Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Founding Father Foodie: Thomas Jefferson and French Cuisine

Thomas Jefferson collected recipes and left notes on refining the tastes of simple fare like apple dumplings and beef stew for fifty-eight years. The 3rd President of the United States was a foodie who agreed wholeheartedly with Jean Jacques Regis de Cambaceres, an 18th century French politician, that is was mainly through the table that one governs.

When given the opportunity to go to France, he struck a deal with a 19 year old slave named James Hemings. Young James was to master the art of French cooking, and help Jefferson introduce Americans to the style of cooking that hundreds of years later made Julia Child a star. In return, James would be granted his freedom.  It's widely reported that it was James Hemings' cuisine that put Alexander Hamilton into a good enough mood to compromise over the location on the U.S. capitol in July of 1790.


No doubt that had Jefferson been born in the 20th century, he'd have been an avid food blogger or possibly a cooking channel contestant! In February of 1796, freeman James Hemings headed to Philadelphia to find work as a cook.  His favorite desserts almost always employed delicate custards. So in honor of the Jefferson-Hemings 18th century foodie collaboration, I offer you a lovely crème brûlée recipe. The first thing you need to know: it's easier than you might think.

Lemon Crème Brûlée
1/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon sugar
3 egg yolks
1 and 1/2 cup light cream
1/4 teaspoon vanilla
3 tablespoons lemon curd
extra sugar for burnt sugar finish

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.  Whisk egg yolks, vanilla, and 2 tablespoons sugar together in a bowl. In a saucepan, combine cream with 1/4 cup sugar; dissolve on medium heat until steaming. slowly add cream mixture to yolks, whisking constantly. whisk curd into mixture. Pour mixture equally into ramekins and bake in a hot water bath for 30-35 minutes until centers softly set.

Remove from oven to cool to room temperature on a wire rack. Refrigerate at least an hour. Just before serving, sprinkle one teaspoon white sugar and use a kitchen torch to burn until you have a blistered and bubbly tortoiseshell covering on top. Let it sit a few minutes to harden. Makes four people happy or two people happy twice.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Local strawberries are back!


There's nothing better than red, ripe, just picked strawberries. And turning those juicy, sweet berries into fabulous treats is a long standing tradition in all kinds of kitchens.

For three generations, the Russian Imperial kitchens were headed by the great French chef, Pierre Cubat. Assisted by a team of Russian cooks trained in the best culinary schools of France, Chef Cubat created dozens of simple yet elegant dishes.

One of Chef Cubat's most celebrated desserts was strawberries Romanov. The yummy combo of macerated berries set on a pillow of whipped cream is uniquely suited to dress up an American classic, strawberry shortcake.  In this gussied up version, the shortcake is kicked up a notch with a biscuit that has a satiny texture. When berry season ends, don't despair: think peaches and cream.

SHORTCAKE
2 cups flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 cup granulated sugar
2/3 cup salted butter, at room temp, cut into cubes
1 egg, lightly beaten
1/2 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup milk
2 tablespoons extra granulated sugar (reserve for sprinkling)

Preheat oven at 375 degrees F. Butter an 8 inch round cake pan, lining the bottom with parchment paper cut to fit. Whisk dry ingredients in a medium bowl to blend. Add butter chunks and use a pastry cutter or your fingers to cut the butter into the flour mixture until it resembles crumbs.

In another bowl, mix the egg, cream and milk. Use a rubber spatula to stir the egg mixture into the flour crumb mixture until it forms a batter. It will thick and have a slighly lumpy look. Do not over mix. Pour the batter into the prepared pan, use your spatula to smooth the top before you sprinkle the extra sugar on top. Baking with sugar sprinkles adds light crackly glaze to the cake top.

Bake for 30-35 minutes, or until a test with a toothpick comes out clean from the center of the cake.  Set the pan on a wire rack to cool twenty minutes. While cake is cooling, prepare the strawberries.

STRAWBERRIES  
1 quart strawberries, trimmed and sliced
1 tablespoon granulated sugar
1/3 cup orange juice
2 tablespoons orange liqueur
1 cup whipped cream
Powdered sugar, for sprinkling

Combine sliced berries, sugar, juice and liqueur in a bowl. Set aside for 30 minutes at room temp.  Cut the cake into eight wedges then cut each wedge horizontally in half. Set the bottoms on a dessert plate. Spoon berries and cream on each bottom and set each bottom with a top. Sprinkle with powdered sugar and serve.



Sunday, January 26, 2014

Love and Chocolate

Go ahead, ask around. I guarantee that someone you love loves chocolate cake.  This little cake packs a chocolate punch that will surely make your beloved swoon. And to make matters even better - it's easy .... a rich, moist chocolate cake that takes only a few minutes to prepare the batter using one bowl.

Use dabs of frosting to attach whole raspberries or strawberry halves to the top layer to make your cake the ultimate in sexy desserts. Finally. look for a sparkling rosé with strawberry or raspberry undertones for a delightful wine pairing.  Perfect!

Don't let Valentine's Day catch you by surprise this year.  I don't know for sure if chocolate is an aphrodisiac but it's worth a shot. Make a plan to bake a cake, a chocolate cake!

TRUE LOVE CHOCOLATE CAKE
1 cup white sugar
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 jumbo egg
1/2 cup milk
1/4 cup olive oil
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/3 cup hot coffee


Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line bottom of one 6.5 or 7 inch round pan with parchment, spray sides with baking spray.

In a medium sized bowl, stir together the sugar, flour, cocoa, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Add the eggs, milk, oil and vanilla, mix for 2 minutes on medium speed of mixer. Stir in the hot coffee last. Pour into the prepared pan.

Bake 30 to 35 minutes in the preheated oven, until the cake tests done with a toothpick. Top will be domed. Cool in the pans for 10 minutes, then remove to a wire rack to cool completely. Using a cake cutter or a large sharp knife, slice cake in half to make two layers.

Fill between layers with your favorite chocolate frosting.  Finish by generously dusting with powdered sugar.