Sunday, July 31, 2011

Cherry-sh the day *

I never know what to do with cherries. That's the simple truth.

I don't particularly like them in savory dishes, except if it's something like this salad, and I hate them in pies.

Fruit pies are not my thing. Perhaps because it's not a Greek thing and I'm just not used to them but, then again profiteroles are not a Greek thing either and I never complain when I get served up those.

I have always eaten cherries on their own. The ritual being invariably the same; grab one by the stalk, put it in my mouth, pull it gently with my teeth to detach it from the stem, break the small spherical fruit open with a decisive bite, take out the pit and savor its sweet, juicy flesh.

Yet, I've always felt like I've been missing out on something. I have never used them in, well, anything.

Not until last year that is, when I decided to make cherry ice cream. And, it was awful. I don't know if it was the recipe, the cherries or me, but I hated it and so did S.

I wasn't disheartened though and when cherry season finally arrived this year, I couldn't wait to try something different again. I found Greek dark cherries at the market which was a complete surprise and impatient as I always am, I ended up taking more than a kilo home.

I remembered I had bookmarked a cherry sorbet recipe a while back and thought that would be the perfect one to usher in the cherry season with. Let me tell you, it was the Best Cherry Sorbet Ever and when I turned it into a popsicle, it was even more exciting.

The sorbet is not very sweet, has a slight hint of vanilla, is brimming with fresh cherry flavor and is extremely light. I was lucky to have bought the freshest vanilla bean I have ever used and it gave such a beautiful, aromatic dimension to the sorbet that it was unbelievable.

No spoons, no bowls, no trying to find where I put my ice cream scoop only to realize that I had broken it about a month ago while scooping what was supposed to be a milk chocolate ice cream but turned out to be a cement-like concoction.
No, this is pure lickable cherry pleasure.

I must have made this sorbet four times during this brief cherry season, the last one being just a few days ago and we cannot get enough of it.
So, hurry up! Grab the last fresh cherries of the year and make these popsicles.
Satisfaction is guaranteed.

* While I was writing this post I was listening to this song. The title is inspired by it.

Dark Cherry Sorbet Popsicles

There are three easy steps in preparing this sorbet. The first step is to prepare a vanilla-scented syrup, the second to make a cherry purée and the third to mix the two together. Then you just need to pour the mixture into the shot glasses, put them in the freezer and after a few hours, you have a delicious cherry sorbet.

Don't forget that the taste of the sorbet depends largely if not solely on the quality and ripeness of the cherries. The tastier the cherry, the tastier the sorbet.

You can pass the cherry purée through a sieve to take out all the skins but I love the little flecks of dark cherry skin in the sorbet. They add texture to it and they are flavorful too. Plus all the antioxidants of the fruit are concentrated there.

I used vodka shot glasses for the popsicles but feel free to use any other kind of popsicle mold you have. Don't use oversized glasses or molds because the stick will not be able to hold the weight of the sorbet and the popsicle will probably break when you take it out of the mold.

Yield: about 25 popsicles (50-60 ml each)

1 kg fresh, sweet, dark cherries (I used Greek dark cherries)
400 g sugar
170 ml water
1 vanilla pod, split in half lengthwise
30 ml (2 Tbsp) lemon juice, freshly squeezed

Special equipment: cherry pitter, food processor, 25 vodka shot glasses (50-60 ml capacity), wooden popsicle sticks

Put the sugar, water and vanilla pod in a small, heavy-bottomed pan (which must be super clean because the sugar may latch on to foreign particles and crystallize) and set it over a low to medium heat. Stir until the sugar has dissolved and turn heat up to medium. Don't stir again at all, otherwise the sugar may crystallize. Put on the lid, leaving it ajar, and simmer (not boil) for about 5 minutes (or until a candy thermometer registers 107 degrees Celsius).
Remove pan from the heat and let the syrup cool completely.

Wash the cherries well under cold running water, place them on a clean kitchen towel and pat them dry.
Using a cherry pitter, remove the pits, place the cherries in a food processor and purée them until they are smooth. If you don't have a large food processor use a small one and purée the cherries in batches. Place the cherry purée in a large bowl.

Once the syrup has cooled completely, remove and discard the vanilla pod. Pour the syrup over the puréed cherries and add the lemon juice. Stir well with a rubber spatula to combine and pour into the vodka shot glasses or any other popsicle mold you're using. Put the glasses in the freezer and once the sorbet begins to set, add the wooden sticks and put glasses back in the freezer. Allow the sorbet to set. It will take about 2 hours.
Keep in mind that if you're using larger molds, the sorbet will take more time to set.

Alternatively, you can pour it into an ice cream machine and then in a suitable container and into your freezer, thus making simply a sorbet and not pospicles.

Taking out the popsicles from the shot glasses is a piece of cake as long as the sorbet has set properly inside the glass. Run the sides of the shot glass under running water and holding the wooden popsicle stick with your hand, turn and pull the popsicle out of the glass. You might feel some resistance at first but it will come out.


Sunday, July 24, 2011

No napkins, no plates

The first thing S and I ate after dropping off our luggage at our hotel and venturing out into the city of Paris late last month, was a baguette with butter and ham. Just that. Bread, butter and thick slices of ham. It was perfection.

It reminded me of the sandwiches I used to have as a kid, when my mom would buy from the bakery small bread loaves with sesame seeds on top or whole baguettes, slather them with soft butter and generously fill them with ham, Hungarian salami and Greek kefalograviera cheese.

It was one of those sandwiches that even if you were full after eating one, you desperately wanted another.

And then the other day, I made this beef steak sandwich with Dijon mustard and rocket leaves. And that same thing happened to me again. I couldn't eat just one. No matter how hard I tried to resist, and believe me I tried, I couldn't do anything but give in to its powers.

See, now I have to stop. I have to stop writing. Because every time I sit down to write something about this sandwich or choose the photographs for this post, I get so incredibly hungry that I need to get up, go straight into the kitchen and fix myself a little something to sustain me until I have my proper dinner. This post is ruining my eating schedule.

Anyway, where was I?

Yes. The powers of this sandwich. Listen, this is a pretty straightforward sandwich as all good sandwiches should be and the actual cooking part of the recipe is the grilling of the meat.

Ah, the meat. The cut of meat I chose was entrecôte, a very popular steak in The Netherlands as well as in Greece. It's a premium cut and utterly delicious and since I'm very particular when it comes to red meat—I don't like a lot of fat on it, I hate it when it's tough and sinewy, etc.—it is ideal for my taste.

I also believe that if you choose pour quality meat to put in such a beautifully simple sandwich then the whole thing is ruined. An inferior cut has nowhere to hide here. There are no rich sauces, no fried onions, no fatty cheese to disguise it. There are only rosemary leaves, lemon juice and virgin olive oil that dress the steak and add a great depth of flavor.

As far as bread goes, ciabatta is number one in my book as a choice for a good sandwich. Not too much crumb, wide enough for the filling to spread around nicely and once heated in the oven just until it becomes a little crunchy around the edges but still soft, there's just nothing like it.

Grilled meat juices trickled down my hand and all the way to my elbow as soon as I bit into the sandwich. Mustard dripped all over my chin, falling straight onto my t-shirt. No napkins, no plates.
I'm usually not this messy when I eat. This sandwich brings out the worst in me. Or perhaps, the best.

Entrecôte Steak Sandwich with Dijon Mustard and Rocket Leaves
Inspired by Jamie Oliver

Cutting a thick steak in half lengthwise and then pounding it with a mallet, reduces the grilling time and also makes a steak that's not one of the cheapest of its kind go a long way. You can also use sirloin steak instead of entrecôte, or even rump steak.

You can use a grill or griddle to cook the steak but you can also use a regular skillet (preferably heavy-bottomed)*. The directions for cooking the meat are the same as when you cook it on the grill.

In my previous post, I asked you about your favorite kind of mustard and both here and on the Greek page of my blog, I discovered through your comments some very interesting varieties. So many mustards for me to try. Thank you for all your suggestions! I hope my fridge can handle it.
I have to admit that my all time favorite is Dijon and that's why I'm using it here. Feel free to add your own favorite mustard but make sure it is a strong one; the steak needs it.

Yield: 3 large sandwiches

1 thick, large, boneless entrecôte steak (mine was 280 g with a 2 cm thickness) or sirloin steak or rump boneless beef steak
The leaves from 1 rosemary sprig
1 Tbsp plus 1 tsp virgin olive oil (plus 1 Tbsp for the oiling of the grill/skillet)
1 ½ tsp freshly squeezed lemon juice
2 Tbsp Dijon mustard
Freshly ground black pepper
70 g baby or wild rocket leaves
1 large ciabatta

Special equipment: a grill or griddle (this is the one I use), kitchen mallet

Take the steak out of the refrigerator at least 15 minutes before grilling in order to allow it to come to room temperature. Trim most of the fat off the steak and with a big, sharp knife cut it in half lengthwise. Place steaks over a large sheet of plastic wrap, sprinkle them with salt and pepper and add the rosemary leaves on top. Cover them with another large sheet of plastic wrap and, using a mallet, pound them until they become half in thickness. Be careful not to tear them apart or pound them too thin.
Remove the plastic wrap, place steaks on a plate and rub them with 1 Tbsp of olive oil.

Place ciabatta in a preheated oven (about 200 degrees Celsius) for 4-6 minutes until it becomes slightly crispy around the edges.

Rinse the rocket leaves under running water and strain them in a colander.

Oil your grill or griddle with 1 Tbsp of olive oil and heat over high heat. Once it gets very hot (in order to check, you can pour a few drops of water on the grill and if they sizzle it is ready) add the steaks and grill them for 2 minutes on one side and 1 minute on the other. Be careful not to overcook them otherwise they'll become rubbery and lose all their flavor and juices. The cooking time depends of course on your own personal taste.

Remove the steaks from the grill and put them on a plate. Drizzle 1 tsp of olive oil over them and 1 ½ tsp of freshly squeezed lemon juice. Let them rest for 2-3 minutes.

Cut the ciabatta in half lengthwise and spread the Dijon mustard on one piece of the bread. Add the rocket leaves and place the steaks on top. Pour the juices that have accumulated on the plate you rested the steaks on, on top of the steaks. These juices are extremely flavorful. Don't make the mistake of throwing them out!

Cut the ciabatta into three large pieces and enjoy your steak sandwiches!

*If you don't have a grill or griddle and want to cook the steaks in a skillet, you need to pour 1 Tbsp of olive oil into it and heat over high heat. Once the oil starts to shimmer, add the steaks and cook according to the above instructions.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

The battle of the mustards

Have I ever told you how tiny my fridge is? It is tiny. It goes well in my tiny kitchen but it doesn't go well with our huge appetites. This fridge is not my friend.

Every time I buy a (small) watermelon from the market, there is always a battle for space. A battle between the watermelon and everything else that is in my fridge. Eggs, cheese, nuts, butter, vegetables, condiments, milk, the occasional bottle of wine or beer and of course these jars of mustard.

I believe I have more than enough for S and me. I actually think I have more than enough for a small army.

When I was little, I used to open the fridge and eat the mustard straight from the jar with a spoon. Everyone thought I was a child with peculiar tastes. Now those same people think I'm an adult with peculiar tastes.
The only difference is that now, I'm not content with one jar. Now I feel like I need at least ten different kinds of the yellow stuff.

At this moment, in my fridge, there are eleven different jars/bottles of mustard. Jars that are occupying precious refrigerator space.

So let me introduce you to,

the French.
Among the best.

The Dutch.
They do mustard really well here.

The English.
Very strong vinegar flavor. Too potent for me.

The American.
Yellow mustard is a classic but this particular one is not.

And then we have... Winnie the Pooh.
Don't ask.

Oh, and let's not forget these. Because who can live without mustard powder or mustard seeds??

And how about you? Do you have a favorite kind of mustard? C'mon, don't leave me hanging. Please tell me I'm not alone in this mustard-crazed world of mine.

P.S. I'll be back at the end of the week with a recipe including... well, you guessed it, mustard.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Not then, not now, not ever

The first time I went to France, I was eight years old. It would be the very first time I'd travel outside of Greece and the very first time I'd get on an airplane. I remember feeling so excited about the prospect that I couldn't sleep for days before the trip.

My dad, mom, my brother and I were about to embark on a winter vacation around France with some very close friends of my parents, one of whom was French, and their three kids.

We traveled to Lyon and Grenoble, Rouen and Bordeaux and of course Paris. That was the first time I saw the Eiffel Tower and the Arc de Triomphe, the first time I tasted crème brûlée and tarte tatin aux pommes (with apples) and the first time I spoke French. The eldest daughter of my parents' friends taught me a single phrase and I managed to drive everyone crazy by repeating it again and again.

Even though it's been more than twenty years since that first visit to France, my memories are still incredibly vivid. One of those memories involves a lot of chocolate and a serious tummy ache. I couldn't control myself when it came to chocolate; not then, not now, not ever. And chocolate was again on my mind when S and I visited Paris late last month. Chocolate and our anniversary.

S and I have been together for many years and this anniversary was really special to us. So when he suggested that we take a short trip to Paris in order to celebrate it in style, I jumped for joy. He didn't have to say it twice.

Paris is only a two and a half hour train (Thalys) ride from Rotterdam which in turn is only a half hour train ride from The Hague were we live. It is ridiculously close and we couldn't believe we haven't ventured into France sooner.

Apart from all the wonderful places that we visited during our stay, the sights and sounds of the city that we soaked in, the tantalizing food that we enjoyed, I also could not resist the allure of the patisseries of Paris. Being an obsessive chocoholic, it was only natural.

The most memorable dessert experience was the tasting of a layered, bitter chocolate dessert from Pierre Hermé. S and I decided to share it (big mistake) and in the end we were fighting over the last bite. We couldn't get over how smooth and light its texture was.

Since returning from Paris, I have been yearning for the sinful decadence of chocolate. So what if it's summer and most people go for fruity desserts? This French chocolate tart or tarte au chocolat never ceases to excite me. It's not your ordinary tart though with a crust and a filling. It is a light, moist cake almost like a sponge cake, with a luscious chocolate glaze.

The eggs and sugar are beaten together ferociously until a mousse-like texture is achieved and then the sifted flour is rained and folded in, followed by the melted chocolate. You put the mixture in the oven and once baked, out comes a silky cake that is then covered with a rich chocolate glaze that intensifies its flavor.

This voluptuous tart has an extraordinary flavor and a velvety texture that, dear reader, you must try. It's all that you'll ever want from a chocolate tart and more.

Tarte au Chocolat - French Chocolate Tart
Adapted from Georges Blanc

The most important ingredient of this tart is of course the chocolate. Use good quality chocolate; it will make all the difference.

The dusting of cocoa powder over the chocolate glaze gives a bitter finish (which I love) to the tart, balancing its sweetness. You can omit the cocoa powder, leaving the tart looking all glossy from the chocolate glaze.

Yield: 1 tart/ 8-10 servings

130 g good quality dark 55% chocolate, roughly chopped
100 g butter, unsalted plus extra for buttering the tart pan
4 medium-sized eggs
150 g sugar
50 g all-purpose flour, sifted

for the chocolate glaze
100 g good quality dark 55% chocolate, roughly chopped
80 ml cream, full-fat
20 g butter, unsalted

Dutch-processed cocoa powder for dusting over the tart

Special equipment: sieve, stand or hand-held mixer, fluted tart pan 28 cm in diameter with removable bottom

Butter well the bottom and sides of the tart pan.

Melt chocolate and butter in a bowl set over a pan of barely simmering water, stirring often and making sure the chocolate doesn't burn. The bottom of the bowl must not come in contact with the simmering water. Once the mixture is smooth and melted, remove bowl from the top of the pan and set aside to cool.

Preheat your oven to 180 degrees Celsius.

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment (or in a large bowl and with a hand held mixer), beat the eggs with the sugar on high speed until you have a mixture with a mousse-like texture, that is fluffy and airy. Fold in the sifted flour with a spatula, being careful not to knock all the air out of the mixture. Then fold in the cooled melted chocolate. The batter will become less airy and will deflate a bit but that's normal.

Empty the batter into the buttered tart pan and place it on the middle rack of the preheated oven. Bake for 17-20 minutes or until a toothpick or cake tester inserted in the middle of the cake comes out with some dry crumbs attached to it or even clean.

Place the tart pan on a wire rack so the tart can cool slightly and then remove the sides of the pan leaving that tart on its base. Let tart cool completely.

for the chocolate glaze
Meanwhile, prepare the chocolate glaze.
Melt chocolate and butter in a bowl set over a pan of barely simmering water, stirring often and making sure the chocolate doesn't burn. The bottom of the bowl must not come in contact with the simmering water. Once the mixture is smooth and melted, remove bowl from the top of the pan. Heat the heavy cream in a small saucepan and pour it into the melted chocolate. Beat cream well into the chocolate mixture using a spatula.

When the tart has cooled, pour the chocolate glaze over the top and with the help of an offset spatula, spread the glaze around. Allow the glaze to cool off and set before dusting the top of the tart with the cocoa powder.

Keep the tart covered, at room temperature, for 3-4 days.