Wednesday, April 23, 2008

kitchen tour: main course

The thing about tasting menus is that, well first, if you're lucky enough to have scored a reservation/expense account/significant occasion special enough to warrant a multi-course celebration - that aside of course - is that by the time you've settled in, had a drink to quell the excitement and gobbled down those first dainty and exquisite mouthfuls...well, you're worried, because despite your best intentions, you're getting full before the main course even hits.

(This is a musing of the hypothetical sort, in the vein of What would Ina do? Add cream or butter? Or both? as I clearly don't - but really wish I did - quite have the loot yet to support my dreamy dining fantasies. Until then, muse I shall...)

Whatever is a determined eater to do? As a favourite cook and mentor likes to say: "In times like this, you gotta get rich and switch."

Which is exactly what this kitchen does. The biggest, powerhouse main courses, usually served near the end of the meal, come first. Memento-style, the rest of the courses unravel backwards, going from meat to sea, then to lighter shellfish before ending with a final flurry of dessert. Imagine that!

What a relief and comfort to know that this way, you really can have your venison, foie, scallop and molten chocolate cake and eat it too.


The call is in, the hot line gears up for some action...

Just as with the multiple amuses, each of the courses are offered in two variations; this way, each pair of diners is presented with a different version of the same course. (Cool and crazy, yes. It's good to keep things interesting, isn't it?)

Braised beef, potato and leek puree, milk foam

Lids for a luxurious version of Lion's Head, a kind of braised pork meatball "hotpot". (I missed the finished dish, but you can see a more traditional version of this dish here.)

And here comes the foie course...

L, lucky man, is the guardian of those fatty lobes of (heartwarming, or stopping?) love we call foie. Check out his sweet knife, by the way.

Hot food, hot plate!
Veg cook M grabs them nice and hot from the steamer.

Plating up inside hand-spun potato rings.

The line at work...veg, meat and sauce time it out so everything comes together.

J the saucier, working it out with his trusty spoon.

Bison and foie, roasted root veg, rice tuile, cognac apple puree

Venison and foie, braised daikon, berry glaze

D, sous chef and expediter extrordinaire, does a final check before sending the plates out...

Fave D line: "It's not a football! Carry it straight! "

After that delicious assault of all things pork and foie, I too would welcome a slight breather, a quiet respite for my (hypothetically) taxed tastebuds...

Curious, I did hear the word intermezzo in the air. Up next!

Monday, April 21, 2008

gimme s'more!

I have to say a great big thank you to the fine folks at cakespy for posting about the unbelievably fabulous creations coming out of Trophy Cupcakes. I know I've always been a visual kid, but it's not very often that I come across an image that leaps out and speaks to me (and my belly, of course) so loudly that I just have to go ahead and make the darn thing for myself.

I'm talking, of course, about the awe inspiring S'more Cupcake. Oh, Trophy, you are madpeople and geniuses all at once!

Here's hoping the feeling is contagious; to all the bakers and cuppy cake lovers out there...let the cupcake madness begin!

And so, we begin...

One Bowl Chocolate Cupcakes
(adapted from Martha Stewart)

2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/4 cups cocoa powder
2 1/2 cups sugar
2 1/2 tsp baking soda
1 1/4 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt

2 large whole eggs, plus 1 egg yolk (save the white for frosting!)
1 1/4 cups milk
1/2 cup plus 2 tbsp vegetable oil
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 1/4 cups warm water (you can substitute coffee, or be boozy like me and sub in Baileys for 1/4 cup of the water...mmm!)

*I should mention that the "official" recipe for the original version is on Martha's website here, but based on some of the comments, I thought I'd stick to a recipe that I've used before, and trust. (Martha will always be my hero, even if a few of her recipes are a little wonky.)

Preheat your oven to 350 while you gather all of your ingredients. Oh, and line two regular cupcake pans (that's 24 cupcakes in total) with those cute paper cups.

Measure out all the dry ingredients and dump into a large bowl...

To the dry, add all the wet ingredients; stir to combine into a smooth mix.

That's it for the cupcake batter; onto the part that makes it s'moreish....

Graham Cracker Base
1 1/2 cups graham cracker crumbs
3 tbsp melted butter

1 Hershey's bar, chopped in rough chunks

Combine the graham cracker crumbs and butter.

Scoop about a rounded teaspoon of the crumbly mix into each paper cup. There will be some left over; save this for the topping!

Pat the mix down to form a mini "crust". (Shot glass to the rescue!)

Try very hard not to eat the whole bar...stupid willpower!

Chop chop!

Put a little sprinkle of chopped chocolate on top of the graham base; cover with cupcake mix.

I filled mine about three-quarters full...
(*strange, but this recipe usually makes 24 cupcakes on the nose. This time I had a bit left over, most likely because of the extra bits of graham and chopped chocolate I added. No worries, put the extra in a ramekin to bake for a little bonus treat!)

Sprinkle the rest of the graham cracker mix on top. (I went a little crazy and put more chocolate chips on top as well; no such thing as too much chocolate, is there?)

Bake about 15 - 20 minutes.
Do the toothpick test to check if done, but remember there will be gooey melted chocolate in the middle! (I also rotated the pans about halfway through so everything baked evenly.)

Tah Dah! So cute..but wait, there's more!

I could pack a few of these back right now, but I will be patient, because now it's time for...

Gilding The Lily (aka Marshmallow Frosting)
(adapted from

2 cups white sugar
3 egg whites (make sure these are very clean, no yolk bits!)
2 tbsp light corn syrup (I used honey, and it worked out fine)
3 tbsp cold water
1 tsp vanilla extract
pinch salt

Combine all in a stainless steel bowl and set on top of a pot of simmering water. Whisk constantly (electric beaters would've been great here, but old fashioned elbow grease will do just fine!) until mixture is glossy and holds a stiff peak when whisk is lifted.

This counts as my exercise for the day! Once the whites reach stiff peak, remove from heat and keep on whisking until mix cools down. Let it hang out while you locate your pastry bag (or large Ziploc with the corner cut off).

Pipe frosting. Admire. Pipe some more.

Ah, how satisfying to see a little cupcake army forming....

If you're really gonna do it up, and have been itching to use that torch (and who doesn't, really?), now is the time to bust it out! Just remember, light away from the face...

The best part about the frosting is that when it sits for a bit (about an hour, say) it will go crispy on the outside, but still be squishy and marshmallowy in the middle...gaah, it's awesome!

The end result. Chocolatey, crunchy, squishy goodness. Mmm...

Yes, yes, gimme s'more! Enjoy!

Thursday, April 17, 2008

hello, dumpling!

Sometimes a favourite food can be so inspirational, so mouthwateringly hug-worthy, that one has no choice but to sing its praises, in whatever convoluted form that may take.

Say, a haiku, for example:
O porky dumpling
my chopsticks bow, O Plump One
dip dip dip dip yum!
Hmm, needs work, but you get the picture. I do luuurve me some dumplings!

The bundles come helpfully labeled...this time it's pork and chive. (Second favourite: lamb and coriander)

We indulged the other night in some beautiful handmade dumplings, bought from a tiny local restaurant (they make them so much better than I ever could, plus it's a great instant lazy-night meal). This place specializes in the northern Chinese style of dumpling making, offering hand rolled, hand formed, wheat flour based shuijiao (boiled dumplings) and guotie (potstickers).

The handmade floury wrappers are wonderfully tender, yet have a bit of pleasant toothiness to them.

We decided to take some uncooked, freshly made bundles of goodness home with us, so we could cook and feast with (private) abandon.

Pajama dining. It's a guilty secret pleasure. Tell me I'm not alone?

I love lots of ginger in the dipping sauce...

About the dipping sauce: I'm all in for the fridge-raid version, which includes glugs and dashes of varying proportions of soy sauce, sesame oil, sriracha and other chili spiked condiments, but sometimes the clean and old-school rules.

I highly recommend that you try this, if only once (and if you aren't just crazy about it already), just to see how incredible two simple little ingredients can make the best, and easiest, dumpling sauce. Ever!

Ready? Mince, grate or finely chop some fresh ginger. Pour a dash of black vinegar (I like the Gold Plum brand, pictured below) over and let it infuse with bracing gingery goodness. That's it! (You gotta try it, you'll become a convert, I promise.)

A dumpling must-have! Black vinegar, made from glutinous rice; its mellow tang could maybe, if totally desperate, be replicated with a bit of not-too-sweet balsamic.

A bit of ginger prodding helps infuse the vinegar. (Plus it's fun to do too!)

And so...gingery sauce? Check. Pot of water bubbling away, dumplings standing by? Check. Pajamas on, Dexter dvd playing? Check and check! Ooh, it's gonna be a great lazy night!

Today, we boil.
(Sometimes if we're craving the crispy golden goodness we do the pan fried version.)

A big plate to share...although I have been known to get in quite a few all on my own!

Plump. Juicy. Porky. Mmmm....

They went pretty fast; maybe I should've made just a few more....

Yes, delish! Thank you, dumpling, for being your plump, fabulous self. Until we meet again!