Monday, February 27, 2012

Flaming apples with dates

Flaming food brings out the middle brow philistine in everyone.  I remember being mesmerized by a picture in the World Book Encyclopedia of the Pump Room in Chicago, which used to flame just about everything.  I also recall the classic Peter Cook and Dudley Moore skit, the Frog and the Peach, where the most revolting food was served flamed in boiling Cointreau.  It is an easy way to impress your guests, but it also has legitimate culinary functions.  Flaming is a quick way of burning off excess alcohol that can give food (as opposed to drink an unpleasant taste, and in dishes made with sauteed meats, it is a very efficient way of deglazing the pan.  But, mostly, it is just cool.

A few weeks ago we ran into two friends at a jazz concert near our house.  They gave us a ride home and we asked them in for dessert.  We didn't have much in the house, sothis is what we made:

Flaming apples and dates:

  • 1 tablespoon butter (substitute neutral vegetable oil or margarine for a pareve dessert)
  • 4 apples peeled, cored and sliced lengthwise
  • 5-10 pitted dates
  • 1 tablespoon date honey or brown sugar
  • Cinnamon -- about 1/4 teaspoon
  • 2 tablespoons ice cider 
  • 1/4 cup Calvados, apple jack or rum
  • Vanilla ice cream or coconut sorbet to serve
  • Heat butter in a medium skillet.
  • Add apples and saute on medium high heat until they begin to brown and are tender but not falling apart.
  • Add dates and saute a minute more, stirring.
  • Add the sweetener, cinnamon and ice cider and bring to the boil.
  • Put all but one tablespoon of the calvados in the skillet, and put the remainder in a LONG HANDLED metal spoon.  Touch the metal spoon with the liquor to the flame of your stove, and it will ignite.  (Do not hover while you do this.  The smell of burnt hair is not pleasant.)  Pour it into your skillet, and the entire skillet should flame up.  It should die down fairly quickly, but keep a cover nearby in case it doesn't -- covering it will extinguish the flame.  Stir the contents of the skillet around, and serve.  For full dramatic effect, shut the lights when you flame the dish. 
  • Serve at once over ice cream or sorbet to 4.

The apples:  More than the liquor, this is the key to the dish.  I used a combination of Golden Russets and Crispins.  The best choice are flavorful apples that will hold their shape.  Farmers' markets have a much wider variety of apples than most supermarkets.  You can always use Granny Smiths as a backup though I find that they take a long time to get tender and their flavor is too unidimensional.

The liquor:  Ice cider is roughly the equivalent of ice wine, a sweet relatively low alcohol dessert beverage, but it is made from cider apples rather than grapes.  It is a relatively new product, and was developed in Quebec in the past twenty years.  It is a nice end to a meal, and goes especially well with cheeses and apple desserts.  We happened to have a bottle open so we used some.  If you do not have any, you could use a little regular cider or apple juice.  For flaming, the hard liquor is the key.  An apple brandy, whether calvados or applejack is ideal.  We used Michel Jodoin's wonderful Brandy des Pommes from Quebec.   (I am surprised that the word brandy survived the provincial language police.)  You could substitute rum or cognac if you don't have an apple brandy. 

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

A kinder, gentler chocolate tofu pudding with lavender

Or, at least a lower calorie one.  A few years ago I posted a chocolate tofu pudding based on one published by Mark Bittman.  His was seasoned with chili and cinnamon.  I used lavender instead since I consider chocolate and lavender to be one of the great taste combinations.  While this is a great dessert in its own right, it is by no means slenderizing.  I have been following Weight Watchers for the past few months (with some success, I might add, not that anyone asked)  and the original recipe clocked in at a pretty hefty 9 PointsPlus (the controversial new WW points system) per serving. While no chocolate mousse or cheesecake, it is still over 25% of my points allowance per day, and could be nearly 50% for some women (God being a man in matters of weight loss).

The Weight Watchers site had an adaptation of the recipe that cut down on the sugar and substitute cocoa powder for some of the chocolate, cutting the serving cost to 4 PointsPlus if you serve it in appropriate portin sizes. I tweaked the recipe further to work in lavender, and here is my

Lower-cal chocolate tofu pudding with lavender

  • 2 tablespoons dried lavender buds
  • 3/4 cup water
  • 1/2 cup cocoa powder
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 pound silken tofu
  • 2-3 ounces good quality bittersweet chocolate (I like Scharffenberger's, which is pareve)
  • Make a lavender infusion:  Bring the water to a boil in a small pot, and add the lavender buds.  Boil rapidly for a minute and then let them cool as if you were making a tea.
  • Mix the cocoa and sugar in a bowl.  Strain the lavender infusion into the bowl, drizzling it in slowly until you have a paste, as if you were making hot cocoa.
  • Bring the mixture to a boil and cook for about a minute on low, stirring so that it doesn't scorch.
  • Puree the tofu in a blender.
  • Add the cocoa mixture and puree again.
  • Melt the chocolate either in a double boiler or in the microwave.  If doing it in the microwave, melt it in 20 second increments, stirring in between, so that it doesn't scorch.
  • Add chocolate to the mixture in the blender and blend again.
  • Pour into a single glass serving dish or into individual serving dishes and chill.  It cools and sets much more quickly in individual portions.  Wine glasses are especially nice.  Top with a coarse sea salt, ideally Maldon, before serving.
  • Makes 6-7 servings.
Varying the spices:  Next time I am going to try this iwith an infusino of Sichuan peppeprcorns.  I will keep you posted. 

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Roasted celery root salad

Last week Mark Bittman published a bunch of root vegetable recipes in the Sunday Times Magazine. (I would link to them but the Times has blocked access, even though we are subscribers.) We tried the roasted celery root which couldn't be easier or tastier. You clean a whole root, rub it or spray it with olive oil, sprinkle with coarse salt, and roast in a 350 degree oven for two hours. I cut of the squiggly parts that have a lot of what looks like the vegetal equivalent of belly button lint jammed between them. Slice into wedges with the skin to serve.

This is the salad that I made with the half that was left over. It is a nice lower carb alternative to potato salad, if you are looking for one. most celery root salads that I have had are remoulade-style, and combine raw shredded celery root with a mustard vinaigrette.  I think this is much better:

Roasted celery root salad

  • Leftover roasted celery root with skin  (we used a little more than half of a two pound root)
  • 1/2 cup chopped diced pickles (see below)
  • 1/4 cup capers, rinsed
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh dill
  • 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
  • 1 tablespoon mayonnaise or more to taste
  • 1 teaspoon white wine vinegar
  • salt (if needed) and pepper

  1. Cut the celery root into 1/2 to 3/4 inch dice.
  2. Combine with pickles, capers and dill.
  3. Combine the mustard, mayonnaise and vinegar and mix into the salad.
  4. Add salt if needed (it may not be, since the pickles and capers are salty) andpepper.
  5. Serves 4 as a side dish.
What kind of pickles to use? We used the slightly spicy Israeli pickles that you get in a can.  You could also use French-style cornichons, half sours, or sour dill pickles.  Each will alter the character of the dish, and each will be good.