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Sunday, July 15, 2012

Strawberry Shortcake Tortenboden

OK.  Two things.

First, this shit is delicious.

Second, this shit is so freaking delicious.

It's pretty easy to make too.

Granted, it's not really 'from scratch' shortcake (I bought some sponge cake), which is why this is called "Strawberry Shortcake Tortenboden" after all.  Cause I used store-bought Tortenboden.

I just like to say the word 'Tortenboden'.  I like to use a lilting swedish accent when I do it too.  Cause I'm cool.  NOT as cool as Tortenboden is though.  That shit's the MAN!

Anyway...  what you'll need if you're doing it this way, is: strawberries, strawberries, some more strawberries, some tortenboden or tortenboden tarts, a handful of icing sugar, some spices (I used pepper and cardamom) and a pinch of corn starch.  Oh... and whipping cream (so some sugar, vanilla, and heavy cream).

It take a little while, but it's actually rather easy.

This (my) version is unique.  I didn't follow any recipes ever.  In fact, no recipes were consulted in the concocting of this dessert.


So, first things first, we're going to get started on the strawberry sauce.

I guess the FIRST thing you should do is wash and sliver (quarter) about two pints of strawberries.

Once sliced, put a small amount - about a cup - of slivered strawberries into a blender and purée the mix until totally liquefied.  The remainder of your sliced berries can be put in a medium mixing bowl, and put aside for now.

Get the strawberry purée cooking in a small saucepan on medium-low.

Chop up about another cup of strawberries, even finer than before (roughly strawberry eighths).

Add that to the 'sauce' mixture in your saucepan, and let it cook for about 15 minutes, until thoroughly softened and a little thicker.

Then it's just add some thickener and some spices.

You can use a variety of 'dessert' spices here, including things like cinnamon and nutmeg, but I chose to go with cardamom.  I love pairing freshly ground cardamom with fresh fruit.  It's tasty.

So, into the pot goes the freshly mulched cardamom seeds, along with a generous dose of black pepper.  YES, BLACK PEPPER!  Trust me.  It's delicious.

OK, now add a few generous spoonfuls (I'd guess around a cup in total) of icing sugar.

And about two teaspoons of corn starch, pre-whisked into a small amount of liquid (like skim milk).

Stir those in separately, and well, and you'll notice the strawberry sauce will start to look nice and goopy!

Once that has been successfully sweetened, flavoured, and thickened, take the whole pot OFF of the heat and let it cool.  If you like, you can rest your saucepan in a shallow amount of cold water in your sink... but be careful.

Now mix up your whipped cream.  If you're a weirdo and you don't know how to make your own whipped cream, please see my post on 'How to Make Whipped Cream'.

Get everything altogether and all ready to be assembled.

So, in order (from bottom to top), this is going to be, tortenboden tarts, strawberry sauce, strawberry quarters, and a dollop of whipped cream on top (or the side).

Pour out all your sauce into the tarts.  If there's more sauce than tarts, don't stress, it will actually be cool to spill some over the sides.

At this point you can serve them up. 

Put the fresh fruit and whipped cream on top immediately after plating each individual tart... so, if you're serving up all of them, then just go ahead and get out all your individual plates and assemble them all on those.

Because I made six tortes and was only serving up two tonight, I plated and assembled two, and then just covered everything else as-is and put them (keeping the whipped cream, fresh fruit, and sauced-up-tortes, all in separate containers) in the fridge.

Anyway, I think I may have mentioned earlier that this shit is epic delicious... because it is.

Like... mind-blowingly scrumptious.


How to Make Whipped Cream

So I feel a little stupid about posting on 'how to make whipped cream', I mean, everyone knows how to make whipped cream, right?

Well... just in case someone doesn't (in which case I've assuredly made them feel even stupider than I do) I thought I'd do a quick post on it and maybe they can stumble over here to my humble blog and learn how.

First (this is important).

CHILL your implements.

So, a mixing bowl (metal works great for this), and either a strong whisk or your electric mixer attachments.

Once those are chilled, bring out everything you need.  Flavourings (at its most traditional, this is with vanilla and white sugar), chilled implements, electric mixer, and the cream (which - I hope I don't need to say - has been chilling).

Dump in your whole container of cream, and about a tablespoon each of vanilla and sugar.

Then, it's just the beat-down time.  Start beating on medium or slow if you prefer, and just watch the cream transform BEFORE YOUR EYES.  heh heh heh.

Stage 1: Creamy 

Stage 2: Frothy 

Stage 3: Velvety 

Stage 4: Light and airy

That's it.

It's done.

Use to dress up many desserts, like, for example, Strawberry Shortcake Tortenboden.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Holy Fresh Strawberries (Batman)!

Of course I love strawberries.

Barring people with severe allergies, it's one of those foods which is beloved by ALL, isn't it?

I'd say they're one of my favourite fruit, behind raspberries and blueberries of course.

Well, tis the season for freshly-picked, locally-grown, Ontario Strawberries, and we've been seeing them all over lately.  From street vendors, to huge in-store displays, we've surely been sorely tempted.

Of course, we get strawberries all year round here, but there's something to be said for the local farm-fresh berries.  They're pretty darned gorgeous right now.

Wouldn't you agree?

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

French Press Coffee

One of the very first things my wife ever bought me for my kitchen (and this was like 12 years ago) was a French Press coffee carafe.  

Colloquially known as a Bodum (the brand name), we used this all the time, as we were super into TEA back then.  Do you remember how big loose tea was around the turn of the millennium?  I do.  We used to have a pantry full of Steeps Tea tins.

Anyway, about a week after I got it, the carafe cracked all the way down one side.

Even though this crack occurred by simply boiling water (I'd imagine what would be considered "normal wear and tear" for such a device), and we probably could have complained and gotten a new one, we just dealt with it.

It actually does NOT affect the structural stability of the carafe, nor does it have any loose pieces which could end up in the carafe.

Eventually - months or years later, we did buy a new carafe for this press... but it is still in the box and never opened.  The idea was that we'd bring it out when this baby finally gives out.  So, for the past 12 years I've been half expecting the glass to shatter when I pour in some boiling water.  I even do it in over the sink, every time, just in case.  But it never does.


Anyway, it's great for loose tea, but also for a very rich cup of coffee now and then.

I usually go really heavy on these preparations, and will opt for a strong ratio of coffee to water, and then I'll let it steep FAR longer than necessary, often up to a half hour.

Then it's press-down the plunger, and pour.  Sometimes I'll strain what does come out, just because the plunger-strainer thing isn't always 100% perfect.  Sometimes it doesn't bother me to have some coffee grounds at the bottom of my cup.  Sometimes you use coarsely ground beans too... which are easily strained by the press.

Of course, we have a really nice drip coffee maker, which I use more often, but the richness and flavour of coffee brewed in a French Press is very much unparalleled.  Just look at this:


I read somewhere that coffee brewed this way leaves more oils in than when using a coffee filter.  This can lead to an increase in bad cholesterol levels.  When you look closely at the fine rainbow effects on these bubbles, I can believe it.

But once in a while, this is a truly delicious cup of coffee.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Holy Red Seedless Grapes (Batman)!

One of my favourite snacking foods is grapes.

The wife used to always bring home green seedless grapes, and they were OK.

But, once I suggested she get red instead.  

I believe (without any overburdening of facts or foreknowledge on the subject, as I am often wont) that red grapes are better for you than green.  It's not as though green grapes are a rich, vibrant green like spinach, right?  Instead, their pasty skin is a pale, pallid green which I can't believe (again, without the misfortune of actually having any educated idea whatsoever) is containing as much nutrients as the incredibly dark and rich looking red skin of the red grapes.

While she was a little skeptical at first, she acquiesced and we now bring home a huge bag of these every week.

They require a little bit of effort all the time - you have to strip them from the vine, wash them in some water, and then dry them a bit before storing in a large plastic bin.

But they're so gorgeous.  And tasty.  And good for you.

Just LOOK at these.  

Don't they make your mouth water?
They do mine.

Here's an extra high-resolution pic I'll include.  Just so you can drool as much as I am right now:


Saturday, July 7, 2012

Basil Infused Green Beans

This is really just a super quick and easy way to steam up some green beans (or any vegetable, really), with one of my favourite vegetable-pairing herbs, Basil.

I made these the other day, to accompany my homemade mac&cheese, and they were superb.

Rather than chop anything, or do worry overly about much prep at all, just grab a handful of basil leaves and crumple them up in your hand.  If you want to pulverize them in a mortar and pestle, feel free, but I find that just rolling them about roughly in my hand is sufficient to 'bruise' them.

I believe that's actually the correct technical term.  Bruising.


Anyway, just add these, with a good sprinkle of salt and pepper, to a pan with some green beans and about two tablespoons of water.

Cover that up and let it steam on medium high for about 6 or 7 minutes.

Once they're all slimy and dull looking, crack the lid, pour out any remaining water, replace with about a tablespoon of oil, and pan-fry on medium high for another 5 minutes or so.

They're ready once they start to take on some gold and brown patches on their sides, and they crisp up a bit.

I wish I had more attractive photos for these... but my camera's battery ran out and I was forced to use my phone.  Boo!

So, sorry.

These beans actually looked delightfully greener, warmer, and more delicious.  I promise!

Anyway, this is super fast, and super easy, and they taste freakin awesome.

Chive and Basil Mac & Cheese

I love mac and cheese as much as the next person (well... North American let's say) but it kind of shocks me how often some people eat this stuff.

To me (and when you look at the constituents altogether) it seems very much a rich and extravagant TREAT.  I mean it's filled with fat.  So much fat.  And let's not forget an insane amount of carbs.

Now, that said, I do love it like I say - and will make a batch of home-made mac and cheese at least three or four times a year.

More often than not, this is your traditional BAKED mac and cheese with breadcrumbs.

However, sometimes, I like a creamier texture, and instead opt for sans breadcrumbs, and just simmered on the stove-top.

As I did this go around.

So, let's get into my latest iteration of Mac & Cheese, which for this version involves pepper, chives, and basil taking centre stage.

I start, as always, by putting on a pot of water, and then getting the prep chopped and ready.

Finely chop everything.  We're not going to purée them, however, as that would make the sauce green.  (Can you tell I've done that before? heh heh heh).

So, they just get chopped finely and added (in order) to some butter and olive oil on medium low heat:

Butter and olive oil

Green Onion

Green Onion, and Garlic

Green Onion, Garlic, and Jalapeño Pepper

Once that is all added, and mixed well, bring it to a vigorous simmer on medium heat,

And then add the milk.

As regular, I'm choosing to use two kinds of milk here.  

The skim milk on its own is a tad too weak to float this sauce, and the homogenized is a tad too rich.  So we add a bit of both.

Really, it's mostly skim still.  About a cup and a half of skim, and then let that heat up for a bit before adding about a half a cup of homogenized.  The herbs (chives and basil) can go in at this point now too.

Now it's just bringing the sauce to a slow boil over medium and waiting for the sauce to change from an oily separated mess,

 to a milky consistent white.

Now you're ready to add the cheese and some pepper (I ran out of pink peppercorns, so this is a white, green, black medley sans pink).

Some of these photos were taken with my phone instead of my camera.  For that I apologize.  I wanted to charge the battery so that it would be ready for the finale.


So, stir in the cheese, and let that heat up and get incorporated.

You can add a pinch or three of cornstarch here (pre-mixed into some milk) to thicken it if you like.

Now, my experience with cheese sauces (and a lot of mixed-polarity sauces) is that it can be a little tricky to balance the oils.  This can leave your sauce NOT in solution (i.e. separated).  To get around this you just need to keep tweaking one side or the other.  So, try adding some more oil if the existing fats are not mixing well, or try adding just plain hot water if it seems too oily.  I'd say: "it's not a science, people" but it actually is.  We're trying to get non-polar (oil-based) ingredients to mix smoothly and uniformly with polar (water-based) ingredients.  And everyone knows oil and water don't mix.

So... my sauce looked a little chunky (and not in a good way) as in the melted cheese started to look all spongy and wouldn't dissolve well.  So, I figured I had added too much oil to the mix, and - sure enough - after adding a few tablespoons of hot water into the sauce, it all evened out.

Now just add your cooked noodles, 

Stir for a while, and feel free to bring the heat up to medium high to get it all toasty, and then you're done!

If you're looking for the more traditional baked mac & cheese, stir in some breadcrumbs, and then pour the whole thing into a large casserole dish or baking pan, sprinkle a bit more cheese and breadcrumbs on top, and then bake for at least a half hour at 375° or higher.

I saved a couple of small Basil tops for garnish:

And then plated the pasta.

It was very delicious.  Extremely velvety and creamy, without being overly rich.  The jalapeño is actually delightfully subtle in this recipe.  What you taste most is cheese overtones, with hints of basil and chive, along with a pleasant overall heat from the pepper.