12 August 2009

Say Cheese...

Another entry that was written a while back (August) and never posted to the blog. I'm terrible at this...

Yesterday was the last day of summer vacation (in-service started today), so I spent the day doing a few of the things I love: shopping and cooking!

Mom and I went "Back to School" shopping in the morning....she bought me a fabulous Michael Kors blouse. It was the first thing we saw as we began walking around Macy's and we both fell in love with it immediately. My mom is one of the best shoppers I know... a true marathoner! She taught me well. Without all that good training over the years there would be no way I could cruise the Nutcracker Market for 6+ hours every year.

While trying to nap, I stumbled upon Giada De Laurentiis' "Everyday Italian - Friends and Family Feast" episode. Her food always looks so yummy! In addition to the Pork Loin Roast and Rigatoni with Vegetable Bolognese, she was making a delicious looking Hazelnut Crunch Cake. I quickly realized my life was not going to be complete until I made that cake. Luckily we were heading over to a friend's house that evening so I had the perfect excuse to bake.

What made this cake extra-perfect was the fact that one of the ingredients for the icing is mascarpone cheese. I have never used mascarpone cheese before which means it became my new ingredient for Week Two.

Before I began working on the icing I tasted the Mascarpone Cheese by itself and made a few observations:

1. I immediately sensed a striking similarity to Ricotta Cheese in both
texture and aftertaste (although more subdued on both accounts)
2. Its rich, velvety feel on the tongue was akin to the that of
3. Its heft reminded me of cream cheese

The icing is composed of whipping cream, mascarpone cheese, powdered sugar and vanilla. Very simple... in theory. Unlike Giada's icing, where the ingredients combined flawlessly, mine started to clump quickly!!! It looked like a sauce that had broken. I was almost in tears. However, R convinced me to mix my way through it and 15 minutes later (thank God for Kitchen-Aid stand mixers) I had a light, airy and absofreakinlutely delicious icing. Heavenly. Because I was in a bit of a time crunch (pun intended) and Brookshire Brothers does not carry hazelnuts, I cheated and substituted Heath Bars for the Hazelnut Brittle component.
Stroke of genius, I know.

As time was running out before we had to leave, I began to hurry and cake ended up a tad lopsided looking. And this new icing with its fluffy, delicate texture was throwing me for a loop. I considered not even taking it because of how homely it looked. However, I had stupidly made a comment on FB about the fact I was baking it, so I had no choice. Cake ended up being a big hit (phew) and I was glad I brought it along.

I loved, loved, loved my new ingredient this week and will be using it quite often from here on out. The way it was able to add a new richness to the dish without weighing it down was unexpected.

I've already begun to research how to make my own homemade mascarpone cheese...

As a follow-up:

1. No, I have not made my own homemade mascarpone cheese. Instead I stumbled on to a fabulous sale at Spec's and stocked up!

2. I have made this cake several times over the past few months and it never fails to please. Still haven't attempted the Hazelnut Crunch component - read a few reviews of it that included the mention of cracked teeth and the dental repair work that followed.

3. Lost pictures of the cake when laptop crashed back in September. Sadness...

09 August 2009

Just Going For It...

This past Friday night my mom and I saw a fabulous movie - "Julie & Julia". LOVED it. Every single bit of it. Meryl Streep absolutely nailed Julia Child's mannerisms and cadence. If you haven't seen it, you should. Immediately.
Two things this film made me really think about: 1) appreciating my husband and 2) setting personal goals.

I know, the first one sounds like a weird idea to come away with from a movie about food, but it's true. I was hit really hard by just how often I take R for granted. You know, he supports me in so many ways and takes such good care of me and I so rarely acknowledge that. Ouch.

Both couples in the movie made their relationships work in good times and in bad. Marriage is "easy" in the good times, but what about when those curve balls are thrown at us??? Do I deal with them appropriately? And do R and I approach challenges as a team or do I shut down and try to deal with everything by myself? Sadly, I can look back and see that's frequently when my "control freak" side comes out and I don't even let R in. Time to change that...

Now, on to the food... and setting personal goals. I loved the fact that Julie set herself a goal that involved something she loved and just went for it. She took something she was passionate about (food) and pursued it completely. She kept going even when things got tough and saw it through to the end.

Which brings me to my own personal goal. No, I am not going to cook my way through Mastering French Cooking, Joy of Cooking or anything like that. This idea came from several places: 1) the movie (obviously), 2) Jeffrey Saad from this season's "Next Food Network Star" (I am still mad he did not win) and 3) my love of travel.

I am going to use (at least) one NEW ingredient each week. It doesn't have to be some exotic or expensive ingredient, just something I have never cooked with before.

So, I started last week with FISH SAUCE. My MeeMaw gave me a subscription to "Cooks Illustrated" magazine about a year ago and in the most recent issue there was a recipe for Thai Pork Lettuce Wraps. Sounded good enough - hey, I like Thai food, it was a healthy recipe and included an ingredient I hadn't used before but was interested in.

Learned some great techniques from the recipe - how to make my own fresh ground meat and the role kao kua (toasted rice powder) plays in building the body of a dish, but didn't really love the finished product. The meat was succulent, just as the recipe promised it would be, but I didn't like the combo of the fish sauce flavor with the pork. That combo completely threw R for a loop - texture was that of ground meat, but flavor of fish...

After cleaning up the kitchen I did a little more research about fish sauce and learned that Pho Mai's egg roll dip (that I just cannot get enough of) is mostly fish sauce! So while the Thai Pork Lettuce Wraps were a bust, I did learn how to make my favorite egg roll sauce at home. Therefore, I would say Week One was a success!

Now, on to ideas for this week ... in honor of Jeffrey, harissa sounds interesting...