Sunday, May 29, 2016

What an Amazing Dessert

Okay, first off, I made this recipe straight from the Donna Hay site. It is called Classic Chocolate Caramel Slice. Click on that link to go there. The site is from Australia, and they use lots of terms that for the regular old USA kind of cook, can leave one at a bit of a loss. 

Long ago, in Guatemala, I made a friend who is an Australian, believe it or not! She was married to a friend of my (at the time) Guatemalan husband. I got to know a little about Australians, their slang and lingo, and most importantly, I looked through her cookbooks, becoming familiar with the terms. One thing that jumped out right away was the use of "aubergine" instead of eggplant. Another was the use of grams instead of ounces or cups. 
Chocolate Caramel Bars
Chocolate Caramel Bars

So when I found this recipe while perusing Facebook yesterday, it just looked so good. And I was feeling stressed. You know what they say: "Stressed is desserts spelled backwards!" So I went to the kitchen. 

I will not begin to say this is a quickie dessert to be whipped up and eaten within the hour. No, it does require more effort than that. There are three distinct steps to the recipe. The first is making the crust. Which uses 9 tablespoons of butter. And then the caramel filling, using 2 cans of sweetened condensed milk, PLUS what they call "golden syrup", PLUS 9 tablespoons of butter. This recipe is nothing if not decadent! And then, probably the most innocuous part of the whole recipe: dark chocolate with 1 tablespoon of oil added. 

The recipe calls for a 20 x 30 centimeter pan. I got out my trusty ruler and found this to be a 9 x 13-inch pan. I went further and used my Wilton, very straight sided 9 x 13-inch pan, so the sides would be very squared, rather than a regular 9 x 13 baking dish with rounded edges. This squared edge resulted in a much wider base, and a thinner bar. Mine were just a little over a quarter inch thick. 

Chocolate Caramel Bars
Chocolate Caramel Bars
While the flour and sugar were given alternatively in cups and in grams, other measurements were in grams alone. Luckily I have a kitchen scale to measure with, so I found that 125 grams of butter equaled 9 tablespoons.  The sweetened condensed milk does have both ounces and grams, so that was a no-brainer. When confronted with 200 grams of dark chocolate, I had to use the scale. I had bars of Ghirardelli 60% dark chocolate baking bars. Each one is 4 ounces, or 113.5 grams. The bars are sectioned into 8 squares apiece. By weight, 200 grams turned out to be all but one of the little square sections of two whole bars, or 15 small square sections.

Okay, once I had all the calculations, all I had to do is decide what to do about the golden syrup, which I do not have. I recall another recipe from Donna Hay that called for golden syrup, and my sister said something about approximating with honey mixed with corn syrup. This is what I did, with no more exactitude than pouring in an eyeballed half of the ⅓-cup measure, of honey, and then filling to the top with corn syrup. I used dark corn syrup, but I am pretty sure light would make no perceptible difference. 

I hesitated with the idea of using the exact recipe here, as it comes from the Donna Hay website, but it is changed enough to almost count. Still, I would encourage anyone looking for a really decadent dessert that can be cut pretty tiny, if desired - do check out that website, because you will just drool all over your computer while perusing! I guarantee!

Chocolate Caramel Bars, a la Donna Hay

Chocolate Caramel Bars
Chocolate Caramel Bars
Makes one 9 x 13-inch pan, about 64 small squares

1 cup all-purpose flour
½ cup dried, unsweetened coconut
9 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
½ cup brown sugar

9 tablespoons unsalted butter, in cubes
2 cans (14 ounce / 396 grams each) 
   sweetened condensed milk
⅓ cup honey & corn syrup mixed (OR Golden Syrup, if available)

7½ ounces 60% bittersweet chocolate 
1 tablespoon oil (I used hazelnut oil)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line a 9 x 13-inch baking pan with parchment paper, leaving an overhang on the long edges to allow for lifting out later. Cut corners to fit. Spray the parchment lightly with cooking spray. Set pan aside.

Make the crust by combining the flour, brown sugar and coconut in a mixing bowl, then adding the melted butter. Stir until well-combined and turn into the prepared pan. Press gently and firmly to make the crust mixture fit to all the edges and covering the pan bottom with no holes or gaps. This can take a little time; be patient and carry on! Bake the crust for about 15 minutes, or until golden. Remove from oven. 

While the crust is baking, make the caramel. Mix together the three caramel ingredients in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Stir the mixture with a whisk or a silicone spatula until butter is melted. Continue stirring vigorously, scraping bottom and sides of pan for about 7 to 9 minutes. Once crust is out of the oven, pour this mixture over the crust. Return the pan to the oven for another 15 minutes, rotating the pan once during baking. The top of the caramel should be a deep golden color and bubbling.

Remove the pan to a rack to cool, and once tepid, move to the refrigerator until cooled through. Once cooled, make the chocolate topping. Combine the chocolate and oil in a medium saucepan over the lowest heat possible, stirring occasionally until the chocolate is melted and the mixture is smooth. Alternatively, melt the chocolate in 1 minute bursts in the microwave. Pour the chocolate over the cooled bars and spread evenly to edges. Return the pan to the refrigerator for at least ½ hour. Use the parchment to help lift the bars out of the pan for easier slicing. Cut into narrow strips, about 1½-inch wide, then across into approximately 1½ inch squares. 

My passion is teaching people how to create a harmony of flavors with their cooking, and passing along my love and joy of food, both simple or 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 also at A Harmony of Flavors on Facebook, and Pinterest and sign up for my Newsletter.

Saturday, May 21, 2016

Peaches and Mascarpone Spelled Dessert

Last week I had planned to make a cake and ice it with (what I thought was) a recipe using mascarpone cheese. I bought two containers of mascarpone just for this. Until I went to the recipe to see what else was in it - only to find it had no mascarpone at all. What?!?

Totally confused, I searched the magazine and found zero uses for mascarpone cheese in an icing. How I misled myself into this belief is beyond me, but hey, I am chalking it up to fate. It is a great excuse to use mascarpone in other applications. Yesterday was the first one, and I came up with an idea for a tart. 

Peach Mascarpone Tart with Tarragon Shortbread Crust
Peach Mascarpone Tart with Tarragon Shortbread Crust

On Mascarpone

Peach Mascarpone Tart with Tarragon Shortbread Crust
Peach Mascarpone Tart with Tarragon Shortbread Crust
If anyone in the blogging world does not yet know what mascarpone cheese is, the simple explanation is that it is an Italian version of cream cheese. While I have absolutely nothing against good old Philly cream cheese, mascarpone just has a better flavor, a better feel, just more depth of character. If Philly is your everyday face, then mascarpone is your totally dressed-up face. This is my own feeling on the matter. Still, maybe you get the picture.

Unlike Philly, one thing to caution about macarpone: it is best not to over beat it, as it becomes grainy very easily. That said, mascarpone can strengthen and stabilize whipped cream so that it will stand up to refrigeration for days without weeping or losing its shape and texture. This makes any pie with a whipped cream topping (Key Lime, anyone) a total breeze to make slightly in advance rather than having to do things last minute. Pipe rosettes of this stable whipped cream onto a cheesecake for decoration. Use it between cake layers. It has been the most wonderful discovery I've made in years. To make this wonderful stable whipped cream, here is what I do:

Mascarpone Whipped Cream
Mascarpone Whipped Cream 

Mascarpone Whipped Cream

Mascarpone Whipped Cream is shown atop a Cherry Custard Tart in the photo at right.

Makes about 3 cups

1 cup heavy whipping cream
6 tablespoons confectioners' sugar
8 ounces mascarpone cheese, AT ROOM TEMPERATURE

With a mixer, beat the one cup of whipping cream until it holds very soft peaks. Add in the confectioners' sugar and beat until it holds stiff peaks. Stop the mixer and add in the mascarpone cream. Beat again just until combined. Beating too long will cause the mascarpone to look curdled.


Okay, I so totally lost my train of thought there, but my goal is to tell you about the wonderful dessert tart I came up with yesterday. It was one of those experiments that went totally right. While rich, it was not terribly sweet, and totally full of flavor. I called it Peach Mascarpone Tart with Tarragon Shortbread Crust. A mouthful to say, but wait till you taste it. 

I used a 9-inch tart pan with a removable rim, so I could set the finished tart onto a fancy plate for serving. The only aspect of this dessert that I would do any differently is to ensure that the crust is pressed all the way up the sides of the tart pan's rim. The reason for this is that when I filled the shell with the mascarpone filling, it reached higher than the crust. The filling is just the slightest bit runny, and with the peaches set on after the filling, it reached much higher. It did not overflow or leak when baking, however I did have to go all around the pan, loosening the filling and crust from the fluted rim of the tart pan. Not horrible, but it was a bit time consuming. Some of the crust still stuck a bit, which you can see on the photo at top of page. Made absolutely no difference to the flavor though!

If you use a tart pan that does not have a removable rim, also be sure to press the crust mixture high, which ensures the slices can be cut and removed for serving with ease. The tart is not terribly thick / deep, so the portions are easy to handle, even after a large meal.  

For the St. Germain liqueur, if not using, sprinkle a little water into the crust, if needed, and for the filling just substitute a teaspoon of vanilla and a little water, if needed.

Peach Mascarpone Tart with Tarragon Shortbread Crust

Peach Mascarpone Tart with Tarragon Shortbread Crust
Peach Mascarpone Tart with Tarragon Shortbread Crust

Makes one 9 or 10-inch tart

⅔ cup all-purpose flour
⅓ cup cornstarch
1½ teaspoons finely minced fresh tarragon
5½ tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
⅓ cup confectioners' sugar
1 tablespoon St. Germain elderflower liqueur, optional

1 cup (8-ounces) mascarpone cheese, at room temperature
2 egg yolks
3 tablespoons sugar
4 tablespoons St. Germain elderflower liqueur, optional
1½ cups sliced peaches, fresh or frozen

Make crust: Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Have ready a tart pan.

Whisk together the flour, cornstarch and tarragon in a small bowl. In a separate bowl, Cream together the butter and confectioners' sugar. Stir in the flour mixture and mix lightly to combine. Add in the elderflower liqueur and toss lightly. Pour into the tart pan and using fingers, press into bottom and sides. Bake for about 20 minutes, until the crust is lightly golden. Remove from oven and cool.

While crust cools, make the filling: In a smaller mixing bowl combine the mascarpone, egg yolks, sugar. Mix together with a fork, or extremely briefly with a hand mixer, to just combine. Add in the liqueur, if using. If not, just add a little vanilla.

If using fresh peaches, peel and slice the peach(es) into thin wedges, as the filling is not deep. Have them ready.

Pour the filling mixture into the cooled crust and set the peach wedges on top. The peaches might be substituted with berries, if preferred. Bake the tart until the filling is just set, about 20 to 25 minutes. Cool completely before serving. 

My passion is teaching people how to create a harmony of flavors with their cooking, and passing along my love and joy of food, both simple or 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 also at A Harmony of Flavors on Facebook, and Pinterest and sign up for my Newsletter.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Oldie but Goodie Quiche Alsacienne

You may wonder why "Quiche Alsacienne". Maybe you have never heard of it? 

According to my 1966 version of "The Joy of Cooking," it states that Quiche Lorraine (which most people HAVE heard of) is made with bacon, eggs and cheese. If onions are added, it is called Quiche Alsacienne. And that is what I made for dinner last evening. 
Quiche Alsacienne for dinner
Quiche Alsacienne for dinner

It has been positively ages since I made a quiche. I do make little quiche appetizer bites, which are found in the recipe index for this blog under Millard's Mini Artichoke Quiches. But those hardly count, at least not in the sense of this Quiche Lorraine / Alsacienne. In all the past 4 years since creating this blog, I have not made a quiche. So what brought me to it yesterday?

Quiche Alsacienne with Asparagus & Salad
Quiche Alsacienne with Asparagus & Salad
Well, I have been recompiling and collating some old cookbooks. The reason being that my son divorced his wife, and he is leaving, taking with him the old cookbooks I had given my children (with old recipe favorites). I love my daughter-in-law as a daughter, and I felt her pain and dismay as she would no longer have access to the cookbooks. This led me to make one bigger book with all the old recipes, plus many new ones; reconstructing, editing and adding photos as I go. So very many of the old recipes never had a photo, as long ago I was just not taking photos of every food I ate. If I was lucky, there might be a photo in the original book I used. Oftentimes not, as in the case of my "The Joy of Cooking".

So, as I go through and edit the recipes for the new pages, I find that the recipe as I make it is most often nowhere like the original recipe. I am a changer. It is hard for me to make something just as is, and there are very few recipes that get made without my personal touch being placed on them. And this led to making some oldies but goodies, such as Chicken and Dumplings last week, and Gumbo some few days back. Last night I made this quiche for dinner, and it is something my husband and I really do occasionally enjoy. All these meals were made so I could take photos!

While I made this quiche as dinner, the entire dinner would be a most excellent brunch served just as I did, with some broiled asparagus and a lovely green salad on the side.  
Fitting pastry into tart pan
Fitting pastry into tart pan

Long ago when I made this quiche, I fitted the pie shell in a pie plate. For the first time, I opted to make it in a tart pan, with a removable rim for prettier presentation. The tart pan is metal, and the edges are very sharp, so I rolled out the pie pastry, cut it larger than the pan, and then folded the pastry so it could be more easily transported to the pan without tearing, shown in the first of the series of photos above. The remaining steps I took are depicted in the remaining photos which I took as I completed each step. The pastry is unfolded in the pan (photo 2), then pressed into the edges (step 3), edges trimmed to fit the pan (step 4) and the finished pastry, waiting for its fillings (step 5).

I made a simple one-crust pie pastry using lard, as it gives the flakiest crust:

One-Crust Pie Pastry

Makes one single-crust pie pastry for a 9" pie shell or 10-inch tart pan

1¼ cup all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon salt
⅓ cup lard, butter or shortening
3 - 5 tablespoons ice-cold water

Combine the flour and salt in a bowl. Cut in the lard/shortening/butter until the mixture looks mealy. Begin adding 3 tablespoons of the ice water and toss the mixture with a fork. As it begins to come together, see if it will all come into one ball. The dough should not be wet, but just adhere. Without overworking, if the mixture needs more water, add it in 1 tablespoon at a time. Once it comes together, form it into a ball, flatten and wrap well. Refrigerate for at least one hour or up to 3 days.


Most recipes out there today lean toward baking the crust first, before filling. Everyone looks for the crispiest crust, even underneath. Well!

I have to say, this is certainly not my thing. My favorite part of pie crusts are the soft parts in the bottom. I used to eat everything out of a pie shell, leaving that soft underneath crust for last, the better to spend my time savoring. To this end, I am not a proponent of a crisp bottom crust. Neither is my husband, thankfully. My procedure was to chill the fitted pastry in the tart pan and refrigerate it until I had all the filling ingredients ready to go.
Filling ingredients
Filling ingredients

The first step in the filling ingredients was the bacon. I fried that up until nearly crisp and set it aside to drain on paper towels. I left one tablespoon of the bacon fat in the pan, adding in 1 tablespoon of butter to saute the onions. I wanted them nice and deep golden brown. My husband abhors onions that are too uncooked, or have any crunch left. I got the cheese shredded while the onions were cooking. Separately I cracked the eggs into a bowl, reserving part of one of the whites aside. (I did make a token attempt at a less-soggy crust by using "The Joy of Cooking's" suggestion of brushing the pie pastry with egg white before filling.) I added in the cream, salt and white pepper, along with a bit of freshly grated nutmeg.

Assembly: the onions went into the tart shell first, followed by the bacon, spread out evenly. Next went the cheese and then the milk and egg mixture. I set the tart pan onto a pizza pan with holes, as I was hoping for the bottom crust to have access to the oven heat. The tart pan with removable rim makes it difficult to lift the pan without dislodging the bottom, so it was going onto some kind of baking sheet. This pan with holes seemed best for the job. Into the oven it went, on relatively high heat. It was baked in no time.

Quiche Alsacienne

Makes one 10-inch tart
Quiche Alsacienne
Quiche Alsacienne

1 (9-inch) single pie pastry, fitted in a 
    9-inch  pie plate or 10-inch tart shell, well 
½ pound bacon, sliced across into 1/4-inch bits
1 tablespoon butter
1 large onion; 10 - 12 ounces, quartered and sliced ¼-inch thick
6 ounces Gruyere cheese (Swiss is also fine), shredded
4 eggs
1½ cups half and half (or cream)
½ teaspoon salt
a few grinds of white pepper
⅛ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.  

In a large skillet, fry the bacon until it is not quite crisp. Remove from pan to drain on paper toweling. Remove all but 1 tablespoon of the bacon grease from the pan. Add the butter to the pan and melt. Add in the onions and set over relatively low heat, cooking slowly for about 40 to 45 minutes, turning occasionally. Once onions are tender and golden, remove from heat and allow to cool down a bit.

While the onions are cooking, mix together the eggs, reserving aside one of the whites in a small bowl. Whisk the half and half, salt, pepper and nutmeg into the eggs and milk mix. Lightly whisk the single egg white and, using a pastry brush, gently brush the white into the tart pastry. Return any unused egg white from the little bowl to the larger mixture of eggs.

When ready to assemble, first place the tepid onions into the tart shell, scattering evenly. Add the bacon, spreading evenly. Top with the shredded cheese, spreading to edges. Pour in the eggs and half and half mixture. If using a tart pan with removable rim, set the pan onto a baking sheet for easier transport to the oven. If using a pie plate, the baking sheet is not necessary.

Bake for 15 minutes at 425 degrees, then lower the oven to 300 degrees. If using a 10-inch tart pan, being thinner, it may take only about 6 to 8 minutes more baking time. Test by inserting a knife halfway between the center and edge of the pan. It should come out wet, but with no apparent egg/milk on it.

If using a pie plate, the filling will be far thicker and may require up to 30 minutes in the oven to finalize cooking time. Trust your nose! When the quiche begins to smell mouth-wateringly good, it is likely done, or very close.

My passion is teaching people how to create a harmony of flavors with their cooking, and passing along my love and joy of food, both simple or 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 also at A Harmony of Flavors on Facebook, and Pinterest and sign up for my Newsletter.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Spaghetti Bolognese on My Mind

Red Phragmipedium Painting
Red Phragmipedium Painting
It has been almost a month since I last came here to write. I had so much going on for so long, and then it was suddenly quiet. In that silence, I went to other pursuits. I decided to recreate some old cookbooks. I painted. My painting exhibit at the Dacotah Prairie Museum opens on May 31st, so I had been painting more pictures. I have sufficient, but now that I see the quality of my recent work (my latest painting at right) versus some of my very early paintings, I wanted more in the newer, better look. I have cooked, but not with dedication, nor with a lot of inspiration. 

Still, periodically I get inspired, and that happened about 10 days ago with Spaghetti Bolognese. I can't even recall what brought me to that dish. I had made Spaghetti Bolognese in the past, using a recipe in my old, old copy of "The Joy of Cooking".  I liked it well enough, but my husband - not so much. 

Wherever I heard of it this time, I sat down to think about what I remembered: 
  • It had bacon in it
  • It had vegetables like celery and carrots, unusual in spaghetti
  • it had cream or some milk added  
Spaghetti Bolognese over Penne Pasta
Spaghetti Bolognese over Penne Pasta

So here I was that day, with some thawing hamburger meat and this came up, so I just ran with it and came up with what turned out to be an extremely flavorful dish, and best of all, my husband loved it!

Of late, he has been favoring pasta dishes with some sort of shape other than spaghetti, linguine or fettuccine. He has liked the shells or penne much more. So, I opted to serve my Spaghetti Bolognese sauce over penne. We both totally pigged out. It was so good. It felt great to get back into the creation of something totally new and really flavorful.

Funny that this came up for me so recently, and then a few days ago Mario Batali made Spaghetti Bolognese on The Chew. Mario used milk in his version, rather than cream, and cooked it long and slow with the milk added. In my version I used cream and added it only at the end of cooking. For sure, I could have used milk - but I didn't have any. I did have cream, so that was what I used. He used wine in the dish, where I chose a small amount of balsamic vinegar, giving a little sweet note. I believe Mario's version had ground pork in it. I thought of this, or even of using Italian sausage, but I also had none in the house, so it was just ground beef. I would love to someday cook a roast and chop it to use as the meat rather than hamburger. But that will be another day, another time.

So, I sat down to compose what sounded good to me as a working recipe, and this is what I came up with. It came out so well that I am posting it here with high recommendations! Obviously, this sauce can be served over spaghetti, or fettuccine or linguine. We loved how it went on and into the penne.

Spaghetti Bolognese 

Serves 6 to 8
Spaghetti Bolognese
Spaghetti Bolognese

4 strips bacon, sliced across thinly
1 large onion, chopped
4 - 6 cloves garlic, minced
1 large carrot (or 2 small), peeled, sliced, grated
2 stalks celery, sliced thinly
1 pound ground beef, or beef and pork
¼ cup Balsamic vinegar
1 large (29 ounce) can tomato sauce
1 can (6 ounce) tomato paste
1 teaspoon dried basil
1 teaspoon dried oregano
½ teaspoon dried thyme leaves
1 bay leaf
1 to 1½ teaspoons salt, to taste
freshly ground black pepper, to taste
½ cup heavy cream, or ¾ cup milk

In a large soup pot, fry the bacon until crisp. Remove the bacon to paper toweling to drain, reserving 1 tablespoon of drippings in the pot. Add in the onion, garlic, carrots and celery and cook until all the vegetables are softened. Add in the ground beef and cook, breaking apart the meat finely, until no pink is left. Add the balsamic vinegar and cook quickly to evaporate the liquid.

Once the liquid has mostly cooked out, add in the tomato sauce and paste, the reserved bacon and all the herbs and seasonings and cook, covered for about 1/2 hour over low heat to combine flavors. Just before serving, add in the cream and stir to combine. Serve over your pasta of choice and top with freshly grated Parmesan cheese.

My passion is teaching people how to create a harmony of flavors with their cooking, and passing along my love and joy of food, both simple or 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 also at A Harmony of Flavors on Facebook, and Pinterest and sign up for my Newsletter.