Sunday, July 12, 2009

Let Them Eat Cupcakes

Cambridge’s Bastille Day celebration proved to have better food than the typical street festival. At this event - hot dogs, cotton candy and fried dough were replaced with Crème Brûlée, Macaroons, Paninis and pastries - served up by local french bistros and cafés. Although Holyoke Street would have by no means passed for the Champs-Élysées, its lively music and great food visibly made many local Parisans proud.
Sweet – Improper Bostonian’s 2009 winner of the Boston’s Best Cupcakes sold creamy Madagascar Vanilla Bean and Dark Chocolate cupcakes topped with butter cream frosting and decorated on-theme with red, white and blue sprinkles. Chez Henri took street food to the next level, with their version of vanilla bean Crème Brûlée - with sugar crusts being burnt to order. The dessert was the perfect combination of rich and creamy, with a thin and crunchy crust.

French or not - Bastille Day (July 14) is the perfect excuse to make your own Crème Brûlée. I am posting a copy of my favorite recipe to make at home. This recipe replaces the typical vanilla bean with fresh ginger, and is paired with a warm fruit compote. Bon appetit!!

Alfred Portale’s Ginger Crème Brûlée with Warm Plum and Raspberry Compote

2 cups heavy cream
1/4 cup chopped fresh ginger
6 large egg yolks
1/2 cup sugar
4 6-ounce ramekins

Position a rack in the center of the over and preheat to 325 F. Place the ramekins in a large baking pan. In a medium saucepan, bring the cream and ginger to a simmer over medium heat. Reduce the heat to very low and simmer gently for 30 minutes.

In a medium bowl, whisk the egg yolks and sugar. Gradually whisk in the cream. Strain through a wire sieve into a bowl, and discard the ginger. Place the baking dish with the ramekins in the oven, and carefully ladle or pour the mixture into the ramekins. Using a teaspoon, skim off any foam on the surface of the custards.

Pour enough hot water into the baking pan to come ½ inch up the side of the ramekins. Bake until the custard sets firm (the centers will be slightly loose), 40 to 50 minutes. Remove from the water bath and cool completely. Cover each Ramekin with plastic wrap and refrigerate until ready to serve.

Warm Plum and Raspberry Compote

2 tablespoons butter
3 ripe dark-skinned black plums, pitted and cut into sixths
2-3 tablespoons sugar, depending on the sweetness of the plums
¼ cup fresh orange juice
½ pint fresh raspberries

In a medium saucepan, heat the butter over medium-low heat. Add the plums and sugar. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the plums begin to release their juices, 3-4 minutes. Add the orange juice and bring to a boil over high heat. Cook until the orange juice is slightly thickened, about 2 minutes. Remove from heat and fold in the raspberries.

To serve:

2 tablespoons brown sugar

Position a broiler rack about 6 inches from the source of heat and preheat the broiler. Rub the brown sugar through a wire sieve to cover each custard with a dusting of sugar. Put the ramekins on a baking sheet and broil, watching carefully to avoid scorching, until the brown sugar has caramelized, 1-2 minutes. On a large plate, place a Crème Brûlée and a small dish of the compote.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Eat Fresh, Buy Local

On Saturday June 20, Mr. Charlestown Culinary and I made a day trip down to Westport Rivers Winery for the Taste of Westport, an event to support local farming initiatives. At the event, Mr. Charlestown Culinary and I enjoyed a variety of food and beverages provided by local restaurants, caterers, farmers, breweries and wineries – while listening to a local blue grass band.

Here are some of the highlights of the event:

Starfish's chocolate cupcakes were rich and moist, with a delicious buttercream frosting. Mr. Charlestown Culinary and I were so impressed with the little treats that we left the event with a purchased blueberry pie. (Which was sooo good it was devoured before any photos could be taken!!)
Shy Brothers Farm's Lavender Bud Hannahbell Cheese

Shy Brother's Farm shared a variety of their thimble-size artisan cheeses in 4 different flavors: Classic French, Lavender Bud, Rosemary and Shallot. All four flavors were creamy and delicious. My favorite was the Lavender Bud! Travessia Urban Winery Unoaked Chardonnay

Travessia sampled three varieties of wine: Rosé, Unoaked Chardonnay and Vidal Blanc. My favorite was their Unoaked Chardonnay, which was very reminiscent of Chablis – my favorite white wine. Coming in close second was their Rosé – one of my favorite wine varieties for the summer.
Hope Amber Ale

New to East Coast beer scene is Hope Ales (so new their beers are not yet available in stores), which sampled three beers: Prudence American Wheat, Hope Amber Ale and Patience Condensation Ale. Typically I am not a fan of darker beers, but their Amber Ale was terrific – refreshing with a hint of sweetness. We are looking forward to seeing it in stores in July!

Monday, June 29, 2009

A Berry Merry Birthday

In my culinary mind, a 'momentous birthday' deserves more than the typical layer cake. With Mitti - the birthday girl in-mind, I decided to go to a recipe from Gourmet magazine that combines summer’s ripe berries, zesty candied ginger and puff pastry. The combination is fresh, sweet and a little spicy…hmmm…the birthday girl 'to a T'!

NOTE: This patriotic-looking summer dessert would also be a great treat for the 4th of July.

Charlestown Culinary's Berry Tart with Ginger Lemon Cream (Based on recipe from Gourmet)
1 large egg yolk
2 (17 1/4-oz) packages frozen puff pastry sheets, thawed
8 ounces neufchâtel cheese, room temperature
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Zest of 1 lemon
1/2 cup crystallized ginger, chopped finely
2 tablespoons water
1/4 cup seedless raspberry jelly
1 pint strawberries, halved
1 pint blueberries
1/2 pint red raspberries

Whisk egg yolk in a small bowl with a fork. Cover a chilled cookie sheet with parchment paper. Unfold the pastry dough, covering the cookie sheet. Prick the entire surface evenly with a fork. With the remaining dough, cut 1-inch-wide strips and place them along the border of the pastry (border should be two layers thick). Chill dough in freezer for 10 minutes. Remove dough from freezer. Make 1/4-inch-long vertical cuts through double layers of edge about 1/2 inch apart (to help sides rise evenly).

Bake dough in an oven at 450° until puffed and deep golden brown, about 15 minutes. Allow pastry to cool completely. In the meantime, blend the neufchâtel cheese, vanilla, zest and sugar in a food processor until smooth. Add ginger and pulse until finely chopped and mixture is combined well.
In a small bowl, microwave jelly with water for 60 seconds. Toss strawberries and blueberries in mixture. On the cooled pastry, spread the ginger cream. On the cream, arrange the berries in a decorative pattern. Serve within 3 hours.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Summer, Summer, Summertime

'Time to sit back and unwind...'

I don't think Will Smith had a dreary and drizzling 60 degree day in mind when he wrote that song. But weather be damned, Mr. Charlestown Culinary and I were not going to be deterred. Despite the lack of sun, sand and waves – we blasted some tunes (alas no Will though) and fired up the grill for our first official summer meal.

For our dinner, we kept the meal simple - grilled vegetables, corn on the cob and steaks. For the meal I relied on my favorite trio of olive oil, sea salt and freshly ground black pepper.

Grilled Peppers, Zucchini, Yellow Squash and Onions

Grilled Corn

Charlestown Culinary's Grilled Corn
4 ears of corn, husked
3 tablespoons of olive oil
Sea salt
Freshly ground pepper

Bring 3 cups of water to a boil in a large pot. Add the corn and cover. Turn heat down to medium and steam for about 5 minutes.

Remove corn from heat, coat with olive oil, salt and pepper. Place corn on the grill, over medium heat, turning frequently until evenly charred.

NOTE: If you do not turn the corn every minute or so, you will end up with popcorn.

Grilled Filet Mignon Steaks

‘…There’s an air of love and of happiness
And this is the Fresh Prince’s new definition of summer madness.’

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Happy B-anniversary!!

On Saturday night, Mr. Charlestown Culinary and I celebrated 2 momentous occasions: His parent's 39th wedding anniversary and his father's birthday. I would love to say I made the celebratory cake we had that night, but alas we purchased it from Konditor Meister in Braintree, MA. I don't think anyone minded though...
Vanilla cake soaked with Grand Marnier, with white chocolate mousse and fresh strawberry filling, butter cream frosting and chocolate covered strawberries