A Boozed-Up Beauty: Cerveza Mac and Cheese

DSCN2229Last Thanksgiving, I created this exceptional macaroni and cheese creation that has quickly become a family favorite and my go-to recipe when I want something extra naughty. Because the menu that night had a Latin-American theme, I titled this dish, “Cerveza” (Beer) Mac and Cheese, even though I’ve never actually made this with a Mexican brew (although I pretty sure Dos Equis would work well here). This creation has a Mexican aunt if anything (the chipotle peppers bare homage to that), but it really was a smokehouse whom served as the true mother, for I have produced a gutsy sauce DSCN2223utilizing a blend of sharp cheddar and smoked gouda cheeses, a burst of garlic, and lots and lots of beer. As it is the most important component in this dish, make sure you pick a beer that’s teeming with flavor. I chose a sharp and spicy IPA this time around, abundant with citrusy notes of orange peel and a jolting, bitter kick that lingers in the mouth and counteracts, yet still plays well with, the complexities of the cheese. Gone are the days where we should get content with one-note, boxed mac. Surrender yourself to this loud, raunchy, and bold symphony of flavors that takes the “night cheese” to a whole new level.

Recipe: Cerveza Mac and Cheese

A CookingFever Original

  • 3/4 pound macaroni, elbow-shaped pasta
  • 3 tablespoons butter
  • 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup milk, use at least 2% fat content
  • 12 oz beer, recommend anything flavorful and hoppy, such as a dark ale or IPA
  • 2 canned chipotle peppers, chopped
  • 3 plump garlic cloves, minced
  • 1/4 pound smoked gouda cheese, grated
  • 1/3 pound sharp cheddar cheese, grated
  • salt and pepper, to taste
  • 2 tablespoons chopped cilantro, optional

Method

  1. Melt the butter in a sauce pan over medium-high heat. Once melted, add the flour and whisk rapidly, cooking it out for a minute until it has changed to a slight golden brown color and the raw-flour smell has disappeared.
  2. Add about half of the milk, whisking until the mixture has thickened. Then add the rest of the milk.
  3. Add the garlic and chipotle peppers, along with a little bit of salt and good amount of cracked black pepper, Simmer the mixture for about 2 minutes, whisking constantly so that nothing sticks to the bottom or burns.
  4. Begin streaming in the beer adding it in increments, waiting for the mixture to thicken before adding more each time. The sauce should be thick enough to coat the bottom of a wooden spoon but not so thick that its super glopy. Feel free to add extra milk or beer if you need to thin it out.
  5. Add the cheese and let it melt over low heat. Once melted in, taste the sauce for seasoning, adding more salt if needed.
  6. Stir in the cooked macaroni, tossing for about a minute or so. The sauce should stick to the noodles. If the dish seems a little too saucy, that’s fine for the noodles will continue to soak up the sauce as they sit.
  7. Serve warm with garnish of fresh cilantro on top, if desired.

A True Yuletide Treat: Chocolate and Bourbon Pear Bûche de Noël

DSC_0342Chocolate, bourbon, vanilla, pear. How bad could that be? This holiday recipe, drawing inspiration from a variety of sources, arrives just in time to be included in your celebrations this year!

Bûche de Noël, translating into yule log, is a traditional dessert served all over France during the holidays. A light and airy sponge cake is wrapped around a custard filling and then coated in a rich butter cream. Often decorated with little toy ornaments on top, these “logs” are both a festive and fun way to bring yuletide cheer to bakery window-displays and parties alike.

Making a yule log is not difficult, but it does involve a preparing a couple different components and DSC_0324pulling out several mixing bowls. I used a recipe from pastry-god Dominique Ansel as a base, but played with the flavors a bit by swapping out cherries for pears and using bourbon because it pairs so well with chocolate. Showcasing French technique with a slight Southern American twist, this yule log is the wonderful way to say Happy Holidays to your loved ones this week.

DSC_0346Recipe: Chocolate and Bourbon Pear Bûche de Noël

Adapted from Food and Wine

Cake

  • 6 eggs yolks, room temperatureDSC_0315
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 5 egg whites, room temperature
  • 1/8 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder (recommend 100% or Special Dark varieties)

DSC_0328Bourbon Syrup

  • 1/2 cup water
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1 tablespoon bourbon

Filling

  • 1 teaspoon unflavored gelatin
  • 1 tablespoon water
  • 1/3 cup whole milk
  • 1/2 vanilla bean, seeds scraped
  • 2 egg yolks
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream

Bourbon Pears

  • 2 pears, peeled and thinly sliced
  • 1 tablespoon bourbon
  • 1 tablespoon sugar

Topping

  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/2 cup powdered sugar
  • unsweetened cocoa powder, for dusting

Method

Cake: Preheat the oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit and line a 9X13 inch bakingDSC_0303 sheet with parchment paper. Beat the egg yolks with six tablespoons of the sugar until the mixture is pale and fluffy. In another bowl, beat the egg whites together with the remaining six tablespoons of sugar until the egg whites have formed stiff peaks. Fold the egg DSC_0311white mixture with the egg yolk mixture followed by the cocoa powder and salt. Spread the batter evenly on the baking sheet and bake until the cake is dry and springy, about 18-20 minutes.

Syrup: Combine the water and sugar in a small saucepan and bring to a boil over medium-heat heat. Boil the mixture for about a minute, until the sugar is completely dissolved. Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the bourbon. Allow the mixture to cool.

Filling: In a small bowl, soften the gelatin with the water. In a small saucepan,
combine the milk, vanilla bean and seeds, and bring to a simmer over medium high heat. Meanwhile in a medium bowl, whisk together the egg yolks with the sugar. Stream in the warm milk into the egg yolk mixture, whisking rapidly until incorporated. Pour the combined mixture back into the saucepan and stir constantly over low heat until the custard has become thick enough to coat the back of spoon. Strain the custard into a bowl. Heat the gelatin in the microwave for about 15 seconds, until melted, and stir into the custard. Allow the custard to cool before whipping the cream and folding it in.

Pears: Combine the pear slices with the vanilla pod and seeds, sugar, and bourbon. Saute over high heat for about 5 minutes, until the pears have softened and the alcohol smell has mellowed out a bit. Discard the vanilla pod and allow the mixture to cool.

Assembly: Run a knife around the edges of cake to loosen it and invert it onto a DSC_0334new sheet of parchment paper. Soak the cake liberally in the bourbon syrup, making sure that it’s covered evenly. Then spread an even layer of the custard filing on top, followed by the pears. Roll the cake up to form a 13-inch log. Because the cake is stiff, it might break on you at this point. That is completely fine. Just use the parchment paper to squeeze the roll together and place it in the fridge to set overnight.

Topping: Beat the heavy cream, vanilla extract, and powdered sugar together until whipped and firm. Coat the cake evenly with the whipped cream followed by a dusting of cocoa powder on top. Cut into slices and serve.

Joyeux Noël et Bonne Année!

My Gift to You: Hosting Opportunities with Vizeat

One of my fondest memories from studying abroad was being able to enjoy intimate, home-cooked meals with my host family each night. Gathered around thMedistepolsee table, always candlelit in accordance with the Danish concept of hygge or coziness, we not only shared wonderful food, but also got the opportunity to exchange stories and learn more about each other’s cultures. I would love to have the chance to be able to do that again, but for those of us who are by now hardworkingDSCN9318 professionals or getting close to that state, an extended trip overseas might not be possible at the moment. How then, might we able to continue facilitating cultural exchange?

vizeat_logo-def+lineWell the truth is, you can do it from your own home! Allow me to introduce to Vizeat, an online service that allows travelers from around the world to enjoy an authentic meal at the home of a gracious host. Becoming a host is easy. All you have to do is register online, pick your menu and price, set a date, have guests signMarie-Claude's dinner & Friends up, et voila, you’re well on your way to hosting your first meal! Vizeat already has numerous hosts across Europe, Asia, Africa, and the North America, but that is a hardly an all-encompassing list. How cool would it be if you were the first to bring Vizeat to your town? Signing up is completely free and you can even make a couple extra bucks in the process!

Carol's dinner in St Germain des Prés - Crédits Adélie VernhesIf hosting is not your thing, there’s no reason you can’t enjoy this service as a guest on your next vacation. Imagine devouring this roast chicken on your next trip to France in a posh-Parisian apartment, or partaking in a cute little tea party in Bangkok. There are certainly quite a few meals that I would Ido's Tea Time in Bangkoklike to attend, such as French Flavorsoffered by hostess Caroline of Nice or From Rome with Lovehosted by sisters Benny and Bula in Rome.

VizEat ApéritifWell, so are you interested in hosting and meal opportunities with Vizeat now? Check out their website for more! Perhaps even you and I might get to meet over a meal and share our stories one day. :)VizEat-Values

Disclaimer: All images, with the exception of the first two, were provided courtesy of Vizeat. CookingFever is an affiliate of Vizeat Ltd. 

Winter is Coming (but so is Thanksgiving): Acorn Squash Soup with Lemongrass

DSCN1564If you were a Stark of Winterfell, you would know that your words would never hold more true than on a day like this, WINTER IS COMING.

Even if you don’t live in the realm (or know what I am even talking about for that matter), it’s no joke that it has become quite frigid here in the Midwest, signaling the start of a season that might put a damper on your mood, making you feel tired all day and have you partaking in some rather odd behaviors, such as eating a slab of melted cheese for dinner (I may or may not be guilty of doing that right now, don’t judge me).

However, Thanksgiving is on its way as well, and I live for that holiday. It is my everything, the one night where food becomes more important than anything else, where feuding friends and family put aside differences for a day of forgiveness, an evening when we can all be truly thankful and blessed to be alive and healthy. Just in time for this glorious occasion, I share with you all a recipe that would be very happy to have a spot on your Thanksgiving menu this year.

Are you one of those people, who come October begin eating practically anythingDSCN1569 orange and wholesome in large quantities? Sweet potatoes, pumpkins, and squashes of every kind have begun showing up on my grocery list practically every week. With just sweet potatoes alone, I made stews, enchiladas, and even risotto, and a can of pumpkin puree lent itself toward the creation of an ultra moist, dark chocolate loaf cake, and an Afghan classic, kadu bouranee. Two days ago, I cut open an acorn squash and massaged it with a dab of Thai green curry paste before roasting in the oven until it was soft and scooping away from the skin like a creamy batch of gelato. Mixed into a highly aromatic broth flavored with fresh lemongrass, a dab of smoky cumin, and a splash of quintessential coconut milk, this Asian-inspired soup is sweet and savory, spicy and smoky, and will warm you down to the tips of your toes. Even if you don’t get a chance to include it this Thanksgiving, I suggest giving this soup a try anytime before Santa comes down your chimney this year.

Wishing you all a happy Thanksgiving and joyous holiday season!

DSCN1575Recipe: Acorn Squash Soup with Lemongrass

Ingredients

  • 1 medium acorn squash
  • 1 teaspoon Thai green curry paste
  • 1 medium red onion, roughly chopped
  • 1 clove garlic, peeled and left whole
  • 1 inch piece fresh ginger, peeled and roughly chopped
  • 1 small stalk lemongrass, minced
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
  • 3 cups chicken stock or water
  • 1 sweet potato, peeled and cubed
  • 2/3 cup unsweetened coconut milk
  • 3 tablespoons fresh cilantro, finely chopped

MethodDSCN1568

Cut the acorn squash in half and use a spoon to scoop out the seeds. Place the halves on a lined baking sheet and rub each half with a 1/2 teaspoon of the green curry paste. Drizzle with olive oil and cracked black pepper before roasting at 400 degrees Fahrenheit for about 40 minutes, until the squash is browned and very soft.

While the squash is roasting, get started on the soup base. Heat about 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a soup pot over medium-high heat. Once warm, add the onion and cook until softened, about 5 minutes. Add the ginger, garlic, and lemongrass and cook for a minute longer. Then add the ground cumin and crushed red pepper and cook for another minute, allowing the spices to toast and become fragrant. Add about a 1/2 to 1 cup of the chicken stock at this point and deglaze the pot. After five minutes, add the sweet potatoes and the rest of the stock. Bring the mixture to a boil and then simmer over low heat for about 15 minutes.

Once the squash has finished roasting, use a spoon to scoop out the flesh, leaving the skin behind. Add the flesh to the soup base followed by the coconut milk plus additional water if the consistency is too thick. Simmer this mixture now for another 15 minutes. Then using a standard or immersion blender, puree the soup until smooth. Return to the heat and adjust for seasoning, adding salt as need. Garnish with fresh cilantro before serving warm with plenty of crusty bread for dipping.

Sunday Salan: Classic Murgh Masala (Chicken Curry)

DSCN1540I have warm memories growing up of my mother preparing this sort of curry in some shape or form almost every Sunday. Back when we were younger and less adventurous, this was our non-veg meal of choice. Sometimes they would be potatoes, sometimes we would have it with bread, and sometimes we would have it for dinner. It’s the best meal for a lazy Sunday afternoon, one where all you want to do is eat, drink a few beers, binge on Netflix, and then fall asleep in front of the TV. Too bad I don’t have time for that in college because if I did, I’d assure you that not a lot of work would be getting done!

Enjoy this as next Sunday’s salan (gravy)!

Recipe: Classic Murgh Masala 

My take on a traditional North Indian chicken curry. 

Serves 4

DSCN1515Ingredients

  • 1 large white onion
  • 1 Serrano pepper, use Thai or bird’s-eye peppers for more heat
  • 6 garlic cloves, peeled
  • 3 tablespoons fresh ginger, peeled
  • 4 tablespoons vegetable oil, adjust to personal preferences
  • 6 green cardamom pods, lightly crushed
  • 6 cloves
  • 2, inch-long, flat cinnamon sticks (desi cinnamon)
  • 6-9 whole black peppercorns
  • 4 bay leaves
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 2 teaspoons ground coriander
  • 14 oz crushed tomatoes
  • salt, to taste
  • 1.5 pounds boneless and skinless chicken thighs, cut into 1-inch chunks
  • 2-3 cups water
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried fenugreek (kasuri methi) leaves, optional
  • 1/4 cup fresh cilantro leaves and stems, finely chopped
  • lime wedges, for garnish

Method

Place the onion, Serrano pepper, garlic, and ginger into a blender or food processor and grind until the mixture resembles a fine, but not liquidy, paste

Heat the oil in a, large heavy-bottom pot, such as a dutch oven or a Moroccan tagine, over medium-high heat. Once hot add the DSCN1522cardamom pods, cloves, cinnamon sticks, and peppercorns. Allow the whole spices to sizzle in the oil for minute before adding the blended onion, serrano pepper, and ginger-garlic mixture. Saute this wet masala mixture over medium-high heat for about 8-10 minutes, till the onions are starting to brown. 

Add the bay leaves, turmeric, cumin, coriander, and salt to the wet masala and cook out these spices for a minute before adding the crushed tomatoes to free any browned bits sticking to the pan. Continue cooking this mixture, stirring continuously and adding about 1/2 cup of water in intervals, for about another 10 minutes over high heat, till an oily sheen begins to appear on the surface.

DSCN1528Add the chicken pieces and mix vigourously to coat the pieces in the masala. Brown the chicken over high heat for another 10 minutes. Then add 1 1/2 to 2 cups of water (enough to create a sauce) and bring the mixture to a boil. Reduce the heat to a simmer and cook the curry over low heat for another 20 minutes, till the chicken has cooked through and the sauce has thickened slightly. Adjust the seasoning at this stage if needed.

Add the dried fenugreek leaves, if using, and cook for another five DSCN1535minutes. Garnish the curry with fresh cilantro leaves and serve with steamed rice or crusty baguette slices to mop up all of the delicious juices. Finish with a squeeze of lime juice on top. 

 

Mother of Baingan: West African Peanut Stew

DSCN1360It’s fun to trace the journey of spices. Originating predominantly in India, these goodies must have reached East Africa through trade and eventually traversed the continent till they reached the west coast, where they inflected themselves into the flavors of the local cuisines. So many Indian standbys: coriander, fenugreek, cumin, cloves, black pepper, and more were found in this stew recipe that I just couldn’t help but think of the possible resemblance that it might have to a standard chicken curry. Well, I was wrong.

It is just a couple of changes that give this dish a visible and tastefullyDSCN1355 unique identity. It’s definitely more bulky than the curries we make. Eggplant or baingan is savored with the utmost relish in a multitude of ways across India, yet almost all of them are vegetarian preparations. Who would have known that an eggplant’s heartiness makes it the perfect partner for almost any kind of meat? Then there’s the addition of okra, a practice that perhaps traveled over with the slave trade to Louisiana, where it got incorporated into the famous gumbo. The vegetables in this stew are not petty. They are practically on the same level as the chunks of chicken, seared in the pan until brown and caramelized.

DSCN1353The peanut butter though, was a revelation. Lending a rich and nutty creaminess, it sets this stew off the edge, rounding out the flavor with its mellow tones and thickening it much like how cashew paste is used to thicken Mughal style curries in North India. Sure peanut butter is probably not what is used in West Africa. It’s far more likely that fresh nuts are ground laboriously with a mortar and pestle until they resemble a coarse paste. Therefore, do be sure to use a high quality, all natural peanut butter in this recipe. That means no corn syrup, oil, or any other synthetic material should be in the ingredient list! I happen to love the fresh, grind-it-yourself peanut butter available at Whole Foods. It maybe a bit more expensive, but the taste is far more superior, and buying just the amount you need will not set you back that far.

This stew has got heat, meat, bulk, grit, tang, and a little sweet. It’s undoubtedly a complete meal and one that will have your guests showering you with rounds of praise.

Recipe: West African Peanut StewDSCN1359

Recipe from Saveur

Ingredients:

  • 1/3 cup canola oil, adjust to your preferences, I may have used a bit less
  • 2 pounds skinless chicken thighs, bone-in
  • salt, to taste
  • 1/4 cup ginger, peeled and finely chopped
  • 1 large yellow onion, diced
  • 4 dried chiles de arbol (also known as japones or simply red chiles in the Indian market)
  • 1 teaspoon ground coriander
  • 1 teaspoon ground turmeric
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/3 teaspoon fenugreek seeds
  • 3 cloves, whole
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 3/4 cup peanut butter
  • 1 cup diced tomatoes
  • 1 pound eggplant, peeled and cut into 1-inch cubes
  • 1/4 pound okra, whole or cut into 1-inch pieces
  • 1 fresh red or green chile, sliced
  • roasted peanuts, for garnishing
  • lime wedges and lime juice, optional for serving

Method

Heat the oil in a dutch oven or heavy-bottomed casserole pot over medium-high heat. Once hot, season the chicken DSCN1345thighs liberally with salt and pepper and add to the pot, browning until golden brown, about 5 minutes per side. Transfer the chicken to a plate and set aside.

DSCN1348Add the onions and arbol chilies to the residual oil in the pot, cooking for about 5 minutes until softened. Add the ginger and garlic and cook the mixture for another 3 minutes. Add the spices and cook for another minute until fragrant. At this point, add the tomato paste and caramelize it along with aromatics for three minutes. Stir in the peanut butter and tomatoes, and cook out this masala until the oil separates and begins to pool along the sides. This should happen within five minutes.

Return the chicken thighs to the pot along with 6 cups of water and bring the mixture to a boil. Immediately reduce to a simmer and cook for 25 minutes, until the chicken is about halfway done. Then add the eggplant and okra and cook for another 30 minutes, until the chicken is cooked through and vegetables are tender. Adjust the stew for seasoning and add a squeeze or two of lime juice if necessary. Stir in the chopped red/green chile and serve with steamed basmati rice, lime wedges, and crushed peanuts for garnishing.

Exercising Expertise: Green Tea Panna Cotta with Asian Pears

DSCN1384So I’m not trying to sound like a sassy masterchef or anything, but I feel like I can make better panna cotta than they do in Italy…

Now before we end up with an onslaught of hate here, I’m not trying to say that panna cottas in Italy are bad. (Dear me, it’s quite the opposite! I once had an exquisite buffalo milk variety in Bologna). They just tend to keep it simple there. The most common flavors are vanilla or caramel, and a popular topping is either chocolate or strawberry sauce. While there is absolutely not wrong with simplicity (heck, that’s probably what has made Italian Cuisine so lip-smacking good in the first place), sometimes a dessert as simple as “cooked cream” requires the need to dial up the flavor antics a bit, especially when you live in a household where panna cotta is a frequent request.

Delivering in the flavor department is something I’ve always excelled at, and I feel that is the true joy of being able to recreate classic desserts at home, giving them your own spin. From mango-passionfruit to spicy chocolate, sweet corn, buttermilk, and my personal favorite, lemon with homemade marmalade, I’ve barely even scratched the tip of possible flavor combinations, and that’s why I’ll be making panna cotta for a lifetime.

With this being my umpteenth time doing a panna cotta in the past five years (sometimes it baffles me to realize that I’ve only been cooking for that long), I decided that I would proceed for the first time without a recipe. What I think I’ve made as a result, is the perfect mix that can serve as a base for a whole realm of flavors. I did a blend of equal parts whole milk and heavy cream, two spoons of powdered gelatin, a spoon of vanilla, and a moderate measure of sugar. It’s a simple, yet foolproof recipe for a plain panna cotta.

The flavor today has hardly anything to do with Italy at all. The inspiration came from a green tea pannaDSCN1364 cotta I saw on the menu of a Vietnamese restaurant during a recent visit to New York. Due to the fact that I had a plane to catch, I had to leave lunch early and miss the latter dessert festivities. Thankfully, I didn’t really miss out because I just made it for myself a couple of days later. Green tea matcha powder stirred into my base (no infusing or steeping needed) provided the boost of exotic flavor I needed. It’s hard to exactly describe the taste of green tea. A bit grassy and bitter with distant notes of mint, its complexities play well with the sweet creaminess of this treat.

DSCN1379Asian pears, in this instance, do not refer to the varietal of pear I used, but rather the way I prepared them. Wafer-thin slices are stewed with some water, the slightest bit of sugar, and a pod of star anise, a major component of the Chinese five-spice blend. With its licorice and fennel flavor, the notes of star anise intensify with time, so making this component the night before will provide you with the perfect snap of freshness on top of this already refreshing dessert.

Now if they could only make green tea lattes like this…

Recipe: Green Tea Panna Cotta with Asian PearsDSCN1372

Ingredients

  • 2 teaspoons gelatin powder
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons water
  • 1 cup whole milk
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 3 tablespoons matcha powder
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Asian Pears:

  • 2 ripe pears, peeled and thinly sliced (use any variety of your liking)
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • a splash of water
  • 1 star anise pod, lightly crushed

Method:

Dissolve the gelatin in the water and allow it to sit while you prepare the panna cotta.

In a small saucepan, combine the milk, cream, matcha powder, and sugar. Heat the mixture over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until warm and scalding, about 5-10 minutes. Be careful not to boil or burn the milk. Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the gelatin-water mixture and vanilla extract. Portion off the mixture into six, six ounce-sized ramekins. Place the panna cottas in the fridge and allow for them to set, about 6-8 hours or overnight.

For the Asian pears, combine the pears, sugar, water and star anise in a pan and simmer for about 5-10 minutes, until softened and syrupy. Remove the pears and place them in the fridge to cool.

Serve the chilled panna cottas either in their ramekins or inverted on a dish, with a spoon or two of the pears on top.