Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Armenian Meatball Soup


What defines a comfort food? Does it contain chocolate? Is it wrapped in pastry crust? Filled with cheese? Is it something you grew up eating, or only recently discovered and have since looked to in times of stress? I have a pretty long list of comfort foods, and what I crave really depends on that specific occasion. While a piping hot chicken pot pie will complete me on particular days, a small paper cup filled with tart, original-flavor Pinkberry topped with pineapple, chocolate chips, chocolate crunchies, and coconut will quiet my emotions under other circumstances. Neither of these comforts (among many other foods that can fill the void) were things I grew up eating, but comfort can derive from anywhere. And you could discover a new comfort food today.

Manti is easily one of the most comforting foods that I grew up eating. There are many others that have been passed down to me from my mom, her mother, her mother's mother, and so on and so forth. Some of these recipes date back many generations. It's what makes me who I am, and how your family recipes make you who you are. These recipes help define us. When we're long gone, our children and our children's children will hopefully find comfort in some of these same things.

I remember seeing Ratatouille in theaters when it was first released. One of my favorite moments in the film is when the evil food critic Anton Ego takes a bite of ratatouille and is immediately brought back to his humble beginnings, eating his mother's ratatouille as a young child in the French countryside. It's the first sign of humanity we see in the character, and I'm sure we can all relate to how food can have this transcendent effect on people. This soup does it for me. I've enjoyed it since I was very young, and the original recipe dates back for generations in my family (though adapted over the years and finally measured by yours truly). The lemony tomato broth is a perfect compliment to these tiny bulgur-infused meatballs. I hope you find it as comforting as I do.

Armenian Meatball Soup
Serves 8

1 cup #1 grade fine bulgur
1 pound ground beef
1/2 small onion, minced
1 T. kosher salt
1/2 tsp. black pepper
2 tsp. paprika
About 1/2 cup water

1 T. unsalted butter
1 small onion, finely chopped
6 cups water
1 (15 oz) can tomato sauce or ground peeled tomatoes
1 (14.5 oz) can chicken broth or beef broth (or an equivelent amount of water)
1 T. + 2 tsp. kosher salt
1 tsp. black pepper
1/4 tsp. paprika
1/4 cup + 1 T. lemon juice
1 (15.5 oz) can chickpeas, drained and rinsed (optional)
1 T. rice (optional)
1 T. dried mint leaves

Fill a small bowl with some water and place next to the mixing bowl. Add the bulgur, beef, onion, salt, pepper, and paprika to the bowl and mix well with your hands, adding water a handful at a time until it becomes cohesive and firm (you may need to wet your hands with the water in the bowl as you mix). Constantly wetting your hands, make little meatballs by rolling small bits of the mixture between your palms. They should be about 3/4-inch to 1-inch in diameter. Place the small meatballs on a tray or baking sheet until ready to cook. You will have about 130 meatballs.

In a pot over medium-high heat, melt the butter, add the onion, and sauté until softened. Add the water, tomato sauce, broth, salt, pepper, and paprika and bring to a boil (raise the heat to high). Add the lemon juice and carefully drop the meatballs several at a time into the liquid, mixing in between additions to make sure the meatballs do not stick together. Add the chickpeas or rice, if desired. When the mixture comes back up to a boil, lower the heat, cover and simmer for about 10 to 15 minutes, or until the meatballs are cooked through (they will plump up). Adjust the seasonings if needed, and add the dried mint just before removing from the heat. Serve immediately.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Pasta with Turkey Ragù


This is a simple meat sauce with a lot of flavor. It's nowhere near being a Bolognese, and it's not pretending to be. The bacon adds a touch of smokiness and saltiness, while the turkey keeps it overall pretty light. I was a bit heavy-handed with the black pepper when I made this and really like the "warmth" this sauce had as a result. I served it with cavatappi, but the sauce would work equally well, I think, with any short pasta shape, or long, flat noodle.

**Note** I'd like to apologize to my readers for being a bit lax in my postings lately. I'd also like to apologize to my blogger friends if I've been flaky in reading and commenting on all of your blogs. I have been under a lot of stress in my personal life lately. I really hope you understand, and I hope to be back to my old self soon. Thanks so much for stopping by! I love you all!

Pasta with Turkey Ragù
Serves 6

4 oz sliced bacon, diced
1/2 onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 1/3 lb (20.8 oz) ground turkey
1 (28 oz) can crushed tomatoes
2 cups chicken broth or stock
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 lb pasta

In a Dutch oven over medium heat, add the bacon, render out the fat and cook until crisp, about 5 to 10 minutes. Remove the bacon to a paper towel-lined plate, leaving the bacon grease in the pan. To the hot bacon grease, add the onion and garlic and cook until softened but not browned, another 5 minutes or so. Add the ground turkey, season with salt and pepper, and continue to cook, breaking up the meat with a wooden spoon. When the turkey is cooked through (about 5 to 10 minutes), add the crushed tomatoes and chicken broth. Season with a bit more salt and pepper. Bring to a boil and then reduce the heat to simmer uncovered for about 25 minutes, until reduced and fairly thick. Add the crispy bacon and simmer for another 5 minutes. Adjust seasoning with salt and pepper, as needed.

Meanwhile, bring a pot of salted water to a boil. Add the pasta and cook just to al dente. Drain the pasta well, toss with the sauce, and serve.

**Note** Be sure not to overcook your pasta. As it sits in the sauce, it will continue to absorb excess liquid and can become soft.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Carbonara Craving


Spaghetti carbonara is evil. It's Hannibal Lecter, Dr. No, Keyser Söze. It's a villain on your plate. I don't know about you, but sometimes I can't help but root for the bad guys. It can be so good to be bad. Recently I was craving some spaghetti carbonara. This may be hard to believe, but I don't always give into my cravings. Yeah, I know. My nose just grew 3 inches. But seriously, sometimes cravings can pass. This one didn't. This "coal miner's spaghetti" with its silky, rich, unctuous sauce easily hit the spot. It's such a quick dish to put together, and requires barely more time than to boil the pasta. Bacon and eggs are such a classic breakfast combination, but toss them with spaghetti and you have a simple, delicious peasant dish (I'm not exactly rolling in the Benjamins, you know). So take a walk on the wild side. Make some carbonara. Be bad! Evil never tasted so good!

**Note** Although the recipe serves 4, it can be modified to accommodate less servings. The recipe is easily divisible by 4 (1/4 lb spaghetti, 2 oz bacon, 1 clove garlic, 1 egg, 1/4 tsp. pepper, 1/8 tsp. salt, 1/4 cup cheese) to make a single serving as I did on this occasion to satisfy my craving :)

Spaghetti alla Carbonara
Serves 4

1 lb spaghetti
8 oz sliced bacon (or pancetta), diced
4 cloves garlic, minced
4 eggs, room temperature
1 tsp. coarsely ground black pepper
1/2 tsp. kosher salt, plus more for salting pasta water
1 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

Bring a pot of salted water to a boil. Add the spaghetti and cook to al dente. Drain.

While the pasta is cooking, add the bacon to a sauté pan and heat over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until the bacon is crisp, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and heat for another 30 seconds, stirring. Remove from the heat.

Beat the eggs with the black pepper, salt, and Parmesan cheese. Off the heat, add the hot, drained spaghetti to the pan of bacon, and pour the egg mixture over the top. Toss the spaghetti with the eggs and bacon, quickly so the eggs thicken and coat the spaghetti evenly, but do not scramble. Serve immediately.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

My Dark Side


I have a dark side. Those who know me best know it well. In college, I was a film student. Let's just say that all of my short films consistently involved murder of some kind. Sometimes the murders were pretty unique. Ever try strangling someone with a rose? I doubt it really works, but I featured death-by-rose-strangulation in one of my shorts. I may be a very nice person. But I have a dark side :) Why am I sharing this with you? Do I really want to lose readers? No, but I'm just being honest. My mom thinks I'm crazy because I love skulls. I have a blanket a friend made for me that is pink and white and covered in purple skulls. It's one of my favorite things in the world (it keeps me pretty warm too). I also recently ordered a Betsey Johnson purse, covered in skulls. It's pretty badass. The color is gunmetal. I love it.

Photo courtesy fashion58.com

The affinity for skulls led me to reflect on the piggy bank I painted last year. I really wanted it to reflect me. I divided the pig in half, into two "sides" if you will. I painted one side pink with a giant skull and hearts. This half was the dark but girly side of me. The side of me who can't get enough girly things, such as dresses, skirts, bags, and shoes, but still loves rock music, violent movies, things that are perhaps less lady-like :) I can wear stilettos AND Chuck Taylors. I can drink a Cosmo AND pump a keg. I can do it all. This is who I am.

The other side... well, I painted it to reflect the primal cuts of pork. This also reflects my dark side (and my culinary side!). I'm sure most people who are handed an adorable piggy bank to paint with whatever images fill their minds rarely think of that pig in terms of pork... juicy, delicious PORK. Well I do. It was absolutely obvious that half that piggy bank would reflect the locations of the Boston butt, picnic shoulder, loin, belly, and ham. The pig was not very anatomically correct, so the sizes and shapes of these parts are not very accurate, but I did my best considering it was a piggy bank and not an actual side of pork. My culinary school meatcutting teacher would be proud!

I really love this piggy bank. I think it's a great reflection of who I am (for better or worse). Do you have a dark side? I'd love to hear about it!

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Zebra Cake


I grew up eating zebra cake for many of my birthdays, along with other relatives' birthdays, and other cake-eating occasions. It's a pretty non-discriminatory cake. It works well for just about any cake need. My mom learned this recipe while growing up in Armenia. From an early age, she and her middle sister would make it pretty often, and my mom can't even remember where they originally got the recipe. It was never written down super accurately, so we've done our best to match actual measurements with the ingredients, to make it easier for people to replicate (they didn't use actual teaspoons and tablespoons there). Not only does the cake match my blog (yeah, I know, pretty groovy, right?) but it has baffled lots of diners over the years who could never quite figure out how it is made. Well, folks, the secret is out!!

**Note** This cake does not contain zebras, nor any other zoo animals for that matter. Don't come knocking on my door, PETA...

Zebra Cake
Makes 1 (10-inch) cake

7 T. unsalted butter, room temperature
2 cups sugar
5 eggs
16 oz sour cream
1 T. red wine vinegar
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. vanilla extract
3 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder, sifted

Chocolate Glaze:
1 cup confectioners' sugar, sifted
1/4 cup + 2 T. unsweetened cocoa powder, sifted
1/4 cup milk
7 T. unsalted butter, cut into chunks
1/2 tsp. vanilla extract

Walnut halves, for garnish

Place the oven rack in the lower third of the oven and preheat to 350 degrees F.

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream together the butter and sugar at medium-high speed. When the mixture is fluffy, add the eggs one at a time, making sure to fully incorporate each egg before adding another. Scrape down the sides of the bowl, then gradually add the sour cream and beat to combine.

Pour the vinegar into a very small bowl. Add the baking soda, and once it fizzes quickly add it to the batter. Mix. Add the vanilla extract and mix again. Gradually add the flour and mix until combined. Reserve 3 1/2 cups batter to another bowl (half the batter). To the mixer bowl, add the cocoa powder and mix to combine. You will now have a bowl of yellow cake batter and a bowl of chocolate cake batter.

Grease a 10-inch springform pan. Pour 1/4 cup of chocolate batter into the center of the pan. Pour 1/4 cup of yellow batter directly into the center of the chocolate batter. Repeat, using all of both batters, alternating colors. The layers will spread out on their own, but a gentle rap of the pan onto the table or counter will help the batter even out, if needed.

Bake for 1 hour to 1 hour and 10 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean (the top always cracks a bit, but is easy to cover up with the chocolate glaze later). Let cool for 15 minutes, then remove the sides of the springform pan and cool completely.

Select a serving dish or platter and place 3 pieces of aluminum foil around the perimeter, leaving the center clear. Remove the cake from the springform pan base and place in the center of the pieces of foil. This will make for easy cleanup after you glaze the cake.

To make the glaze, combine the confectioners' sugar and cocoa powder in a saucepan. Add the milk and place the pan over medium heat. Stir constantly until the mixture is completely dissolved and smooth. Add the butter and continue mixing until smooth. Add the vanilla extract and remove from the heat. Allow the glaze to cool for about 5 to 10 minutes to allow it to slightly thicken.

Spoon the sauce over the center of the top of the cake, and use a rubber spatula to gently smooth it over the surface and sides of the cake. You will likely have a few spoonfuls of glaze leftover, so hold back before adding all of it. Line the perimeter of the top of the cake with walnut halves. Allow the glaze to set a bit, and then gently pull the foil pieces away and discard them. Serve. Let the cutest one at the table have the first piece...

No utensils required :)

Friday, March 11, 2011

Easy Peasy Potato Gnocchi


Although they may seem daunting, potato gnocchi are a lot easier to make than they look. Concerns for dense and heavy gnocchi can be alleviated by following simple steps, such as allowing the cooked, pureed potatoes to dry out as much as possible, and using as little flour as necessary to form the dough. The resulting gnocchi will be light, fluffy, and pillowy. Three qualifications for perfect gnocchi. Pesto is a simple and delicious sauce for these gnocchi, but a nice tomato sauce or meat sauce would do well too.

Potato Gnocchi with Pesto
Serves 4

1 1/2 lbs russet potatoes (about 3 medium potatoes), left whole with skin on
1 to 1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
2 egg yolks
1 1/2 tsp. kosher salt
Pinch grated nutmeg (optional)
1/4 cup pesto, homemade or store-bought

Place the potatoes in a deep pot and fill with cold water to cover by 1-inch. Place the pot over high heat and bring water to a boil. Cook until the potatoes are easily pierced with a fork. Alternatively, bake the potatoes until tender. Drain the potatoes and return them to the hot pot to dry them out. Shake the potatoes back and forth in the pot to dry them well. Peel one potato at a time, and pass it through a ricer or food mill (fitted with the plate with the medium-sized holes). Repeat with the remaining potatoes. Spread the passed potatoes on a sheet pan to allow them to cool and dry out a bit (do not compress the potatoes or else you will seal in their moisture).

Lightly flour a baking sheet and set it aside. Bring a pot of salted water to a boil.

On a work surface or in a large bowl, add 1 cup flour and pile the potato on top, make a well and add the egg yolks, salt and nutmeg.

Gently combine the ingredients and knead until you have a smooth dough. It should be soft and pliable. If the dough is too sticky and wet, knead in more flour as necessary, but add as little as possible, as too much flour will make the gnocchi dense.

Divide the potato dough into 4 pieces. Lightly flour your work surface and hands, and roll out each piece of dough between your hands and the work surface until you have a 3/4-inch thick rope. Cut the rope into 3/4-inch pieces. Either leave the pieces as they are (perfect squares) or shape them with the tines of a fork.

To shape with the fork, flip the fork over so the bottom is facing up. With your thumb, roll each gnocco (singular for gnocchi) along the tines, pressing firmly at first and then almost flicking the dough onto the work surface. This will leave a dimple on one side and ridges on the other. Place each gnocco on the lightly floured baking sheet, and repeat with the remaining dough.

In 2 or 3 batches, boil the gnocchi. With a slotted spoon or skimmer, remove the gnocchi to a large mixing bowl about 30 seconds after the gnocchi rise to the surface of the water. Add the pesto to the bowl of gnocchi and add a bit of starchy water (from boiling the gnocchi) to loosen it up, if necessary. Use a large spoon to lightly toss the gnocchi with the pesto and serve immediately while still hot.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Upscale Lebanese at ilili


Before I get to the review, I just want to congratulate Aubrey Laine for winning the Sarabeth's Preserves giveaway for Mission: Food's Second Blogiversary! Enjoy your prize!

236 5th Ave
(between 27th St & 28th St)
New York, NY 10001
(212) 683-2929

ilili was on my wish list of New York City restaurants for quite some time. I recently met up with Christine from Fresh Local and Best for an upscale Lebanese dinner here (she also kindly shared some of the pictures she took at dinner for me to include on the blog, so some are hers and some are mine). We decided to try the $42 prix fixe dinner, which allowed each of us to select 2 appetizers, 1 entrée, and a dessert. That meant tons of sharing! Before even making our selections, we were served a plate of crackers with labne (strained yogurt), za'atar, and olives.

Crackers with Labne (Strained Yogurt), Za'atar, and Olives

Between the two of us we had 4 appetizers to try out. Our definite favorite was the Veal Sweetbreads dish. Plump sweetbreads are breaded and fried just like fried chicken and served in a lettuce cup with garlic whip and kabiss (pickles). This was the standout dish from the night... it was well-balanced from it's texture to its flavors. We highly recommend it.

Veal Sweetbreads in Lettuce Cups with Garlic Whip and Kabiss $15 (à la carte price)

Our next favorite was the Sweet Cheese, a baked Halloumi topped with winter vegetables, apples, and sumac. This gooey starter also had some great textural elements with the addition of crunchy julienned apples on top. Fresh (and super puffy) pita bread was a great vessel for enjoying this baked cheese.

Sweet Cheese with Winter Vegetables, Apples, and Sumac $14 (à la carte price)

Pita Bread

We also enjoyed the Fennel Cured Sardines with piquillo peppers, garlic, fresh fennel, that is served with grilled bread. The sardines were not overly fishy, and although the peppers and fennel added nice bright flavors to the dish, it was a touch on the oily side.

Fennel Cured Sardines with Piquillo Peppers, Garlic, and Grilled Bread $12 (à la carte price)

Our final appetizer was the Marinated Octopus and Calamari Salad with carrot tahini, sweet pickled cucumber and nigella seeds. The octopus and calamari were quite tender with a nice crunch from the pickles. Overall, Christine found the dish to be a little sweet for her taste, but I thought the flavors worked well together.

Marinated Octopus and Calamari Salad with Carrot Tahini, Pickled Cucumbers, and Nigella Seeds $15 (à la carte price)

For our entrées we both ordered red meat dishes. Christine went with beef, the Date Braised Beef with cashew "couscous," cucumber, and rose petals to be exact. It was beautifully tender with a delicate sweetness from the dates, a concept I'd love to borrow in my own kitchen sometime.

Date Braised Beef with Cashew "Couscous," Cucumber, and Rose Petals $22 (à la carte price)

My main course was the Lamb Kebab, which consists of marinated lamb loin and cherry tomatoes served on a spiced pita along with a side of garlic whip and a light arugula salad. The lamb was not only seasoned just right, but was cooked to perfection, moist bite after bite. The grilled cherry tomatoes added a touch of sweet and juicy acidity. The pita itself was crunchy. I'm not sure if that was a result of it cooling down and drying out, but it made me think of it more as a Lebanese taco :) The garlic whip is a garlic-lovers' dream, a creamy garlic infusion. It reminded me a bit of the famous Zankou Chicken garlic sauce (one of the greatest inventions of mankind). When I finished my lamb, I wanted to slather the remaining sauce all over myself (to ward off vampires, of course). I restrained myself. Don't worry.

Lamb Kebab - Marinated Lamb Loin, Cherry Tomatoes, and Spiced Pita with Garlic Whip and Arugula Salad $18/small $36/large (à la carte price)

For dessert I couldn't resist the ilili Candy Bar, a decadent layered treat of chocolate kataifi and chocolate ganache served with pistachio and fig caramel and finished table side with warm chocolate sauce. The chocolate kataifi layer had a great crunchy texture while the ganache was nice and smooth. While this is definitely a rich dessert, it's a great option for any chocolate-lover. I recommend it.

ilili Candy Bar - Chocolate Kataifi Crunch, Chocolate Ganache, Pistachio and Fig Caramel, Warm Chocolate Sauce $10 (à la carte price)

Christine tried the Apricot Lebanese Ice Cream, which had a lovely floral flavor in addition to apricot. I found the texture reminiscent of Lokum (or Turkish Delight), it was almost toothsome, definitely a unique trait in ice cream. I imagine it is made with a similar method or similar ingredients. I'd love to research this more. We both really enjoyed this ice cream!

Lebanese Ice Cream - Apricot $9 (à la carte price for 3 scoops)

I recommend ilili to anyone who enjoys fine dining and Middle Eastern cuisine. The cuisine at ilili is definitely a lovely variation to the traditional dishes one would find at a typical hole-in-the-wall Middle Eastern or Lebanese restaurant. The flavors were spot on, the proteins were cooked perfectly, and not a single "boring" bite of food touched our lips.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Nothing Beats Beets


The beet craze continues. First up. Beets. Walnuts. Goat cheese. Enough said. A light vinaigrette binds the components together into a nice, simple starter or side. The goat cheese will take on the color of the beets. If this concerns you, simply top with the crumbled goat cheese instead of mixing it into the salad. Either way, this simple salad will not disappoint.

Next, we move onto the beet greens. Don't throw them away. They're not garbage. Trust me. Trim them, slice them up and wilt them in some olive oil and garlic. Toss with pasta, top a pizza, or simply enjoy them as a side much like any other sautéed greens. They are less bitter than many other greens, and they retain a nice crunch even when wilted. They bleed out a bit of pink color, tinting nearby ingredients a light rose hue, like the sliced garlic in this recipe.

Roasted Beet Salad with Walnuts and Goat Cheese
Serves 4 to 6

1 lb red beets, trimmed but not peeled
2 oz (1/2 cup) whole walnuts, toasted and roughly chopped
3 oz goat cheese, crumbled
1 T. + 1 tsp. red wine vinegar
2 tsp. honey
1/2 tsp. Herbs de Provence
3 T. extra-virgin olive oil
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

Place the oven rack in the center of the oven, and preheat to 425 degrees F. Wrap each beet in aluminum foil and place on a small sheet pan. Roast in the oven for 40 to 50 minutes, or until tender (a fork should easily pierce through the beets). If beets vary in size, remove smaller beets from the oven as they become tender, and allow larger beets to roast longer until they are done. Remove foil and allow beets to cool slightly. Use a paper towel to rub off the beet skins. Chop the peeled, roasted beets into a 1/4-inch dice.

When the beets are completely cool, toss with the goat cheese and walnuts and then make the vinaigrette. In a metal bowl, whisk together the vinegar, honey, and Herbs de Provence. While whisking, slowly drizzle in the olive oil and whisk vigorously to emulsify the vinaigrette. Season with salt and pepper, to taste. Pour the vinaigrette over the beet mixture and toss to combine. Chill the salad and serve cold or room temperature.

Spaghetti with Beet Greens and Garlic
Serves 2

8 oz spaghetti
2 T. extra-virgin olive oil
4 to 5 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
3 to 4 oz trimmed beet greens (from about 2 bunches of beets), sliced into 1/2-inch strips
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 T. grated Parmesan cheese

Bring a pot of salted water to a boil. Add the spaghetti and cook to al dente. Reserve a couple ladles of pasta water, and then drain the pasta.

Meanwhile, heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the garlic and cook until just softened but not browned, about 2 minutes. Add the beet greens, season with salt and pepper, and toss with the garlic until just wilted, about 2 to 3 minutes.

Toss the wilted beet greens and Parmesan cheese with the spaghetti and add enough pasta water to loosen up the greens from clumping up.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Beet Bread Pudding with Horseradish-Cream Cheese Ice Cream


I know what you're thinking. Beet bread pudding? Horseradish ice cream? Victoria's gone mental. Oh, contraire! If you don't like beets, I completely understand if this recipe turns you off, but if you love beets (as I do), this dessert concept is truly a revelation. I can't take full credit. My college friend and fellow blogger Jill came up with this creation, and it won third place at a Food Experiment in Brooklyn. I've adapted it slightly, and can honestly say from my very first bite I fell in love, and hard. The bread pudding itself is not only a vibrant red, but showcases the natural sweetness of the beets very well. It tastes like beets, but in a non-savory way.

The ice cream seems to come from left field, but not only compliments the bread pudding perfectly, but tastes really complex on its own. A mixture of sweet, tart, and tangy, the horseradish flavor is quite strong, but not spicy at all, a very balanced and deep flavor profile. And the walnuts and orange zest on top elevate this dish to another plane. I really hope you will give this recipe a shot. I was a bit skeptical at first (especially about the ice cream), but I absolutely love the finished product! I would make this again in a heartbeat, especially to impress guests who will likely be confused, and a bit uncertain before taking a bite, and then beg for the recipe!

I am officially presenting this sweet Beet Bread Pudding as the Bread Pudding of the Month for March. I invite you all to link up your bread pudding recipes from throughout the month, savory or sweet, there are no restrictions on originality! Please make your submissions before March 31st. I will post a round-up in early April of all the bread puddings from this month.

In order to participate, you must do the following...
  1. Use the linky form below the recipe to link up to the URL of your post, not the URL of your main blog. When it asks for "Name," type in the name of your recipe, not your name.
  2. Either in your post or in the sidebar of your blog, link back to the Bread Pudding of the Month page or share my badge using the HTML below. If you plan on regularly participating, it might be easier to just post it in your sidebar :)
If you do not link back to Mission: Food OR share my badge in your post / sidebar, I will not include you in the round-up so please make sure you not only link up below, but link back here from your blog. Simply copy and paste the HTML in the text box below, it's that simple.

Thanks so much for joining in the fun, and I can't wait to see what you all come up with!

Beet Bread Pudding with Horseradish-Cream Cheese Ice Cream
Serves 6
(Adapted from Burning Down the House)

Horseradish-Cream Cheese Ice Cream:
4 oz. cream cheese, softened
1/2 cup milk
1/3 cup + 1 T. sugar
2 T. prepared horseradish
1 T. fresh lemon juice
Pinch kosher salt
1/4 cup heavy cream

Beet Bread Pudding:
Unsalted butter, for baking dish
5 to 6 cups stale* 1/2-inch bread cubes (such as Italian, challah, or brioche)
8 oz red beets (2 to 3 medium beets), trimmed, but not peeled
1/4 cup fresh orange juice
2 eggs
1/4 cup sugar
1 cup milk
1/2 tsp. grated nutmeg
1/2 tsp. vanilla extract

Roughly chopped toasted walnuts
Grated orange zest

Start by making the ice cream. Add the cream cheese, milk, sugar, horseradish, lemon juice, and salt to a blender and puree until smooth. Pour into a pitcher or measuring cup with a spout (for easy pouring into the ice cream machine) and mix in the heavy cream. Chill in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes until cold. Freeze ice cream according to your ice cream maker's manufacturer directions. Transfer ice cream to a plastic pint-sized container and freeze until firm. If it gets too hard, you may need to leave it out for a few minutes before scooping (this is common with homemade ice creams).

Place the oven rack in the center of the oven, and preheat to 425 degrees F. Wrap each beet in aluminum foil and place on a small sheet pan. Roast in the oven for 40 to 50 minutes, or until tender (a fork should easily pierce through the beets). If beets vary in size, remove smaller beets from the oven as they become tender, and allow larger beets to roast longer until they are done. Remove foil and allow beets to cool slightly. Use a paper towel to rub off the beet skins. Roughly chop the peeled, roasted beets (you should have about 1 heaping cup of chopped beets).

Lower the oven temperature to 350 degrees F. Butter an 8 by 8-inch (2 quart) baking dish and arrange the stale bread cubes in the dish.

Add the chopped beets and orange juice to a blender and puree. In a mixing bowl, whisk together the eggs and sugar, then whisk in the milk, nutmeg, vanilla, and beet puree. Pour the mixture evenly over the bread cubes in the baking dish, pressing down with the back of a spoon or your hands and making sure that all the bread gets submerged and starts soaking in the custard.

Soak for 15 minutes and then put the baking dish in the oven. Bake until the filling is set and the top is crusted, about 30 to 35 minutes. Serve warm or room temperature, topped with a scoop of horseradish-cream cheese ice cream, chopped walnuts, and fresh orange zest.

*If your bread isn't very stale, cut it into cubes and allow the bread cubes to dry out at room temperature all day or overnight. Alternatively, lightly toast them on a sheet pan in a 350 degree F oven until dry, about 10 to 15 minutes.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

An Oscar-Worthy Sequel (Chocolate-Covered Strawberry Puffs)


As a former film nerd student, the Academy Awards has always been an evening I look forward to. I have actually cried when certain awards were given (namely when Adrien Brody won Best Actor for his performance in The Pianist in 2003 and when Martin Scorsese--my absolute favorite living director--FINALLY won in 2007 for The Departed... I love you, Marty!). Back in 2005, I worked as a production assistant on the American Music Awards which took place at the Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles, CA, the former home of the Oscars. After those awards wrapped up, along with some other crew members, I was responsible for cleaning up the venue, packing up our supplies, etc. I remember, one day during lunch time, I was asked to run to the stage to retrieve something. I can't even remember what it was. I grabbed a Subway sandwich (yuck) from the selection we had purchased for the staff lunch (I didn't want to get stuck with one of the less desirable options... as if any of them are any good--did I mention I hate Subway?) and ran to the stage to take care of it.

As I walked across the dimly-lit stage, in the silent and completely empty auditorium, I stopped front and center and peered out at the plush red seats filling the large venue. I held up my Subway sandwich, much like I had often imagined holding up an Academy Award, and I reflected on how lucky I was to be standing in the same spot where the likes of Tom Hanks, Jack Nicholson, Julia Roberts, Dustin Hoffman, Kevin Spacey, and the Coen brothers had accepted awards. The same spot where Matt Damon and Ben Affleck won for Best Original Screenplay for Good Will Hunting, way before their careers took off. I wondered if my career would take off like theirs had. If my dreams would come true. If that crappy Subway sandwich would someday manifest itself into a radiant golden statue.

See, I've always been someone who dreamed big. When anyone would tell me I couldn't do something, I would make it my life goal to prove them wrong. I said I was going to Hollywood, and I did. I worked on a television show that has won 27 Emmy Awards, including 10 for Outstanding Animated Program (can you guess which show it is?). I met and worked for some of the most successful producers in the industry, including Scott Rudin who was nominated for not one, but TWO Academy Awards for Best Picture this year (for True Grit and The Social Network), and James L. Brooks who is one of only 6 directors to achieve the elusive "hat trick" of personally winning Oscars for producing, writing, and directing in a single year (1983 for Terms of Endearment).

My dream was to accomplish something astounding like Jim Brooks had done. When I would walk by him at work, I would avert my eyes. He was so talented and important... it made me nervous... that was until the day he overheard me telling a co-worker about how I had fainted that morning at the doctor's office, and he came up to me (Jim Brooks came up to ME!) and told me that his daughter had just called to tell him she had fainted that morning too, and asked me what it felt like to faint, to describe it to him. I think at that moment my life changed forever... If I could be a girl from the smallest state in the country, move to the city of dreams, and work with talented individuals such as these (even if I was at the bottom of the food chain), I could accomplish just about anything I set my heart to. I still believe this, which is why I've thrown caution to the wind and am starting all over again, new city, new career, new everything. Because life's too short not to follow your dreams...

This year for the Academy Awards, I whipped up a very special dessert inspired by one of the simplest and loveliest desserts there ever was. The chocolate-covered strawberry. Because the classics never go out of style, and Hollywood's biggest night deserves something timeless and seductive. Cream puffs dipped in melted dark chocolate and filled with fresh strawberry whipped cream elevate this simple, yet glamorous sweet to an Oscar-worthy level. Serve them with actual chocolate-covered strawberries to merge old Hollywood glamour with its contemporary sequel. After all, some say The Godfather Part II is better than the original...

Chocolate-Covered Strawberry Puffs
Makes about 3 dozen bite-size puffs
(Pâte à Choux recipe adapted from Alton Brown)

Pâte à Choux:
1 cup water
3/4 stick butter (6 tablespoons)
1 tablespoon sugar
1/8 teaspoon salt
5 3/4 ounces flour
1 cup eggs, about 4 large eggs and 2 whites

Fresh Strawberry Cream:
6 strawberries, hulled and roughly chopped
1 cup heavy whipping cream
1/4 cup sugar

5 oz dark chocolate, roughly chopped

To make the pâte à choux: Preheat oven to 425 degrees F. Boil water, butter, sugar, and salt. Add flour and remove from heat. Work mixture together and return to heat. Continue working the mixture until all flour is incorporated and dough forms a ball. Transfer mixture into bowl of a standing mixer and let cool for 3 or 4 minutes. With mixer on stir or lowest speed add eggs, 1 at a time, making sure the first egg is completely incorporated before continuing. Once all eggs have been added and the mixture is smooth put dough into a piping bag fitted with a large round tip. Pipe immediately into golfball-size shapes, 2 inches apart onto parchment lined sheet pans (hold the pastry bag at a 90 degree angle to the pan and, while squeezing, slowly lift it straight up in a fluid motion). Dab the tops of each puff with a fingertip dipped in water to smooth the tops. Cook for 10 minutes, then turn the oven down to 350 degrees F and bake for 10 more minutes or until golden brown (do not open the oven door while the puffs are baking!). Once they are removed from the oven pierce with a paring knife immediately to release steam.

Melt the dark chocolate in a double boiler, or in a metal bowl suspended over a pot of simmering water. When the puffs are cool, dip them upside-down into the chocolate to just coat the surface, but do not submerge them completely. You will need access to the holes you pierced with the paring knife to fill them with strawberry cream later on. Allow the chocolate to set and firm up before you fill the puffs. If your kitchen is warm (or you're in a rush), you can speed up the process by briefly refrigerating the puffs to help the chocolate set faster.

Meanwhile, add the chopped strawberries to a small food processor and puree until smooth. You should have about 1/2 cup of strawberry puree. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, whip up the cream to medium peaks. Add the sugar and strawberry puree and whip just until you achieve firm peaks, but do not over whip.

To assemble: Fill a pastry bag fitted with a medium round pastry tip with fresh strawberry cream. Pipe the strawberry cream into the holes created when piercing the puffs. Fill the hollow cavity completely (the pastry tip will gently push away from the puff when it's full). Repeat with the remaining puffs. If you have extra strawberries and extra melted chocolate, simply dip the strawberries in the chocolate and let them set on a parchment-lined baking sheet for a lovely accompaniment of chocolate-covered strawberries.

*Note*: Only chocolate-coat and fill as many puffs as you plan to serve right away, otherwise they will get soft and soggy over time. Freeze remaining puffs until needed. Thaw frozen puffs at room temperature, and, if desired, recrisp them for a few minutes in the oven to dry them back out before dipping and filling them.


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