November 30, 2008

Happy birthday, Mark!

I don't like to make a big deal about my own birthday, but I really enjoy planning other people's birthdays. This year, I planned a menu just for us and then had a big group of friends over for chocolate torte and whipped cream. 

This year, he requested a chocolate torte. The torte I always make is from an article I came across in the New York Times a few years ago. It is a bit non-traditional: the recipe calls for you to stop baking before the crumb is fully developed and to refrigerate it at least two hours before serving. During a stint in the refrigerator, the torte falls a bit (no chemical leavening!) and you end up with a deeply chocolate-y, creamy, dense center. I would compare it to a very good truffle.
My only advice is to use high-quality ingredients. In particular, the flavor of chocolate is front and center. My brother once made two of these to bring in to a work potluck, one using bittersweet Ghirardelli chocolate chips (which is still one of the best supermarket brands) and one using a really fantastic Callebaut 65% cacao chocolate bar. We did a taste test the next day and were blown away by the difference in flavor between the two. The torte made with Callebaut was both fuller-flavored and better-textured, whereas the Ghirardelli torte tasted a bit flat and greasy. If you can, I strongly urge you to seek out the best quality dark chocolate you can find. 
Azo Family Chocolate Cake (via the New York Times)10 servings

8½ ounces (2 sticks plus 1 tablespoon) unsalted butter, more for greasing pan
7 ounces best quality bittersweet chocolate (60 percent or higher cacao), chopped
5 large eggs, separated
1 cup granulated sugar
½ cup all-purpose flour
Pinch of sea salt
Whipped cream for serving
1. Place rack in top third of oven and heat to 400 degrees. Butter a 9-inch pan and set aside.

2. Finely chop chocolate using a serrated knife and combine with butter in a dry bowl or small pan. A double boiler works, but you can also melt it in several short blasts using the microwave. Stir to combine and set aside.

3. Separate 5 eggs, keeping the yolks in one medium mixing bowl and the egg whites in another (preferably the bowl of a stand mixer). It is important that not one speck of egg yolk remain in the egg whites, or they won't whip properly.

4. Add sugar to egg yolks. Add flour to egg yolk mixture and stir until just combined. Add chocolate mixture and stir until smooth.

5. Using a stand mixer (or electric mixer), whisk egg whites and salt until stiff peaks. Fold egg whites into chocolate mixture just until blended. Pour into cake pan.

6. Bake for 25 minutes. Remove cake from oven and allow to cool for 1 hour.

7. Wrap with foil and refrigerate until cake is firm and cold, at least 2 hours or overnight. Two hours before serving, remove cake from refrigerator and bring to room temperature. Slice (center of cake will be fudgy) and serve, if desired, with whipped cream.

November 9, 2008

Cutting the Congressional pork

Our election party was a success and, actually, it was such a success that I failed to take any good pictures. Our friend Petros won the prize for best politically-themed dish: Congressional pork (tenderloin) stuffed with arugula, blue cheese, and sun dried tomatoes. The impressive number of political references alone would have won the prize, but the fact that it was also delicious pushed it over the edge. The best part of the night was seeing Obama win and toasting him with champagne (obviously, the McCain supporters at our party weren't thrilled). In general, I am too cynical to believe that Obama is an entirely different kind of politician or that he will magically cure all of our country's problems, but I'm excited about helping to elect him and everything that means for our country.

November 3, 2008

To do: exercise our constitutional rights. and eat.

I woke up feeling under the weather this morning but, after an extra hour of rest and a few cups of tea with ginger, honey, and lemon, I am already feeling better. I just went to vote and, while I was delighted not to have to wait in line (we were in and out in 5 minutes), I was slightly perturbed that no one was there, save Mark, me, and a cute old man who was excited to vote for the first time in 30 years. I hope people are planning to vote!

We are having an election party tonight and I am very excited. Champagne is chilling in the refrigerator, the Fudge to Nowhere cake is nearly in the oven (Mark's addition), and I've prepped the ingredients to make orecchiete with Barack-oli rabe, garlic, chiles, and parmigiano reggiano. I am looking forward to our friends' politically themed contributions. ACORN squash gratin? McCainaroni and cheese? BaRack of lamb? Yum. Happy election day all.

P.P.S. Never underestimate the restorative power of chicken noodle soup, which is especially satisfying when you already have all the elements on hand: leftover roast chicken, onion, celery, carrots, herbs, and a flavorful stock made from the chicken carcass and vegetable trimmings. Robin, this bowl uses the kosher egg noodles we adopted from you guys when you moved to Chicago! I thought of you.