Monday, January 15, 2007

Pleasing With Pork Fat

If you happen to find yourself hosting an impromptu dinner party, I have several pieces of advice for you. First, in order to grease the wheels of your culinary creativity, you need a drink. Drink copiously. Hurry. Saturday found me and my houseguest BB preparing for our small party. BB has it bad for bitters, and I've almost converted, so we started out with a negroni. And how appropriate that we would enjoy an aperitif, as we were about to consume a ridiculous amount of beef, grain, greens, and chocolate. We were obviously in desperate need of serious appetites. The bitters were clutch.
I need for my cousin BB to come down and cook with me more often. We made him chief of "quality control," meaning that he was in charge of preventing me, by force if necessary, from getting frustruated and "improvising" too much with our recipes. And by "improvising," I mean "ruining." See, e.g., "No. You cannot substitute your gardenia-scented body powder for cornstarch."

He also brought along his 7 1/4 quart Le Creuset, that ridiculously good looking and effective red cooking vessel. I'll admit that it occurred to me at one point to beat him over the head with it and run away, clutching the pot in my arms, loving it and petting it and making it my very own. Would that have been wrong? Probably. But justified? Surely.
My Precious.

Let me also tell you what all authorities on the subject consider to be the Number 2 secret to a successful dinner party (after the booze, of course): bacon. You could serve bacon-infused vodka and be done with it, or you could take our lead and just throw bacon all over every.single.thing. You will be satisfied; your guests will flat want to make out with you. Also, do me a favor and do not ever infuse vodka with bacon.

Then, THEN, when they think they can take no more, when they have fallen out of their chairs, when they are pleading with you, "Please, enough pork fat, enough savory goodness, our arteries are fully clogged, no more bacon," you say...okay, fine. Now TIME FOR THE DIABETIC COMAS! BB and I improvised our way into what was a heavenly Blood Orange Ginger (Campari?) Chocolate Cloud Cake, if I do say so myself.

My final piece of advice? Waivers of liability.

The Negroni
1 oz. gin
1 oz. Campari
3/4 oz. sweet vermouth

Spinach & Apple Salad with Crunchy Almonds
from Bon Appetit
Serves 6-8

1/4 cup minced onion
3 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
3 tablespoons white wine vinegar
2 tablespoons sesame seeds
1/4 teaspoon paprika
3 tablespoons sugar
1/2 cup olive oil

2 tablespoons butter
3/4 cup blanched slivered almonds (about 3 ounces)

1 10- ounce bag ready-to-use spinach leaves
2 medium-size red-skinned apples, quartered, cored, thinly sliced

Combine onion, cider vinegar, white wine vinegar, sesame seeds and paprika in small bowl. Mix in 2 tablespoons sugar. Gradually whisk in olive oil. Season dressing to taste with salt and pepper.

Melt butter in heavy large skillet over medium heat. Add almonds. Stir until almonds begin to color, about 2 minutes. Sprinkle remaining 1 tablespoon sugar over. Stir until sugar melts and begins to turn golden, about 2 minutes longer. Transfer almonds to bowl and cool. (Dressing and almonds can be prepared 4 hours ahead. Cover separately and let stand at room temperature.)

Combine spinach and apples in large bowl. Toss with enough dressing to coat. Mix in almonds. Serve salad, passing any remaining dressing separately.

Beef Braised in Red Wine from Gourmet
Serves 4

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 (3- to 3 1/2-lb) boneless beef chuck roast
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1/4 lb sliced pancetta, finely chopped
1 medium onion, finely chopped
1 medium carrot, finely chopped
2 celery ribs, finely chopped
4 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
4 (4- to 6-inch) sprigs fresh thyme
2 (6- to 8-inch) sprigs fresh rosemary
2 tablespoons tomato paste
2 cups Barolo or other full-bodied red wine such as Ripasso Valpolicella, Gigondas, or Côtes du Rhône
2 cups water

Put oven rack in middle position and preheat oven to 325°F.

Heat oil in pot over moderately high heat until hot but not smoking.

Meanwhile, pat meat dry and sprinkle with salt and pepper.

Brown meat in hot oil on all sides, about 10 minutes total. (If bottom of pot begins to scorch, lower heat to moderate.) Transfer to a plate using a fork and tongs.

Add pancetta to oil in pot and sauté over moderately high heat, stirring frequently, until browned and fat is rendered, about 3 minutes. Add onion, carrot, and celery and sauté, stirring occasionally, until vegetables are softened and golden brown, 10 to 12 minutes. Add garlic, thyme, and rosemary and sauté, stirring, until garlic begins to soften and turn golden, about 2 minutes. Stir in tomato paste and cook, stirring, 1 minute. Add wine and boil until liquid is reduced by about half, about 5 minutes. Add water and bring to a simmer, then return meat along with any juices accumulated on plate to pot. Cover pot with lid and transfer to oven. Braise until meat is very tender, 2 1/2 to 3 hours.

Transfer meat to a cutting board. Skim fat from surface of sauce and discard along with herb stems. Boil sauce until reduced by about one third, about 5 minutes, then season with salt. Cut meat across the grain into 1/2-inch-thick slices and return to sauce.

Creamy Polenta from Gourmet
Serves 4

4 cups water
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup polenta (not quick-cooking) or yellow cornmeal (5 oz)
2 tablespoons unsalted butter

Bring water and salt to a boil in a 3-quart heavy saucepan, then add polenta in a thin stream, whisking. Cook over moderate heat, whisking, 2 minutes. Reduce heat to low and cover pan, then cook at a bare simmer, stirring with a long-handled spoon for 1 minute after every 10 minutes of cooking, 45 minutes total. Remove from heat and whisk in butter until incorporated.

Bacon-Wrapped Green Beans adapted from my mother
Serves 4

Three handfuls fresh whole green beans
Thin Sliced Bacon, sliced in halves
French Dressing (yes, from a bottle!)

Boil the green beans for about 4 minutes. After the beans cool, wrap bunches of five or six beans with the half slices of bacon and place them on a large baking sheet. Pour the dressing over the bunches, covering each one with about a tablespoon of dressing. Cook them at 350 for about 12 minutes or until the bacon is done and crispy.

Blood Orange Ginger (Campari?) Chocolate Cloud Cake adapted from Nigella Bites

9 oz. dark chocolate, minimum 70% cocoa solids
1 stick unsalted butter, softened
6 eggs: 2 whole, 4 separated
3/4 cup sugar
juice of 1 blood orange (optional)
grated zest of 1 blood orange (optional)

for the cream topping:

2 tablespoons superfine sugar
2 cups double cream
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
juice of 1/2 blood orange (optional)
1 teaspoon Campari
1.5 teaspoons ground ginger
half teaspoon unsweetened cocoa powder for sprinkling

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Line the bottom of the cake tin with baking parchment.

Melt the chocolate either in a double boiler or a microwave, and then let the butter melt in the warm chocolate.

Beat the 2 whole eggs and 4 egg yolks with 1/3 c. of the caster sugar, then gently add the chocolate mixture, the juice and zest.

In another bowl, whisk the 4 egg whites until foamy, then gradually add the remaining sugar and whisk until the whites are holding their shape but not too stiff. Lighten the chocolate mixture with a dollop of egg whites, and then fold in the rest of the whites. Pour into the prepared tin and bake for 35-40 minutes or until the cake is risen and cracked and the centre is no longer wobbly. Cool the cake in its tin on a wire rack; the middle will sink as it cools.

When you are ready to eat, place the still tin-bound cake on a cake stand or plate for serving and carefully remove the cake from its tin. Don't worry about cracks or rough edges: it's the crater look we're going for here. Whip the cream until it's soft and then add the vanilla, ginger, juice, Campari, and sugar and continue whisking until the cream is firm but not stiff. Fill the crater of the cake with the whipped cream, easing it out gently towards the edges of the cake, and dust the top lightly with cocoa powder pushed through a strainer.