20 February 2012

Meringues with a kick

The pasilla chile softening on the comal is a traditional start to a Mexican meal. And next the next step, perhaps, would be grilling tomatoes, onions, and garlic to make the perfect base for a savoury sauce. Well not in this case. This was the start of dessert for last night's dinner. Part 1 of the pudding was to be chocolate-chile ice cream.

Next step is creating a chile and cream infusion as the base to the ice cream. Just steep the softened chile in the cream.  Then you waz it up in a blender, then strain out the bits of chile (which if  you've blended it well, there shouldn't be much of).

While that's all going on, there was chocolate being chopped. Using the good stuff makes a big difference. Then the chile infusion gets mixed together with this lovely chocolate and is well on its way to becoming the custard base for the ice cream.

Add the chile-chocolate-cream mixture to a bowl full of egg yolks and sugar. Now you're ready for cooking the custard.

The custard has to thicken over a double boiler so there's a bit of arm-building whisking action involved. Although it's a lot less arduous than say, making mayonnaise.  And because there's no shortage of steps in this ice cream making process, once it's all up to the right temperature and thickened up, then the custard has to be cooled. So stick it in an ice bath and whisk some more.

At this point, I was wondering if this whole process was ever going to end, but having an array of delicious ingredients, I cracked on with it. A little vanilla, some heavy cream, and a bit of chocolate liquer. Then into the ice cream maker it all goes.

Once this final step is complete, it can go into the freezer for a few hours or overnight to harden up and for the flavours to really marry together.

And since the ice cream only used the egg yolks, and I don't like to waste, I thought I'd try my hand at making some meringues. Last weekend I made a pavlova, which was very delicious but the meringue base was not quite right. So this time, I used the basic recipe for the Joy of Cooking. The trick to the nice stiff peaks: cream of tartar. Conveniently I had some in the pantry, so stiff ones all around.

My initial dessert plan had been to have the chocolate-chile ice cream with grilled pineapple, which I still made, but with the meringues (which I have to say came out pretty freaking perfectly), it was perhaps one of the best desserts I've ever put together. I gave myself quite a few pats on the back.

And, I'm also happy to report, J and our dinner guests enjoyed it. And that's reallly what all the time and effort is about, seeing the clean plates in front of everyone.

12 February 2012

Cheesy cakes

It was my brother's birthday recently and his wife threw a party for him tonight and asked my mom to make the birthday cake. Well with 18 people on the guest list, my mother felt one cake wasn't going to be enough so called and asked if I'd make a second one. Sure, I said.

But cakes are not my forte. Not to mention, we don't really have a decent cake tin in the house to bake one in. But I do have a springform pan, that I essentially bought to make one of my favourites:  chipotle chocolate chili cake. But apparently said pans are also good for cheesecake. I've never made one but thought now might be the time.

Luckily our cat Bean was diligent in waking us up this morning because for reasons unknown, there was actually sleeping in (a change from the usual wake-up-at-dawn-whether-you-want-to-or-not situation that generally occurs on the weekends.). As this whole proceeding would take a bit of time, Bean's insistence on our waking up was actually quite helpful as I had a noon curling game.

I used the classic cheesecake recipe from Canadian Living. Not too many complicated ingredients but really, no shortage of dairy items. So I put it all together, nestled it in its bain marie to cook and shuffled off to curling. J was good enough to finish watching it and take it out the oven. And when I returned, I chopped up some strawberries and mixed in a little sugar and white balsamic vinegar for some maceration action and headed out to the birthday party.

My niece Nikki says it's the best cheesecake she'd ever had in her life. 'Nuff said. A good day!

06 February 2012

New York adventures

I was recently in New York for a legal technology conference and took the opportunity to visit for a day or so with my friend Chris, who is a man about town with the foodstuffs on offer in the Big Apple. He lives in Brooklyn and picked me up at the airport (making me feel like a movie star), because he is awesome. Soon after dropping off my gear at his place, we headed for the subway for a wild ride to our first stop on my New York food adventure: Bark Hot Dogs in Park Slope. Delicious dogs accompanied by disco fries and white birch beer (which I'm going to describe as a cross between wintergreen Life Savers and root beer - so not sure I'll ever order it again).

Very delicious, all natural etc. I had the classic NYC dog with sweet and sour onions and mustard. In the back is Chris' pickle dog. The food was great and I was particularly amused by the nine-year-old-going-on-25 little girl who sat beside me. She was interested in my opinions regarding the food and the beverages. Obviously I'm so very pretty and smart that everything I said to her needed to be repeated with great gravitas to her father. There is no doubt that I am a role model on the hot dog eating front, send your children.

 After hot dogs, we ambled around a bit to the Ample Hills Creamery for some of the best ice cream I've ever had. And I have had a lot of ice cream. I was tempted by the Mexican hot chocolate because I'm that way but in the end chose the salted crack caramel. Fantastic. The best part is that you get to make a very informed decision on what you're going to order because they let you try everything in the place, especially on a late January day when it's not exactly lineups around the corner in there. Not to mention, the store is crazy cute.
Now there are few things I enjoy more than street food and in Toronto, we do not have a good variety, so non-stationary food vendors were on the agenda as well. For dinner (before contra dancing!), Chris hunted down the Kimchi Taco Truck, which combined my love of food on the go with Mexican flair. Now in Manhattan, we grabbed our bags of deliciousness and walked up to Union Square to eat on a park bench on a very warm January night. I had a combo of the grilled Korean bbq short rib taco and the pulled chicken taco. Woah! Those short rib tacos were out of this world!!

The next day Chris invited me to join him and a group of friends for dim sum at a local Brooklyn restaurant (which I can't remember the name of) and it too was spectacular. We arrived early in order to get a table, which when we left through a horde of waiting and hungry diners, I understood. There were about eight of us, so we ordered many delicious things to share. It's a good number of people because it lets you try many things but you don't have to have a lot of anything. So a couple of dishes stood out, one was chicken feet, which was the only thing I was not brave enough to eat but was the choice of the birthday boy for whom we were gathered to celebrate. While the feet were not my favourite dish of the weekend, they did come out as the best photo.

I did however take a chance on the jellyfish dish as I'd never eaten it and all the rest of the food was pretty excellent so I figured this was as good a time as any. It was tasty although the texture was a bit more rubbery than I enjoy. There was also some octopus mixed in with the dish and it was all good.

So overall, probably my best-ever dim sum experience. And it was followed by a bit of Chinese new year celebrations on the street, which were enjoyable and left me with glittery bits in my hair until well into the following morning when I finally got to bed!

I left Chris on Sunday afternoon and headed to Midtown to check into the hotel and get into a work state of mind. That night I met a lawyer friend and some of her colleagues and ended up having a really fun time dancing the entire night away. Her flight was delayed and my plans for a swishy Mexican place in Chelsea didn't work out but my favourite Times Square-area standby Virgil's barbecue was called up to the plate and didn't disappoint. From the gang who had never eaten bbq before, there were smiles all around. That's the way they roll at Virgil's. Good, solid bbq that you just can't get in Toronto.

After dinner there was much dancing and carousing and when we finally got back to our hotel in the 3:30 a.m. range, my companions were hungry. So off to Ray's Pizza for some pie. Not the greatest but it hit the spot and allowed us the chance to have a meaningful conversation about health care policy with a lovely man from Seattle.

On the Monday night, I went out with one of my fellow editors and her sisters who had come down for a little r&r. We ended up at a tapas restaurant near 42nd and 8th. Nothing spectacular but a big selection of tapas and a very enjoyable variety of sangrias. A fun night out with new people, can't beat that! (bad pic taken with ye olde BlackBerry). The hit of the evening, I would hazard, were the dates wrapped in bacon. They just work.

Over the course of the next few days, ate quite a bit just around the hotel. The usual oatemeal for breakfast at the Astro Diner at 55th and 6th, which I always try to do when I'm at this conference. Had an excellent Chipotle burrito bowl (fast and convenient) and tried this odd French restaurant/sushi bar mashup Rue 57 again and had a fairly spectacular chicken pot pie.

Now all over Manhattan are these halal food carts that serve up gyros and chicken and the like. Apparently the one that is at the corner of 53rd and 6th is the most awesome. There is always a line up there, particularly late at night on the weekends after the bars close. It's quite a sight. So as I was wrapping up the trip, I decided to have my final lunch at the cart. It is a giant plate of happiness (with a Diet Coke) for $7. Underneath all that delicious white sauce there's a mouthwatering blend of lamb gyros, chicken, rice and salad. Enough food to keep you going for the whole day. Just bring breath mints because there's a big garlic punch.

So long and thanks for all the eats!


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