Monthly Archives: January 2009

Macarons- Caramel Fleur de Sel


I’ve already written about the culinary delight that is a “macaron” once. That blog post featured my first attempt at making this delicate treat, and while I was pleased with my end result back then, I’ve since refined my recipe and had some even better outcomes. The first time I tried making macarons (pronounced mac-ah-rõ, with the nasalized /o/ and no /s/ at the end), I filled them with lemon curd. This was tasty, but a bit runny and messy to eat. My most recent attempts have included several more flavors, including: coffee, vanilla, apricot-lavender, salted caramel, and lavender. The standout favorites among these were the salted caramel and lavender macarons. So these are the ones I will write about for you (starting with the salted caramel recipe). I’ve had many requests lately for a post about these- mainly from the French ex-pat crowd. So without further ado…la recette des Macarons au Caramel Fleur de Sel est à vous.

Macarons Caramel Fleur de Sel

For the macaron cookie (the “coque”):
110 g ground almond
225 g powdered sugar
120 g egg whites (about 4 eggs)
1 pinch of salt
50 g caster sugar (e.g. superfine sugar, or baker’s sugar)

Instructions:

  1. First things first: Where do you get ground almonds? This is something I’ve gone back and forth about. You can find “almond meal” at Trader Joe’s for a reasonable price, but it has the almond skin in it, which can make the batter heavier and stickier once baked. One way around this is to sieve the almond meal several times before weighing it, to remove as much almond skin as possible. This works pretty well, but you end up losing a lot of almond in the process, which is a shame. You can also buy almond flour from Bob’s Red Mill (I believe it is sold at Whole Foods). This might have a finer consistency than the Trader Joe’s one (I don’t know, I’ve never tried it), but it’s expensive (over $12.00/lb!), and also has the almond skin mixed in. Not really the best option out there if you ask me. So to get around this problem, I’ve actually started buying whole almonds, blanching them, removing the skins by hand, and grinding them in my food processor. This is a little more time consuming, but you can make a lot of ground almonds all at once for a much better price. Once you blanch the almonds and remove the skins, they need to sit out for a while to dry, otherwise you’ll end up with a clumpy paste rather than a fine powder. I prepare my almonds the day before I plan on making macarons. (Just a little side note: In the macarons I have pictured here, I’ve included some of the store bought almond meal, because I like the little flecks it makes in the finished product…just in case you were wondering).
  2. Once your almonds are ready, place them all in the bowl of a food processor and turn it on for a few minutes (you might want to wear ear plugs for the sake of your hearing…this process can get pretty loud). After several minutes of processing, you should have a slightly grainy mixture of ground almonds. Don’t worry if the almond meal doesn’t look fine enough. This will be taken care of in the next step.
  3. Weigh out all of your ingredients. One of the “macarons secrets” I’ve stumbled upon several times in my research is to let your egg whites sit out, uncovered, for 24 hours before making the macarons. Something in the egg white’s chemistry makes it safe for them to stay at room temperature for that long (or so I’ve read). However, if you’re uncomfortable leaving your egg whites out that long, or just plain don’t have the time to wait, you can mimic the aging process by microwaving your egg whites for 10 seconds before using them. Once all of your ingredients are measured, place the powdered sugar and ground almonds back in the food processor and turn it on for another couple of minutes. Now you should get a fine powder. Sieve the almond/sugar mixture and set it aside.
  4. In the bowl of an electric mixer, combine the egg whites with a small pinch of salt. Turn the mixer on medium-high. When you can see the lines made by the wire whisk in the beaten egg whites, slowly add the caster sugar. Turn the speed up to high and continue beating until you get a stiff meringue (about 2 minutes). Turn off the mixer.
  5. Pour the almond mixture onto the meringue and begin folding it in. After the first few strokes, you can add some gel food coloring if you so desire (but for the caramel macarons, I think they’re just fine without added color). As long as your meringue is stiff enough, you don’t need to be overly careful about breaking the meringue. Just make sure the almond mixture is well incorporated. You should end up with a thick batter, the consistency of “magma.” Basically, the batter should settle about 30 seconds after stirring it. This is probably the most delicate part about making macarons. If you overstir the batter, you will get cracked tops, and if you understir you won’t get that nice dome-shape to the cookie. Don’t worry about this too much on your first try. It’s trial and error kind of thing.
  6. Cover 2-3 cookie sheets with parchment paper. You might want to spray the corners of the cookie sheets with oil to help the parchment paper stay in place. Pour the batter into a piping bag, fitted with a #12 round piping tip. Pipe the macarons on the prepared cookie sheets, about 1-inch in diameter and 1-inch apart. Some people trace circles onto the parchment paper to ensure that their macarons are a consistent shape, but I think this is just a crazy amount of extra work for little reward. So I just count 4 seconds for each macaron and they end up being about the same size.

7. Preheat the oven to 320 degrees Fahrenheit. Let the piped macarons sit out for about 30 minutes. After 30 minutes, place one cookie sheet in the warm oven for 7 minutes. Keep the oven door slightly ajar by placing the handle of a wooden spoon in the oven door. After 7 minutes, rotate the cookie sheet, lower the oven temperature to 310 degrees, and bake for another 7 minutes. Take the cookies out, and do the same with the other cookie sheets (I’ve found that I get the most consistent results when I only bake one cookie sheet at a time). Let the macarons cool slightly before removing them from the parchment paper and placing them on a cooling rack.

For the Caramel Fleur de Sel filling:
200 g caster sugar
1 tsp vanilla bean paste (or scrapings from one vanilla bean)
200 g heavy whipping cream (warmed)
4 g fleur de sel
140 g butter (chilled and cut into 1-inch pieces)

This is what really makes these macarons. This recipe is amazingly delicious, and actually quite simple to make. I have to give props to Chubby Hubby, who originally posted the recipe from Chef Pang. Thank you for sharing!

Instructions:

  1. In a 1 liter heavy based pot, cook the sugar, stirring consistently until you get an even caramel. Add in the vanilla bean paste.
  2. Slowly add in the warm cream. Be careful to only add a little cream at a time, as it has a tendency to splatter when mixed with the caramel. Once the cream is completely incorporated, add the fleur de sel. Stir to make sure everything is well mixed, and that the salt (from the fleur de sel) has dissolved.
  3. Allow the mixture to cool to about 100 degrees Fahrenheit (40 C). Add the butter to the caramel. Using a hand blender, blend this mixture until you get a smooth glossy paste. Cover the surface of the caramel with plastic wrap to prevent a skin from forming. Store in the refrigerator until you’re ready to use it.


When you’re ready to fill your macarons, just spoon the caramel fleur de sel into the cookies, and sandwich them together. They can be stored in the refrigerator for up to a week, but it’s best to bring them back to room temperature before serving them.

Beef Chili with Anasazi Beans


You might remember from my post about berry-picking that I bought several pounds of dried beans at the Phipps Country Store over the summer. By now, I’ve used up most of those beans, minus a pound or so of soybeans, and a pound of anasazi beans. I’ve read that you’re not supposed to wait too long before using dried beans, or else they start to get wrinkly and tough. So I decided that I would use the anasazi beans to make some chili. I also happened to have a pound and a half of leftover grassfed beef roast, which I purchased from Paicines Ranch (located a little ways south of Hollister). With these two ingredients in mind, I looked for a chili recipe online, and happened upon a tasty-looking one from the Bob’s Red Mill website. The recipe was a perfect fit because it called for both anasazi beans AND cooked beef roast. What luck!

I ended up adapting the recipe a little bit, and it turned out delicious! It had just the right amount of kick, and a nice texture from the corn kernels, beans and meat. We served it with a slice of cornbread, topped with a little butter and honey, making for a very classic southwestern dish.

Ingredients:

1 lb. Anasazi beans
Canola oil spray
1 large onion (chopped)
4 cloves garlic (chopped)
1 green bell pepper (chopped)
2- 14 oz. cans diced tomatoes
3 cups water
1 bay leaf
1/2 tsp. cayenne pepper
2 tsp. ground cumin
3 Tbsp. chili powder
1 tsp. oregano
1 tsp salt
3 Tbsp. butter (softened)
3 Tbsp. instant flour (such as Wondra- regular flour will do too)
1-1/2 lb. cooked beef roast (diced)
2 cups corn kernels (frozen)

Details:

  1. Sort through the dried beans to remove any shriveled beans or pebbles. Rinse beans and place in a large pot. Cover with water, and bring to a boil. As soon as the water starts boiling, turn off the heat and let the beans soak for 5-8 hours.
  2. After soaking the beans, drain the water, and cover the beans with new water. Bring to a boil and allow to simmer for 45 minutes, or until the beans are soft but retain their shape. Do not add salt during this step. Salt will harden the bean skin, which in turn wont allow the bean to cook as thoroughly.
  3. While the beans are cooking, spray a large stockpot with oil and saute the onion and green bell pepper for about 3 minutes. Add the chopped garlic and saute for another minute. Next add the bay leaf and all other spices, including salt. After coating the vegetables with spices, add the water and tomatoes. No need to drain any tomato juice from the diced tomatoes, just dump the contents of the can into the stockpot. Bring to a boil on medium-high heat, and then reduce heat to simmer for 15 – 20 minutes.
  4. In a small saucepan, warm the butter over medium heat. Once melted, slowly begin incorporating the instant flour using a wooden spoon. You should obtain a smooth paste. Add this to the stockpot and stir well.
  5. Add the beef and frozen corn kernels to the stockpot. Simmer for another 5 minutes. Then add about 4 cups of cooked beans (depending on your preference) to the stockpot and cook for 5 more minutes. Save the rest of the beans for another use (they’re great on quesadillas, in chicken tacos, tossed into any old vegetable soup…etc…).
  6. Serve the chili with some shredded cheese and a slice of cornbread.

Makes 10 large servings.

Creamy Cauliflower Soup


Cauliflower seems to be a fairly controversial vegetable in the world of produce. Some people love it while others hate it. I am personally on the “love it” side of the fence. But I’m usually something of a “veggie advocate,” insisting that if someone doesn’t like a particular vegetable, it must be because they haven’t yet experienced the full potential of it. Take my dad, for example. For years, he thought he hated eggplant. I believe he didn’t like the spongy texture of those giant aubergines. That was until he tried a well-prepared (and significantly less spongy) Japanese eggplant. Now he loves the stuff and I’ve actually heard him make special eggplant requests. Now that he has experienced eggplant to its full potential, he has a new appreciation for it.

Anyway…all that to say that, if you don’t think you like cauliflower, maybe you do and you just don’t know if yet. And I mean really, how can it taste bad when it’s cooked into a smooth soup with a little cream, broth and nutmeg? You know you want some.

Ingredients:

1 head cauliflower
3-4 small potatoes
2 cloves garlic (minced)
2 tsp. olive oil
4 cups broth (vegetable or chicken)
2 cups water
2 Tbsp. cream
salt and pepper to taste
2 pinches of nutmeg
thyme springs (optional)

Method:

  1. Prepare the head of cauliflower by cutting the florets off the base and rinsing them in cold water. Peel the potatoes and cut them into 1-inch cubes.
  2. Heat the olive oil in a heavy bottom soup pot. Add the minced garlic and saute for about a minute. Add in the potatoes, and enough broth to cover the bottom of the pot (to keep the potatoes from sticking). After 2 minutes, add the rest of the broth and bring to a boil. Simmer the potatoes for 5 minutes.
  3. Add the cauliflower florets and water and bring the soup back to a simmer. Cook for about 15 minutes, or until the cauliflower and potatoes are very tender. At this point, remove the pot from heat.
  4. Using an immersion blender, blend the soup until it is very smooth. If you do not have access to an immersion blender, you can use a regular blender or food processor. Just make sure to work in small batches of soup (or else you might end up with a mess on your hands). Here are some pictures of the soup progression using an immersion blender.




5. Allow the mixture to cool for 10-15 minutes. Add the cream, salt, pepper and nutmeg. Heat the soup back up just before serving. Garnish with thyme sprigs if desired.

Kabocha Squash & Beer Soup


A little while back, we received a nice-looking Kabocha squash in our CSA box. If you’ve never had one of these hardy winter squashes before, you’re missing out! They look like a green, kind of ugly pumpkin on the outside. But when you cut it open, you get a smooth orange flesh that’s delicious when roasted, steamed, or cut into cubes and boiled. You can find them at most farmer’s markets or natural grocery stores during the late fall and winter seasons. My preferred preparation method is to cut the squash in half, place it open side down on a cookie sheet and bake it at 400 degrees for about 40 minutes. Once the kabocha is cool enough to handle, scoop out the flesh with a spoon. You should get something like this:


I usually like to make soups with kabochas, because they have such a smooth flesh. Once roasted, the squash blends down to a bisque-like consistency, without the extra calories from heavy cream. With this particular soup, I decided to try something different- hence the beer component. My official taste tester called it, “the best kabocha squash soup I’ve ever had,” so I guess you could call that a “hit.”

Ingredients:

1 medium-sized kabocha squash
4 cups chicken broth (can substitute with veggie broth)
1/2 cup beer
1 tsp. ground cumin
leaves from 5-6 sprigs fresh thyme
salt and white pepper to taste
a few dollops of fromage blanc (can substitute with greek yogurt or sour cream)

Details:

  1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Cover a cookie sheet with aluminum foil, or a silicone mat. Cut the kabocha squash in half, scoop out seeds, and place (open-side down) on the prepared cookie sheet. Bake for about 40 minutes, or until the squash can easily be pierced by the tip of a knife. Remove from the oven and allow to cool for 10-15 minutes.
  2. Scoop out flesh from squash into a soup pot. Cover the squash with the chicken broth and cook on medium heat for 5 minutes. Blend the squash mixture with a hand blender until it is very smooth. If you don’t have a hand blender, use a food processor or regular blender, working in batches.
  3. Return the kabocha squash to the pot and add thyme leaves. Mix in beer and cumin. Add salt and pepper to taste. Cook soup on medium heat for 5 more minutes.
  4. Serve soup with a dollop of fromage blanc and a slice of crusty rustic bread.

White Bean and Ham Soup


Recently in Northern California, we’ve had some pretty cold, sometimes rainy, sometimes foggy winter weather. Personally, I love it. I always look forward to the changing of the season, and especially to the culinary ramifications that come with it. By the time one season is ending, I’m usually looking forward to new produce and different types of dishes. In the summer, I always wait impatiently for the first sweet tomato, peach or strawberry. In the fall and winter, I enjoy squash and root vegetables. I especially love soups and stews on a cold day, and these tend to be a staple for us in the winter. So in honor of soups and cold weather, my next couple of posts will feature winter soups and stews. I hope you enjoy them as much as we do!

First on the list: White Bean and Ham Soup

1 lb navy beans (picked through and rinsed)
8-10 cups water
1 large onion (diced)
1 1/2 cups carrots (chopped)
1 yellow, orange or red bell pepper (chopped)
2 cups celery (chopped)
1 ham shank (about 1.5 lbs- ask the butcher to cut it in half, if possible)
1/2 andouille sausage (cut into bite-sized pieces)
4 cloves garlic (chopped)
1 pinch herbes to provence (substitute with dried thyme and rosemary if you don’t have these)
Salt and pepper (to taste)

1. Several hours before you begin cooking the soup, put your beans in a large pot and cover them with water. Let them soak until you’re ready to use them (at least 4 hours). I usually begin soaking the beans in the morning when I’m planning on making them for dinner. Once they’re soaked, drain the water and put them back in the large pot.
2. Cover the beans with the water and add the ham shank. Turn on the heat to medium-high and bring the water to a boil. Then reduce to medium heat and let simmer for about an hour.
3. Remove the ham shank from the soup and add all of the vegetables. Once the ham shank is cool enough to touch, cut the meat off the shank, and chop it into bite-sized pieces. Put the ham pieces into the soup. Allow to cook for another hour.
4. About 15 minutes before serving, add the andouille sausage, herbes the provence and salt and pepper.

Serve and enjoy!