Monthly Archive for February 2010
If you’re wondering how I’m going to spin this recipe—a Chocolate Pudding Cake—to be substantially different than the dark chocolate soufflés I posted about a mere 15 days ago, well, that makes two of us. Because the truth is, those soufflés and this cake are really pretty similar. They’re both chocolate-to-the-max-type affairs. They both rely heavily on dark chocolate, instead of a semi-sweet or milk variety. They both require that chocolate be melted and eggs be separated, that the whipped whites be folded into the yolks and melted chocolate, giving lift to the final product. Remember that whole business about cotton candy spun from chocolate, melting upon the tongue, with the soufflés? Well, that’s here too, with this cake. So, my task today is tall, if I’m to convince you that this cake deserves discussion so close on the heels of the soufflés.
But I’ve never been one to back down from a challenge (just ask my mother) and I recently beat my husband in a game of Trivial Pursuit (!), so I’m riding high on the feeling that anything is possible. So, here goes:
There was a time when I was deeply skeptical of anything braised. Talk of a big pot, full of vegetables and perhaps a few hunks of meat and braising liquid, would elicit a narrowing of my eyes, a squinch at the bridge of my nose, a pressing of my lips into a thin, straight line. Serious distrust; insurmountable doubt—the origins of which are a mystery to me. Perhaps a poorly executed pot roast consumed during my youth? Maybe a preference for crunch or at the very least an al dente-type texture to my food? An outgrowth of my general impatience, spawning dislike of a cooking method that, by definition, takes a little bit of time? Who knows. But I do know this: I was dead wrong.
As it turns out, braising is an entirely wonderful thing. Set in a slip of liquid (wine, say, or cider or stock) that’s been doctored with some delicious things (garlic, almost always, and maybe a bundle of herbs) and slid into a gently heated oven or set atop a flickering stove-top flame, nearly anything can become tender. Take chicken parts, for example. I’m not in that camp of staunchly chicken breast-averse folks, but the last word I would use to describe a chicken breast or a chicken thigh is “tender.” But that’s exactly what they become after a good, long braise. Fork tender, even.
My mom and I made this breakfast bread pudding, laced with wilted arugula and bits of Nueske‘s bacon and held together by a gruyère custard, last Saturday morning. As I’ve already mentioned, we were up in Northern Minnesota, visiting my grandparents for the weekend. There were people all around the house, which we’d rented for the weekend, some still in their beds (here’s looking at you, Ali), some catching the sports highlights, some staring out at Lake Superior, which happened to be glittering fiercely under the big winter sun that morning. But my mom and I were the only ones in the kitchen.
The kitchen is a good place for us—my mom and me, but that hasn’t always been the case. It’s a place we spent a lot of time together when I was growing up, my mom cooking, me watching from my perch on a kitchen stool, my chin cupped in one hand, my elbow resting on the counter. In college and, especially, in the years immediately following, I began to learn to cook and wanted, more and more, to be on the other side of the counter, but it wasn’t the smoothest of transitions. I could cook in my own college kitchen in Evanston or, later, in my first apartments in D.C., but things were a little rocky when I ended up in the kitchen I grew up in. We’re both pretty willful, used to running the show. I’m not proud to say I was touchy, defensive, up-tight when we started cooking together—not that much fun.
As far as kitchen thrills go, I’m pretty easy to please. I’m awed by a curl of parmesan shaved from a fresh wedge, the swelling effect a thimble’s worth of yeast has on some flour and water, the way a supremed citrus segment falls away from its pinwheel at the slice of a paring knife, a palmful of popcorn hissing and cracking as the kernels burst, the froth that a dash of baking soda coaxes from a pot of caramelized sugar. These things are all pure magic to me.
So just imagine my delight over a soufflé.
Before a ski trip in Utah a couple weekends ago, it had been a while since I’d hit the slopes. A couple years, even. During my extended off-season, it seems I’d forgotten several things. For one, ouch. My muscles and joints still hurt. Also, between renting the equipment and packing the gear and buying the lift tickets and lugging around the unwieldy skis and boots, skiing is a lot of work. A lot. And, speaking of the gear and equipment, I’d forgotten that you look absolutely ridiculous while doing it, especially when said gear and equipment date back to the late (okay, fine, early- to mid-) nineties. Too-small goggles in a ravishing shade of neon pink, a puffy parka in a garish color, a helmet that morphs you into a life-sized bobblehead, and pants that swish-swish-swish at even the slightest movement all combine to create quite a look. Let’s not mince words: a ski bunny I am not.
But, you know what else I forgot?
The first days of February may seem like an odd time for this recipe. With January behind us, along with all of its fresh-starts, clean slates and hopeful resolutions, surely now is not the time for broccoli soup, right? Laced with spinach, for goodness sake? Isn’t this the month when we are finally permitted, with goody-two-shoes-January behind us, to usher in football fare and heart-shaped confections? Aren’t we done, you might ask, with such pinnacle-of-health type culinary endeavors until January 2011?
Well, no. We’re not. Especially when such endeavors are bright and zippy, undeniably green. All of these qualities speak to my hopeful side, the one looking toward spring and tulips, reopened farmers’ markets, opening day and budding trees. My practical side, though, the one that’s aware that the dratted groundhog spent more time looking at his shadow than looking toward spring, is satisfied by cupping a warm mug full of this soup, by its incredible earthiness, by its barely-there creaminess and richness, by its tickle of spice.
I mentioned a few posts ago that I’d be participating in Project 365 this year, which means I’m compiling a set of three-hundred-and-sixty-five photos in 2010, one for each day, and can I just say: it’s really fun. Not only that, but the collection already feels like a mini-time capsule. When it seems like January slipped by in a flash, all I need to do is spend a few minutes with the photos to remember what I’ve done, where I’ve been, what the year has held so far.
My goal for the project is to simply catalogue the year in snapshots. I was hoping, too, that the project would make me slow down and take notice, see the beauty in the everyday, push myself into a creative space at least once a day, even on the longest workday or the most chore-packed Saturday. So far, it’s working out splendily. It’s been all these things and more.
With the first of the eleven months of the project behind me, I thought I’d share a few of January’s photos here. Unsuprisingly, I suppose, food and drink and kitchen—my muses, I guess you could say—have crept into the mix. Have a look: