A Harmony of Flavors

Thursday, July 24, 2014

New and Improved No Sugar Peach Ice Cream

Once again I attempted making an ice cream without sugar, yet still creamy. All in all, I am very pleased indeed, at how it came out. As a recap, in case you are just seeing this for the first time: I made an extremely high fat Peach Cheesecake Ice Cream for my sister-in law's birthday dinner. My goal was to have an intensely creamy-smooth mouth feel, and this ice cream had that to the nth degree. However. Not everyone would really want to make something so high fat/calorie, and since this ice cream did nothing good for my diabetic glucose numbers, I decided to try a no-sugar ice cream, also going quite low in the fats category. The flavor of this ice cream was great, but the mouth feel was intensely wrong. It also got hard as a rock in the freezer, making it impossible to scoop out, ice crystals being the main culprit.
No Sugar Peach Ice Creamier, front. Difficult to scoop first attempt behind.

Preventing Ice Crystals in Ice Cream

In the meantime, I had done some research on what prevents the formation of ice crystals in ice creams. Many things are helpful, sugar being high on the list. I wanted to use stevia and still get a relatively good mouth feel. Some of the other things that could help with the prevention of ice crystals forming are gelatin, high fat/oil content (fats don't freeze solid), alcohol, and things like xanthan gum, guar gum or locust bean gum. These last three are found in many products and most ice creams, just because of the ability to keep the ice cream creamy. Purists may not want to add these extras, but guar gum and locust bean gum are natural products after all. Xanthan gum is a culture grown product. I also dislike the flavor of xanthan gum. 

I do have guar gum in my pantry for gluten-free baking, so I didn't need to go searching. It is sold in the local health food store, as there are many people here with gluten intolerance. It is expensive, but little is needed per recipe. I did more research on the amount of guar gum to use in a recipe and I came away cautious. It seems that guar gum can become ropy or stringy in too large amounts, or if it clumps in a mixture. I opted to try the smallest amount recommended: 1/4 teaspoon per quart of mixture.
Much easier to scoop out, No Sugar Peach Ice Creamier shown in front.

I found out in reading that most cream cheese is stabilized with guar gum or one of these gums. The fact that I used an entire 8-ounce block in my Peach Cheesecake Ice Cream most likely contributed to the creaminess with the addition of guar gum in the cream cheese. The fact that egg yolks are higher in fat made me decide to use a larger amount of egg yolks in the custard part of the recipe. Instead of only 2, I upped the amount to 5, while lowering the 2% milk amount. I did also use 1 tablespoon of Cointreau, a lovely orange flavored liqueur. I could have added in more than only one tablespoon, but I wanted the peach flavor to shine through, not the liqueur.

The result was stellar, for a no sugar recipe. After storing the ice cream in the freezer overnight, I could still manage to scoop it out into the dish, whereas with the first no-sugar recipe I could only get chips of the ice cream out (emphasis on ICE). While ice crystals are still apparent in this second attempt, they seem to easily melt into a smooth and creamy product in the mouth, giving that nice mouth feel I so desire. 

No Sugar Peach Ice Creamier

makes 1 quart

2 peaches, approximately
1 tablespoon lemon juice
3 ounces cream cheese 
1 tablespoon Cointreau, or alcohol of choice 
1 cup 2% milk
5 egg yolks

8 packets Stevia (about 1 1/2 teaspoons)
1/4 teaspoon guar gum
Nearing 170 degrees on my Thermapen, temp rises very quickly.          Right, custard coats a spoon.

Make the custard: pour the milk into a small saucepan and heat to almost scalded; as soon as any little bubbles appear around the edges of the milk. Have the egg yolks in a medium bowl or 2 cup measure. Once milk is hot, pour it slowly at first, whisking constantly into the yolks. Once milk is all whisked in, pour the mixture back into the saucepan and return to the heat on about medium. Whisk constantly, until the mixture will very obviously coat the back of a spoon, about 170 to 175 degrees on an instant read thermometer. Do not heat any longer or the mixture will turn into scrambled eggs. Remove the pan from heat immediately and set the pan into a bowl with ice water, to cool quickly.

Peel the peaches , remove pits and cut into chunks. Place them in a blender with the lemon juice. Blend smooth; you should have about 1 1/2 cups. Add in the cream cheese and Cointreau and puree completely. Once the custard is cooled to no more than tepid, add it into the blender until all the ingredients are homogenous. Pour the mixture into a lidded container and chill completely.

Next day, pour out all the packets of stevia into a small bowl and add the guar gum. Mix well, then place this mixture into a small, fine-holed sieve; set aside. Pour the chilled custard mixture into your ice cream machine (see here for some ideas) and follow manufacturer's directions to churn. While the machine is running, use the sieve to sprinkle the stevia and guar gum mixture over the custard. This is to prevent any clumps forming. 

If your machine prevents you from sprinkling this during churning, this can be done beforehand, but be sure to sprinkle lightly over the whole surface while mixing in. 

My passion is to teach people how to create a harmony of flavors with their cooking, and help pass along my love and joy of food, both simple and exotic, plain or fancy. I continue my journey in ethnic and domestic cuisines, trying new things weekly. I would love to hear from you, to help me continue my journey to explore diverse culinary experiences and hopefully to start you on a journey of your own. Join me at A Harmony of Flavors Website and Marketplace, Tumblr, Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest.   

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Using Zah'tar with Grilled Chicken

Clockwise from top: sumac, sesame, oregano, salt, thyme
Nearly two years ago was the first time I heard of Zah'tar  - or Zatar/Zahtar/Zaatar and many more, spice mixture shown right. It is a Mediterranean spice blend that usually includes sumac, sesame seeds, thyme and oregano and generally has salt in the mix. Most authentic recipes use an Asian species of marjoram not available in the US. Some add coriander seed. But you might be wondering about the "sumac" part of the equation. 

What is Sumac, and is it related to Poison Sumac?

You might hear the word Sumac and immediately think, "Poison Sumac?" The Mediterranean spice, sumac is not from the same plant as poison sumac, though it is in the same family. The sumac used in Zah'tar and other Mediterranean and Middle Eastern cuisines grows wild only in those areas, so there is no chance of running afoul of the wrong plant. The poison sumac here in the US is from a plant called Rhus vernix, where the Mediterranean plant sumac is from the plant Rhus coriaria. 

Lemon Zah'tar Chicken served with Sweet Potato Oven Fries and Green Beans
Sumac closely parallels the use of tamarind or dried green mango powder in Indian and Indonesian cuisines. The dried, crushed fruits yield a reddish brown powder that is preferred over lemons for its fruity sourness and astringency. Sumac is a major component of the spice mixture called Zah'tar. Zah'tar is wonderful when mixed with olive oil to use for dipping bread. It can be sprinkled over most any food that needs a little zip. Sprinkle it over hummus, yogurt, avocado or cheese.

Lemon Zah'tar Chicken on the grill
A Syrian acquaintance once made chicken kebabs, marinating them first in a mixture of yogurt, lemon juice, dill, garlic, salt and pepper. She was lamenting the lack of sumac to make her kebabs more authentic. Since I happened to have some, I brought it for her to use. Thinking back on those very flavorful kebabs, I thought the use of Zah'tar would be a great flavor mixture to add to this sort of recipe. Last evening I put this to the test, with wonderful results.

Lemon Zah'tar Chicken

serves 3 or 4
Kebabs, before and after grilling

3 to 4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts

2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons Zah'tar
1 teaspoon fresh lemon zest
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1/2 cup unflavored Greek yogurt
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon salt
few grinds fresh black pepper

Cut the chicken breasts into about 1 1/2 or 2-inch cubes. Place the cubes of chicken into a zip-top bag or other container with a lid. In a bowl, mix together all the marinade ingredients until well combined, then pour over the chicken cubes and mix well to coat all sides of the meat. Let the chicken marinate for at least 1/2 hour in this mixture, or up to 2 hours, maximum. After this time the chicken starts to break down from the yogurt and becomes slightly mushy.

Slide the cubes of chicken onto shish kebab skewers, anchoring the meat at the ends with slices of carrot or bell pepper.

Light a grill and once hot, either lower the temperature to medium low, or push most of the coals to one side. Grill over lower heat for about 4 minutes per side, or until the internal temperature is at least 160 to 165 degrees.

While thinking about the recipe for the chicken, I was also thinking of what to serve with the kebabs. I bought a couple of sweet potatoes and made oven fries, similar to my regular Oven Steak Fries. Sweet potatoes, despite being somewhat harder to cut through than regular white potatoes, bake faster than white potatoes. When making oven fries, I like to mix melted butter and olive oil together for the great flavor. The butter could be omitted and all oil substituted. For the Sweet Potato Oven Fries I also added some seasonings, as well as first tossing the raw potato in a little cornstarch. This step was a bit of an experiment. I was hoping for a slightly crisper outside texture. My sweet potato slices were not of even thickness, so some got brown and others did not, but all were well cooked. Just not crisped. I will add the cornstarch to the recipe here; whether to use it is up to you.

Sweet Potato Oven Fries

serves 2 to 4

2 pounds sweet potatoes
1 teaspoon cornstarch
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 tablespoons melted unsalted butter
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder

Preheat oven to 400 degrees (375 on Convection Bake). Peel the sweet potatoes and cut them into thick lengths, as for "steak fries". Sprinkle the cornstarch over the potato pieces and toss well to coat. Place the sweet potatoes in a zip-top bag or other container with lid and pour on the oil and butter, then add in the salt and garlic powder. Seal the container and toss well to coat completely. The potatoes can be held at this point for up to an hour before baking.

Pour the potatoes onto a rimmed baking sheet large enough to hold all the pieces with space between. Bake them for about 10 to 12 minutes. Remove from oven and turn all the pieces over. Return to the oven for another 10 to 12 minutes, or until they are golden and cooked through. Serve immediately.

My passion is to teach people how to create a harmony of flavors with their cooking, and help pass along my love and joy of food, both simple and exotic, plain or fancy. I continue my journey in ethnic and domestic cuisines, trying new things weekly. I would love to hear from you, to help me continue my journey to explore diverse culinary experiences and hopefully to start you on a journey of your own. Join me at A Harmony of Flavors Website and Marketplace, Tumblr, Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest. 

Monday, July 21, 2014

Cookie Dough Dessert or Dip

I am most certainly one of those people that prefer the cookie dough to the actual baked cookie. I know many of you out there are going, "Eeewww", including my husband. Those of you who cannot bring themselves to eat raw cookie dough, cake batter, etc, may not find this blog interesting. If you are looking for something that tastes a lot like cookie dough but with no raw eggs, flour, sugar, and, well most of the things that go into cookie dough - this is it!
Healthier Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough, on cracker

Yesterday I was in Facebook and saw someone re-posting a post with a link to a recipe called Skinny Cookie Dough Dip. This person had altered the recipe from another site, calling it Healthy Cookie Dough Dip. I didn't bother to go and read the prior post, but printed out the "Skinny Cookie Dough Dip" recipe for later perusal. "Later" came after about an hour as I was craving something sweet.

What I Liked About this Concept

While not actually able to be termed a RAW recipe as it used cooked chickpeas as the base, the rest of the ingredients do make this at the very least able to be altered to fit a gluten-free or vegetarian lifestyle, and also for anyone who needs to be careful of sugar intake, like me.

I tried to think of another title for the recipe, but could not come up with anything better than "Healthier Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough". While healthier, it still packs a punch with calories, having the chickpeas, cashew butter, almonds, walnuts and chocolate chips. The chocolate chips I used were Ghirardelli 60% cocoa; less sweet than many. There are other options out there for anyone needing a completely sugar free variant. I calculated this total recipe to contain 1,644 calories. Dividing the recipe into, say, 25 portions as for making cookies, each portion would contain approximately 66 calories. Since one regular (baked) chocolate chip cookie can contain anywhere from 80 to 220 calories, this is not a bad calorie count. Make it into 30 balls and the count is even better.

Differences in My Recipe

In the recipes on the websites in the links above, this is touted as a dip. First off, it is awfully thick to be touted as a dip, even with the addition of the milk for thinning. Granted I did not add any honey, maple syrup or agave syrup, which would have thinned it a little more. I love cookie dough. For me this is a dessert unto itself. While I photographed the recipe both on a bit of cracker and just in a bowl, in future I would prefer just making small balls. Eat as you go. Yum. 

Both of the above sites had you adding in a little salt and baking soda. Cans of chickpeas do not need any more salt. What the soda is for I have no idea. I don't add baking soda to hummus. Why add it here? These are not being baked. I eliminated that portion of the recipes. I added no syrup or honey as a sweetener, as I mentioned. I used my food processor to make this recipe, not a blender. The only sweetening agent I used was my French Vanilla flavored liquid stevia. I considered leaving out the oatmeal completely. The mixture does not need thickening. Instead, I blended oatmeal and almonds to a fine powder and added them to the mix. I feel this could also be eliminated completely. For now, this is the way I made it and it is really good. So be it. I like walnuts in my cookie dough or cookies, so I added those, making a total of three kinds of nuts in the recipe. Whatever kind of chocolate chips you prefer; I used the Ghirardelli mentioned above.

Healthier Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough

Healthier Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough
makes 25 - 30 balls of "dough"

1 can (15.5 ounces) chickpeas/garbanzo beans
1 - 3 droppers French Vanilla flavored liquid stevia
1/4 cup milk, or nut or seed milk
2 tablespoons raw oatmeal, optional
2 tablespoons slivered almonds, optional
1/4 cup raw cashew butter
1/2 cup chocolate chips
1/2 cup broken walnuts

Drain the chickpeas in a strainer and run water over them for at least a minute. Place the rinsed and drained chickpeas into a food processor and process until fine with the stevia and milk. 

If using the oatmeal and almonds, I first blended them to a very fine powder in a Bullet Blender and then added them to the processor. They could be added to the processor at the beginning of the recipe instead.

Add in the cashew butter to combine. Scrape the mixture out into a bowl and stir in the walnuts and chocolate chips. Divide into 25 or 30 balls as desired. Store refrigerated.

My passion is to teach people how to create a harmony of flavors with their cooking, and help pass along my love and joy of food, both simple and exotic, plain or fancy. I continue my journey in ethnic and domestic cuisines, trying new things weekly. I would love to hear from you, to help me continue my journey to explore diverse culinary experiences and hopefully to start you on a journey of your own. Join me at A Harmony of Flavors Website and Marketplace, Tumblr, Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest.  

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Making No Sugar Peach Ice Cream

Last weekend I made an extremely rich version of Peach Cheesecake Ice Cream for my sister-in-law's birthday. It was absolutely, hands down, the very best, creamiest ice cream I ever tasted. I was in heaven.

Unfortunately, with diabetes as a factor in my life, though easily controlled by diet, this ice cream seemed to send me way over the top in blood sugar levels. Drat. I finally find something that truly fits all my criteria for an ice cream and I should avoid it. Back to the drawing board.

I have had my DAK Gelatissimo Ice Cream Machine for a lot of years now, and have only used it for a small handful of recipes. It came with a little booklet of Drew's ice cream recipes. I used his cheesecake Ice cream recipe as a base idea when creating the Peach Cheesecake Ice Cream last week. But when Drew wrote this booklet of ice cream recipes, he also included a sugar free version for nearly all the recipes, right next to the originals. I had barely used the regular recipes; certainly never used the sugar free versions. I find that ice cream is kind of an addiction for me, as are many things. If I start eating it, I have a hard time stopping. It is best if there is no ice cream in the house, and thus no temptation. One thing though: if an ice cream is too filled with ice crystals, I just don't like it, and am not tempted to eat it. So, why buy it in the first place? I like the creamy mouth feel, and my Peach Cheesecake Ice Cream fit that bill in spades. It was also extremely high in fats. Alas.

No-Sugar Peach Ice Cream: note the ice crystal texture
I decided to try out a recipe for a sugar free version, really cutting down on fat and also using Sweet Leaf Stevia packets instead of sugar. I already knew that this would leave me with an ice crystal ice cream, but having never even tried this before, I wanted to test it first before looking for a fix for the problem. I scaled down the fat from the original version of the recipe, using 2% milk instead of heavy cream and only 2 ounces of cream cheese instead of the whole 8 ounce block. I used fresh pureed peaches rather than peaches cooked with sugar down to a preserves texture. And the Stevia packets instead of sugar. I still made a quick "custard" out of the 2% milk and 2 egg yolks. And while it churned, I tasted it and it was really good. Not like the high fat and sugar version, but really good. I had hope.

No-Sugar Peach Ice Cream

Makes 1 quart

2 peaches, about 9-ounces each
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 1/4 cup 2% milk
2 large egg yolks
8 packets of Sweet Leaf Stevia (or sweetener of choice)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 ounces cream cheese (1/4 cup)

Heat the milk to near scalding point, where there are a few tiny bobbles at the edge of the pan. Whisk the yolks in a bowl. Slowly pour the hot milk into the yolks, whisking briskly at the same time, until the milk is incorporated. Pour the mixture back into the pan. Set the pan on medium heat and whisk constantly until the mixture reaches 170 to 175 degrees. An instant Read thermometer such as the Thermapen is very helpful. Remove from heat immediately and set the pan in ice water, stirring the custard often, to chill. Refrigerate the custard. Once cold, stir in the packets of stevia or other sweetener along with the vanilla extract.

Peel 1 1/2 of the peaches and puree them with the lemon juice. You should have about 1 1/2 cups of puree. I had peaches weighing 8, 9 and 10 ounces, so the average is about 9 ounces apiece for this amount. Reserve the last half peach to cut up and add at the end of churning. With the peach puree in the blender, add the cream cheese until smooth. Pour in the milk custard mixture and blend thoroughly. 

Chill the mixture for quickest churning. Pour into an ice cream maker and churn for the time specified for your machine. Mine takes 30 minutes. Towards the end of the churning, add in the remaining peach half, peeled and cut in small cubes.

The Results?

Well, when the ice cream was just done, it was pretty good. Not the heavenly creamy mouthfeel of the first ice cream (Note the texture of the original high fat recipe in the photo at left, below. Nary an ice crystal to be seen.), but I didn't expect that. The flavor was good, though not as concentrated. Again, an expected result. The use of stevia was not terribly noticeable. It was plenty sweet enough. I put it into containers in the freezer. Next day I got one container out to try. It was hard as a rock and full of ice crystals. Drat.
Peach Cheesecake Ice Cream left            |              No-Sugar Peach Ice Cream right

I let it set on the counter for over a half hour (see photo on right, above), and while some of the edges were softened a bit, the main bulk was still terribly hard. Trying to scoop it out, I could see and feel the ice crystal texture.

Enter Guar Gum

I am relatively new to guar gum. I know that it, along with others like xanthan gum and locust bean gum, are used in many foods to thicken and give texture and body where they are lacking. I have guar and xanthan gums because I have done a fair bit of gluten-free baking. I have only tried one cold application of xantham gum in a salad dressing and was extremely unhappy with the flavor. Guar gum I have used only twice so far, in baking. Just this morning I read a bit about its use in ice creams. Guar, locust or xanthan gums are very often used in ice creams to keep sugar crystals from forming. AHA! 

I will not go into the whole analysis of these gums in this blog. After reading, I feel that it is something I would like to test. Apparently, the use of a whole block of cream cheese in  my Peach Cheesecake Ice Cream may have been a major factor contributing to that mouthfeel I so loved, because cream cheese is stabilized with guar gum! Since I used only a fourth of the amount of cream cheese in the No Sugar ice cream, the effect would be minimal. Sugar is also a contributor to the kind of texture I wanted, but to avoid sugar and very high fat content, I needed another way. Enter Guar Gum.

My results of the first attempt at a no-sugar ice cream were only marginally acceptable. The flavor was quite good. The texture was not. I will be going for round three of my ice cream testing very soon, using a smidgen of guar gum. The websites I visited indicated that only a very tiny amount (about 1/4 teaspoon or less per quart of mixture) of guar gum is needed per recipe. It is also important to either disperse it lightly over the ice cream while churning, or add it into the sugar before mixing into the rest of the ingredients. Either I will mix it into the stevia powder or into the machine while churning. My next results will likely be in the next week or so. Stay tuned!

My passion is to teach people how to create a harmony of flavors with their cooking, and help pass along my love and joy of food, both simple and exotic, plain or fancy. I continue my journey in ethnic and domestic cuisines, trying new things weekly. I would love to hear from you, to help me continue my journey to explore diverse culinary experiences and hopefully to start you on a journey of your own. Join me at A Harmony of Flavors Website and Marketplace, Tumblr, Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest. 

Friday, July 18, 2014

Savory Braised Roast with my CMR Spice

In my post of July 11, I wrote about making cookies using a spice mixture I made, called CMR Spice Blend. My idea was that this spice blend, containing both "sweet" spices and some more commonly thought of as "savory," could easily be used in both types of applications. My original idea when mixing these spices was as a sweet application despite the unusual combination of flavors. Once tasted in the cookies I made, I realized that although it tasted great in cookies, it could also taste great in a savory meal. But what kind of savory application?

CMR Spiced Rump Roast with Gravy
A couple of mornings ago I got out a completely frozen rump roast, with absolutely no ideas on what to do with it for dinner. I used my defrost setting on the microwave, setting it only for a 1 pound piece of meat, while this roast was easily 3 1/2 or 4 pounds. I do this because I just want to get the thaw process started, without ever getting to a point of cooking the edges. To me there is nothing worse than that microwaved cooked flavor on the edges of meat. So, with the roast still extremely solid, I got out my heavy enameled cast iron pot, still with no real idea on what to do for flavoring. I could have just as easily used my crock pot, but this time I thought I would use the oven as it was a nice cool day.

I cut up an onion into thin slices and tossed them in the pot, along with a carrot cut into a couple of pieces and some celery. I set the meat on top of these vegetables to keep liquid circulating below. Flavorings, hmmm... And I saw my CMR Spice Blend there in the cabinet and thought this would be the day to try it in a savory meal. I added in 2 tablespoons of the spice blend. I also had a small amount of red Port wine left on the counter, possibly a half cup, so following the idea of sweet and savory together, I poured that in. Along with a few other ingredients, I had my roast all ready to cook. I set the covered pot in the oven at 300 degrees to start. This method is technically called braising. The roast sets high out of the liquids, and the lid ensures a nice steamy method of cooking.

After 2 1/2 hours I went to check on the roast because while the house smelled wonderful, I certainly didn't want the roast to burn. It still had plenty of liquid, but I added in a cup of water anyway, thinking that gravy would be nice later. I lowered the oven to 275 degrees, as the pot was bubbling well when I opened the lid, and I wanted it to cook more slowly. Two more hours and the roast was done really nicely. Rump roasts seem to be inherently tougher. There is little real fat marbling in the meat. Still, when you get a side of beef, there will be rump roasts. This recipe would work with any piece of meat that needs a long, slow cooking time.

CMR Spiced Rump Roast

serves 6 to 8
CMR Spiced Rump Roast with gravy over mashed potatoes

1 - 2 onions
2 - 3 cloves garlic
1 carrot, cut into 2 pieces
2 stalks celery, cut into 2 pieces each
1 (about 4-pound) rump roast
a few sprigs fresh thyme
2 tablespoons CMR Spice Blend I 
1 1/2 teaspoons Kitchen Bouquet (to make the gravy a deep color)
1 1/2 teaspoons coarse salt
1/2 to 3/4 cup red Port wine or other liquid of choice
1 cup water or other liquid of choice, if needed

To thicken gravy:

1/2 cup water
1/4 cup all-purpose flour

Set oven to 300 degrees. Place the sliced onions, garlic, carrot and celery into a 6 or 7 quart, heavy-duty pot with lid (such as enameled cast iron). Set the roast on top. 

If your roast is not frozen, it will take about 2 1/2 to 3 hours in total to cook. If it is frozen, count about 4 1/2 hours cook time, so prepare accordingly.

Set the thyme sprigs alongside the roast. Sprinkle on the CMR Spice Blend and salt. Add the Kitchen Bouquet. Kitchen Bouquet makes a nice rich gravy color, but is optional. Pour in the Port wine or other liquid, cover the pot and set in the oven for 2 to 2 1/2 hours. Check for liquid. If the roast was not frozen to start, it may be completely cooked through at this time. If the roast was frozen, reduce the oven to 275 degrees and add liquid if needed. Cover and place in oven for another 2 to 2 1/2 house, until cooked through and tender.  

Remove roast to a plate. Discard the thyme sprigs, carrot and celery. If you want a smooth gravy, strain the liquid to remove any vegetables. If bits of onion in the gravy are acceptable, leave the liquid as is. Whisk together the water and flour to a smooth consistency. If it is not smooth, strain this mixture into the pot, whisking briskly to combine. Set the pot over medium heat and stir until the liquid has thickened. Allow the gravy to continue to cook for a few minutes longer to cook out the starchy flavor.

My passion is to teach people how to create a harmony of flavors with their cooking, and help pass along my love and joy of food, both simple and exotic, plain or fancy. I continue my journey in ethnic and domestic cuisines, trying new things weekly. I would love to hear from you, to help me continue my journey to explore diverse culinary experiences and hopefully to start you on a journey of your own. Join me at A Harmony of Flavors Website and Marketplace, Tumblr, Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest. .

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Quick Simple Peach Galette or Rustic Peach Tart

What is a Galette?

Fresh Peach Galette
If you are unfamiliar with the term "galette" it is nothing more than a rustic, free form tart, made sweet or savory. Why use the term galette, when it is a rustic, free form pastry? Just a simpler term; one word instead of four. Plus, it sounds cool. How's that for a technical answer. I believer galette is a French term originally, for this type of rustic tart, though it also has other meanings there, as well as in Canada.

These rustic tarts or galettes have become very popular here in the US and are seen more and more as years pass. For one thing, they are so easy to make. Making a pie is intimidating to some, in a way that the galette is not. There is nothing fussy about making a galette. If you have a pie pastry made, and some fresh or frozen fruit, you have nearly all the ingredients necessary to make a galette. Making a savory galette can be equally easy, but can be spruced up amazingly.

My very first experience with a galette was in fact a savory variety. It came from a Food and Wine Magazine many years ago (March '94, if the many websites now displaying this recipe are to be believed). The recipe was for a Leek and Goat Cheese Galette and while not difficult at all, had many steps. It stated that a yeast dough could be used or a pie pastry. I feel that a yeast dough would end up far too doughy, and have only ever used the pie pastry. I have a fantastic recipe for Even Better Never Fail Pie Crust on my website. Why use anything else? I made the Leek and Goat Cheese Galette and to my delight, it came out looking exactly like the photo in the magazine. I have made this recipe over the years many times. It is perfect with a side salad for a meal. Even my husband, a very staunch Midwest Meat Eater, found this galette good enough for a meal a couple of times. Here is the recipe for the filling for this galette:

Leek and Goat Cheese Galette (filling)

Leek and Goat Cheese Galette
makes 4 or 6 servings

6 large leeks, white and light green parts only
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves, chopped
1/2 cup dry white wine
1/2 cup heavy cream
salt and freshly ground pepper
1 large egg, beaten
3 tablespoons fresh Italian parsley, chopped
1/2 cup soft goat cheese such as Chevre or Montrachet

Cut off dark green tops of the leeks and discard. Cut off root ends and then slice down the length of each remaining leek section. Hold each section under running water, fanning the ends to rinse well to clear out any mud or grit. Slice the leeks across into about 1/4-inch slices. There should be about 6 cups total.

Melt the butter in a medium large skillet. Add in the leeks with the thyme and about 1/2 cup of water. Cook over medium-low heat until the leeks are tender, about 12 to 15 minutes. Raise heat slightly and add the wine and continue cooking until wine is nearly evaporated, then add in the cream and cook until slightly reduced, about 3 more minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper and set aside to cool  for about 10 minutes.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Reserve 1 tablespoon of the beaten egg aside. Mix the remaining egg and 2 tablespoons of the parsley into the leek mixture. Roll out a pie pastry to about 14 inches in diameter round and set it on a baking sheet. Spread the leek filling onto the center of the dough, leaving at least a 2-inch border all around. Crumble the goat cheese over top of the filling. Fold up the pastry edges, overlapping or pleating as necessary. Brush the outside of the pastry with the reserved egg. Bake for 30 to 35 minutes, until golden. Sprinkle with remaining parsley.

Back to the Peach Galette

My sister-in-law loves peaches, a fact I have mentioned a few times in these blogs. She generally prefers a peach dessert for her birthday treat rather than a cake, so this year I decided on a fresh Peach Galette for her birthday dessert. If I was making this for myself, I might prefer another fruit such as blackberries or raspberries, maybe blueberries or a combination. Any fruits can be used. Pineapple would be great, apples, plums. Some people place a layer of marzipan or almond paste into the bottom of the pastry before adding the fruit, partly for sweetness and partly to absorb liquids as the fruit bakes. A frangipane mixture such as I used in my Cherry Frangipane Tart or Frangipane Apple Tart.
Peach Galette with Peach Ice Cream

How much sugar to add to the fruit will depend a bit on how sweet the fruit is initially. Adding too much sugar will only add to the liquids pooling in the pastry while baking and will contribute to a soggy crust. The Peach Galette recipe I created used a very simple 2:2:2 mixture of 2 tablespoons sugar, 2 tablespoons flour and 2 tablespoons lemon juice. Another tablespoon of sugar could be added. The lemon juice would not be necessary for a berry tart, as berries can be tart enough to stand on their own. The lemon juice also helps the peaches (or apples) to keep a nicer color, not turning brown. The flour could be substituted with cornstarch as the thickening agent if desired. Spices could be added to the peach mixture. I added only a grating of fresh nutmeg. A sprinkling of cinnamon could also be added. 

Peach Galette

serves 6 or 8

2 1/4 to 2 1/2 pounds fresh peaches (4 or 5)
2 tablespoons lemon juice
2 - 3 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
pie pastry for a 10-inch pie
1 egg yolk

Peel peaches and slice thinly. Place them in a bowl with the next 4 ingredients and toss to combine. Line a baking sheet with parchment. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. 

Roll out the pie pastry on a floured surface to about 14 or 15 inches in diameter. Do not worry if the edges are uneven; this is a "rustic" tart. Set the pastry onto the parchment. Pour the peach mixture into the center of the pastry, spreading to within 2 or 2 /12 inches of the edge. Flip up the edges of the pastry all around, folding or pleating as necessary. In a small bowl, beat the egg yolk with 1 tablespoon water. Brush this mixture onto all exposed areas of the pastry. Sprinkle the tart with a coarse crystal sugar such as demerara or turbinado, or with a fancy "sanding sugar." Bake the tart for 35 to 45 minutes, until the crust is golden and the fruit is bubbling.

My passion is to teach people how to create a harmony of flavors with their cooking, and help pass along my love and joy of food, both simple and exotic, plain or fancy. I continue my journey in ethnic and domestic cuisines, trying new things weekly. I would love to hear from you, to help me continue my journey to explore diverse culinary experiences and hopefully to start you on a journey of your own. Join me at A Harmony of Flavors Website and Marketplace, Tumblr, Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Making Stuffed Hamburgers for a Birthday Meal

Last summer I made stuffed hamburgers a few times. My sister-in-law, Sherri, most particularly loved them. So much in fact, that she requested them for her birthday dinner this past Sunday. I couldn't even recall what I used to stuff the burgers last year, but she reminded me: caramelized onions, Gorgonzola cheese, mushrooms. I don't think I ever used all three at the same time, but we decided these should be a little more hearty, and I christened them Stuffed Hamburger "Steaks". 
Onion, Gorgonzola and Mushroom Stuffed Burger Steaks

The one thing I simply do not have down is the part where the burgers do not get over cooked. I must admit, most particularly when there is only a thin layer of meat encasing already cooked fillings, it has been difficult for me to gauge when the meat is done and the insides are warm. I over did these also, though neither Sherri nor my husband had any trouble eating them. At least I didn't blacken them. While most people find a little char on their grilled foods enticing, my husband finds it intolerable. 

Another thing I find confusing is how to fill the burger meat and keep the whole thing together on the grill - without really compacting the meat. I watch Mario Batali and Michael Symon on The Chew stressing how burger meat should not be overworked or compacted. For me, if it isn't well compacted, they just want to crumble. Oh well. Again, it could be just a matter of "to each, his own." I still find my burgers tasty in the extreme, so for me, this works.

Do Ahead

It is really best to make the caramelized onions and the sauteed mushrooms the day before. They are time consuming at the best of times and require attention. Two medium-large onions sauteed down to just about 1/2 cup once deep golden brown. An entire pound of mushrooms sauteed down to a little over a cup. The onions are best cooked over very low heat, stirring occasionally at first; more and more often as they begin to color. It takes about 45 minutes to an hour to accomplish this task. The mushrooms took about 20 minutes to cook down. If you have never cooked mushrooms, expect them to release a LOT of liquid, quickly. I prefer to saute mushrooms over a medium heat, or even higher because this helps evaporate all the excess liquid more quickly. Once the liquid is gone, they will brown well. I used a combination of 1 tablespoon of butter and 1 - 2 tablespoons of olive oil for each application.

1 pound sliced mushrooms in pan  |  after about 5 minutes lots of liquid  |  now golden  |  compare cooked amount!

How to Make Stuffed Burgers

For starters, I divide up the meat for each burger, then take out about 1/4 to 1/3 of the meat and set it aside to make the "lid." The larger portion I pat out and create high ridges to hold the filling(s). I create what sort of looks like a tart shell, patting, shaping, pressing into the corners to make a high rim. If using things like caramelized onions or sauteed mushrooms, these need to be made in advance. The onions can take nearly an hour to make and the mushrooms at least 20 minutes. In this particular instance I used about 1 tablespoon (1/2 ounce) of the caramelized onions, then about 1/2+ ounces of the Gorgonzola crumbles and about 2 tablespoons (3/4 ounce) of the sauteed mushrooms for each burger. This used up all of the 2 onions I had caramelized, nearly all of a 5 ounce tub of Gorgonzola Crumbles and at least 2/3 of the pound of sauteed mushrooms I had prepared. These burgers can be made smaller by using 4 ounce portions of meat. I was aiming for an entree, using no bun.

Once the fillings are in place in the well of the patty, I thinly pat out the "lid" portion of the burger. Carefully lifting it, it is set atop the fillings, and I begin to pinch closed the edges all around. Re-shaping a bit and pressing to keep the burgers relatively flat for even cooking, I set them onto a rimmed baking sheet that was sprayed with cooking spray for easy release. In an effort to keep the meat from coming apart later, I set the sheet, uncovered, into the fridge for a few hours to dry before grilling.
Divide meat and make well  |  layer with onion  |  add Gorgonzola  |  top with mushrooms  |  set meat lid over top and seal

Onion, Gorgonzola and Mushroom Stuffed Burger Steaks

makes six (6 ounces before stuffing) burgers

2 pounds hamburger meat
6 ounces bacon, minced finely.
2 medium/large onions, caramelized
1 pound Baby Bella mushrooms, sliced and sauteed
3 - 4 ounces Gorgonzola crumbles
Salt and pepper, to taste

In a large bowl, combine the minced bacon with the burger meat. Divide the meat into 6 equal portions of 6 ounces each. Separate out about 1/3 of each portion to pat into the "lid" for the burger. It helps to use cooking spray or oil on the counter while forming the burgers, for easier lifting later. Using the 2/3 portion of the meat, pat out a round and press up the sides to make a good sized well. The patty should be about 5 1/2 inches in diameter. Begin layering in the fillings: onion, cheese and mushrooms. Set the lid portion atop and pinch the edges all around to seal. Pat into a flat burger with smooth edges. They will be about 1 inch high.

Gently lift and set the burgers onto a baking sheet sprayed with cooking spray or brushed with oil. Refrigerate the burgers for at least an hour; more if time permits. Before grilling, sprinkle the burgers with salt and pepper. Grill to desired doneness.

The thing to (try to) remember is that the meat is very thin on each side of the fillings. The fillings do not need to be cooked; only reheated. Once the cheese is oozing out, the meat is officially overcooked. I believe the smarter thing would be to use an instant read thermometer and make sure the inside is not much more than 110 degrees. That is my next goal!

My passion is to teach people how to create a harmony of flavors with their cooking, and help pass along my love and joy of food, both simple and exotic, plain or fancy. I continue my journey in ethnic and domestic cuisines, trying new things weekly. I would love to hear from you, to help me continue my journey to explore diverse culinary experiences and hopefully to start you on a journey of your own. Join me at A Harmony of Flavors Website and Marketplace, Tumblr, Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest.