Sunday, January 31, 2010

Miso Vinaigrette

This is a variation on my favourite salad dressing/rice noodle/sweet potato noodle dressing/vegetable dip or sauce. Versatile? Yes:

2 tbsp. green onions (white part only)
1 tbsp. miso (I use white, but every kind adds a different flavour to your dish)
2 tsp. tamari or soy sauce or fish sauce
1 tbsp. rice vinegar (or apple cider vinegar)
2 tbsp plain yogurt
1/2 tsp. garlic powder
1-2 tsp. sugar or honey
Freshly ground black pepper
2 tsp. olive oil

Optional: Rep Pepper flakes, celery, ginger, lemon juice, honey

Blend everything except the olive oil in a blender or food processor (or combine it in a small bowl or seal-able container as long as you don't care about a smooth paste). Add the olive oil and blend again (or add it in a thin stream as you whisk the contents of the bowl. Shake the sealed container to blend).

This can be a very strong dressing, so add water to dilute if necessary, but it will be creamier if you add more of one of the ingredients listed above.

Too acidic? Add more yogurt, olive oil or green onions.
Too sweet? Add more or anything except the sugar or honey.
Too salty? Add more of everything except the miso and tamari.

For noodle dressings, leave out the yogurt and oil. Or add sesame oil instead of olive oil. Also, you can use raw garlic as the noodles can handle the strength of the flavour. Maybe also crushed chiles, chile paste or chile sauce for heat.

This works so well with green salads and especially with mushrooms. I hope no one ever makes another 'ranch dressing' or 'spinach dip'. Disgusting.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Jerusalem Artichoke Soup: Bonnie Stern's Heartsmart Cooking

When I discovered Jerusalem Artichokes I didn't know quite what to do with them. First I didn't know what they tasted like, or what went well with them. It turns out they're nutty, sweet and earthy. Something to be tried, not just described.

They look like dirty, knobby pieces of ginger root. They're nothing like artichokes, and they're not even from Jerusalem. Go figure. They're also called sunchokes, which makes a bit more sense. For people into etymology, apparently the name 'Jerusalem' may have come from a bastardization of the Italian word for sunflower, 'girisole', since the vegetable is actually related to the sunflower, not the artichoke. It would take someone with extremely poor hearing to mess up 'girisole' (pronounced gee' ree' ZO' leh') with Jerusalem, though, so I'm not convinced. Like celeriac, they make a great substitute for mashed potatoes when you start to notice that you're adding way too much butter or seasoning to your potatoes because you're sick of the potatoes themselves.

The only problem is they're really, really annoying to clean. When Bonnie Stern said to first scrub or peel the artichokes, I didn't really understand. Wouldn't leaving the skin on the artichokes and then puréeing the soup give you skin bits in the final soup, instead of a creamy, smooth texture? I figured maybe she meant that you could peel the parts that would peel easily, and just scrub the hard-to-reach areas (If you've ever peeled fresh ginger root, just imagine peeling 2lbs of it, and you'll understand why I wanted to not peel all of the nooks and crannies of the artichokes). Unfortunately, I should have kept peeling, because after scrubbing and peeling for maybe 45 minutes I still ended up with a puréed soup with tough skin bits. Not like the first time I made it, when I actually peeled every little knob, but still delicious. Really, you should just keep peeling. Make this on a Sunday with a friend, like you would jams, or pickles, or Christmas cookies, or truffles, or ravioli.

I made this soup for the first time a year ago and reveled in the wonders of girisoli. How had they evaded me for so long? Well they're not that available, and unless you have a good source for them, they can be expensive. This year I lucked out and ended up with exactly 2lbs of them, just what I needed for this soup, about which I had dreamed for a year. Well actually I ended up with 2 1/2 lbs of them, but I knew that once they were peeled there would only be about 2 left (They don't all look like pieces of ginger. Some of them are small, like quail eggs, and peeling them doesn't leave a lot of artichoke left over).

There's a reason you don't see them so often in restaurants. Can you imagine being the guy who peels 20 lbs of jerusalem artichokes? It took me 45 minutes to do 2 lbs, for a soup that serves 9 or 10. That's about 7 hours of peeling artichokes to make a restaurant-sized pot of soup...that poor, poor prep cook. Potatoes can be done a whole lot faster, and don't cost as much. So if you're going to substitute something for potato, you substitute celeriac (also easy to peel), or parsnip, or a turnip/potato combination. I'd love to try Jerusalem Artichokes at a good restaurant, though, just to see what they do with them. It could be really surprising.

Olive oil
2 lbs Jerusalem Artichokes, peeled and sliced (scrub to knock off big pieces of dirt, but do peel them. All of them. Be patient.)
vegetable stock or water (You can actually get away with using just water in this recipe. Stock is better, but the flavour of the artichokes is strong enough on its own as long as you add enough of the other ingredients, especially lemon juice and garlic)
Saffron threads (I forgot to crush them...that might have helped a little, especially if I'd been brave enough to use less stock and more water)
salt and pepper to taste
lemon juice
3 tbsp almonds
3 tbsp water

This is so simple. Sauté the garlic and onions for 5 minutes or so (they shouldn't brown, so if they start to brown add water. This is what Bonnie says, not just me being finicky about not using too much olive oil).

Add the sliced and peeled artichokes, and cook for 3 minutes before adding the broth to cover. The broth amount is an estimate. All the artichokes should be covered by about a 1/2"-1" of broth, depending on how thick you like your soup. You can always add more water after the puréeing stage, or you can boil some extra liquid off. You'll be fine. Don't worry.

Bring the stock to a boil and add the spices (salt and pepper a little to taste. The salt amount will depend on the broth you used, so don't just throw in a bunch without tasting it first).

Reduce the heat and simmer for 30 minutes, or until the jerusalem artichokes are tender. This will depend on the size of your slices. They need to purée smoothly.

Purée the soup in batches, or with a hand blender and return it to the pot. If the soup is too watery, now's the chance to boil off some liquid. You don't want to boil it again after you've added the lemon juice.

Add a little lemon juice and taste to see how much you need. The recipe says a tablespoon but I needed more. Almost 2 and a half, actually. You definitely don't want to go overboard with the lemon, though, and it's hard to get rid of the flavour if you've added too much, so be careful and test it after each small addition (maybe a tsp. at a time). Add more water now if it's too thick.

Now the cool part: Blend equal parts blanched, sliced almonds and water (no need to clean the blender before this step). Then pour the mixture into the soup. In raw food this is pretty standard (making cream out of nuts, though it's probably done with a very different process). The natural nutty flavour of the jerusalem artichokes matches well with the almonds, and the nuts make this a much more satisfying soup. A meal soup, instead of a beggar's snack of diluted, seasoned Jerusalem Artichokes.

For an elaborate presentation, serve the soup into bowls before you add the almond cream, and drizzle it on the soup like a crème fraiche, to give a marble swirl.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Spicy Sweet Potato Soup

This is a variation on Judith Finalyson's "Slow Cooker Recipes". You don't have to use New Mexico Chili Pepper for this but, it works really well. Ancho might giv you more of a chocolatey taste.

This was probably the best soup I've ever made, and I've made a lot of soup. Not that I make just any soup. I pick them carefully. There has to be more than a simple aesthetic attraction. I have a current love affair with spicy sweet potato in general, but wow...this meal was beautiful. My only regret is not making a double batch. Soup, like many relationships, is not meant to last.

The recipe originally comes from Judith Finlayson's "Slow Cooker Recipes" but I changed a few ingredients, modified a few quantities, and cooked it on the stove.


2-4 dried New Mexico Chili Peppers (soaked in boiling water for 30 minutes, then de-stemmed and chopped finely. Leave the seeds in and just remove the top). 2 was fine, but I couldn't taste the heat, so if you like it hotter, try 3, and if it's still not hot enough, the next time try 4. There will be a next time. Be careful substituting chili powder. That can go disastrously...make sure it's mild Mexican chili, not cayenne, and start with a tablespoon and work your way up.

2 tsp. olive oil
1 large onion, roughly chopped
A few cloves of garlic, roughly chopped
1 tsp salt
A pinch of dried oregano
2 large peeled and roughly cubed sweet potatoes
6 cups of broth (I used a mixture of lamb and chicken that were sitting in my freezer, but vegetable or chicken would work fine. I hoped the lamb would give the soup a richer flavour and I don't think it worked, but it didn't need to since the soup was exquisite anyway...and more importantly it made room in my freezer)

2 cups of corn kernels (frozen is better than canned, but if you use canned, leave out the tsp. of salt)

2 tsp. grated lime zest
2 1/2 tbsp. lime juice
2 red peppers

A little bit of chopped cilantro to garnish (optional, but very nice)

This is not tequila. It's just a good way of showing how much lime juice and zest you need...

Basically my adjustments were upping the seasonings. I found the soup a little bland at first but adding more lime and zest that had been soaked in a tsp. of oil worked perfectly.

First roast the red peppers: Preheat the broiler. Cut the peppers in half and remove the core and seeds, and place them cut-side down on a baking sheet. Broil them until the tops are black (the trick here is make sure the peppers are fairly flat on the baking sheet, so the top doesn't blacken first and leave the sides red. To fix this, cut off the sides and lay all the pieces flat. It makes for more work peeling later, but at least all of the peppers actually will blacken, making the peeling step easier in the long run. The broiling doesn't take very long, so check after a few minutes, and check regularly until the tops are blackened. Then stick them into a heat-proof, non-plastic bowl or container and cover for 30 minutes. Sweating the peppers like this will also make them easier to peel. Since you don't need them right away because you did this before making the soup, you'll be fine (DO THIS BEFORE MAKING THE SOUP! Waiting for garnish to sweat is no fun).

Oh yeah, I actually baked them at 400 degrees in the toaster oven, as that's what the book actually said to do to blacken them (bake them, not specifically in the toaster oven). That didn't work. Either the book is wrong or my toaster oven is wrong, but I love my toaster oven...and I love the book. Either way, peeling them was annoying. Good thing they were so delicious in the end.

Heat the oil on medium in a large pot and then sauté the onions. Cook and stir for 6 minutes, then add the garlic, oregano, chopped chilis, salt (if you're using frozen corn), and cook for 1 minute just to coat everything in the New taste of Mexico. See? Much catchier than "the taste of Ancho"...

Add the sweet potatoes and broth, bring to a boil, and then reduce the heat to medium-low to simmer for 20 minutes, or until the sweet potato is tender (this depends on how finely you chopped the sweet potato. If not all the pieces are the same size, check the bigger ones to make sure they're done).

Now peel the red pepper and tear into strips. Set aside.

Blend the soup in a food processor or blender in batches and pour back into the pot. This is the most annoying step (assuming the sweet potato blackened correctly) but the texture will be worth it. Do not:

1) Lift the blender lid while blending
2) Stick a utensil in the food processor to help the blending along
3) Get fed up and just eat the soup now.

When it's back in the pot add the corn, lime zest and juice (I let the lime zest soak in a tsp. of olive oil so I poured the whole thing in). Cook 5 minutes on medium heat until the corn is ready.

To serve, ladle the soup into bowls, lay a few red pepper strips over each other artistically, dry your hands, sprinkle a little cilantro on it all, and call yourself accomplished.

OH! Then thank New Mexico for putting together chili peppers, lime juice and sweet potatoes (the secular version of saying grace), and enjoy.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Murgh Musallam: Whole Chicken Baked in Aluminum Foil

This is a wonderful way to roast a chicken. A little more complicated than Mireille Guiliano's 4 ingredients (chicken, shallot, champagne, herb of choice), but oh so very much worth it. As huge as the ingredient list is, though, I didn't have to buy a single thing, except the chicken. Everything else was already in my fridge, since the main sauce ingredients are onion, ginger, garlic, yogurt, lemon juice and almonds. Well, I did go out of my way and buy blanched, slivered almonds for convenience, but I intended to first use them for a Jerusalem Artichoke Soup. Just because it hasn't happened yet doesn't mean that it wasn't my purchase's original intention.

The whole idea of this roast chicken is to make a thick marinade for the chicken, leave it for 2 hours, then make another paste to coat the bird, wrap it in foil and stick it in the oven for an hour and a half. Voila! No basting, no gravy-making, no problem. Just make sure you get the right size bird (3 1/2 lbs or 1.5kg) or you'll be sitting around twiddling your thumbs like Thanksgiving when your bird isn't done on time. Thank God there's no holiday stress around to make it more difficult, as long as you don't invite family.

An inch of ginger
black pepper

A chicken, all skin removed except the wings. Dont' worry, you're not losing anything, though. The skin won't get crispy because it's inside the foil. It will just be slimy. Sure, you could let it brown by opening up the foil near the end of the roasting time, but then it's Thanksgiving and the bird becomes high maintenance, like the people you celebrate such holidays with.

a bigger piece of ginger
blanched slivered almonds
ground cumin
ground coriander
lemon juice
black pepper
garam masala

Notice how the second paste is the same as the first paste plus a few extra things? You basically make the paste again but with larger quantities of ginger and garlic, add some onions to make it more substantial, and some new fun spices. Make sure you use good quality spices or your chicken will taste like nothing, since there's so little else to carry the flavour. For example, I ended up grinding coriander (mostly because I didn't have any ground coriander), so 5 minutes later I had almost-respectably-ground spice. Apparently every type of mortar and pestle is different so I don't feel bad that my marble one is difficult to grind with. A panel of Indian ladies agreed it was not as good as granite. I saw it on TV. These ladies were, unfortunately, not in my house eating my chicken or instructing me on how to grind coriander.

Oh, the other lovely thing about the recipe is since you're making pastes of spices, you don't really need to chop very precisely. The recipe says put the ginger, garlic and a tbsp. of yogurt in the blender or food processor, and process until smooth, pushing down with a rubber spatula. Then add more yogurt and the rest of the marinade spices. Don't do this. This is stupid. This is how you end up with rubber spatula bits in your marinade. I no longer have a full spatula. I also screamed a little when garlic flew at my eyes. My roommate was worried about me. I may not have a spatula any more, but at least I have my eyes, I suppose.

Add more yogurt from the start so there's more liquid in the blender or food processor. Then it can do its job correctly without you coaxing it along. Whether you toss the rest of the spices in for the initial blending or after, I don't think it matters either.

Get a large plate ready for the skinned bird and rub the marinade all over and inside. Also rub the giblets and place them alongside the chicken. The recipe says don't put this in the fridge...but again, not such a good idea. Cover it and stick it in the fridge. Sorry.

Then stick some roughly chopped onions, garlic and ginger in the blender with the almonds (maybe a handful or so of almonds) and blend. This one's tricky because there's really not very much liquid at all. You'll be frustrated to no end if your blender doesn't want to blend it properly. All I can suggest is find something you don't mind sticking in the blender and be very, very, very, very careful until the paste is all blended. Again, you could add all the other spices (except the black pepper and garam masala) in the initial mix or stir or blend them in after everything else is combined. The onion gets pretty liquidy, so it will be okay in the end, so long as you have your eyes.

In Thai cooking this paste is called a "pulse", I believe, though "pulse" also refers to Indian lentil curries. Often it has tomatoes, but its point is to thicken a sauce or gravy without adding any real thickening agent, like flour or eggs. All you do is heat a tbsp or so of oil in a big frying pan over medium-high heat, and when it's hot you put in the paste. Stir and cook for 8 minutes or so. Then add the lemon juice, black pepper and garam masala. Turn off the heat and let it cool. Between the salt in the marinade and the paste, there's almost a tbsp. worth of sodium in this recipe, so don't worry about it not being flavourful enough and add more salt because you think it will help. Trust me, Indian people figured out the salt for flavour trick a long time before you did, or I did, or any mediocre chef did. Normally you season a bird before you roast it anyway, so this really isn't an obscene amount of salt.

After 2 hours of marinating, set the chicken and giblets on a huge piece of aluminum foil on a rimmed baking sheet or roasting pan, and spread the 2nd paste all over and inside it. Place the chicken breast-side up on the foil after you've rubbed it. Now you're supposed to bring the sides of the foil together like a package, but if you can get all four sides of foil to touch, you're a god of chicken-wrapping. You'll have to settle with getting the sides of the foil up as high as possible (preferably more than 2 inches from the bottom of the pan so the juices don't spill when you move the pan after roasting, but again, this is often not possible. Maybe India has better foil that comes in a big square), and folding enough foil over on top so minimum air can escape.

Bake at 350 degrees for an hour and a half. No peeking. check to make sure the chicken is cooked only after the hour and a half. If it is, wrap it up again and leave for at least 20 minutes on top of the stove so all the bird stays juicy. Really, this is overkill. You'll be absolutely happy if you eat it right away. Geez, you marinated it for 2 hours just so you wouldn't have to wait any longer. That marinade, plus a sauce, and you're going to be fine eating right away. BUT if you REALLY want it to be incredibly tender, hold you horses, eat a salad slowly, and be patient.

Mmm...this was so good. Definitely good dinner party food. It feeds a lot of people, looks kind of sloppy when you unpeel it, but no one will complain when they take their 1st bite...or their 20th. If you want to keep the rest of the meal simple, make plain basmati rice or stick some potatoes in more aluminum foil and roast them along with the bird. You don't use any more energy that way. The whole rest of the oven is waiting to be filled. A really nice touch would be to wilt some kale or chard and let the extra paste (especially the paste that cooks inside the bird...mmm, like stuffing) coat it. The colour is incredible.


Monday, January 25, 2010

Chicken au Champagne with Mashed Celeriac, Balsamic Braised Fennel, and Roasted Sweet Potato Salad with Honey Dijon Vinaigrette

I've been living in my apartment for 4 months, but not until now was there a dinner party. I wanted it to be simple, elegant and relaxed.

So it started with cremini mushrooms, sautéed until their liquid evaporated, then drizzled with lemon juice and tarragon, and finally placed on toasted baguette.

This was served with champagne...well, a nice prosecco (It sounds very fancy, but in Italy I was told that most prosecco (and sparkling wine) is cheap because it's so easy to make. It doesn't have to be good quality, but it has a snobbish reputation here in Canada. Really it's overpriced (despite being completely affordable),oh-so-refreshing, dry sparkling wine. You need to spend a lot to get a good bottle of prosecco, and that's hard to find in Canada, and certainly not what you need for this recipe.

The whole idea was that I wanted to make Chicken au Champagne from Mireille Guiliano's non-fiction/cookbook, French Women Don't Get Fat. I'd tried a few recipes from it and been completely underwhelmed, since the recipes are so simple and depend on finding the highest quality ingredients possible, which is sometimes impossible. But I figured champagne and chicken, this I can do. I also love the idea that you drink the rest of the champagne with the appetizer and meal. She was the one who taught me that champagne goes with everything, so I believe her. She was very right on that count. Lets not think about the fact that she works for a champagne company, Veuve Cliquot.

Anyway, she suggested pairing the leftover champagne with sautéed mushrooms, and I figured I'd dress it up a bit with tarragon and baguette. It's kind of hard to serve sautéed mushrooms as an appetizer by themselves. God forbid I have to hand around toothpicks...

For the salad any squash will do. Mine looked a bit like an elongated acorn squash. Cut it in half, scoop out the seeds and stringy insides, place it cut-side down on a baking sheet, and bake at 425 degrees for 45 minutes or until tender. Scoop out the pulp in as un-mangled a form as you can manage and slice into cubes. Toss it on romaine, or leaf lettuce, or fresh green of choice and call it a salad. Oh, but I added walnuts because there are strange people in this world who like walnuts in salad, and it does look pretty. The vinaigrette was 1 tbsp. red wine vinager, 1 tbsp. rice vinager, 3/4 tsp. dijon mustard, 2 tsp. honey, 1/2 tsp. garlic powder (I find fresh garlic too strong, but do as you wish), 1 tbsp. minced shallots and 1/2 c. olive oil. Whisk everything except the oil together and then add the oil in a thin stream while whisking to emulsify. You can change the ratios, change the spices, change the vinagers and you'll be just fine. I may have even added a little bit of balsamic that I had left over. Or maybe some lemon juice or lime juice. I wanted it to be a little tart so the squash wouldn't be too sweet. Maybe it seems hard but it's just a bunch of things thrown together, so as long as you keep the acid to oil ratio in check (2:1 or 3:1 depending on the sweetness or starchiness of the salad ingredients) you'll be fine.

Braised fennel is brilliant. The whole idea of taking a vegetable with such a strong flavour and cooking it with balsamic vinegar until the balsamic reduces to a thick coating and the aroma of anise permeates the kitchen, is brilliant. You reserve the tops of the fennel bulbs for stock or compost them and slice the bottom bulb into whatever size pieces you want. It cooks merrily away on low heat in a covered pan while you burn the chicken...

Mashed Celeriac is all it seems. Steam it, and mash it. Optionally add butter or olive oil. It's sweet, and a really nice change from mashed potato. I was inspired to try this after being at one of my favourite restaurants, Aix Cuisine du Terroir, and stopping mid-conversation to think, "Mashed Potato? No...too sweet...Turnip? Hmm...Celeriac!" The celeriac was the bed of starch that was topped with bitter pea sprouts, which were in turn topped by grilled duck in a sweetened pan jus reduction. The intensified sauce soaked down into the celeriac, taking me to a diabetic's Hell, and my personal heaven. After a few bites, and a long silence, I was, fortunately, able to resume semi-intelligent conversation. It's comforting to know that whatever the verdict, wherever I end up there'll be a bit of silence.

The highlight of the meal was certainly the chicken. Doesn't it just sound gluttonous to pour perfectly good champagne over chicken? Maybe if you're swimming in Veuve Cliquot...but you can't make this recipe with Baby Duck (Thank God). It needs to be dry white sparkling wine, and "dry" champagne does not mean "dry" in the same way that dry white wine is less sweet. You're going to want to look for a "brut" or "extra-brut". Most champagnes or sparkling wines will be sweeter because it's cheap to cover the taste of mediocre wine with sugar. Simple marketing: You'll sell more.

So season 4 chicken breasts (with skin and bone) with salt and pepper and place them in a roasting pan. Pour 1/2 c. champagne over top.

Make a deep incision in each breast and place a quarter of a shallot and a sprig of tarragon (or thyme, or basil) in each.

Broil the chicken for 4 minutes (or until the skin is brown), flip the breasts, and broil the other side for 5 minutes.

Remove the chicken from the broiler and baste it (if any champagne is left). Hopefully there's some left and your fire alarm didn't go off like mine did because the the chicken juices started to burn...Either way, ask your roommate to mind the front door and smoke alarm while you pour another 1/2 cup of champagne over the chicken and stick it back in the oven at 475 degrees Fahrenheit for 30 minutes. Again, you should baste in this time. If there's no juice to baste with, consider adding more champagne...or if you've already drank it or refuse to use more, add chicken broth, or in desperate times, water. I think it would be better to cover the chicken with aluminum foil at this point than to add water, though. It's already browned, and the hot oven will only dry out the breast if there's no basting juice left.

It's really nice to have some pan juices left over, so there's something to pour over the mashed celeriac. Heaven does not come on its own. It is certainly not inevitable.

You really can taste the champagne. It's not too sweet on its own, but it's a beautiful way to add some flavour to simple roast chicken breasts. I can appreciate Mireille Guiliano's quest for easy recipes, as looking to enhance the natural flavour of the food is a very French way of cooking, but if you can't find or can't afford organic chicken breasts or a decent prosecco, champgne or dry sparkling wine, this recipe will leave you disappointed. If that's the case, make more salad dressing and tear the chicken breast apart in frustration. Then shred it over the roasted squash salad and toss with the extra dressing. You may even develop a taste for walnuts, since they'll have more flavour than a ho-hum chicken au champagne. The upside is that you'll have enough alcohol left to forget about it, and that's what dinner parties are really about. Well, that and good company.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Marbled Cookies...last cookie from Alice

Finishing off the last of the gift bag cookie recipes:

I made a lemon not-so-crisp recipe and a Mexican Chocolate Cookie recipe and kneaded them together using my new-found kneading prowess (I still haven't gotten a loaf of bread to rise properly...)

Alice Medrich's lemon crisps are yet more freezer cookies, but have a shortbread-type dough, unlike the cornmeal cookies.

Zest and juice of 1 lemon
Unsalted butter
Sugar Vanilla
Lemon extract (I skipped this since I was going to combine them with the mexican chocolate cookies, so didn't want too much lemon flavour...also I didn't have any)
1 egg yolk
Almond breeze (or milk of choice)

Flour and salt goes in one bowl. Whisk them.

Cream the lemon juice, zest, butter in another (Just like the Disaronno-Soaked Dried Apricot and Yam Loaf), then add the sugar and extracts. Beat on high speed for 1 minute, then beat in the egg yolk and milk. Turn the speed to low and beat in the flour and salt mixture (Still no apron. Flour goes everywhere). Form into a ball and chill 1 hour in the fridge or freezer...or don't. It's not really necessary. Sorry, Alice.

Now the fun part. Take the lemon crisp batter and the mexican chocolate batter and push them together. Fold the upper edge back and over itself. Rotate the dough, press it down and out a little, and repeat. Do this maybe 5 times and then take a knife and cut through the dough to check the marbled pattern. Not marbled enough? Keep kneading. Basically the only way to mess this up is either to knead only a few times, or WAY too many times, but the dough is forgiving and takes awhile to turn into one uniform colour, so you'll probably be fine. I know that's terribly re-assuring.

Now roll the dough into a log, wrap it in wax paper and freeze for an hour or 3 months. Or, I suppose, somewhere in the middle. Slice off cookies as you need them and bake at 350 Fahrenheit for 12-14 minutes. You don't want them to get too golden or the marble effect looks weird. Some of the lemon will still look lemony and some will look more golden, so it gives the impression that you overcooked them.

These look gourmet and really aren't. You don't even have to know how to knead to do this right. Trust me.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Simple Cornmeal Cookies

More not-chocolate from Alice Medrich...

Cookie number 2 from the musician's gift bags (see previous post) was a simple cornmeal cookie. Sounds like nothing special, but it definitely held its own in the gift bags. These are convenience cookies, as you can wrap them in wax paper to freeze them for up to 3 months, then slice off dough when you feel like baking a few for a home made dessert. They're very crumbly, at least mine were, so the sticking them in the freezer step is good to make them hold together before slicing them. Even if they do crumble, they'll taste just as good.

Yellow Cornmeal (Organic, because I admit, cornmeal can taste like nothing if you let it)
Unsalted butter (at room temperature)
Egg Yolk
Yogurt (Non-fat actually works best as it's more liquidy, so will hold the batter together)
Vanilla extract

These are so fast to put together. Just separate the egg yolk in advance, and into a separate bowl, though honestly it doesn't matter if a little egg white gets in. You could even use the whole egg. Actually, that would hold the cookies together better.

First, whisk together the flour, cornmeal and salt.

Then cream the butter (no time duration given on this, but I'd say until it lightens up in colour).

Add the sugar and beat on high for 1 minute. Alice says do this until the dough forms a mass. Mine didn't so much form a mass...Cookies are more forgiving than mousse, though, I think.

Add the egg yolk, yogurt and vanilla, beat, and turn the speed to low to add the flour mixture.

Now knead the dough for a minute. Have you ever kneaded cookie dough? Maybe that's why mine crumbled. My kneading technique was lacklustre? By now there was nothing I could do but wrap the cookies in a 14" piece of wax paper and form it into a 9" cylinder (like a long roll of Pillsbury frozen cookie dough...but very, very much not Pillsbury...maybe if Pillsbury was, not even then. Sorry to all Italian nonnas).

Twist the ends of the wax cylinders to seal and chill at least an hour in the freezer. It can hang out in the fridge for up to 3 days, but it's just as easy to slice after freezing, and it keeps its freshness better, so just stick it in the freezer.

Slice the cookies you want into 1/8"-1/4" (or larger) slices (the same size or slightly thicker than a loonie) and place on baking sheets prepared with foil or butter. Like I said, if they crumble, just form them into shapes that you're okay with eating. Mounds are fine if you're not pretentious about your cookie shapes. They won't spread so you can stick them close together. AND since they don't spread, the coin-shaped slices end up as just slices and look kind of rigid, so even forming them intentionally into little mounds makes them look more natural and less frozen.

Bake at 350 degrees Fahrenheit for 10-12 minutes or until the edges are golden brown. If you put both cookie sheets in the oven at once, rotate them halfway through the cooking, from front to back and top to bottom rack if you use two.

These have a nice chewy texture, finer than an oatmeal cookie, but with more to savour than a sugar cookie. It's a really nice after-dinner cookie, or afternoon snack. "As opposed to other cookies how?", you ask? Well you feel like you're getting your money's worth of cookie. These don't seem to evaporate into thin air in your mouth, so they're a much more satisfying "petite sweet". Besides, if my Ukrainian-Canadian prairies background taught me nothing else, it's how to get the most out of just a little.

A final note, apparently you can freeze these once they've been baked, but that negates the whole concept of freshly baked cookies from the freezer. It would take just as long to let the cookies defrost when you want one that you've already made, as it would to slice the frozen dough and stick it in the oven (or toaster oven) to bake fresh. Heaven forbid you take a pre-baked cookie and stick it in the microwave. Perish the thought...

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

How do you say "Thank-you" to 10 starving musicians who do you a favour?

Well, with beer, obviously...but what if you are also one of those starving musicians?

Then with cookies! A LOT of cookies...

In fact, five kinds of cookies: (Not my) Aunt Tillie's Cornflake Meringues with Walnuts, Coconut and Dried Apricot, Simple Cornmeal Cookies, Lemon Cookies, Mexican Chocolate Cookies and Marbled Cookies.

When I think of "Cornflake Cookies" I think of a kids cookbook, but no, this is not that kind of recipe. These are melt-in-your-mouth little clusters of crunch, sweet, and smooth (pretend those are all nouns...).

2 egg whites (at room temperature!)
1/8 tsp cream of tartar
1/2 c. granulated sugar (not can sugar or a coarse sugar. The finer the better. The meringues will end up with a sandy texture)
2 1/2 c. cornflakes
2/3 c. shredded coconut (the recipe says sweetened coconut is best, but I think either works. I'm sorry it doesn't call for dessicated coconut. Just for the name. You almost feel bad for the coconut (decimated? Devastated?), but I've never had reason to buy it.
1/3 c. chopped walnuts
1/4 c. chopped dried apricots.

There are 4 steps to this recipe, and the first one is very, very easy. That's a big part of why it's so wonderful.

1. Preheat the oven to 300 degrees Fahrenheit and prepare the baking sheets with butter, parchment paper or foil (Okay, so maybe that's two steps in one, but they're easy).

2. Beat the egg whites and cream of tartar on medium until soft peaks form (like rolling hills), then gradually add the sugar, turn the speed to high, and beat until stiff peaks form (when you turn off the beaters and lift them out of the meringue, spikes will form and won't fall fall back down).

3. Fold in the cornflakes, coconut, walnuts and dried apricots using a rubber spatula until the cornflakes are coated in egg white. According to Alice all folding must be done using a rubber spatula. Invest).

4. Drop by slightly rounded teaspoons about 1 1/2" apart on baking sheets (they don't spread), and bake for 20-25 minutes, or until slightly brown.

These only keep 3-4 days in a sealed container, but they freeze for up to 2 months. I'm not quite sure how I feel about freezing them because I'm nervous about what would happen to the texture of the cookie. It couldn't possibly be as fluffy, could it?

The best thing about these cookies is that you get the lightness of a meringue, but it's less disappointing when the sugar all melts in your mouth. Normally that's the end of the cookie, and you need another bite or another cookie to enjoy the flavour, but with this cookie once the meringue is melted, there's still half a cookie worth of cornflake, coconut, walnut and apricot to enjoy. Lots of crunch and sweet, post-smooth. See? Nouns.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Follow Me at Midnight Poutine!

It's true, I don't usually eat poutine, what with the cheese and beef-based sauce...but I do love this website: and now I'm writing for it.

It encompasses all things Montreal, including live music, art, film, news, and my favourite podcast. Now it'll have a whole lot more about Montreal food. I've started writing weekly food columns for them, and my first is up now. The plan is to do a comparison piece ("Montreal *insert type of food here* Throwdown", ex. "Montreal Soup Throwdown: Soupesoup vs. Soupe Café") one week, then a straight up restaurant review the next, followed by a third week of a cooking post incorporating a local product or store. So the reviews will rotate on a three-week cycle.

Basically, if you like my blogging here, you'll hopefully like my posts there, so check it out. Please leave comments because it looks great when the editors know there are people actually reading their site. If you hate the column, you maybe don't have to mention that...constructive criticism? Oh, and please suggest restaurants to review...keeping in mind that I don't get payed for this, so Toqué is out of the question for now. But if you REALLY are dying for a review of a place I'd be more than happy to go, just find me some funding. Canada Council??? It's culture...

Wait, they're chopping all those programs. I'm sure Quebec Minister of Culture, Christine St-Pierre, would like Toqué. We'd have a great time. I bet she's charming. Now how do you write that in an email to her without sounding creepy? The girl has to eat, doesn't she?

Monday, January 18, 2010

Disaronno-soaked Dried Apricot Yam Loaf

Alice Medrich doesn't have a whole lot of non-chocolate recipes in her cookbook Chocolate and the Art of Low-fat Desserts but what she does include is unfalteringly good. When I first saw the recipe for Apricot Yam Loaf I quickly turned the page...compared to mousse, it's boring. I was a little naive. I should have known she wouldn't disappoint.

Have you ever soaked chopped dried apricots in Disaronno? I have. The smell alone is amazing, and they're not even cooking. It would have been very easy to wait the 15 minutes and then pour the whole thing over frozen yogurt and call it a night. But I stuck it out and made the whole recipe since I'd already roasted the sweet squash (the name of which I don't even know) and had been waiting to make this recipe for awhile. I was less drunk and probably better off for it.

2/3 c. diced dried apricots
1/2 sweet vermouth (or sweet flavoured liqueur of choice...probably not crème de menthe...just something to go with the apricots, like grand marnier, rum, strawberry liqueur, crème de cassis even)
2 c. flour
3/4 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. baking soda
1 c. sugar
1/2 c. brown sugar
a lemon (preferably organic for flavour)
6 tbsp unsalted butter
an egg
an egg white
1 c. puréed sweet potato, yam or squash. Easiest thing to do is roast one of these. If you roast the squash you don't even need to peel anything, and you get seeds to roast later. You can also steam the yam or sweet or sweet potato. 425 degrees Fahrenheit for about 45 minutes or until soft.
1/3 c. chopped walnuts (the original recipe calls for 2/3rds but I think that's way too much and distracts from the apricot sweetness. Depends what you're into)

This makes two 5-cup loaves and each loaf should serve 8 or 9...but it's way too easy to end up eating more than a serving...maybe it would have been better for me to just drink the disaronno...

Get the eggs and butter out of the fridge and make sure they get to room temperature before you try to blend them with anything.

Get the loaf pans ready (butter or parchment paper). Then put the apricots and vermouth (or liqueur of choice) in a small cup. Leave it for 15 minutes. Then pour through a sieve placed over a bowl and press the apricots (lightly) to extract some of the juice. You want some to stay in the apricots so they stay plump when they bake.

Whisk the flour, salt, baking powder and baking soda in a medium bowl. In a small bowl combine the sugar and brown sugar, getting rid of any clumps with your hands.

Then grate the lemon zest into a large bowl, add the butter, and beat until creamy (this was another step where I could have stopped. Whipped lemon-infused butter is a really nice flavour. Perfect for fish or vegetables, and nice with bread). Instead, I did what I was told and beat in the sugars on high. Then I added the egg and egg white and beat until it was smooth.

By the way, I happen to have four beautiful mixing bowls. They're a lovely set that stack one inside the other. I ended up using 1 bowl to separate the egg white, 1 for the sugar, 1 for the flour, and 1 for the lemon zest and butter. When Alice asked for a small bowl, I got excited because I had that. And when she asked for a large bowl, I got excited again because I had that too. No substitutions. It was like she kept asking for exactly what I had on hand, like I was doing something right in my kitchen by having the exact equipment required. When my roommate came home I enthusiastically exclaimed to him "Guess what? I used ALL 4 BOWLS! It was so cool!" He paused...and stared...and said, "You're such a geek". Well, yes, I know, thanks.

Anyway, then using Alice's tried and true flour/liquid/flour/liquid blending technique, I added half the flour on low, then the drained apricot liqueur on medium, then the rest of the flour on low, and finally the squash purée on medium. Flour will go everywhere if you beat it on medium, and beating the liquid on low is a waste of time.

Oh, but you're allowed to stop and waste time by scraping the bowl with a spatula.

Then stir in the walnuts and diced apricots.

Pour into the pans and bake in a preheated 350 degree oven for 50-55 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the thickest part of the loaf comes out without any crumbs or batter attached.

Cool the loaves for 10 minutes on a rack and then take them out of the pans or out of the parchment paper to cool completely. It's okay to have a piece now, because the edges are crispy and delicious, but the loaf will be crumbly. There'll be a big difference when you have a piece the next day, once the flavours have "married," says Alice, "although, alas, the crust is soft." She sounded so disappointed that I laughed. Poor Alice and her disappointingly soft crust. Is marriage always such a let-down? I hope she's okay.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Answer: SUSHI! (Question: What do you make when you have nothing in your fridge but eggs and sweet potato?)

The answer is always sushi...

This is the simplest meal. It looks beautiful, and it will make you feel like a gourmet. In that sense it's very Japanese: Very few ingredients + fresh flavours + not a lot of preparation time.

Of course, Japanese cooking assumes you understand how to cook Japanese food. It will take a bit more time to figure out the basic techniques. Sushi is only one very, very small portion of Japanese cooking, actually it's kind of Japanese snack food. Sushi For Dummies is how I got started, which is a veritable fountain of knowledge on how to make, eat and enjoy sushi. It will also give you a little foray into Japanese culture, and as long as you don't read it in public, you won't feel too dumb. Then when people ask you where you learned to make sushi, you can either lie or tell them you'll lend them the's less embarrassing that way AND they might just read it.

Anyway, sushi is all about the rice. It actually just means "vinegared rice" (as explained on page 1 of the book...), and how you prepare the rice will determine a large part of the success of your sushi. On the other hand, I've massacred the rice before and still ended up enjoying the sushi...just a little less. You can also skip certain steps with only a little bit of a decline in rice quality, if you notice at all, but then you'll know you cheated and wonder how incredible your rice COULD have been. So:

1. Soak 2 cups of sushi rice in cold water. Carefully swirl it around with your hand until the rice is cloudy. Drain it, and soak it again in more cold water. Repeat this swirl, drain, soak pattern at least 5 times or until the rice water is clear. I do this now with most rice, not just sushi rice.

2. Add 2 cups cold water to the drained rice (Sushi rice is a short grain rice that becomes sticky when you cook it. Unlike most rice, you use equal parts water and rice in the cooking, not twice as much water.

3. LET IT SIT FOR 30 MINUTES. This is one of those steps I'm skeptical about, but the book swears it makes fluffier rice, so when I have time I do it. Books are published, and who am I to disagree with what I'm sure is one of the best-selling self-help series? Besides, Chapter 1 is called "Embarking on the Sushi Adventure". How adorable is that?

4. Add a 3 inch square piece of dried kelp (dashi konbu) to the soaked rice, cover it, and set it over medium heat (or in a rice cooker. Oh I wish I had a rice cooker). You can also add a tbsp or two of sake, but I don't see the point of buying cooking sake, and I would certainly drink it instead of using it to cook if I bought regular sake. the ONLY time I've ever used sake in sushi rice was when I had a little leftover sake sitting the fridge. How this happened, I don't recall...

5. The rice cooking instructions are ridiculous in the book if you don't use a rice cooker, but here's the gist of it: Bring to a boil over medium heat. When it simmers, reduce heat to low and cook 15 minutes. Reduce the heat to its lowest point for 5 minutes. Turn up the heat for 7 seconds (wait, are we back in India??). Turn off the heat, remove from the burner, and let it sit 15 minutes. Never take off the lid while all this is going on. I've also cheated here by not waiting 15 minutes.

Normally I burn the rice...Sad, really. It's gotten to the point where I expect it.

Anyway, after the 15 minutes you scrape whatever isn't burnt into a dish, pour over a mixture of 1/4 cup rice vinegar, 1 tbsp of sugar and 1 1/2 tsp of salt that you prepare while the rice is cooking. Then slowly stir the rice (presumably with a wooden rice paddle) and fan it (assistance required) until no more steam rises from the dish and all the vinegar dressing has been distributed evenly. Then cover it with damp towels until you're ready to use it.

Roasting sweet potatoes is the best thing in the world, I'm convinced. Slice them into matchsticks, toss them with a tbsp of olive oil and a sprinkle of salt and stick them in a preheated oven at 425 degrees Fahrenheit. My favourite way to do them is with a generous amount of cayenne pepper, but you can add almost any ground spice. Whole spices will burn or pop and make your oven sound like it's exploding.

Anyway, wait 15 minutes, flip the sweet potatoes over and stick them back in for another 5 minutes or until they're tender. The trick is now to only eat some of them or you won't have any left for the sushi.

Making a good sushi omelet is tough, so I didn't try that hard, knowing I would fail. I took half a teaspoon of sesame oil and heated it over medium heat. You want to use a fairly small skillet so the omelet is thick. sushi restaurants have a specific square pan for doing this and can make lots at one time, but you need a small pan and square doesn't matter because it just gets stuffed inside a roll. Besides, it cute when little ends stick out the sides of the roll. You can tell people you did for aesthetic what most artists say when something turns out well for the wrong reasons. Then I whisked a few eggs until they were light and fluffy. When the pan was hot I added the eggs, reduced the heat to medium low and let the egg cook until I thought it was solid (but not browned) on the bottom. Oops. I flipped it and cooked a little more. In sushi restaurants I'm not sure how they get the lines of something sweet and dark-coloured running through the eggs. You could pour the eggs in the skillet and then pour a thin stream of hoisin or sweet soy sauce through the omelet? You could also add mirin when you whisk the eggs, or regular sugar.

Then just cut the eggs into sizes to approximately match the sweet potato.

Rolling sushi is easier than you think. It's just confusing when you see it written. When you see it done, it's simple. So forgive my explanations: You make a dipping bowl of four parts water to one part vinegar (1/4 cup of water and 1 tbsp of vinegar) and place a sheet of nori (seaweed) in front of you on a bamboo sushi roller. Dip your hands in the vinegar/water and tap them on a clean towel. Then take a cup of rice and spread it over the bottom 2/3rds of the nori, all the way to the edges. The vinegar will keep the rice from sticking to your hands, so each time the rice starts to stick, dip your fingers again.

Take a few pieces of sweet potato, or egg, or both and line them up horizontally halfway up the rice. Reach your thumb under them bamboo roller and use your other fingers to hold the egg and sweet potato in place. Roll from the bottom of the bamboo up, until the bamboo reaches over and touches the nori or rice (It will touch the nori if you used lots of fillings and will touch the rice if you didn't. Either works, but for your first time try to add only a few pieces of egg or sweet potato, because the roll can get messy and fall apart more easily if it's too big. You do, however, get to call it a futomaki - big roll). Then hold the roll in place and tug the upper end of the bamboo roller in the middle, the left, and the right to tighten up the sushi roll. Carefully unfold the bamboo roller (just the roller, not the sushi roll), pull the partially-rolled sushi roll back to the edge of the roller, and put your thumbs back underneath with your fingers wrapped around the top of the half-wrapped roll. Repeat the rolling process again, lifting the roller over until it touches down on the other side of the roll. Pull firmly in the middle, the left and the right on the upper part of the bamboo roller while you hold the sushi roll and bottom of the roller in place. Unroll the bamboo, place the sushi roll on a cutting board and slice into 8 pieces. A trick here is the coat the knife in vinegar water (just a little so the roll doesn't get soggy) and don't saw the roll when you cut. The slice should be one clean insertion, starting from the part of the blade closest to the handle of the knife and moving to the edge, so the knife moves back toward your body as you cut. Cut once in the middle of the roll, then cut those two pieces in half. Then cut those piece in half, so you have 8 pieces.

Repeat with as many rolls as you like. There's enough rice for 6 rolls, but you can freeze the rice and reheat it in the microwave the next time you want sushi. That way you don't need to go through the soaking-cooking-burning-fanning process again.

Serve with a side dish of sushi soy sauce (not regular. It will taste different, though my tamari actually worked nicely) mixed with wasabi paste. You can buy wasabi as a paste or buy it as a powder and mix it with water. The powder is more pungent. Wasabi comes from a root, but the root itself costs a fortune and you'll never need very much of it. If you are so lucky as to stumble upon wasabi root at a decent price, for the love of god buy it and freeze it, and count your blessings.

Oh, several words on pickled ginger: the pink stuff has more preservatives in it than you care to know, and is often sickly sweet when you buy it in grocery stores. So buy the pale beige-ish ginger if you can, or use fresh ginger, or pickle your own.

Second "oh": sushi is snack food so it's okay to eat with your hands. You can use chop sticks, but if it gets messy or you're no so good with chopsticks, don't feel like you're giving up by using your hands. Instead, feel food snobbish, because you're being 'authentic' and 'traditional'.

Alternatively, you could make this whole meal with regular rice, skip the vinegar dressing, and still enjoy it. Or use cucumber, avocado, or smoked salmon. Those are the quick versions. Oh (the 3rd)! and if you can find snack nori (seasoned nori that sometimes comes in small strips) then you definitely don't need to season your rice. The only problem is there's a lot of fake things in the seasonings for the snack nori, so it's your choice. It's definitely worth a try).

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Lohbia aur Khumbi (Black Eyed Beans with Mushrooms: "Indian Cooking"

This is the other dish I used the naan to soak up. I think it worked better with the Saag/Callaloo, though. It ends up either too liquidy or sauce-less. Probably a better idea to serve it with rice, but there was no way I was making rice when I had already made delicious naan.

I actually made this for the first time on Christmas Day. I don't like tofu products so I needed a bean dish for two vegetarians coming to dinner. One was from Bangladesh and one was from Ethiopia. This called for spices. It didn't go well with the miso gravy or vegetarian stuffing...and it was probably everyone's least favourite dish at the time, but I figured I should give it a second shot as part of an Indian meal, and I also wanted to see if I could improve it by using up the last pieces of smoked mackerel. Since I had thought it was too bland and watery before, I hoped the fish would give it a bit more depth, like the saag callaloo, and if nothing else, the salt wouldn't hurt. This probably would have made more sense for New Years when black-eyed bean dishes (often Hoppin' John) are made for luck. It's pretty common to see it in the Southern United States, served with Collard Greens, but I am the queen of poor timing, and my accent is far from Southern belle, so I chose Christmas instead.

1 3/4 cups black-eyed beans picked over, washed and drained
5 cups of water
lots of fresh mushrooms
vegetable oil
cumin seeds
a cinnamon stick
1 1/2 cups onion, chopped
garlic to your tastes (more is better - 4 or 5 is good), chopped finely
4 tomatoes (choose ones that don't taste like water. This is hard in could also use canned ones, drained, and don't add any more salt, but the flavour isn't the same. Organic roma tomatoes that have a sweet flavour are your best bet, or maybe two packages of sweet cherry tomatoes), peeled and chopped (Madhur Jaffrey thinks the teture is better if you peel the tomatoes, which involves placing them in boling water for 15 seconds and then rinsing them in cold water. I'm not so fussy)
2 tsp. ground coriander! This is a strong flavour for the dish, but it's less intense when cooked
1 tsp. ground cumin
ground turmeric
cayenne to taste (1/4 - 1/2 tsp)
2 tsp of salt (or none if you're using canned tomatoes or adding smoked or salt fish)
smoked fish, optional
freshly ground black pepper
chopped cilantro or parsley for garnish

Beans have a bad reputation. The trick to make them easier to digest is...well, there are a lot of tricks, and really no one solution, but here's something that may help:

1. Bring the dry beans to a boil first with just water and then skim off the scum after you've reduced the heat to medium and simmered for 2 minutes. If you soak them overnight (or eight hours) instead of boiling them and leaving them for an hour, like this recipe, make sure you drain the soaking liquid and start with fresh water. This takes some of the starch out of them, which is hard to digest. Actually, after an hour of letting the pot sit after boiling, covered, I still drained the water and started with 5 more cups. Wasteful, yes. Necessary? Yes.

While the beans are resting, cut the mushrooms into thin slices. This can take awhile. Normally I'd say don't wash the mushrooms but they're going to get stewed in a pot of liquid anyway, so washing is quicker and less wasteful than wiping with paper towel. Make sure you've got the onions and garlic ready to go. You can even get the tomatoes peeled (optional) and chopped and add the coriander, turmeric, ground cumin and cayenne as it all goes in together.

Now it's easy. Boil the beans again and skim off the scum, again. Cover the pot and turn the heat to low to cook for 20-30 minutes, until the beans are tender but not mush. If they're ready before you're set to add the tomato mixture below, just turn off the heat and let the pot sit. In theory you could drain the beans again and start with five more cups of water but that's overkill, and you lose a lot of bean flavour, as they actually do have flavour, and the dish will be blander without it.

Heat the oil over medium-high heat (either don't use olive oil or keep it below medium-high heat until some liquid is added). When the oil is hot add the cumin seeds and cinnamon. 5-6 seconds later (really??) add the onions and garlic. Stir until the onions turn brown at the edges. If you use less oil, cook until the onions are soft. Put in the mushrooms and fry until they "wilt".

Wilt?...Really? Leafy greens wilt, flowers wilt, but mushrooms? How about until they darken and shrink slightly? Not exactly wilting. Maybe the publishers didn't think that was the best way to word the recipe? Understandable, I guess. Either way, fry the mushrooms until they're not as happy as they once were, which actually doesn't take that long...happens a little too quickly for my tastes, but isn't that often the case?

Moving on, Add the tomato mixture with the spices and cook, stirring, for a minute. Cover the pot and turn the heat to low to simmer for 10 minutes.

Then add it to the bean and water mixture, which has been brought back up to a simmer. Add the smoked fish (or salt), black pepper and cilantro or parsley. Stir and simmer, topless (the pan, not you necessarily), on medium-low for another 30 minutes. Stir every now and then when you remember. Serve in bowls or it'll run all over the plate.

This recipe takes forever. An hour and 15 minutes to quick soak the beans, then at least 30 minutes to cook the beans and make the tomato mixture, lets say 45 to be fair. Then another 35 minutes to let it all cook together...but the flavour! It was much better this time than last. You just don't get that kind of flavour infused into the beans if you rush the cooking process. That's when you get tasteless beans and start pitying vegetarians everywhere. Even without the smoked fish, this is a good recipe. It's not as flavourful as Indian lamb or beef recipes, but like the saag, it's very satisfying. The mushrooms wilted quickly but the dish as a whole went the distance. Even the mushrooms flavoured the dish in the end. Kind of like how even a bad relationship can be good for you in the long run, you get something positive out of it. Besides, I love mushrooms and would hate for them to be dismissed as the butt of a long, mediocre analogy.

"Saag It To Me"...what the recipe would be called in the LooneySpoons Cookbooks...but it's not

I've recently had a very little bit of encouraging success with saag. It's tricky, because spinach is gritty and annoying to wash and chop properly. It either tastes too chewy because there are stems or it's too bitter, or the pieces are too big. As much as I usually promote fresh over frozen vegetables, saag-making is a much nicer experience using organic frozen spinach. If it's pre-chopped, all the better. Buy two bags and you're set. It'll be sweet, it'll be convenient and it'll be a whole lot harder to mess up. Also, for money to quantity ratio, buying frozen spinach is a pretty good deal. It cooks down so much that to get the 2 lbs called for in the recipe, you end up working with a lot of big pieces of spinach that get caught in everything and stain your kitchen green. So saag is now my quick and easy Indian dish because of the wonders of packaging. It's sad, and I'm sorry.

I've looked for a long time for a good saag recipe, always thinking the spices weren't quite right. And they weren't, but the spices really aren't that complicated because it's such a mild dish. You don't want to overpower the flavour of the spinach and it's not like you need a really complex combination like you would for a piece of red meat. This recipe is for Mughlai Saag, or spinach cooked with onions from Madhur Jaffrey's (my Indian cooking goddess') book "Indian Cooking". If you want something chewier try the recipe on the opposing page for saag aloo (spinach with potatoes), but for a light side dish, keep it simple with:

an onion
a green chili pepper (or not, if you prefer, but you'll lose flavour)
fresh ginger
more salt than you think
a little sugar
garam masala (store-bought or homemade)

That's all.

Dice the onion. Chop the spinach into small pieces (if not already chopped). Combine the green chili (very finely chopped...actually I substitute red chili flakes. Not at all what the recipe called for, and it did change the flavour, but there was no green chili to be found, and, well, some like it hot?), about a teaspoon grated ginger, about a teaspoon salt, and a generous sprinkle of sugar.

Basically I messed this up the only way you can...I didn't cook the onions long enough in the oil before I added the spinach. So they were a little too crunchy. They shouldn't really add to the texture. When the onions are actually soft, add the spinach and combined spices (not the garam masala). Stir and cook five minutes. Then add 1/3 c. water, bring to a boil, cover, and reduce the heat to low to simmer very gently for 10 minutes. The spinach really doesn't need to cook this long but it does need the time to absorb the flavours of the spices, so make sure you're not over-boiling it. It's already wilted, dead, and not getting any tastier. After 10 minutes uncover the skillet or pot and boil away some of the extra liquid (there will be some, assuming you didn't over-boil the spinach in the first place). Then sprinkle with garam masala and serve. Oh, I forgot! I actually turned this into Callaloo. Though I didn't add any coconut milk or almond breeze, I did add smoked mackerel. It's traditionally supposed to be salt cod, but the flavour of the mackerel wasn't too strong or too fishy, and it substituted nicely, without having to soak the cod forever and then hack it into smaller pieces, watching for bones and skin. It's a nuisance, and since this is my easy dish, there was no way I was going to do it. So by adding the fish I didn't have to add salt as it was definitely salty enough. It gave it a nice flavour too, kind of like using bacon instead of oil to fry onions for a soup...though I don't do that. Anyway, that's my addition to fusion cooking for the week. Hope Madhur Jaffrey doesn't mind that I didn't follow her lovely recipe.

25 minute recipe, max, if you're a slow chopper...or if you touch your eyes after chopping the chili. Takes a bit of time to get the burning sensation out. Don't do that please.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Naan, take 2: Madhur Jaffrey's Indian Cooking

I've come a long way since the last time I made naan...about 3 weeks ago.

I have subsequently learned to knead. Since my last naan didn't rise properly, I figured I should go out of my way to figure out this leavened bread business. People have been making it successfully for a long time. I too can be one of these chosen people.

I took the same recipe from Madhur Jaffrey's "Indian Cooking", avoiding the more difficult recipe I heard about in a prominent Vancouver chef's self-titled "Vij's".

This time I didn't overheat the milk, being scared to kill the rising agents in the yeast. The mixture of sugar, yeast and milk got properly frothy in a wide-rimmed bowl. the only change I made to the recipe (intent on not messing up) was adding almond breeze instead of yogurt to the dough mixture of sifted flour, salt and baking powder, sugar, yeast mixture, oil and egg. Oh, I used extra-virgin olive oil instead of vegetable oil because my budget is tight so I only buy one type of oil...obviously olive wins. A splurge on good olive oil is better than a bunch of different flavourless oils anyday. Well it's not entirely true that all I have is olive oil...I do have sesame oil for high-heat sauté-ing, but I certainly wasn't going to put that in naan...what am I? A high-end Toronto fusion restaurant? Certainly not.

Anyway, the dough didn't really want to form into a ball like the recipe seemed to imply it happily would, but I didn't want to add too much extra liquid, so I got it to a point that seemed manageable and started the kneading process. I'm a slow kneader, being a novice, and had to judge its readiness more by the "smooth and satiny" feel than by the approximation of 10 minutes of pulling, stretching, lifting, folding, rotating and repeating.

I rolled the ball in oil and left it to rise in the oven on the lowest temperature, covered with plastic wrap, and waited.

An hour and a half later, preheating my broiler was a disaster waiting to happen. My neighbours hate me. Mostly they hate my fire alarm, which goes off without fail every time the broiler is used. But I preheated it anyway. I swear my oven is clean so it's not burning crumbs. Who knows why that alarm goes off? Anyway, I punched down all that wonderful risen dough and kneaded again...except it didn't say how long this time. Once? What does that mean? Or another 10 minutes? That's a big difference! I went with about 8 minutes of my slow kneading and then divided the dough into 6 balls. Keeping 5 of them covered I rolled the 6th into a...well, I'm not going to lie, it wasn't so much "tear-shaped". It was flat and thin enough, approximately the called-for 10" in length and 5" in width. I wasn't too concerned.

Then the most fun part: Slapping the naan onto the hot baking pan that's been sitting in the oven getting all warmed up. Apparently this is done because naan is traditionally cooked by slapping it on the side of a traditional tandoor oven. It sticks to the clay and cooks while the rest of your food cooks in the oven. Since all us suckers who don't own a tandoor have all this free space in our disappointingly normal ovens, we can just slap the naan onto a baking sheet to recreate the fun of the real thing. Not a bad second-best.

I put the pan in the middle of the hot oven for 3 minutes and then moved it up to the broiler for 30 seconds while I was rolling out the next naan.

See, the problem, and beauty, or naan is that it puffs up when baked, so when you put the baking sheet so close to the broiler, it has a tendency to reach out to the element like a child reaching for a shiny object. And like a child, it got burned. Actually, hopefully unlike a child, it lit on fire...just a little. This was before the smoke alarm went off, though, so at least I was only dealing with one situation at a time. I can't imagine having a child to take care of at the same time. I have a lot of respect for mothers who make naan in a non-tandoor oven with a renegade fire alarm...

Anyway, it was only slightly charred, which is actually kind of desirable with naan...and all the others puffed up without lighting on 5 out of 6 ain't bad.

I did remember, through all this, to wrap the fresh naan in a dish towel to keep them warm while the rest were cooking...

and the result? Not bad. Doughy, sweet, crisp outside. I'm not yet worthy of calling it a total success, but I feel like I'm getting somewhere good.

Next post: what I needed the naan for - scooping up Saag (my own variation on calalloo) and Lohbia aur khumbi (black-eyed beans with mushrooms).

Monday, January 11, 2010

So, how many layers were there?

Bringing it all together.

When you have a whole lot of recipe ideas that sound interesting, you sometimes have to say "No, I just don't see how hamburgers can possibly be served with Duck a l'Orange". But then you remember that mini gourmet burgers are popping up everywhere (I'll keep my opinion to myself on that one), so perhaps homemade ground beef patties with caramelized onions and gruyère paired with Pulled Duck a l'Orange? Both fit nicely on lightly toasted buns or ciabatta. Dress up the hamburgers, dress down the duck. My point is, there's usually a way to find a connection or a theme, which can make a party more interesting and attractive.

I first thought I'd make one enormous cake as a centrepiece. Five layers, lots of height, but layer cake is hard to serve in snack-size I reconsidered. The more I tried to come up with an idea (knowing that I did want to make at least one layer cake), the more I got stuck on "layers". Okay, fine, I gave in, but then how to make the rest of the food fit the theme? Appetizers would be stack-able, or come pre-stacked (baguette topped with cooked Moroccan salsa, topped with cilantro, or arugula topped with grilled fennel and asparagus, topped with shrimp). Then desserts could follow suit with the make-your-own frozen mousse cookie sandwiches.

Then all you need to do is explain and rationalize. The party guests need to know what's going on if they're to enjoy the theme as well. What's the point of going to all the work of following your own theme rules if the concept is lost on the invitees? So you need to make it as blatantly obvious as possible.

I did this by physically arranging the food presentation area into 3 vertical and horizontal levels. Low on the left were cooked savoury dishes like the brisket and the salad. Low in the middle were dips, and low on the right were cookies and petite sweets. Then on a slightly higher platform in the middle was the current pièce de résistance, which changed from the Buche de Noel to the lemon mousse over the course of the party. Higher to the right and further back were placed the sinfully decadent blackbottom cupcakes (again, layers in themselves, with a chocolate cake base and cream cheese topping, garnished with chocolate chips).

Then to really drive in the layer theme, I made an introductory cue card, hand-written, and placed it at the entry to the dining area. More cue cards identified dishes and informed if the food was safe for lactose-intolerant or vegan people. So even if people stopped caring about the layer theme once they got past the entrance-way, they at least had at one point known about it, and maybe, just maybe, they appreciated it.

Then there's the wine. Again, what's the point in carefully choosing wines for the event if bottles are opened haphazardly, drank too quickly, and forgotten about? It's dangerous to leave a corkscrew on the table, but as long as someone is there to monitor who comes into the room, and introduces the concept or wine pairings to them, it all works out. The trick is to welcome them to the room, start talking about the wines and then "suggest" they start with one of the whites, "which pairs nicely with the..." The wines I chose were a Henry of Pelham Reisling, two Alsatians (a Gewurztraminer and a Muscat), two cabernet sauvignon organics (One French, one South American) a Henry of Pelham Baco Noir, and 3 Quebec dessert wines (a blueberry hydromiel, a blackcurrent cassis hydromiel and a strawberry mistelle). These last 3 are incredibly sweet, but worked well with the chocolate because there wasn't any other fruit on the menu, so it added flavour instead of just sweetness. The pairing suggestions were general and if guests wanted to talk about specifics they could come to me and I'd be more than happy to discuss the winery, the wine and the pairing choice. In general I suggested the Riesling and Muscat for the salad and smoked trout spreads, the Gewurztraminer with the lemon mousse cake, wild mushroom bruschetta (because of the sweeter cheese) and risotto balls (usually a dry white is better with risotto but these tasted hollow and woods-y, and needed something to give them a kick. The sweeter acid worked well, but the dryer whites would have been a good alternative, if the guest had perhaps taken more than enough muscat to get through their salad and spread). The Baco Noir was wonderfully dry and spicy enough for the moroccan cooked salsa and certainly for the vegan chocolate mousse, which was not as sweet as the non-vegan chocolate mousse. It also worked very well with the complex flavours of the hot Indian koftas. The cabernets worked better with the non-vegan mousse and with the southwestern brisket because of the sweetness of the sauce.

As I mentioned on the wine-pairing cue card, my dad's apple cider goes with everything, and if you put out a selection of aperitifs (Dubonnet), liquors (whisky, scotch, port, and rum because it's Newfoundland) and even if nobody drinks them, it makes for an elaborate presentation.

The party was...amazing and fun, like a party should be. Once it got started there was no stress. Inviting so many people into your home and presenting something of which you can be so proud, should be a great experience. From polenta to brisket to Buche de Noel, good food, wine and company made this a beautiful afternoon.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

The Bûche de Noël: Alice Medrich's Christmas Log

Assembling the great Bûche...

After I made the double recipe of bittersweet chocolate truffle mouse, the Bûche recipe says to line a jelly-roll pan (just a baking pan with rims) with aluminum foil, like I had done for the Chocolate Soufflé pastry (see previous post), and freeze until firm. Now a little bit of arts and crafts...

Using the foil liner at one end of the pan you fold 2 inches of the frozen mousse over itself. Press on the foil to flatten it. Then peel back that part of the foil. Miraculously this didn't ruin the shape of the mousse. The doubled-over section will be the centre part of the mousse spiral of the Bûche. Oh Alice, so smart.

Then lift the soufflé pastry in parchment paper from its pan and place it pastry-side down (flip it) over the mousse. Don't worry. It WILL stick to the paper. It's just nerve-wracking flipping anything...It should line up with the mousse pan, not the folded end of the mousse. Then peel the paper from the soufflé. I got so nervous at this point that I neglected to sieve cocoa over the pastry, but I did remember to cover it with a sheet of foil. It would have been a disaster if I'd tried to flip it over without the foil. With help(!) hold the foiled pan at both ends and flip it onto the counter. So much flipping...Now the pastry is on the bottom, topped by the mousse. Then peel the top layer of foil off the frozen mousse. It actually peels well! If it's not frozen enough it will stick to the foil and, again, mousse soup will be created. Oh, it'll also just ooze right out of the buche once it's rolled, which is the step we're getting to right now:

Turn the foil so the side with 2 inches of exposed pastry is opposite you, and use the foil to help roll the pastry and mousse into a log starting from the unexposed side. Wrap the roll with foil and return to the freezer.

Well, that all sounds simple, right? Really it isn't so bad if you don't lolligag before flipping the mousse, and as long as it's not a furnace in your kitchen. Fortunately(?) Christmas in Canada is cold. Mousse stays mousse-y longer. Basically the only reason to like cold winters...skating is overrated.

Now the bûche was actually looking like a bûche and it was so beautiful. Kind of like when you can't see how something could ever really come together and it does. Any kind of work of art into which you put so much time and effort. Everything rolled pretty nicely, the pastry only crushed the mousse a little, and the pan fit perfectly into the freezer.

Just one more meringue to go...the next day. The pressure was on. An actual culinary student stood looking over my shoulder as, yet one more time, I attempted to not scramble egg whites. He didn't say anything. That's good, right? I was pretty determined. I even had the oven preheating to 425 degrees for the baking. I whisked, checked the temperature, thought it was good enough, and beat to stiff peaks.

I got the bûche out of the freezer and managed to transfer it to a piece of foil-wrapped cardboard, as the recipe suggests, without knocking the whole thing over. Then I covered it all, sides included, in meringue, making sure it touched the cardboard at the base. I skipped the "texture like tree bark" step in favour of not pushing my luck, and popped it into the preheated oven. I didn't want to stick it back in the freezer for fear of something bad happening to the meringue, or the whole thing sliding onto packages of frozen herbs, berries and peas...

I forgot to sieve powdered sugar on top before putting it into the oven, so I risked burning by sticking an arm with a sieve into the oven to make sure I got everything right. I baked it for 6 minutes (choosing the longest recommended time because I'd opened the oven door for so long to sieve the powdered sugar).

Oh my God it was beautiful. A little chocolate had escaped at one end, but I cut from that end first and once it was gone...spirals are amazing things. I just wanted to keep cutting slices off that bûche to see how beautiful the inside was. I mean, it just looks like a big cylindar of meringue, but inside there's a nicely packaged present of soufflé and mousse all wrapped up around each other. You need to eat this right away to get the hot taste of meringue on the outside and the cold taste of rich, frozen mousse on the inside. It's all so light and fluffy, but creamy and decadent. This is by far the most amazing thing (dessert, meal, recipe) I've ever made.

Would I make it again? Yes! For a VERY special occasion.

Was it everything I hoped it would be? Besides the escaping mousse and how quickly it thawed and spread (started as a circle, turned into an oval....turned into an elongated oval...), this was the most beautiful kitchen creation in the history of my kitchens, of which there have been 7. 7 kitchens I mean. That's a lot of creations.

What an incredible recipe...thank you, Alice Medrich.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Building A Lemon Mousse Cake: Gravity hurts us all in the end, I suppose...

This is the horrible picture of what was left of the mousse after 30 minutes:

So my lemon mousse cake was a bit messier than the picture in the book...but every bit as delicious. It was a little better than lemon pudding, but not quite as spectacular as my first lemon mousse attempt. This is in the "Dressy Desserts" section of the cookbook (The Best of Heartsmart Cooking) so I knew I had my work cut out for me. It was only 3 layers, though, so there was hope.

First you make the ladyfingers:

Eggs, separated
granulated sugar
cream of tartar
cake flour
powdered sugar (I'd say doesn't really seem to serve a purpose in an already-sweet cake)

You need a very big baking sheet that can hold two 8-inch round layers of ladyfingers. It's kind of finicky, but you're supposed to take a large sheet of wax paper and trace the bottom of two 8-inch cake pans onto the surface of the paper. (Actually, it's better to make the circle about 8-and-a-half-inches...I'll explain below). Turn the paper upside-down on the large baking sheet. Then scrape the batter into a pastry bag and pipe discs by starting in the middle of the circle and spiraling out to the edge. Making a perfect circle is kind of important or you'll get a icicle-like protrusion in the side of your mousse cake and the mousse layers will fall around it. Or you just cut it off...nothing dire will come of it. It's just not as perfect. Actually, I didn't even pipe because I don't own a pastry bag and plastic doesn't work well. Mostly I thought I could get away with it because in the instructions it refers to another recipe but says you just follow those batter directions and then spread the batter evenly between the two circles. Ambiguous spreading instructions for such a perfect mousse cake...

Anyway, this is actually pretty easy to make:

Beat egg yolks, vanilla, and less than half the sugar for 2 1/2 to 3 minutes (don't skimp, says Alice).
Beat egg whites with cream of tartar at high speed until soft peaks form, then add remaining sugar until stiff peaks form.
Then fold a third of the whites into the yolk mixture
Add half the remaining whites and sift (don't dump) half the flour on top, and fold.
Then add remaining whites, sift remaining flour on top, and fold again.

The folding method is described in the book:

"Scrape a large scoop of batter up the side of the bowl. Lift it above the rest and let it fall gently back on top. Rotate the bowl and continue to cut, scrape, and lift batter without mixing, stirring, or smoothing. It may seem as if the parts will never come together, but they will [encouraging, Alice]. Scrape around the sides of the bowl from time to time and scrape the batter off the spatula with another spatula. Fold until barely combined."

A problem with this is sometimes you don't get a clean cut down into the mousse, and is it okay to cut through the part you just folded to the top? Or should that part be closer to the edge so you fold around it? I mean, it must be okay to cut through your just-folded sections or it'll never actually mix, but it seems so counter-intuitive to cut through the fluffiest part of the mousse.

I digress.

Optionally, sieve with powdered sugar.

Bake in a 400 degree oven for 8-10 minutes, until just golden brown. I'd err on the side of less-golden so you mousse cake doesn't get too crisp or dry. Dry cake doesn't go well with soft mousse. When they're cool, peel off the wax paper. The layers didn't spread during baking so I hoped I'd done alright...

Then take a pastry brush and the tops of the layers with 2 tbsp of rum. Place one layer, rum-side up in a 9-inch springform pan (This way you can just remove the sides of the pan when you're ready to serve the mousse instead of trying to move a toppling structure to a serving dish). Then brush the bottom of the 2nd layer with another tbsp of rum and set it aside.

Make the lemon mousse:
This recipe I've given in another post...lemony pillows of air. Refrigerate it for at least 4 hours or you'll end up with mousse cake soup. Delicious, but not what I was going for.

This is the delicate part. Scrape half the mousse on top of the first ladyfinger layer in the 9-inch round pan. Spread the mousse to fill in between the pan and the layer. This is a problem if your ladyfinger layers didn't spread...apparently they're not supposed to spread, and yet somehow you're supposed to start with 8-inch cake circles of ladyfingers and end up with almost 9-inch circles when you put it all together. So make the layers a little bigger than 8-inch and then it'll be okay to extend the mousse off of the layers. It makes it a lot easier to even the sides of the mousse if you can use the springform cake pan to even it for you.

Now Alice says level the top of the mousse. She says she does this on a cake decorating turntable with a cake comb with a serrated edge...but you really don't need a turntable...and you really don't need a comb. Very overrated. She says you can also use a clean index card folded length-wise (to stiffen it). Hold the folded edge against the mousse while you rotate the cake. Cover the pan with plastic wrap and refrigerate at least another four hours.

The last layer!! This gives the top of the cake a beautiful yellow colour, which makes the white mousse layer look very clean and smooth.

Cold water
Strained orange juice
strained lemon juice

Sprinkle the gelatin over the water in a small cup. Leave at least 1 minute without stirring (funny how some recipes she says this explicitly, but not all. Am I allowed to stir in the other recipes? I wouldn't dare, but it's a little bit of a bright red apple calling out to me...

When it's softened set the cup in a pan of barely simmering water (or microwave on high for 15 seconds...Wonder which one I chose?) to melt the gelatin.

Combine the contents of the cup with the orange juice, lemon juice and sugar, and stir to dissolve the sugar. Set aside until time is given...but it should be syrupy. If it gets to thick set it in a pan of hot water (or microwave again for a few seconds on low. It really should be gently brought back to syrup and the microwave should stay out of this whole process. It feels so unnatural...but so convenient).

Since your mousse should be touching the edge of the sprinform pan, you just pour a thin coating of this lemon mixture on top and tilt the pan in every direction to spread evenly. If your mousse hasn't set enough, this is where you get soup...The ladyfinger layers need to stay in place and there should be no movement in the pan.

Chill at least 30 minutes to set.

To serve(!) use a hot, wet, wrung-out towel to warm the sides of the pan for about 30 seconds. CAREFULLY remove the sides of the pan.

A garnish would look really beautiful on top of this...a fresh sliced strawberry, or a few blackberries.

Despite the ragged appearance, it was still so good...

Thursday, January 7, 2010

So many mousses...

1 day before great Christmas Party 2009, I had 3 meringues to make as part of:

1. A double batch of Bittersweet Frozen Chocolate Truffle Mousse Cookies
2. A lemon mousse cake
3. The outer layer of the baked frozen Buche de Noel.

I was a little nervous.

First the Bittersweet Chocolate Truffle Mousse.

I can't remember the last time I ate a truffle, one you buy at a gourmet chocolate shop. So when I discovered Ricemilk Chocolate bars that came in a dark truffle variety I think I cried from joy. Well, that or called my also lactose-intolerant mother to share the good news. Christmas present shopping has been easier ever since.

This bittersweet chocolate truffle mousse recipe actually only calls for bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, of which you can find many varieties without dairy, but for pure truffle decadence, you have to try this ricemilk chocolate bar from Terra Nostra Organic for baking. You can google it. I've advertised for them enough now.

eggs, separated
4 oz dark chocolate truffle bar, chopped fine
cream of tartar

I've already given this recipe in a previous post, but basically you use the egg yolks to make a thick mixture of the sugar, cocoa and milk in a saucepan that you pour over the chopped chocolate, gelatin and vanilla, and leave to cool in an ice bath.

Then you make the meringue. I figured it would actually be easier to make the needed double recipe since the egg whites wouldn't cook as quickly...or I'd end up with twice as many scrambled egg whites. I even managed to separate 4 eggs so no yolk got into my whites and caused them to lose volume when I beat them. I had my thermometre ready in a very, very hot mug of water near the frying pan/double boiler and had assistance in keeping the stirring going while checking with the thermometre after 1 minute to see if the whites had reached the safe temperature of 160 Fahrenheit. I had gotten a hot mat ready in advance for the bowl which came out of the frying pan quickly, and the beaters were plugged in and conveniently placed next to the mat to start beating immediately. I don't know if this is all paranoia but it certainly seems like you can't leave your egg whites to sit and wait while you plug things in and set things up. They will revolt and either cook or refuse to expand. So I immediately beat them until cool and stiff, checking with the beaters by turning them off and lifting them out of the bowl to see if the meringue stuck up like stalagmites and stayed in place. They stayed.

Then I folded. Some chocolate on top of egg, then egg back on chocolate. Then it froze. The nice thing about this chocolate mousse is by freezing it the mousse tastes richer and it doesn't need to be as fluffy as, say, a lemon mousse. It won't taste like chocolate pillows of air, but it needed to be made correctly so it didn't just melt and ooze out of the chocolate cookie sandwiches I was going to put it in. The picture above is of the cookies set out as sandwich layers and a bowl of chocolate mousse from which party guests could fill them. Make-your-own frozen chocolate mousse sandwiches...A bit messy if the mousse gets oozy, but so, so delicious...This was about 3 hours into the party and the mousse had mutinied by then, BUT for a good hour the frozen mousse held its shape.

I'll call it a success. Baby steps in the right direction...ever toward mousse.