MAGAZINE MONDAY and a TALE OF THE STRANGE & UNUSUAL
Opposites attract? Of course they do. My husband and I have so much in common, our sense of risk and adventure, our tendency to shun all extraneous human contact and huddle together unsullied by the outside world, our passion for art and food and books and travel and history. Same sense of humor, same critical eye, same dreams and aspirations (mostly). But where opposites come into play, we do often part ways and on one very important point never the twain shall meet. Eating. Oh, don’t get me wrong, we both love to eat, are both fascinated by flavors and textures, ingredients and perfection. We both love to discover new cuisines, new restaurants, new wines. But we split right down the middle when it comes to the unknown.
You see, my husband has a culinary sense of adventure that bypasses even mine. The odd and the unusual intrigue him where they make me hesitate. The completely unknown draw him like a moth to the flame while I shudder and run. Yes, of course, we always order our favorite dish at the same restaurants every time: we go to Félix for the best Steak Tartare in the world, tender chunks of steak – no ground hamburger for us, thank you very much, the perfect balance of flavors, rich and luxurious, tangy with mustard and the bite of capers, the snap of onion and as peppery as you please. And served with fabulous hand-cut fries, thick and meltingly smooth on the inside, crispy and salty on the outside. In the mood for a döner kabob? We always head straight for the same stand. But he has a taste for culinary adventure that makes me shiver. If he sees something on a menu with an unusual name or a strange main ingredient, he invariably orders it. As the waiter strolls away I’ll lean over and ask, “what is it that you ordered?” and he’ll casually shrug his shoulders and say “I don’t know. I’ll see.” Traveling through foreign lands he will press his finger against the page of the menu when our order is taken, rarely if ever asking for precisions, and take his chances, all in the name of curiosity. Market and even supermarket visits find him dumping armloads of canned and packaged goods into our basket, each one stranger and more curious than the next, because he wants to try whatever is strange and uncommon. Or unknown. Or he will proudly place one of these selected items on our kitchen table and exclaim, delight glowing in his eyes, “I have to try this!” Ooooh, not me, thanks! I prefer the tried and the true or, well, at least the recognizable and the known. And he’ll taste. And he’ll eat and drink whatever he’s purchased and whatever he’s ordered. And only when it is gone, clean plate club, will he comment.
And this is how we ended up with a bottle of Sirop d’Orgeat. JP truly hates to go grocery shopping. Oh, not the market; if it isn’t crowded he loves marketing. No, I’m speaking about supermarkets, hypermarkets, those huge enclosed spaces, sometimes of dubious hygienic quality, filled with disgruntled, harried customers, couples or families oblivious to anyone or anything around them, huge, lumbering shopping carts that invariably find themselves being pushed into the back of your legs, and row upon dizzying row of consumer greediness and waste, all of those items that have little or no gastronomic or nutritional value whatsoever but are merely there to tempt the buyer into spending his or her hard earned cash on something that one could and, according to my husband, should do without. The glaring overheard lights, the lack of fresh air and the sometimes zoo-like cross-section of human life absolutely drives him mad. He’s been known to abandon nearly full shopping carts in the center of supermarkets all across France and simply walk out and go home. I’ve seen him break out into a sweat, break out into hives and break out into the worst humor since Frankenstein while standing in one of these supermarkets. I, on the other hand, simply adore these meccas of surprise and delight. I can spend an inordinate amount of time combing through the housewares section, I love seeing what new flavors of this product or that has appeared on the shelf, I love the ethnic and foreign foods and I absolutely love the satisfaction of coming home and being able once again to fill up my cupboards and refrigerator. So those Saturday mornings when I can drag him (kicking and fighting and complaining) on one of these twice-monthly shopping excursions, he will hand me over the shopping cart and the list and wave me off, saying “I will come and find you after I have found and chosen 5 strange and unusual things.” And he will wander off into the distance, singing to himself, happy in this contest he has created for himself, safe in his own private bubble.
Today, I am hosting Magazine Mondays for my wonderful friend Ivonne of Cream Puffs in Venice. For years and years, magazines have been our luxury; too expensive to subscribe to all those that we love, our magazine purchases have been limited to train stations and airport terminals, our guilty pleasure, reading material for a long voyage. But last year I took the bold decision to subscribe to the French Saveurs Magazine (and soon to be joined by the American Saveur), and both JP and I love them! I have made it a point to cook or bake at least one delicious thing from each issue, if not more. And strangely enough, a recent issue of Saveurs magazine had two recipes using Sirop d’Orgeat, Orgeat Syrup. JP drinks ice cold glasses of water spiked with Orgeat Syrup all summer long and simply loves the almondy flavor. I have never tried it. I selected for my entry for this week’s Magazine Mondays a Panna Cotta flavored with Orgeat Syrup and served with a Quick Fruit Jam from the July-August 2010 issue of Saveurs.
This is one fabulous Panna Cotta! We are Panna Cotta freaks; okay, to put it more politely, we are Panna Cotta connoisseurs. We adore it. But once too often we have eaten a rubbery or a floury Panna Cotta in this restaurant or that and so I decided to start making it at home. And Panna Cotta turns out to be one of those elegant, sophisticated, luxurious desserts that is surprisingly simple and quick to make. This recipe from Saveurs is simply one of the best I have ever made, silky smooth texture, it slides over the tongue like a cloud leaving in its wake a delicate sweet cream flavor kissed by almond thanks to the Orgeat Syrup. Topped with this quick and simple mixed berry jam – I used a half cup of frozen blueberries and raspberries that I had left in the freezer in place of the magazines recommended summer strawberries - and the tang of the very berry mixture was fabulous spooned up and eaten with the delicate panna cotta. This is most definitely a dessert to try. I will now use this basic Panna Cotta recipe and try it with other flavored syrups. Although, I may stay away from anything strange and unusual my husband may happen to suggest.
And here who has joined me for this week’s edition of Magazine Mondays:
Lynn of I’ll Have What She’s Having made Candied Lemon Slices from the March 2005 issue of Martha Stewart Living.
Tina of Life in the Slow Lane at Squirrel Head Manor made Beef Stroganoff from the March/April 2010 issue of Cook’s Illustrated.
Allyson of Retorte made Asian Pork Burgers with Hoisin Mayo from her latest issue of Food Network Magazine.
Mary of bonbons et chocolat.com made Boston Cream Cupcakes from February 2009 issue of Martha Stewart Living.
Stacey of Views From My Window made two recipes this week : Spiced Lemon Cake and (wow!) a Peanut, Caramel and Chocolate Tart, both from the October issue of Martha Stewart.
Jan from Kitchen Heals Soul made an Unusual Celery and Pear Bisque from the November 2010 issue of Bon Appétit.
Sue from Couscous & Consciousness made Olive & Herb Fish Parcel from the August 2004 issue of ABC Delicious Magazine.
Thanks to all of you for cooking along with Magazine Mondays! So thrilled I could host this event that I love participating in. Thanks, Ivonne!
Please visit their blogs and see what delicious delights they have cooked up! And please hop over to Ivonne’s Magazine Monday page and see how you too can cook with us on Magazine Mondays, too!
PANNA COTTA AU SIROP D’ORGEAT, CONFITURE DE FRUITS EXPRESS
Orgeat Syrup-flavored Panna Cotta with Quick Mixed Berry Jam
From July-August issue of Saveurs
For the Panna Cotta:
2 cups (500 ml) heavy cream (UHT is perfectly fine)
2 Tbs + ½ tsp (35 g) sugar
2 Tbs Orgeat Syrup
1 tsp (4 g) powdered gelatin
Place the heavy cream, the sugar and the syrup in a medium saucepan. Sprinkle the powdered gelatin over the top and gently stir it in with a fork or whisk. Allow to sit for 5 minutes to soften the gelatin. At the end of the five minutes the gelatin will look like tiny yellow translucent splotches on the surface.
Place the saucepan over low heat and slowly and gently whisking, allow the mixture to heat up just to the boiling point. Watch carefully as this only takes a few minutes. Once it starts to boil (it may just foam around the edges), remove from the heat and, whisking, make sure that the yellow spots have disappeared completely: this means that the gelatin has completely dissolved.
Very carefully pour the hot liquid into 4 serving glasses (I use a soup ladle). Cover the glasses or bowls with plastic wrap and place in the refrigerator – ideally over night – to firm up.
If using frozen fruit for your Quick Berry Jam, place the berries in a bowl to defrost. Once defrosted, place the bowl in the refrigerator overnight so they are ready for cooking about a half an hour or so before serving the Panna Cotta.
Before serving, prepare the Mixed Berry Jam:
½ cup total frozen fruit and the juices that have accumulated from defrosting *
2 – 4 tsps sugar
1/4 tsp vanilla
Squeeze of lemon juice
* I used half frozen blueberries and half frozen raspberries
I played this part by ear, or rather by taste. Saveurs calls for 250 g fresh strawberries, 1 cup (200 g) sugar, 1 lemon and 1 split and scraped vanilla bean but as I had no fresh berries nor did I choose to use a precious vanilla bean for this, I made do with what I had and I am glad I did because it was fantastic!
Place the defrosted berries and their juices in a small saucepan with about 2 teaspoons of granulated sugar, a dash of vanilla and one small squeeze of lemon juice. Cook slowly over very low heat, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon, until all of the juices have cooked down and the jam is thickened. You can leave it a bit more on the liquid side if you like. Add more sugar to taste along the way, if desired. Once cooked to the desired consistency, simply remove from the heat and allow to cool to room temperature before dividing between the Panna Cotta glasses. I topped each Panna Cotta with only a tablespoon of the jam as I didn’t want to completely drown out the very delicate flavor of the Panna Cotta and it was perfect. The rest of the Mixed Berry Jam I used to top some of the Riz au Lait I had made the day before (recipe to follow soon).