June 26, 2007

Sweet and Spicy

Lately, I am really interested in "different" dessert flavors, not necessarily just sweet. A hefty pinch of salt there, a bit of chile here, some fresh herbs (that aren't the ubiquitous mint) or spices there... I know this isn't that exciting or new to a lot of people, but I have just discovered it in my kitchen. I like this element of surprise and how it opens up a whole new flavor palette for sweets for me.

Mexican food is on my short list of preferred cuisines, if not my absolute favorite. While I enjoy lots of different kinds of foods, I long for tacos, salsas, beans and rice, etc. more than anything else. The staff at Los Arroyos, my favorite place to satisfy my cravings, now recognizes me, I go there so often. While I think that I make a pretty mean salsa, I don't know that much about Mexican desserts besides dulce de leche (which I now have a jar of from a different continent!) and paletas but I am more than willing to learn. Any help is greatly appreciated. The following is my twist on a Mexican inspired dessert.
Not really pretty, but definitely delicious

Mole Brownies

This was rattling around in my brain for a while and after making them, I'm glad that I finally did. Version 1.0 used dried cherries soaked in triple sec, pumpkin seeds and smoked paprika. Version 2.0 was raisins in tequila, pecans and the red gold again. I wanted to try it with powdered chipotle but I didn't plan ahead and didn't have any on hand. I tried to sneak in some cumin too but was thwarted by the partner. Both versions are equally fabulous. The recipe is a riff off of David's brownies with cherries and hazelnuts from his book Ripe for Dessert. The salt is important here, it really makes the flavors pop. If you only have conventional salt use 1/2 tsp instead.

1/2 cup dried cherries or raisins
1/4 cup triple sec or tequila
6 TB butter
8 oz bittersweet chocolate, chopped
1/4 cup sugar
1 tsp vanilla
2 eggs
1/4 cup flour
1 tsp sea salt
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp-1 tsp smoked paprika or ground chipotle
1/2 cup pumpkin seeds or pecans

At least 1 hour, or the night before, ahead, soak the dried fruit in the alcohol of your choosing.

Preheat the oven to 350F. Butter a 9-inch square pan (the right size is important) and line with parchment paper or foil. Leave an overhang on the sides, so it is easy to lift the brownies out of the pan.

Melt the butter over low heat in a saucepan. Add the chocolate and stir until melted and smooth. Remove from heat and stir in suger and vanilla. Add eggs, one at a time.

Add flour, salt, cinnamon and dried chile and stir quickly until batter is smooth again and glossy, about 1 minute.

If necessary, drain the fruit and stir into the batter with the nuts. Pour into the prepared pan and bake about 25 minutes. This makes a really fudgy brownie, if you prefer yours more well done, bake for an additional 5 minutes.

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June 13, 2007

On Writing (or not)

I have been indulging quite a bit in my other hobby lately: I am an unapologetic bookworm. Besides re-reading all of the Harry Potter books before the final (*sniff*) one is released, I have also been doing a lot of food reading. Some of it is inspiring, some is frustrating and some is educational.

Ruhlman (now blogified) is my new favorite food writer. His first book, Making of a Chef, follows him as he gets sucked into the C(ulinary) I(nstitute of) A(merica) doing research for an article and he ends up stating for an entire year. (I did a lot of compare and contrasting with the CIA and my school, and I wish I had the forty grand to go to Hyde Park, but it wasn't ever really an option. There are a good deal of chefs out there who think culinary school is a waste of time and that one can only really learn while working. I think that both sides have interesting arguments. Moving on...) The second book of the trilogy, Soul of a Chef, makes me want to be a better chef. More exact, precise, dedicated. Thomas Keller is an inspiration. I don't think that I will ever reach his level, and I'm not sure that I want to, but I would like try to emulate him. The chapter about terrines and the classic cuisine exam are written so well that I was kept on the edge of my seat gasping aloud. But that could also be related to the fact that I am an utter food geek.

I adore Ruth Reichl, all of her memoirs are brilliant and I was hoping for the same caliber from Gael Greene, being NY magazine's version of Reichl. However, I was greatly disappointed. Insatiable is more than you want to know about Greene's eating and coupling habits. Her food writing is something like this, "And then I ate another whole truffle with some champagne most mere mortals will never taste. Later that evening the chef and I had hot passionate sex. More truffles, more champagne, more sex." How special can truffles be if you're eating them all the time? Wouldn't they lose part of their appeal? This ran like an seemingly endless loop. Not that interesting, at least to me. But gosh darned it, I finished it anyway because once I pick up a book, I have to finish it unless it is truly horrible. Greene has a lot more in her oeuvre, but I'm not planning on reading them.

I finally jumped on the bandwagon and read Pollan's Omnivore's Dilemma. I am sorry that it took me so long. This book is totally and completely brilliant, every American who eats needs to read it. It helped me to re-evaluate what I eat based on how it comes to me, where it came from and in what form. I was expecting to be grossed out by his description of hunting but instead I found it riveting and couldn't put it down until I completed that particular passage. Please go out and pick this up, if you haven't all ready. His other book Botany of Desire is quite good too.

All of this reading has reminded me that my writing is not at the level I want it to be. I am suffering through a bit of writers' block here. I want to write but I can't figure out how to do so in a way that I would be proud of. There are an awful lot of blogs out there and I don't want this one to fall through the cracks because I'm not giving it enough effort. Eggs and marshmallows are still forthcoming, but it may take a bit.


June 05, 2007

Risi e Bisi, Risi e Bisi, Risi e Bisi

How much fun is it to say risi e bisi? Go on, say it ten times fast, this can wait.

For those not in the know, it's a traditional Venetian dish of soupy rice with peas. My understanding is that its seen as child-like comfort food, soft, easy to digest, easy to like. However, because it is so simple, all the ingredients must be top-notch.

Having the horrible problem of not being able to follow a recipe, even a traditional one, I tweaked it. Instead of peas, we used fava beans. While in season, we must eat them at least once a week. They're a pain to prep but if you and a partner tag team, its less time consuming. And you can say risi e bisi aloud while you're doing it.

Risi e Bisi (sort of), adapted from the Food of Italy by Claudia Roden

I hesitated posting this because the beans at the market were starting to get too big and starchy, but some new vendors came with young tiny ones. If you can find the small ones, use favas. If not, you can always use peas, fresh or frozen.

2 slices pancetta or bacon , chopped
1 onion, chopped
2 TB olive oil
6 cups stock, if you use fresh peas you can make pea stock
1 cup Arborio rice
chopped parsley
pecorino, if using favas or else use parmesan

Saute pork with onion and olive oil until onion is translucent and soft. Add the stock and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to a simmer and add the rice. Season with a good amount of salt and pepper. When rice is almost done about 15-20 minutes, add the favas or peas. Once everything is cooked, stir in the parsley and cheese. Serve.

This is supposed to be a first course, but it could be dinner with a salad or used as a side. Venetian grandmas must be tut-tutting me.

P.S. Anyone out there who can give me some photo hints? When I try to post a vertical photo here, it gets flipped around. I use Picassa for photo editing and I tried using the Blog This function, but it happened anyway. Help, please!

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