Monday, August 15, 2011

Chocolate Covered Macaroons and Taza Chocolate Tour

Leave it to Alton Brown to come up with the quintessential macaroon recipe! These macaroons were dipped in a cinnamon chocolate from Taza where I recently went on a factory tour with some fellow food bloggers (see details at end of post). The result is a cookie truly meant for anyone who loves coconut & chocolate!  I am now a devout fan of Taza chocolate and will be heading back to the factory store to purchase more items for future recipes such as cacoa nibs, chocolate extract and other chocolate treats!



Ingredients

4 Egg Whites
1/2 Cup granulated Sugar
1 pinch salt
8oz. shredded coconut, toasted
2 bars of cinnamon Taza chocolate





The round Taza chocolate bar!


Melt chocolate in double boiler under medium heat

Directions

Preheat oven 350F
Whisk egg whites until glossy. Add in sugar in three parts. Add one part and mix, two and three. Fold in toasted coconut. Fill pastry bag fit with no. 96 tip with cookie mixture. Pipe cookies about 1-2 inches apart on parchment paper or silpat on a cookie sheet.



Bake until golden brown, about 15min. Cool.


Melt chocolate in double boiler and dip cookies in chocolate. freeze for about 5min until set. Store in refrigerator until ready to eat.


Touring through the Taza chocolate factory located in Somerville, MA. with the Boston Food Bloggers  (organized by fellow bandmate and creator of Fork It over, Boston, Rachel Leah Blumenthal) was educational and fun! Sporting some fancy hairnets, we learned a great deal about this small bean-to-bar chocolate company. For one, Taza supports the well-being of the Cacao growers and has established a reputation for having a positive impact on local and distant communities. The Cacao beans are purchased directly from growers in the Dominican Republic and Bolivia. Using their own machinery including a winnower purchased from an old candy maker in Italy and a roaster found in an old factory in Germany, Taza is a very hands on company where the chocolate bars are still wrapped by hand in biodegradable, minimal packaging! The stone grinding process is the most crucial step in making the chocolate. Alex Whitmore, one of the founders of the company, studied under a stone miller in Mexico to bring the art to Taza in creating the chocolate. The resulting granular texture and fruity natural flavor is unlike anything I have ever eaten.  I was really impressed with the company and I was fortunate enough to sample many of the various flavors of the chocolate they produce. Some include salted almond (a crowd favorite), cinnamon, ginger, chipotle and sat and pepper to name a few. Stop by the Taza factory and store located in Somerville, MA. They are especially welcoming to bikers as they frequently deliver chocolate to many of the local farmers markets via bike courier! 


Cacao Beans from the Dominican Republic
Dried Cacao Pod 

Winnower machine from Italian candy factory
Molinos from Oaxaca, Mexico used for grinding the chocolate




Thursday, August 11, 2011

Mango Cake with Vanilla Frosting and Toasted Coconut


There is an unintentional theme of recipes consisting of foods that are orange or that go with orange here on the Nomsense food blog! Today it is the glorious mango in cake form. I've been to tropical places like Jamaica, Tobago and the Bahamas where mangoes are plucked and eaten right off the tree. I am reminded of the happy people I met living mostly off the food they grow and catch from the sea.

Tobago

Since Mangoes and cake are two of my favorite things, it only made sense to turn a few very ripe mangoes in my fridge into a cake for a family gathering. I found the cake recipe on Food.com. It was a hit and a perfect summertime dessert. The mango provides for an extra moist consistency and the frosting adds a nice creamy vanilla sweetness. The shredded coconut is an added treat which I decided to add due to the extra surplus I ordered by mistake a few months back! It goes nicely with the mango. This is a very easy and quick cake to make for any occasion. You can always substitute for vegan friendly ingredients or other sweetener options instead of sugar. It tastes great alone without the frosting or try it with just the toasted coconut, whipped topping, or with a nice cream cheese frosting as recommended in the original recipe.


Ingredients

Cake
4 very ripe mangoes to make 2 1/2 Cups of puree
2 Cups of sugar
2 Eggs
1 Teaspoons vanilla
2 Teaspoons baking soda
2 Cups Flour

Mango Puree



Vegan Vanilla Frosting
4 Cups Confectionary Sugar
2 Teaspoons Vanilla
1 Cup vegan margarine (I used Earth Balance)
3 Tablespoons vegan milk
2 Cups toasted coconut




Directions

Cake
Preheat oven to 350F. Grease and flour a 13x9 cake pan or any size/shape of your choice. Mix together mango puree, sugar, eggs and vanilla in a large bowl until well combined. Next, add in flour and baking soda. Pour mixture into cake pan and bake for 35-40 minutes or until knife or toothpick comes out clean from center of cake. Cool completely before frosting.

Frosting
Note: I only had soy milk and Smart Balance on hand, so I made a vegan frosting. You can use any type of milk and margarine substitute. Earth Balance worked very well! Cream margarine, vanilla and sugar together. Add in milk until frosting reaches desired consistency. Store in refrigerator until used. If cold, bring to room temperature by mixing well. Apply a big dollop of frosting in the middle of the cake and spread out to the edges from the middle. This will help prevent crumbing. Sprinkle on the toasted coconut.



This recipe would make fabulous cupcakes or a very nice layer cake. I might try adding pineapple, shredded carrots and/or some orange zest next time around. Cinnamon would go perfectly as well. This is a recipe with many possibilities.


Enjoy!

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Boston Pie Experiment Quiche



I embarked upon my first cook-off challenge this past Sunday with The Food Experiments hosted by Theodore Peck and Nick Suarez. They brought the experiments on tour and made Boston their last stop after visiting Austin for the Pork Experiment, New Orleans for the Brunch Experiment, Washington D.C for the Taco Experiment, Philadelphia for the Cheese Experiment and Boston was the glorious Pie Experiment!  I received an e-mail a few weeks before the event with a great description by Theo about the project. I thought it was a great idea and I immediately entered and decided to tweak my Foolproof Quiche.  I knew this was going to be fun when Theo replied saying ‘I’m not afraid to admit that I am a man who likes quiche'! When I received the confirmation e-mail, reality set in and I felt a little nervous yet excited. I started to think about recipe ideas, but did not have a chance to actually try them out until the day before the competition. I played a concert at the Union Square Farmers Market in Somerville the day before with fellow librarians from The Michael J. Epstein Memorial Library. I then went to buy my ingredients that afternoon. I stopped in Capone Foods in Union Square where I did not find anything for my quiche, but I did purchase some fresh vanilla bean for another cooking project and had a lovely conversation with the owner, Al. Yes, Al Capone! We talked shop and I shared in my excitement about the Pie Experiment. He told me about Capone's special strata that they make with lobster, scallions, onions, cream & cheese. I told him about my scallop quiche I was thinking of making. He thought it sounded good. They also offer cooking classes which might be come in handy sometime!  I then headed over to Russos in Watertown where I usually buy the cheese for my Foolproof Quiche. While at the register, the women bagging the cheese was very perplexed to see the 5lbs of cheese I was purchasing and actually asked ‘Do you like cheese or something??’. I then headed over to Whole Foods where I purchased the remaining ingredients to experiment with.  While at the herb rack, I was given a little tour on saffron by a knowledgable Whole Foods employee. They had saffron from Italy, Spain and Northern California. The best was from Northern California. Someone in line at the register asked me if I was making paella because of the saffron. Maybe another time! I went home and started to prepare my kitchen for the chaos that was about to take place.

I was ready to experiment. I created a saffron, scallop quiche with a little orange zest.  The saffron was overpowering. I may have added too much of the potent Northern California variety! The scallops also added a disturbing consistency and the zest was, well, too zesty!  The crust was also a little overcooked because I did not have tin foil on hand to cover portions while it was cooking! So, back to the drawing board. I had so many ideas floating around in my head and I could have tweaked the scallop quiche, but I did not have that much time. I still had the night ahead of me and an estimated 10 quiches to make for over 200 people to sample. I made a final trip out to purchase some tin foil and created a quiche with caramelized onions, tarragon, marjoram, greyere and emmental cheeses with Dijon mustard on the crust. This was clearly the winner! The herbs and dijon mustard went great with the caramelized onions. I started baking the remaining quiches at 8PM! 

Here is the recipe for my Pie Experiment Quiche:

1 pie crust (ready made or I use a Flaky Pie Crust Recipe)
6 Eggs
1 8 oz container Creme Fraiche
1/4 Cup Milk
1/2 Cup shredded Gruyere cheese
1/2 Cup shredded Emmental Cheese
1 Medium onion, caramelized (I added 1Tbls brown sugar to the onions while they were cooking)
~1.5 Teaspoons freshly chopped marjoram
~1.5 Teaspoons freshly chopped tarragon
2 Tablespoons Dijon Mustard (I use Maille)
Tomato slices (optional)

Preheat over to 425F. Roll out pie crust, place in 9 inch pie plate with holes poked in the bottom. Place in the freezer for 30 minutes.  Bake pie crust for 15 minutes in preheated oven, covered with tin foil and pastry weights. Remove pastry weights and tin foil and bake until crust is golden brown. Set aside. Bake tomato slices in the oven on a Silpat or baking sheet with a little vegetable oil for about 15min. Set aside.


Beat eggs in a large bowl with hand mixer for about one minute. Add in creme fraiche and milk. Season with salt and pepper. Next, add in herbs and shredded cheese.





Place pie crust on a baking sheet (this helps to prevent spillage while transferring to the oven and also while baking). Spread dijon mustard evenly over the bottom of the cooked pie crust followed by half of the caramelized onions. Next, Add the egg and cheese mixture to the pie crust. place in oven. After about 15 minutes of baking add in remaining caramelized onions evenly over the quiche with some tomato slices if desired. Bake in the center of the oven until the filling is golden and puffed and is completely baked through, about 30-40 min. To test for doneness, shake the quiche - if it is solid without a pool of uncooked filling in the center, it is done. You may also stick a sharp knife blade into the center of the filling and if it comes out clean, the quiche is baked through. If the edges of the pie start to look too brown, place tin foil along the edges or cover the whole quiche with one piece of foil while baking.

10 Quiches?

I had until 10:20AM the next morning to bake 10 quiches!  I had a good system down. A pie crust was in the freezer while a quiche was in the oven. It was in a quiche cooking frenzy! The only issue arose when I lost time with two crusts collapsing on me. Luckily I had the dough made ahead of time and had enough for 12 quiches.  I had the caramelized onions cooked early on and I shredded the cheese as I went. Even with this, I was only able to churn out 6 quiches with one oven & hours of cooking! I felt like I had already accomplished a lot and I was ready for the pie experiment!

The Day of The Pie Experiment

The last quiche came out of the oven at 10:00AM. My friend and lifesaver for the day, Caitlin arrived at my apartment and we placed a giant tupperware container with the six quiches into my car and drove over to the Middle East. Once we were there a sigh of relief set in. Tables were set up with names of teams and there was a happy buzz in the air of what was to come! Everyone was super helpful in setting up. Nick and Theo really are great hosts. Nicks mother was the sweetest and provided all with helpful tips. We were told to cut the quiches into small bites. I was relieved because I was worried about whether or not I would have enough quiche. 



People started arriving and before I knew it there was a line of hungry people waiting in line for a piece of quiche! The Middle East smelled great and was filled with food enthusiasts!




There was dancing, good beer and great music!  It was more like a giant party than a competition. When it was time to present my dish to the judges, I was surprisingly not nervous. Just being there and enjoying the whole event made it a very comfortable experience.  My quiche won a lot of praise from taste testers and some even came back for seconds! The real enjoyment came when I had a chance to try all of the other delicious pies. So many incredible concoctions, clever names and wonderful chefs! Among my favorites were; the Piegate with a nice maple bacon taste who also had a vegan/vegetarian option which I thought was nice for those that did not eat meat. The Pretzel Me Sweetly pie was a perfect blend of chocolate with a salty pretzel crust. The bourbon banana tart, cherry frangipane, a japanese sweet potato pie with apple, blueberry with lemon curd and the winner Pissaladi√®re with a tart that miraculously hid the flavor of anchovies and took your taste buds on journey with caramelized onions and olive tapenade! I was stuffed and could not try them all, unfortunately, but each pie that I did taste was excellent!  

In the end I was so happy that I participated in this fun event. I would do it again next year! So remember the Food Experiments and if you ever decide to participate, here are some tips:

-Print recipe to handout to everyone
-Bring more business cards
-Prepare recipe and purchase ingredients ahead of time and not the day before
-Props/apron - Coordinated outfits and props like gold pretzels, lab coats, etc.. were a big hit!
-Bring Tape - I brought tape and it came in handy for everyone.
-Decorate your table. We had flowers and an orange covering to match the color of Nomsense.
-Use a big kitchen for the cooking if you can
-Bring a serving utensil and maybe a nice serving tray for presenting to the judges or for more decoration
-Have fun!


For more on the Boston Pie Experiment check out The Food Experiments on Facebook and The Boston Pie Experiment Photo set on Flickr.


Have you made a Nomsense pie lately???





Thursday, August 4, 2011

Flaky Pie Crust

I have made enough quiche by now to know how to make a VERY good pie crust! This recipe will not fail you! 







Ingredients

  • 2C flour
  • 1 Tablespoon cornflour
  • 2 Tablespoons vegetable shortening
  • 1 Teaspoon granulated sugar
  • 1/4 Teaspoon salt
  • 2/3C cold unsalted butter, small dice
  • 6 to 8 Tablespoons ice water

Directions

In a large bowl, mix together flours, salt, and sugar until well combined. Using clean hands, add butter and shortening until mixture forms smaller pieces (some big chunks should remain) and comes together in larger clumps, about 1 minute. Drizzle in half ice water and mix until just moistened. Drizzle in remaining water 1 tablespoon at a time and mix with fingers to moisten. Form into ball, working quickly. Do not overwork the dough or it will become tough. Cover with plastic wrap, press it into a flat disk and place in coldest part of refrigerator (usually back bottom shelf) for least 30 minutes before rolling out and forming into a crust. 


I always freeze my pie crust for 15 minutes before baking.

Nomsense is on Facebook!