Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Cuba a Bittersweet Tale - Part IV

First observations of my grandfathers street: I was surprised by the dirt road but super excited about the crumbling architecture. It's the romance of it all. But the emotions of someone who grew up here, and is returning to a once glorious place, can be very disheartening.Walking in my grandfathers house I instantly absorbed every detail. My first reactions to the inside: the floors were these amazing Spanish tiles and the ceilings reminded me of small cathedrals. The patio was oddly familiar, I have pictures of my father standing on these tile floors as a child. The furniture blew me away, it's dark teak wood with ratan bottoms and backs. Very British Colonial. There were 3 rocking chairs, 2 additional chairs and a sofa (not like we're used to). These were solid pieces. The sofa (bench) freaked me out a little, only because I have pictures at home of Grandpa and Grandma with Dad, as a baby, on this very sofa (bench). It looked exactly the same. The best part of this is, my great grandfather made every piece of furniture I just described in addition to the enormous front door. A small door opens within a big door. The windows have wrought iron decorative bars over distressed wooden shutters. Each room had tall shuttered doors separating them. The walls were a combination of muted chipped terracota, revealing a pale green hue with other sections that were a cracked blue green color.Second observations once the romance wears off: The chandeliers were all missing, replaced by these hideous florescent lights that were wrapped in cob webs. Although in the U.S. we would pay a lot of money for distressed painted walls, and I thought it lovely, they were covered with these huge cracks. The kitchen and bathroom were unbelievable. I could hardly look, it was so horrible, small and dirty. Falling apart were the operative words. The refrigerator was this old Hotpoint and the freezer was covered in ice, you couldn't fit but one thing in there.My dad said that the place looked exactly the same to him, just REALLY OLD. His bed was in the same place, even the foot rest were you'd put your shoes to shine them up was still mounted to the wall. Grandma had her little shrine to Mary as many in this country are very religious. There was an old manual dial phone mounted to the wall above a desk, I swear Pottery Barn replicated this phone at one time or another. Ironically, this is the only phone on the block. When the phone rings, which isn't to often, you answer it and then you walk outside on the porch and yell whoever the caller was asking for and they come on over and have a chat. Always short, but I found this hilarious and was super excited that during my 2 weeks in Cuba that I got to run outside and howler someone's name.
As you walk in the door their is a wall that faces you, mounted on it was a picture of Jesus and right underneath was my 2nd grade elementary school picture. Pink polyester turtle neck body suit, what can I say it was the 70's, and tiny pigtales with pink ribbons. That's me just above Grandpa's head. I remember taking the picture but for some reason my mother does not have it in the photo album that chronicles every bad school picture imaginable. Dad has this picture but for some odd reason mom doesn't. I felt very emotional that here my grandparents have had this picture of me all this time and I've never met them. But what an honor right underneath Jesus. It doesn't get much better than that.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Chocolate Mousse with Orange Mascarpone Whipped Cream

So last night was the Oscars. One of my favorite shows to watch since I was a little girl. Life though has been so busy and for various reasons I literally only saw one of the movies that had a nomination. But tradition is that I must watch this show. So we had two friends over, the kind of friends that you don't have to dress up for, that can cook in your kitchen and find your silverware drawer and eat your Pretzel Bites and your okay with that (well maybe, Pretzel Bites are almost sacred in our household). With that said I quickly took inventory of what I had at home and made a run to Trader Joes for all the fun foods, salami, sopresseta, provolone, goat and asiago cheese, shrimp, cocktail sauce, and smoked salmon.

As everything was pretty much just layout on a plate I decided to make one thing from scratch. So having just watched an episode of Giada's Italian Kitchen on the Food Network I thought I'd make this Bittersweet Chocolate Mousse with an Orange Mascarpone Whipped Cream. Truly this was a treat. The mousse was rich and decadent, super creamy, and the orange mascarpone whipped cream was cool and refreshing. Chocolate and Orange are a super combination, they always seem to enhance the flavor in each other. My friend literally said, "Wow," through every bite she took.

Here's the recipe I followed from FoodTV.com:

1/2 cup whole milk
3 tablespoons sugar
1/4 teaspoon instant espresso powder
1 cup bittersweet chocolate chips
3 large egg whites

1/4 cup mascarpone cheese, room temperature
2 tablespoons fresh squeezed orange juice
1/2 cup whipping cream
2 tablespoons powdered sugar
1 teaspoon orange zest

For the Mousse: In a small saucepan over medium heat stir together the milk with the sugar and the espresso powder until the milk is hot, but not boiling, and the sugar is dissolved. Place the chocolate chips in a blender.

*Pour the hot milk over the chips. Run the blender on high until combined, a few seconds. Add the egg whites and run the blender on high until light, about 1 minute. Transfer the mousse to 4 small serving cups. Cover with plastic wrap and place in the refrigerator until firm, about 3 hours.

For the Cream: In the bowl of an electric mixer, stir together the
mascarpone cheese and the orange juice until smooth. Add the cream,
powdered sugar, and orange zest. Whip until the cream has soft peaks, about 1 minute. Whip the cream just before serving the mousse or cover with plastic wrap and place in the refrigerator until ready to serve.

* When blending hot liquids: Remove liquid from the heat and allow to cool for at least 5 minutes. Transfer liquid to a blender or food processor and fill it no more than halfway. If using a blender, release one corner of the lid. This prevents the vacuum effect that creates heat explosions. Place a towel over the top of the machine, pulse a few times then process on high speed until smooth.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Cambodian Chicken-and-Rice Soup with Shrimp

Props must be given to a spouse who cooks and does it well. So this is my shout-out to SB. He likes fusion cooking, experiments much more than I do. He's usually the one who cooks the main course for any dinner party we have and I drive myself insane with making sure all the sides are just right, creating the perfect starter and finishing off with a delectable dessert, always my favorite to make.

On Friday we had quite a few hours to spare (8 to be exact - that's another story) so we talked and caught up on paper work that needed to be done. Finally we had some time to pour over our newly arrived magazine subscriptions from Bon Appetit and the gifted subscription of Food & Wine. Of course I always look at the photography and my favorite Bon Appetit section, "what to buy now." I also look at the dessert recipes and whatever else jumps out at me, folding the pages of the recipes I want to explore later.

SB always finds the more exotic recipes and immediately wants to try them. I'm the sceptic. But he usually wins me over. As we mapped out our plan for this meal during these spare few hours it got so late we finally ordered food to go and went home late and ate a plate of pasta and garlic rolls from a local Italian Trattoria C&O's in Venice.

So the soup became a reality this afternoon. Ever since I read Oishii Eats stories about her trip to Vietnam I've wanted to visit this region of the world. Right now that's not going to happen so we'll bring some of the flavors home from the region. I slurped and savoured every bite of chicken and shrimp fused with ginger, garlic and lime, it literally burst in your mouth with flavor. This was worth the wait. My photo doesn't do it justice. Incidentally, as much as I love photography you would think it be better. I'm working on updating with a digital camera, so far I've used everyone elses from SLR's to quick little sure shots. I've been hasty in taking pictures and not styling since I'm usually starving our anxious to eat. Hopefully has I have new equipment and a bit more time these images will improve.

Here's the recipe from Food & Wine, we made a couple of substitutes (noted in parenthesis below), only because we couldn't find the exact items or we just wanted to try something different.

One 3 pound rotisserie chicken
1 tablespoon vegetable oil (we used Olive Oil)
2 tablespoons minced fresh ginger
2 garlic cloves, minced
4 cups chicken stock or low-sodium broth
1 cup water
3 tablespoons Asian fish sauce (we used Oyster sauce)
1 teaspoon honey
1 cup cooked jasmin rice (we used regular rice)
8 shelled and deveined medium shrimp, halved lengthwise (about 1/4 pound)
2 tablespoons fresh lime jice
1/3 cup chopped cilantro
2 tablespoons chopped basil
1 thai chile, thinly sliced (we used red pepper flakes)
Lime wedge, for serving

1. Cut the chicken into legs, thighs, breast and wings. Cut each breast crosswise through the bones into 3 pieces. Remove the thigh bones and cut each thigh in half.
(SB took all the chicken off the bones and put the pieces in the broth).

2. In a large saucepan, heat the oil, Add the giner and garlic and cook over moderate heat until softened, about 3 minutes. Add the stock, water, fish sauce, honey and rice and bring to a boil. Add the chicken pieces and simmer for 5 minutes. Stir in the shrimp and cook just until opaque, about 1 minute. Stir in the lime juice, cilantro, basil and chile and serve right away, passing lime wedges at the table.


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