Happy Valentine Day

A sweet Valentine
A heart shaped French toast made with brioche, vanilla, raisins, walnuts and honey served with a French vanilla custard and fresh raspberries.

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For the French vanilla custard, scold 2 cups of milk with a vanilla bean sliced in half length-wise. Be sure to scrape the vanilla seeds into the milk. Infuse for about 5 minutes. In a bowl, whisk together 5 egg yolks with 80g of sugar.  Pour the hot milk onto the egg mixture while whisking. Pour back into the saucepan, on low heat, and cook stirring constantly until the custard slightly thickens. Be careful not to cook it too long and curdle the eggs. Cool and refrigerate.

For the French toast: mix two eggs with a little vanilla extract, almond mild and honey.  Add a few raisings.  Chop a handful of walnuts and add to the mixture. Tear dome small pieces of brioche and add to the mixture.  Let soak about 10 minutes.

Heat a little grape seed oil in a heavy bottom skillet.  Place a large heart-shaped cookie cutter in the pan and pour the mixture inside.  A little bit will run out from the bottom but quickly settle.  Cook a few minutes until you can lift is with a metal spatula and flip it to cook the other side.

To serve, remove the cookie cutter, place the French toast in the center of the plate, pour a little French vanilla custard around and top with fresh raspberries. Sprinkle with icing sugar.

Enjoy!

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Green Cabbage and White Bean Soup with Thyme Celery Pesto

A hearty winter soup to enjoy during our freezing temperatures in Chicago.  This is a satisfying dish to savor either as an appetizer or a main dish served with a salad for supper.  White beans and green cabbage are classic winter ingredients and pair deliciously.  Health-wise, white beans are high in fiber and a good source of vitamin B1 and minerals.  Green cabbage has long been established for its digestive tract support as well as an excellent source of vitamin K.

20140207-190459.jpgThe celery pesto is made of ingredients from the soup itself, with the addition of garlic and parmesan cheese.  If you wish to make a dairy-free/vegan version, simply omit the parmesan cheese in the pesto and season it with a bit of salt, pepper, some lemon juice and a little extra olive oil. This soup is most delicious the day after preparing it.

Be sure to soak the beans the day before.  It is simpler, requires less time and effort than having to do a ‘quick boil’ just prior to cooking them.  The best is to simply soak the beans overnight the day you come back from the market.  They can then be refrigerated a few days till you are ready to cook the soup.

20140207-190627.jpgIngredients:
1/2 green cabbage
2 cups dry white beans
3 small-medium size carrots
2 celery stalks with their leaves
1/2 medium-large onion
2 cloves of garlic
1 oz Parmesan cheese
A few springs of fresh thyme
A few springs of fresh rosemary
2 bay leaves
3 cloves
5-6 Tbsps Olive oil
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper

Soak the beans the day before.

20140207-190719.jpgUse 1/4 of the onion as the base to hold the cloves.  Make three small incisions in the onion, deep enough to hold the stem of the cloves.  Insert the cloves.  Alternatively, you can place the cloves and bay leaves in a small linen bag.  Either way, you will discard them after cooking.

20140207-190756.jpgPlace the beans in a large pot of salted water with the onion, cloves and bay leaves.  Bring to a boil and lower to simmer for about 40-45 minutes until the beans are tender.

20140207-190844.jpgPeel the carrots.  Wash the celery branches and reserve the leaves.  Chop the carrots, the other 1/4 of the onion and celery finely.

20140207-190921.jpgHeat about 2 Tbsps of olive oil in a large French oven (cast iron pot).  Add the chopped vegetables, season with salt and simmer for a few minutes until they soften.

20140207-191005.jpgSlice and cut the cabbage in medium pieces.

20140207-191053.jpgAdd the cabbage to the vegetables and toss to coat evenly.  Continue cooking on low heat with the cover on for about 30-40 minutes until the cabbage is cooked, but not over-cooked.

20140207-191203.jpgMeanwhile, remove about 1/2 cup of beans from the pot and place them in a food processor fitted with a steel blade along with the celery leaves, the two garlic cloves (cut in half and center removed), a spoonful of rosemary and thyme.  Process till grossly mixed.

20140207-191356.jpgAdd the Parmesan cheese and about 1 1/2 Tbsps of olive oil and process again until you obtain a smooth paste.

20140207-191504.jpgPlace the thyme-celery pesto in a small bowl.  You may drizzle a bit of olive foil or lemon juice on top, or cover with a plastic film to preserve freshness.  Reserve.

20140207-191614.jpgDrain the beans and reserve the cooking broth.

20140207-191710.jpgHeat about 2 Tbsps of olive oil along with about half the pesto in a large pot.

20140207-191803.jpgAdd the white beans and mix thoroughly to coat them with the pesto.

20140207-191844.jpgAdd the cabbage-vegetable mixture and mix well.

20140207-191940.jpgAdd about 4-6 cups of the bean broth.  Adjust seasoning with salt and pepper.  Add about 2 Tbsps of thyme. Bring to a boil and simmer a few minutes till serving.

This soup can be prepared a day ahead, refrigerated, and brought back to a simmer to serve.

20140207-192026.jpgServe with a bit of extra pesto on top to taste.  Enjoy!

Hazelnut Praline Chocolates

Hazelnut praline chocolates are heavenly. A great gift for Valentine’s Day! I had recently made some hazelnut praline flans and had extra caramelized hazelnut praline. So, I decided to simply add some chocolate to make hazelnut praline chocolates. This recipe only made about a dozen, and they were gone in the blink of an eye.  So you may double or even triple the recipe.  Besides, the larger quantity you make, the easier it is to dip/coat the chocolates. And every one will be thankful you made more rather than less.

20140127-172055.jpgTempering chocolate is a very precise technique and it is imperative to follow the instructions.  If the chocolate rises above or cools below the indicated temperatures, you will have to start the whole tempering procedure over from the beginning. The technique described below is for dark chocolate.  The temperatures vary for milk or white chocolate.20140127-172322.jpgIngredients:

2 1/3 oz Caramelized hazelnut praline (see 9/2/13 post: hazelnut praline flan for Leslie)
2/3 oz Dark chocolate (70% minimum)
1 3/4 oz Dark chocolate for coating
Toasted chopped almonds

Equipment: a chocolate thermometer for tempering the chocolate and a chocolate dipping fork.
20140127-172413.jpgMelt the 2/3 oz of dark chocolate gently in a double-boiler.

20140127-172505.jpgWhen the chocolate is completely smooth, remove from the heat and add the caramelized hazelnut praline.

20140127-173559.jpgMix well until fully incorporated.

20140127-173637.jpgShape into small balls with the palm of your hands.  Place on a plate and refrigerate for at least 1 hour to harden.

20140127-173720.jpgChop the 1 3/4 oz chocolate for tempering in preparation of coating/dipping.

20140127-173837.jpgPlace in a double boiler and slowly melt the chocolate for tempering. Tempering is an important step to ensure that the finished chocolates hold their shape, do not smudge, and have a shiny finish.

20140127-173925.jpgMeanwhile, toast the almond in a hot oven for a few minutes. They should be only slightly toasted, not burnt.

20140127-173959.jpgChop the toasted almonds finely and reserve.

20140127-174056.jpgMeanwhile the chocolate temperature should reach 128-130F.  Remove the chocolate from the heat source a degree or two below the desired temperature as the chocolate temperature will keep rising from the heat stored in the saucepan.

Once the chocolate has reach 128-130F, let it cool at ambient temperature (do not refrigerate) till it cools down to 81-82F by stirring constantly with a wooden spoon.  To hasten the process, you may use a large piece of unmelted chocolate to stir instead of a wooden spoon, or slowly add grated chocolate.

Once the temperature reaches 81-82F, place the chocolate back on the double boiler and slowly raise the temperature to 88-89F.

Now your chocolate is tempered and ready for coating/dipping.

20140127-174158.jpgTake the pralines out of the refrigerator. Use the blade of a knife or small icing spatula to coat one layer of chocolate on the bottom (flat side) of the pralines.

20140127-174259.jpgAdd about a tablespoon-full of chopped toasted almonds to the tempered chocolate. Mix well. Keep the temperature at 88-89F by periodically placing the chocolate back on the double boiler.

20140127-174338.jpgUsing a chocolate dipping fork, place the chocolate-layer flat face of the praline on the fork.

20140128-121502.jpgDip in the tempered chocolate and remove excess from the bottom by sliding the blade of a knife underneath.

20140128-121607.jpgPlace on a plate to set, sprinkling a few extra toasted chopped almonds.

20140128-121931.jpgEnjoy!