Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Angelina Jolie Invents Ginger Ale

So there I was, talking on the phone with my Noo Yawk friend Maddy, when everything happened at once. Except that I didnt know everything happened at once, or that anything had happened at all. Which is to say that the pot that was full of my attempt to make Lime and Ginger Drink Concentrate with sugar and water and ginger and lime juice (the pot I forgot to turn to “low”) was still happily bubbling away on “high” when the phone rang. 
In the few seconds it took me to update Maddy on the kids and grandkids and Ron and why I know with 100% certainty that George Clooney would make a lousy husband even though weve never met (though I do like Lake Como) and how liposuction is looking better with each passing year and whats good enough for Chers butt is good enough for mine but Id be scared to have a face lift because of Murphy Brown's Law and Meg Ryans lips ... 

In those scant seconds, that stupid old pot boiled over like a witches cauldron, spitting sugar-water-ginger-lime syrup over my smooth-top range. All messed up with no place to go, a molten river of syrup inched over the stove top and on to the kitchen floor as sticky clouds of steam drifted toward the ceiling to drip down the walls and counter tops.
I wasnt aware of any of that until Maddy and I stopped talking, at which point I innocently stepped into my sugar-water-ginger-lime kitchen, retreating so quickly and in such shock that I tracked a trail of syrup into the dining room. Fueled by adrenalin and a fast slug of scotch, I crept back to turn off the stove, ick-ick-icking through what felt like the last days of Pompeii. 
Unaware Id dipped the sleeve of my blouse into the liquid pooled on the stove, my arm soon fetched up on the dining room table, where it stuck. After the stove cooled down, I tried to lift the syrupy pot, but it was heavy and some of the contents sloshed out to drip down the side of a cupboard.
When I first came up with the idea of a drink concentrate flavored with lime and ginger, I liked the notion so much that I decided to make an extra-large batch, forgetting that a concentrate requires only a few spoonsful per glass. My enthusiasm bolted free like an unbridled pony. “More limes!” I thought. And then, when the concentrate tasted too limey, “More sugar!” And then, when it tasted too sweet, “More water!” And then, when it tasted too watery,“More limes!” And so it went, with lashings of ginger. I never actually considered that there might be a bit much of the stuff by the time I'd finally finished. My advice to you, Dollinks, is that if you ever get a hankering for Lime and Ginger Drink Concentrate
1. Don't try this at home
2. Don't - under any circumstances - double the quantity
3. Don't use a pot smaller than a Humvee, and ...
4. Have Maddy leave a recorded message
So let me tell you what Ron said about my creation: “This is the worst recipe you've ever made! I do wish the man wouldn’t equivocate. With all that lime juice (16 limes, Dollinks), all that sugar (12 cups, my pets), and all that ginger (½ cup, maybe more), it tasted like ginger ale, but was a whole lot sweeter and a whole lot messier than real ginger ale. I didnt know I was about to invent ginger ale. I’ve always hated ginger ale. But yes, if you cut the sugar in half and added vats of soda water, what I made would probably pass as a reasonable facsimile of ginger ale in the same way that I would probably pass as a reasonable facsimile of Angelina Jolie, minus all the kids and Jennifer Aniston’s voodoo doll. That my recipe cost four times as much as ginger ale and made more than any human could ever consume in a lifetime was irrelevant. I’d unlocked the recipe for ginger ale! I was going to be rich! 
Unfortunately, I’ll never publish my recipe for Lime and Ginger Drink Concentrate (not that I don't want to be rich - I do, of course). The concoction was so stomach-churningly sweet and such merde (Translation: passable) that Ron made me pinky-swear that I would never, ever tell anyone how I made it because anyone who tried my recipe would never read this blog again.  He poured it all down the sink, chipped away at the sticky stuff that had dried and hardened on the stove, washed the floor, wiped down the counters, and ran every cup and plate we own (somehow, everything had morphed into one giant lollipop) through the dishwasher. He also made me promise that I would never make this again even if the ginger ale people bribed me to reveal my recipe as a sneaky prelude to what would surely be their follow-up lawsuit. 
The only thing worse I’ve done on the culinary front was boil beets in the pressure cooker just as the lid decided to blow. When we finally scraped the last beet off the ceiling, we repainted. So Dollinks, with regret, I will not be giving you my (now-secret) recipe for Lime and Ginger Drink Concentrate.
What you will be getting are the photos that show me proudly preparing the recipe before Ma Bell broke loose and Maddy and I started talking. I’m telling you this sad story so you’ll know cooking failures can happen to anyone, Dollinks. You just have to do your best, learn from experience, and resist the temptation to boil beets in an aging pressure cooker with a faulty lid. 

A promising start! (artistically arranged, if I do say so, and I do) 
Juicing the limes ...

Slicing the ginger ...

Stirring the sugar syrup ... soooooo professional, n'est-ce pas?

But then ... “Noo Yawk calling, Dollinks! Yada-yada-yada ...!” Disaster!

OUTED! Testing Lime and Ginger Drink Concentrate   
straight from the stove top. It later hardened and burned black as tar.
Eight huge cups remained after half the concentrate splashed
onto the floor, the cupboards, the counters, the stove ... 

With the kitchen in ruins, we had no choice but to go out for pizza and I felt guilty and paid for it but in my black heart fantasized sticking Maddy with the $10 tab because the pizza was stale and not fully heated through and Ron said What do you expect for 10 bucks? and in my still-black heart I thought 
Filet mignon with Béarnaise sauce! but stifled because I didnt want to seem stuck up which, of course, I was considering everything that happened after I invented ginger ale and Ron threw out my secret recipe and the kitchen became a lollipop. We washed down our pizzas with Coke.
*   *   *   
I have filed this post at dawn because - by the time you read this, Dollinks - Ron and I will be in an exotic locale where the drinks have tiny paper umbrellas, the palm trees sway in warm, tropical breezes, and the beach sand is powdery fine. How did you guess? We are, indeed, holed up in our TV room, watching reruns of Gidget Goes Hawaiian! Ill return with more recipes on Oct. 8th. Until then, my precious Dollinks, happy cooking! xox  Nicole

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Roast Duck Leg with Blueberry Sauce

When I recently found a smart buy on duck, I thought I’d combine it with the last of summers fresh blueberries to create this dish especially for you. Duck takes a little while to roast, but the preparation for this showy, tasty meal is simple. If you can find duck breasts at a reasonable price, they’re a far better value - tender meat, and more of it - than the chewy legs I used. 
Roast Duck Leg with Blueberry Sauce:
2 duck breasts or legs with attached thighs, about 1-⅓ lb. (625 g)
Sea salt and coarsely ground pepper, to taste
½ c. blueberry jam
1 c. fresh or frozen blueberries, stems removed 
1-½ tsp. fresh ginger, finely chopped
1 tbsp. cornstarch or tapioca starch
2 tbsp. vermouth
Preheat oven to 325 deg. F. Prick duck randomly on both sides with a sharp paring knife. Rub all over with a combined mixture of sea salt and coarsely ground pepper. Roast skin-side up on a rack for 40-to-45 min. with a drip pan underneath. Partway through roasting, remove from oven to drain drippings. (Freeze drippings for later packaging as solid waste or for Roast Potatoes (see Index for Side Dish: Potatoes (Roast). Immediately return duck to oven to resume roasting.
To prepare blueberry sauce, combine jam, blueberries, and finely chopped ginger over very low heat, just until jam starts to liquify. Cool slightly. Combine 2 tbsp. liquid from blueberry sauce with 1 tbsp. cornstarch or tapioca starch, blending until smooth. Return starch solution to berries and liquid in skillet. Simmer 1 min. over medium-low heat. Stir in vermouth. Pour simmered berries and sauce over duck legs on serving platter. Serves 2.

Place duck on a baking rack, so fat can drain

Assemble sauce ingredients: Berries, jam, ginger

Stir cooled berry juice into tapioca starch,
returning to berry mixture to thicken

Ladle berries and sauce over duck leg or breast

Use leftover blueberry sauce over pancakes the
next morning - or let Ron do the 
clean up!

Monday, September 19, 2011

Sächer Torte

Sächer Torte is arguably the world’s most famous cake. Its public début to Europe’s aristocracy in 1832 made Vienna’s Hotel Sächer (and this cake) a sensation. The recipe for the original torte is a secret, but this version from The Joy of Cooking - which I’ve modified - is surprisingly easy to make. You’ll need a 9-inch spring-form pan (the kind with a removable ring) to make this cake, which should never be pried or pounded from the pan. Because I used a 10-inch pan, my cake was slightly broader and shallower, but every bit as delicious. If you use a 10-in. pan, reduce the recipe’s baking time by 5 min.
Other special tools I used? A food processor makes quick work of grating the chocolate for the cake. A horizontal cake slicer (as pictured on my June 17, 2011 blog for Boston Cream Pie) and a fan-type spatula (pictured on the same date’s blog) are very handy tools. And a candy thermometer is useful for preparing the Chocolate Glaze to top this lovely cake. But none of these is essential.
The lightness of this cake is entirely dependent upon the seven egg whites in it. Resist the temptation to bang your beater blades on the side of the bowl after you’ve beaten those whites, or you’ll damage the lovely air pockets you’ve created by whipping the whites until they’re stiff. Grease and flour the bottom of your pan, but don’t grease the sides, or your cake won’t gain the foothold it needs to rise over its hour-long baking time. Savor this cake’s time in the oven! Your kitchen will be scented with the most delicious aroma of chocolate as it bakes! 
I have many, many favorite recipes for chocolate cake - some with ground hazelnuts, some with sour cream, some light, some dark, some with several different types and flavors of chocolate. While Sächer Torte isn’t my very favorite chocolate cake, it’s near the top of the heap. The only thing better than serving it in my kitchen would be people-watching over a slice of Sächer Torte served with dark, rich coffee and a large dollop of Schlag - unsweetened whipping cream - in the Hotel Sächer’s café. My mother was born in Vienna: It’s been my life-long wish to go there! If I ever do, I’ll send you a postcard!
Back to our cake: I used to buy baker’s slabs of costly Callebaut chocolate to make cakes as special as this. But a professional chef recently told me that using Lindt 70% dark chocolate was every bit as good. I find Baker’s-brand squares are also an excellent product. The Bakers chocolate squares I used for this cake and its glaze cost roughly $8. With quality chocolate essential to the taste and texture of this cake, don’t cut corners, Dollinks!
I consider myself fortunate that I don’t crave treats like this. If I did, I’d be even cuddlier than I am now! Baking Sächer Torte satisfies my desire to create and enjoy something special, but a sample is ample. Ron and I will be sharing this special cake with friends, and I hope you’ll do the same. Sächer Torte makes a fine conclusion to a delicious Austrian meal! 
Sächer Torte:
This cake has three parts - the cake itself, the filling, and the glaze.
To Prepare the Cake:
6 oz. semi-sweet chocolate
½ c. butter (no substitutes)
½ c. sugar 
6 egg yolks
¾ c. fine, dry bread crumbs 
¼ c. finely ground blanched almonds
¼ tsp. salt
7 egg whites
Have all ingredients at room temperature. That’s always a good idea when you bake, because it helps the ingredients to combine better and helps produce the air pockets that result in a product that rises well. If I plan to bake in the morning, I usually take everything from the fridge the night before. Preheat oven to 325 deg. F. 
Grate chocolate into bowl and set aside (My food processor did this job in less than five seconds!). Using electric mixer, beat butter well, gradually adding sugar. Cream at least 5 min., until

Combine butter and sugar.

mixture is pale yellow, without a trace of graininess. Separate eggs, adding yolks one at a time, beating well after each addition. Add the grated chocolate, bread crumbs, ground almonds, and salt, continuing to beat at high speed. Mixture will feel grainy. Set aside.

Break eggs ...

Separate whites from yolks.

Add grated chocolate.

Add bread crumbs and ground almonds.

Finish beating. 

Fold in stiffly beaten egg whites.

In a separate bowl, beat reserved six whites and one extra white until stiff, but not dry. Using a “lift and twist” motion, fold into chocolate mixture. Pour into 9-inch or 10-inch spring-form pan with ungreased sides and a greased and floured bottom. 

Spring-form pan with removable rim.

Pour into spring-form pan.

Bake 50-to-60 min. Cake is ready when toothpick inserted at the center comes out dry, or when top springs back when lightly touched. Do not over-bake. When cake is completely cool, slice horizontally into two layers. Open each layer flat and set aside. 

Remove cake from oven; cool completely.

Slice into cooled cake horizontally.

To Prepare the Filling:
⅔ c. apricot jelly or jam 
Warm the jelly in a pan over very low heat until it starts to liquify. Spread over one layer of cake, pressing both layers gently together. Place filled cake on large square of parchment paper; set aside.

Spread with apricot filling.

To Prepare the Glaze:
6 oz. semi-sweet chocolate
1 tbsp. butter (no substitutes)
1 c. sugar
3 tbsp. strong coffee plus enough water to make 1/3 c. 
Melt chocolate and butter in a double boiler over simmering water (see Note). Set aside. In a separate pan, combine sugar, coffee, and water, stirring constantly to form a syrup. Boil gently until syrup reaches 230 deg. F. or until water-drop test shows syrup has reached the thread stage (see Note). 

Combine chocolate and butter in double boiler.

In a separate pot, combine water, coffee, and sugar.

Bring resulting syrup to a boil.

Slowly pour syrup into chocolate.

Return double boiler containing chocolate mixture to stove element set at medium heat. Slowly pour syrup into chocolate, stirring constantly until mixture coats the back of a spoon. Beat well until shiny and smooth. Wiping steam from bottom of double boiler or metal bowl, pour glaze over cake, starting from the center and ensuring enough drips over edges to glaze the sides. Allow glaze to cool and set. Transfer cake to serving dish. Serves 16-to-20 small slices. 

Pour glaze over cake.
Note: If you dont own a double boiler, position a stainless steel mixing bowl over a pot of water. The thread stage of sugar-syrup making occurs when your syrup reaches a temperature of 223-to-235 deg. F. No candy thermometer? Test for this stage by dropping a small spoonful of very hot syrup into very cold water. If the syrup forms thread-like strands, youve achieved the correct temperature. If it forms a soft ball, cook it a little longer. It should take about 3 min. for your sugar-syrup to reach the thread stage, using a medium pan and medium heat. 

This torte is richer than I’ll ever be! Serve very small slices with 
unsweetened whipped cream, just as the Viennese do!

You may have a little leftover chocolate glaze. Call 1-800-RON-EATS. Hell take care of the problem.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Roast Potatoes

Chances are, you already have an excellent recipe for Roast Potatoes. If so, toss it out. This one’s better!

Roast Potatoes:

Baking potatoes, as needed
Drippings from roast, bacon, or duck (see Note)
Salt, to taste

Preheat oven to 400 deg. F. Peel and quarter large potatoes; if using small-to-medium potatoes, cut in half. Arrange hot potatoes in drippings (either around roast or in a metal pan; my theory is that potatoes crisp up better in a hot metal pan than in a glass baking dish). Turn to coat in sizzling fat several times during their 45 min. baking time. Roast until golden and crisp. Sprinkle with salt, to taste. 

Note: I strain and freeze drippings - usually to toss them out in a sealed plastic bag in solidified form, but often to make Roast Potatoes any time I feel like it, with no need to have a roast in the oven when I do. I’ve labelled this dish “Vegetarian.” If you take your vegetarian leanings seriously, use canola oil for these potatoes, Dollinks. 

Peel potatoes

Quarter potatoes

Transfer crisped potatoes from oven to serving dish

Saturday, September 17, 2011


Spätzle are small egg noodles often served in Austria, Hungary, Germany, parts of Switzerland, and the Tyrol. You can make this delicious recipe with or without a Spätzle maker. With  is quicker and results in uniformly sized noodles, but a chopping knife does just fine. 

A spätzle maker does the job amazingly fast!

I own a Spätzle maker and absolutely love it - but it’s not a necessity.  I’ve given you two Spätzle recipes, depending on whether you do or don’t use a Spätzle maker.

Spätzle: (Spätzle-maker recipe)

1-¾ c. all-purpose flour
1 tsp. salt
2 eggs
¼ c. water
¼ c. butter, for frying
Fresh parsley as needed, finely chopped (optional)

Have large pot filled with
simmering water ready
Slide hopper so dough drops into simmering water
Set large pot of salted water to simmer over high heat. Combine flour, salt, and eggs with electric mixer, adding water gradually. Allow dough to rest 10 min., until consistency of thick pancake batter. Position notch on Spätzle maker over pot of simmering water. Spoon batter into hopper. Slide hopper over Spätzle maker fastened on pot, allowing droplets of batter to fall into simmering water. Cook 2 - 3 min., until noodles float to the surface. Skim off noodles with a slotted spoon, or pour into strainer. (To make ahead: Drain well, covering and refrigerating Spätzle until needed) In a large, clean skillet, melt butter over medium-high heat until sizzling. Fry Spätzle 1-2 min. until hot and light golden. If desired, toss with finely chopped parsley.

Fry in butter until light gold and piping hot
Serve immediately. Serves 2 large or 4 small appetites.

Spätzle: (chopping knife recipe)

1 c. plus 2 tbsp. all-purpose flour
1 tsp. salt
1 egg, well beaten
2 - 5 tbsp. water
¼ c. butter, for frying

Set large pot of salted water to simmer over high heat. 

Mix stiff dough with fingers

Combine flour, salt, and egg with hands, adding water gradually to make a stiff, thick dough. Knead until smooth, allowing to rest 10 min. Flatten dough on work surface, breaking off small pieces of dough with a sharp knife. Drop dough into simmering water. Simmer one layer of noodles at a time; do  not overfill pot. Cook and serve, as above. Serves 2. Spätzle are wonderful served in soups, with Sauerbraten, Goulash, or Viennese Wiener Schnitzel.