Grenoblois: Grenoble Caramel Walnut Cake

Today was sort of a baking fiasco.  I love my kitchen, the huge amount of space, my wonderful marble countertops (great for kneading), and the funky color scheme ( mint green ceiling, yellow tiled walls, and terracotta mexican tiling).  But I HATE MY OVEN.  I think the last time this kitchen was updated was in 1986, when kitsch was cool.  I mean, it’s still cool, in a retro sort of way, but an oven that is from that year…..well, do I have to say anything more?

I have a hard time baking in this oven.  It’s either too hot, or not hot enough.  The times that I know I need for certain cakes/brownies/cookies etc. are all out of whack, and it frustrates me to no end.

But, I persevered, and through blind faith and luck, the cake came out great, albeit a little denser than I would have wanted.  I baked it in a bundt mold, a large one, but it looks like it was made in a miniature one.  But, no despair, the most important part is the taste right?

I decided to make this because I hadn’t since I was at culinary school, and I had a surplus of walnuts in my pantry.

This cake is really wonderful as an alternative dessert, instead of flour you use bread crumbs, and that is why it is so moist and dense.  The beaten egg whites help to make it a little fluffier, but when you take it out of the oven, it will sink.  That’s ok though.  Taste is not compromised!

It’s lovely with coffee, even better with a brandy.  Your choice!

So here’s what you’re going to need:

300g butter, melted

250g walnuts

6 eggs, separated

200g sugar

3 tbsp rum (I used Frangelico, hazelnut liqueur)

1 tsp instant coffee dissolved with 1 tsp water

3/4 cups breadcrumbs

For the caramel:

6 tbsp sugar

6 tbsp water, at room temperature

1/2 tsp fresh lemon juice

1 tsp frangelico or rum

walnuts

Preheat oven to 200C (400F).  Butter your cake pan and set aside.  Finely chop the walnuts in a food processor.

Combine egg yolks with 2/3 cup (150g) of the sugar in the bowl of a stand up mixer, fitted with the paddle attachment.  Beat until pale and fluffy, and doubled in volume, 10 minutes.  Fold in the butter, your liqueur, and coffee, then the bread crumbs and walnuts.

Wash out your bowl, or if you have another one, beat the egg whites, fitted with the whisk, until soft peaks form.  Add the remaining sugar, and beat until smooth and shiny.  Gently fold the egg whites into the walnut mixture.  Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake until browned, about 35 minutes.

Meanwhile, combine the 6 tbsp sugar, water, lemon juice and liqueur in a small saucepan and bring to a boil.  Cook until a dark caramel forms, then add the walnuts.

Turn the cake out onto a serving platter.  Pour the caramel over.  Let cool completely before serving.

From my kitchen to yours,

Carla

Sicilian Street Food: Arancini di Ragu

Ten years ago exactly we celebrated our 10 year high school reunion in Taormina, Sicily.  I fell so in love with the island; the smells of flowers and ocean air.  Its rocky cliffs dipping vertically into the clear, azure Ionic Sea.  The cobblestone streets with the outdoor cafes, bustling with ultra-cool Sicilians having Gelato con la Brioche, (incredible ice cream sandwiches) and Granita con la Panna, (italian ice with whipped cream).  The weather was perfect, mildly warm during the day, and cool and breezy at night.  I didn’t want to leave.

After this vacation, I moved to Barcelona.  And I decided that I wanted to bring back all of those glorious things I tasted on my trip.  So, I started traveling extensively throughout Sicily, took many cooking lessons, visited wineries, cheese producers, cured meat purveyors, all in hopes of soaking up what they do best in Sicily, cook and eat.

One of my favorite things I discovered, besides the gelato con la brioche, was Arancini.  The name means “small oranges”, obviously because of their color and shape.  But inside….it was a surprise that I was quite happy to discover.  Arancini are stuffed rice croquettes.  The ones that I like the best contain a ragu, or meat sauce, in the center.  But they can be as simple as plain mozzarella, or with spinach and cheese, or just vegetables.  The time I spent there, I met many Mamma’s, Nonna’s and chefs.  And each one of them imparted their unique technique’s from all over the island.  Here is my recipe for Arancini, mind you, it takes a bit of practice, and it definitely requires some patience since the process has quite a few steps.  But I wouldn’t hesitate to make them.  They are beyond delicious, and you will be very happy when your guests or family gobbles them up with huge smiles.

So here’s what you’re going to need:

Makes about 8 arancini

For the rice:

3 cups water

1.5 cups arborio rice

2 tsp of salt

1 egg, beaten

1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese

For the ragu:

2 tbsp olive oil

1/2 large onion, finely minced

1 garlic clove, minced

2 tbsp tomato paste

125g ground beef and pork

1/2 cup white wine

1 can of pureed tomatoes, 400g

1 cup beef stock

1/2 cup peas

Salt and Pepper to taste

Grated Nutmeg

1/4 cup mozzarella, diced

2 eggs, beaten

Lots of bread crumbs

Vegetable oil, for frying

In a saucepan, add the water, salt and bring to a boil.  When it is boiling, add the rice and turn the heat to low, cover and let simmer for about 15-20 minutes until it evaporates.

Let it cool a bit, and add your egg and parmesan cheese and mix well.  Spread out on a baking sheet and let cool in the fridge.

In the meantime, make the sauce.  In a large sauté pan over low heat, add the onion and garlic,cook for about 10 minutes.  Add the tomato paste, and raise the heat to high, cook for about 2 minutes, stirring continuously so your onions and garlic won’t burn.  Add the beef/pork mixture, and sauté until cooked through, stirring the whole time.  When it is completely cooked, add the white wine and let it evaporate completely.

Add the tomato purée, and the vegetable stock.  Bring to a boil, and lower the heat to medium low.  Add the peas and let simmer for about 20 minutes, just enough so that you have more meat to sauce, but it is still quite moist.

When done, add the salt, pepper, nutmeg and mozzarella.  Mix well.  Let cool.

Now here comes the tricky part.  It is useful to have everything ready on your countertop before you begin to make the arancini.  In a deep, non stick frying pan, fill half full with the vegetable oil.  Place it over high heat.

Crack your eggs into a shallow bowl, and put the bread crumbs in another shallow bowl.  Place them side by side, and have your rice and ragu in a row so you can work easily.  It also helps to have a large bowl of water to rinse your hands with in between making the arancini, because it becomes a sticky mess, and of course, a kitchen towel over your shoulder to dry your hands with!

Now grab a bit of your rice, and place it in your other hand, and cup your hand.  Start molding the rice to your hand, creating a sort of pocket, like this:

Then place a generous tsp full of your sauce into the pocket.

Now, start closing your hand around the sauce, using your free hand to help you close up the hole.  Grab a little bit more rice and place it on top, pressing the rice to create a nice tight seam.  It takes a bit of artistry, but by the second or third one, you will get the hang of it.  Once the sauce is completely covered with the rice, mold into a ball shape.

Now roll in the beaten eggs, and then in the breadcrumbs, making sure that it is completely covered.  Then with a slotted spoon, place in the hot oil, and fry until the bottom half is golden brown, then flip it over and fry on the other side.  You can do a few at a time, just remember the order you put them in.

Strain on paper towels to take off the excess oil, and serve immediately.  You can also make them ahead, and before frying refrigerate for a few days.  Just bring them to room temperature before frying.

From my kitchen to yours,

Carla

Chilled Tomato Soup with Yogurt

I adore tomato soup.  Especially in summer, when tomatoes are the ripest and juiciest, and the weather is warm, warm, warm.  This weekend was a holiday, and we had some friends in town from Germany, so it became this long and drawn out Bacchanal of food and wine.  Last night, I needed something light, not too filling and delicious.

I decided to make my tomato soup as always, but instead of adding fresh cream at the end, I decided to add low-fat greek yogurt.  The end result was incredible.  I don’t think I ever want to have tomato soup with cream again, EVER!!!!

The soup was smooth and luscious, but the yogurt gave it this wonderful tang, almost as if you had added sour cream, but without the fat!  And with only 2 tbsp of olive oil, you know you are giving yourself a heart-healthy and delicious treat!

So, here’s what you’re going to need:

For 3 people

4 large tomatoes, grated

1 large onion, chopped

1 clove of garlic, minced

2 tbsp olive oil

8 sundried tomatoes, chopped

1 tsp of fresh thyme

1/2 tsp cinnamon

400ml of vegetable stock

200g low-fat greek yogurt

salt and black pepper to taste

In a large stock pot heat the olive oil over med-high heat, add your onion and garlic and cook for about 5 minutes, or translucent.  Add your tomatoes and cook another 5 minutes.

Add your sundried tomatoes, thyme, cinnamon and vegetable stock.  Bring to a boil, and lower the heat to medium.  Cook for about 10-15 minutes.  Take off the heat, let it cool and blend your soup.  Strain the soup with a chinois, and add the yogurt and whisk until incorporated.  Add your salt and pepper to taste, serve immediately or let cool in the fridge for 2-3 hours to have a silky smooth gazpacho-like soup.

From my kitchen to yours,

Carla

Walnut and Feta Cheese Coins

Today is a holiday here.  It feels much more like Sunday than Monday.  We went to the beach, relaxed a bit and came back home lazy and warmed. Yet one of the things that relaxes me the most is baking.  So, I was on the hunt for an easy option, that didn’t require too much prep or cooking time.

As I have mentioned before, I am trying to use my cookbooks more often.  I looked at my shelf, and picked up my book of Greek food.  Leafing through the pages, I came across this recipe that seemed different, delicious yet super simple.

I liked the combination of walnuts and feta cheese, and after we tried them, even my daughter gave them the stamp of approval, and asked me incredulously, “Did you make these?”  It was a proud mama moment.  Mind you, she is very, very picky.  These will be great to serve with a glass of wine, and some cheese and grapes as an hors d’oeuvres.

I had to tweak the recipe a bit, as when I was making it I found the proportion of butter to flour to be too much.  So below you will find the revised recipe.

Adapted from: “Cocinas del Mundo.  Grecia”  By Susanna Tee

So here’s what you’re going to need:

40g Walnuts

230g flour

salt and pepper

115g butter

115g feta cheese

1 egg, beaten for the glaze

Preheat the oven to 190 celsius (375 F)

Place the walnuts in the food processor, and pulse until finely chopped.  I chopped mine by hand so I could get different sizes.  Place in a bowl and set aside.

Add your flour, salt and pepper to the food processor, and add the butter, chopped into squares.  Pulse until the mixture looks like coarse sand.  Add the crumbled feta, the walnuts and mix until you have a smooth dough.

On a clean work surface, dust with flour and place your dough.  With a rolling-pin, roll to about 1/2 inch thick.  Cut with a small biscuit cutter, about 2.5 inches.  Place on a baking sheet, glaze with the beaten egg.

Bake for 10-20 minutes, or until firm and golden brown.  Let cool on a wire rack.  Keep in an airtight container for 3-4 days. (If they last that long!)

From my kitchen to yours,

Carla

Grilled Three Cheese, Coppa and Sundried Tomato Sandwich

Sunday nights are our relax nights.  I generally don’t like to make a huge fuss in the kitchen because after a week’s worth of cooking for work, and then a dinner party or two….I don’t feel like cleaning again and again.  Grilled cheese is our go to sandwich.  My daughter loves cheese (like her mom) and my boyfriend does too.  Tonight we decided to go the Italian route since my boyfriend is Italian too.

I love coppa, or what you might know as cappocollo….which basically means top of the neck.  That is the area of the pig from wich Coppa is made from.  It is so incredibly tasty, stronger than prosciutto, but not as strong as our Jamon Iberico.  And sun dried tomatoes….well, I have an unhealthy obsession with them.  I became obsessed with them when I went to Sicily 10 years ago, and I think the Sicilian sun dried tomatoes are the best.

This is an incredibly decadent grilled cheese because of the addition of three cheeses.  I chose Scamorza, which is a smoked, hard mozzarella, Welsh Cheddar and Emmenthal, or what we know as Swiss Cheese.  The Emmenthal helps to mellow the sharpness of the cheddar and smokiness of the scamorza.  Feel free to use your favorite cheeses, and don’t stop at three, I only did because that is all I had.

So here’s what you’re going to need:

Serves 3

6 slices bread

2 cups grated Emmenthal, Scamorza and Cheddar

100g coppa

6 sundried tomatoes, chopped

2 tbsp butter, softened

Start heating up your grill or skillet

Butter all sides of your bread, and top with the coppa, sundried tomatoes and your shredded cheese.

Place on your hot grill and press down with a large spatula for about 2 minutes.  Flip and cook, pressing down, for another 2-3 minutes.  Serve immediately.

From my kitchen to yours,

Carla

Tagliatelle all Boscaiola : Tagliatelle with Porcini Mushrooms and Garlic Cream Sauce

My uncle in Italy has a house in the Dolomites.  When I go and visit him in autumn, the first thing we do is go Porcini hunting.  It is one of the most relaxing things ever.  Hiking through idyllic forests, splashed with a variety of greens, browns, yellows and orange.  In our foraging, we would talk about everything and nothing, and when we found one of our specimens, the Porcini, we would start thinking of how we were going to prepare it that night.

My family is originally from Emilia-Romagna, which is the region in Italy that has brought you such sublime classics such as Tagliatelle, Tortellini, Parmesan, Balsamic, Mortadella and the ubiquitous Ragu alla Bolognese.  In his home in Molinella, my great-aunt had a small but complete garden, with all sorts of fruits and vegetables.  The first time I visited them, I was absolutely fascinated when they opened the garage door.  There in the middle of the garage was a gorgeous, pristine 1975 canary yellow Alfa Romeo Spider.  And surrounding it was 3 entire walls, covered floor to ceiling with canned tomatoes, plums, cherries, eggplant, artichokes, and Porcini mushrooms.  The art of canning for winter is something that is lost on us, now that we live in this global and easily accessible fruit and vegetable world.  Long gone are the days when you HAD to can to be able enjoy the bounties of summer throughout the winter months.

Alas, but I digress.  Tagliatelle alla Boscaiola is loosely translated to Tagliatelle in the “woodsy” way.  Bosco means woods, or forest, and this sauce is generally made with Porcini mushrooms, or any type of wild mushroom that you have on hand according to the season.  It can just be the mushrooms with garlic and parsley, or you can add a little cream, as we do to almost anything in Emilia-Romagna.  Yesterday I made it with Cremini mushrooms, 1) because I had some left over from my Tunisian Brik.  And 2) because Porcini are out of season.  You can make this with whatever mushrooms you find, but it is nicer if they are wild and not our cultivated button mushrooms.  It is a simple, filling and exquisite meal with very little prep time.  Just make sure you have the best pasta, or home-made if you’re up to it!

So here is what you’re going to need:

For 4

1 lb Tagliatelle pasta

2 tbsp of butter

2 tbsp olive oil

1/2 lb porcini, or any other wild mushroom, sliced or chopped

4 garlic cloves, finely minced

300 ml of cream (optional)

1.5 tbsp Italian parsley, finely chopped

Salt and pepper to taste

Fresh grated nutmeg

Parmesan cheese, grated

A few glasses of wine, to drink while you are cooking :)  and maybe some Paolo Conte to listen to.

In a large stock pot, bring your water to a boil.  In the mean time, in a large skillet over medium heat, add the olive oil and butter to melt.  When it is bubbling, add the garlic and cook about 2-3 minutes, until fragrant.  Raise the heat to high, and add the mushrooms, and sauté until nicely browned.  Reduce the heat to low, add half of your chopped parsley, and the cream.  Cook until the cream just starts to bubble and thicken a little bit, and remove from heat.  Add your salt, pepper and freshly grated nutmeg.  Keep warm.

When the water is boiling, add your tagliatelle, and cook until just al dente.  Strain, reserving just a smidge of the cooking water and then add to your skillet and toss with the cream sauce over high heat for about a minute.  Place in your plates and top with the rest of your chopped parsley and parmesan cheese.  Finito!

From my kitchen to yours,

Carla

Tunisian Egg Brik with Sauteed Spinach, Mushrooms and Tomatoes

I was in Tunisia many, many moons ago.  I don’t remember much of Tunisian food, since I was staying with a Korean American family.  Actually, on that trip I learned how to make some amazing scrambled eggs from my friend Alexi Weden’s dad, and her gorgeous mother made me a Kimchee addict.  I remember seeing lots of goat carcasses hanging from hooks in the butcher stands on the side of the road, and one memorable dinner at Chez Nous, in Tunis.  I know for sure I did not have a brik, of any kind.

If you are not familiar with Brik, it kind of looks like a crepe, but it is crispier and lends itself to frying and baking quite easily.  The proper term for it is Malsouqa, but Brik is the tunisian derivative of the Turkish word Borek, which is basically a savory stuffed pastry.  Whichever way you decide to call it, it’s delicious.

A few nights ago at work, we did a dish using Brik pastry.  So, I thought, I have never, ever had Brik with egg.  And you know how I feel about eggs now.  So, I marched myself to the store and got a package of Brik, and today for lunch, made Brik a L’oeuf.  It is really really simple to make, and you can use whatever fillings you want.  I wanted a filling reminiscent of my Turkish/Egyptian/Syrian background, so I chose spinach and then a couple of spices that I brought back from Turkey on my last visit.  I looooooved my brik.  I think it will absolutely be a hit at the next dinner party, and with the spinach, mushrooms and fresh tomato, it gives you a vitamin packed punch, too.

So here is what you’re going to need for one person:

1 sheet of Brik pastry

1 egg, plus one egg yolk (if you don’t want a lot of yolk, just use one egg)

Egg white from one egg, lightly beaten

1 cup fresh spinach, chopped

2 cremini mushrooms, halved and sliced

1/4 tomato, chopped

1 shallot, sliced

1 garlic clove, chopped

2 tbsp olive oil, plus 1/4 cup for frying

1 tsp ground cumin

1 tsp ground coriander

1 tsp aleppo pepper

1 tsp sumac

salt and pepper to taste

squeeze of lemon juice

In a medium saute pan over medium, add your 2 tbsp of olive oil.  Saute for 5 minutes, raise heat to high, and add your mushrooms.  Don’t worry if your shallot starts to brown.  Saute for about 5 minutes, or until your mushrooms are golden brown, then add your spinach and saute until wilted.  If you need to add a little bit more olive oil, by all means do.  Take off heat and add your spices, salt, pepper and squeeze of lemon.  Place into a bowl and let cool slightly.  In the meantime, in a large skillet, pour in your 1/4 cup oil and start heating it up over medium high heat.

Take your sheet of Brik and place on a clean work surface.

Place your spinach mixture in the center, spreading it out a little and make a well in the center for your egg.

Now add your whole egg plus the egg yolk.

Now start folding up the sides, and brush each side with your beaten egg yolk and press to seal.

Once it is all folded up and sealed, your oil should be hot enough.  Carefully lift with a wide spatula and place in the hot oil, and fry for about 3 minutes.

With another spatula, carefully flip it over, and fry on the other side, for another 3 minutes.  If you want your eggs less runny, then fry for 5 minutes, and so on and so forth.  When it is done, place on a plate with paper towels to soak up the excess oil.  Serve immediately.  Oh!  Don’t forget your bread to sop up all that delicious yolk.

Bon Appetit!

From my kitchen to yours,

Carla