Wednesday, March 17, 2010

the potato eaters

I was going to try to get this recipe posted before St. Patrick's Day because it's Irish in origin and you might want to include it in your holiday menu . . . but then I thought it might be more fun to wait until the day itself, with the idea that some of you might be drunk already by the time you read this and it won't make any sense whatsoever. It's dessert but it's made with potatoes. And whiskey. And it's not too late for you to whip up at the last minute after all because there's not much else in it. You've got some potatoes and half a dozen eggs, right?

mysterious dessert

potato-whiskey cake

It's good! I wasn't sure what to expect but it works and I'd happily make it again. The alcohol doesn't taste as cooked-off as you might expect and if you like whiskey you'll probably like this dessert. I was wary of using all the sugar the recipe calls for but went ahead with it because I was afraid to change the texture, and thankfully it ended up being not particularly sweet. I meant to buy some crème fraiche to serve with it but forgot and it was tasty enough on its own. A dusting of powdered sugar might be nice on it, as would a scoop of good vanilla ice cream, or you could make it very festive with both of those plus more whiskey.

The recipe comes from here. I didn't make any major changes to it but I did make some notes in brackets.

Carrigaline Whiskey Pie (Sweet Whiskey and Potato Soufflé)

The source says this serves 6 but I think you can probably get at least 8 servings out of it. You'll want to have some leftover for breakfast, though, because it's nice and boozy the next morning and good with coffee. The texture changes as it spends time in the refrigerator — the first day mine had two layers, with the top one more cake-y and the bottom more moist, even though I baked it a bit longer than the recipe called for. A day or two later it was more uniformly like a cold soufflé. I think it's pleasant at every stage but let me know what you think.

A note about the almonds: the source calls for 3 almonds, pounded, period. I decided to use 3 tablespoons (ground rather finely in a food processor) because I've tried a few other cake recipes that call for 4 tablespoons and that seems to be about the right amount to do something for the texture without making the cake identifiably nutty. I didn't regret using the three tablespoons and I'm reasonably sure three almonds wouldn't do fuck-all except give you a squishy dessert.

1/2 lb boiled potatoes (approximately 1 1/4 cups) [I used German Butterball variety; any flavorful type that's not waxy ought to be ok]
1/4 lb butter, melted [I used Irish butter because I didn't want to make the leprechauns cry]
3/4 lb sugar
3 [tablespoons] pounded almonds
1 tablespoon orange extract or two tablespoons fresh bitter Seville orange juice [I used 2 tablespoons of marmalade]
6 eggs, separated
4 fluid ounces Irish whiskey

Butter and flour a 21-cm springform pan. Cut a piece of greaseproof paper / baking parchment to fit the bottom of the pan, butter it well, and put it in the pan. [I used a silicone springform pan with a ceramic bottom, buttered it well and skipped the parchment paper]. Alternately, if you don't have a springform pan, or just prefer to do it this way, prepare two 9-inch pie pans with a bottom crust only.

Preheat the oven to 375° F.

Mash the potatoes until smooth and lump-free. Separate the yolks and whites of the eggs. Beat the egg yolks until lemon-colored. Then beat in the sugar, adding it a little at a time until the mixture becomes fluffy.

Now beat in the potatoes. Once they're completely combined with the egg and sugar mixture, add the melted butter, pounded almonds, orange extract or orange juice [or marmalade, and finally the whiskey. Mix well: then pour into a large bowl and set aside.

Beat the egg whites until stiff, Carefully fold them into the egg mixture in the large bowl until they're completely incorporated. Make sure your oven is up to heat when you start this procedure.

When the egg whites are completely folded into the yolk mixture, pour immediately into the springform pan (or pie crusts) and put the pie(s) carefully into the oven. Close the oven door with as little vibration as possible, as any soufflé is vulnerable at this point.

Bake at 375° F for 40-45 minutes. Remove carefully from the oven and set aside to cool. The soufflés / pies will immediately fall at this point. This is normal, so don't panic! [Actually mine didn't fall much . . .].

potato-whiskey cake potato-whiskey cake

The pie can be eaten while warm if you like, though (if you've made it in a springform pan, without crusts) it's somewhat fragile at this point and will tend to fall apart. You may prefer to let it cool to at least room temperature, or (better still) chill in the refrigerator overnight, after which it will slice a lot more easily.

Serve with unsweetened whipped cream or double cream, and perhaps with a grind of nutmeg on top. Serves approximately six. [No, eight, I think].

Sunday, March 14, 2010

hurry up, spring

It's definitely not white wine weather yet in NYC but I want to put an idea in your head (even if, like me, you're not really a white wine person). It's a very, very simple idea and I wish I could take credit for it but it comes from Maxime de la Falaise's Food in Vogue: two teaspoons of cracked black peppercorns in a bottle of Vouvray. Leave them in there for three days and you have "a drink that exalts virile powers." Whether it gives your boyfriend Loire Valley wood or not it's spicy and delicious, and the peppercorns turn a visually-uninteresting straw-colored wine a beautiful shade of honey. It's very refreshing in warm weather but I've been thinking about it lately and I suspect it might also be appropriate in miserable old March, just the thing for clearing away sniffles and the scent of damp wooly sweaters.

Vouvray with peppercorns

Vouvray with peppercorns

I'm sure it's meant to be served as an apéritif and it's terrific with cheese and olives and other foods that traditionally accompany apéritifs, but if you like pepper you may find yourself drinking it right through dinner. For that reason I can't tell you what happens if you leave the peppercorns in the wine for a very long time — I prepared several bottles this way late last summer and none lasted more than a couple days.

The Vouvray I used most often was this one (a 2008 Domaine de Vaufuget). Falaise says you can also use a Saumur. Both Saumur and Vouvray are made from Chenin Blanc grapes; generally Saumur is dry and Vouvray is off-dry.

Food in Vogue title page
Falaise credits this concoction to André Lemaire's Les Secrets du Docteur and gives instructions for several of his other "love philters." I'm intrigued by the one that calls for adding a few drops of ginseng essence to tomato juice ("[a] Tarzan trick for vegetarians") but haven't tried it yet. I'm planning to write about Food in Vogue as the next book in my series of reviews of out-of-print cookbooks and if I've made a Bloody Mary with priapic powers by the time I do, I'll be sure to tell you about it.

You probably won't need to bother straining the wine until you get to the last glass. I've seen pre-cracked peppercorns for sale but wouldn't recommend buying them unless you plan to use them all quite soon; it's easy enough to crack whole peppercorns as needed. Just put them on a clean dishtowel, fold half the towel over them, and give them a few whacks with a hammer or a rolling pin.

Friday, March 12, 2010


a little something for my pagan readers

If you enjoyed my post about Valentine's Day candy, you might like one about Wicker Man-inspired pagan candy-making I just posted on my other blog. In it I take a close look at the contents of May Morrison's sweet shop (that's her selection of hares pictured above) and inquire into how to go about re-creating them.

Monday, March 01, 2010

walnuts x 3

Considering that my gas is STILL off it's a good time to post a few recipes I tried long ago and never got around to telling you about. Here are three I found lurking in my files, all of which use walnuts and all of which I'd happily make again. I don't recommend making all three during the same week unless you're making a serious effort to fatten up, but individually you can walk them off, sweat them off in a dimly-lit bathhouse, or do whatever it is you people do.

pasta with walnut sauce

Long before I bothered to learn anything about cooking, I learned that I could "cook" (i.e. stir together) a relatively unusual and impressive pasta dinner at home with the help of a little tub of walnut sauce (salsa di noci) from Balducci's on Sixth Ave. I wish I'd scrutinized the list of ingredients more closely because other walnut sauces seem to use more ingredients and I don't enjoy them as much. In my memory Balducci's version was a dead-simple pesto-like preparation of finely chopped walnuts, olive oil, probably more salt than I would have dared to use on my own at the time, maybe a little garlic, and possibly some finely grated Parmesan (but not enough to be a dominant flavor).

Some cursory poking around the internet reveals that walnut sauce is Ligurian in origin and that there is little consensus about what goes into it besides the nuts. Most versions I've come across so far have cream in them and I can't quite bring myself to endorse the use of more than a tablespoon or two of it; my idea of a walnut sauce is that it's a little rough around the edges, and cream smooths out flavors as well as texture. Many are thickened with a slice of bread soaked in milk, which I don't think is necessary; it's already a very rich and thick sauce due to the nuts, and hardly needs any help to cling to pasta. Many contain a little fresh marjoram, which sounds nice but is at odds with my fond memories of eating herb-less walnut sauce in a slightly-creepy unheated loft in Williamsburg.

The last time I made my own walnut sauce I decided to give cream a try and I intended to use this recipe, but I just couldn't see adding Vin Santo or Moscato, both of which are sweet wines. Creamy, ok; sweet, absolutely not. Likewise, I was open to using a little fresh grated nutmeg but cinnamon seemed like it would take the sauce in a vaguely medieval direction and I didn't want to go there.

pasta with walnut sauce + green beans

So, the preparation that follows is a compromise, and it's more of a sketch than a proper recipe. Further experimentation is needed, advice is welcome, and the subject will be revisited here as soon as it's revisited in my kitchen. As much as I like wine it doesn't belong in my ideal walnut sauce. The version in the Silver Spoon is closer to what I have in mind as definitive — it consists only of skinned walnuts, olive oil, a little cream (2 tablespoons), salt and white pepper — but I know I won't be happy until I work out a cream-less one for myself.

pasta with walnut sauce

Loosely adapted from here. You'll end up with more sauce than you need for 1 lb. of pasta, so stir it in gradually until you're satisfied with the way it coats the pasta and refrigerate the leftover sauce to use in assembling weird and unrepeatable sandwiches later in the week.

People who get emotional about garlic will roll their eyes at my use of one measly clove but I don't like using a lot of it; I like using a little that was grown by some happy-eyed hippie farmer who plants 20 or 30 varieties of it. Try to find someone like that reasonably close to where you live and see if their good shit doesn't change your outlook. I don't know enough about the various varieties to recommend one by name (and you probably wouldn't be able to shop that way even if I did) but I seem to have good results with ones that have very pink or very purple-streaked skin.

2 handfuls of walnuts
1 clove of garlic, green shoot removed if it's got one
sea salt and fresh ground pepper
a little freshly grated nutmeg
1/4 cup olive oil
1/4 cup white wine (Chardonnay or white Burgundy are good choices, nothing too oaky or too acidic)
2 tablespoons heavy cream, or more if you're into it
1 lb. pasta of your choice

Lightly toast the walnuts in a moderately hot oven or toaster oven and while they're still warm, rub them together in a clean dishcloth to remove as much of their skin as possible. (Don't worry if they crumble a bit because they're going into the food processor anyhow, but the larger the pieces, the easier it will be to get them out of the pile of skin). Coarsely chop the garlic, then pulse the walnuts and the garlic in a food processor until they are mealy in texture. The mixture should look more pesto than nut butter. Add the spices and the liquids and pulse or process just until everything comes together and begins to look like a sauce. It's not attractive. It'll look a little better when it's on the pasta so don't dwell on it.

Cook the pasta in salted water until it's done to your liking, drain it, and stir in spoonfuls of the walnut sauce until it's evenly but lightly coated.

Steamed green beans are very nice on the side. If you are thoughtful about pasta shapes, note that the Silver Spoon specifies fresh fettuccine (or boiled turnips!) for walnut sauce. Several other recipes suggest pairing it with meatless ravioli, either cheese or pumpkin. The pasta pictured above is maccheroni al torchio. No particular reason; it was there and needed to be used up.

slightly-buzzed oatmeal cookies

If your tastes shift with the seasons there's a relatively narrow window for cookies between the months after Christmas (when cranking out pan after pan of them feels appropriate but rapidly exhausts one's interest in them) and the months in which baking them becomes uninteresting (due to warm weather, the arrival of asparagus, other distractions). I was attracted to this recipe because I had a craving for oatmeal cookies and it looked suitably classic, but I couldn't resist fiddling with it a little. I only made one significant change to it but it gave the cookies a grown-up and slightly savory taste I really loved: I soaked the raisins in warm sherry until they had absorbed all they could. I forgot to write down which variety I used but I almost always buy Amontillado unless I have some particular reason to use another because I like it for both drinking and cooking. For this recipe I think you'd be fine with anything other than a very pale Fino, which would be too dry and probably too subtle to pair with the walnuts and spices. If you happen to have some cognac it might be worth a try in place of the sherry. Sorry about not taking a photo; somehow all the cookies got eaten before that could happen.

slightly-buzzed oatmeal cookies

The following recipe is very slightly adapted from the Oct. 2004 one from Real Simple linked to above. (I shifted the order of ingredients so that you don't forget to soak the raisins before proceeding with the rest, and I made a few notes in brackets). Makes about 2 dozen cookies.

1/2 cup raisins [I used golden raisins]
[enough sherry to cover the raisins, approx. 1/2 cup; see comments above as to which variety]
3/4 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup unsalted butter (1 stick), softened [I used salted because I like salt, and I used a little extra for the pan rather than the cooking spray called for in the instructions below]
1 1/4 cups oatmeal [rolled oats are perfect]
1 egg
3 tablespoons whole milk
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves [I ground whole cloves in a spice grinder; unless you cook with cloves a lot your pre-ground ones probably aren't very fresh, and it only takes a minute to grind them]
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup walnuts, chopped [I used a bit more]
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

[Heat the sherry in a saucepan until it's warm but not simmering and pour it over the raisins. You can do this in the morning and leave them to soak until you're ready to bake. If you forget, try to let them soak at least 30 minutes before you start baking.] Preheat oven to 375° F. Lightly coat a baking sheet with cooking spray [or softened butter]. In a medium mixing bowl, combine the brown sugar and butter until well blended. Add the oatmeal, egg, and milk, stirring well. In a small bowl, stir together the flour, baking soda, cinnamon, cloves, and salt. Gradually add to the oatmeal mixture, stirring well. Stir in the walnuts, raisins, and vanilla. Drop the dough by tablespoonfuls, spaced about 1 inch apart, onto the baking sheet. Bake for 8 to 10 minutes. Transfer the cookies to a wire rack to cool. Repeat with the remaining dough. [I baked the cookies an additional 5 minutes or so and didn't regret it. I think this was necessary because I had two pans in the oven at once, and opened the door mid-way through the first 10 minutes to reverse their positions.]

walnut, fennel seed and raisin scones

I made this recipe years ago and never got around to writing about it, but it's really good and I pause whenever I scroll past it in my recipe collection. I don't buy scones often because they're usually too sweet and I don't make them often because they don't do enough for me taste-wise to earn their calories, but these have a nice herbal edge courtesy of fennel seeds. They're especially good warm.

walnut, fennel seed and raisin scone

walnut, fennel seed and raisin scone

The recipe below is from Bon Appétit here. It makes 12 scones.

2 cups all purpose flour
1/3 cup sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
6 tablespoons chilled unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
2 large egg yolks
1/2 cup buttermilk
1/2 cup golden raisins [other dried fruits could work too, or maybe fresh diced apple]
1/3 cup chopped toasted walnuts
1 tablespoon fennel seeds
1 large egg beaten to blend with 1 tablespoon water (for glaze)

Preheat oven to 400°F. Butter large baking sheet. Whisk flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt in large bowl to blend. Add butter. Using fingertips, blend mixture until coarse meal forms. Whisk egg yolks and buttermilk in small bowl to blend. Slowly stir egg mixture into flour mixture. Gently stir in raisins, walnuts, and fennel seeds. Turn dough out onto lightly floured work surface and knead gently just until smooth, about 4 turns. Divide dough in half; pat each half into 6-inch round. Cut each round into 6 wedges. Transfer scones to prepared baking sheet. Brush with egg glaze. Bake until scones are light brown, about 17 minutes. Serve warm or at room temperature. [No, serve them warm! Unless you have a scone every morning there's no reason to be blasé about this.]