Friday, June 25, 2010

Paris meets Texas: Pecan Macarons with Peach Jam Filling

I love that the Alamo Drafthouse names dinner menu items after movie titles. I’m thinking about submitting an idea for a dessert with the condition that I get to be the exclusive supplier of the confection. How does Paris, Texas sound for pecan macarons with a peach jam filling? Think they’d go for it?

The first time I ever heard there was a city in Texas named Paris was when a co-worker back in Florida brought in the soundtrack for the movie Paris, Texas. Scotty was the defacto office DJ as he always had a pile of CDs sitting around. We’d all borrow selections when we needed some ambient noise to help us concentrate and the Ry Cooder soundtrack for the movie was an office favorite. I still haven’t seen Paris, Texas but the soundtrack is amazing and I’ve heard the movie is as well. Its been in my Netflix queue forever but hasn’t quite made it to the top.

While reminiscing about old times and pondering schilling my idea to the Alamo, I set about preparations for making macarons. I made my first batch of pecan and peach macarons last summer but was not pleased with the end result. The pecan macarons were too delicate and turned into a crumbly mess when I added the peach filling. I’ve since worked at tweaking the base macaron recipe I use and decided to resurrect the combo this year. For my first attempt, I bought a jar of peach butter for the filling but I decided to go crazy this time and make peach jam. So worth the extra effort but I do regret that I only made a small batch of jam which I used up on the macarons. 

Happily, the macarons turned out much better this go ‘round. I'll be munching on these delicious cookies as I'm plotting my pitch to the Alamo...

Pecan Macarons with Peach Jam Filling

As I’ve posted about previously, different nut varieties produce differing macaron results. The original macaron recipe that I posted works just fine with hazelnuts but the results are abysmal when using pistachios or pecans.  Through trial and error, I’ve hit upon the below ratio of nuts:confectioner sugar:egg whites that works well for pecan macarons. For the filling, I used Addie’s recipe for refrigerator peach jam. So that it would have a smoother consistency and spread more easily, I used an immersion blender to chop up the chunks of peach in the jam.

200 g pecans
320 g powdered sugar
10 g egg whites
200 g egg whites (use half fresh and half aged- left to dry out approx. 24 hrs at room temp)
80 g sugar

Peach Jam from Relish Austin
1 lb peaches, pits removed
1/4 c sugar
1 ½ t lemon juice
water, if needed

1. Grind pecans with powdered sugar in a food processor until finely ground. Sift the ground mixture into a bowl and add 10 g egg whites. 
2. Make a meringue with 200 g egg whites and 80 g of sugar.  When egg whites and sugar are combined, turn the machine on high and whip for 10 minutes to dry out the meringue.
3. Fold, not too carefully, the meringue into the dry ingredients.  Keep folding over until the macaron batter is ribbon-like and spreads. Pipe out into rounds on parchment and allow to rest for approximately 1 hour to form a skin. *I pour the batter into a gallon sized ziploc bag and snip off the end to use in piping out the batter. Works like a charm. If you are using a pastry bag and tip, use a small gauge tip for piping.
4. Make the jam while the macarons are forming skins. Pit the peaches and slice. Put a small plate in the freezer for later (this step will be explained in #5). In a medium sauce pan, add the peach slices, sugar, and lemon juice and cook over medium-high heat, stirring frequently, until the mixture has reduced to a jam-like consistency. If the mixture starts to look like it is drying out before the fruit has broken down, add water as needed, a tablespoon at a time.
5. To test the consistency of the jam, pull the plate from the freezer and put a dollop of jam on the chilled plate. Put the plate back in the freezer for a few minutes, and then test: if the jam mounds and wrinkles, it's done. If not, let it cook a while longer, then re-test the jam until it reaches the right consistency. When done, allow the jam to cool slightly in the sauce pan and pour into a sterilized jar. The jam will keep in the refrigerator for up to a month.
6. Bake the cookies at 350 degrees Farenheit. Baking time will differ by oven but I usually bake for approximately 12 minutes until the tops are just slightly browned.
7. Allow cookies to cool and match up by size. Sandwich with peach jam.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

S is not for S--t*: Homemade Black Pepper Beef Jerky

(*S is for Shelley although I wouldn’t blame you if you thought otherwise. It's pretty hard to style beef jerky in a fashion that doesn’t lend itself to looking like a pile of you know what.)

I was a bit of a picky eater as a kid. For example, I didn’t like sandwiches so my mom had to pack a thermos of soup for my school lunches. When I think back, I pretty much subsisted on Cheerios, Raisin Bran, and Campbell’s Chicken Noodle soup for a large part of my childhood. I wonder now if my mom decided to introduce beef jerky into my diet in a desperate attempt to get me to eat some sort of protein. If that was her intention, it worked because I’ve loved beef jerky ever since.

As a kid I ate that spurious beef jerky product called Slim Jims. Now that I am older and cognizant enough to read an ingredient list, I haven’t eaten a Slim Jim in quite a few years. In case you’re wondering, Slim Jims are only nominally beef; these “meat sticks” also contain mechanically separated chicken. Why on earth would ConAgra’s marketing department allow them to call a product a meat stick? Not terribly appetizing. Or for that matter, why would the FDA allow ConAgra to use a filler product like mechanically separated chicken? Do yourself a favor and don’t wiki mechanically separated chicken. Trust me… A good rule of thumb: if it sounds disgusting, it mostly likely is (and definitely is, in this case).
So color me thrilled when I saw a recipe for homemade beef jerky in a recent issue of Food & Wine. When I started gathering ingredients to make the recipe, I stopped by the Richardson Farms booth at the Triangle Farmers Market. I explained I was looking for a good cut of beef to make jerky and the gentleman manning the booth recommended using tri-tip. He assured me it would make fine jerky and he was right! This jerky is a great savory treat and I’m already ruminating (indulge the pun- I’ve laid off quite a bit lately) on variations to make next.

Black Pepper Beef Jerky
Recipe by Rachel Graville, published in Food & Wine

3 c amber ale or lager
2 c soy sauce
1/2 c Worcestershire sauce
2 T cracked black peppercorns, plus 2 T coarsely ground black pepper, for sprinkling before drying the meat
2 lbs trimmed beef top round or bottom round, about 1 1/2 inches thick

1.    To make the marinade, in a large bowl, combine ale or lager with soy sauce, Worcestershire sauce and cracked black peppercorns.
2.    Cut the beef into 1/4-inch-thick slices, against the grain.
3.    Add the beef to the marinade, a few slices at a time, stirring well to coat each slice with the marinade. Cover and refrigerate for 6 hours.
4.    To dry the meat, preheat oven to 200 degrees Fahrenheit. Set a large wire rack on each of 3 large rimmed baking sheets. Remove the beef from the marinade and pat dry with paper towels. Arrange the beef on the racks and allow 1/4 inch between slices. Sprinkle with coarsely ground black pepper. Bake for about 4 hours, until the jerky is firm and almost completely dry, but still chewy. Let cool completely on the racks before serving.
      * (I'm just full of asterisks today.) I'm posting soothing, sepia-toned photos because, despite being an avowed carnivore, the color shots of raw, bloody meat were just a little too gory for me. I know, I know... philosophically, I could so totally be a vegetarian; it's just the physical deprivation of giving up yummy, tasty meat that trips me up.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Cookie Compulsion: Tartine's Chocolate Oatmeal Walnut Cookies

I enjoyed Kathy's recent post on about her visit to Tartine Bakery in San Francisco, especially the amazing photos. I’m terrible about remembering to take pics and didn’t get any when I visited the bakery. It was nice to see that, despite being remiss about many things (including taking photos), my memory hasn’t entirely failed me. The goodies at Tartine are just as beautiful in the images in her post as I remember them to be. Even Le Chef was awestruck when we walked in Tartine and it takes a lot to impress him.

When Kathy visited the bakery she was just as enchanted as we were. Reading her post reminded me of the chocolate and walnut cookie crisps I picked up to bring home from Tartine. I had every intention of savoring the cookies over a few days, but they were so good I ate the whole bag in less than 24 hours of getting off the plane. I was so cracked out on those cookies, I looked up the recipe in Tartine’s cookbook post haste so that I could overindulge again.

My first attempt in making the recipe yielded cookies that weren’t as thin and crispy as the bakery's cookies but they were delicious, nevertheless. I decided to make another batch last weekend and used the alternate method described in the cookbook on rolling the dough into logs and slicing rounds.  My second attempt did turn out crispier but the cookies still weren't quite as light as I'd like. I think I’m going to tinker and may cut back on the amount of chocolate called for but here is the recipe for the cookies as written in the cookbook:

Chocolate Oatmeal Walnut Cookies

12 oz bittersweet chocolate
2 c all purpose flour
1 t baking powder
1 t baking soda
2 c old-fashioned rolled oats
1 c unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 3/4 c sugar
4 T blackstrap or other dark molasses
2 large eggs
2 T whole milk
1 T vanilla extract
1 t salt
1 c walnuts, coarsely chopped

1.      Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
2.      Coarsely chop the chocolate into 1/4-inch pieces. Put in freezer until ready to use.
3.      In a mixing bowl, stir together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and oats and set aside.
4.      Using a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter on medium-high speed until light and creamy. Slowly add the sugar and mix on medium speed until light and fluffy. Scrape down the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula. Add the molasses and beat until well combined. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition before adding the next egg. Beat in milk, vanilla, and salt and then stop the mixer, again and scrape down the sides of the bowl. Add the flour mixture and beat on low speed until well incorporated. Stop the mixer, scrape down the sides of the bowl, and fold in chocolate chunks and walnuts with a spatula. Allow dough to chill in the refrigerator.
5.      When dough has chilled, shape into a log about 1 1/2 inches in diameter. Wrap the log in plastic wrap and place in the freezer for at least four hours or overnight. Remove from the freezer, unwrap, slice into 1/4 inch thick rounds, and arrange on the lined baking sheet.
6.      Bake until the edges of the cookies are lightly browned but the centers remain pale, 6 to 10 minutes. Transfer the cookies to a wire rack and let cool. They will keep in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 2 weeks.

Friday, June 4, 2010

I Heart Tarts: Peach and Polenta Tart

I kept hearing everyone rave about how delicious the peaches are this season, so I decided to try Joanne Weir’s recipe for a nectarine tart with peaches instead. I had the pleasure of volunteering for a class Joanne taught at Central Market’s Cooking School last year. She was great to work with – very warm and funny. She even went out for tacos after class with the school staff and volunteers - too bad I didn’t get to join them but I had hungry pups at home to feed. In her class, she presented recipes from her cookbook, Wine Country Cooking, and she graciously autographed a copy for me after class. I’ve made her amazing Italian mac-n-cheese from the book several times but hadn’t tried any of her desserts yet.
To make the tart, I picked up some hill country peaches from Stonewall, TX, the self-proclaimed peach capital of Texas. The peaches seemed on the small side compared to the Georgia peaches I was accustomed to back in Florida, however, they looked tasty and weren’t overly ripe. Joanne’s recipe specified using not-quite-ripe fruit so as to avoid a soggy bottom (or soggy crust, but that’s not nearly as fun a description). Thanks to an article Addie posted on Relish Austin, I learned the variety of fruit I picked up were cling peaches, meaning the flesh is attached to the pit. This made separating the flesh a bit more of a challenge but the extra effort was worth it.
My parents came in town for the Memorial Day holiday, in time to enjoy the tart with us. Since I'm the designated activities planner for their visits, I thought Dad might enjoy seeing the Walter Cronkite exhibit that just opened. When I mentioned it to him, he declared Cronkite a Leftist and passed. Now that I think of it, I guess asking my Dad to go to the exhibit was akin to asking me to go to a Rush Limbaugh exhibit. As in, not gonna happen. Dad and I may not share similar political ideologies but we do share a love of presidential libraries. On my parents' first visit to Austin after we moved here, we went to visit the LBJ Library and thoroughly enjoyed it. So when Dad nixed Cronkite, we switched to plan B and drove out to Stonewall to visit the Texas White House at the LBJ State Historical Park
The park was beautiful, the weather lovely, and the wildflowers were still out in full force. In a happy coincidence, there was a fruit stand just across from the park entrance so we stopped to pick up even more peaches and some delicious homemade peach ice cream. I think I just might have to try my hand at making some peach ice cream before the season is over. In the meantime, this tart satiated my craving...
Peach and Polenta Tart
adapted from Wine Country Cooking

2 pounds not-quite-ripe peaches, sliced 1/4" thick
2 T all purpose flour
1/3 c turbinado sugar
1/2 t grated nutmeg (I love nutmeg so I doubled)

1/2 c + 3 T unsalted butter, room temp
3/4 c granulated sugar
3 large egg yolks
1 3/4 c all purpose flour
1/2 c polenta (or cornmeal- the fancy boxes labeled polenta cost twice as much but it's the same damn thing)
pinch of salt

1. Butter a 9" tart pan and pre-heat the oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit. 
2. To make the dough, cream the butter and granulated sugar in a medium bowl with a whisk. Add the egg yolks, one at a time, and whisk in well. In another bowl, sift the flour, polenta (cornmeal), and salt.  Mix the dry ingredients into the creamed butter mixture until the dough comes together. Halve the dough and refrigerate until chilled.
3. In the meantime, make the filling. Toss the sliced peaches, flour, turbinado sugar, and nutmeg in a bowl and set aside.
4. When the dough has chilled enough to easily handle, use one half to line the tart pan. Evenly spoon the filling into the tart shell and set aside.
5. Roll out the other dough half on a lightly floured work surface until 1/4" thick. Using a heart shaped cookie cutter, cut enough dough hearts to cover the tart shell and filling. Arrange the hearts on top in a concentric circle, overlapping slightly, with the points toward the middle. Bake the tart 35-40 minutes or until crust is golden.
6. Cool and serve slices with homemade whipped cream sweetened with a little sugar.