Saturday, February 28, 2009

"Creme caramel"...Flan!

I have always been fascinated by the idea and silky golden appearance of flan, yet I can't recall ever seriously getting a chance to try it, that is until I made it! So while I can't say how it compares, I did receive a lot of positive feedback. It's a great recipe!

Cinnamon & Vanilla Flan

The trickiest part is really just caramelizing the sugar. You have to be careful not to burn the sugar, but if you leave the heat too low it simply won't caramelize and will just become a hard, white blob. But by far the coolest thing about it was watching the sugar literally melt. I know this might be obvious to some, but I really didn't expect it to actually do that! And Tyler (the food network host who created the recipe) specifically says not to stir but instead to swirl which actually works fantastically well, and if you try to stir you'll see what happens: not only does it all stick to the spoon, but it is almost impossible to work through the thick goop.

The caramelization occurred almost instantaneously. One second it was white, then another second it turns a beautiful amber color. Be sure to let it continue to caramelize for a minute or so after it starts to change color - this deepens the final color and flavor. When we made this for the fundraiser we didn't caramelize quite enough and it came out closer to yellow. Amber is so much more alluring.

I didn't have a vanilla bean but instead tossed in a bit of vanilla extract in the cream. The cinnamon flavor and vanilla were both almost unnoticable in the final product. Since I love cinnamon, I sprinkled on some mixed with cane sugar at the end. It changes the texture but really brings out the cinnamon!

All in all, it was delicious - rich, silky, and a nice level of sweet.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Rugelach & Persian Party

I find it mildly ironic that two days after having a "brown party" with all my Persian (Iranian), Uzbek, and fellow Afghan friends, I settled on creating my next dessert: Rugelach, one of the most famous Jewish cookies. Ahmadinejad can say what hate he will, but Jewish people know how to eat just (well almost...) as well as we Persians and Afghans - these cookies were fantastic. I've had them quite a number of times at the house of one of my best friends. While I can't say they are quite as good, for a first try they were flaky, crunchy, and moist.

cream cheese pastry rolled with apricot jam, golden raisins, walnuts, dark chocolate, and a hint of cinnamon

Variation: rolled with strawberry jam, dark chocolate, walnuts, coffee bean nibs, and a hint of cardamom

The dough is a cream cheese base and would probably be good on its own! But I made two versions: one almost traditional, stuffed with apricot jam, raisins, chopped walnuts, dark chocolate, and cinnamon. The other version was an experiment, with strawberry jam, chopped walnuts, lots more dark chocolate, coffee bean nibs, and cardamom. They were both quite good, but the coffee nibs were a bit too coarsely chopped and the cinnamon was really yummy in the fruitier traditional version.

A few shots of the Persian potluck (not pictured: lamb qorma, saffron basmati rice)-

Boulanee Kechalu
shallow fried turnover stuffed with potato, leek, green onion and spices, served with mint-garlic sauce

One of my Afghan friends brought this dish - this is the more traditional form of Boulanee - the picture I have from my last Afghan party is of a deep fried, smaller version my mom used to make. This version, while not as bite size and crunchy, is actually in some ways tastier, as you get more filling per bite.

Burani Bonjon
fried eggplant slices braised in garlic, chopped heirloom tomatoes, and spices. Served on a platter of mint-garlic yogurt sauce and garnished with cilantro.

You may be wondering why I keep making this dish and Boulanee - it's because they are such crowd pleasers! Afghans are famous for Burani Bonjon especially. One of my friend's mothers was in shock and awe (that phrase is forever ruined) after first trying it at Kabul, Seattle's only Afghan restaurant.

This was probably the best rendition I've ever made. The key is to dry the eggplants well before frying, like a steak, then drain them well of oil afterwards. My mother's tip also helped immensely - cut them into semicircular slices and they don't fall apart! Also, I put in some dried heirloom tomatoes from the farmer's market - OH MY GOD. If you can find them at your local farmer's market BUY THEM NOW. They are the most delicious tomatoes I've ever eaten after they puffed up in the steam of the braise. Better than fresh, I swear. I actually need to go buy some more right now...!

Traditional Afghan custard with rosewater and cardamom, topped with ground pistachio and served in individual glasses.

We're planning to serve this one in cocktail glasses if we can for the fundraiser...sexing up Afghan food is no small task. It's rustic and delicious by nature. But we can be hoity-toity if we need to. =)

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Breakfast at Dinnertime

A couple weeks back I decided to have breakfast at dinnertime...but "breakfast for dinner" just doesn't quite sound right.

I'm still working on french toast - it's tough to get it perfectly balanced - crunchy and moist, not too much or too little's deceptively simple.

Essential Baking Co. Raisin Pecan Loaf Orange-Cinnamon French Toast
served with orange slices, powdered sugar, and a drizzle of decadent vanilla and dark brown sugar caramel sauce

It was pretty yummy, but by far the best part was the vanilla caramel sauce - deliciously rich. I'm not too experienced with making caramel, but I winged it based on a similar sauce from the Walnut Gateau I made just a few days prior. I caramelized the sugar in butter, then added in whipping cream until the consistency was just right. A splash of vanilla and bam! Done. Healthy? No way. Yummy? ohh yes.

It's a work in progress to be sure, but it is a great use for day old bread. This loaf thanks to my buddy Nate, who knows the ins and outs of the bread dumpster!