a mess?  Medium.
Start time: 5:00. Dinner time: 5:45

Chris Kimball’s original recipe is here. The descriptions of how I prepared it today are given below:

1 large shallot
3 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1 garlic clove
1/2 teaspoon mayonnaise
Salt and pepper
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
3 avocados
12-oz cherry tomatoes
3 radishes
1/2 cup chopped fresh basil
3 ounces ricotta salata, shaved thin (or substitute Crumbled feta cheese)

  1. Slice the shallot thinly and place in 2 cups of ice water. Allow to chill for 30 minutes, then drain and to blot them dry using paper towels.
  2. Press garlic clove into a small glass bowl, and add red wine vinegar, 1/2 teaspoon mayonnaise, 1/4 teaspoon table salt, 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper.
  3. Whisk until turns milky and there are no remaining lumps. Slowly drizzle oil into bowl, whisking constantly. You should not have pools of oil.
  4. Cut avocados in half, remove the pit, and cut into 3/4″ dice. Put in medium bowl with 2 tablespoons of dressing and sprinkle with 1/2 teaspoon table salt. Carefully toss until avocado is lightly covered with dressing. Empty onto serving platter.
  5. Cut the cherry tomatoes into quarters, and thinly slice the radishes. Chop the basil so that it yields 1/2 cup.
  6. Add sliced and dried shallot, quartered tomatoes, sliced radishes and the rest of the dressing to the same medium bowl from step 4. Toss to coat and spread over avocados, and serve.

Meatier Meatloaf

September 15, 2012

After an exhausting summer, I finally have time to start cooking again, but unfortunately the current issue of Cook’s Illustrated doesn’t seem so interesting. The best remaining main course is “meatier meatloaf”. In the past I have made this All-Beef Meatloaf, and was very happy with the results. Today’s recipe uses the same unflavored gelatin to bind the loaf together.  This recipe skips the celery in favor of mushrooms, uses bread instead of saltines, and skips the cheese altogether. Today I used only ground beef and pork; skipping the “meekly-flavored” veal. Adding unflavored gelatin does the same thing that veal would. My youngest son loved it, and ate 5 slices. I give this recipe 4-stars; fewer ingredients than Chris Kimball’s other meatloaf, but equally good. In the end I never consider meatloaf to be great.

Beef and Pork meatloaf ready in about 2 hours.

Comments:

  1. I usually buy ground beef in “Family Packs”, because that it what goes on sale and another reason that I find the All-Beef version so convenient. But my supermarket only sells ground pork in 1-lb packages, so as long as I can use the extra few pounds of beef from the family pack for some other recipe there should be no waste.
  2. The glaze between the two meatloaves is identical.

Rating: 4-stars.
Cost: $10
How much work? Medium.
How big of a mess?  Medium.
Start time: 4:30. Dinner time: 6:30

Chris Kimball’s original recipe is here. The descriptions of how I prepared it today are given below:

Meatloaf Ingredients:
2 tablespoons butter
1 onion
6 ounces white mushrooms
1 tablespoon tomato paste
Almost 3/4 cup chicken broth (3 tablespoons plus 1/2 cup)
2 garlic cloves
2 large eggs
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1 tablespoon unflavored gelatin
1/2 slice hearty white sandwich bread
1/3 cup minced fresh parsley
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
3/4 teaspoon pepper
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
1 pound ground pork
1 pound 85% lean ground beef

Glaze Ingredients:
1/2 cup ketchup
1/4 cup cider vinegar
3 tablespoons packed brown sugar
1 teaspoon Tabasco sauce
1/2 teaspoon ground coriander

  1. Set an oven rack to the middle of your oven and pre-heat to 350-degrees. Fold some heavy-duty aluminium foil into a 9″ by 5″ rectangle. Put it in the center of a wire rack and use a paring knife to poke about 1/2″ apart. Set rack in a rimmed baking sheet lined with foil (for easy cleanup). Use a little non-spick cooking spray on the foil.
  2. Chop the onion into fine pieces. Trim the mushrooms and slice them thinly.
  3. Put at 12″ skillet over medium burner and melt butter until the foaming begins to subside. Saute onions and mushrooms for 12 minutes until they begin to brown. Add in tomato paste and continue cooking for 3 more minutes; stir constantly.
  4. Turn down burner to low, and use a garlic press adding garlic directly into the pan. Use 3 tablespoons of chicken broth to deglaze the pan. Cook for about 1 minutes then empty into a large bowl.
  5. Add 1/2-cup chicken broth, eggs and soy sauce to a small bowl. Whisk to combine, then sprinkle with unflavored gelatin and allow it to soften for 5 minutes.
  6. Meanwhile, mince the parsley.
  7. Tear the bread into 1″ pieces and add to food processor. Pulse between 5 to 10 times. Add gelatin/egg mixture, onion/mushrooms, minced parsley, Dijon, pepper and dried thyme into food processor. Pulse 10 more times until everything becomes finely ground. Empty into your large bowl (the one in which the onions cooled).
  8. Add ground beef and ground pork to bowl. Combine thoroughly using your hands, then form into a 9″ by 5″ rectangle on the prepared foil.
  9. Bake for about 80 minutes until the internal temperature of the meat loaf reaches 160-degrees. Remove from oven and pre-heat your broiler.
  10. While the meatloaf is cooking, add all the glaze ingredients to a small saucepan. Cook over medium heat for 5 minutes until it becomes thick. Set aside until meatloaf finishes cooking in step 9.
  11. Use a rubber spatula to evenly cover the meatloaf with half the glaze. Broil for 2 minutes. When the glaze begins to bubble and brown, remove the meatloaf and evenly coat with the rest of the glaze. Broil for 2 more minutes, removing from broiler when the glaze begins to bubble and brown. Allow to cool for 10 minutes before slicing and serving.

US Open in Queens, NYC

September 9, 2012

I swear this is still a food blog. But along with food and travel, another of my priorities is tennis. Once a year one of the world’s greatest tennis tournament happens just 30 miles from my front door. This year I went to the men’s and woman’s quarterfinal with my oldest son, who is also my tennis partner. While it’s always exciting to see a live sporting event, this world-class venue is beautiful, and with so many tennis-lovers in one place the air is filled with electricity. We saw Andy Roddick’s last match before retirement, who faded after the first set and was soundly defeated by Juan Martin Del Potro. While I wore the Argentine National shirt, a was still rooting for the American. We also saw Sharapova come back to defeat Bartoli. We also watched Murry play the Serbian Cilic (the C’s are pronounced as Ch’s).

Andy Roddick’s last serve before retirement

Retirement interview

A small army of these little cars prepares the courts for play in 45 minutes.

Pre-match instructions to Sharapova and Bartoli

Maria Sharapova serving

The famous symbol of the US Open

Andy Murry ready to receive a serve

Cilic won the first set, but couldn’t hold on


Cueva Ventana, Puerto Rico

September 7, 2012

Most caves I have visited have cement walkways, electric mood lights, and a ticket booth for your guided tour. These caves were exciting because they are completely wild, and thankfully not ruined by vandals. Bats were flying everywhere, and our tiny flashlight barely lit the way. Then after wandering for a while we followed the light to an amazing view of the valley below.

The cave gets it’s name “Window cave” for this view

Not typical stalactites and stalagmites, but felt very wild

Bats were flying everywhere. I’m glad they have radar.

Main entrance to “Window Cave”

There is also a “secret” side entrance through the tree roots.

Careful, there’s nothing preventing us from going off the cliff

This is my last Puerto Rico post. After all this is supposed to be a food blog, right. But for those who know me personally, travel has always been a huge part of my life. Man cannot live by cooking alone. So here are a few final photos from other places we visited. Ponce, is the southern part of the island, is a beautiful colonial city. Obviously a few hundred years newer than San Juan because of the different style of colonial architecture.

Our hotel on the main square

Typical Ponce architecture of the city center

From Ponce we went to the north of the island and stayed in a small, but picturesque little beach town. It was perfect for relaxing, but the surf was a little wild for my two sons. We went to nearby Playa Jobos to swim.

View from our hotel room in Quebradillas, Puerto Rico

Surf on the north of the island is a little bigger

Picture-perfect location

Nearby was the famous Arecibo Observatory. It uses radar imagery to create detailed images of objects within our solar system. The observatory has been in a few famous movies.

Largest radar observatory in the world


Culebra Island

September 4, 2012

Most of Puerto Rico is a blend of modern US life with the easy pace of the Caribbean. But there are a few smaller islands to the east that are more rustic and where the pace is even slower. Culebra and Vieques are always mentioned as a highlight of Puerto Rico. My original intent for Culebra was to reserve a decent room (ideally with a shared kitchen) and rent a Jeep to explore the island. However, I arrived at the dock in Culebra with 200 other tourists without any reservations. Fortunately, everybody who has anything to rent, sell or offer meets the big ferry. Within 5 minutes I had the answers to all my questions that I was unable to resolved in the prior 2 weeks. I skipped the $150 Jeep in favor of the $3 shuttle. I ended up in the “penthouse” of the Hotel Kokomo; 1-bedroom with a full kitchen, nice bathroom and disgusting sofa (see photo of our view below).

Of course, beautiful Flamingo Beach (Playa Flamenco) is the main reason people come to Culebra, and it’s reputation did not disappoint. The weather was cloudy so we didn’t get the full effect of the turquoise water, but the sand was brilliant white and soft like baby powder under my feet. Culebra also offers excellent snorkeling. Amazingly, I fulfilled a lifelong dream of snorkeling with sea turtles. Even more amazingly, I was able to share it with my two sons. We snorkeled with them for a full 25 minutes.

Flamingo Beach one of the nicest beaches in the world

While the beach is amazing, one of the drawback about going during hurricane season is that the water is less turquoise, but the beaches are far less crowded.  Of course my reason for going at this time of year was that the kids were out of school.

Another view of Flamingo Beach

View from the “penthouse suite” at Hotel Kokomo

An old tank left on the beach from the time when the US military was here.

We came on the Big Cat Express. Nice ride!


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