Saturday, August 26, 2006

Saving Fruit

“There are only 10 minutes in the life of a pear when it is perfect to eat," said Ralph Waldo Emerson. And I must have missed those precious 10 minutes with the batch that went into these financiers. I did everything they tell you to do — I stored them in a warm place outside of the refrigerator in a paper bag and I checked daily for ripeness, pressing them with my eager fingers, gently at first, near the stem, willing their flesh to give, just a little.

Two weeks passed; no joy.

And so I turned to Gordon Ramsey’s Kitchen Heaven, within whose pages my absolute favourite recipe for turning bum pears into baby cakes of beauty lay. Browned butter, ground almonds and mellow bits of cooked pear — what’s not to love? In the book’s picture, Ramsey’s financiers are made in cup moulds, yielding tall, cylindrical, seemingly fluffy golden cakes. When I first made them in similar moulds, however, they emerged dense and a tad heavier that I thought they should be. Several experiments later, I have concluded that they turn out best baked in shallow tins like traditional financier moulds or the barquette tins I used for this batch.

These cakes are wonderfully rustic. They are lovely and damp and need nothing more than a good cup of tea, or perhaps, when I’m feeling decadent, a dollop of vanilla or crème fraiche ice cream. They are best eaten the same day they’re made, but if you must, store them in the fridge and warm them in the oven slightly before eating.

Several days later, a pretty, fragrant pineapple appeared with my boxful of organic produce, brimming with such promise. I saved it for the weekend, bringing it to my nose every now and then to sniff its sweet perfume. When I finally skinned it and cut a small chunk out of it, alas, disappointment. It was so tart it made my eyes burn and my gums crawl. Had it not been one of those super busy weeks, I might have grated the lot and turned it into jam, and then maybe, just maybe, pineapple tarts. But as it turns out, it was one of those weeks where my cats are lucky if they get a quick hello before I drop off to sleep. So we saved the slices of pineapple for dessert the next day when we basted it with honey and grilled it till it turned a brilliant shade of gold.

Gordon Ramsey’s Pear Financiers
(adapted from Kitchen Heaven)

Serves 4

125 g unsalted butter
4 pears
165g sugar
25g plain flour
125g ground almonds
4 egg whites

Preheat oven to 190 degrees C/375 degrees F. Melt the butter in a pan over high heat until it starts to go brown and then strain through a fine sieve. Leave to cool. Peel and core the pears and chop them into 1cm dice. Put 75g of the sugar into a warmed pan and heat gently until caramelised. Add the diced pear and cook for 4 to 5 minutes until it just starts to break down. Take out of the pan and leave to cool.

Mix the flour, ground almonds and the remaining sugar in a large bowl. Slowly fold in the egg whites, then stir in the melted butter. Grease your moulds with butter and then dust with flour. Put in the fridge for 10 mins. Combine the almond mixture with the pears, then pour into the moulds. Bake at the top of the oven for 25 mins until golden brown and firm.

Sunday, August 13, 2006

The Best Chocolate Ice Cream

It’s been a while since I acquired my ice cream maker and I just love it to bits. I’ve made countless flavours so far, experimenting with recipes from different books—Chocolate Malt from Claudia Fleming’s The Last Course, Coconut from Les Huynh's Blue Ginger,and even a Fromage Blanc flavour which I adapted from a recipe for Crème Fraiche ice cream from the very handy Frozen Desserts.

Yet, for some reason, I’ve put off making chocolate ice cream for the longest time. I love chocolate ice cream—the richer the better. I love Haagen Daaz chocolate flavours, from Double Chocolate Chip to Belgian Chocolate. They are dense, smooth, super chocolatey and very, very fattening. Those were some of my most guilty pleasures. And I guess I’ve been afraid that I might screw up when it came to making my own chocolate ice cream and put myself off it forever. Yes, I know I’m being a drama queen.

Anyways, I finally got it together and turned to a book that I’ve come to love and depend on for some of the best chocolate recipes: Alice Medrich’s Bittersweet. Her recipe for Bittersweet Chocolate Ice Cream didn’t disappoint. In fact, I knew it was going to be better than good once I had put the ingredients together to form its custard base. It probably helped that I used a fabulous bar of chocolate (99%) that Prestat (who recently opened an outlet at Raffles City) had sent me a few weeks ago.

It was the most voluptuous chocolate ice cream I had ever tasted. Yes, even better than my once-favourite Haagen Daz. It was gorgeous eaten soft, straight out of the ice cream maker and just as delicious firm out of the freezer. In fact it was so good that we very nearly finished it all before I could take a few shots of it for this post…which would explain why you see a quickly melting scoop of ice cream in these pictures—there was just none left to top up as the ice cream quickly melted in the tropical heat.

Sunday, August 06, 2006

Veggie Galore

It's been a very busy week and before I knew it, I was faced with more organic vegetables than I knew what to do with or had the time for. So with Thursday (the day a new box of organic produce arrives at my door) rolling around once again, it was time to clear out last week's veggies to make way for the new stuff. The trouble with being a greedy hoarder is that there is always more food in my pantry than I can consume for a year. Over here a can of cannelini beans, over there a few rashers of bacon; tucked away in the corner of the cupboard a nearly forgotten can of tomatoes... In order to use it all up together with the organic zucchini, carrots, onions and broccoli, I chopped up the lot and turned it into my own version of minestrone soup.

Taking my cue from a sidebar on soup in Damien Pignolet's awesome book French, I sweated the chopped onions in olive oil together with the minced bacon. Then in goes the chopped canned tomatoes, some chicken stock and the rest of the chopped vegetables. An hour and some seasoning later, a hearty soup that needed little else but a drizzle of pesto and good, crusty bread.

Also begging to be used was a giant head of gorgeous red cabbage. I don't think I've ever used red cabbage in anything I've cooked before; in fact, I think the last time I ate any red cabbage was in some steak house's salad bar where the vegetable was sliced into little slivers and thrown into the mix, presumably for some added colour. And like I said in my last post, if you want a recipe for coloureds, you go to Nigella Lawson. True to form, I found one for Viennese-style red cabbage, or in Nigella-speak, "Red Cabbage in the Viennese Fashion".

In this dish, the cabbage is braised atop a stove with sliced apples, beef stock, cider vinegar and an onion. It is a sumptuously rich dish, especially since the cabbage and onion are first cooked in a half cup(!!) of butter or beef dripping. I should have trusted my better judgement and halved the amount of butter since I was serving this with a slab of roasted pork belly. Nevertheless it was wonderfully tasty, with the tang of the cider vinegar (the recipe called for just 3 tablespoons; I ended up using something like half a cup) providing a brilliant counterpoint to all that butter and beef stock. The roasted pork was simple—I just threw it in the oven covered with sea salt, skin scored and baked for 160 degrees Celcius for three hours. Yes, we did consume far more fat than was safe that night, but what happy bellies we went to bed with. The cholesterol we can deal with later. So much for healthy organic food!