Monday, August 27, 2007

Mondays with Maida - Chocolate Tartlets

Chocolate Tartlets
Page 246 in the old book / page 267 in the new book

I started worrying about this chapter some time back. One reason was that the cookies looked more difficult, but another was I didn't have some of the required equipment. I started hunting around for tartlet pans and wasn't having much luck when Santos kindly volunteered that the sort of thing I was looking for was readily available in Manila and that she'd be happy to get some for me on her next visit. She was true to her word and before long I was in possession of a boat-load of beautiful little boat-shaped tartlet pans as well as some smaller but deeper round pans (like tiny brioche pans).

These Chocolate Tartlets require half-inch-deep pans so I put those pretty little bateaux to good use and also used the plain round pans that I'd gotten for the Fudge Délices. The recipe actually calls for smaller pans, but I found these worked very well with no change in the timing needed. My pans were about twice the size of those called for, and I got 35 good-sized tartlets with a little pastry dough leftover.

One nice thing about using larger pans is that it takes less time to make a batch of these :) Mixing the pastry dough and filling is very simple. Pressing the dough into the pans isn't difficult, but it is a little tedious and does take time. The only tricky part when making these tartlets is removing them from the pans. Don't worry though, they don't stick and if you're reasonably careful they'll come out perfectly. Maida describes the process like this: "...invert each mold into the palm of your hand and, with a fingernail of the other hand, gently release and remove the mold." The trick here is to use your fingernail to pry the pan away from the cookie, not the other way around. If you try to pull at the cookie with your fingernail, you'll just break away a piece of the crust. While prying the pan with your fingernail, use your thumb and forefinger on the other hand to sort of gently encourage the tartlet out of the mold. Once you get one, you'll know exactly how to do it.

Denny's out this week - wouldn't you know it'd be a chocolate cookie he missed. Here's the panel...

Suzanne: "This was an unusual cookie since it was like a chewy chocolate brownie in a tart shell. I just found out that there were ground almonds in the brownie. The ground almonds were so fine that I couldn’t taste them and I kept thinking the whole time I was eating the tart that chopped almonds would have been an added treat. Rating - 4.0"

Laura: "Yum! This is a moist tasty brownie in a flaky tart shell. Moist and delicious. Fab! Rating - 4.5"

Terri: "These are outstanding! The chocolate filling with ground almonds is delicious and the pie crust-like shell is perfect. the only addition might be some whipped cream for the top! Rating - 5.0"

Overall rating by the panel - 4.5

Next week - Almond Tartlets

Nutrition Facts

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Sewing - Project Christina

Back in April, knowing my nine-year-old niece's passion for Project Runway and her desire to be a fashion designer when she grows up, and being at a loss as to what to give her for her birthday, I wrote a little "press release" and tucked it in a box with some tissue paper, the logo above, a couple of photos of Tim Gunn and wrapped it up. Christina's reactions to gifts I've given her in the past have always been quite subdued (Chuck will tell you this runs in our family :) ), so I was really tickled when this gift was met with such obvious glee - she was literally bouncing up and down on the sofa while her mom read the press release aloud.

April 15, 2007

Project Runway Spin-off Announced

NEW YORK – The producers of Project Runway today announced Project Christina, starring Christina ___. Christina, who recently celebrated her ninth birthday, is an aspiring fashion designer. With locations in ___, ___, and ___, Maryland, Project Christina will trace Christina’s progress as she brings one of her designs to life.

The first episode will set the stage for the entire project as Christina sketches her design. In later episodes, her assistant, Cathy ___, will take Christina’s measurements and modify a basic pattern so as to approximate the design Christina envisions. After a trial run in muslin, Christina and Cathy will go to ___ Fabrics where Christina will select her fabrics and notions from among the vast array on offer there. While she will have an unlimited amount of time to make her choices, she will be restricted to a $40 budget. After her purchases are made, Christina will attend a celebratory luncheon in her honor at a restaurant of her choice.

Christina will later spend time in Cathy’s sewing room overseeing the construction of her garment. During this time, she will ensure that the garment is true to her design and that it fits properly. She will also participate as much as she is able and/or wishes in the actual sewing of the garment.

As one might expect, the series will conclude with a walk down the runway, as Christina models her completed design for her adoring fans in her very own home.

Christina sent me her design a few weeks ago and we set the date for this weekend. In between I worked on the pattern (I started with Butterick 4220 and made some major alterations) and did a couple of trial runs in muslin. Christina and I went shopping Sunday, had a nice lunch out, and then got to work. We were up early Monday and finished about midday. Christina helped every step of the way and in spite of the fact that she was a little nervous initially about using the sewing machine, she took to it like a fish to water. She really was eager to be involved as much as she could be and I was impressed with how well she remembered instructions I gave her and how carefully she did things.

This was a learning experience for me as well, since this was the first time I've ever made more than minor adjustments to a pattern. My pattern wasn't perfect - notches didn't line up exactly as they should, etc. - but it worked well enough. Much like cooking, with clothing construction I've always been one to follow directions. This experience has whet my appetite for striking out on my own on occasion.

If you sew (or cook, or knit, or crochet, or weave, or whatever), pass it on to someone! It'll make their day and it'll really make yours :)

Monday, August 20, 2007

Mondays with Maida - Chocolate Meringue Ladyfingers

Fudge Délices
Page 244 in the old book / page 266 in the new book

These ladyfingers are simply chocolate meringues piped out with a plain round tip. Perhaps someone more skilled at piping could make them look beautiful, but in my case you couldn't help but compare the outcome to p__p. In fact, a lady at work got such a chuckle out of it that she brought one home for her seven year old nephew. Anyway, for a more presentable shape, I'd be tempted to try a star tube next time. You could still pipe them into three-inch sticks, or just make round blobs.

The taste was quite good - the chocolate flavor came through and they're very crunchy, sweet, and light as air. As you might expect with a meringue, they're hollow inside with a hint of chewiness in the middle.

To make them you make an italian meringue, stir in a mixture of cocoa and confectioner's sugar, pipe onto cookie sheets and then bake at a fairly low temperature. Couldn't be easier, and they're fat-free too!

Here's the panel...

Suzanne: "Ladyfingers are always very attractive cookies, but meringue cookies are not my favorite type of cookie. I feel like I’m eating pure sugar and I don’t care for the texture of the cookie. Rating - 2.0

Denny: "Unusual, but very good. liked the feel of this one, light and crunchy. Chocolaty too, but very crumbly. Minus one for crumbliness gives them a 4.0 in my eyes. Rating - 4.0"

Laura: "Yummy cookies! (But I wouldn't suggest making them as ladyfingers). Rating - 4.5"

Terri: "Wow - these are delicious. I really like the chewiness when you bite into this cookie. The meringue makes them very light and this would be a grat choice with some summer fruits. Rating - 4.0"

Overall rating by the panel - 3.6

Next week - Chocolate Tartlets

Nutrition Facts

Monday, August 13, 2007

Mondays with Maida - Fudge Délices

Fudge Délices
Page 242 in the old book / page 264 in the new book

These little chocolate tarts were delicious and should have been relatively simple to make. I made an unfortunate decision a few weeks back when I ordered the little tartlet pans - I only bought 12. The recipe makes 23 (more on that later) and I really should have purchased two dozen of the pans.

Another problem I had was that a goof I made while preparing the filling caused the chocolate to seize. Even as I was adding the milk, butter and vanilla to the melted chocolate I was thinking, "this is interesting, seems like these liquids would make the chocolate seize." Well, I was right about that but I was remembering the instructions incorrectly - I should have been adding the sugar at the same time. Instead, I added it after the chocolate seized. It seemed to recover fairly well, but I wouldn't be surprised if that was the root of my later troubles - while baking, the butter bubbled up in the filling leaving the surface sort of pock-marked. The tartlet you see above is one of very few that weren't scarred in that way.

I also think that my tartlets were over-filled. Maida was emphatic that 23 was number to make to ensure that the filling was the proper thickness, but nearly all mine lacked a clean edge of pastry because the filling rose up over it. My pans were slightly bigger than those called for (2 3/8" rather than 2 1/4") but I used a 2 3/4" cookie cutter for the pastry as specified in the recipe. There was plenty of pastry leftover, so next time I'd make 24.

After all my difficulties, I assumed the cookies were going to be a disaster and was resigned to making a second batch. But after sampling one, I decided to go ahead and bring in my flawed but tasty cookies. Top Chef I am not :)

Here's the panel...

Suzanne: "Delicious! The inside of the tart cookie shell tastes like a chocolate fudge brownie with a pecan on top. They were also very attractive. The rating is definitely at 5 and if I could I’d rate then even higher. Rating - 5.0

Denny: "Excellent 5.0. Only problem was there weren't enough of them. Not too crunchy or sweet, just right. Did not look as great as they were! Rating - 5.0"

Laura: "Nice flaky tart shell with moist and delicious brownie-like filling. Rating - 4.5"

Terri: "These cookies are outstanding and a must for chocolate lovers! I really liked the crust or shell in which the fudge was held. Almost like a mini fudge pie. Rating - 5.0"

Overall rating by the panel - 4.9

Next week - Chocolate Meringue Ladyfingers

Nutrition Facts

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Catching up and Taking off...

Work has been kind of crazy recently... so I am very, VERY happy to be leaving on vacation starting Friday! What's even better is that I'm leaving on vacation with Bob and Chuck. We are visiting Newport, Rhode Island, and then continuing on to Vermont for a couple of days. I've long wanted to visit Newport, so I'm very excited about that leg of the trip, and of course nothing could be better than some relaxing time in Vermont. When I return home, work will be the farthest thing from my mind!

Before I go, I have some catching up to do. So many times I have plans to write a post on something, even sometimes composing bits of it in my head, but time passes and it just never happens. Sometimes it's because I get busy with one thing or another, but mostly it's because I seldom find writing these posts easy (even after three years - why?), so I keep putting it off. I don't want this post to slip into that black hole with all those other unwritten posts.

I've been meaning to say a little about my birthday celebration. Actually, it would probably be more acurate to say birthday celebrations, since the festivities spanned a long weekend and even this upcoming trip is birthday-related. My weekend started Friday evening when my parents took me out for a birthday dinner. Bob and I had talked the night before and he'd told me to be sure to save a little room - he was making me something and would be bringing it with him on the train. I had no clue what he was making - I didn't even know if it was sweet or savory - but I was really touched that he was making something for me and couldn't wait to find out what it was (and to eat it of course!)

When Bob and Chuck arrived later Friday evening, the first order of business was opening gifts. One in particular made me yelp out loud - Chuck found a signed first edition of Maida Heatter's New Book of Great Desserts! It was so sweet of him to even think of it!

After gifts, Bob went into the kitchen to serve up his mystery creation. Knowing my avid interest in Indian cuisine, he had made Gajar Halwa (carrot pudding) for me! It was incredible - very rich and sweet. He served it warm with some pistachios sprinkled over top. Just fantastic - and there were even leftovers for me to enjoy later in the week.

Saturday Bob, Chuck and I spent a couple hours in the kitchen making a gigantic lunch for ourselves and then Saturday evening was the big family party. David and Stephanie graciously hosted the party at their house and David came up with a really clever idea - he took a doodle that I'd drawn (a mouse named Chester that I always drew as a kid) and printed it on a T-shirt for me, on balloons for the party and on a huge laminated poster to be used in playing "Pin the belly-button on Chester!"

Dinner was catered and Bob had seen to it that there was not only vegetable lasagna for me to enjoy, but an Indian curry. There was lots more to eat as well - but it was clear that these things were chosen just for me. Finally, after dinner I was presented with a memory book to which everyone had contributed wonderful letters and photos. It was (and is) the kind of thing that makes me get all teary... such sweet thoughts and such happy memories.

How lucky am I to have a family like this?