Monday, June 29, 2015

Terrific Spanish Tuna!

 
You may know that we've very recently returned from an extended vacation (five weeks) in Spain and Portugal.  We had a lovely time and ate some great food.  We were in a number of different culinary regions but there was one constant: the ensalada mixte. 
 
 
 
It is a plate of lettuce--sometimes mixed greens, sometimes straight iceberg or romaine--topped with any number of goodies: roasted beets, cucumber, tomato, red or white onion, pickled or lightly cooked carrots, and more.  The one constant was a quartered hard-cooked egg, and a lot of very tasty tuna.
 

The photos here are two sides of the same salad. It was one of the best we'd had, and I asked about the tuna, which didn't taste like our normal canned tuna.  I was told it is bonito, line caught and hand packed.  I checked in a grocery and it is about 4€ a jar.  I fully intended to get some...but let it slip and didn't. So sorry!!

A blast from Mantia's past: Fish Tacos!



       It is hugely gratifying to know that even though Mantia’s has been closed for over five years, there are folks who still remember it warmly.  Not so long ago, I ran into one of our most loyal guests. She lamented the loss of the fish tacos we served every Wednesday. And shortly afterwards, along came another with the same sentiments.  Then just recently, I got an email from a third, wanting to know if I’d ever given out the fish taco recipe. No, I hadn’t, but why not now?
               Our menu listed it as “Grilled Fish Tacos with Piña Colada Cole Slaw, Sliced Roma Tomato and Chipotle Aioli.”  We used soft flour tortillas at Mantia’s, but I like the crunchy corn ones. Either way, use the taco-sized tortillas (6- or 7-inch) rather than bigger burrito or quesadilla size.  They are easier to eat without getting too messy.
               We made the aioli using pureed canned chipotle chiles.  However, one can, even the small size, would make enough aioli for the whole neighborhood.  Now I use chipotle Tabasco sauce instead when making these at home.  If you want to use canned chipotles, you can freeze the leftover chiles in an ice cube tray.  You might find that you like the aioli well enough to use on sandwiches and, thinned with a little white wine vinegar, as a salad dressing.
               The cole slaw dressing recipe makes enough for four bags of cole slaw mix. Any remaining dressing will keep for weeks in the fridge.  This slaw is good served with almost any kind of BBQ flavored grilled meat, or try it instead of plain mayonnaise in chicken salad.
               We used tilapia filets, which are tasty, and are thin enough to cook quickly without drying out.  But it’s a farm-raised fish, and I’ve gotten a little wary of most farm-raised fish.  I went to see Ted the Fish Man at the Paradise Seafood Truck and he recommended grouper.  I cut the filets into ½-inch thick slices and it was perfect. 
               With football season here, this is a great dish to serve at half-time for hungry fans of your favorite team.  You can make the cole slaw and aioli earlier.  Then you can cook the fish filets quickly by your preferred method.  Easiest for a crowd would be to run them under the broiler.  The best flavor would come from cooking the filets in a grill basket over medium heat, but if it’s too hot or too cold or too wet to fire up the grill, I would cook them in a skillet or on a stove-top griddle. 

Mantia’s Fish Tacos
Servings: 8 tacos

Cole Slaw:

1 8.5-ounce cream of coconut (found in the drink mixer aisle)
1 6- to 7-ounce can crushed pineapple, undrained
1 cup mayonnaise
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1 14-ounce bag cole slaw mix (the kind with carrots in it)

Chipotle Aioli:
¾ cup mayonnaise
Juice and finely grated zest on one lemon
1 to 2 tablespoons chipotle Tabasco, or to taste (see note)

To finish:
1 ¼ pound firm mild-flavored white fish filet, no more than ½-inch thick
2 to 3 tablespoons packaged taco seasoning
8 taco-sized corn or flour tortilla
2 ripe Roma tomatoes, sliced
1 bunch cilantro, leaves removed from stems

1. Make the cole slaw. In a blender or food processor, combine the cream of coconut, pineapple, mayonnaise and mustard.  Puree until smooth.  Mix one-fourth of the dressing with the bag of cole slaw mix. Mix well and chill for at least an hour. Reserve the rest of the dressing for another time.

2.  Make the chipotle aioli: whisk together the mayonnaise, lemon juice and zest and chipotle Tabasco (or pureed chipotle chiles).  Chill at least an hour.

3.  When ready to serve, dust the fish filets with the taco seasoning.  Cook by your preferred method. Spread a heaping tablespoon of the aioli on the tortilla or taco shell.  Add the fish and top with cole slaw. Tuck in a slice or two of tomato.  Serve immediately, passing the cilantro for each person to add to taste.

NOTE:  If you prefer to use pureed canned chipotle chiles in the aioli, start with two teaspoons and add more to taste.

 

              

Tuesday, June 02, 2015

Another great meal--well earned!


     Today was our first full day in Porto, Portugal.  It was a long and physically challenging but most enjoyable day.  We had a little laundry that needed to be done so we got sort of a late start, after our breakfast of coffee and very amusing pastries from the bakery around the corner from our apartment. Sorry, we ate them all up before I thought about taking pictures

We started out by a tour of the local market, and I’ll post more about that later.  Then a walk down the prime shopping street and to a couple of churches and other landmarks that Tom will talk about on Facebook.  We wanted to have lunch at the restaurant of the Taylor-Fladgate port cellar, Barao de Fladgate which was very highly recommended.  But it turned out to be quite a trek on foot.  On this view, if you look very carefully, to the right of the tallest tower, you will see two small rectangular towers.  These are the steeples of one church we walked past.

Then down toward the long bridge you see in the background, and across it. 
Up the hill and along the avenue at the top of the hill.  Then we wound our way around and up and down. 
You may not be able to see how steep this hill is that Tom made me climb, but at least then we had to go down the other side. 
By the time we got there we were both ready for a seat on the terrace.  It was a bit windy but pleasant enough.
As we were seated, the server placed tastings of white port, olives, bread and butter on the table.  This wasn’t our first rodeo, so we knew we’d be charged for them, but it was pleasant to sit out and nibble, and in the whole scheme of things…
The menu had way too many things I liked but we narrowed it down. Tom had fish soup, which was light and only a bit creamy, with herbed toast cubes to add to it. 
 I chose a chilled melon soup, with “Iberian ham dust” and rosemary.  It was thin but certainly almost all melon, with the addition of a crispy slice of Iberian ham added.
The main course took quite a while to arrive, but we were chatting, admiring the scenery and in no hurry.
Tom’s main course was “Deconstructed Cataplana.”  A cataplana is a piece of copper cookware, a sort of clam shell thing with clamps to close the sides to steam seafood (or whatever). He had several mussels, a couple of head-on langoustines, a few shrimp, big chunks of two different fish, all in a very tasty sauce with a good bit of tomato, a tiny bit of cream, and a very pleasing amount of spice.
My main course was turbot, a fish I love.  Several nice slices were seared and set atop a wonderful sauce (I must try to make it myself) of chives, white port wine reduction, ginger and balsamic vinegar.  Oh yum.  It came with a square of dauphine potatoes and sautéed baby zucchini and corn. 
          Desserts were tempting but we were getting chilly in the wind, so we went in to sign up for the cellar tour and tasting.

You probably won’t be surprised to learn that after the tour and tasting, we took a cab back to the apartment for our afternoon hour or so of rest!

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Easy and delicious crab rolls!




I've written many times about the "Third Saturday Wine Dinner Club."  This weekend we met at the home of Mary and Joel Smith.  April is our anniversary date, and we are now marking the beginning of our eighth year, missing very few months along the way.

 As a reminder, the host couple sets the theme and makes the main course.  Last month's host brings a cocktail and the other three couples sign up for either first appetizer, seated first course and dessert. 

The theme was "Like a Virgin."  We were to make a recipe we'd never made before, and bring a wine we'd never tasted.  I chose to make the seated first course.  After lots of looking through torn-out recipes and stacks of cookbooks, I chose a recipe from the magazine "Cuisine et Vins de France."  It was a cucumber-crab roll.  While a bit pricey, it was fast to make and pronounced delicious by all.

 I bought fresh jumbo lump crab from Paradise Seafood.  The recipe as published calls for 10.5 ounces (300 grams) for four servings, but I was making 10 servings.  I got two pounds of crabmeat, so we'll have crab cakes for dinner tomorrow!

 Although the recipe didn't call for it, I had a bag of the mini-peppers I love to stuff with hummus or Boursin for appetizers.  I diced one red one and sautéed with the shallots. It was a felicitous addition.

 The magazine says to use a mandolin or very sharp knife to cut the cucumbers.  Perhaps your knife skills are better than mine but I'm not sure I could have cut them thinly enough for this recipe.  Salting and letting them sit for a while makes them more pliable but the first couple I did on a thicker setting would have been difficult to roll.

 The recipe doesn't call for it but I put a handful of arugula on the plate and topped it with the crab rolls. 

The whole procedure for 20 rolls took well under an hour, and since it must be done at least a couple of hours ahead, it's perfect for special guests.  You know how I hate to be stuck in the kitchen when my guests are in the living room eating appetizers and having a good time without me! 

Rouleaux de concombre au crabe


(Crab Cucumber Roll-Ups)

To serve four people (two rolls each)

2 cucumbers
12 ounces lump crabmeat (fresh, frozen, or canned)
1 package fresh chives
2 shallots (to equal about 2 tablespoons chopped, sometimes
         the shallots in our markets are enormous)
¼ cup finely chopped red bell pepper
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
Juice and finely grated zest of one orange
4 tablespoons good fruity olive oil
1 large pinch ground ginger
1 large pinch sweet (as in not hot) smoked paprika
Salt and pepper

Sauce:

2 tablespoons honey
6 tablespoons soy sauce
1 tablespoon sesame seeds, lightly toasted

Wash the cucumbers. With a mandolin or very sharp knife, cut the unpeeled cucumbers into very thin lengthwise slices.  Discard the first and last ones, from the outside and if there are a lot of seeds, the very center ones as well.  You should have about 8 slices from each cucumber. Lay the slices out on paper towels and sprinkle lightly with fine salt and let set while preparing the filling.

Drain the crab in a strainer. With scissors, cut the chives crosswise into small pieces and set aside.  Peel and chop the shallots. Heat the butter in a skillet and cook the shallots for 6 to 8 minutes, or until tender. Let cool. 

In a bowl, whisk the orange juice and olive oil together.  Mix in the reserved chives, shallots, crab, ginger and paprika.  Toss to combine well. 

 Pat the cucumber slices dry.  On your work surface lay them out two by two, overlapping.  Divide the crab mixture among them, placing each portion at one short end of the slices.  Roll up, place seam side down, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate at least two hours. 

When ready to serve, at the last moment, slightly warm the honey, soy sauce together.  Place the rolls on a serving platter or divide among four individual plates and drizzle the sauce over them. Sprinkle with the sesame seeds and serve at once. 

Thursday, December 11, 2014

A perfect soup for the season!



                The holidays are upon us and we’re looking forward to a couple of weeks of festivities and feasting.  I don’t know about you but I know that in between all the big parties and dinners, I need to try to watch my diet and eat tasty but healthy food.  And with cool weather coming we want a supper to ward off the chill.

               This soup goes a long way toward those goals.  It is very low in fat per serving. Nutrient-rich butternut squash has lots of vitamin A and C, and a little calcium and iron. Lentils are good for fiber and protein. And the warm spices of ginger, cumin and curry powder makes this soup perfect for a cold winter day.

               Although it is meatless, my very carnivorous husband loved it. I served it with corn sticks.  Beans and grains (lentils and corn) together make a complete protein, so—delicious, healthy—a great way to fill in between party fare.

               Once again I used the ginger paste available in supermarket produce sections that we’ve talked about before.  After years of throwing away shriveled and moldy leftover pieces of fresh ginger, this was a great discovery. 

               The recipe makes a pretty big batch but it reheats beautifully. It would also freeze well, so you could have tasty hot soup on any of the cold days we know are ahead of us in the next couple of months.           

Curried Butternut-Lentil Soup

1 medium butternut squash
2 tbsp. olive oil
1 cup onion, coarsely chopped
1 cup celery, thinly sliced
1 red bell pepper, diced
2 cloves garlic, very thinly sliced
1 tbsp. ginger paste (or 1 ½ tbsp. fresh grated)
1 tbsp. curry powder
1 tsp. ground cumin
1 cup lentils
6 cups chicken stock
Salt and pepper
Plain yogurt (or sour cream) for garnish

               Preheat the oven to 375o.  Cut the squash in half lengthwise and scoop out the pith and seeds.  Place cut side down on a well-oiled foil-lined baking sheet.  Roast for an hour or a little more until just tender. Let cool.  Scoop the flesh into a large bowl and mash a few times with a potato masher. Leave some good-sized chunks.

               In a large soup pot, warm the olive oil over medium heat. Add the onion, celery, bell pepper and garlic. Cook, stirring occasionally, until vegetables are starting to soften.  Add the ginger, curry powder and cumin and continue to cook, stirring, for a couple of minutes.  Add the lentils and stir to coat with seasonings.  Add the chicken stock and squash. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, cover and simmer for 25-30 minutes, or until the lentils are done. Taste and add salt and pepper as desired.  
 
               Top each serving with a spoonful of yogurt or sour cream. Makes eight or more meal-sized servings.

 

Monday, September 01, 2014

What I don't like...

A friend just asked me what I don't like, food-wise.  Here was my response. I'd love to hear your comments!



I don't care for oysters, cooked or raw. I can eat them to be polite.  I don't eat raw fish sushi, which many of our friends love but fortunately Tom isn't into it either, so I'm not faced with being the odd man (or woman) out. I've had eel but it's not something I would seek out either.

I don't care for anything with dried thyme in it (tastes a little muddy to me) but I love fresh thyme. Similarly I love fresh sage but don't care for dried. That might be a reaction to some of the family Thanksgiving turkey stuffing with too much rubbed sage in it.

I've eaten brains and kidneys but wouldn't do it again unless I was a guest in a house where I didn't feel comfortable saying "Um...I don't think so."  And I have to admit that it wasn't so much the taste but the texture. 

But I love most kinds of liver depending on how it's cooked. When we were in Sarlat we both pigged out on foie gras where it's offered on pretty much anything you eat..salads, steaks, scrambled eggs. And Tom doesn't like liver, but he sure chowed down on the foie gras!  And anytime I see sweetbreads on a menu I'm SO there!

I don't like any really hot (spicy hot I mean) foods. I'm a wimp that way.

I can't think of a single vegetable I don't like. (Give me time, though, and I might.)  ​

I don't like the British black pudding sausage or the German equivalent blutwurst. Both are that blood sausage thingie. It doesn't taste that bad but the idea just grosses me out.

On the other hand I have no trouble with coq au vin which in the authentic version is thickened with the blood of the coq (truly a "coq" or old rooster). The chicken merchant in the French markets will drain the blood and they add a little vinegar to keep it from clotting.  My impression is that nowadays you have to order that ahead.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Healthy Halibut Hits the Spot!




                In May we went on a three week road trip, up the east coast, visiting all our children. In between we made stops in Philadelphia and New York City.  I don’t think I have to tell you that we ate very well along the way, with most meals including a glass or two of wine.
               It was not a happy day when we got home and I stepped on the scale.  So I was delighted to realize that spring had come and with it the opening of farmers’ markets. The one closest to me is the Agricenter. Another good sign of spring is that the Paradise Seafood truck is there every week, Wednesday through Saturday. 
                In the barn, I picked up a couple of bunches of lovely Treviso-type kale.  Then I went to the Paradise truck looking for scallops, but Ted the Fish Man had beautiful halibut filets. I couldn’t resist. But then I had to come up with an amusing preparation, easy and tasty of course, but almost equally important, healthy.  Looking through old recipe files, I found this one, an Italian-inspired sauce, perfect for the flavor and texture of halibut.
                I used blood orange flavored olive oil.  This is available in several locations around town. I got mine at Bazaar, in Carriage Crossing, but Mighty Olive, in Laurelwood, will also have it in stock. If you choose to make it with plain olive oil, double the amount of orange zest and you’ll still be very happy with the results.  I have mint flourishing in a pot near my herb garden.  If you don’t, you can use two packages (around one ounce each) from the supermarket, or go to the Winchester or Cordova Farmers Market and get a package with enough for this recipe for around $2.00.
                This sauce can be made a bit ahead, but no more than an hour or so. Because of the acid the mint will turn dark and have a less than pleasant texture. 
                The filets were so lovely that I made 8-ounce servings. After making the side dishes, it was obvious to me that that was going to be too big a serving. After I took the picture you see here, I cut all the servings in half and served them from a platter.  Only one person took seconds.  I suggest a 5- to 6-ounce serving per person.
Later I took the remaining fish, flaked it, and added the remaining sauce, the crumbs left over from the crust preparation and a beaten egg.  I fried up a tiny taste and it was really yummy.  I made croquettes on a baking sheet and froze them.  Sometime soon I will partially thaw them, brown them quickly in a bit of olive oil and put them on top of a salad for a good dinner on a hot summer night.
                For the crumbs, I used French bread slices that I toasted lightly.  That way you’ll get a better golden color for the crumb crust in the short time it takes the fish to bake. I had a container of pistachios on hand. I loved the flavor they added to the crust, but you can substitute almonds, or leave out the nuts entirely and you’ll still love it.
               For our side dishes, I made a rice pilaf and sautéed the kale in a little garlic and olive oil.  They made for a lovely meal…and oh! So healthy!

Pistachio Crusted Halibut with Orange Mint Salsa Verde

For the fish:

3 to 4 1” thick slices toasted baguette
1/3 cup pistachios
2 teaspoons blood orange olive oil
A few leaves of mint
About 1 ½ pounds halibut filet, about 1” thick, cut into four portions

For the sauce:

1/3 cup onion, very finely minced
½ cup blood orange olive oil
¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons grated orange zest
½ cup fresh orange juice
1 cup (loosely packed) fresh mint, minced
Orange slices and more mint sprigs for garnish

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.  In a food processor, make crumbs from the toasted baguette. Add the pistachios, 2 teaspoons blood orange olive oil and the few leaves of mint. Pulse until nuts are coarsely ground.
Place the halibut skin side down on a well-oiled baking sheet.  Divide the crumbs among them, patting lightly to make them adhere. You may not need all of them.
Combine all the sauce ingredients and whisk together.  Let set for at least 30 minutes or up to an hour for flavors to meld. 
When ready to serve, bake the fish until just barely cooked through, ten to twelve minutes. Put a pool of the sauce on each of four dinner plates.  Remove the fish from the baking sheet with a spatula (most of the skin may stick to the pan). Place on top of the sauce, garnish with orange slices and mint sprigs and serve immediately.  Serves four.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Onion-Coconut Milk Soup--A Brunch Pleaser



       Once again we have a recipe that comes from the French culinary magazine “Cuisine et Vins de France.”  I’ve had a subscription for years and love leafing through back issues looking for amusing things to cook. 
                This one came from the November 2011 issue.  I was doing a brunch menu for our church Weekday Gourmet connection group and wanted something a little different to start.  For brunch menus, I like a soup that you can serve in cups or mugs and this fills the bill. Soups with chunks of most anything in them are a little difficult to sip gracefully. 
                I made a few changes--I’m sure you’re not surprised.  The biggest one was to replace minced fresh lemongrass with the lemongrass paste from the produce section of most supermarkets.  We’ve used it and the ginger paste in several recipes before.  Lemongrass is a bit fibrous, so you have to get down to the softer part and mince really finely if you’re using fresh. The nice paste-makers have done that for us.  It’s also hard to find outside oriental markets, but if you want to use fresh lemongrass, substitute three stalks.
                I also changed to 2% milk instead of whole.  Coconut milk is rather high in fat, so it’s still plenty rich tasting. If you’d like to cut the fat even further, you may substitute light coconut milk instead, and use 1% milk.  The trick of simmering the onions instead of sautéing them in lots of oil also cuts down a bit on the fat.
         I know this seems like a lot of onion, but in our group we had one member who doesn’t care for onions and she was quite happy with it. We had another who claims to hate coconut, and she loved it.  You just never know, do you?               

Creamy Onion-Coconut Soup

1 ½ lbs. onions, peeled and chopped
¼ cup olive oil
Salt and pepper
¼ cup water
4 tablespoons lemongrass paste
1 cup coconut milk
3 cups 2% milk
Two limes

                In a Dutch oven, warm the olive oil over medium heat. Add the onions, stir to coat with oil and cook about two minutes. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and add the water. Cover, lower heat and simmer for about 20 minutes, stirring occasionally. 
                Stir in the lemongrass paste and cook a couple of minutes, stirring.  Add the coconut milk and 2% milk.  Bring to a slow simmer and cook, uncovered, for about 10 minutes, or until the onions are tender. Stir frequently.  In a blender or with a hand blender, purée the soup.  Bring back to a simmer.
                Ladle into soup cups or bowls.  Grate lime zest over each. Cut one of the limes into six wedges to garnish each cup and serve immediately. Serves six.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Savory Spanish Smoked Paprika Adobo Chicken



           My favorite chicken part is the leg-thigh quarter.  I’ve given you several recipes for it in the past.  There are several advantages over the more popular breast, in my opinion. First is flavor. Not only does the meat itself have more flavor, but since it needs to be cooked a little longer, any sauce, rub, herb or other seasoning has a chance to penetrate the flesh.
                Another advantage to this particular recipe is that it needs very little attention once it has been popped into the oven, making it a great dish for a company dinner. 
                As I did with earlier recipes, I put some flavorings under the skin.  You may not be a skin-eater, but I always encourage cooking any chicken part with the skin on. It retains moisture, and can always be peeled off after cooking.
                This recipe is very Spanish in its flavors.  Be sure to use the Spanish smoked paprika called pimentòn. It’s available in some supermarkets, specialty markets or at Penzey’s.  This adobo marinade is also wonderful on pork or full flavored seafood. 
                Spanish-style chorizo is a dry sausage, like a salami. The fresh (raw) Mexican-style chorizo won’t work in this. I used the chorizo from a package of sliced Spanish-style deli meats from Fresh Market. It also includes jamon serrano (a prosciutto-like ham) and salchichon.   I'll use the jamon and salchichon for sandwiches sometime in the next few days. If you can’t find the Spanish selection package, use sopressata or other Italian salami. 
                I used a combination of yellow and red grape tomatoes because I like the contrast and slight difference in flavor.  If you’d rather just use one full container of the red ones, the dish will still be delicious.

Spanish Chicken in Adobo

 Adobo marinade:
8 cloves garlic, peeled, finely chopped
1 tbsp. kosher or sea salt
3 tbsp. Italian (flat) parsley leaves
1 ½ tbsp. Spanish smoked paprika
1 tsp. dried oregano, crumbled
1/3 cup olive oil
To finish:
6 chicken leg quarters
6 thin slices Spanish chorizo or other salami
6 thin slices Swiss cheese
2 tbsp. olive oil
3 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
1 cup minced onion
¾ cup dry white wine
2 15-oz. cans chickpeas, drained
½ container yellow grape tomatoes
½ container red grape tomatoes
1 bag baby arugula

                Place all marinade ingredients except the olive oil in a food processor and pulse to chop finely.  Drizzle in the olive oil and pulse a few more times.  Remove 3 tablespoons of the mixture and reserve.
                Loosen the chicken skin on each piece and place one each of cheese and chorizo underneath, with the cheese closer to the flesh.  Place about a tablespoon of the adobo under the skin and spread it all around.  Use the rest of the mixture to rub all over the outside surface of the chicken and place in an oiled baking pan. Cover and reserve at room temperature for up to an hour. You may also do this in the morning and refrigerate, taking it out of the fridge about an hour before baking.
                In a heavy skillet heat the 2 tablespoons of olive oil over medium heat. Add the garlic and stir a couple of times.  Add the onion and cook until the onion is soft but not at all browned.  Add the reserved adobo marinade and cook, stirring, a couple of minutes.  Add the wine and chickpeas and simmer until the wine is reduced by about a third.  Turn off the heat and stir in the tomatoes.
                Preheat the oven to 400o. Place the prepared chicken in the oven and roast for 15 minutes, then reduce the heat to 375o. Continue to roast for another 30 minutes, then pour the chickpea mixture into the pan, scraping any bits that might cling to the pan.  Spread the chickpeas around the chicken, shake the pan a couple of times and continue to roast for another 15 minutes.
                To serve, place a handful of arugula on each plate. Top with the chicken, then ladle the chickpea mixture with their juices over the top.  Serve at once with crusty bread to soak up the sauce.   Serves six.

Saturday, May 31, 2014

A wonderful way to finish a meal!



             I’m not much of a dessert maker. Frankly, if folks are still hungry by the time we get to dessert at my house, I sort of get my feelings hurt.  But I’ve been going through notes from our trip to France last fall.  And there was one thing that I enjoyed that I’d never had before: a chocolate marquise with speculoos chunks.
                I went looking for marquise recipes but most had raw eggs, with the whites whipped to lighten the mixture.  I was pretty sure the one we had didn’t have the eggs.  Finally I went to the website of the culinary magazine “Cuisine et Vins de France” and found a recipe that was perfect.
                Speculoos are Belgian cookies, a sort of molded spice shortbread.  I couldn’t find them here but the popular Biscoff wafers are available in most local supermarkets.  They’re also a spice cookie, the ones you used to get on Delta Airlines back when they gave you more than one little bag of pretzels.  That’s what I used and they were perfect.
                There are several advantages to this dessert.  First, it is quick and easy to make.  And although good chocolate isn’t cheap, it’s still a fairly inexpensive recipe per serving. It can be made days ahead with no loss of quality, in fact it was better the second day than the first. And most important: it is REALLY yummy. 
                The original recipe suggests that you serve it with a scoop of vanilla ice cream or with crème anglaise, a rich vanilla custard sauce. Both seem like overkill to me, especially the crème anglaise.  I scattered a few raspberries on the plate and added a dollop of whipped cream and nobody complained.

Chocolate Marquise with Biscoff Wafers

 1 8.8-ounce package Biscoff wafers
4 3.5-ounce (total 14 oz.) good quality dark chocolate bars (at least 60% cacao)
3 ounces (6 tablespoons) unsalted butter
1 ¼ cups heavy cream
A large pinch ground cinnamon
Whipped cream and raspberries for garnish

                Spray an 8x5 loaf pan with cooking spray and line with plastic wrap. 
               With your fingers, crumble the wafers into chunks.  With a knife, chop the chocolate coarsely.
                In a saucepan over medium-low heat, bring the cream and butter to a bare simmer.  Add the chocolate and continue to stir with a heat-proof plastic scraper until smooth.  Add the cookie chunks and the cinnamon and mix together. Pour into the prepared loaf pan.
                Let cool a bit, then refrigerate for at least 6 hours.  To serve use the wrap to unmold the loaf.  You may need to wrap a hot towel around the outside to loosen.  Slice ¾-inch thick, put on individual serving plates and garnish with berries and whipped cream.  Serves 12.