A cake for consenting adults

caek 015Bluebarry and I like almost any foodstuff one is likely to happen upon in day to day Western life. No fruit or vegetable makes us go “ick”, and we’ll pretty much try anything you make for us. But we have one common dislike that is awkward and that can cause hurt feelings: We hate cake. Not cake per se, but bad cake with icing. Not that there isn’t good icing out there. We just don’t care to look for it. Our family and friends know enough to not bring us sweet cakes. We call it being caek’d, and we are perfectly comfortable saying to our friends: Don’t cake me, bro.

So what do we love? Anything MC’s sister Dory makes, and this  clementine cake recipe from Nigella Lawson.

Clementine cake – made primarily with whole braised clementines and ground almonds – is not very sweet, it is densely moist but very light on the palate, and it keeps for almost a week. We always make it for Bluebarry’s mom (MC’s mother-in-sin), and any guests who happen upon us in clementine season.

It’s dead easy to make (google will translate amounts if you use the ‘= ‘sign), but I suggest beating the sugar and egg well and then adding the pulp and a generous, heaping spoon of baking powder.

Happy  Armenian and Orthodox Christmas, and bon appétit!

Dish of the Week: 2013 Week One

Let’s see if we can stick to this New Year’s resolution: a weekly post, highlighting the best thing we cooked and/or ate, and listing other noteworthy meals.

This week’s pick was a Rick Bayless recipe for Potato and Chorizo Tacos with Simple Avocado Salsa.

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Despite the link to Her Royal Marthaness, we actually stumbled across this recipe in a new (to us) video cooking app-zine, Panna, that features some very cool chefs: Bayless, Anita Lo, Jonathan Waxman, et al. It has some bizarro interface issues, but it’s well worth checking out.

Since our butcher du jour didn’t have any Mexican chorizo sausage, but did have unseasoned sausage meat, we went with Ruhlman’s chorizo recipe (scaled down to a pound of meat). We had to almost double the chipotle and ancho to give it that nice brick-red tint that finds its way into the pork lipids and stains everything it’s cooked with so, so appealingly…

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We also used Bayless’s recipe for tortillas, which involves two pans at different temperatures.

tacos 010There’s a tortilla, mid-press. And here it is getting all puffy-like in the hot cast-iron pan:

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The salsa that accompanied the dish is pure awesome sorcery: tomatillo, jalapeño, avocado, garlic, and salt. The acid in the tomatillo keeps the avocado from oxidizing, which means you can enjoy this salsa for a good couple of days.

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This week’s other dinners:

Kabocha Pumpkin Hot Pot, from Tadashi Ono and Harris Salat’s Japanese Hot Pots: Comforting One-Pot Meals. Some substitutions: We added some tofu, and made a quick pressure-cooker chicken stock rather than the five-hour mushroom infusion.

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Scallops Grenobloise, eliminating the veggies but adding Thomas Keller’s asparagus coulis. (To be honest, this was kind of a shit-show: terrible croutons courtesy of lame white bread from these hacks, which I forgot to add anyway because of  too much of this week’s wine pick, which also made me forget to season the asparagus coulis. However, substituting meyer lemon in place of regular lemon was sort of genius.)

Poulet au Riesling, from the foodporny The Country Cooking of France. Delicious made with a big old capon and a hefty dollop of crème fraîche. As usual, Willan’s recipe needed some tweaking: some cornstarch at the end to thicken the sauce.

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And finally: take-out pizza from Il Fornello. Not as good as Pizzeria Libretto, but better than it used to be.

The next two weeks’ DOTW posts will be delayed, but for good reason: we’re taking the show on the road to Oaxaca, Mexico. Among other things, look forward to stories from our cooking lessons with Nora.

Salad of the Year!

After fruit, vegetables are definitely my favourite food group, but oddly, I find few salads hearty enough for a meal. This one isn’t hearty enough either, but it’s closer than most, and is very delicious. An addition of a nice chick pea dish, some homemade bread, and a glass of un-oaked chardonnay and I’d be good to go. 

The impetus was from my two of favourite food bloggers, who, like I, were a little nonplussed by  Bon Appétit’s recipe of the year. A vegetarian dish as recipe of the year? Bring it on! Three of my favourite people (yes, Nancy, you’re one of them) are vegans. But something so easy? Sad. Where’s the challenge? But this is still delicious, so I’m calling it the best salad of the year, and one I think I could modify for vegan visitors. (Yes, Nancy, a hint). It will be a staple in our kitchen. It’s delicious, it’s easy, and going back to my main point, delicious enough to be craving worthy.

Nomnivore’s policy is not to pretty up our dishes with photos from other sites, because we want to be transparent about our product. We used baby kale, which was absolutely delicious, but not very pretty once cooked, and by that I mean: it looked like the skin from the creature of the Black Lagoon. We sincerely regret not cutting off the stems first (they were kind of nasty), but we ate every crumb of this salad. 

To start off with, we shaved gorgeous local beets razor thin (they really do need to be razor thin, or the magic is lost, and yes, Urban Herbivore, I’m talking to YOU).Image

Here are the pretty pics.
ImageImageWe then added layers of arugula, homegrown cucumber, hot peppers, and the dressing. We topped it with the kale chips.

Here is our none-too-pretty but plenty-delicious salad of the year.
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I venture that this will be a good way to introduce one of the most delicious and nutritious foods, kale, to kids, in a way they’ll love. I’m planning on trying it for the world’s cutest critic of Stephen Harper, and perhaps her sister, one of our favourite dinner guests and people. Image

 

Thanks, Bluebarry, for the excellent photos!

Hot Stock Tip

You may as well start making stock this way, because I think you’re going to end up doing so sooner or later. Pressure cooker stock has been around for decades… like so many things that are now in fashion (canning, foraging, bread making). It is now being popularized by the new generation of “modernist” cooks: it appears in the massive, multi-volume Modernist Cuisine and its forthcoming little brother, Modernist Cuisine at Home, as well as Heston Blumenthal at Home.

In this case, I think the attention is well deserved. I’ve made half a dozen batches of stock this way, and it has several advantages over the standard method:

It takes less time to produce great stock: two hours rather than several
It takes much less energy (gas or electricity)
It doesn’t fill the kitchen with heat and steam
It keeps all of those aromatic molecules in the pot
There’s a lot less hands-on work (skimming)
It forces the ingredients to give up everything they have
It produces a clearer, cleaner looking stock more easily

The downsides?

You might not own a pressure cooker, and really good ones (stainless steel rather than aluminum) are not cheap
Unless you buy a seriously expensive pressure stockpot, you won’t be able to make more than 2 or 3 liters at a time
You miss out on some of the sensory pleasure of stock-making: the tending of it, the sight of it bubbling away, and the house-filling aroma. The pleasure of opening the lid and suddenly: “whoa, it’s stock!” has its merits, but it’s not exactly traditional.

When push comes to shove, though, I’m more likely to spend a little time making stock a few times a month rather than a whole lot of time making it once a month. This is something that’s going to result in me making more stock, and better stock.

Bonuses: pressure cookers are obviously good for a lot more than stock. For dried beans and grains, in particular, I find the pressure cooker makes the difference between never cooking them, and being generally happy to cook them even on a weeknight. And a really good pressure cooker is also a really good standard pot: our Kuhn Rikon ‘cooker is a heavy beast that’s never going to warp.

Heston Blumenthal’s White Chicken Stock

1.75kg chicken wings
150g peeled and finely sliced onion (approx. 2 medium onions)
150g peeled and finely sliced carrot (approx. 2 large carrots)
100g finely sliced button mushrooms
60g finely sliced celery (approx. 2 sticks of celery)
50g cleaned and finely sliced leek, white and pale green parts only (approx. 1 leek)
2 cloves of garlic, peeled and bashed with the flat part of a knife or by hand
10g flat leaf parsley (stalks and leaves)
6 sprigs of thyme
1 bay leaf
5g black peppercorns

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The precise ingredient amounts might seem a little obsessive, but it’s worth paying attention to them the first couple of times – you’ll then develop a good sense of what 50g of leek looks like.

Method:

Blanch the wings: put them in the pot, cover them with cold water, and bring them to a boil, skimming any scum that rises to the top. Strain them out, rinse them thoroughly under cold running water, clean the pot, and return the wings to the pot.

Cover the wings with cold water, and bring them up to pressure. Cook under high pressure for one hour. Let the pressure come down naturally.

Open the lid, and add the vegetables (but not the herbs). Bring the pot up to pressure again, and cook for 30 minutes. Let the pressure come down naturally.

Now, add the herbs and spices and cover the pot, but keep it off of the heat. This extracts the delicate flavours without cooking them away.

Strain the stock through damp muslin or several layers of damp cheesecloth. Cool it rapidly in a sink of ice water, and refrigerate. The following day, scrape off the fat. There you have it: truly excellent stock.