Adventures of an unfussy foodie.

September 05, 2014

Super Simple Pots de Créme

It is still hot here in Portland. This summer has been ridiculous and it looks like it's sticking around for a bit longer. Sigh. So while I'm waiting for cooler weather, here's a favorite treat!

I love baking, but in the summer it’s just too hot sometimes. That’s when I rely on no-cook recipes, like this one, to get my dessert fix. These pots de crème are so dreamy, creamy, heavenly. And easy.

It’s also ridiculously versatile. I’ve given the basic recipe here, but there are a million ways to vary the flavor. A summery hint of coconut couldn’t go amiss. Orange, raspberry, or even hazelnut extract or liqueur. A splash of peppermint extract would make it perfect for Christmastime. I could go on, but I’ll let you come up with some ideas of your own.

Just don’t tell anyone how simple they were. A magician never reveals his tricks. :D

For best results, be sure that the eggs are at room temperature. If you need to bring refrigerated eggs up to temperature quickly, place them in a bowl and cover with hot tap water. Let sit for 5 minutes or so. Also, be sure that your liquid is HOT. Don’t let it cool much before adding it as directed.

Super Simple Pots de Créme

12 oz. bittersweet to dark chocolate, chopped (chocolate chips work great!)
4 eggs, at room temperature***
2 tsp. vanilla
Pinch of salt
1 c. HOT liquid -- water, milk, cream, coconut milk (that's what I used for the ones pictured here) If you're a coffee drinker, hot coffee works, too.
1 c. heavy cream
1/4 c. powdered sugar
1 tsp. vanilla

Place chocolate, eggs, vanilla, and salt in the bowl of your blender or food processor.
Pulse together several times to break up the chocolate bits and incorporate the eggs a bit.
Then turn on the blender / food processor.
Remove the small section from the center of the lid, allowing you to stream in the hot liquid. Stream it in slowly and steadily.
The heat will melt the chocolate and the mixture will become smooth, as well as rise and expand some. Keep running the blender until the mixture is smooth (if it's not already).
Divide mixture among serving dishes. I like to do 4 ramekins, but it is extremely rich and could make a satisfying dessert in a shot glass or other small vessel.
Chill in refrigerator until cooled through and set.
While it's chilling, whip the cream together with powdered sugar and vanilla to stiff peaks.

***A word about raw eggs: This recipe has them. The hot liquid used will gently cook the eggs to some extent, but certainly not completely. This does not bother me. I'm a committed raw brownie batter/cookie dough snitcher and it's never made me sick. Some locations have pasteurized eggs available for purchase. If you take issue with eating raw eggs, I recommend that you see if you can find some -- or look for a classic version of this recipe, which will likely include a double boiler, among other complications. To me, the simplicity and amazing result more than outweigh the risk.

August 15, 2014

Pixar-esque Ratatouille & Ratatouille Subs

Before we really get started, I have to mention that this is an eggplant-free zone. I don't like it, and nothing you can say to me or do to it will change my mind. Sorry.

That said, I love ratatouille! Provided that you omit the eggplant.
You could easily add eggplant into this recipe, if it's non-negotiable for you. Find a long, skinny one, about the same circumference as the squash you use.

I'm glad to know I wasn't the only one completely enchanted by Pixar's tian-style interpretation of this classic French dish. When I saw this version on Smitten Kitchen, and again later in her awesome cookbook, I knew it would be happening in a kitchen near me. Soon.

I've done ratatouille in the crockpot, and with stuffed shells, but this might be my favorite way to enjoy it. The presentation is wonderful for a Sunday supper or for when company will be joining you. It's lovely.

I use my mandolin slicer to get  uniformly-thick slices of zucchini and yellow squash. Then it's just a matter of layering things to make them pretty. And, honestly, it's not as much trouble as you might think.

Serve it over couscous or egg noodles and you've got dinner.

But even better than that, when it's layered this way, it holds together perfectly as the filling for a completely delicious vegetarian sub sandwich! Just pile it onto your favorite kind of roll, toasted, naturally. I like to add the zing of fresh tomato to round out the roastiness of the ratatouille filling. And, of course, a sprinkling of Parmesan cheese. You could spread your bun with goat cheese, instead, if that's appealing to you.
(This might or might not also be a goat-cheese-free zone... But that's the great thing about cooking at home, you get to decide what to include!)

Pixar-esque Ratatouille
adapted from Smitten Kitchen

1/2 onion, thinly sliced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 c. tomato puree (such as Pomi)
1 medium zucchini, thinly sliced
1 medium yellow squash, thinly sliced
1 red bell pepper, seeded and thinly sliced
a few sprigs fresh thyme or summer savory, stripped from stems and finely chopped
Salt and pepper
drizzle of olive oil
Parmesan cheese for serving

In a small bowl, combine the onion, garlic, tomato puree, and a pinch of salt and pepper. Spread in the bottom of a 2 quart greased oval baking pan (mine's Corningware). On top of this mixture, start layering your veggies: zucchini slice, yellow squash slice, red pepper slice, repeat.

For prettiest presentation, follow the curve of the baking dish, making kind of a spiral. It would also be pretty in straight rows, alternating the direction of the layers on each row. Sprinkle with chopped thyme or savory, season with salt and pepper, drizzle with olive oil, and place in the oven.

Bake uncovered at 375º for 45 - 50 minutes, or until vegetables are tender, but not so long that they become mushy.

At this point, you have some options. You could serve this as is over couscous or pasta with a sprinkle of Parmesan, or you could take it one awesome step further: make it into the filling for a fantastic sub sandwich. It is hardly any more effort and it is so truly satisfying.

Ratatouille Subs

Extra Ingredients:
1 fresh tomato (I like a good beefsteak), sliced however thickly you like them for sandwiches
4 hoagie rolls or other buns of your choice, split and toasted (a baguette would even work nicely, if you can manage all that crustiness)
Parmesan cheese or goat cheese

Open up your bun and scoop some of the ratatouille into it. Sprinkle on some Parmesan, and top with slices of fresh tomato. Add the top of your bun, and enjoy! If you prefer, you could also spread the top bun with a smattering of tangy goat cheese instead of the Parm.

July 30, 2014

Baked Polenta Fries

It's no secret that I love polenta with much muchness. It's awesome stuff. I love it soft and creamy or crisped up on the stove top. But the first time I tried polenta fries, it was a revelatory experience. It was at a local restaurant during happy hour. They serve it with this delightful gorgonzola butter (which I didn't think I'd like because bleu cheese and I do not generally mix), and the whole thing was divine. The polenta fries were tender but crispy, the way a good fry ought to be.

I knew then that this needed to be in my home cooking repertoire.

But here's the thing. I don't fry things.
I just don't.
I'm not scared of it, per se. I just hate the smell that lingers in the house, and I have no idea what to do with all that oil when I'm done. And it's hard to justify frying things. It just is.

So when I stumbled upon a recipe for BAKED polenta fries over at Oh My Veggies, it was only a matter of time before these happened at my house. The original recipe calls for a flavored log of pre-made polenta. I couldn't find any flavored polenta at my grocery store, so I mixed up my own seasoning of oil with Italian seasoning and garlic powder. I brushed it on the fries before baking, and it was just so yummy.

These polenta fries rounded out a summery meal of Caprese Salad quite nicely. We could not stop munching on these! We dipped them in plain old jarred spaghetti sauce -- it was addicting, like those yummy fried mozzarella sticks, but without the guilt and artery-clogging.

A friend of mine tried it with homemade polenta and told me they turned out well. I'll have to give it a try myself sometime, but until then I love the convenience of using the ready-made polenta from the store. I can keep it on hand in the pantry and have polenta fries pretty much any time I want them.
And I want them all the time now. I bet you will, too.

Baked Polenta Fries

1, 18 oz. log prepared polenta
1/4 c. olive oil
1/4 tsp. garlic powder
1 tsp. Italian seasoning blend (I like Penzey's)
coarse sea salt

Heat oven to 450º.
In a small bowl, combine oil, garlic powder, and Italian seasoning. Set aside.
Cut polenta into 1/2 to 1 inch fry shapes. To do this easily, I cut the log in half lengthwise, then cut each half into about 3 planks, then the planks into strips. Place on a parchment-lined baking sheet in one even layer.
Using a pastry brush, brush the polenta with the oil mixture, turn pieces over, and coat the other side.
Bake for 35 - 40 minutes or until golden-brown, turning halfway through cooking time, if desired. (I didn't and it turned out fine, but one side was a bit toastier than the other.) Sprinkle with salt while still hot from the oven.
Serve with dipping sauce of your choice.

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