Wednesday, September 9, 2009

MY CULINARY NEMESIS

It's true, I have an enemy. There is one dish that I have longed to make, and yet it has defeated me over and over again. Three times, to be precise - and that is far longer than it usually takes me to at least get the basics of a dish down. First, it refused to thicken. Then, I made it too lemony. Then, it refused to thicken again. But THIS TIME... ohh, this time. I think I have it.

Yes, yes it is - it's Avgolemono.

Caddy-corner to our apartment is a Greek diner called Salonica. On the weekends, they serve avgolemono (creamy egg-lemon soup with orzo pasta), and my roommate Brian is more or less addicted to the stuff. Salonica's version is delightful - creamy, warm and bright, and perfect when soaked into a piece of bread. Some people might just accept that and move on, but I... I see it as a challenge.

There are a couple of things that I would change from this slightly rough first batch, which I based on a user recipe at Epicurious, here. I used water as the base, as I had no chicken stock. Definitely go for the chicken stock - it's well worth the added flavor. Or if you're veggie, boil up some garlic broth. Secondly, I think the whipping of the egg whites into soft peaks is unnecessary. I ended up with a soup that was downright foamy - somehow, it managed to be creamy at the same time, but even so, "foamy" isn't really what we're going for here. Just beat the eggs into submission, and you should be fine.

Avgolemono (adapted from a recipe by azzurri at Epicurious)

8 cups chicken stock or garlic broth
1 cup rice or orzo pasta (I like rice, but orzo is traditional)
4 eggs
Juice of 2 lemons, or to taste
1/2 cup heavy cream (optional, but I LOVE the flavor and richness it adds)
Salt and cracked pepper to taste

Throw the rice in the chicken stock, and set it a-simmerin'. Let it go until the grains are completely cooked, and then turn off the heat. Meanwhile, beat together the eggs and the lemon juice until smooth and uniform.

Now comes the slightly tricky part. Scoop out one cup of hot liquid from the pot. We need to temper the eggs, so that they don't scramble, and instead provide a thickening agent for the soup. Slowly pour the hot broth into the egg mixture, beating the mixture constantly and vigorously. Then do it a second time, with another cup. If you did this right, you should have a yellowy-orange, uniform-looking liquid with no floating white bits. If you have floating white bits, congratulations! You've made egg-drop soup, which is not what this recipe is for.

Once you've tempered the eggs, do the whole thing in reverse - pour the egg mixture into the rest of the soup, stirring vigorously all the while. At this point, I added about a half-cup of heavy cream, to up the thickness and the flavor. And voila, you're done!

Now if you'll excuse me, I have a bowl of this stuff to eat for lunch.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Pasta with Potatoes and other things

Well, well, well! Look who crawled out of the gutter to make a post. There have been a few changes around Pedestal headquarters since I last posted: the Sugar Daddy is gone, replaced by Sugar Roommates (sweet as, and with money to boot!), and I'm living in a new location. Work is still the same, and I'll be heading back to classes in a few weeks, but until then, yours truly will endeavor to post regularly.

So at the nudging of one of my roommates (he's the blog called Brian, below and to your right), I've started cooking him lunch. I am additionally offering lunch to any and all takers, for a small grocery-cost fee. Today was the first day of making lunch for Brian, and I'd call it a qualified success. I made pasta with potatoes, loosely adapted from Deb's recipe here. Now, I woke up at 6am to do this, so I wasn't firing on all cylinders, but bless his cute little heart, Brian said it was "very tasty". So maybe I'll just keep on doing it.

Pasta with Potatoes

1lb whole wheat pasta
1lb fingerling potatoes (I really didn't weigh these. Just use some.)
1/2 bunch bitter greens
1/4 cup olive oil, plus 2 tablespoons
2 cloves garlic
1 1/2 cups freshly grated Parmesan cheese
Salt and cracked black pepper to taste

First things first - set some salted water on to boil, and preheat that oven to 350. Slice your potatoes thinly - maybe 1/4 inch. Dress them with two tablespoons of olive oil, some salt, and some cracked pepper. Spread them in a single layer on a baking sheet and toss them in the oven while you take care of the rest.

If you're lucky, the timing worked out and your pasta-water is now boiling. Throw in the pasta; whole-wheat takes a minute or two longer, but when it's cooked to al-dente, there's nothing more delicious. While that's going, heat up the olive oil in a skillet. This will be your sauce; you don't have to use 1/4 cup, use what you feel comfortable with. Mince the garlic and cook it a bit in the olive oil to give it flavor. Don't scorch the garlic, though! That makes the universe sad.

After a minute or two, turn the heat off. Now sit back and chill for a bit, because you're waiting on the pasta to finish. When it does, keep that water! Throw the bitter greens in and blanch them for a minute or so. (I had meant to use dandelion greens for Brian this morning, but there weren't any left. So I sauteed an onion with the garlic instead, which made for a sweet and tasty alternative.) Then drain the whole mess, throw in the potatoes (they're done now - you timed it perfectly, right?) and the olive oil, and CONSUME. Or, y'know, save. For lunch.