Spaghetti Squash with Ground Meat and Peppers

Spaghetti Squash with Ground Meat and Peppers

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Thai pork salad (larb)

In Thailand, larb is part of a meal that includes roast chicken, sticky rice, and papaya salad (somtam). Aroy maak! This is America’s Test Kitchen’s version of that delicious Thai salad. Traditionally, it is served warm or at room temperature. This dish comes from the northeastern region of Thailand called Isaan. ATK’s version is missing two key ingredients: chopped cooked chicken innards and chopped fresh chilies. As I’m not a fan of these parts of the chicken, I don’t miss them, but chopped fresh chilies, not just dried chilies, I do. Adding chopped chilies could increase the heat of this dish to inedible for some, and unless your palate is trained for this, I wouldn’t advise it!  As it is, this version isn’t bad. It’s missing something though; I think it’s not sour enough. Larb is, typically, salty, sour, sweet, and spicy. Anyway, as in all cooking, it’s a matter of adjusting the dish to suit your taste.

INGREDIENTS
1 pork tenderloin (about 1 pound), trimmed of silver skin and fat, cut into 1-inch chunks
2 1/2 tablespoons fish sauce
1 tablespoon white rice (see note)
1/4 cup low-sodium chicken broth
2 medium shallots , peeled and sliced into thin rings (about 1/2 cup)
3 tablespoons juice from 2 limes
2 teaspoons sugar
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes (add more, to taste)
3 tablespoons roughly chopped fresh mint leaves
3 tablespoons roughly chopped fresh cilantro leaves head
1 head Boston lettuce, washed and dried, leaves separated and left whole

 INSTRUCTIONS
1. Place pork chunks on large plate in single layer. Freeze meat until firm and starting to harden around edges but still pliable, 15 to 20 minutes, depending on your freezer. The Teeny Tiny Kitchen freezer took 40 minutes! Sigh.

2. Meanwhile, heat rice in small skillet over medium-high heat; cook, stirring constantly, until deep golden brown, about 5 minutes. Transfer to small bowl and cool 5 minutes. Grind rice with spice grinder, mini food processor, or mortar and pestle until it resembles fine meal, 10 to 30 seconds (you should have about 1 tablespoon rice powder). It’s not necessary to wash out the food processor for the next step.

Cook’s Note: My food processor wasn’t able to grind the rice into a fine powder. I definitely need a spice grinder for this.

3. Place half of meat in food processor and pulse until coarsely chopped, 5 to six 1-second pulses. Transfer ground meat to medium bowl and repeat with remaining chunks. Stir 1 tablespoon fish sauce into ground meat and marinate, refrigerated, 15 minutes.

4. Bring broth to simmer in 12-inch nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add pork and cook, stirring frequently, until about half of pork is no longer pink, about 2 minutes. Sprinkle 1 teaspoon rice powder over pork; continue to cook, stirring constantly, until remaining pork is no longer pink, 1 to 11⁄2 minutes longer. Transfer pork to large bowl; let cool 10 minutes.

5. Add remaining 11⁄2 tablespoons fish sauce, remaining 2 teaspoons rice powder, shallots, lime juice, sugar, red pepper flakes, mint, and cilantro to pork; toss to combine. Serve warm or at room temperature with lettuce leaves.

orange angel food cake with caramel sauce and four berry-kiwi fruit compote

Angel food cakes are indeed light and airy but they are tricky to make. This is my second attempt since the first didn’t have the required brown crumb on the outside nor was its height to my satisfaction. I think this version is a little better but could have been higher. The trick is not to make the egg whites deflate when you are adding the flour. I think the trick also entails using a thin rubber spatula, which is becoming harder to find because silicone spatulas are becoming more and more common. The silicone spatula I have is too thick for such a delicate job. I found this recipe on the Bon Appetit site and tweaked it a bit because of the lack of availability of some of the ingredients for the fruit compote.  I must add, though, that this caramel sauce is deliciously sweet and spicy!

Orange Angel Food Cake with Caramel Sauce and Four Berry-Kiwi Fruit Compote

INGREDIENTS
CARAMEL SAUCE
1 cup sugar
1/3 cup water
1 cup heavy whipping cream (half pint)
2 tablespoons (1/4 stick) unsalted butter
3/4 teaspoon ground cardamom
Pinch of salt

CAKE
1 1/4 cups powdered sugar
1 cup cake flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 1/3 cups egg whites (about 9 large)
1 1/2 teaspoons cream of tartar
1 cup superfine sugar
1 tablespoon finely grated orange peel from 1 medium orange
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract

FOUR BERRY-KIWI FRUIT COMPOTE
1 cup raspberries
1 cup blueberries
1 cup blackberries
1 cup strawberries, sliced
2 kiwi, peeled, quartered lengthwise, then cut crosswise into 1/2-inch slices
1/4-1/2 cup powdered sugar or to taste

PREPARATION
SAUCE First, combine the sugar and 1/3 cup water in heavy medium saucepan. I ran out of white sugar so I made it up with brown sugar. If you use brown sugar, be careful it doesn’t burn. Stir the sugar-water mixture over medium-low heat until sugar dissolves. Increase heat to medium-high; boil without stirring until syrup is deep amber, occasionally brushing down sides of pan with wet pastry brush and swirling pan, about 5 minutes. If you use brown sugar, the syrup will become darker but that’s okay. Remove the syrup from the heat source. Slowly add cream. The recipe says the mixture will bubble vigorously but mine didn’t, which makes me suspicious that Bon Appetit forgot to include the sauce temperatures. Place the pan over low heat; stir until caramel bits dissolve and sauce is smooth. In the absence of temperatures, I stirred until the sauce thickened. Remove the sauce from the heat source; add butter, cardamom, and pinch of salt; stir until the butter melts and is incorporated. Cool the sauce. DO AHEAD The caramel sauce can be made 1 week ahead. Cover the sauce and chill it in the refrigerator. Bring it to room temperature or re-warm over low heat before serving.

Cake Baker’s Note: I wish the recipe had included temperatures along with the description. It would have made for a more accurate result. Anyway, I found this in an article titled “The Science of Caramel” ( http://en.wikibooks.org/wiki/Cookbook:Caramel). Basically, a caramel sauce is a sugar solution.

The stages of a sugar solution are generally described by the solution’s behavior when dropped into cold water:

  • Thread Stage (230-234°F) – the solution thickens into syrupy threads when you pull a spoon out.
  • Soft Ball Stage (234-240°F) – the solution can be pressed into a soft gooey ball. Used to make soft chewy candies like taffy.
  • Firm Ball Stage (244-250°F) – the solution can be pressed into a firm ball. Used to make caramels.
  • Hard Ball Stage (250°F) – the solution can be pressed into a dense, slightly malleable ball. Used to make harder chewy candies.
  • Soft Crack Stage (270°F) – the solution solidifies into a glass-like solid that slowly bends under light pressure.
  • Hard Crack Stage (300°F) – the solution solidifies into a hard glass-like solid that breaks or cracks under pressure. Used to make hard candies and brittles.
  • Caramel Stage (310-349°F) – An advanced crack stage, defined by the development of an amber color that becomes tan, brown and eventually dark brown as the temperature continues to rise. Also defined by the development of caramel flavors which becomes deeper, less sweet and more bitter as it darkens.
  • Burned Stage (350°F) – The sugar smokes and eventually turns black. It is completely oxidized (burned) and inedible.

I wonder if brown sugar would have reached the caramel stage sooner? I wonder if the cooks at America’s Test Kitchen have turned  their famously methodical (some would say anal retentive) attention to this problem? Don’t get me wrong! I love ATK. It’s just that I couldn’t test recipes umpteen times just to get a perfectly chewy chocolate chip cookie. I can’t bear to waste food. I keep thinking of my mother, “eat your food! people are starving in America!” (Actually she said China. I just put that in there to mix things up.) Anyway, I digress. Here is the cake part of the recipe.

CAKE Preheat oven to 350°F.

Sifting the dry ingredients. Sift powdered sugar, flour, and salt 3 times. To do this, spread a sheet of waxed or parchment paper on the counter with  a large bowl next to it, and sift the sugar mixture onto the sheet. Rest the sieve on top of the bowl. Pick up the edges of the sheet and pour it into the sieve over the bowl. Place the sheet back on the counter top. Pick up the sieve and sift the sugar mixture over the sheet.  Repeat two more times. (Am I being just a tad too specific here?)

Separating the egg whites. It’s best to separate the eggs when cold. Then allow whites to come to room temperature. This takes about 30 minutes.

Whipping the egg whites. Using the electric mixer on medium-low speed, beat egg whites in a large bowl until foamy, about 1 minute. Add cream of tartar then beat until whites are opaque and soft peaks form, about 1 minute. Increase speed to medium high. Gradually add superfine sugar 1 tablespoon at a time, beating until whites are thick and shiny and fluffy peaks form (peaks should droop over gently; do not over-beat). This should take 1-3 minutes.

This is what the meringue looks like when it has been whipped. It could be stiffer since the peaks on the beaters are still soft.

Adding flavorings and flour mixture. Add orange peel and vanilla to the whipped egg whites; beat just until blended. Sift 1/4 cup of flour mixture over whites. Using a large rubber spatula (preferable to silicone since the batter is delicate), gently fold flour mixture into whites. Repeat with remaining flour mixture 1/4 cup at a time.

Cake Baker’s Note: To fold in flour, cut with the edge of the spatula down the middle. Scraping along the bottom, bring the spatula under the flour to the side of the bowl. Fold the batter over the flour. Turn the bowl one-quarter turn. Repeat: cut, fold, turn until all the flour is incorporated. See this  YouTube video for a folding demonstration.

Baking the cake. Scrape the batter into an ungreased 10-inch-diameter (NOT non-stick) angel food cake pan with removable bottom and 4-inch-high sides (preferably with feet). Smooth the top. Gently tap the pan on the counter to remove any large air bubbles. Bake the cake until golden and springy to touch, about 50-55 minutes. Immediately invert the pan onto work surface if the pan has feet, or invert the center tube of the pan onto the neck of a bottle or funnel. Cool the cake completely, 1-2 hours.

Unmolding the cake. The common way to do this is to use a thin blade knife to loosen the cake from the sides of the pan and around the pan’s funnel. However, Bon Appetit recommends that you gently tap the bottom edge of the pan on the work surface while rotating the pan until cake loosens. Transfer the cake to a platter. DO AHEAD This cake can be made 8 hours ahead. Cover with a cake dome and let it stand at room temperature.

COMPOTE Put all the fruit into a colander and sprinkle on the powdered confectioner’s sugar. Toss gently to combine. To do this I simply shake the fruit in the colander over the sink. That way, if any fruit falls out, I can rinse it and put it back in the colander. Raspberries are extremely delicate so the less handling of them the better. DO AHEAD Can be made 2 hours ahead. Cover and chill.

Serving. Slice the cake with a thin serrated knife. Transfer to plates. Spoon compote alongside each slice. Top the slice with caramel. This cake has a wonderful sugary orange-y smell. Mmm-mm.

graduation day at fondant and royal icing

Tonight’s class was not only our last time to put the finishing touches on our three-tier cakes, it was also our last chance to learn more about swags, bows, and roses all made of fondant, and “string decorating” with royal icing. For my cake,  I started out with a blue and white rope around the second tier but Chef Tai thought an all-white rope would be prettier. You decide!

Sandwiched between the dummies was a six-inch real cake. We could take the whole creation home but there is really no room in the Teeny Tiny Apartment for it. I decided to leave it and be content with pictures. After we cleaned up the kitchen, we toasted our success with champagne (or sparkling apple cider). Chef Tai handed out our certificates. Here’s our cake gallery.

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I enjoyed the weekly classes at the French Culinary Institute. At least three of the women there were professionals who owned their own bakeries or cafés and were taking the course to learn more about cake decorating. Me, the neophyte, didn’t even own a Kitchenaid stand mixer and didn’t know how to operate one the first day! Cake decorating is like sculpturing. You are faced with the limitations of your medium; you can make neither stone nor cake fly but you can make a representation! However, there are no limits to what you can imagine.

The chefs at the Institute were very generous and helpful, sharing their tips for success as well as their expertise. They came right to your side to consult, whether it is a design issue or the truly tragic, such as why my fondant mixture failed. That’s why store-bought fondant is such a time-saver. The ingredients are not expensive but the equipment investment can be substantial. Should I invest in a stand mixer? Do I really need a $40 extruder? That answer depends on how seriously I want to get into cake decorating.  It was expensive, just under $1000 for 25 hours, but I found out that if I take another course it will be discounted. And I already have the uniform.

week 4 fondant and royal icing

Five hours of standing on my feet. I must be getting used to it. Not!

Today we covered 9 inch and 3 inch dummies with fondant as a prelude to making a three tiered wedding cake. Last week we made the middle tier and covered it with a crumb coating. It has been sitting in the French Culinary Institute’s freezers ever since. Today we learned how to make ropes with a clay extruder–that was fun. And how to make bows and ribbons–not terribly interesting, I thought, too fussy.

This is my cake.  I used the extruder with a three hole disc to make a rope that I twisted slightly. I made the daisies from a marguerite plunger that I got at New York Cake and Bake. I used a little royal icing to make the daisy centers. Simple and easy! Here are some of the cakes the class decorated tonight: