Thursday, May 26, 2011
In our first example from a couple of weeks ago, me and my "common-law missus" Kari (at least, according to the census) were engaging in our usual culinary pursuit of excellence. She was putting together a lovely veggie and polenta torte, which I always enjoy trying, while we were also putting together a simple tomato salad with a few tweaks. Before I get into that, I need to go on a tangent for you under-rock-dwellers.
Well, as it turns out, we inadvertently created (possibly) the first ever Praline Salad! Oh wait, Google says I didn't. Damn. Buuuuut, our version has probably never been done before! Now, let me say this right now, other than the praline part, this is Kari's recipe. She gets the credit.
- 12 yellow cherry tomatoes, halved
- 1/2 cup small boccaccini balls
- 1/3 cup fresh blueberries
- 2 tbsp (handful) fresh Thai basil (or regular basil), roughly torn
- Toss ingredients together with Dressing, top with Praline (see below)
- 2-3 tbsp high quality extra-virgin olive oil
- 1-2 tbsp balsamic vinegar
- 1/2 tsp maple syrup
- a couple of dashes of the best, most interesting hot sauce you have in your fridge (that sweet's gonna need some heat!). Failing that, a pinch of cayenne pepper. But as you can see, hot sauce is much more interesting!
And there you go, well-shaken and tasty!
- 1/2 cup roughly crushed pecans
- 1 tbsp butter
- 2 tbsp brown sugar
- 1 tsp maple syrup
- In a small saucepan, melt together butter, sugar and maple syrup, until mixture is liquid and bubbling.
- Remove from heat, toss in pecans and coat well with mixture.
- Put in the fridge for 30 mins to solidify. Remove and break into small pieces.
- Sprinkle praline pieces over salad, toss and serve!
First off, I asked Kari for her polenta recipe and she shrugged her shoulders and said there really isn't a foolproof method with polenta. It involves a lot of stirring and avoidance of getting scalded by molten cornmeal. So, here's a basic recipe filched from About.com:
- 1 pound or slightly more (500 g) coarsely ground corn meal (you want corn meal the consistency of fine to medium-grained sand, not flour)
- 2 quarts (2 liters) boiling water (have more handy)
- A heaping teaspoon of salt
Set the water on the fire in a wide bottomed pot and add the salt. When it comes to a boil, add the corn meal in a very slow stream (you don't want the pot to stop boiling), stirring constantly with a wooden spoon to keep lumps from forming. Continue stirring, in the same direction, as the mush thickens, for about a half-hour (the longer you stir the better the polenta will be; the finished polenta should have the consistency of firm mashed potatoes), adding boiling water as necessary. The polenta is done when it peels easily off the sides of the pot.
Easy, right? Now, the torte!
Basically, you take your polenta, pour it into a spring-form pan (the kind used to make cheesecake), top it with whatever veggies tickle your fancy (peppers, tomatoes, onions, eggplant, zucchini, broccoli, etc.), and then top that with grated cheese of your choice and some breadcrumbs (or panko if you have it). Fire that in the oven at 350 F for about 30 minutes (until the cheese is golden and bubbly), remove from the oven, remove from spring-form pan, slice and serve!
So, in the end, we were presented with the following plate full of tasty (apologies for the blurred shot):
2 - Chocolate-Whiskey Pâté
It was a couple of hours after another awesome dinner of Striploin Steak dusted with Porcini and topped with Blue Cheese, a Mushroom Risotto, an Avocado Salad and Sautéed Fiddleheads (more on that epic meal coming in a future post) at the new place (forget what I've said about cooking in a tiny kitchen, big kitchens rule!) when Kari busted out yet ANOTHER brilliant food idea.
The day before we'd bought these really high end potato chips from a stand at Ottawa's Tulip Festival (I'll be damned if I can remember the name) and not quite finished the whole bag. So Kari's above-head light bulb went off: "Let's spread out the chips and cover them in melted chocolate, sort of like a bark!"
Ummmm, OK! Twist my rubber arm!
So, using a simple water bath method (take a small saucepan, boil water in it, place a metal bowl over the saucepan, melt chocolate in bowl - this allows a much smoother melting process and reduces the risk of burning the chocolate), she melted some chocolate. Right before she was going to pour it over the chips, I thought "Hey, why not add some whiskey?"
Well, here's where it gets interesting and a lesson was learned about mixing booze and chocolate. Somehow, the reaction between the whiskey and the chocolate caused the mix to solidify into what Kari described as a "fondant" (she meant to say pâté). It reminded me of my mother's Chocolate Mousse, but not quite light enough. There was a density to it that is hard to describe, but it was REALLY tasty. So, not being wastrels, we decided we'd go ahead and eat it. And, of course, melt more chocolate for the chip bark.
Cut to Kari's finger flying up in the "hey wait" position. "You go sit down, I have an idea." she says (I hear that a lot). So, I leave her to it.
- 1/2 cup bittersweet chocolate chips
- 1/2 oz. Irish whiskey
- 1 tbsp raspberry jam
- 1 tbsp heavy cream
- 1 tsp plain cream cheese
- Using water bath method, melt chocolate chips
- Stir in whiskey until chocolate solidifies into "fondant"
- Spoon some of mixture into an Asian-style soup spoon
- Top with cream, jam and cream cheese
- Serve! (you could also garnish with chocolate shavings)
And, as a bonus (without the benefit of flash photography):
Chocolate and Potato Chip Bark
- 50g or so very high quality potato chips, roughly crushed
- 100g or so (1/3 package) semi-sweet chocolate chips
- Spread potato chips out over cookie sheet lined with wax paper
- Melt chocolate using water bath method
- Pour chocolate over potato chips, ensuring all are covered
- Put bark in fridge for about 30 minutes
- Break bark into bite-size pieces and EAT!
So, hopefully today's post removes another barrier to your sense of experimentation in the kitchen. Cooking is as much art as science, and neither is ever exact. But sometimes, as shown here, the unintended and unexpected is the best result any artist, scientist or cook can ask for.