Monday, January 30, 2006

the best pizza crust

Yesterday, I made pizza with a dough recipe from Gourmet's recent 65th Anniversary edition. In the past, I've only found marginally satisfying pizza dough recipes; this will now be my standard. It stretched like a dream--no gapin holes. It was fluffy and crispy at the same time and perhaps tastier than the toppings I added to it. I used a crapola pizza pan, so I can imagine the transcendent results that would come from using a pizza stone. All hail Gourmet. I'm sorry I have no picture for you, but lately my stomach gets the best of my blogging plans. While I think I shall stick with this recipe, I'd love to hear your pizza dough recommendations.

Friday, January 27, 2006

ricotta walnut cake

I had some leftover ricotta to use up from when Mark made lasagna a while back, so I made this simple little cake yesterday. It's a very spongy batter, with very little flour and a whole lot of whipped egg whites folded in, baked in a springform pan. Other than the ricotta and walnuts, the only thing flavoring it is the zest of an orange, making for a very delicate, subtle cake. After it cooled, I glazed it with apricot jam diluted with a little Grand Marnier (the recipe called for brandy, but I didn't have any, and this worked fine).

It's so good, I just ate a piece for breakfast. mmmm!

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Preserved lemon update

Now, I may just be impatient, but after about a week and a half in the jar, these lemons ain't shrinkin'. I suspect it's because the jar is too small to pack them in tightly. I'm afraid all I've got here is a jar of salty lemons.

Do you think I should fill the jar up with lemon juice and salt so they're all submerged?

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

a lovely find

I just ordered some new stuff from Penzey's, including this:

My previous experience with paprika was of the basic supermarket variety: the utterly flavorless stuff that serves a purely aesthetic purpose. When I think of paprika, I imagine it being a spice for people who don't actually like food or cooking all that much. I associate it with the condensed-soup-based casseroles of my Midwestern youth.

This stuff, though, is delightful. It's made by drying pimientos over an oak fire for days. I opened the jar, tasted a little, and realized what the secret was to all the good Spanish food I've ever had. It's not the same kind of smoky-spicy as chipotle; this is a more muted taste that begs to go with saffron. In fact, I instantly cooked up some rice with smoked paprika and saffron just to give my new purchase a whirl, and it was great. This makes me want to go buy some shrimp and some good bread, saute the shrimp with this stuff and some good olive oil and lemon and sherry and lots of garlic, and sop it all up with the bread....sigh. I can also see it doing wonderful things for potatoes. And paella, it goes without saying.

There's a real "secret ingredient" appeal here; I think this is one of those things you could slip into many dishes to impart a depth of flavor that few people will be able to pin down. But I'm afraid of using it too much now that I've discovered it. I almost don't want it to become one of my staple tricks! I'm afraid of diluting the magic, I think, if that makes any sense.

Sunday, January 22, 2006

waiting for mole

The Red Iguana is a Salt Lake culinary institution. It's on the city's westside, near the state fair park, in a neighborhood where the other dining choices are Denny's and the like. By appearances, you wouldn't expect much from the place. It's tiny with garishly painted walls and ski and snowboard stickers covering the front door (inside and out). But you probably also see a perpetual line outside the door. Because to get the Iguana's famous mole, you have to wait--as my 5-yr-old niece says, a long, long day. The place is always packed and there is no place to wait inside (except for a tiny strip of walkway by the windows). Despite the crowds, the restaurant never expands, which adds to its considerable charm.

Last night, my sister and I trekked to Red Iguana and were met with a 50 minute wait. Anywhere else and the 50 minutes would have convinced us to pick a different restaurant, but mole can make a compelling argument. We waited 20 minutes in the car and then decided to brave the cold wait. Luckily, the owners have tried to make the wait a bit more tolerable by mounting heating panels on the overhang. These end up making your head very hot while the rest of you stays somewhat cold, but it's better than what you'd face without them. After 20 minutes in the line, the host came out with our clipboard and called our name and several others, so we started to follow him inside. "Oh no," he said. "Your table isn't ready. I was just checking." Apparently the cold and the wait generates a few dining casualities. Another 15 minutes, and he comes out again and calls my name with more affirmation. Finally! But no, he just wants to know if we'd like to wait inside. We have waited long enough that we now get a piece of the tiny strip beside the window. Only another 10 minutes and we're finally at our table.

Ah, mole. The wait was absolutely worthwhile. Shari had enchiladas suiza which is sour cream chicken enchiladas in mole poblano. I had mole negro, which in its most basic reduction is made with peanuts, walnuts, almonds, chile mulatto, and fennel. Most moles have more than 20 ingredients, so I can hardly tell you everything (even if I knew!). The fennel was sublime. It made the mole wonderfully aromatic, but it didn't overwhelm the flavor. And the mole is pretty--dark sauce contrasted with the pale chicken and sprinkled sesame seeds. I would show you a picture, but I had mole on my mind and not blogging. I was searching for mole negro recipes today, but I couldn't find anything with fennel, which surprises me because it seemed the most interesting element. Not that I'm going to make it anyway.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

chocolate day!

Every year, on MLK day, the Ferres (my second family since childhood) host chocolate day, a feast of chocolate desserts. As a way to get through the winter, the Ferres have created a series of themed dessert days: chocolate day is followed by lemons on Groundhog Day and cherries on President's Day. And last year, at my prompting, they added a coconut day. But chocolate day was first. Elayne (friends since we were twelve) is always worried about what people might think about the potentially un-pc image of a chocolate feast on MLK day, so she tells some elaborate story about the day's origination in an attempt to provide some legitimacy within the scope of race relations, but I can't remember the details, and really the day is incidental. I mean, what's the connection between lemons and groundhog day? But I find it awfully entertaining to watch Elayne worry. Anyway, this year's menu:

Mocha Cheesecake
Chocolate Cream Pie
Mint Chocolate Brownies
Chocolate Oreo Cake
Some kind of butterscotchy, rice crispy chocolate bar
And my contribution:

Mini Black and White Cookies (hey, might as well get into the spirit of things. remember that Seinfeld episode with the black and white cookie?):

JERRY: The thing about eating the Black and White cookie, Elaine, is you want to get some black and some white in each bite. Nothing mixes better than vanilla and chocolate And yet somehow racial harmony eludes us. If people would only look to the cookie all our problems would be solved.

ELAINE: Your views on race relations are fascinating. You really should do an op-ed piece for the Times.

JERRY: Look to the cookie Elaine. Look to the cookie.

While consuming his second piece of chocolate cream pie, Elayne's 6-yr-old son declared, "Chocolate day is my best day." And another of the many kids stated rightly that on chocolate day you need lots of water: "Lots and lots of water."

Friday, January 13, 2006

I think I may have just done something stupid

So, this afternoon I decided to make Moroccan preserved lemons. All was well as I washed out a jar that once held pasta sauce and sterilized it in boiling water, and as I made four deep, diagonal cuts in each lemon, essentially cutting them into quarters but leaving them attached at the ends.
And all was still well as I stuffed the cuts with kosher salt:

Now, I was supposed to pack the lemons tightly into a jar, pressing to release some of the juice. I should have realized my troubles were beginning when I had to really press down and force the first lemon through the mouth of the jar. I got two more in there before I realized that unless I resort to breaking the glass, those lemons will never be coming out!

I'm not sure this photo quite illustrates the problem, but there's no way they'll be coming back out through the top. Somehow I failed to think about the fact that I'd need a wide-mouth jar for this.

Has anyone ever preserved lemons before? Any chance that as they cure, they collapse a bit? I'm hoping that's the case.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Lori needs cookbooks!

Urgent appeal to all "Three Tarts" friend Lori in Japan wants to do more in the kitchen and is looking for recommendations for good cookbooks. She's already a fan of the updated Joy of Cooking. Which ones can you not live without?

I'll get the ball rolling by saying anything by Cook's Illustrated because the recipes are practical and the descriptions and rationales are fascinating to read.

What do y'all love, love, love?

Thursday, January 05, 2006

perhaps it should be called a "rumpunchymoon"

Mr. Tart and I had a glorious time on our Carribean honeymoon just before Christmas. We spent just about every day completely blissed out hopping from pool to ocean to hot tub, taking advantage of the swim-up bars ("It's 10:oo am--time for a mimosa!" paddle paddle paddle), and reading copious numbers of books and magazines, both in and out of the water. And every time we turned around, someone said hello (or "hey mon") and offered us rum punch. The resort was all-inclusive, so we could eat and drink all we liked without having to juggle foreign currency (and figure out how to carry coins in a bathing suit).

Once I ordered hot tea at a swim-up bar--and they had some!

We had access to two other affiliated resorts on the island, which gave us a choice of over a dozen restaurants. Generally the food was either quite good (especially the seafood, natch) or mediocre. The quality wasn't quite up to what you'd expect from a fancy restaurant in the States--for example, every plate was garnished the same, whether it was steak or fish, the creme brulee crust was soft instead of crisp, the French restaurants didn't serve kir (our favorite extremely French aperitif), the "shrimp bisque" tasted like canned tomato soup, a shrimp pasta dish boasted a pile of spaghetti that dwarfed the few shrimp, the high school cafeteria-worthy pizza sat limp and thick under a heat lamp all day at the snack bar, and the vegetarian options were shamefully pathetic (one entree choice per restaurant, and one of them was a stuffed baked potato). Our travel agent had also enticed us with the fact that we could have lobster at every meal if we wanted to--alas, none of the restaurants even hinted at lobster.

Ah, but when it was good--and served thirty feet from the gently rolling sea--it was good and memorable. Chicken stuffed with brie in a mushroom sauce. Mussels topped with tropical fruit salsa. Seafood curry crepes. Red snapper. Mahi mahi. Crab cakes. A fantastic spring roll. A tiramisu as good as anything I ever had in Italy. Plus, the breakfast buffet delighted me: smoked salmon, sliced starfruit, passionfruit (which looks very nasty up close but tastes tart and vivacious), pineapple crepes. Many of the simple lunch options were yummy, too, like a salad of baby corn and cucumber, or ratatouille served in a grilled green pepper. Throw in a tall glass of starfruit juice and I was content.

This is passionfruit. Told you it looks gross! We took to calling it "booger fruit."

And we expanded our drink repertoire after seeing one of the swim-up bar menus that boasted concoctions like the "Fuzzy Pirate" and the "Dirty Monkey." I became partial to a drink called the "Sandals Mama" with lime juice and amaretto and I don't know what all else, and Mr. Tart, who is almost exclusively an Italian red wine drinker, suprised me by ordering a "Passion" three afternoons in a row. I asked the bartender what was in it so I could make it back home, and while I recognized some of the ingredients, I didn't know what the one called "Seventh Heaven" was. Not until we took a "adventure" cruise--read "booze cruise" (more rum punch! at 8:30 am! on a boat! hello seasickness!)--to the south end of the island and toured the botanic gardens, that is: turns out it's a liqueur made from a local plant called "Seventh Heaven" and reputed to be an aphrodisiac! A good one to indulge in on one's honeymoon, I suppose. No wonder the mixed drink is called "Passion."

Here are a few other food-related pictures from our trip:

Mussels, shrimp, and tuna on the grill at the Japanese restaurant where our chef cooked at our table.

At the botanic garden: nutmeg! The inner kernel of nutmeg is inside this red lacy covering, which is dried, crumbled, and sold as mace, a different spice.

A very happy Mr. Tart digs into a chocolate crepe.

Beware! Thanks to scotch bonnet peppers, this cheerful orange sauce is fiery!
Mmmmm. I'm ready to go back already!

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

mystery food

Yesterday, I went out for Korean food with my sister's family. Jang Soo Jang (on 27th and State if any of you SL folks want to check it out) is a great restaurant--low on decor and frills, but the food is delicious and authentic. In all the times I've been there, I've never seen anyone who wasn't Korean (except for us, of course). But with authenticity, you occasionally get food that is unrecognizable. Like this:

If you can tell me what this is, you will forever earn my admiration and affection (and if you already have those, you'll just have to feel satisfied with your own cleverness). The unidentifiable food (UF) was part of a soup with a bean paste broth, veggies, beef. But this? My brother-in-law used to speak Korean, so he asked the cook/waiter what it was. He pretended to know what she was saying, but he didn't know. All he got was the culinary effect it's intended to have. As you eat the spicy soup, the UF is meant to cool your mouth. And it does just that. When you bite into the spongy thing, a spurt of cool liquid fills up your mouth. And we decided it must be something from the sea, as the liquid was a bit fishy, a bit seaweedy. The only other possibility that my sister and I came up with is that it is some variety of scrotum.

Don't let this UF scare you away from Korean food--the most under-rated of Asian cuisines. Another (less intimidating) view of our meal:

Mmmm, I'm going to go eat my leftover squid right now.

Monday, January 02, 2006

are they really worth the trouble?

I decided that before I start the new semester I needed to do some complicated, time-consuming cooking/baking project, something that I wouldn't have time to do otherwise. So, I picked croissants. Ever since I saw the lengthy recipe in the Gourmet cookbook last winter, I added them to my list of foods to attempt.

I started the dough last night. After mixing, kneading, and briefly chilling the dough, the tedious part begins. Pound out a big slab of butter and then fold dough over it. Roll out the dough and fold again. Then chill. Then roll out the dough and fold. Chill again. You repeat this process four times and then the dough goes into the fridge over night.

This morning, I had this:

Isn't it pretty? Look at that butter oozing out.

Then, I had to roll out the dough again, cut it, roll it and put the prepared croissants in garbage bags. Then, 2-2/12 hours to raise the dough. The baking itself is tricky. Heat the oven to 425. Spray the oven with water. Put the croissants in the oven. Spray again. Turn down the heat. Bake 10 minutes. Swap the location of baking sheets in the oven. Turn down the heat again. Bake 10 minutes. Sigh--they are finally done.

I burned the first batch a bit, but the second round turned out quite well. And they are tasty. Buttery, salty-sweet and flaky. I love the first bite into a croissant, when all the flaking bits stick to your lips. So, were they worth it? I wouldn't bake them every day, or even every month, but I feel satisfied with the effort. It was rather meditative, folding and refolding, working to pile up the layers of dough and butter. Now I have 24 lovely croissants which I will store in my freezer and deliver to friends (but only a few) and I as I eat them, I will try not to think about that big slab of butter.

And in other non-related food news, I made a happy purchase:

I'm not sure why I picked lemon yellow since everything else in my house is rather subdued. The burst of color on my kitchen counter is still surprising me. Maybe it was the lovely weather yesterday, and some desire to maintain a sunny environment despite the continuation of winter (and today, of course, is rainy and gloomy). But I'm delighted by the new machine.