Saturday, January 5, 2008

Gelato, Meringues, Thai Coconut Soup, and More

It all started last night. We went out on a date and picked one of our favorite Chinese restaurants for dinner. It has been a while since we ate there (I am purposely leaving the name of the restaurant out as I don't want to provide negative publicity). Being with my wife was great, but the eating experience was everything but what we remembered to be. What a disappointment!! See, I love food. I know many people like to eat food, but I love food. I love to buy it, cook it, and eat it. I love everything that has to do with food: the food network channel, recipe books, kitchen utensils, and Ratatouille (even if it takes place in France...). I love to look at food, smell it, touch it. So, when I am expecting a good meal from a place I know and that is not delivered, it is a pretty hard hit to my stomach...and to my heart.

One of the things I really disliked and that used to be so good was their Hot and Sour soup. At the end of the meal, I asked if I could have a container to take it home. My goal was to "fix" it! So, today, Saturday, I did what I like the most: cooking. I started early, first tackling the soup Ratatouille style. In addition, a friend of mine gave us several gallons of whipping cream few weeks ago, which I froze, taking up much of our freezers space. So, another one of my goals today was to be creative and use up at least one gallon of this whipping cream. I spent from 9am to 6pm playing in the kitchen!! This is what happened:

1. Bad soup project: I blended the soup and placed it in a saucepan on low-medium heat. I added coconut powder, potato starch (to thicken it), whipping cream, two cans of chicken, some dry carrots and onions, and a bit of dry cilantro. I was very pleased with the outcome.

2. My son David came by a couple times asking me what I was doing. He requested that I baked some bread. So, I took the bread maker out of the closet and let him help me mix the ingredients. Then I placed a chair next to the machine so that once in a while my little boy could jump on it and check the status of the loaf. I followed the recipe for milk bread that came in the bread maker recipe book, replacing oil with extra-virgin olive oil. Delicious!

3. The first thing that comes to my mind when I think "whipping cream" is ice-cream; GELATO to be exact. I asked my kids what they thought about making some chocolate gelato and there was a standing ovation. So I got the ice cream maker out of the garage and started making the custard mix that needs to go in it. I have a really simple and good recipe from a old book my parents received as a wedding gift. You start by beating 4 egg yokes with 180 grams of sugar and a touch of vanilla extract (I used my Kitchen Aid at high speed until the cream is light and silky). In the meantime, I melted 140 grams of dark chocolate with two spoonful of whipping cream in the microwave and then added the chocolate syrup to the egg mix and mixed it at slow speed. Finally, I added 2 cups of milk and a cup of whipping cream (one of the major differences from ice-cream and Italian gelato is the milk/cream ratio used in the recipe). Then I slowly cooked the mix in a saucepan at low-medium heat, until it thickened, making sure it did not boil. This is it. I placed the custard in a double bowl and give it an ice-bath until it was cold and then poured the whole thing in the ice cream maker. This will be a good treat one evening next week.

4. Since I used egg yokes only for the gelato, what to do with the whites? Well, one of my favorite treats are meringues with whipped cream. It is a typical winter dessert in Italy and I remember my dad getting them at a nearby pastry shop for Sunday desserts when I was a child. I followed a simple recipe from a book I got in Italy last year: mixed the four whites at high speed until fluffy and stiff, then gently mixed in 250 grams of powder sugar. With a pastry bags I placed walnut size amounts of the meringue on a cookie sheet (which I previously greased with butter and dusted with flour) and placed it in the oven at 215 degrees (Fahrenheit) for 2 hours. I then took 4 cups of whipping cream and whipped half with some powder sugar (to be used tomorrow with dark Italian hot chocolate) and half with sugar and semi-sweet baking cocoa powder to be used as filling for the meringues. This is how they turned out and how two of my biggest fans were diving into them to provide valuable food critique:

5. Still had a lot of cream I opted to use the bread maker (now that the bread was ready) to churn some butter. I made 4 cups of unsalted sweet butter in about three hours, placed it in zip lock bags and froze it. In the past, I have tried adding some dry basil and garlic powder and used the mix as a spread for bruschetta.

6. Well, with all the fun, I forgot that I should also make something for dinner. Lately I have been having a craving for Thai curry coconut chicken. I can't really remember how I made it since I was thinking in my head how it tasted at my favorite Thai restaurant downtown Salt Lake City. This is approximately what I did: I sauteed in extra-virgin olive oil 1/4 white onion with two Tbsp of minced garlic and some carrots. I then added 3 chicken breast (diced) and stirred until the chicken was nearly cooked. I made a curry paste by mixing together few Tbsp of mustard (the same one you use for sandwiches), whipping cream (~three cups), curry powder, coconut powder, a touch of cumin, a touch of dry ginger powder, and a touch of red hot cayenne pepper. I peeled and diced 5-6 potatoes and placed them in a large pan, covered them with water, on medium heat. Then I added the chicken/onion/garlic/carrot mix and the curry paste. I also added two cans of coconut milk (I love this stuff!!) and a bit of potato starch (it is not supposed to look like a soup so the starch will help thicken the whole thing). I also added 3-4 bouillon cubes (I don't like to use salt in my recipes and I often replace it with them). I cooked the whole thing for approximately 45 minutes to 1 hour stirring continually to avoid that it burned on the bottom. I don't think it was as good as the one at the restaurant, but it was not bad for something that did not come from a recipe book.

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