Semifreddo

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Semi freddo means half frozen in Italian. It’s a pretty good description of this dessert, which lives in the freezer, but gets soft within a few minutes at room temperature. It’s not ice cream. It’s a sabayon folded into whipped cream, then frozen.

I’ve actually made this dessert three times before. Horrors. I know. I usually make something new when I have an excuse to make a dessert for company. But this semifreddo is so good that sometimes I need to make it because I know how delicious it is.

This version uses dried cranberries and crystallized ginger, and is served with a berry sauce. But I’ve also made a pumpkin version that was incredible. In fact, I could probably make one a month, using whatever is in season – think strawberry, cherry, cranberry, citrus, etc… Semifreddo of the month club!

This dessert is very easy although it does take time. Fortunately, it should be made the day before, and taken out of the freezer before slicing and serving.

If you’ve never made a semifreddo, it’s time you did!!! It’s delicious and elegant.

Semifreddo with Dried Cranberries and Crystallized Ginger

2 3/4 cups heavy cream
8 egg yolks
1/2 cup white wine, I used a Riesling
2/3 cups white sugar
Zest of one large orange
1 cup dried cranberries
1/3 cup crystallized ginger

Whip the cream until firm peaks form. Refrigerate until needed.

Place plastic wrap going both directions in a large loaf pan, with plenty hanging over. My pan is 9″ long, and 6″ deep.

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Have the orange zest handy, as well as the dried cranberries and ginger.

Place a large pot of water on the stove on simmer. Then place the egg yolks, wine, and sugar in your mixing bowl.

Beat the three ingredients until nice and smooth, then place the bowl over the simmering water, just as if you were tempering chocolate.

Continue beating.

And beating.

You will notice the mixture increase in volume, and also become lighter in color. After about ten minutes of beating or so, it will thicken.

Test the mixture with a thermometer – it should reach 160 degrees Farenheit.

When this happens, remove the bowl from the hot water, but continue beating until it cools, which should taker 7 or 8 minutes. If you want, have a pan of icy water on hand to put the bowl in, like I did, to expedite the cooling of the sabayon.

When you are sure that the mixture isn’t warm anymore, begin folding the whipped cream into the sabayon. You don’t want any streaks.

Then fold in the orange zest, dried cranberries and ginger.

Pour the semifreddo mixture gently in the prepared loaf pan and smooth the top.

Immediately place in the freezer. After about one hour, cover the loaf pan with the overhanging plastic wrap. I also add another layer of plastic wrap to insure that the semifreddo doesn’t absorb any off flavors from the freezer.

To serve, unwrap the semifreddo and turn it out onto a flat serving platter. Let it warm up for a few minutes, then slice it into 1/2″ slices. You can always use a knife that is held under running hot water to make the slices, then wipe the knife after each slice and repeat.

Top with a spoonful of berry sauce, if desired, and serve.

All kinds of different additions can be used in a semifreddo, but I stick with smaller pieces of dried fruits. Larger, dried cherries might interfere with the slicing process. Also, nuts like pistachios and macadamias would be fabulous as well, finely chopped.

It’s a very forgiving dessert!

Roasted Fruit Packages

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The sub header of my creatively named blog, the Chef Mimi blog, is “so much food, so little time”. I could have easily made it, “so many restaurants, so little time.”

Dining out may be my favorite thing to do. Like it’s my serious hobby. Whenever we have a travel destination, I’m researching top ten restaurants, new restaurant openings, best new chefs, and working online at open table.com for reservations.

Of course this is more challenging in major cities like New York. I’ve tried to get us in to ABC kitchen 5 times with no luck. And I start early.

One restaurant that has always been on my NYC list is Buvette – so much so that I bought the cookbook “Buvette – The Pleasure of Good Food” by Jody Williams, who is the chef and owner.

The restaurant, considered a gastrothèque, opened in 2010 and has received many accolades. Before opening Buvette, Jody Williams worked with such culinary notables as Thomas Keller and Lidia Bastianich.

When I first received the cookbook from Amazon, I bookmarked quite a few intriguing recipes, but one really called to me – Fruit in Parchment Paper.

For the recipe, Ms. Williams oven-roasts fresh and dried fruits in squares of parchment paper, much as how one would prepare fish. She serves the packages of fruit with cheese as an “unexpected alternative to the ubiquitous cluster of grapes that seem to accompany every cheese platter in the world!”

Except for serving a compote, a chutney, or aigre doux of fruit, I have never served roasted fruit as a cheese platter accompaniment. So needless to say I was excited. And being that it’s early summer, I have access to a good variety of fresh fruit.

Ms. Williams suggests mixing up the fruit to suit your taste. She suggests the combination of pumpkin, apples and dates. I’m saving that for next fall.

Fruit in Parchment Paper

2 tables of dried currants (I used dried sour cherries)
1/2 cup vin santo* (I used Sauternes)
1 apple peeled cored and thinly sliced
1 quince peeled cored and thinly sliced (I used plums)
2 tablespoons honey
A pinch of coarse salt
1/4 cup walnuts

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F. In a large bowl soak the currants in the vin santo for at least 10 minutes. Once they’re a bit softened, add the remaining ingredients and stir to combine.

Meanwhile cut out four 8″ squares of parchment paper. Evenly divide the mixture among the squares. Bring the edges of each square together and fold them over each other creating a continuous seal. ( I had parchment bags that I used.)

Place the four packages on a baking sheet and roast in the oven until the fruit smells fragrant and the paper is browned, about 15 minutes.

I almost made my smoke alarm go off roasting the fruits; so much of the syrup leaked through the bags and began smoking.

I paired the fruit with Mimolette, a smoked Raclette, and Saint-Félicien, along with some bread.

If you’ve never had Saint-Félicien, you need to get some. It’s mild, a little salty, and oh so creamy. It paired especially well with the fruit.

The fruit was also perfect for a torchon of foie gras I served that evening when friends came over (not pictured).

I understand that the parchment packages help steam-cook the fruits, but honestly they ended up being terribly messy.

In the future, I will place the fruit mixture in a large gratin pan, and roast at 375 degrees, maybe stirring once. That way, you don’t lose the syrup, and the fruit will still be cooked but also a bit more caramelized.

* Ms. Williams states that Banyuls, Port, or Sauternes can be substituted for the wine.

I’m already thinking of new fruit combinations…
Cherries apples dried apricots
Pears grapes dates
Peaches apples figs
And so forth

note: When I make this again, I will also chop the fruit. I think the smaller pieces will be easier to place on breads and crackers.

Fruited Duck Breasts

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With Spring finally here, I wanted to make something inspired by what my mother made once for Easter, which was a leg of lamb with a dried fruit stuffing. The lamb was rolled around the bready stuffing and served sliced like pinwheels, showing off the lovely bits of dried fruit.

Being that my husband won’t eat lamb, I thought I could make something similar using duck, since I’d just received four duck breasts from D’Artagnan. That way, I’d only have to eat four duck breasts instead of a whole leg of lamb, because he won’t eat duck either. Another sacrifice for my blog.

People tend to be a little fearful of working with duck, but it’s really no different than a working with a steak. Primarily, the rule is to cook the duck medium-rare, which also applies to steak. The cooking process is the same: some searing on the outside in a hot skillet, and then a few minutes at a lower temperature to get the inside cooked to the proper temperature. Medium rare temperature for steak, lamb, and duck is 125 degrees. I also set my steaks out for at least an hour at room temperature before I cook them.

One difference with duck is the skin. It’s really thick, which is why ducks can hang out in freezing cold water, I imagine.

For the sake of simplicity, I’m leaving the skin attached to the duck breasts. I like the presentation. But duck skin can be removed, diced, and cooked just like you would bacon, for resulting cracklings. These can be added to a sauce, or even sprinkled over the duck breasts or your side dish, like sautéed spinach, for added flavor and texture. The skins can also be rendered for the sake of duck fat, if that is desired.

Duck has a significant flavor, which is a plus because it can stand up to some serious seasoning. Some think the flavor is gamey, but I disagree with that. Of course, maybe I like gamey. Plus, it might depend on the source of your duck.

Duck is often served with berries or cherries in a sauce, because the fruitiness and sweetness pairs well with the deeper duck flavor. So today I’m making a sauce for the duck, using dried fruits.

To season the duck breasts, I’m using ancho chile paste, that I made with anchos, guajillos and chipotles. It has quite a kick to it, and will really shine with the fruit sauce accompaniment.

Duck can be served with just about any green vegetable, like asparagus or green beans, and for side dishes, a rice pilaf or roasted potatoes would be lovely. Since I have a lot of duck to eat in the next few days, I’m keeping it simple, serving my duck breasts with steamed asparagus.

In today’s recipe, I’m including a sous vide step, which means the final step for me is to brown the duck breasts only; the cooking is already done. The most important thing is to make sure that when you’re pan-frying the duck breasts that you don’t overcook them.

So here’s the recipe I created for the duck breasts. You’ll see how easy it is to cook duck after this recipe!

Fruited Duck Breasts

4 duck breasts, with the skin attached
Salt
Pepper
Juice from 1 orange, strained
Ancho chile paste*, about 4 heaping teaspoons
1 teaspoon ground cumin

Pat the duck breasts dry, and place them on your cutting board skin side up.

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Season them with salt and pepper generously. Using a sharp knife, slice diagonally into the skin only, making about 5 diagonal lines, then making 5 more diagonal lines, forming diamond shapes. Try not to cut into the actual meat.

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Place the breasts skin side up on a platter. Then pour the strained orange juice over the tops.

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Using a spoon, place a heaping teaspoon of ancho chile paste on each duck breasts and spread it over the whole breast.

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Then divide the teaspoon of ground cumin between them.

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Let the breasts marinate for 30 minutes up to an hour.

Prepare the sous vide set at 131 degrees F.

When the sous vide is ready, place two breasts each in two vacuum sealable bags and seal.

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Add them to the water and mark 3 hours on your clock.

At the 3 hour mark, remove the duck breasts from the sous vide.

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Remove the breasts from the bags and place on paper towels to drain.

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Since sous vide meat can’t sit around at room temperature, you need to work quickly. If you’re not making the duck breasts to serve within the next hour, refrigerate them first.

Add a teaspoon of oil in a skillet. I’m using my cast-iron skillet. Heat it up over high heat and turn on the ventilation system, because the fat will smoke.

When the oil is just smoking, add one or two duck breasts at a time, depending how big your skillet is. I start them skin-side down.

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After a good minute, turn it or them over, and cook for the same amount of time on the other side. Remember, I’m only browning the breasts, not cooking them through.

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After you’ve browned all four duck breasts, slice them crosswise for serving.

Pour a little of the fruit sauce over the top, and pass the rest around at the table.

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Because of the length of this post, my sauce recipe will be posted tomorrow!

* If you don’t own any ancho chile paste, and don’t want to make it, my recipe here, you have a couple of options. One is to use ground ancho chile pepper. You could also include a little ground chipotle pepper for a little more flavor. Or, buy a little can of chipotle peppers that come in adobo sauce, and use the sauce. Stay away from the actual chipotle peppers for this purpose, but if you love them, you could always chop one up finely and add it to the resulting sauce.

note: If you’re not doing the sous vide step, cook the duck breasts as you would a steak, searing both sides, then letting the center reach 125 degrees. At that point remove them from the skillet and place them on a plate. Cover them loosely with foil and let them rest for 15 minutes. Then slice and serve.

Fruit and Nut Crackers

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A while back I purchased these beautiful crackers from Whole Foods. I was visiting my daughter at the time and we paired them with cheese that night for a pre-dinner treat. The brand is Raincoast, and the crackers are $9.99 for 6 ounces – yes, a bit pricey. They have a few different varieties, but I don’t know how many exactly.

Once home, I paired the leftover crackers with my faux Boursin this past July. The combination of the fruitiness with the goat cheese was just perfect. Really, these crackers aren’t extremely sweet, even with the dried fruits. But there is just enough sweetness that they really add something to a cheese pairing of any kind.

Because Whole Foods is a four-hour round trip for me, I decided to make these little guys myself. How hard could it be?!! This was a first for me – I typically make yeasted breads myself to pair with cheeses, like my bread for cheese.

But these are simply dense little quick breads, that were then sliced, and toasted. I couldn’t wait! Most of the fun was picking out the fruit and nut combination. I decided on sunflower seeds, hazelnuts, flax seeds, dried plums, dried cranberries, and cocoa nibs.

They turned out fabulously. I had to freeze them so I wouldn’t keep eating them! But you know I’ll be pulling them out of the freezer come the holidays…

Fruit and Nut Crackers

1 cup dried fruits – I used half cranberries and half diced plums
1/2 cup chopped hazelnuts
1/2 cup raw sunflower seeds
1/3 cup flax seeds
1/3 cup cocoa nibs
2 eggs
1 1/2 cups rice milk or dairy milk
1 tablespoon brown sugar
1 tablespoon molasses
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup rye flour
1 1/2 cups white flour

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease 3 little pans – mine were approximately 3 1/2″ by 7 1/2″ by 2 1/2″ inside diameter. Combine the first 5 ingredients in a bowl and set aside.

In a larger bowl, whisk the eggs. Add the rice milk or your choice of milk. Then add the brown sugar and molasses and whisk well.

Add the rye flour and whisk to combine. Then change to a wooden spoon and add the 1 1/2 cups of white flour. Stir just until combined. Add the bowl of fruits, seeds, and nuts, and stir just until even distributed.

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Divide the batter in between the three pans. Bake for approximately 25 minutes.

Let the breads cool completely. Reduce the oven to 300 degrees. Slice the breads as thinly as possible.

Then place them on a cookie sheet and toast them in the oven for about 30 minutes.

Toast the remaining slices, if you can’t do them all at once in the oven. You should end up with approximately 68 crackers.

Today I served the crackers alongside Cowgirl Creamery’s Red Hawk. It’s a washed rind cows’ milk cheese that’s really soft. It’s not as “pourable” as a French Époisses, but it’s still fabulously soft.

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