Monday, December 19, 2011

Macaron Monday: Basil and Lime

Typically this would have been one that I saved for the summer, but we just so happened to have both basil and lime in our refrigerator. If I had any reservations, it was that these were not going to have enough lime taste to them. The lime we had was getting ready to check out, so I didn't have high hopes for its overall flavor. The basil was still pretty turgid, so I felt that if there was an imbalance in taste it was going to come from the lime.

As with most things the first time you try and make them, this was a learning experience. Let me explain.

This recipe called for sheets of gelatin - which we didn't have. We had the powdered stuff, but it's hardly one to one ratio between sheets and the powdered stuff. This is what I learned: If it calls for sheets - get sheets. If it calls for powder - get powder. Most anything you do as a substitute is going to be fairly inexact. Since it was a bit of a guess as to how much powder to actually use, there was a decidedly "thick springiness" to the filling. Not what I would call my favorite texture.

Splitting Italian method macaron batter
Highly inadvisable. It is very easy to weigh everything out and split up 50/50, it's not that big a deal. However, when you have one mixer to mix the meringue with, you end up trying to split a bowl of meringue between two bowls of mixed almond flour. The stuff is sticky and difficult to get out of the mixing bowl. Meanwhile you're trying to bust out a macaronage that can easily have too much or too little of the meringue. We came pretty close to 50/50 but, the egg whites were quickly losing their volume. Regina's batter was considerably fluffier and yielded more shells. Live and learn. Settle on a shell color and use it for the whole batch. Don't get cute like we did and try to split it in two.

Basil Quality
The basil flavor was completely lost in the taste of the filling. I think basil at this time of year just doesn't have a strong enough flavor to it. Get your hands on some really fresh and fragrant stuff, or just wait to make these until you can.

In the end this recipe had promise. The lime flavor was surprisingly strong. The basil was completely overpowered. I can't really say that I'd add more basil or reduce the lime, until I've had a chance to try making it with ingredients at their peak of ripeness. It never ceases to amaze me how much of a difference there is between herbs from mid-summer versus everything else.

Sorry, no link for the recipe in this post. I will, however, be happy to write up a modified version once summer hits. My guess is that some of the quantities are going to need adjusting to suit our own tastes. I'll let you know how it turns out.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Bowl of Pho

This little Vietnamese spot recently opened a few miles away from my house. While ramen will always be near and dear to my heart, on a cold December day a nice hot bowl of pho will more than suffice.

As you look at the menu you notice a lot of the usual suspects: pho, grilled noodles, a variety of rolls, banh mi, and rice plates. One thing I was hoping to strike gold on was clay pot pork, but no such luck. The prices seem to be right inline with places like Superior Pho and #1 Pho.

BoP is located around the corner from Whole Foods on Chagrin right next to DeGaetano's Pizza (where you can gut your own crust read here). From a decor standpoint, I have to say that it's more refined than Superior or #1, but not quite as slick as Bac, in Tremont.

I went with the beef pho. They give you a quart of beef stock, a container with hot sauce, hoisin, a load of bean sprouts, and a large container with thinly sliced rare beef on top of scallions and vermicelli-like rice noodles. When you put it all together it's pretty good. If I have one gripe, it's that you can pretty much taste every single component in the bowl. This is a nit picky thing on my part which I readily admit, but I more of a flavor harmony person. I think to the casual eater this is going to taste just fine, though.

I've not had the banh mi yet, but look forward to trying it on a future trip. I think for an Eastsider it's worth a stop. There's not a great deal of pho in my neck of the woods, so when the jones hits I know I don't have to drive too far. If I'm West Side do I come here? Well, assuming you're closer to Bac than here - no, I'd go to Bac. Don't expect Slanted Door, this isn't that kind of restaurant. It's a clean place, with decent food, good value, that serves the void that used to exist in the Shaker Heights/Wooodmere area.

Bowl of Pho
27339 Chagrin Blvd.
Woodmere, OH 44122
(216) 831-1730

Bowl of Pho on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Bay Area: Romolo's Cannoli and Spumoni Factory

We had just got off the plane in South San Francisco and were headed to Berkeley. It was early afternoon and we had a decision to make, drive up through the city or go down and around. While we pondered this question, we decided to grab a quick snack in San Mateo. (Not to hanging, we decided on going up through East Bay.)

Spumoni is one of Regina's favorite. A couple years back, there was a parade held in my honor because I made a birthday spumoni ice cream cake for her. I shuttled her favorite Cleveland spumoni (from Crostatas) to our house. It has been said that it may have been my finest hour.

Romolo's Cannoli and Spumoni Factory is old school in every single way. Now run by the grandsons of the original owners, the decor has yellowing press clippings on the walls, old school ice cream ephemera, and other trinkets that have accumulated over the years. Like the rings of a tree, every memento adds street cred to the newby customer. Its as if the interior whispers to you, "I may be old, but I've still got it." 

Beware of this highly persuasive man

Obviously they have more than just spumoni. There is a wide assortment of ice cream, packaged frozen treats, and cannolis to go. I believe is all of this stuff is made on site. They also specialize in cannolis that they fill to order. The picture above shows one of the grandsons with a locked and loaded pastry bag, some powdered sugar ready for the sprinkling, and a tray full of accouterments ready to coat the ends of the crispy dessert.

Leave the gun. Take the Cannoli

You've got to watch that guy at the counter. He's very personable and informative, and what starts out as a quick duck inside for some ice cream, turns into a cannoli, cafe americano, almond cookie, and of course plate of spumoni.  I didn't even like cannolis (until I had these), and he talked me into one. The plain cream with pistachios was the way to go.

That's it. A little dab'll do ya.

As I said earlier, they make the ice cream on site. I think he said there was like fifteen ingredients in each part of the spumoni. I thought the texture was surprisingly smooth with the intermittent mini-chunks of cherries and nuts in each bite.

The place is worth a stop. While we were there, a lot of people wandered in after going to the pizza place next door. You could tell this was a popular pit stop for people that were on errands that they'd stop in for a quick snack. 

Romolo's Cannoli and Spumoni Factory
81 37th Ave
San Mateo, CA
(650) 574-0625

Monday, December 12, 2011

Macaron Monday: Lemon Macaron

We touched upon this a little in yesterday's post about our Five Picks for the Holidays post, but this is our first foray into Pierre Herme's, Macaron. For us, this book was really about exploring his wider array of fillings. I think once you've settled on a technique and honed your recipe, the shells are for the most part an afterthought. With the exception of a few shells such as coconut or pistachio, there really isn't much variability between the meringues.

As I said yesterday, we have a recipe that works well with our stove and seems to yield exactly enough batter to fill two half baking sheets (yields (30) 40mm macs total). In my opinion the oven really seems to be the fly in the ointment when people talk about failed macarons.

We figured we'd start out with a classic that seemed pretty straight forward - the Lemon Macaron. There aren't a bunch of crazy ingredients needed, and the technique was pretty simple. It's basically the coloring of the shells and making the lemon curd.

 The Lemon Macaron

One thing we find over and over again in Herme's recipes is the presence of some almond flour for the fruit fillings. The two of us weren't quite sure what it was going to taste like, but in the end it did a good job of suspending the curd so that it didn't squirt out the sides when you bit into the mac. It isn't much, but the curd seems to hydrate the flour enough to where it blends in with the lemony filling.

These had a creamier color to them, and aren't really that vibrant yellow you would expect from a lemon mac. I'm not sure how I feel about the pastel-y color of these. I kinda like it, but it also seems to imply something more along the lines of a lemon cream. In the future I think we're going to add a 0.5g more of the yellow coloring.

We were pretty impressed with how the whole thing came together. The shells came out very smooth and the filling wasn't too thin or thick. Aged for a couple of days, these things really take on the lemon flavor. I've attached a link to the recipe here.