Nov 23, 2013

A year round treat everyone will love, Chocolate Honey Almond Tart

I first made this quick and easy dessert over the summer when I was throwing an impromptu tea party.  Not much of a baker, I found inspiration through one of Giada De Laurentiis's recipes on line.  I modified it to my personal taste and style, and  figured this would be easy enough to execute, but would surely please any palate.  Since then I have had many requests for this delicious dessert, and genuinely enjoy making it for friends, family, and loved ones. I hope you enjoy it as much as I do!
1/2 stick (2 ounces) unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch pieces, at room temperature, plus extra for coating the pan 
1 packet McVitie's Ginger Nut Biscuits, 8 ounces-ounces total
2 tablespoons slivered almonds
3/4 cup heavy cream
1/4 cup orange blossom honey
340 grams of Lindt 70 % Dark Chocolate (melted slightly in a double boiler)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Butter the bottom and sides of a 9-inch springform pan.
Place the McVitie's Ginger Nut Biscuits and almonds in the bowl of a food processor. Process until the mixture forms fine crumbs, about 15 to 20 seconds. Add the butter and pulse until incorporated. Press the crumb mixture into the bottom of the prepared pan. Bake for 12 minutes. Cool to room temperature, about 20 minutes.

In a small saucepan, whisk the cream and honey together over low heat until the honey has dissolved. Increase the heat to medium and bring the mixture to just below a boil.  Pour the hot cream over the chocolate and stir until the mixture is smooth. Pour the chocolate filling over the prepared crust. Sprinkle the salted almond croquant (recipe below) around the edges.
Refrigerate for at least 5 hours or preferably overnight.

Loosen the tart from the sides of the pan by running a thin metal spatula around the edge. Unmold the tart and transfer to a serving plate. Cut into wedges and serve.

Salted Almond Croquant

1/2 cup whole blanched almonds, lightly toasted, and crushed slightly
1/4 cup of sugar  
1 tbsp water
Line a cookie sheet with a layer of parchment paper.
Pour the sugar and water into a saucepan and set over a medium heat. Swirl the pan from time to time until the sugar dissolves, but don’t be tempted to use a utensil to stir the liquid as this can cause it to crystallize.
Reduce the heat to very low and simmer gently until the liquid forms a pale golden caramel.
Tip in the toasted almonds and cook gently for 2-3 minutes until the caramel is a rich golden color (be careful not to let the caramel turn too dark because it will taste bitter) then immediately pour onto the parchment paper and sprinkle with a pinch or two of sea salt.  Set aside to cool.
When the almond croquant is cool and hard, place it into a plastic food bag and bash with a rolling pin until you get a rough brittle

"Peruvian Alta" cuisine presented at The Act Dubai

The Act Dubai is one of a kind venue featuring eclectic decor, an animated staff, and some of the most unusual performances I've ever seen.  I wasn't really sure about what to expect in terms of the quality of the cuisine at this supper club style concept, since the focus is usually more on the entertainment than the food.  The Act Dubai serves up a "Peruvian Alta" menu created by Chef Roberto Segura Gonzales.  He describes this as contemporary Peruvian.   Having a long standing flare for the culinary arts, Chef Roberto's passion "grew from his soul" at a young age and evolved throughout the years.  He now brings to Dubai a cuisine from his native country with a modern spin to captivate the diverse palates of the region.
On the menu one will find the items categorized from ceviche, tiradito, ensaladas (salads), enrollados (rolled items), de las calles a la mesa (street food), del fogon (from the fire/stove), and accompanamientos (sides).  The extensive variety made it difficult to decide, but nonetheless we narrowed down our choices based on some suggestions and flavor combinations that sounded the most appealing.  To begin with we enjoyed this Pulpo al Olivo, octopus with olive sauce, rocoto sauce, togarashi, herbs and olive oil.  Clearly inspired by the Japanese influence in Lima, this dish captured the best of both worlds.  The olive sauce with its sharp, salty, semi-bitter taste contrasted beautifully against the sweet octopus and spicy rocoto sauce. The presentation alone was a work of art, presented on the long black stone platter with edible petals, herbs, and a balance of gorgeous colors, this was one of my favorite dishes of the evening. 
Considered the national dish of Peru, ceviche was next on the menu.  This one in particular was made with salmon, coconut, Peruvian mango, and the famous aji limo chilli (a super hot chilli from Peru).  Plated in a gorgeous antique style vessel, the ceviche was fresh, clean, and sweet.  I enjoyed the quality of ingredients used here, but would really have liked a touch more coconut and chilli to enhance the ceviche eating experience.  The Leche de Tigre floating on the bottom of the plate was a sign that the ceviche had been marinating for just long enough.  This liquid contains the run off  of fish juices, lime, onion, chillies, salt, and pepper and is considered a hangover cure as well as an aphrodisiac in Peru.
Highly recommended by our waitress were the camarones con maracuya, a signature dish at The Act listed under the "Street Food" category.  Coated in red quinoa, deep fried and served with a passion fruit and rocoto reduction, no wonder this item was a favorite amongst guests and staff.  The crunch of the quinoa along with fresh avocado puree and a touch of the sweet and tangy sauce resulted as crowd pleasing dish. The sauce, although on the sweeter side for my liking could have used a bit more heat.  The flavor of the prawns was subtle, but the accompaniments and final execution brought everything together.  This dish was served as a main course, but it could've been enjoyed as a starter to whet the appetite and to prepare the palate for the authentic flavors of this Peruvian style feast.
Another main that came as a suggestion by the staff was the arroz con pato, a refined take on a classic dish.  The confit and roasted duck with coriander wet rice and a reduction of nectarine and orange played on a variety of flavors, texture, and colors.   The final dish pictured below was playful and appetizing,  although the duck was slightly overcooked and dry, this dish had the potential to be so much more.  I could imagine the beautifully roasted fatty duck breast, seasoned tendrils of rice and sweet citrus sauce all harmonizing  together in the perfect bite. 
For dessert we had just a few to choose, but the suspiro stood out as one of the more enticing options.  The caramel ice cream with coffee sponge and mixed berries is another interpretation of an old Peruvian sweet called the Suspiro de Limena translating to, "a Limean woman's sigh".  It couldn't have been more accurate, because upon first bite, this unassuming little scoop of ice cream took my breath away. The cool caramel against the warmth of the coffee sponge and the nutty cocoa powder all played into each other magically.  Simple in execution, it was the perfect way to end this meal against the back drop of the unusual performances at The Act.
Overall an evening spent at The Act will be filled with fun surprises every hour, whether it's the bouncing seven foot tall rabbit man creeping up behind or the gravity defying acrobats that swirl around the stage. Let's not forget the Peruvian treats prepared at the hands of Chef Roberto who has redefined South American cuisine for the Dubai market.  The quality of the food in this atmosphere is above standard and has changed my perception of dinner theater with a menu that is worth a try.

The Act is open every Sunday and Thursday from 9pm-3 am.  Make sure you call ahead for reservations to this unique dining and entertainment experience!

Nov 17, 2013

Wonders of the Tuscan Grill at Center Cut Steak House Ritz Carlton DIFC

Last week I had the unique opportunity to attend a gourmet masterclass and dinner with a couple of seasoned food industry professionals at the Center Cut Steak House in the Ritz Carlton DIFC during the 5th Italian Cuisine World Summit 2013.  Chef Cesare Casella and master butcher Simone Fracassi delighted us with their passion and knowledge of all things Italian plus an evening dedicated to the craft of selecting, preparing, and savoring the finest cuts of meat.  

Chef Cesare owner and executive chef of Salumeria Rosi restaurant in NYC, famous for his pocket full of Rosemary, created a special 5 course meal reflecting his authentic Italian style of cooking paired with the highly coveted and in-season Italian white truffles.  Master butcher Simone Fracassi educated the group of culinary enthusiasts with an introduction to the Italian art of butchery and his precise methods of grilling meats from his native Tuscany.
 The first menu item for the evening was the Scottiglia in Bianco con Tartufo, a marinated vegetable salad, slivers of tender cooked beef, and truffles.  The delicate tendrils of fennel, carrot, and mixed greens paired with the thinly sliced cuts of beef was refreshing to the palate.  With the excellent quality of olive oil coating  each ingredient along with a sprinkling of sea salt and shaved truffle, it's a dish which makes you appreciate the simple things in life.  With just a few key ingredients (and of course truffle), we were enjoying an uber elegant salad, the perfect way to begin a meal.
Since the menu was themed around top-grade meat and proteins, it made sense that the next course was a beautifully executed Battuta al Coltello con Procini e Tartufo, also known as Steak tartar.  The Beef was tenderized by hand using a rustic technique of being "beaten with a knife".  Served with shaved truffle, Parmesan Cheese, sea salt, and rocket, this dish allowed the meat the shine.  The silky smooth yet firm texture of this fresh red meat melted in my mouth in all the right ways.  Coated in the extra virgin olive oil and served along side the toasted Tuscan bread,a perfect bite allowed each ingredient to distinctly stand out against the next. 

The small little mound you see on the left hand corner of the photo was made on special request by the master butcher, Simone Fracassi.  He wanted people to fully understand the quality of meat being consumed, so to humor him Chef Cesare prepared a small taster portion of the meat with just a dash of sea salt and a touch of Extra Virgin Olive Oil.
Course number three as you can see captures a dish described as the ultimate comfort food not just in Italian culture, but all around the world, Lasagna!  This particular form takes it to the next level when prepared with a white sauce including mince meat and truffle.  Rich, hearty, and absolutely divine are the only ways to describe a well done lasagna.  Since I have not indulged in this quintessential Italian treat in so long, it makes me happy to think I waited for just the right one to come along, it was love at first bite! The savory warm flavors of the creamy sauce along with the freshly made pasta rounds and the incredibly well seasoned beef mince proved to be a winning combination. I only wish Chef Cesare could stay in Dubai longer for me to go back fro seconds of this one dish alone.  I guess next time I have a craving, I will be booking myself on a plane to visit the chef at one of his 2 restaurants in NYC, Salumeria Rosi (He also has one in Paris and in Parma)
The last of the main courses to arrive was one for the books, in Italian simply called Il Ricco e Il Povero (The Rich and The Poor).  On one side of the dish we have the meticulously cooked medium-rare Fiorentina style steak with sea salt and zolfini beans (considered one of the most precious Tuscan legumes) representing the "rich" alongside that was the braised Fiorentina-style beef with mashed potatoes representing the "poor".  Having tasted various forms and cuts of delicious meat on this particular evening, sometimes it just comes down to a nicely cooked piece of steak that take that experience one step closer to gastronomical bliss. The execution of this final plate was not only creative, but demonstrated the all around skills of this culinary master at work. A successful dish and evening with the finest examples of the Tuscan grill.
 No meal would be complete without a little Dolce.  Because the trademark of Chef Cesare is the rosemary I was expecting more of it throughout the meal, low and behold it came through in the final course, dessert. This was one of the most unusual flavor combinations I've ever tried, the Semirfreddo di Pinoli e Rosmarino, (caramelized pine nut and rosemary semifreddo, with honey glazed figs).  Although I was incredibly full at this point, I did make the effort to taste this unique sweet.  The crunch of the pine nuts encased in the creamy rosemary scented frozen custard along with the sweet wholesome figs were a treat for the heart and soul.  Tapping into my taste buds in the most unusual way, this was a dessert I won't soon forget. 
The entire evening from beginning to end was second to none.  The impeccable Ritz Carlton hospitality and the one of a kind experience by these Italian culinary masters left me wanting more and more. I am grateful to have been a part of it, and only hope these photos and post do this meal justice.  I look forward to returning to Center Cut Steak House for a taste of the regular menu as well, but these memories will last me a lifetime.