27 December 2009

I Thought "Tartar" Referred To A People Group...

This was originally written back during the first week of October... forgot to post it. Oops!

School started and things got a little busy. I have been cooking, just not doing a great job blogging about it.

My most recent adventure was the result of an impetuous, last minute Sunday Dinner invitation I extended to some dear friends. I wasn't too stressed because I knew I had most of the meal under control. Appetizer ... piece of cake - had a beautiful head of Romaine in the crisper, some tangy pepperoncinis and a delicious Balsamic Walnut and Blue Cheese dressing I picked up at Berry Town Produce (a farmer's market) in Hammond, LA two weeks ago. I also had the main course all planned out - a simple Italian dish. Seasoned chicken breasts browned on both sides, then topped with an artichoke ricotta cheese mixture, covered in an carrettiera sauce and finished off in the oven. Oven-roasted garlic broccoli would serve as a healthy side dish.

But what to do for dessert? I needed something I could (for the most part) prepare ahead of time and just add finishing touches to as the chicken finished up in the oven. But I also wanted something with that WOW factor. Long story short - after flipping through several cookbooks I found a recipe for a Decadent Flourless Chocolate Cake that had to be made well ahead of time so it could be chilled. It also suggested serving it with Berry Coulis. I adore berry sauces, so that cinched it for me!

Cake was pretty straightforward - melt butter and chocolate in double boiler and then whisk in egg yolks (taking care to make sure they do not curdle). Meanwhile, and here is where the NEW ingredient comes in to play, you whip the egg whites with cream of tartar until they achieve soft peaks and then add in a T of sugar until you get stiff, but not dry peaks. (Kitchen-Aid stand mixer made it all possible - thanks, R!) Fold in 1/3 of the egg whites (sacrifice the few for the sake of the many) and then fold in the remaining egg whites. Bake at 325 for 30 minutes. Cool thoroughly and then chill for a minimum of three hours.

So what's the deal with this Cream of Tartar stuff? Why did I need to add it? I mean, I have whipped egg whites before and never used cream of tartar. And I thought the Tartars were a people group, so why the heck are they showing up in my recipe?

According to http://www.ochef.com/, it is potassium hydrogen tartrate, an acid salt. Come to find out, milk, egg whites and baking soda are the only alkaline foods we have, so it makes sense to pair an acid with the egg whites. It stabilizes and gives extra volume to egg whites when they are being whipped. I will admit that it made my eggs whites almost cloudlike. Another technique I had read about recently in Cook's Illustrated was to start out whipping egg whites on a lower speed (medium) and only much later in the process switch it to high. I found that also helped to increase the volume of the egg whites.

To accompany my chocolate cake, and cut some of the richness, I settled on a berry coulis. I had planned on making it from only raspberries, but as I was going through my fridge I found a carton of forgotten strawberries. While the majority were sickly and a bit moldy, there were a few jewels in there, so I threw them in as well. Turned out to be a stroke of genius!

After pureeing the berries, lemon juice and sugar in the food processor, I spent the next 30 minutes forcing fruitpuree through a fine sieve. At first progress was almost non-existant. What the heck was I thinking??? This was proving to be an incredibly fruitless (ha ha) endeavor. A few minutes later, however, a magical liquid began to appear in the bowl below the sieve. Seedless puree was dripping through and my, oh my, was it ever heavenly!!! I wimped out on the whipping cream and substituted Cool Whip (insert disgusted groan here).

We all enjoyed dessert after the meal - very rich, but very good. The guys both ate two servings... I have no idea how. I will definitely be making this one again!

Next adventure - cooking while camping. Heading to Garner State Park with my Earth Girls for 5 days... fun stories and pics to follow!

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