Today is our last day honoring the Oscar nominated films of 2010 and it has been fun pairing recipes with the movies. When you look at all of the nominees, I don’t know how anyone could possibly compare them and choose a favorite. The recipes from this week are just as variable and difficult to choose between. But the week is not over yet; we still have the final three, “The Social Network,” “The King’s Speech,” and “Inception.”
“The Social Network” is set on the campus of Harvard and in the bars of Boston. In honor of all those late nights spent drinking and eating with my friends and colleagues, I wanted a recipe that goes well with the college drink of choice, beer. And what is more popular, at least in California, than Nachos. Usually a messy pile of soggy tortilla chips that only have the good stuff on the top layer, with a little reworking, they can be improved. I have taken them one step up the culinary ladder by adding smoked duck. They are so delectable that once you start eating them, you are not going to want to stop!
For “The King’s Speech” I wanted something that would represent the wonderful spirit of the British people. The movie shows their remarkable fortitude during World War II and the upheaval in the monarchy. With the same grace and positive attitude they demonstrate today, the people stood behind their newly crowned King, staunchly supporting him as he struggled to provide them with a strong voice against Hitler’s Third Reich. Just as the King’s voice would “stick” when he tried to speak, today’s dessert is Sticky Toffee Pudding, a favorite in Britain. It has become an international favorite as well. Even Haagen-Dazs has a Sticky Toffee Pudding ice cream. Wait until you taste this amazing combination of cake and caramel syrup!
For an even easier option, you can make the toffee sauce and use it with a store-bought pound cake. And for a lower calorie treat, use the sauce with slices of Angel Food cake. I think it would be amazing on a chocolate cake as well, but I admit to be a bit biased … you all know how much I love the combination of chocolate and caramel!
And lastly, “Inception” was my biggest challenge to match. How on earth do you begin to unravel such a complicated, involved story line? I kept coming back to the concept that in order to execute the required action, the person must be asleep and dreaming. So, what foods remind me of dreaming? Something cloud-like, divine, ethereal … Meringue! And what dessert can be the most heavenly on earth? Pavlova – crispy baked meringue with a soft, marshmallow-like center is often topped with whipped cream and fresh fruits. Light as air and something you will be dreaming of for many, many nights, Pavlova can be made as a single large dessert or in individual servings. Make a fruit compote with whatever is in season or you can use frozen. Serve this “Down Under” specialty at your next dinner party and your guests will be in awe. Don’t you just love it when they are speechless, LOL!!
We are only two days away from the Academy Awards show – how will you celebrate? Some people stay home and have a quiet night; others trip the light fantastic in full regalia. However you choose to honor this year’s films, I hope it includes some great friends, amazing wine, and memorable food. Bon Appetit!
Jane’s Tips and Hints:
When you are planning on making the Pavlovas, make sure you allot enough time for the baking. Because it takes so long at such a low temperature, you will be tempted to increase the heat, but resist that urge. If you raise the oven temperature and try to rush them, they will brown and you will have a tan dessert. If you give it enough time, your meringue will come out perfectly crisp, dried, and remain snowy white.
Kitchen Skill: Filling a Piping Bag
While you might only consider piping for desserts, don’t neglect the savory ingredients as well. One of my favorite things to pipe is deviled eggs. It makes them so much more attractive!
The pavlovas can be made by just spreading the meringue into circles, but if you pipe them, they are really beautiful. Place the piping tip inside the piping bag and twist the bag just above the tip. Place into a fairly tall glass and fold the top of the bag down, creating a “cuff.” Depending on the thickness of the substance you are piping, pour or use a rubber spatula to fill the bag about 2/3 full. Pull the “cuff” up and twist the top closed. When you are ready to pipe, remove the bag from the glass, untwist the bag at the tip and squeeze until the substance is coming out. Hold the top of the bag with one hand, squeezing and twisting the top to take up the slack as needed. Use your other hand to steady the tip. Do a couple of practice designs to remove any air bubbles and then pipe your final design.
- 1 small red onion
- 2 poblano peppers
- 1 pkg taco seasoning mix
- 1 cup sour cream
- 1 bag corn tortilla chips
- 1 smoked duck breast
- 1 cup fresh Pico de Gallo or Fresh Tomato salsa
- 1 lb Monterey Jack or Colby cheese, grated
- 2 jalapeno peppers, seeded, and finely minced
- 1/4 bunch fresh cilantro, minced
- 2 cups guacamole, for garnish
- Fresh cilantro sprigs, for garnish
- Peel red onion and slice into rings. Place in a bowl of ice water and refrigerate for 30 minutes. Drain and pat dry with paper towels. Mince finely and set aside.
- Preheat broiler. Place poblanos on a baking sheet and broil, turning occasionally, until the skins are charred and the peppers are softened. Transfer to a bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Let peppers steam for about 10 minutes. Scrape off skins, remove seeds, and chop peppers coarsely.
- Meanwhile, in a small bowl, combine the taco seasoning mix with the sour cream. Whisk until smooth and evenly blended. Add 1 tbsp water if to thin it slightly. Set aside.
- Spread tortilla chips out on a large, lightly oiled oven-proof baking sheet. Try not to pile them any more than 2 layers deep. You want the toppings on as many of the chips as possible.
- Remove the layer of fat from the duck breast, cut off a piece about 2-inches square and freeze the rest for another dish. Place the square in a skillet and heat it over medium-high heat to render the fat. Slice duck thinly and cut into bite sized pieces (about 1 x 1-1/2 inch batons.) Toss in the duck fat and reduce the heat to medium. Saute just enough to warm the duck; remember that it is already cooked. Evenly distribute duck over tortilla chips. Drizzle with the salsa.
- In a bowl, combine the cheese, jalapenos, cilantro, the minced onions and poblanos. Toss thoroughly. Sprinkle over the tortilla chips and duck. Put under hot broiler and cook until cheese is melted and bubbling, about 3 to 4 minutes. Use a large spatula to transfer them to a warmed serving platter. At this point if you want to, you can stack the chips. Drizzle with the seasoned sour cream and garnish with cilantro sprigs. Serve immediately with the guacamole on the side.
- Yield: about 4 to 6 servings
- 1/2 lb Medjool dates (about 14), pitted and coarsely chopped
- 2 (4-inch) cinnamon sticks
- 2 cups boiling water
- 4 oz unsalted butter, softened
- 2 cups dark brown sugar
- 1 vanilla bean, split and seeds scraped (reserve pod for another use)
- or you can use 1 tbsp vanilla paste which is a good alternative
- 2 large eggs
- 3 cups all-purpose flour
- 1 tsp baking soda
- Toffee Sauce
- 2 cups heavy cream
- 1 lb dark brown sugar (2-1/4 firmly packed cups)
- 2 sticks unsalted butter
- Sweetened whipped cream, for serving
- Preheat the oven to 350°F. Butter an 8-by-12-inch glass baking dish.
- Make the Cake: In a medium heatproof bowl, cover the dates and cinnamon sticks with the boiling water and let stand for 30 minutes. Drain the dates in a colander and shake off any excess water; discard the cinnamon.
- In a large bowl of your electric mixer, beat the softened butter with the brown sugar and vanilla seeds until the mixture is fluffy. Beat in the eggs, one at a time, scraping down the side of the bowl after each addition. In a medium bowl, whisk the flour with the baking soda. Add the dry ingredients to the brown sugar mixture and beat at low speed until blended, and then stir in the chopped dates.
- Scrape the batter into the prepared baking dish and bake for 45 minutes, or until the date cake is springy and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.
- Make the Toffee Syrup: In a medium saucepan, stir together the heavy cream and brown sugar and bring to a boil. Add the butter and stir over moderate heat until melted; keep warm.
- Using a fork, poke holes all over the top of the warm date cake. Drizzle 2 cups of the hot toffee sauce over the cake. Return the cake to the oven and bake for 5 minutes longer, until the toffee sauce is bubbling around the edges but not fully absorbed. Remove from the oven and let the cake cool until most of the sauce has been absorbed, about 1 hour, poking additional holes from time to time to help it absorb more sauce. The cake can be made to this point and held, covered, at room temperature overnight. Refrigerate to hold longer.
- Cut the cake into squares and serve with whipped cream or ice cream and the remaining toffee sauce on the side.
- Pavlova Meringue
- 4 large cold eggs
- 1 cup (200 grams) superfine (castor) sugar (or pulse regular granulated sugar in a food processor until very fine)
- 1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract
- 1 tsp white vinegar
- 1/2 tbsp cornstarch (or corn flour)
- 1 cup (240 ml) heavy whipping cream
- 1-1/2 tbsp (20 grams) granulated white sugar (or to taste)
- 1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract
- Fresh fruit - kiwi, strawberries, raspberries, blackberries, passion fruit, peaches, pineapple, or other fruit of your choice
- Pavlova: Preheat oven to 250°F (130°C) and place rack in center of oven. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and draw a 7-inch (18 cm) circle on the paper. Turn the parchment paper over so the circle is on the reverse side. If you prefer individual desserts, draw smaller 3 to 4-inch circles. There should be enough meringue for 6 to 8 mini-Pavlovas, depending on the size of the circles.
- Separate the eggs, placing the whites in one bowl and the yolks in another. You only need the whites for this recipes, you can use the yolks for another recipe. Cover the egg whites with plastic wrap and set aside to come to room temperature. Cover the yolks and refrigerate. NOTE: Eggs are much easier to separate when they are cold but egg whites won’t beat as fully unless they are at room temperature.
- In the impeccably clean bowl of your electric mixer, with the whisk attachment, beat the egg whites on medium speed until they hold soft peaks.Start adding the sugar, a tablespoon at a time, and continue to beat on high speed, until the meringue holds very stiff and shiny peaks.(Test to see if the sugar is fully dissolved by rubbing a little of the meringue between your thumb and index finger.The meringue should feel smooth. If it feels gritty the sugar has not fully dissolved so keep beating until it feels smooth between your fingers).
- Beat in the vanilla extract. Sprinkle the vinegar and cornstarch over the top of the meringue and, with a rubber spatula, gently fold in. The vinegar and cornstarch help give the Pavlova a crust that is dry and crisp, with a soft marshmallow-like interior.
- Spread the meringue with an off-set spatula inside the circle drawn on the parchment paper, smoothing the edges,and making sure the edges of the meringue are slightly higher than the center.(You want a slight well in the center of the meringue to hold the whipped cream and fruit.) You can also pipe the meringue in a tight spiral, starting at the center. To create a thicker edge, pipe a second layer of meringue over the outside ring. (see Kitchen Tip above for directions on how to fill and use a piping bag.)
- Bake for 60 to 75 minutes or until the outside is dry and a very pale cream color.Turn the oven off, leave the door slightly ajar (stick a wooden spoon in the door), and let the meringue cool completely in the oven. (The outside of the meringue will feel firm to the touch, if gently pressed, but as it cools you will get a little cracking and you will see that the inside is soft and marshmallow-like.)
- The cooled meringue can be made and stored in an airtight container, in a cool dry place, for a few days. If syrupy droplets form on the surface of the baked meringue, it is undercooked. Liquid oozing from the meringue is a sign of under-cooking. Baking and slowly cooling the meringue should give you perfect Pavlovas every time.
- Just before serving gently place the meringue onto a serving plate.
- Make the Topping: Whip the cream in your electric mixer with the whisk attachment, until soft peaks form.Beat in the sugar, add the vanilla and finish beating to desired stiffness. Then mound the softly whipped cream into the center of the meringue. Arrange the fruit randomly, or in a decorative pattern, on top of the cream.Serve immediately as the meringue will begin to soften and lose its crispy crust as it absorbs moisture from the cream and fruit.
- Yield: 6 to 8 servings