Thursday, September 23, 2010

Asabia el Aroos (Bride’s Fingers)

In keeping with the current theme of sweet and delicious (and because I was having mad sugar cravings), I decided it was my turn to make a dessert. At first, I had no idea what to do. I wanted something nice and simple, not quite as complex as a homemade pie but slightly more intricate than pudding. I wanted to create a dish that was a little foreign to me but not so far out that no one would want to taste it. After scouring cookbooks and websites, I found a Middle Eastern sweet treat I thought fit the bill nicely. I then enlisted the help of Culinary Guerrilla contributor Jennifer and set to work.
Brides Fingers are little rolls of filo stuffed with something yummy and when finished, look very similar to eggrolls. It’s mandatory for all of our recipes to be low budget and thankfully, this was no exception. We had almost everything on hand and only had to buy a few items. I doubt many people usually keep a stockpile of filo dough and neither do I. We didn’t have any unsalted butter either but luckily it was only a couple dollars at the grocery store. The one ingredient with the highest cost is going to be the can or bag of nuts – Almonds or Pistachios. Although we had a can of almonds, I checked prices for everything and would’ve been able to buy every ingredient for less than fifteen dollars. That’s almost out of the price range but pretty good considering the number of servings this recipe creates.
Okay, it’s time to open our cupboards and see if we can find any of this stuff:
1-16oz box Filo dough
1 Egg
3 1/3 cups Sugar (plus an extra ¼ cup or less for glaze)
1 1/2 cups Water
1/4 cup Unsalted Butter (melted)
1 Lemon (optional)
1 Cup Almonds or
1/4 cup Cinnamon (optional)
2 Greased Pans

That’s it! Not too bad yet, right? The first thing we want to do is make a sweet syrup that we’ll pour over the finished rolls. This is where the lemon comes in. We added lemon to our syrup (some people also add rosewater or orange blossom water)to give it a bit of a citrusy kick but it’s not really necessary. To make the syrup, put 1-1/2 cups water in a pot and turn on the heat. Pour in 3 cups of sugar (yes, that’s a lot of sugar) and boil. Boil this, stirring occasionally, until it is thick and sticky. It should end up being like clear karo syrup. The way we used the lemon was to cut it into eight pieces and stir it in the mix. After you stir it in for a few seconds, remove the pot from the heat and stick it in the fridge.
Next comes the filling and glaze
The goody of our Bride’s Fingers was mostly almonds. We put 1 cup of almonds in a blender (along with 1/4 cup cinnamon and 1/3 cup of sugar) and pulverized them. This should take less than 20 seconds on a high setting. Put your new powder in a bowl and set it aside. The glaze is very simple and consists of nothing more than an egg and some sugar. Beat the egg and set it (and the small, extra quantity of sugar) out of the way till later. It’s a good idea to go ahead and melt some butter in a little bowl and preheat the oven to 375F at this time as well.
Now for the fun part
If you’ve never worked with filo dough before, don’t get discouraged if your first couple of attempts at creating rolls turns into a disaster. Until you get the hang of it, trying to fold and roll dough that is easily as thin as 1 ply tissue paper, is hard. If you don’t work with it quickly or find some way to keep it from drying out (damp towel on top works well) it will be near impossible to use. After my first attempted roll, I honestly began having second thoughts and wondered if we had gotten in over our heads. It is very nice to have help during this part of the process so one doesn’t get too dispirited and give up.
Take the rolls of filo and cut them in half and then cut those halves in half again. You should end up with a total of 8 separate rolls. Now, unroll these and stack them somewhere over to the side. You can put your damp cloth on them now if you’d like. We experimented a little with how many sheets of dough to use and settled on 3. Less was too thin and likely to bust open when rolling and four, though acceptable, was getting on the thick side. Lay your first 3 ply, (roughly) 4.5” x 12” stack of dough with the short side facing you. Rub some of the melted butter on the top layer – not too much though as this could cause your bread to become excessively soggy and fall apart.

Fill ‘em up!
Now, take a tablespoon and get a heaping scoop of the filling you made earlier and place it on the dough on the end closest to you. Now for the tricky part – fold the long sides of the filo toward the center for the entire length of the dough. Next, take the folded end closest to you and start rolling it up. Try and make it look like a little fat eggroll. Some people compare this step to rolling a cigar. Either way, you should have a nicely rolled little ‘finger’ that is ready to be glazed and put in the oven.

Time to glaze and bake
Repeat the above step until all the dough is used up. After the rolls are prepared, put them into your greased pans and get your egg and sugar ready to glaze. Brush the egg over the tops of the rolls and sprinkle on some sugar with your fingers. Place the pans in the oven and bake for about 20 minutes or so. The rolls should be golden brown when they are done.
Serve and enjoy!
While the rolls are still hot, take out your chilled syrup and either pour it over the fingers or set it to the side to use as a dip.

Turns out, filo dough isn’t so tough to work with after you get a few Bride’s Fingers under your belt. Our attempt was deemed a success as we turned out a rather pretty and tasty final product. Although this
dessert is a bit sweet for some people’s tastes, others love it and it makes a great addition to any party’s spread.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Tres Leches cake

Making a cake from scratch seemed a bit daunting. I’ve seen the process; I have helped in it, but I had never attempted the feat. After having all the ingredients for this recipe sitting there on the shelf for a week, I decided it was time to take the plunge and bake my first cake from scratch.

However, this was not any cake. It was the magical blend of flavors and textures called tres leches. Along with flan, this cake is a dessert staple in many Hispanic countries. It’s basically a simple vanilla cake that has been soaked with a combination of evaporated milk, heavy cream and condensed milk and is topped with whipped cream.

Cake and milk... Doesn’t seem too exotic or complicated. What makes this dessert special though are the layers upon layers of awesomeness. First we have cake. Simple, yes, but we can all agree it’s always yummy. Now on top of that (or rather, seeping throughout) imagine the sweetness of condensed milk, the smoothness of evaporated milk and the richness of heavy cream. The finishing touch is a thick layer of homemade whipped cream on top. Just cool, barely there sweetness.


As for the ingredients, they were pretty cheap. I spent approximately $15 (and I had to get everything, including flour and sugar) and have plenty of leftover for other yummies. This recipe will yield at least 12 servings. Not bad at all. Keep in mind also that the recipe can be halved in order to make a smaller cake.

But anyway, let’s move on to the recipe.

2 cups of flour
2 cups of sugar
6 eggs
1 tsp. of baking powder
Pinch of salt
1/2 cup water
Vanilla extract
1 can evaporated milk
1 can condensed milk
1 cup heavy cream
Whipped cream (to make at home, use two cups of heavy cream, 3 tsp. sugar and vanilla extract)

Start by cracking the eggs into a bowl and add the sugar. Mix well for 10 to 15 minutes, until the sugar and eggs are well blended. This can be done with a mixer. Sift the flour with the baking powder and salt (ideally, sift it three times), and add it little by little to the mixed eggs and sugar. Add the water and the vanilla extract (to taste, I used 1 tbsp.). Now, mix well one last time with a spatula or wooden spoon. Pour the batter into greased and floured baking dish. A baking pan can be used, but with this dessert I prefer using a Pyrex glass baking dish. Ideally, you want to prep the dessert and leave it in the pan it was cooked. A glass baking dish just looks better for presentation.

Bake at 350 F for 30 minutes (make sure to preheat the oven).

Blend the evaporated milk, condensed milk and the heavy cream.

Once the cake is done, take out of the oven and, while it’s still hot, pierce its surface with a fork. You want to do this throughout the cake so that the milk mixture will seep through well. Now pour the blended milk mixture over the cake.

Let it cool at room temperature for 30 minutes, then refrigerate for at least an hour. Finish up by covering the cake with the whipped cream.

The easiest way to make the whipped cream is with an electrical mixer and they key thing is the making sure everything is as cold as possible. You can even put the heavy cream in the freezer and take it out right before it freezes. It’s also a good idea to put the bowl you’re mixing the cream in and the beaters in the freezer for a while. If this is not possible, you can also put the bowl you’re using to mix the heavy cream into a larger bowl that has ice in it. Mix the heavy cream until it thickens to the desired consistency. While mixing add the teaspoons of sugar and vanilla. While I used 3 tsp. of sugar, this is to taste. Just keep in mind that this dessert is pretty sweet and you don’t want to ruin it by putting overly sweet whipped cream on top of it.

So, how did it turn out? Perfect, I’d like to say, but that wasn’t the case. While my whipped cream and milk mixture came out delicious, the cake didn’t quite rise as expected. While it’s edible and decent, but it wasn’t as spongy and fluffy as I wanted it to be. As a result, the milk mixture did not seep through as well as it should have.

In this case, I would say I made two mistakes. I should have sifted the flour three times instead of only once. I also over-mixed the batter (once I added the water, I used a mixer to mix it in, instead of a spatula). In order to avoid this, make sure to stop mixing once all the ingredients in the batter are well mixed and while it still has tiny bubbles in it. This is what makes the cake rise to fluffy goodness.

Ok, so my first made from scratch cake didn’t turn out as awesome as I had hoped. My fantasies of sending some of it to friends and neighbors were destroyed. I am not a Tres Leches queen. Still, this came out well for a first attempt and the flavor that can be achieved with this recipe is amazing. Just follow the instructions closely, don’t mix the little bubbles in your batter into oblivion and enjoy!

And thanks to my friend Marcela, for being a Tres Leches and heavy cream whipping sensei! All the tips for the whipped cream came from her. The recipe (same one I used) was translated from Spanish (para los hispanos que les interese). You can see it here.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Gordon Ramsay’s steak

The (near) destitute can rarely afford much protein, let alone choice cuts of beef. However, our carnivorous desires had to be sated one way or another.  Standing there in the Wal-Mart meat section a package containing two sirloins for $9.00 sang a siren song. Our mouths watered in anticipation and we made a solemn vow: to eat only ramen for a couple of days (to save some money and justify a steak purchase). We left the store with the two sirloins and a baguette in our bag.

Now, you must understand that once we invested what little money we had left that week into two steaks, we had to make something grand out of it. We got home, took the meat out of the bag and just stared at it. We wondered what the heck we could do with them but no ideas where forthcoming. Our beef had been placed on a pedestal and now we feared to take it off of it. All seemed lost, minutes were passing, the growling in our bellies was rising to a crescendo and still we weren’t touching the steaks.

And then, a culinary champion came riding in with the solution to our sirloin dilemma… Or rather, we found a video on YouTube of one of our favorite chefs, Gordon Ramsay, showing a simple method to cook a killer rare steak at home. We only needed groundnut oil, salt and pepper, a skillet and butter. We were set.
We cooked the steak exactly as Ramsay did here only substituting margarine (poor man’s butter- not so delicate or flavorful, but it would do the job) for butter and olive oil for his groundnut oil.                         
We can’t really improve upon his methods nor offer any suggestions other than to follow what he does. We especially liked his explanation on how to achieve different levels of doneness (rare, medium, well-done) by comparing the firmness to that of certain areas of your hand. Our steaks turned out just as pretty as the ones on the video and they were very nearly the best we’d ever eaten. A better cut is always desirable but this is fantastic if you’re on a tight budget.
Let us know if you enjoyed this!

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Tortilla de Patatas

After a month of being broke and eating from the value menu at Wendy’s, we’d finally had enough.  We had little food and less money, but we craved deliciousness. Our heads weren’t filled with visions of sugarplums but Caprese Salad, juicy steaks and creamy Brie on crusty baguettes.  But what are a couple of destitute gourmets to do? And then, EUREKA!  Amelia recalled her days in grad school and the Spaniards with their tortilla de patatas.  A dish made with the simplest of ingredients: potatoes and eggs, perfectly priced items for the monetarily impaired. Combined in this potato omelette, they make for an amazingly tasty and filling treat – perfect for a culinary guerrilla.

1 Cup Olive Oil
4 Large Potatoes
1 Medium Onion
5 Large Eggs
Salt to taste

Peel and cut the potatoes into small cubes (they can also be thinly sliced) and finely chop the onions. Beat the eggs in a separate bowl and salt to taste. Heat the olive oil in a 9” skillet (the oil needs to be hot but not boiling). After the oil is hot, add the potatoes. Stir periodically to ensure they cook evenly. Once the potatoes are halfway cooked, add the onions and mix – continue stirring occasionally as before. Cook the mixture until the potatoes are golden and very tender (starting to break down). Remove the blend (draining oil as you go) and put it into the bowl of eggs. Stir it all together to guarantee evenness throughout. Remove excess oil from the pan, leaving only enough to cook the eggs so they don’t stick. Return the pan to heat (medium) and pour in the new mixture. Cook for a couple of minutes until firm enough to turn, then place a plate over the pan and turn the tortilla over. Return to pan and cook the other side the same way. You can turn the tortilla as many times as you want to ensure it is cooked to your liking. When a knife inserted into any part of the tortilla comes out clean, you know it’s done!

All in all, we found this dish to be fairly simple. It’s quick and easy and best of all – cheap to make! All that’s left to do is figure out your beverage of choice (ours was cheap beer) and proceed to eat the hell out of it. You can enjoy it hot or cold, for brunch or dinner, even as an appetizer if it’s cut into smaller pieces. Do you enjoy this dish? Have any suggestions? Let us know!                                                            
 Bon appétit!