Brownian Motion

2007.Dec.17 Monday · 3 comments

in Casa SaltShaker, Food & Recipes

“Observe what happens when sunbeams are admitted into a building and shed light on its shadowy places. You will see a multitude of tiny particles mingling in a multitude of ways… their dancing is an actual indication of underlying movements of matter that are hidden from our sight.”

– Lucretius, On the Nature of Things, 60 B.C. (Wikipedia translation)

Buenos Aires – I’ve determined that I have the most fun when I just sort of let things come to me, allow myself to be bombarded by ideas, wander a bit randomly, think in a jiggly fashion. In particular, I’m talking about our Casa SaltShaker dinners – while I enjoy exploring the various cuisines of the world one by one, I tend to have more fun, and I think the results are often more interesting, when I pick a more capricious theme for the evenings and just sort of wing it. That applied, in particular, to this weekend’s dinners, where I chose to celebrate the start of Sir Francis Drake’s round the world voyage. Given that he bounced from place to place, I had alot of latitude, no pun intended, to choose what I was going to prepare for dinner. Reading through various sources, I could have gone with any of a wide range or locales, in the end I picked one account, which emphasized the time that he and his men spent in various spots – and it happened that five were singled out as places where they dropped anchor and stayed for longer periods. Perfect to inspire five courses. Whether or not another interpretation of his voyage would have yielded an entirely different set of five locations is a moot point. Dinners’ over.

Shrimp and Crab chorizoOur first stop, Patagonia. I’d planned from the beginning something to feature the seafood from the area, and had tentatively put down a grilled shrimp and crab salad of sorts. Given the weather, I knew I wanted a cold salad, and then happenstance… happened. Aki and Alex over at Ideas in Food, posted up a musing followed by a recipe for Shrimp Chorizo. They turned out an inspiring and beautiful looking little shrimp sausage, and I started to think about how I might use the same idea in our menu. I ended up following their recipe, more or less – I’m a bit less high tech, so no Activa® went into the mix, I followed their suggestion of an egg white, and I substituted 1/3 of the mixture with chopped crab meat rather than shrimp. Now, looking at my results versus theirs, a couple of things – I obviously chopped the shrimp and crab more finely, because I don’t have quite that nice large marbling that they do – mine looks more like granite… I also didn’t go with thin sausages, I wanted something fatter that I could slice into disks and array – my first thought was a stack of them alternated with slices of apple – which somehow seemed a natural match to me. So the sausages were about 1½” in diameter, maybe slightly more. I don’t think I rolled it quite tightly enough either, which is admittedly harder to do with a thicker sausage, as they just didn’t seem to have that same firm look to them – though, perhaps that’s a difference with using the transglutamase that they used. I don’t have an electronically controlled water bath and circulator, so a dutch oven filled with water, and just monitoring the temperature every five minutes or so to keep it between 52-55°C (125-130°F), and I kept it there for about an hour and a quarter to make sure that they were cooked through (by maintaining the temperature at this range, and keeping the sausages sealed in plastic, they’re not going to overcook. In the end, I sliced them, added some julienned apples that had spent a couple of hours soaking in orange juice (both for flavor and to prevent oxidizing), and added a spoon of elderberry sauce – elderberry jam cooked with shallots, olive oil, fish stock, orange juice, salt and black pepper – to add a bit of zing.

Chilled Avocado SoupNext stop was southern California, and what better representation of that region’s cuisine than the avocado? As we’re moving into hotter weather, I’m playing more with chilled soups, and avocado is a perfect vegetable… fruit? for that. It’s also incredibly simple to make – I took three large avocados and scooped their flesh into the blender – don’t ask me what kind of avocado – they were big ones, black skinned – to that I added the juice and pulp of 8 limes, eight tablespoons of buttermilk powder (if I could get real buttermilk I’d use that), and enough water to blend it smooth. Pour into a pot. Second round (just because the blender isn’t big enough to do this all at once) – a peeled cucumber, a couple of white onions, and a whole jalapeño, seeds and all, and water to blend smooth again. Combine the two, mix well, add water to get the texture you want if needed, season with salt and white pepper. Chill. Serve topped with sour cream and chopped cilantro.

Salmon RavioloSalmon Raviolo

Moving on to the Pacific Northwest, and, of course, salmon. I went through a variety of thoughts about what dish to do for this, and in the end, had the thought of some sort of pasta… which went through various iterations until I ended up with a giant raviolo. The dough, a simple egg pasta dough – 5 cups flour, 1 teaspoon salt, 6 extra large eggs, 2 tablespoons olive oil – mixed, left to rest, rolled out into large very thin rounds. Then, a filling made from a mix of chopped fresh, raw salmon and smoked salmon, about 2:1, and some finely chopped green onions and lemon peel sauteed in butter (cook, cool, and then add to the salmon mix), season with a little salt and white pepper. Put a good sized scoop – about ¼ cup – of the mixture on a round, dab a little water around the filling to help seal with another round of pasta. Seal well, and then use a large cookie cutter or ring to cut through – these are 4″ in diameter. Let sit for a little while to dry slightly, then cook in boiling salted water until the pasta is cooked through – the salmon will cook through during the process, the butter will melt – makes it all juicy and delicious. The sauce, a mix of cream, crottin cheese, roasted garlic puree, salt and white pepper.

Dried Chicken CurryMoving on across the Pacific we found ourselves in the Spice Islands, a part of Indonesia, and with an intriguing sounding curry called a “dry curry”. While I didn’t find any explanation for the name, I’m guessing based on the various recipes I found that it’s because no liquid is added to the curry while it cooks until the last moment, and even then not much. In a blender, puree a couple shallots, a red onion, half a dozen garlic cloves, and a handful of nuts (the recommended were macadamias or cashews, I had brazil nuts on hand and used those), and a good amount of ginger. In addition, reconstitute a small handful of dried chilies in a very small amount of water, and at that, water and all, to the mixture. If you need a little more liquid to blend this all smooth, use peanut oil, but just enough to smooth it out into a thick paste. Cook this in a large pot over high heat, stirring regularly, for about 5 minutes. Add diced chicken (the original recipes called for whole chicken thighs, skin and all, but I used a mix of diced thighs and breast, skinless) and a handful of kaffir lime leaves (the original used chopped lemongrass and blended it into the paste, but I didn’t have any), and continued to cook for another five minutes. Cover and turn the heat down to low, and leave to cook, stirring occasionally, for about 15 minutes – the chicken will release some liquid, so once it’s nearly cooked through, remove the cover, turn the heat back up to high, and evaporate most of the liquid. At the last minute before serving, add just a little bit of coconut milk, enough to coat the chicken. Cook for another 2-3 minutes, season to taste, and serve over jasmine rice.

Ginger cookie with stewed peachesFinal stop, Sierra Leone in western Africa. The only recipe for a dessert that sounded interesting was a ginger cake… I followed the recipe I found, and it came out more like large shortbread cookies – 2 cups flour, 6 tablespoons sugar, 3 teaspoons powdered ginger, ½ teaspoon cayenne, ½ cup butter, and ½ cup water – mixed together, rolled out to about ¼” thick or slightly more, cut into rounds and baked for 15 minutes at 350°F. It turns out that Sierra Leone is famous for its peaches – though I got the feeling they’re a different kind of peach than we’re used to, nonetheless, it inspired a stewed peach topping – I cut fresh peaches in wedges and cooked them in a mix of butter, brown sugar… and dare I reveal… Coca Cola. Yup, why not? I mean, Sierra Leone is famous for its kola nuts too… at least that was the inspiration – but on top of that, coke makes a good stewing liquid with caramel flavors and such. It worked.

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