Saturday, April 3, 2010

So much more than just surviving!

Last night, I had one of the best meals ever.  And this was during Passover!  You could say that my standards were low because of the circumstances.  But one of my friends, who is not Jewish, completely corroborates this.

There was a TON of food.  Enough that 3 people ate huge portions, plus had enough leftovers for several more meals.  To start with, we had a crisp, refreshing salad with really yummy raspberry vinaigrette.  Then there was some gefilte fish, for those who were brave enough to try it - I love it!  Then there were some delicious roasted veggies, followed by a decadent lasagna.  And the piece de resistance - a flourless chocolate cake with homemade whipped cream.

I've noticed that whenever I am cooking, especially if it is more than one thing, it takes at least twice the amount of time that I expected it to.  This is why I arrived at my friend's place before 5, for a 7:30 dinner.

First, we started with the veggies.  This is a pretty basic recipe.  Just cut a lot of veggies into similar-sized pieces, toss with olive oil and a little balsamic vinegar, s&p and whatever other herbs you want to use, and bake in a foil-lined pan.  Cook around 350-400, until the veggies are cooked through and have browned/caramelized.

The next recipe is a Passover staple.  This year, I changed it up a bit by adding some pesto.  There wasn't a pronounced pesto flavor, but it really added an extra layer and depth of flavor.  This is another one of those recipes that my mom got from the back of a matzah box.  Those recipes clearly got me through Passover this year!  This is really such a great lasagna.  My non-Jewish friend said that if she didn't already know that there was matzah in it, she never would have guessed.  It tastes just like a regular lasagna.  For some reason, I only make this during Passover.  I'm going to have to try it during the rest of the year, using regular no-boil lasagna noodles, to see if it turns out as well.  And if not, well I do have a lot of leftover matzah!  The original recipe is for an 8x8 pan, but since we wanted leftovers, I doubled it and put it in a 9x13 pan.  I'm including the original ingredients below - if you want to make it in a 9x13, simply double all ingredients.  And feel free to add extra shredded cheese, I did!  My one change - I definitely didn't need as much sauce as it called for.  I used 2 jars that were about 25 oz each, and had leftover sauce.

Recipe: Matzah Lasagna with Pesto
4 matzah sheets
1 cup cottage cheese
1 cup ricotta cheese
1 1/2 cups shredded mozzarella cheese
1/2 cup grated parmesan
1 egg beaten
1/2 tsp black pepper
a few tbsp prepared pesto, either store bought or homemade
30-34 oz. prepared marinara sauce

Reserve 1/4 cup mozzarella and 1/4 cup parmesan.  Mix the remaining mozzarella and parmesan, cottage cheese, ricotta, egg and pepper.
I thought it was so funny the ricotta came out perfectly like this!  It made me think of making sand castles at the beach.

Place some marinara on the bottom of an 8x8 inch deep pan.  Place one sheet matzah over the sauce, top with some of the cheese mixture (smooth to even it out) and some more marinara.  Repeat this to make 4 layers.  With the last layer, before adding the cheese mixture, mix it with pesto.
Then layer it on, as in before, and top with the sauce.  Sprinkle the remaining cheese on top.
Place in a preheated 350 degree oven for 35-40 minutes.  Let cool for 15 minutes and serve with extra sauce on the side.

And now, what you've been waiting for.  The chocolate cake of your dreams.  This cake was so decadent, and so delicious.  The original recipe called for a chocolate glaze, but I opted to make homemade whipped cream instead.  I thought the glaze might be overkill, plus I wanted an excuse to use the mixer!  I had never made whipped cream before, and it was so easy to do.  
I think this cake is the perfect example of good Passover food.  I have had way too many Passover "cakes" that use matzah meal instead of flour, and just have a strange taste and texture.  This is a cake that would be amazing year round, and just happens to work out during Passover.  
Also, this is an example of where it pays off to use good ingredients.  There are very few ingredients, so make sure they are all good ones.  I used a combination of Lindt, Ghirardelli, and Scharffen Berger bittersweet chocolate.  As soon as I rebuild my chocolate collection, I am going to make this cake again.

Recipe: Flourless Chocolate Cake, from Lisa's Kitchen
10 oz bittersweet chocolate
7 oz (3/4 cup = 1.5 sticks) unsalted butter
2 tsp vanilla extract
5 eggs
1 cup sugar

Butter a standard-sized springform pan (9 inches in diameter, 3 inches deep) and line the bottom of the pan with parchment paper to fit.  (Whoops, I forgot to line it!  I cut the paper and everything, but never put it in.  It turned out just fine though.)  If your pan isn't completely leakproof, wrap it well with foil.

Using a double boiler, melt the chocolate and butter over simmering water.
Once melted, remove from heat and stir in the vanilla.

In a large bowl, add the eggs and sugar.  
Mix on medium speed for about 7 minutes in a stand mixer.

Gently fold in the chocolate, and stir to fully mix, only until the color is uniform.  (The picture below is not fully mixed, I just thought the swirl looked pretty.)

Pour into the prepared pan, and place that on a baking sheet.

Bake in a preheated 350 degree oven for 40-45 minutes, until the edges are fully cooked and the center is set, but a little jiggly (only a little).  A crust will have formed and cracked.  
While it is still warm, run a knife around the edges to loosen.  Let it cool, and then transfer to the fridge if not serving immediately.  I've heard that the flavors are best after a day, so you should make this the night before.  When I first took it out of the oven, the center had puffed up, above the edges of the crust. After cooling, the center sunk.

The next day, not long before serving, I made the whipped cream.  I found online that whipped cream is best within a few hours of making it.  After that, it can start to separate, unless you add gelatin.  I didn't have gelatin, and it lasted fine until it was served.  I noticed later that night, that the leftover whipped cream had started to separate.  It tasted fine, and I just stirred it to recombine it.  When serving the cake, I piped some on as decoration, but left most of it in a bowl for everyone to add to their cake as desired.

Recipe: Homemade Whipped Cream
1 cup heavy cream
2-3 tbsp sugar
3/4 tsp vanilla extract

Make sure that everything is very cold.  Use only refrigerated cream, and try to put the mixing bowl and whisk in the fridge overnight, if possible.  
Add the cream to the bowl.  Starting at a low speed, gradually work your way up to high (no higher than 8 out of 10) speed.  When the cream starts to hold its shape, add the sugar, 1 tbsp at a time.  Right when it starts to form peaks, add the vanilla.  Whip to the desired consistency.  Soft peaks are best when folding the whipped cream into something.  Stiff is best when using to pipe onto a dessert, as I did.  I used a star tip for the dessert, and put the rest of the whipped cream into a serving bowl. 

No comments: