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Sunday, October 7, 2012

Birthdays and Anniversaries - The Stories They Tell

This past weekend was my anniversary.  The Pickypants-(dis)Order alliance celebrated 11 years of wedded bliss.  Eleven years is not a very significant date.  It's not round.  It's not considered a landmark.  This year we made no trips to Europe, Disneyworld, or even a quaint local Bed & Breakfast (all anniversary celebrations of the past). We didn't even go out to dinner.  However, the past eleven years have made me very happy and I'm a very lucky woman to have such a great husband who doesn't seem to mind my calling him Sir Pickypants on my blog.

It was also two days after Dad's birthday.  I think it was a significant enough occasion that we should combine both occasions into one meal.  I invited Dad and his wife over for dinner and I cooked for everyone in celebration.  My mother-in-law and two of her friends came along as well.

I like to say the theme of my blog is that every recipe is a story about food.  The entire creative process of making a meal is a story to me (although I suppose not always the most interesting one to readers).  This meal had a story behind almost every recipe.  I'm going to tell these stories one recipe at a time today.

Chapter 1 - Pre-Dinner Nibbles

 I am a little obsessed with fresh figs. They are very special here in the TERP world because I tried them for the first time on this blog.  Since then, I can't get enough of them.  I especially love them with salty foods like cheese, bacon, and prosciutto.

In recent weeks I have had a neverending craving for figs and goat cheese - with or without prosciutto.  After buying two containers of figs, a brick of goat cheese, some almonds, and a package of prosciutto, I went on to roast goat-cheese-and-almond-stuffed figs and wrap them in prosciutto for breakfast for three days straight.  The craving was still not gone.

I decided to serve them as my pre-dinner snack.  This is so easy it doesn't need a recipe.  Just trim the little stem off the top of a fresh fig.  Cut an x in the top.  Place a dollop of goat cheese on top and an almond on top of that.  If you want to be fancy, use marcona almonds.  Drizzle the whole thing with honey and roast it at 350 for 10 minutes.  I like this with prosciutto too, but not everyone in my family likes prosciutto, so I left it out this time.

These were left in the oven a little longer than I meant to leave them in there, so they spread a bit more than I wanted, but they were still awfully tasty.



Chapter 2 - Lost Soup Recipe Almost Regained

I have often bemoaned those situations where I ate something exquisitely delicious only to never be able to eat it again.  Sometimes it's because I never return to the restaurant.  Other times it's because the restaurant just never served it again.

The first time I ever had dinner at my beloved Iron Forge Inn, the soup of the day was something called Cider Soup.  I remember the server describing it and how delicious it sounded just in the description.  It had apples and cider and bacon and some pureed bread.  It was garnished with little cornmeal dumplings.  I don't remember exactly what else was in it, but I remember it being the best soup I ever ate - no exaggeration there.  Sadly, the restaurant never served it again and I have never found a recipe like it ever again.

I still am on a quest to make a similar soup someday.  I have Googled "cider soup" dozens of times.  The only recipes that ever come up are either made with squash or with pumpkin.  I could never find a recipe for just a savory hot apple soup.  Knowing how I feel about squashes, you can imagine just how disappointing it all was.

Then one day I found my inspiration.  It wasn't a purely cider-flavored soup, but it did contain another vegetable I'm fond of - fennel.  That combination sounded just unusual enough to get my attention and full of the right flavor combination.  I did not have my Iron Forge Inn cider soup, but I had my cider soup.

I roasted two fennel bulbs, an onion, and a granny smith apple.  I pureed them with cider and chicken stock that had  rosemary and thyme sprigs steeped in it.  Add a touch of cream and a garnish of fronds and pine nuts and you have a perfect fall soup - no squashes required.


Fennel Cider Soup


Ingredients

  • 2 fennel bulbs cut, core and stem removed, cut into chunks, fronds reserved
  • 1 apple, peeled and quartered
  • 1 onion, peeled and quartered
  • Olive oil for coating
  • Several sprigs of thyme and rosemary
  • Salt and pepper
  • 1 quart chicken stock
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 2 Tbl pine nuts, toasted.
Heat oven to 425 degrees. Toss fennel and onion  in olive oil and sprinkle with salt, pepper. Place on a cookie sheet and roast for 30-40 minutes or until fennel is soft.  Halfway through cooking add the apple.

Heat chicken stock in a large pot.  Add rosemary and thyme sprigs and allow to infuse.  Remove stem before you add your roasted fennel, apple, and onion to the pot.  Add cider.  Allow to simmer an additional 10 minutes and either blend with a stick blender or place in a blender or food processor until the mixture is smooth.  Stir in the cream over low heat. 

Ladle into bowls and garnish with reserved fronds and toasted pine nuts.


Chapter 3 - Herb Roasted Game Hens with Onion-Apple Confit

I know I go a little crazy with caramelized onions in this blog, so I hope it's not getting old.  It's just that after doing a slow-cooked garlic recipe, I felt the need to do the same with onions once more. I needed something more than just onions in the sauce though.   I thought apples would be the perfect fit.  Why?  Perhaps it was the season calling to me.  Perhaps it was memories of reading Laura Ingalls Wilder's Farmer Boy where Almanzo declares his favorite dish is "apples 'n' onions". I remember when I first read that book it sounded kind of gross, but then I realized how good a combination of sweet, savory, and salty should be.  Maybe I'm just stealing a half dozen other recipes scattered around the 'net.  In any case, I had a really good sauce.  I added a little sugar and a little cider to make it just a bit sweeter and give it a layer of tartness.

I served it with cornish game hens roasted with herbs and  simple sides of green beans and browned butter mashed potatoes.  I think the confit would also be awesome on pork.

My family didn't like it as much as I did though.  SPP wouldn't touch it.  A few folks at the table left it on their plates.  It's hard to see, but I served two halves of the hen on top of the confit.

No real recipe needed for the game hens.  I cut out the spines to butterfly them, rubbed them with a mixture of olive oil, thyme, lemon zest, rosemary, salt, and pepper, and roasted them for an hour at 350.  I split them in half before serving.


Apple and Onion Confit


Ingredients
  • 4 strips bacon, cut into lardons
  • 4 Tbl olive oil, divided
  • 1 Granny smith apple, peeled and sliced
  • 4 large yellow onions, sliced
  • 1 Tbl sugar
  • 2 Tbl cider vinegar
Cook bacon in a large pan until fat renders out and is crispy. Reserve bacon bits.  Drain off all but 1 Tbl fat.  Add 2 Tbl butter to the pan. 

Lay the onions in the bottom of the pan.  Cook over low heat, until very soft, at least 30 minutes, stirring occasionally to make sure they all cook evenly.   Add apple slices.  Continue cooking until apples are soft.  Add  vinegar and sugar to the pan and cook until everything is a nice, jammy mush but the apples still have their shape.  Gently stir in the bacon bits.

Serve with whatever meat you like or over crostini.

Chapter 4 - Dulce De Leche Tiramisu`

I'm not sure what inspired me to make tiramisu` with dulce de leche.  Maybe I was just looking for something new and different, but still easy.  For years I made a tiramisu` with chocolate, Kahlua, and creme de cocao. Tiramisu` is a dessert really lends itself to creative variations.  I sometimes feel guilty about messing with it.  Does it lose its authenticity if I don't make it strictly with coffee and hard liquor or marsala? 

There are so many variations on even the classic tiramisu` that I stopped worrying about it.  Some cooks add whipped cream to the mascarpone.  Some use custard.  Some use egg whites.  I think the very simple recipes most home cooks make in their kitchens are far less complex than what you would see in a Venice bakery.  Why not continue to tweak it if the means of doing so are available?

When I was trying to come up with a framework for the recipe, I learned just how original my idea was not.  Everyone has done dulce de leche tiramisu`.  I Googled dulce de leche tiramisu` and Emily's recipe was the first one to come up.  Now I was faced with a real challenge. How could I make my recipe different from everyone else's?

I started with the same base recipe I use for my chocolate tiramisu`.  I mixed the mascapone with fresh whipped cream and no eggs.  My flavorings were the dulce de leche (I used canned instead of slow cooking my own this time) and cinnamon (I LOVE Penzey's Vietnamese cinnamon, it's very sweet and strong).  The ladyfingers were soaked in coffe and kahlua.  On top I sprinkled a mixture of cinnamon, cocoa powder, and sugar. 


Dulce de Leche Tiramisu`

Ingredients
  • 24-25 ladyfingers
  • 1 cup strong coffee
  • 6 Tbl Kahlua
  • 1 lb mascarpone
  • 2 cups heavy cream
  • 3/4 cup dulce de leche
  • 2 tsp cinnamon, divided
  • 1 Tbl cocoa powder
  • 1 Tbl sugar
 In a large bowl beat mascarpone, cinnamon, and dulce de leche until well blended.  In another large bowl, beat cream to stiff peaks.  Gently fold the cream mixture into the mascarpone mixture until you have a fluffy, well-blended mixture.

In a shallow dish blend coffee and Kahlua.  Dip the ladyfingers into the mixture and arrange to cover the bottom of a baking dish.  Spread half the mascarpone mixture over the top.  Repeat with another layer of ladyfingers dipped in coffee mixture.  Add the second half of the mascarpone mixture.

Combine cocoa powder, sugar, and remaining cinnamon.  Sprinkle this evenly over the top of the tiramisu`.  Allow to sit a few hours in the refrigerator to let the flavors meld before serving.

2 comments:

Blond Duck said...

I've always wanted to try figs! Looks incredible!

Emily said...

Mmm tiramisu. You went all out on this dinner! I want to come over. Congratulations on your anniversary!!

Those figs look amazzzing.