All posts by The Experimental Gourmand

Chocolate-Pistachio Biscotti

Chocolate-Pistachio Biscotti 1Chocolate-Pistachio Biscotti

At a friend’s annual New Year’s Day party this year, a fellow guest asked me about why it’s so difficult to replicate restaurant dishes at home.  There’s several reasons why this might be true, I replied.  Having your own prep team to make stocks and sauces and pulling together mise en place is one aspect.  Another is the access to top-notch ingredients.  Still another is that restaurant recipes are scaled for service, and when they are modified for home cooking, sometimes they just don’t work.  Case in point, are these Chocolate-Pistachio Biscotti that I brought to that same party.

Original RecipeOriginal biscotti recipe

I was given this recipe when I was a culinary student at the International Culinary Center, working at L’Ecole.  The then-Pastry Chef rattled it off to me one night just before the start of our (the students’) part of service.  What I’d liked about these biscotti when I’d snacked on them one night was that they weren’t too sweet.  They also had a nice crunch to the outside and a firm texture on the inside, without that teeth-shattering consistency of some Italian-style confections.  In looking at the proportions on this card, it shows that making the recipe using these ratios would yield a lot of cookies.

Re-scaled recipeRe-scaled recipe

There’s also the issue of measurements.  The original recipe has a mixture of pounds, grams, cups, teaspoons, a real mish-mash of amounts.  Truthfully, this isn’t all that uncommon in restaurant chef recipes either, which is another reason that trying to scale them to work in a home kitchen doesn’t always produce the same results.  Still, I was hoping that my math skills and baking knowledge would enable me to wing it through this recipe, as it was my contribution to the party, along with a bottle of Ronnybrook Farm‘s fabulous, seasonal eggnog.

Wet ingredients mixed togetherWet ingredients mixed together

So, I divided the amounts by eight, basing that on the quantity of eggs and flour, as that seemed easy enough to do.  It got a little tricky when I tried to scale down the 1.5 pounds of butter, but I think I got it right.  As the only actual directions on the card said to use the creaming method, I mixed the softened butter and sugar together and then added the eggs.

Dry ingredients mixed togetherDry ingredients mixed together

Then, I mixed together the flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, and salt.  I gradually added the flour mixture to the egg mixture.  The combination ended up being much drier than I’d expected it to be.  I’ve only ever made biscotti once, and that was a while ago, so I was still a bit skeptical that this was going to turn out all right.  I tossed in the chocolate chips (actually a chopped up chocolate bar) and the pistachios and formed the batter into two logs that were sort of biscotti-shaped.

Dough prepared for ovenDough ready for the oven

The only other instructions on the card were the baking temperatures and times.  I baked one of these loaves intact the entire time.  The other one, I cut into pieces after the first baking.  In the past, I’d remembered in making biscotti and mandelbrot that before the second time in the oven, the loaves had been sliced into cookies.

Baking two waysBaking biscotti two ways

Turns out that, in this case, I didn’t really need to do that step at all.  The dough was very soft when I’d cut into it.  Waiting until after all the baking cycles were done proved to make it easier to handle the loaves and to make more evenly-sized cookies.  I let the biscotti cool on the baking sheet on the stove top, letting the carry-over cooking dry them out just enough to give them that crunchy factor.  I made these the evening before the party, and they held up very well.

BIscotti out of the ovenBiscotti cooling

They were very well-received at the party, both in taste and texture.  The host agreed with me that they could have been just a hair sweeter and that maybe the cocoa powder that I used wasn’t exactly right.  I’d thought about going the Dutch-processed route, but stuck with a more general variety.  The fun thing about playing around with recipes is that there’s always the next time to try to make it better.

Chocolate-Pistachio Biscotti

Prep Time: about 1 hour

Portion Size: about 2 dozen biscotti

Ingredients:

3 ounces Unsalted Butter, softened

1 c. White Sugar

2 Large Eggs

2 c. AP Flour

1/2 c. Cocoa Powder

1 tsp. Baking Soda

1/4 tsp. Salt

1 c. Pistachios, shelled

1/2 c. Chocolate Chips (or chopped chocolate bar)

Assembly:

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit.  Whip butter and sugar together until smooth and light in color.  Add the eggs and beat into the sugar mixture until thoroughly incorporated.  In a separate bowl, combine flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, and salt.  Stir to mix together.

Gradually add the flour mixture to the egg mixture and incorporate completely.  The dough will be quite dense.  Add in the chocolate and pistachios and fold them into the batter as best you can.

On a parchment-lined baking tray, form the batter into two biscotti-shaped logs.  Bake them for 15 minutes.  Lower the oven temperature to 300 degrees Fahrenheit and bake the biscotti for 12 minutes.  Rotate the baking tray and bake them for another 12 minutes.

Remove the baking tray from the oven.  Cut the biscotti logs into 1-inch (2.5 cm) slices and let them cool on the baking tray for 10-15 minutes.  Eat them within a couple of days, if they last that long.

Chocolate-Pistachio Biscotti 2Chocolate-Pistachio Biscotti

Buon appetito!

Walk-Around Tasting with the Italian Trade Commission

Mortadella displayMortadella display

Earlier this month, I was invited to attend a walk-around tasting of Italian food products by the Italian Trade Commission.  The goal was to introduce us to the AICIG (Italian Association of Geographical Indication), an organization that works to protect and preserve the designation of authenticity of Italian food products, as well as to let us actually sample those products, thus giving us a deeper appreciation for the quality and tradition behind these edibles.  This organization represents the PDO (Protected Designation of Origin) and PGI (Protected Geographical Indication) sectors at the national, European Union, and international levels, helping them to promote their products and to raise awareness of these food certifications.

Prosciutto sliced on the machineProsciutto sliced by machine

Food certification and guarantees of authenticity in production are an area taken much more seriously in the European Community than in other areas of the world.  The process to receive one of these designations is time-consuming and expensive, but the rewards of doing it and the recognition of these products at that level can be financially very important.  It isn’t just about the labeling rights, however, as these designations are also a matter of preserving Italian culinary and cultural traditions, ones that have hundreds of years of history behind them, something that the Italian government and their local authorities work very hard to maintain.

Grana Padano displayDisplay of cheeses

Among the products that we had the opportunity to taste were cheeses, prosciutto, vinegar, and olive oil.  Our host location, Osteria del Principe also served us several delicious dishes, including a deliciously creamy Risotto ai Funghi, that showcased Italian cuisine.  These foods reinforce the passion and commitment that the trade commission and its members have for items that they feel deserve to carry the “Made In Italy” stamp.  They have indicated that over the next year, they will be having more such events, including one just for Italian wines, to introduce us further to the quality and care with which Italian products are made.

Buon appetito!

Thank you so much to the folks at PadillaCRT for inviting me to take part in this event. For additional information about the Italian Trade Commission, please visit their website. For additional information about the AICIG, please visit their website.

Dessert-apoolza at Baked Tribeca

Cookbook displayCookbook Display

On Thursday night, I dropped by Baked‘s new-ish Tribeca location for Dessert-apoolza, a cookbook signing and tasting event that raised moneys for Cookies for Kids’ Cancer and Getting Out and Staying Out.  The former organization, as I’ve mentioned in the past, is one with which I have a personal connection, and, well, having dessert for dinner is just one of those perks of being a grown-up (the other is having dessert for breakfast), so this was right up my alley.  If you’re looking for some cookbook ideas for this holiday season, check out these ones that were at the sweets-fest last week:

Ample Hills ice creamsAmple Hills Creamery – Egg Nog and Drunken Thanksgiving Ice Cream

Samples of two seasonal flavors of this local ice cream company were available for tasting.  The Egg Nog was a creamy, frozen version of its namesake holiday party beverage.  The Drunken Thanksgiving combined pumpkin, gingersnaps, and bourbon.  This can take the place of pie at my holiday feast any year.

Baked - Tri-color Bars Wintermint CakeBaked – The Tri-Color Bar Wintermint Cake

The hosts for the evening put out this seasonal, festive mini-cakes for everyone to try.  They have several cookbooks as well as a range of baking mixes.  Really, though, stopping by one of their shops to pick out treats to take home (or to eat on site) is the way to go.

Baked Ideas displayBaked Ideas – Cookies

I’m a big, big fan of cookies, as I’ve mentioned in the past, so it was no surprise that I wanted to hang out at this table for a while.  Patti Paige had several different kinds of cookies, including gluten-free ones, available for the guests to try.  She even had decorating supplies for us to create our own designs.  My cookie frosting M.O., however, hasn’t changed since childhood and is just to slather on a glob of icing and to pop it in my mouth, which wasn’t exactly what I think she had in mind.

Butter & Scotch - S'mores PieButter & Scotch – S’mores Pie

Samples of the fabulous S’mores Pie and Bourbon-Ginger-Pecan pie from Butter & Scotch were available at this tasting, so I tried to limit my self to just one sample of each, along with copies of Allison Kave’s terrific book First Prize Pies.  Aside from Ample Hills’ ice cream, I’d take any of these pies on my holiday dinner table, as well.  Keep in touch with these ladies, as they’re opening up a brick & mortar shop in Crown Heights any week (day?) now.

Dorie Greenspan signing cookbooksDorie Greenspan signing cards

No discussion of the year’s best cookbooks, or must-have baking books in general, would be complete without mentioning ones by Dorie Greenspan.  I had a chance to talk to one of the women who worked on testing the recipes for her most recent volume, and she glowed as she raved about how delicious all of them were, including the Palets des Dames and Limoncello Cupcakes we could taste during the event.

Ovenly displayOvenly display

Two of my favorite kinds of cookies – Salted Chocolate Chip and Peanut Butter – were on the table by the Ovenly folks on Thursday.  I always enjoy seeing their baked goods around town, as I know that they’ll be something special.  Fortunately, these were packed up for me to take away to save to eat later.

Buon appetito!

Dry-Brine Turkey for Thanksgiving 2014

The TurkeyThe Turkey

I’ve been absent from the writing portion of this website for a little while now.  Catering and events busy season kicked into gear, and I had also taken a full-time position in a catering kitchen at the end of July.  Those factors, plus some personal things I’ve been dealing with for the past few months resulted in a blog and recipe-testing hiatus.  Hopefully, you were all still keeping up with me via Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.  What has gotten me back into the swing of things is this gorgeous, fresh turkey from Cascun Farm in Greene, NY, which I prepared for the Thanksgiving feast that I hosted on Thursday for the “Castaways,” or “Orphans” gathering this year.

Set up for guestsGetting ready for guests to arrive

Having spent quite a few Thanksgiving holidays far away from family over the years, both in New York City and when I was living overseas, I really enjoy these get-togethers.  I’ve celebrated the day for a several years with a few of the same folks who were at my apartment on Thursday.  Then, there were other people whom I was meeting, and whose food I was trying, for the first time.  It’s always an interesting dynamic and can get quite lively, with stories shared of holiday meals and family traditions.  So, I knew that I had to make sure that the turkey was delicious and flavorful.  No pressure at all for the hostess of this meal, right?  Nope.  None at all.

Finished TurkeyThanksgiving 2014 Turkey

The fact that I’d never, ever cooked a turkey before shouldn’t matter, should it?  An article in Bon Appetit about dry bringing the bird and spatchcocking it.  I decided against using the latter technique and for using the former.  After consulting a few websites about cooking time, I figured that allowing about three hours cooking time would work for a turkey of this size (about 12 pounds).  In the end, I realized that the turkey is just a large chicken, and I treated it (lovingly) just like that, stuffing herb butter under the skin and basting during cooking to promote a golden, crispy skin and moist meat.  There was hardly any left over at the end of the evening, definitely not enough to make Turkey Curry.  I can put this down as a success and look forward to next year’s meal.

Dry Brine Turkey

Prep Time: Overnight for the turkey to brine, plus 3 hours cooking time (allow for 3 1/2 hours with resting time)

Serving Size: About a pound of meat per person (we served 11 people)

Ingredients:

1 12-pound Turkey, preferably fresh

To Brine:

1/2 cup Kosher Salt

1 Tablespoon Thyme, fresh, chopped

1 Tablespoon Rosemary, fresh, chopped

1 Tablespoon Sage, fresh, chopped

To Cook:

3 Tablespoons Unsalted Butter, softened

2 teaspoons Extra Virgin Olive Oil

1 teaspoon Thyme, fresh, chopped

1 teaspoon Rosemary, fresh, chopped

1 teaspoon Sage, fresh, chopped

Dry Brine MixtureDry Brine Mixture

Unpack the turkey.  Remove the neck, giblets, etc. and reserve for making gravy or stock.  Put the turkey on a rack placed on a baking sheet and let it sit for a few minutes while making the brine mixture.  Combine the salt, thyme, rosemary, and sage in a bowl.  Sprinkle the salt mixture all over the turkey, making sure to coat the entire bird thoroughly and evenly.

Turkey brining in the fridgeTurkey brining in the fridge

Put the turkey in the refrigerator, uncovered, for 8-12 hours at least.  Some folks I spoke with in the catering kitchen said that they leave it even longer.  When ready to cook the turkey, pre-heat the oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.  Take the turkey out of the refrigerator and rinse off the brine.  Pat it dry.

Butter-Herb MixtureButter-Herb Mixture

Make the herb butter by mixing together the unsalted butter, olive oil, and herbs.  Notice that there’s no salt added.  The brine will have seasoned the meat, so there is no need to add extra salt.  Plus, with the gravy and stuffing and side dishes, there will be plenty of seasoning on everything.

Butter under turkey skinButter stuffed under turkey skin

Gently pull the skin away from the meat and stuff the herb butter underneath the skin of the breast and legs.  Try to distribute it as evenly as possible.  Place the turkey in the oven and let it cook for 30-40 minutes.  Baste the turkey, brushing the melted butter and fat over the legs and breast meat.  After that, turn the temperature down to 325 degrees Fahrenheit and continue to cook the turkey for another 2 1/2 to three hours,* until a thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the thigh registers 165 degrees Fahrenheit.

Finished TurkeyThe finished turkey

Remove the turkey from the oven.  Tent it with foil and let it rest for 30 or so minutes while making the gravy and reheating the side dishes.  Carve the turkey and serve.

Buon appetito!

*Kitchen Witch Tip:

Balancing out the cooking time to have moist breast and thigh meat was one of the concerns that I had.  One way around this is to place foil over the breast meat if it looks like it is getting overcooked.  Basting the meat every 30 minutes or so also helps to keep the meat moist and juicy.

Mercato Notturno at Union Square Greenmarket

Bologna City of Food

Friday night, between the end of work and the start of going out with friends to see The Ivory Tower at Cooper Union (if you are curious about some of the real costs of higher education, I highly recommend seeing this movie), I swung by the Union Square Greenmarket for one of their two upcoming night markets.  This one called Mercato Notturno (night market in Italian), featured foods from Italy as well as a pasta-making demonstration.  There was also a table at the market that had information on it about Expo Milano 2015: “Feeding the Planet. Energy for Life,” where the United States will have a pavilion.  For me, it was a little trip back to Bologna, the central focus of the market, where I lived for several years.  Here’s some pictures from the event:

Pizza al FornoPizza al Forno by Pizza Moto

Risotto with PestoRisotto alle herbe from Risotteria Melotti

Mortadella di Bologna on the slicerMortadella on the slicer

Info sign about chefsInformation about the participants

dolce non dolceDolce non Dolce by Agostino Jacobucci

Ricotta made with the leftovers from the production of Parmigiano-Reggiano along with a syrup made with Lambrusco and pistachio powder.

La SfoglinaLa Sfoglina – Stefania Civolani of Trattoria del Gallo

Rolling out pasta doughStarting to roll out the pasta

Rolling out Pasta SheetRolling out the sheet of pasta (la sfoglia)

Cutting the pasta into squaresCutting the pasta into squares

Adding tortellini fillingAdding filling to make tortellini

Forming tortelliniForming the tortellini

Cutting tagliatelleCutting pasta sheet into tagliatelle

Showing la tagliatelleShowing off le tagliatelle

Ribbons of tagliatelleRibbons of tagliatelle

Nests of Pasta“Nests” of pasta drying (i nidi)

MBA in Food & WineMBA in Food & Wine at the University of Bologna

For those who would like to find out more about Bologna and its cuisine, or just about the marketing of Italian food in general, you might consider looking into this new program put together by the University of Bologna’s Business School.  To learn about Bologna, in general, you can see my photos of the pasta class that I took at La Vecchia Scuola Bolognese and read about a trip outside the city to drink wine and enjoy pasta in a vineyard nei colli (in the hills) and about my adventures traipsing around the city eating gelato.

NettunoStatue of Neptune in Piazza Maggiore, Bologna

Buon appetito!

“The Dynamic Flavors of Beer – Tasting and Pairing” with John Holl at the 92nd Street Y

The American Craft Beer CookbookCookbook by John Holl

“We were a country founded on beer,” stated John Holl, the author of The American Craft Beer Cookbook at last Thursday’s talk with Kitchen Arts & Letters at the 92nd Street Y: The Dynamic Flavors of Beer – Tasting and Pairing.  The starting point of his mini-seminar was having us taste some of these beers so that we could see the range and nuances of several of the beers currently being brewed in the United States.  In his book, he tries to capture the stories of these and and others being made in this country at the moment and to highlight not only their diversity but also the variety of foods that we are eating with them at this point in time.  “Beer and Food have really come up together,” he told us.

Beers SampledBeers sampled at tasting

Before we delved into the matching up of beer and food, Holl explained to us the proper way to sample a beer.  “You don’t swish and spit.  You taste and swallow,” he said, pointing out the differences between a beer tasting and a wine tasting, noting that there were no dump buckets on the table for us to pour our beers into.  There are who different methods of experiencing the aromas of a beer, he told us.  “The Bloodhound,” where you do quick bursts of sniffing in the fragrance, and the “Drive By,” where you pass the glass back and forth across your nose, taking a deep breath as it goes by.  Just as with wine, mouthfeel plays an important roll in sampling beer as do the aromas and finish.

Food PlateFood plate

The questions he told us to keep in mind when trying the beverages we were tasting that day were: “Would you have it again?” and “Would you have another one after that?”  He also instructed us that the best way to get a beer into a glass was to pour straight down the middle.  Unlike what I, and others, have been taught all of our beer-drinking and -pouring lives, you do want a bit of a head on top of the drink.  It helps to build the aromas.  Here’s a list of the beers that we tried and the pairings that Holl did with them:

Golden ExportGolden Export by Gordon Biersch

This is a “standard American lager,” according to Holl.  It tasted just like the beers of my college years, light, drinkable, best served cold.  One of those beers that goes down smoothly on a hot summer’s day (possibly after mowing the lawn) or after a long shift at work.  It was a doable match with the pretzel on the plate.

Victory FestbierVictory Brewing Festbier

For me, this beer had quite a few dry cider notes, almost a cross between a lager and a cider, but not in a Snakebite kind of way.  (I have memories of those from my time living in the UK just out of college.)  It finished clean on the palate, which was nice with the pretzel that we tried with it, wiping up the saltiness on my tongue.  I could see some really great food pairings as it might play well with dishes with a bit of spice (as well as maybe using it to cook with for a buttery roast chicken.).

Boulevard Brewing Co Wheat BeerBoulevard Brewing Company Wheat Beer

This selection was a light, refreshing beverage, but I have to admit, I’m not generally a fan of wheat beers.  The Manchego that we tasted with it brought out some fruity, clove, and even ripe banana notes, which was kind of intriguing to discover about it.  During the Q&A at the end of the session, Holl pointed out that as it is often served with an orange or lemon wedge, it can also be a good match with briny seafood dishes, a pairing which might just change my mind about these beers.

Great Lakes Brewing Co - Edmund Fitzgerald Porter Great Lakes Brewing Co. Edmund Fitzgerald Porter

I grew up with the lyrics to “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald,” so I found it interesting that someone had named a beer after that incident.  This was the beer I was most looking forward to sampling all evening, just from a personal standpoint.  I’ve recently gotten into milk stouts and porters, as there are just those times when you really want something more complex and deep – velvety, darkly toasted with chocolate and toffee notes, which, by the way make this a great pairing for creamy desserts, or for the aged Gouda that we had with it that night.  As my friend who was with me said, its aromas reminded her of affogato al caffè.

Smuttynose Finestkind IPASmuttynose Brewing Co. Finestkind IPA

To end the evening, we sampled an IPA with a Maytag blue cheese.  For me, IPAs are intrinsically linked to Indian food.  As Holl pointed out to us, IPA is style that runs the gamut and can go with everything from the aforementioned spicy food to carrot cake.  It was definitely robust enough to handle the blue cheese and made me wonder how it would do with a steak in a gorgonzola sauce (a recipe for which is in his book).  That might be a project to bring some friends together for dinner and a few beers some time soon.  Hopefully, they wouldn’t mind my trying this pairing out on them.

Buon appetito!

Thank you to Kitchen Arts & Letters for inviting me to attend this event.  If you would like to drop by their store (which I encourage all cooks and cookbook lovers to do, as their selection and expertise is amazing), please visit their website for their current hours.  In addition, they are hosting several other food talks in conjunction with their neighbor, the 92nd Street Y.  Those talks can be found on the Y’s website.