Wednesday, June 4, 2008

A Confession

We have some sad news for our readers: We've moved apartments, finally putting ourselves into an actual neighborhood. We're now claimed by the mighty Northcenter Chamber of Commerce, so our title is no longer relevant. We're sticking with it, though, because. Yes, because.

This being a food blog, though, I figure I should write about food. So here's a little foray into Alpine cooking that we've made twice in the past three days, because we were so very pleased the first time: Quinoa Rösti. Rösti are classic Swiss potato pancakes, typically served with sour cream, and Quinoa, which we've spoken of before, is an Andean grain that possesses the amazing quality of complete protein, all by its lonesome. So nothing ties our dish together, really, besides the altitude of the fused locales. It's about as much rationale as most fusion places have, though, so I'm sticking with it.

Cook up about a half-cup of dried quinoa using whatever method you find is best; drier and fluffier, the better. Grate a couple of potatoes (we used wonderful Yukon Golds from the farmers' market), mince about 3 cloves of garlic, pick a few stems of thyme, and toss everything with a couple healthy pinches of salt, some good grinds of pepper, and a tablespoon or two of melted butter (to avoid veganism).

Get a nice big (12") nonstick pan or skillet heated to medium-high, with a little olive oil so the pan isn't dry and hot (bad for nonstick). Once the pan is hot, add butter or oil until there's a thin layer in the bottom of the pan (slightly more than to coat). Give it a few seconds to heat up also, then dump the mixture straight into the pan. Mush it around with a spatula until you get a fairly dense and even pancake. Turn the heat to low, cover your pan, and let it cook for 20-25 minutes.

Once you start smelling a slight roasted scent, it's ready to flip. Even I'm not crazy enough to try this in the air, pancake style, so hold the end of your pan's handle, smack somewhere lower down with your wrist to loosen the pancake, then put a big plate over the top and invert the whole mess. Put your pan back, turn the heat up to medium, and get a thin layer of fat hot in your pan again. Let it take a minute or two to reheat; you can't get the same crust otherwise.

Slide the pancake back into the pan, but this time, leave the heat up and don't cover. You're waiting for the same kind of roasted scent, but it'll be 5-10 minutes before it arrives. Once you have achieved the scent again, repeat the handle smack to release the pancake, slide it out onto a serving plate, and serve in slices. You can put a little sour cream on the side, or grate some cheese over the top, or do as we did the first time and whip up a cheese sauce with lots of black pepper. It's delicious and filling, it's easy to make, and it won't heat your apartment/house up very much at all.

We'll post some pictures when we make it again; we were too busy eating the first time around.

Monday, June 2, 2008

The Wisdom of Fictional Characters

In an old episode of The West Wing, President Bartlet is shown enjoying (much to his surprise) a chocolate egg cream. He expresses disbelief that something so good could have come from New York instead of his beloved New England. Indeed, to most of us living outside New York City, the combination of chocolate syrup, milk, and seltzer sounds. . . unappetizing. However (like in so many things), when it comes to obscure fountain drinks, it's best to listen to President Bartlet.

A little while ago, Tore's mom generously sent us some Scharffen Berger cocoa powder. Most of the year I would have used it to make brownies, but it's hardly baking weather right now. I decided instead to whip up some chocolate syrup for chocolate egg creams. The flavor is much better than store-bought, and it's dead easy to make.

Chocolate Syrup (makes enough to keep two people happy for some time)

1/4 cup cocoa power
1/2 cup sugar
1/3 cup water
pinch of salt (Don't be shy. A pinch is more than a few grains.)
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

Combine everything but the vanilla in a small saucepan till the cocoa is well incorporated. Put the pan over medium heat, stirring occasionally to make sure no cocoa accumulates in the corners. Once it comes to a boil, lower the heat and let simmer for 5 minutes. While it simmers, don't look away and keep stirring; it can boil over quickly. After 5 minutes, the syrup should be glossy and smooth. Turn off the heat and let it cool a bit, then stir in vanilla. Once it's mostly cooled, give it a good stir (it may have separated a bit) and pour into an air-tight container. Your syrup will keep for months in the refrigerator, but it's best when used within a week or so.

Of course, using higher-quality cocoa, vanilla, and sugar (preferably evaporated cane juice or something similar) improves the ultimate flavor, but don't go crazy. Chocolate syrup is supposed to be fun, right? You can mix it into cold or hot milk, put it over ice cream, or do whatever your heart desires. Speaking of which. . .

Chocolate Egg Creams

You'll need whole milk (yes, it's worth it), chocolate syrup, and seltzer. Bottled soda water works, but if you have a soda siphon, you'll be rewarded. About 5 minutes before you start, put the milk and your glassware of choice into the freezer. Once those are nice and cold, spoon syrup into the glass until it's about 1/5 full. (You can play with the proportions till you find exactly the mix you like.) Add milk till the glass is just below half full. Mix the syrup and the milk till combined. Throw in some ice cubes, and top off with seltzer. Now take a sip. It's a little sharp, a little sweet, and a little creamy. Strange? Certainly. But it's also a spectacular summertime dessert.