Friday, September 4, 2009

A Failed Final Sweet Treat and an End-of-Summer Dinner for the Funnest People on Earth

Here's something funny. My husband takes extreme offense at the photo of the sausage from two posts down. He said it looks like someone's intestines. Well, Kevin it is someone's intestines! That's what sausages are. Well, Sue did say that it looked like a science experiment. I hereby promise never to put photos of long ropes of raw sausage again (unless of course it's hilariously funny to do so).

So summer ends unofficially. :-( Yes, it's still officially summer and we'll still have summer weather for a few weeks, but the pools are all closed, so the heat isn't as much fun.

At least I was able to send summer out with a bang. Most people barbecue on Labor Day. Me? I have to be different. I actually cooked dinner inside on the stove and served it inside. I'm such a rebel. (Well, actually it's because I don't have a grill or a backyard to put one in, but that's a minor, piddling detail).

Our guests this weekend were Bryan and Jenny, mentioned in previous posts as The Funnest People on Earth. I love getting together with them, and like many friends we have in our adult lives, we don't see them often enough. The last time they came over for dinner was last year when they shared the Summer Solstice with us. They have been with us for the official beginning of summer and now they're with us for the unoffical end of summer.

So what was on the menu?

I started with what I called a "Crostini Bar". I put out the toasted bread slices and then let the guests select their toppings. I had roasted peppers, sherry mushrooms (and the crostini recipe is here too), homemade lemony pesto (it was very improvised, so I can't really give you a recipe), and fresh mozzarella cheese. Everyone could top the bread how he or she wanted in whatever combinations would suit the fancy.

The cheese was to die for. It has been freshly made that morning and I couldn't keep my hands off it!

The next course was a chilled tomato soup. I wanted to do a gazpacho, but I just wasn't feeling gazpacho. I have been eating cucumbers and green peppers out the wazoo lately and also making a fair amount of gazpacho. It was becoming like a liquid salad to me. BOR-ING.

For my new soup I added roasted peppers and some cloves of roasted garlic to the tomatoes. Then I added some sherry, paprika, and ground almonds. Although it wasn't gazpacho, I felt it had some Spanish flair to it.

I forgot to take a photo of the actual soup. All I have is a photo of the tureen on the table. Don't you just love soup tureens?

The main course was chicken in figs and wine again, but I tweaked the recipe from the last time. I liked my previous recipe, but I was slightly disappointed in it. I felt it was a little on the sweet side, almost bland, and the caramelized onions needed some balance.

I tweaked the recipe by adding extra pancetta and using garlic instead of caramelized onions. I even threw some sage in with the wine and broth. I liked this recipe even better than the first one. It had a smoky sweet quality without being overly sweet. One of my best recipes.

I served it on polenta squares. I had to buy that crappy store-bought polenta in a tube because I was shopping close to home at my local grocery stores and none of them carry the polenta you have to cook. I mixed the stuff in the tube with some salt and parmesan, spread it in a pan, spinkled some oil and a little more parmesan on top and baked it till it held together nicely.

Dessert was the last recipe from the book that I plan to do for a while.

I did a sheet cake, a banana cake, a chocolate pound cake, two kinds of bar cookies, and one plain brownie. The only thing I hadn't done was a layer cake. The book has an overwhelming number of layer cakes and it's hard to choose one. Most of them seem very much alike. Some have milk and some have buttermilk. Some have a little more butter or another eggs. Most of them have the same amounts of chocolate in them. I'm sure I could tell the difference in textures if I tried them side by side, but I don't know how I'd know the difference otherwise.

I chose one called Chocolate Velvet Cake. I thought it was nice and festive, which was important since Bryan's birthday was a couple of weeks ago. It looked easy enough. I was going to cover it with white chocolate frosting and sprinkle chocolate toffee bits over it. (I found some nice toffe chunks at Trader Joe's. Why didn't I think of going there when I make the coconut and toffee bars last weekend?)

Well, things did not go as planned. The cakes baked up nicely, but they were very delicate. While tranferring the top layer, it fell apart. I tried to use the frosting to glue the cake back together, but it all just collapsed under the weight. The frosting itself was an unappealing off-white color. The cake was a mess and there was no way I would serve it. I scrapped it. I did try it before I scrapped it. The cake was good, but it really didn't taste that different from a cake one would buy at a commercial bakery.

Now what? I needed a dessert. I still had some chocolate in the house. I also happened to have milk, cream, butter and those toffee bits.

First I went to work on brownies. I went with the simple, classic "One-Bowl" recipe you get on the Baker's box. Susan once said it's the best brownie recipe of them all. I suppose one could argue about whether or not it's the best, but it's certainly the easiest.

Next I mixed up some ice cream. I made chocolate ice cream and tossed those chocolate toffee bits in it.

So here was my dessert. Brownies with chocolate-toffee-nut ice cream. Not a bad ending for improvisation!

Now for the recipes...

Tomato and Red Pepper Soup
2 pounds tomatoes
3 red bell peppers
4-6 cloves of garlic, unpeeled (I used a smaller number because I had HUGE cloves)
1 cup almonds, roasted and ground
2 Tbl sherry
1 tsp paprika
Salt to taste

Score an X in the tomatoes and drop them into boiling water for about two minutes or until the skin starts to peel away. Drop them in cold water immediately and peel off the skins. Squeeze seeds from tomatoes then put seeds through a strainer to get the juice. Chop into chunks.

Cut peppers in half and lightly brush with olive oil. Place on baking sheet with garlic cloves (also sprinkled with olive oil). Roast at 400 degrees for about 10 minutes or until skins start to blacken and bubble. Place peppers in plastic bags for a few minutes. Slip skins off. Also remove garlic cloves from their skins.

Place peppers, tomatoes, juice, garlic and almonds in food processor and puree till smooth. Add sherry, paprika, and salt.

Chill and serve.

Chicken in Figs and Wine 2
4 boneless, skinnless chicken breasts
Flour for dredging
Salt and pepper
4 oz. pancetta, chopped into little bits
4-6 cloves of garlic (again, I had HUGE cloves, so I used 4)
16 figs (preferably black mission) sliced
1 cup white wine
1 cup chicken stock
6 sage leaves
1 Tbl butter

Cook pancetta in skillet until crispy. Remove from pan.

Dredge chicken breasts in flour, salt and pepper.

You may find you have a little excess pancetta grease. You can drain off some of it, but don't get rid of all of it. You want that flavor. If you think you don't have enough, add a little olive oil to the pan.

Brown chicken breasts well on both sides. Remove from the pan and keep warm.

Cook garlic for a minute or two until fragrant. Add wine and stock and make sure you get up every last little brown bit from the pan. Add figs and sage and simmer till reduced by about half.

Add chicken breasts back into pan until cooked through. Remove from pan and swirl the butter into the sauce.

Serve breasts topped with sauce. Sprinkle with pancetta bits.

If you want to get fancy, removed the figs with a slotted spoon and strain sauce before topping the chicken with it.

While cooking and baking all day I make myself hot dogs for lunch. I mixed up a pretty cool relish by using up odds and ends of condiments in the fridge. This is peppadew peppers, capers, and cornichons chopped up with some tomato paste.


Sue said...

I one hundred percent agree with Kevin, as you noted, about the sausage picture.

Boy, do you have lucky friends! Everything sounds soooooooo good. You really couldn't do anything with that cake? What an outrage! Haven't there been quite a few disapoointing recipes from that book? Could you have made a trifle with it or assembled it like a tiramisu?

Um, I feel kind of sheepish to say this, because I don't want to sound like an idiot (it never stopped me before, though) but I always make my polenta from the Indian Head guy cornmeal in the yellow squarish package. When that's not available, I've even used Quaker Oats cornmeal or the Goya white cornmeal. Were you looking for some esoteric fancy cornmeal? I saw them use the tubed polenta on Chopped and it looked awesome.

You just HAD to end your post with a sausage-like picture, didn't you?

Emily said...

Lolololololol to Sue's last comment. I was thinking the same thing.

I'm so sorry about the cake! It sounded so promising. I wonder what makes a cake crumbly? I've had a few like that.

I really like your brownies and ice cream. I've never made chocolate ice cream before.

Marta said...

What a fantastic dinner! It looks like you did a great job including amazing flavours and working around the obstacles you faced... store-bought polenta is hard to work with, I know! I love the brownie and ice cream dessert. Looks delicious! Be my friend!!! hahaha

The Blonde Duck said...

It sounds delectable!!

I didn't mind the picture.

The Short (dis)Order Cook said...

Wow. Never thought a sausage could stir up so much controversy!! :-D

Sue - I have wondered about the regular cornmeal, but the texture is so much finer than the grits/polenta you buy. Wouldn't that change the consistency of the cooked product?

I did think about using the cake for a trifle, but it was covered in that ugly, heavy sweet frosting and it seemed like adding more stuff to it would be sugar overkill.

The book hasn't proved to be much of a treasure, despite the name and the beautiful pictures. There are still a couple of recipes I want to try and I do love this one cake I made from it last year, so I'm not getting rid of it just yet.

Em - I'm all about the sausage I guess. The cake wasn't so much crumbly as sort of "airy". The texture was light, which made it delicate.

My chocolate ice cream recipe is really awesome. Email me if you want to give it a shot. I had some Guittard chips that I mixed into it, which really brought the flavor over the top.

Marta - I'd be happy to send some brownies and ice cream your way if it weren't for that darned melting thing ice cream does. ;-)

The Blonde Duck said...

Ashley doesn't like Jeremy, she likes Brogan...Jeremy's stuck with the troll. :) And Cleo hasn't found hers yet...

The Blonde Duck said...

The Babies want to know what kind of Monsters Riddle sees.

Maria said...

I love that Chocolate book!

The Blonde Duck said...

Jeremy will fare better in the second book. He has to learn more about himself and how to be kinder before he can be fully redeemed. You'll learn more about why and his past when he works for the troll.