Red Hats at Night…

2008.Apr.30 Wednesday · 1 comment

in Casa SaltShaker, Food & Recipes

“When I am an old woman I shall wear purple
With a red hat which doesn’t go, and doesn’t suit me.
And I shall spend my pension on brandy and summer gloves
And satin sandals, and say we’ve no money for butter.
I shall sit down on the pavement when I’m tired
And gobble up samples in shops and press alarm bells
And run my stick along the public railings
And make up for the sobriety of my youth.
I shall go out in my slippers in the rain
And pick flowers in other people’s gardens
And learn to spit.

You can wear terrible shirts and grow more fat
And eat three pounds of sausages at a go
Or only bread and pickle for a week
And hoard pens and pencils and beermats and things in boxes.

But now we must have clothes that keep us dry
And pay our rent and not swear in the street
And set a good example for the children.
We must have friends to dinner and read the papers.

But maybe I ought to practice a little now?
So people who know me are not too shocked and surprised
When suddenly I am old, and start to wear purple.

– Jenny Joseph, Warning

Buenos Aires – Ten years ago, artist Sue Ellen Cooper gave a friend of hers a red fedora and a copy of this poem for her 55th birthday. Via word of mouth, as she repeated the same gesture for other friends “of a certain age”, her circle quickly became a group, and then an organization, The Red Hat Society, or, as they prefer to refer to themselves, a dis-organization. Basically, it’s a bunch of women, most of whom are over fifty (those under fifty wear pink hats and lavender dresses rather than red and purple), who like to have a good time. Given that I’m approaching that milestone myself this year, I empathize. If you see me on the streets in a red fedora and a purple shirt, just know we’re headed out somewhere for some fun…

Since the tenth anniversary of the founding of this group fell on this weekend, it seemed a fun theme to play with – a little red and purple on the plate, as it were… and I managed a red t-shirt with a purple shirt over it, a few guests went for a purple or red sweater or shirt, and one arrived with a red fedora, which he claimed to have bought just for the occasion…

Radish and Brie Terrine

Leading off the evening was a simply named “Red Cocktail”, a blend of rum, banana liqueur, bananas and strawberries. Something to put us in the festive mood. Once seated, we served up these fun little Radish and Brie Terrines – well, maybe more of mousses… hard to say – I suppose they would seem more terrine-like if I’d done them as a long loaf sort of thing and sliced them, but I molded them in ramekins and then warmed them slightly to get them to pop out, accounting for the slightly melty consistency of the top, which had been the bottom, if you know what I mean. It’s quite easy to make – a blend of half a pound each of ripe Brie and fresh Chevre cheeses, a cup and a half of heavy cream, a couple of pickled hot red peppers, and some salt, all blended together until smooth. That went into a bowl along with a handful or so of toasted pistachios and a roughly equal amount of finely julienned radishes (say, ½-¾ cup each). Then, I heated up five teaspoons of powdered gelatin dissolved in a little cold water in the microwave for about 20 seconds, made sure it was well dissolved, and then quickly mixed it into the rest. Poured into the ramekins, and into the refrigerator to chill and set for a few hours. Topping the “terrines” are some bread and butter radishes, a favorite that comes from a recipe I found awhile back on Chow and which I like to have around the house, because, well, pickles are pretty much my favorite vegetable, regardless of what fruit or vegetable they involve.

Roasted red pepper soup

Moving on to a roasted red pepper soup – a bit different than the usual simple purees that I find most places dish up for this moniker. Into a soup pot, lots of chopped white onions, celery, and sliced garlic. Cooked those in a bit of olive oil until soft and just starting to turn golden. Meanwhile, I’d already blackened several red bell peppers over the burners, let them steam a little, and removed most of the skin, and the stem and seeds. Those went into the blender with some chopped tomatoes (2:1 is a good ratio), a couple of fresh, hot red chilies – seeds and all – some powdered bay leaf, red miso, and freshly squeezed orange juice. Pureed all that and poured it into the soup pot with the cooked aromatics, and then topped it up to give it a soupy consistency with vegetable stock. Let it all simmer together for about twenty minutes, and, voilá. The garnish is some cubes of feta cheese lightly dusted in flour, salt, and red pepper flakes, and fried until just golden on both sides – the feta has to be really cold when you do this or it’ll melt too fast… trust me.

Shrimp and tomato risotto

Not thrilled with that photo, but so be it… The idea of a tomato and shrimp risotto or pasta came to mind while planning this out, and, since I’m a big fan of risottos, even though they’re a pain to cook right, I went that route. I cooked some red onions in a little olive oil, then added arborio rice, chopped up sun-dried tomatoes (reconstituted from dry), and tomato paste, and cooked that in a mix of vegetable stock and a bit of red wine for color. Seasoned simply with a little salt and pepper, and then topped with small shrimp that were sauteed at the last moment in a mix of lots of garlic and chopped red rocoto peppers. This was my personal favorite of the evening… well, maybe the dessert… hmmm…

Red Braised Shortribs

I knew I wanted to make something via the Chinese “red-braising” technique, which is probably one of my favorite braises. It’s also really simple. I sauteed short ribs that had been trimmed (not completely, a little fat in this dish helps the braising process) in a big pot until they were lightly browned. Then I added a mix of 2 cups of light soy sauce, 2 cups of dark soy sauce, ½ cup of shaoxing wine (a Chinese wine with a flavor similar to dry sherry, which you could also use), some dark loaf sugar, a handful of slices of fresh ginger, some fennel seeds, star anise, black peppercorns, and lots of szechuan peppercorns. Brought it up to a boil, reduce the heat to minimum, covered the pot, and left it to slowly cook for about three hours, until the meat was tender and near to falling off the bone. Accompanying it, some oven roasted radicchio that I’d marinated in olive oil, lemon juice, and salt – I wouldn’t do that again – it’s fine on its own, but the lemon was too aggressive to pair well with the ribs – maybe in olive oil and garlic, because I liked the radicchio itself with the ribs. A few pickled grapes rounded out the plate, and they made a nice flavor contrast with the ribs. (Wash, halve, and remove the seeds from about fifty red grapes, meanwhile boil together 1½ cups of sugar, ¾ cup red wine vinegar, a cinnamon stick, and ½ teaspoon salt. Make sure the sugar and salt are dissolved, let it simmer a few minutes, and then pour over the grapes. Let them sit for a couple of hours and they’re ready to use.)

Fig and Plum tart

I’ve got to start remembering to take photos of desserts sans whipped cream, which always just sort of comes out as a white blob on a a flash photo and besides it obscures the dessert. These were pretty little tarts – or perhaps they’re little cakes, or kuchen, it isn’t relevant, they’re delicious, and well, delicious. First, a batter made by creaming together 4 ounces of butter, 2/3 cup of white sugar and 1/3 cup of light brown sugar. To that I added 1 whole egg plus two egg yolks, and a teaspoon of vanilla paste. Then I folded in 1 cup of pastry flour, 1 teaspoon of baking powder, and ¼ teaspoon of salt. I buttered some tart pans, and then spread the batter mixture evenly across the bottom – this amount made an even dozen tarts. I finely ground some walnuts and sprinkled them over the batter. Then I sliced up some fresh figs and put a couple of slices atop the batter in each tart pan, plus some wedges of purple plums – make a pretty pattern, you know? Into a 350°F oven for about 40-45 minutes and there you have it. You can also do this in one big tart pan. It’ll take slightly longer to cook, maybe 50-55 minutes. Thinking about it, these were so good the whipped cream was unnecessary, photo or not.

Happy Anniversary Red Hat folk!

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