Sunday, January 26, 2014

We need a candy thermometer

A few weeks ago, Nexx made a chocolate mousse and topped it with candied orange peel. It was quite delicious, and I topped mine with just a touch of cream.

This weekend, we were invited to a dinner party and we were asked to make a salad. In my staunch refusal to be boring, I went digging and found this recipe. A bit more about that in a moment.

Now, one can buy candied lemon peel, but somebody very cute frowned at that, so I went digging a bit and also talked to Nexx.

The recipe I found seemed pretty easy. Peel lemons, eschew pith, boil and strain a few times then cook in simple syrup until soft and tasty.

When I talked to Nexx, he mentioned that he didn't boil it as many times as Lynn Rosetto Kasper did in her recipe. I took that under advisement and started my first boil.

And when I saw how yellow the water had turned and how much lemony goodness was being thrown away, I decided to cut the peel into smaller pieces.

Then it was a question of making simple syrup, which is easy. 2:1 ratio. Sugar in the pot, then the water. I had the heat up too high (hence the title of today's post), so ended up making more, but in the end, I had delicious bits of candied goodness. 

Now for the rest of the recipe:

  • 2 heads frisée (curly endive) (6 to 7 cups, washed, dried and torn into bite sized pieces). Frisée is out of season, so I went with a mix of arugula, radicchio and a bit of endive.
  • 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon salt I eliminated, the cheese provides sufficient salt
  • 1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 3 tablespoons good tasting extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar, or to taste
  • About 3 ounces Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, shaved into long furls I used a cheese called grana padano here. It's much less expensive than imported parmesan and has a slightly softer texture, making it easy to shave with a vegetable peeler.
  • 1/3 cup Candied Lemon Peel, homemade or store bought, cut into 1/2-inch sticks
  • 1/3 cup toasted pine nuts
  • 1/4 cup Balsamic Syrup (balsamic vinegar with a bit of brown sugar).

1. Place the frisée into a large bowl and have 4 to 6 individual salad plates at hand. Sprinkle the greens with the salt, pepper and the olive oil. Toss and then add the wine vinegar. Toss again and taste for oil-vinegar balance.
2. Heap greens on each plate, and tuck the cheese furls and lemon peel here and there into the greens. Scatter with the pine nuts and drizzle each pile with a few streaks of the balsamic syrup. Serve immediately.

We didn't quite get into the fancy plating as this was being driven about an hour away. So, tossed together, except for the balsamic, it was sent with Nexx to the dinner party, with a bowl reserved for me to eat later. To my extreme annoyance, I had been attacked by a cold this week and was not fit company for man nor beast. Which is a pity because the friend hosting the dinner party has bunnies and bunnies are one of my favorite beasts.

Nexx came home with an empty container and a little bit of balsamic syrup that had been funneled into a bottle for easy transport. The salad, I was told, was a hit. I had enjoyed it quite a bit, especially the different play of textures. The sharp saltiness of the cheese ad the richness of the pine nuts practically danced with the lemon peel.

And now I have about a pint of lemon syrup which is going into hot tea, because poor Nexx now has my cold.

Next time--either a lamb chili or a carrot ginger soup. Stay tuned!

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Another round of making ingredients or, "Oh shit, pot luck!"

In my new job, I work with some great people and have recently transitioned onto a new team. It's both a happy and sad occasion, because while I'm looking forward to new challenges to go along with my current project a person I'd become very fond of took a job elsewhere. 

So a couple weeks ago, someone said, "Let's do a pot luck!" And then someone said, "Spicy!" and I said, without thinking, "I'll make aloo gobi." 

Three of the guys on the team are Indian. Can you say, "Oh shit?"

I was also long out of garam masala, so this was a nice excuse to make a new batch. After several uses, I decided I could do better than the last one--in retrospect, it seemed heavier on the black peppercorns than it needed to be.

So in the grand Knives, Fire, and Fun tradition, I explored some recipes and then made up my own. Into a dry pan on medium-low heat went:

  • 1 T cardamom pods
  • 1t whole cloves
  • 1 t black peppercorns
  • 2 t cumin seeds
  • 1 2" cinnamon stick
  • 1 t coriander seeds
  • 1" dried chile
  • a medium-sized bay leaf, broken into bits.
Toasting spices is one of my favorite culinary things. I get to make the house smell heavenly and I get to shake a pan to mix the ingredients as if I knew what I was doing. Anyway, I did this until the seeds started to make popping noises and then turned off the heat.

I began to break the ingredients down first in a mortar and pestle and then to a fine powder in my spice grinder. I also added a teaspoon of powdered nutmeg, which is something I always have in the house (and why can't I have egg nog all year round?).

This went into my aloo gobi, which I hadn't made in a while. The following morning, I packed it up and navigated the bus, the Metro North train the subway to get to work. At lunchtime, I heated it up and waited nervously.

Success! I was given a pass by the Indian guys, all of which brought some delicious food of their own. 

This has the slight disadvantage of setting the bar a little higher next time . .  . I think I'll go for the cabbage recipe. If I can find it. There were mustard seeds involved . . .