A Year and a Day

What did we eat for lunch on June 23rd last year?

This:

Reception Spread 1
Reception Spread 2
Homemade bread, compound butter, big salads of farmer’s market greens with raspberry-mustard vinaigrette, big bowls of berries, three kinds of cheese (including Gruyere, an aged goat and a tangy Brie-like cheese), a smoked salmon-pink peppercorn tart in an almond crust, and a three-layer fritatta, with a roasted red pepper layer, a spinach layer and a cheese layer.

And for dessert?
Wedding cake

Wedding Cake.

Wedding cake and lemon cheesecake

Specifically, an almond cake filled with mixed fresh berries and frosted with vanilla bean whipped cream and decorated with red currants and a lemon cheesecake topped with lemon curd and black currants.

And what did we have for lunch on June 23rd this year?
Anniversary lunch

Sea scallops wrapped in radicchio and pancetta, then grilled and served with a red lettuce salad from the farmer’s market.

The scallop recipe was beyond simple–sprinkle the scallops with salt and pepper, wrap each one in a radicchio leaf, and then wrap the leaves with a slice of pancetta. My slices were inexpertly wrapped at the butchers, and thus had unraveled. I ended up just wrapping it around and around and around each little radicchio bundle and securing the ends with toothpicks.

Who am I kidding–I used about 3 toothpicks per bundle. I am not good at food-skewering.

The grill caramelized the radicchio and infused the flavor of both the pancetta and radicchio into each scallop. In spite of the fiddly eating required by all the toothpicks, it was delicious, especially from our unaccustomed seats under our lawn umbrella (which we haven’t set up, sadly, since our wedding reception). Teacherman poured an Alsatian wine to drink alongside the meal–it reminded him perfectly of the wines from our honeymoon.

Lunch was wonderful, yes, but what did we eat for dinner? Last year, we didn’t eat anything for dinner. Our reception was still going on, and due to the enticements of the lunch board, we’d eaten too much of everything.

This year, though, lunch was elegant and austere. And so, for dinner:

Anniversary dinner

Chocolate-peanut butter cookies and chocolate-peanut butter ice cream. What’s the point of being a grown-up if you can’t do this sort of thing every now and then?

(I have to admit, though, that I don’t feel remotely like a grown-up. Even though I’m nearly 30, and even though I’m married, I still have to remind myself that I’m not a kid. Thus, of course, the ideal dinner of cookies and ice cream).

If you’ll forgive my sentimentality (and if there’s one day a year when one is allowed to be sappy, one’s wedding anniversary ought to be it): Here’s hoping that we always feel this ridiculously young, and that each anniversary is as lovely–and delicious–as this one.

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Published in: on June 23, 2008 at 7:01 pm  Leave a Comment  

Maybe I Should Just Get Over Myself

I’m having a bit of a crisis of faith.  Faith in myself, that is.

I’m beginning to wonder if I don’t talk up my own cooking skills too much—or rather, not my cooking skills, but the results of my cooking.  (This might sound like it’s the same thing, but consider how wonderful a salad of individually fabulous ingredients is—its transcendence has nothing to do with any artistry of arrangement, but is the result of the wonderful flavor of the components).

The last several times I’ve cooked something for other people—for a potluck, say—I’ve made something that I thought was really great.  A fruit crisp with cherries cooked in red wine.  A batch of popcorn dressed in duck fat and smoked salt.  Each time it was something that I’d made before and loved (this is out of the ordinary for me—usually I take a brand new, unattempted recipe, one for whatever I’m the most excited about at the time), and that Teacherman had loved as well. 

In every case, I excitedly presented the dish to the guests—fun, food-loving people with widely ranging tastes—only to receive comments along the lines of: “What’s so special about this?”  No one hated anything (well, okay, one person hate the cherry crisp), but no one thought the recipes were anything special, anything worth talking about, anything worth any amount of enthusiasm.  “It just tastes like popcorn.”  “I can’t taste any of that stuff.”

Upon seeing my startled reaction to their nonplussedness, my friends back-tracked and praised: “Oh, don’t worry, I like it, but. . .”, “It’s not that there’s anything wrong, but. . .”.

I can only wonder: am I over-hyping my results?  Have I become some kind of culinary girl who cried wolf?  I can’t deny that I’m given to flights of hyperbole in my everyday life, but I never thought I was self-aggrandizing about my cooking.  I genuinely believe that these recipes are delicious and distinctive-tasting, and was excited to share them with other people.

Even worse than making a recipe and having it turn out terribly is making a dish and loving it, but having no one else agree.  It makes one wonder if one is flawed in some intrinsic but inexplicable way.  What’s wrong with me that I love this when no one else does?  What am I missing?  What do I not understand?

I know that I am not A Great Chef—I’m a competent cook who’s been lucky enough to have access to what I think are wonderful ingredients, ingredients that I think combine into meals worthy of enthusiasm.  But are the ingredients really as delicious as I think they are?  Do I produce food that is merely passable and not worthy of additional comment? 

It’s a trying situation, and one that I don’t know how to resolve.

Published in: on February 25, 2008 at 11:57 am  Comments (1)  

Oh Dear

I admit, it does sound weird, but you have to give it a chance! 

Last night was our upstairs neighbor/best friend’s 40th birthday, and his girlfriend threw him a fabulous party.  (How fabulous?  I actually stayed for five hours, even though I usually overdose on partydom by an hour in).  Said girlfriend laid on a bounteous spread of delectables, but since most of my non-Christmas gift-giving tends to be food-related, I still brought a few things. 

Of all the foods our friend loves, bacon is foremost among them.  The love is so great that it’s become a joke among his massive, world-wide group of friends.  “ANYTHING is better with bacon!”  I try not to serve him unending courses of bacon-related goodies, but this party seemed like the perfect opportunity to try a few of the more unusual bacon recipes I’ve been saving. 

A few months ago I checked The Bacon Cookbook by James Villas out of the library.  It’s a nearly 300 page cookbook where every recipe, even the ones for sweets, contains bacon.  One those recipes–chocolate coated peanut butter bacon truffles–was impossible to ignore. 

All right, yes, I know.  Bacon in a dessert is just bizarre.  Bacon is made of meat, and it’s been roughly 600 years since meat and sugar were regular recipe companions, at least in the Western world.  But consider this: maple-glazed bacon.  People eat that all the time!  Also, my mother has been known to eat the occasional peanut butter-bacon sandwich.  I only ever ate peanut butter and honey sandwiches, but it isn’t SUCH a stretch to elide the two.

So I made the truffles.  I cooked 4 slices of bacon until crisp, let them cool completely and then broke the strips into haphazard pieces and put them into my food processor.  I added 4 oz of roasted peanuts, 1 Tbsp of sugar, and then ground all three together until they had amalgamated into a coarse powder.  I tasted–it was good!, but it needed another Tbsp of sugar and a pinch of salt, which I added, along with the stipulated 1/4 cup of smooth peanut butter.  I pulsed the new ingredients in until the mixture had come together and formed a ball. 

I scraped the peanut butter filling into a bowl, and stuck it in the fridge for half an hour to set up.  When the time came, I rolled the paste into small balls, froze them for 15 minutes, and then dipped them in melted bittersweet chocolate and rolled them in unsweetened cocoa powder.  Voila–chocolate peanut butter bacon truffles. 

I let them chill thoroughly before I tasted them.  In fact, I put them in the freezer for a couple of days, and then let them defrost in the fridge for an hour right before the party.  As I arranged them on the pretty platter, I popped one in my mouth–in spite of the positive tastes I’d had while making the filling, I was still a little dubious about the combination of bacon and chocolate. 

Wow.  They were like peanut butter cups, but enhanced.  The sort of food that the adjective “extreme” should be reserved for.  The bacon didn’t add a meaty flavor, or any textural component at all, it just added an extra salty, lightly smokey background to the peanut butter, making it taste more like itself.  The chocolate coating was shatteringly crisp, and the bitterness and purity of the chocolate contrasted perfectly with the richness and complexity of the filling. 

I went hurtling up to the party and thrust the platter at Teacherman and our upstairs neighbors.  They each took one, slightly hesitantly.  A pause, then three swoons: the reactions were ecstatic.  BUT.  After salving the birthday boy with his bacon ration, I offerred the platter to the rest of the guests.  Not one single one of them thought they were good.  Not one SINGLE one!  About ten people refused to try them at all, so they don’t really count, but the other fifteen tried them and thought they were terrible

I tried a second truffle.  Still nutty and salty and chocolatey.  Still the ur-peanut butter cup.  Still delicious.  Other people, though, were making faces of horrified disgust, some even went so far as to make gagging noises.  Everyone ate up their entire truffle, but they roundly declared them to be hideous. 

This is definitely one of the most confusing experiences I’ve ever had.  If it was just me that liked the truffles, I’d think that my dull tastebuds were to blame, but Teacherman, who has a very sensitive palate, and our upstairs neighbors, who aren’t vastly adventurous eaters, loved them, too.  We all had seconds, and enjoyed them just as much as the first. 

I can only conclude that the rest of our guests were too repulsed by the idea of bacon in a dessert to pay attention to the taste in their mouth.  I hate to dismiss an entire group of people outright, but I can’t figure out any other way to account for what happened.

In any case, and in spite of the reactions of the party-goers, I heartily recommend the recipe.  I know that I’ll be making it again, but this time I just won’t share. 

Published in: on January 13, 2008 at 7:43 pm  Leave a Comment  

Bountiful Berries

Voila!  A tart!  A tart with very little indication that it had been attacked by a crust-crazed feline!  (Forgive the blurriness).

This was a lightning-fast dessert to prepare, once the crust was made (and repaired, but that only happens to me).  I mixed mascarpone cheese with a splash of rum, about a lemon’s-worth of zest, and just enough sweetener to tame the overly cheesey nature of this particular brand of mascarpone.  (I wish I could tell you that I made the mascarpone myself, but this was not the case.  Mascarpone is the one cheese that I have tried numerous times, and failed to come close to each time.  Someday I will prevail, but I’m still working on it). 

I spread the cheese mixture into the tart crust, then topped it with two pints of enormous, thumb-sized blackberries, purchased last weekend at the farmer’s market, and then two or three handfuls of white currants, frozen since June.  I didn’t bother to defrost the currants, since they were so small that the travel time to the party would be sufficient to do just that, and currants don’t tend to get too horribly juicy when frozen and thawed. 

The finished tart was no trouble to carry to the party (I put it inside an upturned box lid, and though it did slide around, it didn’t crack or slop), and beautiful to present once there.  All of the guests loved it, and had no idea that the crust was cat-nibbled; I did still take the repaired, hole-y piece for my own, though, just to be safe.

Perversely, though the tart was very well received, I’m a little reluctant to make it again.  It’s easy and delicious and beautiful, but I’d rather not make anything that requires posting a guard on it for the entirety of its cooling time. 

Published in: on September 12, 2007 at 6:35 am  Leave a Comment  

Back to the Drawing Board

This is a very cranky morning.

My second batch of bacon using the new recipe failed miserably.  Well, I should qualify: it’s not inedible.  What I have are very nice, crispy strips of seasoned pork.  But it’s not bacon: the belly completely failed to cure.  Grr.  It’s my own fault for trying to use the same recipe on a two pound piece of pork belly instead of a one pound piece.  I did proportionately multiply up all of the curing agents, and let it sit in the fridge for proportionately longer, but it obviously doesn’t work in so simple and straightforward a way. 

Also, I just finished making a tart crust for a going-away party that Teacherman and I will be attending tomorrow night.  I baked it a little too long, yes, but that only results in a more crispy-cookie-like crust.  The problem?  Less than 5 minutes after I took it out of the oven, the cat lept up onto the stove (where she NEVER goes, because she knows it’s almost always on), tore a piece out of the side of the crust and took off across the house.  Good grief.  She is possessed.  And now I have a tart crust with a hole in the side.  I can file off the edges of the hole, so it’s fit for human consumption, but it will look pretty ridiculous.  And the cat is under the sofa, gnawing on a piece of crust.  (It doesn’t even have butter in it!  It’s made of nuts!  What’s going ON?!)

The red-wine mustard is a conundrum: it tastes excellent.  But I just blended it up today.  I’ve never made mustard that didn’t take a few weeks to mellow, and now I’m afraid that this mustard–so fruity and round-flavored and only pleasantly sharp–will be bland and gloppy by the 15th, when I need it.  (Yes, I know that this isn’t anything like a unmitigated disaster, but it’s feeding into the rest of my mood).

It is with great dubiousness that I approach the making of my own lunch.  Cast iron grill pans are involved.  Be very afraid.

Published in: on September 5, 2007 at 8:40 am  Comments (1)  

That’s It

Well, there you go. 

The food is prepared, the serving dishes are chosen, and the schedule is made.  Tomorrow at 11 am Teacherman and I will be married, and then drive back to our own house to have a party with all of our friends and family.  I expect it to be the best party of my life, and even if the town floods and the refrigerator breaks, that will still be true.

On Sunday, we’re leaving for two weeks in Europe.  This will this be an excellent vacation, but it also means that I won’t be posting.  I’m sure all of you can handle this. 

Stay tuned: On July 9th, a return to our regularly scheduled programming.

Published in: on June 22, 2007 at 3:08 pm  Comments (1)  

Why Yes, Thank You, I AM Crazy

“Are you CRAZY?!”

This is the invariable response when I tell people what I will be doing one week from today.   

On the 23rd, Teacherman and I will be getting married. Next Friday, the 22nd, I will be making all of the food for the reception.

<shrieks of disbelief resound throughout the cybersphere>

No, really, it’s true.  With the help of my best friend, and two more friends who have been to culinary school, all of the food for the reception will be made in this very house. 

When I tell people about this, no one understands why I could possibly want to make the food for my own wedding.  They think I’m doing it because I’m a skin-flint and want to save money. 

No.  I’m doing this because I love to cook, and cooking for my own wedding is delightfully fun.  I can make simple, good food, served exactly the way that I want, and I get the enjoyment of making it all from scratch in my own kitchen. 

It goes along with the aesthetic of the entire wedding–our reception is in our tiny backyard, and there are no ‘vendors’ involved at all; everything is being done by one of us, or one of our friends.  One friend is taking the pictures, one friend is in charge of the music for the service, one friend is bringing music for the reception, my best friend did all of the graphic design, and three friends are helping prepare the food.  Why have a party of any kind, let alone a wedding, if it’s not about having fun with friends and family and if it doesn’t reflect who one really is? 

I should point out that there will only be 34 people at the reception, including the entire wedding party, so it’s not like I’ll be cooking for the usual bridal hundreds.  And the wedding is in the morning, so the reception is a brunch, which means I won’t be sauteing myriad chicken breasts or trying roast anything.  Brunch lends itself very easily to make-ahead cooking and that’s exactly what we’ll be doing. 

There is almost nothing on the menu can’t be made ahead of time.  Et voila, le menu:

1. A three-layer fritatta: one layer of roasted red pepper, one layer of spinach and one layer of cheese.
2. A smoked salmon-creme fraiche tart in an almond-onion crust.
3. An enormous salad with edible flowers.
4. A big bowl of macerated berries and fruit.
5. Three good cheeses, one soft, one semi-aged and one hard.
6. The chef’s amazing bread, with two flavored butters.
7. Zucchini bread, made by Teacherman’s mother.
8. A lemon cheesecake, made by my mother.
9. The Wedding Cake: layers of almond torte sandwiched with sweetened mascarpone cheese and fresh, lightly cooked berries, then frosted with vanilla bean-whipped cream.

Next Friday the four of us will get together in my kitchen and divide up our tasks.  Someone will roast peppers, cook spinach, grate cheese, and make the fritattas.  Someone will grind almonds and onions and make tart crusts.   Someone will whip up a vinaigrette (raspberry–I should tell someone that’s the kind I want).  Someone will stew the berries for the cake and sweeten the mascarpone.  The bread–pre-made by the chef–will go to live in Teacherman’s bread cupboard, and the cake layers–also fruit of the chef’s craft–will slide into the refrigerator next to my homemade creme fraiche and the purchased cheese. 

And then, done.  We’ll smile at each other, clean up, and go off to wait for the next day to arrive.

Admittedly, there will be a FEW things to do on the morning-of, but they’re few enough that our chef-y friend can do them all himself and still come to the wedding.  I’ll be meeting him and his wife at the farmer’s market that morning to pick out the salad greens and fresh fruit (along with the flowers for the bouquets), but then he’ll take the purchased edibles back the house, assemble the cake, fill the tarts, and macerate the fresh fruit, finishing up in time to swing back to the chapel for the wedding itself. 

The wedding is at 11:00.  The pictures will be of the entire assemblage.  By 12:30 we should be back home, eating good food and talking to all of the friends that made the wedding what it was. 

That is, what it will be. 

Just one more week.

Published in: on June 15, 2007 at 8:52 am  Leave a Comment  

Mind-Searing Mayo

What if you gave a party and nobody came?  Or worse, what if everyone came, but nobody ate?

Tonight we had a party celebrating Teacherman’s belated birthday.  Many chips, many dips, many crudites.  Some bread, three kinds of cake.  Most of the platters are still close to pristine.  This is when I wail and whine about Where I Went Wrong.  Well, nowhere, really; people just weren’t hungry.  Still, it’s disappointing.  Especially since I made mayonnaise. 

I’ve made mayonnaise a couple of times in my life, but never just as a basic thing.  I’m afraid to say that I’m normally perfectly satisfied with purchased mayonnaise–though I do have fierce brand loyalty to a specific organic brand made with canola oil–but whenever I want an interesting flavor, it’s inevitably something that I have to make on my own.  Yes, one can buy garlic mayonnaise (aioli, if one wants to be fancy), but can one buy mayonnaise with 2 heads of roasted garlic in each cup? 

This time, I wanted it with jalapenos.  Teacherman requested spicy foods for this party, and I went a little overboard with the chile recipes: when Teacherman came home from the grocery store he had 23 absolutely gargantuan jalapenos.  There was the cheddar-jalapeno bread, the herb-cheese-stuffed jalapenos, and <drumroll> the jalapeno-arugula mayonnaise. 

Mayonnaise is one of those things that I’m always trying to convince people is easy to make, but I must admit that its easiness is entirely predicated upon the fact that I own a food processor.  Back before food processors, to make mayonnaise, one had to whisk all the ingredients together by hand, while also drizzling the oil in minute drop by minute drop; pour in too much oil or whisk too slowly and the emulsion breaks and you end up with a bowl of eggy oil.  Thrilling.  A food processor, though, not only takes the whisking out of your hands, but even controls the amount of oil that one can add at a time. 

I don’t know if all food processors are like this, but mine has a tiny hole in the pusher (that is, the thing that fits inside the feed tube).  To make mayonnaise, all I do is whiz all the main ingredients together with the metal blade, then, with the machine still on, I pour the nearly the entire measure of oil into the pusher.  The oil drips through the aforementioned tiny hole and emulsifies perfectly with the base ingredients, creating mayonnaise. 

This time I whizzed up a jalapeno, a couple of garlic cloves, a handful each of spinach and arugula, an egg, some Dijon mustard, lemon juice, some salt and pepper.  Into the pusher went a half-and-half mixture of canola and olive oil.  By the time I was done washing my measuring spoons, I had a vibrant green and aromatic mayonnaise.  

I’m afraid, though, that inspite of all the ingredients, the taste was slightly one-dimensional.  The recipe called for the entire jalapeno, including the ribs and the seeds, resulting in an incendiary concoction that leaves the lips tingling for several minuts after eating. 

I think it might just need more mellowing time than I gave it.  I made the mayonnaise last night, when it was so hot that it set my eyebrows alight; tonight I can almost taste the peppery arugula in the background.  Given another day, the Dijon and lemon might add other notes and the heat might be further tempered.  A qualified success–now if only people had been hungry. . . . 

Published in: on April 14, 2007 at 9:54 pm  Leave a Comment  

Fearless

My boss is afraid of meat.  She is so repulsed by the idea of raw meat, and the idea of having to touch it, that she just can’t bring herself to eat it anymore and has become a vegetarian.  She never had any problem with the taste, and even admitted to enjoying a passing bite of her sister’s steak on occasion.  It was just the visceral idea of raw meat, which soon became associated with cooked meat–beef, pork, and sometimes even chicken–that disgusted her.

I used to be afraid of meat, too, but in a completely different way.  I was afraid of wrecking it: afraid of cooking it too long and drying it out, or otherwise mistreating it to the point of rack and ruin.  When I was growing up, my family ate plenty of beef, but I only recall three cuts that I had any experience cooking myself–round roasts for pot roast, chuck arm steak for beef stroganov, and ground beef (which is, I suppose, not really a cut, per se) for burgers and picadillo.  I was never afraid of those, because I’d already cooked them.  I was, however, absolutely petrified at the idea of cooking a steak, even a flank steak, simply because I never had.

In my unending perusal of cookbooks I’d come across so many interesting sounding recipes for beef-based dishes using cuts I’d never laid a hand on before.  Beef shanks, short ribs, flank steak, tenderloin.  I formed the idea that cooking beef was extremely hard, and, since steaks were so expensive anyway, not worth messing up, so not worth trying.

I was well on my way to an entire life of this, eating chicken, fish and pork most of the time, and eating hamburgers whenever I felt a beef craving.  “What do you want for dinner on your first night home for vacation?” my mother would ask.  “Something with BEEF in it!” would be my inevitable reply. 

Teacherman, on the other hand, couldn’t be less afraid of meat.  He has a massive grill and, though he doesn’t do so to the exclusion of all else, he loves to grill a steak.  He was mystified, though accepting, when he discovered my weirdness, and would have happily cooked all the beef to cross our threshold.   Having been shown, though, that beef cookery was possible, I refused to allow myself the luxury.  Through his tutelage I’ve become much more comfortable with cooking beef myself, working my way through previously dismissed cuts.  Flank steak is now a menu staple, brisket has made an appearance and indeed, last night I made short ribs for the first time, for company, even.

In spite of my newfound beefy courage, I’m still more comfortable with braising than with any other cooking method.  Provided that one uses the right cut, braising is extremely forgiving and almost always turns out a good result.  The short ribs–arresting, near-magenta, 3-D rectangles of the exact dimensions as the building blocks I had as a child–were browned along with cubes of bacon, then both were removed from the pan.  Into the (somewhat depleted) fat went lazily chopped onions, garlic, carrots and red bell peppers.  They softened a bit, then I added chicken stock, red wine and what seemed like over-exuberant quantities of peppercorns, bay leaves, fresh parsley and dried whole ancho chiles.  The (by now enormously heavy) Dutch oven went into the oven and stayed there for nearly 4 hours.  I took a nap. 

When I finally roused myself, I skimmed off all the fat (I really, REALLY need a fat separator–why do I keep doing this with a spoon?), removed the short ribs, added a bit of sweet smoked paprika to the pot, and blended the vegetables and broth into a thick maroon sauce.  It was spicy (the anchos and paprika), sweet (the onions, carrots and bell peppers), perfectly salted (in spite of not adding any) and velvety in the mouth.  The short ribs were melting, delectable, and as good a result as could be wished for, but it was the sauce I kept snitching dips of.  I slipped the conquered beef back into the pot, covered it, and waited for my guests.

“The sauce is made of vegetables?  Actual vegetables?” asked one of the party.  “Well then, I’d better make sure to clean my plate.”  And how could anyone be afraid of the instigator of that?

Published in: on April 3, 2007 at 7:13 pm  Leave a Comment  

Cakes and Mistakes

Would you believe that I forgot to give them the mustard?

Indeed, a fabulous party has come and gone, and more than six pounds of corned beef were consumed all without the benefit of mustardy accompaniment. I think I received more astonished praise about this party’s food than I have for that of any other event. The two biggest hits, though, were the baked items: the soda bread and the dessert.

The soda bread recipe I settled on, after brief guilt induced by the article in last Wednesday’s New York Times about what does and does not become a “true” soda bread, was in almost no way traditional. The recipe, from the February 2006 issue of Bon Appetit, contained no eggs (traditional!) but did include browned butter, fresh rosemary and black pepper. I itched to fiddle with the recipe even more (whole wheat flour! maybe some mustard seeds!) but I restrained myself. The rosemary bush on the front porch, after several months of subzero temperatures and no water, is miraculously still alive, and yielded up ample fresh needles–on soft stalks, even–to chop into the dry ingredients.

The flour, baking soda, salt and seasonings were mixed with the buttermilk and browned butter. The dough was shaggier than I anticipated–far too sticky to even contemplate cutting fancy crosses on the top of. I just glopped two mounds onto an ungreased baking sheet, shoved them into the oven, and hoped. After 45 minutes the breads looked lovely (pristine white dough with deep golden spikes on the top, flecked through with black and green from the rosemary and pepper) and smelled quite divine. I usually don’t like the smell of melted butter (an interesting abberation, since I’m certainly willing to scarf it down in great quantity), but browning it first eliminates that problem. Cooking something with browned butter already in it further intensified the nuttiness that the browning brought out, ending with an aroma that noticeably filled the mouth sooner than the nose, the very definition of mouth-watering. The breads hadn’t risen nearly at all, however, so it was with great trepidation that I whisked them onto the cutting board on the serving table.

The locusts descended. Silence reigned. I picked at the cheddar and looked at other things.

“Wow,” said somebody. “This is really good!”

The soda bread was the first thing to disappear from the buffet table, and there were plenty of people hovering nearby to vulture up the crumbs after the last slice was consumed. I don’t make soda bread very often–on St. Patrick’s Day every few years, if then–but I may be required to make this bread for all future parties of any persuasion. I think, though, that now I can trust myself to try variations. No mustard seeds do I see in my future, but whole wheat flour is definitely in the offing.

The second slavered-after baked good was my dessert. I made my standard flourless chocolate cake (10 oz unsweetened chocolate, 1 stick butter, 1 cup liquid of some variety, 1 cup sweetener of some variety, 4 eggs, 1 Tbsp vanilla and other flavorings as desired). Inspired by the visions of Irish Coffee that Teacherman had been having all week, I flavored this one with espresso and Irish whisky, which each made up half of the liquid element. The cake came out very dark and very bitter, rich enough to be a confection rather than a cake. I made it in a ten-inch springform pan (as opposed to a six-cup Bundt pan, my usual receptacle) and cut it into 20 pieces, each about an inch wide and equally high. Given the fact that it was almost a triangular truffle, this was the perfect size for the corner left in everyone everyone’s stomach and the cake was consumed (along with strawberries and clotted cream) with great alacrity.

I had hoped to have a few pieces left over (there’s always someone who doesn’t want dessert after a hearty dinner), but there weren’t even any crumbs left when I glanced at the platter, halfway through my own piece. The cake wasn’t as popular as the soda bread, but my favorite compliment of the evening resulted therefrom. “This is so adult,” said my choir director, a description that is rarely applied to me or my accoutrements by anyone. I’m absurdly pleased by that, and it makes up entirely for the fact that tonight’s dessert was half an apple.

Published in: on March 18, 2007 at 7:43 pm  Leave a Comment