Archive for February, 2010

Mousse au Chocolat

Thursday, February 18th, 2010

It’s been a while since I made chocolate mousse.  And the last time I did, my sister-in-law (who is an amazing pastry chef) did most of the work.  So I carefully studied the recipe in Mastering the Art of French Cooking, and prayed that my substitutions would work.

Since I had gotten myself snowed in without any granulated sugar, I had to substitute.  The maple sugar I did have seemed the best bet–a closer texture to superfine sugar than the brown sugar that was my other option.  I had just enough sugar cubes left to pound them fine to add to the egg whites while beating.  This is not a house that uses much sugar.  The other big challenge the house brought me was the lack of an electric mixer–beating both egg yolks and egg whites by hand is not something I would want to do every day.  But it was worth it.

I had amazing (but old) bittersweet spiced chocolate balls that I had bought at the Valrhona Chocolate shop in Tain l’Hermitage almost two years ago.  A bit chalky on the outside, chocolate mousse is the best way to use up old chocolate.  I didn’t understand why the egg yolks, sugar, and orange liqueur (I used a mixture of Campari, Cointreau, and Rose Syrup) needed to be whipped in so many stages–at room temperature, then on top of an almost-simmering pan of hot water, then on top of cold water–but it all came together.

The texture worked–that lightness along with the richness–and the spiciness from the chocolate was a delicious kick.   It was a perfect finish to a lovely Valentine’s Day dinner!

Malay Rose

Wednesday, February 10th, 2010

I grew up in Gamboa, a small town in the Republic of Panama, situated where the Chagres River meets the Canal.  There were various fruiting trees in the town, but my favorite was one whose fruit we called Rose Apple.  This wasn’t its correct name–the tree is Syzygium malaccense, and the proper common name is Malay Apple–but it persisted in Panama, and always seemed more accurate to me, given the glorious dark pink color of the fruit’s skin.  The flesh itself was white, light-textured and a bit spongy when properly ripe, and deliciously tart with rosy overtones.  There was always a beautiful time of anticipation as the tree prepared to fruit–after the flowers were polinated, the bright fuschia petals would fall and carpet the ground under the tree, a lovely sight.  It’s been too many years since I was home during their fruiting season, and I need to change that.  

My cocktail games have produced a drink that reminds me of this fruit, and I’ve called it the Malay Rose.  The color of the drink is a color some varieties of the fruit attain in nature, and balances floral and tart in a way I really enjoy.

The Malay Rose

2 oz Gin
0.25 oz Campari
0.25 oz Cointreau
0.25 oz lemon juice
0.25 oz rose syrup

Shake ingredients over ice, strain into a cocktail glass, and garnish with a lemon twist.  A variety of gins can work in this drink–Damrak is a favorite for this mix, as is Bombay (NOT Sapphire!).  Using a lighter, more floral gin like Hendrick’s or G’vine Fleuraison changes the nature of the cocktail, but can still be nice for the milder version that it is.  Rose Syrup can be found at Shemali’s, a fabulous Lebanese grocery in Foxhall Square down the hall from my place of employment, and at other Middle Eastern shops.   I hope you like it!

Gruner Veltliner!

Monday, February 8th, 2010

You can never be sure what to expect when you open an older bottle of wine–especially white wine.  So many modern wines just aren’t meant to age in the first place, and so many things can happen to the bottle to kill a wine that might have survived otherwise, temperature fluctuation being at the top of the list.  So when I open a bottle of older white wine and find something charming, I’m especially pleased.

Throwing Gruner Veltliner into this equation improves the odds–it’s a very age-able white grape, and naturally quite delightful.  I had a funny bottle around, and so decided to open it to go with my chicken pot pie for dinner (winter comfort food is dominating the menu right now, and with another foot of accumulation forecast for tomorrow, I may keep that up).  The 2005 Wimmer Czerny Weelfel Gruner Veltliner Alte Gruben turned out to be sweeter than I expected, but still delicious: candied melon, with honey and lemon hints, with enough acidity to balance the sugar.  Immensely enjoyable!

Gruner is my favorite grape to pair with vegetarian food, and goes very well with a lot of seafood and chicken as well.  And I have a special fondness for grapes that are hard to pronounce.  Cheers!

Celery Bitters Tasting

Sunday, February 7th, 2010

The Bitter Truth Bitters are now available in our fair city, which is a very exciting prospect.  Bitters are a wonderful component not only of cocktails, but of cooking, and the flavors in this new brand are intense and wonderful.  The most unusual flavor in this new batch is Celery Bitters.  I’ve used them more for cooking so far–savory cocktails are not my specialty–but did want to do a tasting with Martinis.

I love a good Martini–I prefer mine with two parts gin to one part Dolin Dry Vermouth.  Hendrick’s is a favorite of mine, though I know many gin purists who seriously disagree with that opinion.  While recommending options for using celery bitters in a Martini to customers, I was surprised by how many recommended using Hendrick’s.  Infused with cucumber and rose, I prefer to play up the floral elements, or contrast it with citrus.  I was more inclined to use a more classically styled gin, like Bombay or Plymouth.

As I had both Plymouth and Hendrick’s on my bar, I decided to give them both a try.  I made two Martinis, identical but for the gin: two parts gin, one part dry vermouth, and 2-3 dashes celery bitters.  While the one using Hendrick’s was still good, the flavors of the celery bitters overwhelmed the milder gin, and many of its subtle flavors were lost.  The strength of the Plymouth was perfectly matched by the bitters, and was kicked up when I added a garnish of sliced baby dill gherkins.

Sweet Potato and Pork Shepherd’s Pie

Saturday, February 6th, 2010

Sadly, the Boeuf Bourgignon turned out to be a total loss, burning to a crisp.  I’ll have to try that again.  It certainly killed my cooking buzz, so I’m happy there’s leftover Sweet Potato and Pork Shepherd’s Pie from last night.

Based on a recipe from an Andrew Schloss cookbook, this sounded like a fun variation on a dish I love.  I find sweet potatoes a bit much on their own, so I mixed them half and half with rutabaga when I made the mash for the topping, smoothed by a mix of butter and plain yogurt, which gives it a nice tang.  I cut the pork loin into bite sized pieces and sauteed them in olive oil with sage, thyme, cumin, and a bit of salt and pepper.  When they were nicely browned I transferred them to the casserole dish, then added a diced onion to the saute pan.  When it was almost translucent I added about a cup of sherry, more thyme and sage, and lots of dashes of The Bitter Truth Celery Bitters.  When it reduced a bit, I stirred in about 2 tablespoons of plain yogurt, and immediately poured it over the pork.  I spooned the mash on top, sprinkled parmesan over the mash, then baked it at 350 degrees for about 30-40 minutes, until the parmesan had browned.  Delicious!

So while my original dinner plans ended in devastation, I will be comforted by leftover Shepherd’s Pie, and by opening a great bottle of wine to go with it: Jerome Chezeaux Bourgogne Rouge 2005.

Snowpocalypse Activities

Saturday, February 6th, 2010

I love cooking while I’m snowed in.  There’s close to two feet on the ground outside, and it’s still falling.  I have absolutely no interest in being out in that (Washington is betraying me this winter!), and love the extra free time to try new recipes.  Luckily my refrigerator is fully stocked with what I need for my first attempt at a classic: Julia Child’s Boeuf Bourgignon.

I love Julia Child.  My first attempt at a roast leg of lamb was made with the help of one of her more recent cookbooks, The Way to Cook, that I checked out of the library.  Mastering the Art of French Cooking would be my choice if I had to choose only one cookbook to use.  I admire her for not only her talent as a chef, but for discovering it later in life, and for being a loud American who the French loved.

While braising is one of my favorite techniques for working with meat, I have never attempted this classic.  It’s currently simmering away in my oven, and I can’t wait for dinner.  I’m also mildly injured from the experience, with multiple burns from spitting fat while the bacon, and then the beef, were sauteing.  More to follow after dinner, once I’ve tasted it.