Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Gung Hay Fat Choy!

Saturday night my dear friend Vanessa hosted another excellent lunar new year eve celebration with her (local, chosen) family. I was delighted to chow down at that table, especially for Year of the Pig! Once again I hustled to Chinatown in the morning to fight with sharp-elbowed Chinese grannies for the juciest Peking duck, hearty BBQ pork, delicate soy sauce chicken (head and feet intact of course) and lean roasted pork with such crackling skin it put chicharrónes to shame.

Really, that crispy skin is what potato chips wish they were.

These lovely veggies make an appearance each year. They're shaped like a big bulb of garlic, and the texture is a cross between a parsnip and slightly undercooked potato. The little suckers are boiled until fork-tender and taste like a more green, vegetal potato with a teeny hint of sweetness. I like that no one knows what they're called, not even Vanessa.

The meal ends with delicate almond cookies, which our hostess made from scratch this year. She says this is the traditional way to serve them... but I don't know.
Gung Hay Fat Choy is "Happy New Year!" in Cantonese (I think). Best wishes to you in this Year of the Pig; I plan to celebrate by eating as much bacon, ham, and pork stew as I can!

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

No Love, But Soup

"Of soup and love, the first is best." -Spanish proverb

So it is Valentine's Day, and I have no Valentine. sigh However, I did have some excellent soup, so perhaps there's still hope. This weekend my Cooking Club met for grand French cuisine; I let go of my hostility towards the Frog who stood me up last fall and made a rustic soup I'd never eaten before, Aïgo Bouïdo. It's a roasted garlic soup thickened with toasted breadcrumbs and almonds that I ground into a paste before whisking into the chicken broth and white wine. Then I whisked in the pureed garlic and caramelized onion-shallot mixture. Yuuuum.
At first it seemed thin and I had a total meltdown (I try to bring my A-game to Cooking Club and also have impossible high standards for myself). At Susan and Wylie's place I reduced it a bit and also calmed down. In the end the flavor was great, though in retrospect I wish I'd done a better job of pureeing the toasted breadcrumbs/almond thickener. The soup was a little gritty, but otherwise tasty. I'd make it again.
I had it for lunch today, a beautiful bowl of soup.

Oh l'amour.

Monday, February 05, 2007

Ingredients for Dinner

Ask anyone who lives by herself, it's hard to motivate to cook on a weeknight. Heck, it was a challenge when I lived with a partner, but now? Forgeddaboudit. Many nights my dinner ends up being a series of ingredients because I can't quite turn on the stove. Half a red pepper, a slice of olive bread, some turkey pastrami, swiss cheese and grapefruit juice could've been an interesting grilled panini (with a glass of juice). But as I wander around, talk on the phone, pay bills and read, the magical synthesis of ingredients and technique gets lost when the separate parts zip down the hatch.

And dear reader, given that we are only as sick as our secrets, I thought I'd share my trashiest 'Ingredients for Dinner' ever. This evening a series of depressing events conspired to make me completely unable to cook. This is what I dared to call dinner. Look: It was a tragic combination of leftover Super Bowl junk food and a roasted chicken from CostCo.

Well, I feel better getting that out in the open. Now you know my terrible secret... I hope you'll still talk to me in the morning.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

The Best Soufflés Ever

Yeah, I said it. And if you try these soufflés, you will fully agree. This recipe was originally developed by Sarah Tenaglia, one of the geniuses in the Test Kitchen at Bon Appétit I had the great good fortune to work with and learn from. I've lightly modified this recipe for my own purposes, but if it works for you it's all because of Sarah's great wit and skill. I served these as the sexy finale for a very fancy dinner party I catered and everybody went berzerk. They thought I was a goddess.

And let me add, I'm not much of a baker. I'd only made soufflés once before with brownie-like results. This recipe is so foolproof even I was wildly successful; I like these better than most restaurant versions. If you were afraid to give soufflés a whirl, today is your day. And do it now, while you can still get your hands on blood oranges.

Remember: if you're worried they won't puff, use slightly smaller ramekins. The batter's got to go somewhere, and in a smaller dish there's only up!

Blood Orange and Dark Chocolate Soufflés
serves 6

1/2 cup sugar
2 tablespoons grated blood orange peel
10 ounces bittersweet (not unsweetened) chocolate, chopped
5 large eggs, separated, room temperature
1/8 teaspoon salt (measure it out, this is baking)
1/2 cup semisweet chocolate chips

1 cup chilled whipping cream
1 1/2 tablespoons blood orange juice (from the one you zested earlier)

Preheat oven to 400˚F. Place six 3/4-cup soufflé dishes on baking sheet. Mash sugar and blood orange peel in small bowl. Stir chopped chocolate in medium bowl set over saucepan of simmering water until melted. Remove from over water; whisk in egg yolks, 3 tablespoons blood orange sugar and salt (mixture will become thick). Beat egg whites in large bowl to soft peaks; add 3 tablespoons blood orange sugar and beat until stiff but not dry. Whisk 1/3 of whites into chocolate mixture to lighten; fold in remaining whites in 2 additions. Don't over-fold (something I tend to do). Fold in chocolate chips. Spoon mixture equally into dishes. Bake until softly set and puffed, about 14 minutes.
Meanwhile, whip cream, 4 tablespoons blood orange sugar and juice to firm peaks in medium bowl.
Top warm soufflés with cream, then sprinkle with blood orange sugar. Serve to lusty applause.

The textures are amazing: the supple, warm near-cakiness of the soufflés with the softness of the (barely pink) whipped cream and roughness of the damp blood-orange sugar-- it's some of the best foodsex around.
I need to get out more.