Saturday, April 24, 2010

Cookbook #17: Flavours

Adapted from Cookbook # 17:  Flavours (2000)

Recipe:  Malted Chocolate Puddings

This cookbook was one of the first presents I ever bought the husband.  Uninitiated in the world of All Things Donna Hay, I liked the cover and the photography within.  Everything looked pretty simple, and I was sort of delighted by the layout (whole chapters on vanilla! ginger! salt & pepper!).  I thought the book was clever and appealing.  It seemed like a fine, if somewhat generic, gift.  Since that day, however, this book has become splattered, creased, splotched and dog-earred.

Back in those Pre-Donna-Hay-Knowledge-Days, the husband was living in a grungy little apartment in Salt Lake City with quite possibly the most horrific furniture I had ever seen (there may have been lassos incorporated into the patterned "velvet" on the sofa).   These were the last halcyon days of his undergraduate career, and his apartment (shared with one roommate and two cats) overlooked trash dumpsters and a parking lot.  However, one sweet night, we transformed the tiny kitchen into a 5-star restaurant: we grilled steak and let blue cheese melt over the top, whipped yukon gold potatoes with butter and cream, and we ended with Donna Hay's Saffron and Vanilla Poached Pears.  For no discernible reason, we have not made the pears since (it was possibly ten years ago).  But we still speak of them.  Fondly.  Thank you Donna Hay.

How we now love Donna Hay.  We have since become one of the converts.  And we love the simple styling of the photographs (the ones in Flavours are taken by Petrina Tinslay).  This is committed food pornography: the perfectly arranged setting, clear focus on one element of the food, soft focus on the receding rest of the food, only white plates with white backgrounds.  Every recipe has a picture, so you can get inspired by any recipe in the book because the pictures are as beautiful as the taste.  And her magazines are just as stunning.

Seriously, the Australians can pull together this cooking thing.  Down the street from where we live is Bake Sale Betty--the most amazing Australian-owned bakery.  A former line cook at Chez Panisse (no wonder we love her!), Betty (or actually Alison) wears her hair blue--but not in the cranky-old-lady tradition, rather in the electric-funky tradition. The whole bakery carries that theme:  the storefront has no sign, yet on weekends, the line snakes around the corner; daily specials are handwritten in black sharpie on white paper and pasted to the windows; the tables on the sidewalk are unfolded metal ironing boards surrounded by little stools.   But all of that cult-initiated cleverness aside, it's hard to know what is best--the pear and ginger scones, the ginger cookies, the blueberry pies, or the chicken sandwich (don't look too closely at the calorie count).  But the final verdict, no matter what, is that these two Australians make a mean dessert.

Thus, it seemed most appropriate that page 210 (or actually 120 because this is a thin cookbook) fall in the chocolate section. I had to choose between the two recipes on the page: Malted Chocolate Pudding and the Chocolate Panna Cotta to accompany the "April Birthdays Dinner."  Every year, we cook dinner for the bevy of the husband's parents (seriously, it took a village to raise that child), three of whom have April birthdays. We always look forward to this dinner--there's nothing quite like surrounding yourself with people you love and who love you back.  To round out the menu, I went with the Malted Chocolate Puddings, even though our version had no malt in them.  Who knew malted milk would be so hard to find?  After going to two stores this morning,  I gave up and just got powdered milk.  And I don't think it mattered.  With a dallop of whipped cream, these little Milk Chocolate Pudding Cakes were pretty darned divine.  With good wine, bisteeya, and a goat cheese and beet salad to start, dinner was a rousing success, and these little pudding cakes were sweet, spongy, and light.  Definitely make them in the tea cups: so much cuter.  Thank you, thank you, Donna Hay.

6 servings

6 ounces dark chocolate, chopped
6 ounces butter
1/2 cup malted milk powder
4 eggs separated
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup almond meal (ground almonds)
1/2 cup plain (all-purpose) flour
5 tablespoons sugar

1. Preheat oven to 315 degrees.

2.  Place the chocolate, butter and malted milk powder in a saucepan over very low heat and stir until melted and smooth.  Remove from hear and set aside.

3.  Place the egg whites in a bowl and beat until soft peaks form.  While beating, gradually add the extra sugar until the mixture is glossy.  Fold this egg white mixture through the chocolate mixture.

4. Pour the mixture into six greased 1-cup (8 fl ounce) capacity teacups or dariole molds.  Place on a baking tray and pour enough hot water into the tray to come halfway up the sides of the cups.

5.  Page for 25 minutes or until the edges are cooked but the centers are a little soft.

6.  Serve in tea cups or unmold.  Serve with thick cream.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Cookbook #16: Tapas

Adapted from Cookbook #16:  Tapas:  Little Dishes of Spain (1985; there is a new updated version now in hardcover)

Recipe:  Olive Paste and Blue Cheese Canape/ Creamed Blue Cheese with Brandy

(Or as the Spanish say:  Canape de Pasta de Aceituna Negra y Queso Cabrales/ Crema de Cabrales al Conac)

Quite simply, I want to go to Spain.

I almost went once, many years ago.  I had elaborate plans for New Years Eve in Barcelona after Christmas in Chamonix where I was supposed to be after a week in Paris.  But then the train unions in France went on strike, and I couldn't imagine shuttling around France and eventually over to Spain any other way (I lacked imagination at 21).  I called the whole trip off, instead spending another week in London, where I made a fool of myself over some boy named Warwick (like you do at 21).  But I had plans, such wonderful, elaborate plans for Spain with its little dishes of salty foods. Instead, I have to recreate these fantasy dishes at home or find them in Berkeley and Oakland.  It's not Spain, but it will have to do for now.

Around these here parts, we have two favorite tapas restaurants:  Fonda and Barlata.  Fonda has been the home of many a birthday celebration or out-of-town-guest excursion.  I love the brunch on the weekends and the open brick wall (not often seen in the Bay Area--seeing as we have earthquakes and all).   However, it is Barlata that has recently made the husband and me two exceptionally happy people.  For two reasons:  the restaurant is within walking distance and they have happy hour.  The family-style seating, the optical-illusion sink in the women's bathroom, the fantastic art (photographs?  paintings?  paintings of photographs? prints?  prints of paintings of photographs? hard to tell), the guest-chef nights, the oxtails on mashed potatoes, the salty peanut bark--all help with our devotion to this new Temescal restaurant.  But like I said:  happy hour, walking distance.

When our wallets cannot afford the trip to Barlata, we have to make our own tapas.  I recently acquired this cookbook written by Penelope Casas, who is a fantastic and inspiring lover of all Spanish foods.  We went to Moe's Books in Berkeley where we wanted to pick up Casas' now-out-of-print Delicioso!, which a family member of ours taunts us with because he owns it and cooks amazing food from it.  However, the bookstore didn't have that cookbook, but they did have this one, so I snapped it up.  I almost felt guilty paying only 12 dollars for it.  Almost.  The cookbook includes a list of potential tapas menus and a now (probably) outdated list of recommended tapas bars in the US and Spain.  Of course, the list was well before the late 1990s tapas craze.  And to boot, page 120 (page 210 is firmly planted in the index) has not one, but two blue cheese tapas recipes!

Tapas are not meant to be eaten "on the run"--indeed, while tapas are quickly consumed (since they are, by definition, small portions on small plates), they are meant to be part of a long conversation between bar patrons:  A little food.  A little conversation.  A little more food.  Even more conversation.  Thus, it seemed fitting that I serve some tapas for my first book club meeting Wednesday night, where I served the Blue Cheese with Brandy (with a whole host of other munchy things, but people kept reaching for this one).   The company and conversation were fantastic, and let's just say the food was far better than the book--The Adventures of Augie March, a book that was desperate for a good editor.   While there was no evident connection between Saul Bellow and Spanish cuisine, it helped to have something edible since the storyline was not.  (Although due to the well-versed arguments of four other very smart and thoughtful readers in the book group, I have reconsidered some of my impassioned views on this book. )

Then I saved the Olive and Blue Cheese Canape for tonight, when the husband and I spread out a full-on tapas repast (which we shared with the Delicioso! owner and watched Treme--seriously, have you seen it?).  This sort of banquet of little plates is not in the Spanish tradition, where tapas is meant to tide you over until dinner; however, Americans have full well adopted the tapas as a meal. You know that a food has become American mainstream when it is included in The Joy of Cooking, where Irma Rombauer explains that the word tapas comes from the verb tapar, to cover in Spanish.  She goes on to note that tapas originated in the 19th century in Andalusia:  "Andalusia is sherry country, and the story is that drinkers in local taverns took to placing slices of bread atop their glasses between sips to keep the flies out... Some enterprising bartender then put a slice of ham or sausage on the bread.  Soon tiny plates were being used as covers and a variety of foods were spooned onto them."  This may or may not be true, as other places make other equally interesting claims (disease cure! labor extender!).  But I like this idea nonetheless. While we did not use our plates to cover our sherry, we certainly enjoyed the asparagus wrapped in ham, the marinated mushrooms, the salted cod with potatoes, and the olive spread.  Sweet sigh of Spain, even if our version of Andalusia overlooks the backyard.

Olive Paste and Blue Cheese Canape
4-6 servings (2-3 pieces each)

1/4 pound pitted cured black olives
1 large clove garlic, smashed
2 tablespoons pine nuts
3 tablespoons olive oil
1/4 inch slices sourdough bread
1/4-1/2 pound blue cheese (I used Mountain Gorgonzola)
Black olives or parsley for garnish

1.    Place the olives, garlic, pine nuts and olive oil in the bowl of a processor and chop as finely as possible (may be made ahead).
2.   Toast bread on a cookie sheet in a 350 degree oven until lightly browned and crisp, about 5 minutes.  Cool.
3.  Spread olive paste thinly on bread slices.  Cover with blue cheese.
4.  Garnish with additional black olives or parsley (optional).
Creamed Blue Cheese with Brandy
4-6 servings  (3-4 slices each)

1/4 inch slices sourdough bread
1/2 pound blue cheese (I used French Roquefort) at room temperature
1 teaspoon brandy or cognac
Minced parsley for garnish

1.    Toast bread on a cookie sheet in a 350 degree oven until lightly browned and crisp, about 5 minutes.  Cool.
2.  In a bowl, mash the cheese well with a fork.  Mix in the brandy.  You may serve this right away, but it gains in flavor sitting overnight at room temperature.
3.  Spread the cheese on the bread and garnish with parsley, or serve the bread and cheese separately and let people do the work themselves.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Cookbook 15: Noodles Every Day

Adapted from Cookbook #15:  Noodles Every Day (2009)

Recipe: Rice Noodle Soup with Beef and Herbs (Pho)

Sometimes things just get a little overwhelming.  And when they do, there's pho.

When the husband gets sick, this is exactly what he demands (I call for canned Chicken Noodle-o's.  I know it's disgusting; he clearly has a more refined palate).  While neither of us is currently feeling under the weather, pho is a wonderful comfort food that soothes what ails you.

We picked this cookbook up at Green Apple Books, the best darned used bookstore in San Francisco.  As we're both fans of the noodle, this cookbook is a delight.   As was the hour and a half spent in Green Apple Books looking at cookbooks.

So last night, I started the stock, which is the most essential part of the recipe.  Do not, I repeat, do not think you can make pho with any old beef stock.  Star anise and daikon are the super secret ingredients that make this a comfort food and not a bowl of oxtail soup.  Apparently, many recipes call for the charred onion, typical of French cooking and less typical of other Asian soups.  But this one doesn't, and it's still pretty darned tasty.  But next time around, a charred onion might be just what the soup doctor ordered.  So plan ahead, make the stock, and then freeze some.

The only problem with this soup is that I halved the recipe, thinking I didn't want to make six servings.  Should have made all six and had leftovers.  It's that good.  And definitely make the fried shallots.  They are generally used as a topping in cold noodle dishes in Vietnamese cuisine, but they add a little bit of mild, shallot-y goodness, and remember, we're going for curing what ails you here.  Crunchy shallots just might do the trick if the pho doesn't.

Finally, a word on how to pronounce this soup.  This month of the Smithsonian magazine features a lovely little article on pho, and it includes this primer on the word pho itself: "In Vietnamese, it is somewhere between 'fuh' and 'few,' almost like the French feu, for fire, as in pot-au-feu." Which apparently, may well be where the soup comes from anyway.  Go read the article.  They said so.

6 servings

for Vietnamese Beef Stock
3 to 4 pounds raw meaty beef bones, such as oxtail or short ribs
1 large yellow onion
8 whole cloves
7 whole star anise
2 four-inch cinnamon sticks
1 pound daikon, peeled and cut into 2-inch-thick pieces
3 ounces ginger, sliced
8 scallions, trimmed and crushed
2 tablespoons fish sauce
1 tablespoon sugar
1 white or back peppercorns
Kosher salt

for Fried Shallots
1 cup vegetable oil
6 large shallots, halved length-wise and thinly sliced crosswise into half-moons.

for Soup
8-12 ounces dried narrow flat rice sticks, soaked in water until pliable
2 1/2 quarts Vietnamese Beef Stock
1 small yellow onion, thinly sliced
Fish sauce or salt
2 cups mung bean sprouts
1 to 1 1/2 pounds eye of round steak, partially frozen, and sliced paper-thin against the grain
2 limes, quartered
1 bunch fresh Thai basil or cilantro (leaves only) or a combination
Fried Shallots for garnish
Hoisin sauce for serving
Chili-garlic sauce for serving

 for Stock
1.  Put the oxtail ribs in a large stockpot with enough water to cover.  Bring to a boil over high heat and cook for 10 minutes to get rid of bone and blood particles.  Drain, reserve the meaty bones, and rinse the pot well.
2. Stud the onion with the cloves.
3.  Return the oxtail or short ribs to the same stockpot, add five quarts of water, and bring to a boil over high heat.  Reduce heat to low and add the onion studded with the cloves, the star anise, cinnamon, daikon, ginger, scallions, fish sauce, sugar, and peppercorns.  Simmer, partially covered for 4 to 5 hours, until reduced to about 3 quarts, occasionally skimming off any foam from the surface.  If necessary, adjust seasoning with salt to taste and stir.  Strain and discard solids.  Refrigerate overnight, and skim off the fat.

for Fried Shallots

4.  In a small saucepan, heat the oil over medium heat/  When the oil is hot, add the shallots in small batches and fry until golden, about 3 minutes per batch.
5.  Use a slotted spoon to remove and transfer each batch to a paper-towel lined plate to drain well and cool.  Use immediately or transfer the fried shallots to an airtight container.

for Soup
1.   Bring a large pot of water to a boil over high heat and cook the noodles until tender yet firm, about 10 seconds.  Drain and divide among large soup bowls.
2.  Meanwhile in a large pot, bring the stock to a gentle boil over medium heat.  About 3 minutes before serving, add the onion, and adjust the seasoning with fish sauce or salt, if necessary.  Right before serving, raise the heart to high and bring the broth to a full boil.
3.  Add some mung bean sprouts and layer a few beef slices over each serving of noodles.  Ladle the piping hot broth along with some onion slices over the beef, making sure to cover the noodles.  Garnish with lime wedge, basil, cilantro, and fried shallots.  Serve immediately with hoisin sauce and chili-garlic sauce on the side for dipping the beef.