Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Couch Party

A few weeks ago we added a new member to our household. Namely, we purchased a couch at Ikea and now it really ties the room together. To celebrate, we gave a party. The first party that I have hosted since I lived in Santa Cruz! It was a long overdue, well attended, dessert and booze party, not unlike the wine and cheese parties long ago in a petit chateau by the sea. I wanted to design a menu that would be all inclusive, so we served sticky rice, pretzels, and vegan chocolate cake. As Ina Garten says (and I paraphrase) why emphasize dietary differences? Why not incorporate all tastes when giving a party?

Sticky Rice with Mango

Serves 2-4 for a sit down dinner, or 8-10 for a cocktail party

As seen on thaifood.about.com

1 cup sticky rice (I used sushi rice, seemed to turn out fine)
1 3/4 cups water
1 ripe mango, sliced
1/4 cup + 1 T brown sugar (I used white, seemed to turn out fine)
1 can coconut milk (don't use low fat, it's not the same!)
1 tsp vanilla
2 tsp cornstarch or arrowroot powder dissolved in water

1. Soak the rice in 1 cup water for 20 minutes to an hour in the pot you intend to cook with.

2. When done soaking, add 3/4 cup (more) water plus 1/4 can coconut milk, and 1 Tbsp. brown sugar. Stir this into the rice, lifting any rice grains that have stuck to the bottom of the pot. Gradually bring to a gentle boil, then partially cover with a lid (leaving some room for steam to escape). Turn the heat down to medium-low.

3. Allow to cook for 10-20 minutes, or until the water has been absorbed by the rice. Remove the pot from the heat, place the lid on tight, and leave to "steam" cook for 5-10 minutes. The heat within the rice pot will finish cooking the rice.

4. Make sauce and serve the dessert right away, or store the rice (covered) in the refrigerator until you're ready to use it.
[To make the sauce, warm the rest of the can of coconut milk together with 1/4 cup sugar and 1 tsp. vanilla flavoring over medium heat (~5 minutes)]

5. Add cornstarch or arrowroot powder (dissolved in the water) to the sauce and stir to thicken it slightly. As it thickens, turn down heat to low. When thickened, remove from heat (this should only take a couple of minutes).

6. Before serving, taste-test the sauce for sweetness, adding more sugar if desired. If too sweet for your taste, add a little more coconut milk. If not sweet enough, add some more sugar.

The chocolate cake was modeled after the ecstasy cake that we used to serve at Chocolate, the most uppity bistro in Santa Cruz. It was a dark chocolate cake, soaked in chocolate syrup (the kind they make mochas with at Starbucks, not Hersheys). I was unable to find plain chocolate syrup, so I used mint chocolate syrup instead! No one complained.

Mint Chocolate Ecstasy Cake

Serves 4-12, depending on how hungry you are
Based on a recipe as seem on http://www.ecochildsplay.com/

1 1/2 cups unbleached white flour
1 cup sugar
1/4 cup + 2 Tbs sifted unsweetened cocoa powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt

1/3 cup vegetable oil
1 Tbs white vinegar
2 teaspoons vanilla
1 cup soymilk

1/3 cup mint chocolate syrup, plus more for serving
Fresh mint leaves

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour an 8-inch square pan (or a comparably sized springform pan or pie plate). Combine in the pan (not a separate bowl) the flour, cugar, 1/4 cup cocoa powder, baking soda and salt. Shake around to combine.

Make three holes in the mixed dry ingredients. Pour the oil in one hole, the vinegar in another, and the vanilla in the third. Pour the soymilk over the whole shebang and mix well. If you scrape some of the grease and flour off the pan, it's not the end of the world.

Bake for 30-40 minutes, or until an inserted toothpick comes out clean. Allow to cool completely before removing from the pan. When cake is cool, pour the chocolate syrup onto the serving plate and set the cake on top. Dust the top of the cake with the remaining chocolate powder.

To serve, pour about a tablespoon of syrup onto plate and set the slice on top. Garnish with fresh mint.

I made the mistake of garnishing my cake with powdered sugar instead of chocolate powder. It just made it look moldy, so I don't recommend it.

Ahhhh. A good time was had by all and now we have a couch! It's so wonderful. Too bad it only sits two people so most of us had to stand for most of the party. I'd say the dancing was all the better for that fact!

Silly hats only!

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Lessons (Learned) in Crepemaking - Or - How to Make Two Delicious Breakfasts from One Disastrous Dinner

Let me just say up front that I used to make crepes for a living. Crepes and bubble tea, day in, day out for almost a year. I could make a crepe with one hand behind my back. Or rather, one hand hanging in a sling in front, as for the first two months of my tenure at the Ambrosia Cafe I was nursing a fractured elbow. People used to comment with wonder about it, although the tips never matched their enthusiasm.

Until last week, I hadn't made a crepe since I left that establishment. Some strange passing fancy convinced me that it might be fun to make an asparagus mushroom sauce as a crepe filling, as suggested by Ms. Katzen in the Moosewood Cookbook. I made the sauce, which was a disappointing color, but tasted delicious nonetheless. The filling thus complete, I started on the crepes. The batter is very simple: flour, milk, egg, and salt. I used a combination of white and wheat flours to create a cross between the savory and sweet crepe. My first try was an egg, asiago, and prosciutto crepe to use up the half an egg leftover from the crepe batter. It turned out pretty deliciously, if a little burnt. The rest were rather a disaster. The pan was too hot, and I lacked the proper equipment so most of the crepes came out broken and a little smoky. In the old crepemaking days, we had crepe irons and proper long thin spatulas that were easy to shove under a crepe in progress to flip it over. Alas, with my clunky thick spatula and frying pan, I definitely needed to practice more. But no matter. Once they were filled, they'd no doubt look stunning as they had in my crepe fantasy, right?

WRONG. I lined each broken crepe with prosciutto and asiago and filled them with the sauce and stuck them in the oven to heat and melt together. They looked OK in the dish when they came out. When I put them on the plate, they just looked awful. They tasted OK, but it was very hard to hide my disappointment in them from my dining companion, who tried to assure me of their merit in taste, but to no avail. How pathetic.

Two mornings later, we still had a bunch of asparagus mushroom sauce left over. Matt, who has still been experimenting with omelettes, suggested that we try to put some in an omelette. We ended up going a scramble instead, and it was just divine. Yep, scrambled eggs with asparagus mushroom sauce, asiago cheese, and prosciutto (and ketchup of course) with some homemade bread and coffee. The next day we made breakfast tacos, with the same variation of eggs and sauce, but with added chopped tomatoes, swiss cheese, and salsa on top. Had the tortillas been bigger, they would have been burritos.

The two great breakfasts definitely outweighed the horrible dinner. However, if you'd like to try crepemaking, I'd suggest using a seasoned cast iron skillet that's been well oiled on medium high heat. You can put almost anything in them, but I'd recommend starting with ham and cheese variations, chocolate and fruit, nutella and whipped cream (add the whipped cream after you cook it!), ibarra and nuts, peanut butter and jelly, or anything else you feel like!

Basic Crepe Batter Adapted from "The New Moosewood Cookbook"
Makes 8-10 7 inch crepes

You will need:
1 large egg
1 1/4 cups milk
1 cup flour
1/4 tsp salt
Oil for the pan (spray works fine!)

If you're making savory crepes, try substituting half the white flour with whole wheat flour. If you're making sweet crepes, use all white flour, omit the salt and add 1 Tbs. sugar.)

1) Place egg, milk, flour, and salt in a blender of food processor and whip until smooth (or just whisk).

2) Heat your pan. After a few minutes, lightly brush (or spray) its entire surface with oil. When the pan is hot enough to sizzle a drop of water instantly on contact, pour in approximately 1/4 cup batter. Slowly tilt the pan in all directions until the batter thoroughly coats the bottom. Pour off any excess batter (the crepe should be thin!). Cook on one side over medium heat until set (about 20 seconds), then flip over and cook for just another second or two on the other side.

3) At this point, put any filling on top of the crepe and wait for it to melt (or set, or get hot). Fold the crepe in half and remove from the pan. At this point, serve whole or in slices. Repeat as many times as it takes to satisfy! If you're left with extra batter you can't finish, cook crepes and put them aside on a clean, dry, dinner plate. They will safely stack, and not stick.

4) Cover any unused crepes with plastic wrap and refrigerate until use. They should keep well for several days.

-to reheat, fill as desired and warm in a 325 degree oven-

If asparagus mushroom omelettes sounded great to you too, here is the recipe for the sauce, also from Miss Mollie. If you prefer to do your savory cooking in the evening, it's great for pasta.

Miss Mollie's Asparagus Mushroom Sauce (also from "The New Moosewood Cookbook")

Makes 4-5 servings, or 2 dinners and 2 breakfasts for 2 people

You will need:

1 1/2 lbs. fresh asparagus
2 Tbs butter
1 1/2 cups sliced onion
1 tsp salt
1 lb mushrooms, sliced
1/2 tsp tarragon
black pepper, to taste
1 1/2 cups dry white wine (I used 2/3 cup of vermouth instead. tasted fine)
1 cup water
1 to 2 Tbs. flour (depending on how thick you like it!)
6 to 8 cloves garlic, minced

1) Steam the asparagus until just tender. Transfew to a colander over a sink and refresh under cold running water. Drain well and set aside.

2) Melt the butter in a large skillet. Add onion and salt and saute for about 5 minutes. Add mushrooms, tarragon, and pepper. Cover and cook over medium heat for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally.

3) Add booze and water. Turn up heat until the liquid boils. Sprinkle in the flour, whisking constantly until it completely dissolves. Lower heat, cover, and simmer about 10 minutes, stirring frequently. Add garlic and cook about 5 minutes more. Set aside until serving time.

4) Add asparagus at the last minute and enjoy in the manner of your choosing.