Tuesday, November 28, 2006

creme au caramel of my heart

Though I mainly try to concentrate on cooking healthy foods, every once in awhile, I enjoy a nice creamy dessert. This French version of flan is called Creme Au Caramel and is both decadent, but surprisingly easy to make.

As Nigella Lawson discusses, the airy creaminess is abetted by a hot water bath. This is simpler than it sounds, trust me.

Creme Au Caramel

1 c whole milk
1 c heavy whipping cream
4 eggs
1 cup of white sugar divided into 1/2 cups
vanilla bean or vanilla extract (1 t)
pinch of salt

shallow baking pan
six medium sized ramekins

Pre-heat oven to 325 F

Boil water in a kettle or electric kettle.

In a heavy bottom pan melt 1/2 c of sugar and swirl pan until the sugar has turned to a gold brown carmel color and dispense between the ramekins evenly trying to coat the bottoms. Don't worry if doesn't completely cover the whole surface since it will melt during the baking anyway.

If using the vanilla bean, slice and scrape the seeds into a saucepan with the whole milk and cream. Otherwise bring mixture to a near boil. Watch for tiny bubbles that emerge at the edges of the cream and milk mixture.

In another bowl break open the eggs and mix thoroughly. When the cream mixture is ready pour gradually into the bowl while mixing. Then, add 1/2 c of sugar to the mixture and 1 t of the vanilla extract (if not using the vanilla bean) and the pinch of salt.

Place ramekins in the shallow baking pan and fill with egg custard mixture. Then, place the entire pan into the oven and then add the boiling water so that it covers the ramekins at half their height.

Check ramekins after 15-20 minutes with a knife. When the knife comes out clean remove and let cool to room temperature. Can be served either at room temperature or chilled.

For some reasons these creamy delights taste better the next day chilled to me.

Oh yes, and use a butter knife to loosen the creme au caramel and upend on a plate. Be careful of the caramel sauce!

Bon appetit!

Thursday, November 23, 2006

well wed

It was from my meatball and sausage loving sister that I first came upon the concept of "Italian Wedding Soup."

Not unexpectedly, I took extremely well to this clear chicken broth based soup which is much like the soups of my childhood. Chinese and Thai culture both use their fair share of clear chicken stock.

Reading about Italian Wedding Soup various sources disclosed that it is not actually a soup for weddings but likely a misinterpretation of Minestra Maritata. Maritata means that the ingredients go well together or "well wed."

The charm of this soup besides its name is that it's extremely fast and filling. Make sure you've got pre-made meatballs though!

Italian Wedding Soup

2 t olive oil
1/2 a minced onion
1 package of small frozen meatballs
1 t dried oregano
1 t dried majoram
1 t dried basil
2-3 minced garlic cloves
1 bunch of escarole or spinach or chicory (any blend of) rinsed well and torn into bite sized pieces (don't worry about this too much)
2 carrots peeled in coins
1 chopped celery stalk
4 c chicken broth
1 chopped tomato
1/4 c parmesan reggiano

salt and freshly ground black peppar to taste

optional: orzo (a rice shaped pasta)
or serve with crusty bread

Make orzo according to the directions.

In a large pot heat the olive oil then add frozen meatballs to brown. Once they've started to brown on all sides, add minced onion and continue to fry. When the onions begin to turn translucent add the dry spices and garlic and sautee for another minute. Add the spinach, carrots, and celery and fry for another two minutes. Add the chicken broth to cover the meatball/vegetable mixture and add the tomato. Bring mixture to a boil and then lower heat to simmer the soup for at least half an hour.

Add parmesan reggiano before serving.

Italian Wedding Soup is particularly well wedded to Swedish culture also because you'll seldom find a freezer without some pre-made meatballs. I have to admit we had no orzo and used another Swedish standby -- the potato which you can toss in earlier as well if you're more for the even-more-sticking-to-your-ribs sort of one course meal.