Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Chocolate pudding

Last week's New York Times Food section had several variations on the theme of chocolate pudding. I love chocolate pudding! It reminds me of being a kid. My brother and I would beg my mom to make us pudding as a special treat. It usually came out of a box, but we didn't care. When I saw the recipe for chocolate pudding with bananas, I decided to try it for a small dinner party on Sunday. Everyone loved it. I decided that it was more like chocolate pudding with bananas rather than a chocolate banana pudding. In fact, it would probably be delicious with strawberries instead of bananas. My next recipe in the pudding family will be pots de creme. I have found several good recipes including one from the NYT so I need to study them to see which one I should try.

Chocolate and banana pudding:

5 ounces milk chocolate, finely chopped
3 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
2 tablespoons cornstarch
Pinch salt
2 egg yolks
1 1/2 cups whole milk
1/2 cup heavy cream, plus 1 cup whipped
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 large bananas, thinly sliced
14 whole chocolate wafer cookies, plus 4 crushed, for garnish (I like Pepperidge Farm chocolate chessmen).

1. Place chocolate in a bowl. In a separate large bowl, sift together sugar, cocoa, cornstarch and salt; whisk in egg yolks and 1/2 cup milk until smooth.

2. In a large saucepan over high heat, bring remaining 1 cup milk and 1/2 cup cream to a simmer. Pour over chopped chocolate and whisk until smooth. Whisking constantly, slowly pour hot chocolate mixture into egg mixture until completely incorporated and cocoa is dissolved.

3. Return custard to saucepan. Cook, stirring constantly, over medium heat, until thickened, about 10 minutes. Do not let mixture reach a simmer. If custard begins to steam heavily, stir it, off the heat, a moment before returning it to stove top. Strain through a fine-mesh sieve. Stir in vanilla.

4. Spread several tablespoons pudding evenly into an 8-inch square pan (or a glass bowl). Top with an even layer of bananas; arrange whole cookies on top of bananas. Cover with remaining pudding. Top with whipped cream and sprinkle with crushed cookies. Chill at least 3 hours or overnight before serving.

Yield: 6 to 8 servings.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Arugula pesto

When I lived in Cambridge, UK, back in the mid-nineties I used to frequent a wonderful cheese shop that also sold fresh pasta and homemade rocket, aka arugula, pesto. I was flat broke in those days, but I'd carefully plan my budget so I could spend my pennies on the delights at the cheese shop. I fell in love with the rocket pesto. It was so good that I would eat it from a spoon. I am very pleased that the Cambridge Cheese Company is still in business. I had no idea until I googled it.

Every spring when arugula is bountifully available at the farmers' market I buy some. It's good in salads but I am still partial to the pesto. Here is the recipe I've been using for years. I think I found it on the FoodTV Web site. I've never tried it with toasted walnuts but I'm sure it is equally tasty.

Recipe: Arugula (rocket) pesto:

4 cups packed fresh arugula
1/2 head of minced garlic
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1 cup pure olive oil
3 tablespoon pine nuts, toasted
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan

Prepare an ice water bath in a large bowl, and bring a large pot of water to a boil. Put the arugula in a large sieve and plunge it into the boiling water. Immediately immerse all the arugula and stir so that it blanches evenly. Blanch for about 15 seconds. Remove, shake off the excess water, then plunge the arugula into the ice water bath and stir again so it cools as fast as possible. Drain well.

Squeeze the water out of the arugula with your hands until very dry. Roughly chop the arugula and put in a blender. Add the garlic, salt and pepper to taste, olive oil, pine nuts. Blend for at least 30 seconds. In this way the green of the arugula will thoroughly color the oil. Add the cheese and pulse to combine. The pesto will keep several days in a tightly sealed container in the refrigerator. Serve w/ pasta or in any dish requiring pesto.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Magnolia Grill

Tuesday night my friend and I had dinner at Magnolia Grill. We nabbed a table in the bar. No reservations required for the bar. Our table was the one farthest from the door and closest to the kitchen. Frankly, I think it is the best table in the house because we watched all the food come and go and we could see bustling activity in the kitchen. For two gourmandes that was a treat to see all of the gorgeous creations coming out of the kitchen.

Every time I've been to Magnolia Grill I've enjoyed the starters and desserts the most. Don't get me wrong: the main courses are generally lovely too, but the chef/owners excel at the first course and the last. One day I intend to sit at the bar and order each of the starters so I can try all of them. I might need someone to share in this task because that would be a lot of rich food.

Anyway, I am partial to starters because the flavors are richer, more concentrated than main courses usually are. Tuesday was no exception. My friend and I shared a pork terrine seasoned perfectly with thyme. Butter lettuce leaves garnished the plate and there may have been some pale beets too. The terrine, a glorified pork meatloaf, was thinly sliced and arranged on the plate. If you are partial to pork and to terrines like I am, then you need to run to Magnolia Grill while it is still on the menu. I'd be quite happy with a plate of terrine and the glass of white Burgundy for my dinner.

Our main courses were also delicious. We agreed that we'd each eat half of the plate and then trade. That's really fun if you can find a willing party to share his or her dinner. I generally order the fish because Magnolia Grill's fish has always been perfectly done and a delicate balance of flavors. I ordered the trout. It came with potatoes and a sauce that featured chorizo. I liked the unexpected surprise of the spicy chorizo. My fish was cooked medium rare. My companion ordered the grouper served on spaetzle. She enjoyed it very much. It was tasty, but I thought the grouper might have been a hair overcooked. As for the spaetzle, well, how can you go wrong w/ any homemade egg pasta? It is the Swabian contribution to the culinary arts!

We were too full to have dessert, alas.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Chocolate cupcakes

Cupcakes have been very trendy for the past couple of years. Some friends of mine got married and had cupcakes arranged on a large multi-tiered plate instead of wedding cake. Bakeries all around town have begun selling pretty, decorated cupcakes. In NYC there are entire bakeries dedicated to taking the humble cupcake to new heights of elegance and sophistication. Cupcakes have a lot going for them: they are single portions, they don't require a fork, and they can support a generous amount of frosting.

My favorite cupcake recipe comes from the March 2005 Cooks' Illustrated. Currently the recipe is available for free on their subscription Web site, but I've also copied it below.

It makes twelve cupcakes and cannot be doubled. The cupcakes come out with a tender, moist crumb and a rich, chocolate taste. I have topped them with coffee flavored frosting, peanut butter frosting, and chocolate frosting. The coffee frosting is great but I doubt children would like it so keep that recipe for adults! I know that I would have been woefully disappointed as a child if I bit into a delicious homemade cupcake only to discover it had coffee frosting!

Dark chocolate cupcakes:

8 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into 4 pieces
2 ounces bittersweet chocolate , chopped
1/2 cup Dutch-processed cocao (1 1/2 ounces)
3/4 cup unbleached, all-purpose flour (3 3/4 ounces)
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
2 large eggs
3/4 cup sugar (5 1/4 ounces)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon table salt
1/2 cup sour cream (4 ounces)

1. Adjust oven rack to lower-middle position; heat oven to 350 degrees. Line standard-sized muffin pan (cups have 1/2-cup capacity) with baking-cup liners.

2. Combine butter, chocolate, and cocoa in medium heatproof bowl. Set bowl over saucepan containing barely simmering water; heat mixture until butter and chocolate are melted and whisk until smooth and combined. Set aside to cool until just warm to the touch.

3. Whisk flour, baking soda, and baking powder in small bowl to combine.

4. Whisk eggs in second medium bowl to combine; add sugar, vanilla, and salt and whisk until fully incorporated. Add cooled chocolate mixture and whisk until combined. Sift about one-third of flour mixture over chocolate mixture and whisk until combined; whisk in sour cream until combined, then sift remaining flour mixture over and whisk until batter is homogenous and thick.

5. Divide batter evenly among muffin pan cups. Bake until skewer inserted into center of cupcakes comes out clean, 18 to 20 minutes.

6. Cool cupcakes in muffin pan on wire rack until cool enough to handle, about 15 minutes. Carefully lift each cupcake from muffin pan and set on wire rack. Cool to room temperature before icing, about 30 minutes. (To frost: Mound about 2 tablespoons icing on center of each cupcake. Using small icing spatula or butter knife, spread icing to edge of cupcake, leaving slight mound in center.)

Easy coffee buttercream:
10 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
1 1/4 cups confectioners' sugar (5 ounces)

Pinch table salt
1 1/2 teaspoons instant espresso powder
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 tablespoon heavy cream

In standing mixer fitted with whisk attachment, beat butter at medium-high speed until smooth, about 20 seconds. Add confectioners' sugar and salt; beat at medium-low speed until most of the sugar is moistened, about 45 seconds. Scrape down bowl and beat at medium speed until mixture is fully combined, about 15 seconds; scrape bowl. Dissolve instant espresso in vanilla and cream, and beat at medium speed until incorporated, about 10 seconds, then increase speed to medium-high and beat until light and fluffy, about 4 minutes, scraping down bowl once or twice. The frosting may be made ahead and refrigerated but bring it to room temperature before using. The recipe may be doubled to make enough for a two layer cake.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Chocolate malts

I love chocolate malts! Vanilla ice cream, malt, and chocolate syrup. I think some people call this a black and white because the malt or shake isn't made with chocolate ice cream.

Elmo's in Durham makes the best chocolate malt I've had so far. It is just as I like it with lots of malt flavor, chocolate syrup and vanilla ice cream. The drug store on Franklin Street in Chapel Hill makes tasty malts too but they call it a black and white. I heard the that old MacDonald's drug store on 9th St. might reopen as a soda shop and ice cream shop. That would be great!

Cafe Driade on Franklin Street deserves special mention for their chocolate mocha shake. It has vanilla ice cream, chocolate syrup and a shot of espresso! MMMM! I don't even miss the malt.

So I decided to try making malts at home. I started with 2 scoops of plain old Ede's vanilla ice cream becauce chocolate ice cream isn't all that, in my view. I'd much rather eat (or drink) vanilla ice cream with a lovely chocolate sauce. The beauty of shakes and malts is that the fewer high brow the ingredients, the better. I added 2 T of chocolate sauce, 2 T Ovaltine malt and 1/2 c of milk. It was a disaster! Ok maybe not quite a disaster because it was drinkable and very good, but it had too much milk and I didn't like the Ovaltine. It might have even had too much chocolate sauce, if that is possible. So I am still on a mission to find the right ingredients and the right quantities. If anyone has any ideas, please let me know.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Hainanese chicken and rice

Two friends and I made this lovely dish at the weekend. One friend is from Singapore so we decided to try making what is basically the national dish of Singapore. Never mind that it comes from Hainan province in China. The dish is served room temperature with hot rice and hot soup. It is surprisingly easy to make although it did take us nearly three hours because we got sidetracked talking. For some of us, it is hard to stir and talk!

We made sauteed bok choy with garlic and fish sauce as a side dish.

Here is the recipe for the chicken and rice from recipe czar. When you make it, start with the chicken. While it is boiling and resting, make the sauces and the rice. We didn't make the chili sauce. Rather we bought the red colored garlic chili sauce available in supermarkets.

For the chicken:
1 whole chicken cut into pieces
1 large thumb size piece of ginger crushed
4-5 cloves of garlic peeled and crushed
1t salt
enough water to cover chicken for boiling
1 cucumber peeled and sliced
3 Roma tomatos sliced

Bring water to boil. Add garlic, salt, and ginger. Add chicken. Cook uncovered for 20 minutes on a slow simmer. Turn off heat and cover pot with lid. Let chicken sit for another 20 minutes. Then remove chicken and immerse in cold water. Slice chicken off the bone then cut into narrow slices. Slice the tomatoes and cucumber and arrange on a plate. Arrange the chicken on top of the vegetables.

For the chicken sauce:
tablespoon garlic oil (make this by sauteeing 2 cloves minced garlic in canola oil a minute or two until fragrant)
teaspoons sesame oil
5 tablespoons light soy sauce
1 1/2 tablespoons sugar (to taste)
3 tablespoons chicken broth (from boiled chicken)

Combine all ingredients. Pour over chicken. Garnish with chopped cilantro and sliced green onions.

For the rice:
3 c. jasmine rice
2 T fat (from chicken or canola oil)
2-3 cm ginger, grated
3-4 garlic cloves, grated
1-2 teaspoon salt (to taste)
cups chicken stock, according to rice package instructions (or more, reserved from chicken that you will boil)

Heat the fat in a saucepan. Add the ginger and garlic. Stir for a minute or until fragrant. Add the rice and stir for a minute until it is coated. Add salt. Add chicken stock and cook according to package instructions.

For the dipping sauces:
Buy the garlic chili sauce at the supermarket and put in a small bowl.

Ginger sauce:
5 T peeled and cut up ginger
6 cloves of garlic
1/2 t salt
1T lime juice
3T chicken stock

In a blender or food processor blend the ingredients until it is the consistency of a coarse pesto. Put it in a small bowl and serve with the chili sauce.

To serve:
Serve rice mounded on dinner plates. Pass around the chicken. Serve the chicken stock in bowls with a garnish of cilantro and sliced green onions. Serve with dipping sauces.

Friday, April 11, 2008

White bean, goat cheese and rosemary pizza

Sometimes I wish food would just magically appear so I wouldn't have to cook. Don't get me wrong, I like cooking but by Friday evening I am ready to go out to eat or to have someone else cook for me.

Tonight I didn't feel like dining out, and no one was around to cook for me, so I either had to cook for myself or eat cereal. Not wanting to eat cereal for dinner, I whipped up my favorite wholewheat pizza dough (it's so easy to make and I always have the ingredients on hand), pureed 1 cup of of white beans with a few cloves of garlic, 1 T of chicken broth, and 1 t of olive oil and spread it over the pizza dough. Then I topped it with some thinly sliced onion (maybe half of a small onion), some thinly sliced tomato (a whole tomato), crumbled 4 oz of goat cheese on top, and sprinkled with some chopped, fresh rosemary. I seasoned it with salt and ground pepper.

It went into an oven preheated to 450 F and baked for 18 minutes.

I mixed some baby greens in olive oil and ate with some pizza.

Easy. It would be even easier if a person bought the pizza dough. Any canned white bean will do. I've made this recipe before w/ cannellinis, great northerns, and garbanzos. They all taste good. I've never met a legume I didn't love.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Ragin' Cajun: Papa Mojo's Roadhouse

I believe one should celebrate his or her birthday for a week, at least, especially for milestones like the 9th year of being 29! So to prolong the merriment my dive buddy took me to dinner. We decided to try Papa Mojo's Roadhouse on highway 55 near RTP (It is in the same strip mall as Sarah's Empanadas, if you know where that is. I recommend Sarah's corn and raisin empanadas for lunch if you work in the Park).

Papa Mojo's Roadhouse, conceived by Mel Melton the "Papa" of the Wicked Mojos band, features down home Cajun cuisine. Mel Melton and the Wicked Mojos play there from time to time. Every Thursday night features a band, and there seems to be a schedule of blues and zydeco music on certain nights of the weekend throughout the month.

Besides his musical talents, Mel knows how to cook. Every year around Mardi Gras he teaches a cooking class at A Southern Season. A friend invited me to the class in 2007, and we learned some great recipes like shrimp and tasso beignets with Jezebel sauce, red bean bisque with cornbread croutons, redfish Rockefeller with Creole mustard cream sauce, and bananas foster bread pudding with caramel sauce.

The menu at Papa Mojo's Roadhouse is a lot simpler. It features Cajun staples like gumbo, crawfish etouffee, and jambalaya. I had the Cajun sampler: etouffee, jambalaya, and red beans with rice. My friend had a big bowl of the jambalaya. I have to say that, of the three on my sample plate, I liked the jambalaya best. It is made with "yard bird" (chicken to you and me), andouille, and "cochon" (pork to the rest of us). I usually like some shrimp in my jambalaya but this was so tasty that I didn't miss it. It needed a little salt and to be doctored up with some of the Louisiana hot sauce sitting on the table, but that's why it's there, right?

The best part of the meal was dessert, of course. My friend was too full on jambalaya to eat dessert so I had to eat a whole piece of buttermilk pie with chantilly cream (sweetened whipped cream w/ a dash of vanilla) and blackberry sauce. I'd not ever had buttermilk pie. I'm not even sure I've seen it on a menu until Papa Mojo's menu. What have I been missing? It's delicious! The textures is kind of like a custard pie but not as eggy tasting thanks to the tartness of the buttermilk. The sweet berry sauce and whipped cream accompanied it very well. Here is the recipe from the restaurant's Web site (I've not yet tried it myself so if you attempt it, let me know how it goes):

Buttermilk Pie with Blackberries

1 ½ cups sugar
1 Tbsp lemon zest
1 Tbsp flour
4 large eggs
1 cup buttermilk
1 stick melted butter
1 10-inch pie crust

1 cup blackberries
1 cup sugar
2 Tbsp pomegranate juice
1 tsp cornstarch

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
In a mixing bowl combine sugar flour and zest. Whisk eggs in one at a time. Stir in buttermilk and melted butter. Cook ingredients over low heat until syrupy. Add cornstarch to thicken. Pour into pie shell and bake for approx. thirty minutes.

Monday, April 7, 2008

A treat for girls: The Cafe at Nordstrom

Shockingly enough I'd never been to the Café restaurant on the second floor at Nordstrom although I frequent the store's shoe department and makeup counter often enough.

A friend took my for my birthday. I'm 29 again. We did some restrained shopping, and then headed to the restaurant for lunch. I had a chicken, artichoke, roast red pepper and goat cheese salad with a vinaigrette. The roasted red peppers gave the dish a surprising sweetness. They were perfect little morsels. Sometimes roasted red peppers are just slimy and hardly worth eating. Goat cheese is my favorite food in the world followed by artichokes so I was very happy.

My friend had the Asian chicken salad which had a delicious ginger dressing.

Next time I will try the crab bisque and the pear and Gorgonzola salad or the club sandwich.

So if you ever need a break from strenuous shoe shopping at Nordstrom, head to the Café. It's a lot better than the food court inside the mall!

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Sichuan chili sauce

When I was in China and not working or being booted out of Tibet, I was eating. The food there is fantastic! Granted some of it is kind of weird. There is an old Chinese saying, "The Chinese will eat anything with four legs but the table" and it's kind of true! The menus were fascinating. In Beijing and other touristy places where we Westerners might go the menus are usually offered in English. If the translations are somewhat lacking in descriptive value then there are always pictures.

The variety of fungi alone is astonishing. I enjoyed perusing menu items that I would never in a million and one years eat: shark fin soup, turtle, dog and "sinew of beef soup" to name a few. I have a hard time ascertaining what sinew of beef soup might be but it sure sounds gristly.

My colleague and I both especially loved the Sichuan food. I noticed a delicious, hot peppery flavor in several dishes. Finally I figured out that this peppery flavor came from what looked like a peppercorn. I believe these are sold in Asian markets in the US as Sichuan peppercorns. I bought some in the airport at Chongqing (fomerly referred to as Chungking in English) after the Tibet debacle. The label calls them Chinese prickly ash.

I scoured my cookbooks for Sichuan recipes and came up with this sauce that goes great on stir fry. I made it with fish, but perhaps fish is too delicate to stand up to the intensity of the prickly ash peppercorns. Use the peppercorns sparingly otherwise your tongue will go numb!

Here is the recipe from The Quick Recipe, p, 342:

3 T dry sherry
2 T low sodium chicken broth
1 1/2 T soy sauce
1 T Asian sesame oil
1 T Asian chili paste
1 t cornstarch (I suggest omitting it unless you like the thick sauciness it imparts)
1/4 t sugar
1/4 t toasted and ground (in a pepper mill) Sichuan peppercorns (Chinese prickly ash)

Combine all ingredients in a small bowl.

Use this sauce with stir fry: Once you have fried up the meat or veggies, add the sauce. Turn the heat off. Stir the food until it is well-coated with the sauce.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Asian fusion in Cary: An

Last night a colleague and I ventured to Cary for dinner at the restaurant An. The menu features sushi, sashimi, a variety of small plates that lean towards Asian and a dinner menu with main courses like chicken with peanuts, black vinegar, and spicy honey. Their specialty is Kobe beef and the menu describes it as being served with deconstruction ratatouille, cassava cake, miso and ginger sauce. I am not sure what that means and I am too cheap to pay for Kobe beef so I went for the prawns with candied walnuts, heart of palm slaw, and honey cream sauce. The flavors went together very well. I really enjoyed the honey cream sauce. What's not to love about honey and cream?

My friend had the miso sea bass with maple syrup, white miso, shiitake, and ginger soy meunière sauce. It looked good, and she cleaned her plate. I don't yet know her well enough to say, "Excuse me, may I have a bite?" so I didn't get a taste.

The drinks menu and wine list are lengthy. I had a nice full, smooth Burgundy before my dinner because yesterday was too cold for white wine. I needed something to warm my blood and it hit the spot.

I like the atmosphere at An. The tables are decorated with orchids which happen to be my favorite flower. For those of us in RTP it is fairly convenient for dinner or cocktails after work. I plan to go back soon to try their sushi. We have a lot of mediocre sushi in the Triangle. Maybe An will be a pleasant surprise.

Side note: I'm still closely following the crisis in Tibet and the surrounding provinces. I'm worried about the latest round of what is undoubtedly a silly Chinese yarn.