Friday, September 19, 2008

The Diva explores The Omnivore's Hundred

Prompted by a call from my mother wondering why it hasn't appeared on the blog yet, I figured its time to post my results for The Omnivore's Hundred, a list of 100 foods "every good omnivore should have tried at least once in their life," courtesy of the blog Very Good Taste.

For those of you who'd like to follow the bouncing ball and share the reaches of your gastrointestinal fortitude:

1) Copy this list into your blog or journal, including these instructions.
2) Bold all the items you’ve eaten.
3) Cross out any items that you would never consider eating.
4) Optional extra: Post a comment here linking to your results.

My list rounds out at 63. See below with witty commentary included:

1. Venison (mmm, venison meatballs)
2. Nettle tea
3. Huevos rancheros (for dinner, for breakfast, all the time!)
4. Steak tartare
5. Crocodile
6. Black pudding (no way, Jose.)
7. Cheese fondue (cheese makes the world a better place)
8. Carp
9. Borscht (oh to vacation in Germany again)
10. Baba ghanoush
11. Calamari (yum)
12. Pho
13. PB&J sandwich (my trusty alternative to the same old turkey sandwich)
14. Aloo gobi (and still don’t really like curries)
15. Hot dog from a street cart (“Well I love that dirty water….”)
16. Epoisses
17. Black truffle (I even got Picky Eater to eat these!)
18. Fruit wine made from something other than grapes
19. Steamed pork buns
20. Pistachio ice cream
21. Heirloom tomatoes
22. Fresh wild berries (right off the bushes)
23. Foie gras
24. Rice and beans (love with #3)
25. Brawn, or head cheese (cold, congealed meat from the head of a cow? gross.)
26. Raw Scotch Bonnet pepper
27. Dulce de leche
28. Oysters
29. Baklava (probably eat more than I should)
30. Bagna cauda
31. Wasabi peas
32. Clam chowder in a sourdough bowl

33. Salted lassi
34. Sauerkraut
35. Root beer float
36. Cognac with a fat cigar (tried both, but not simultaneously)
37. Clotted cream tea
38. Vodka jelly/Jell-O (COLLEGE! Much more fun when made into Jello Jigglers)
39. Gumbo

40. Oxtail
41. Curried goat
42. Whole insects (yes, I’ve tried a few chocolate-covered creepie crawlies)
43. Phaal
44. Goat’s milk
45. Malt whisky from a bottle worth £60/$120 or more
46. Fugu (not yet, but definitely on the list! Tingle tongue, tingle!)
47. Chicken tikka masala (there we go again with the curry)
48. Eel
49. Krispy Kreme original glazed doughnut
50. Sea urchin
51. Prickly pear
52. Umeboshi (thank you, Air Japan, en route to Tokyo)

53. Abalone
54. Paneer
55. McDonald’s Big Mac Meal
56. Spaetzle
57. Dirty gin martini
58. Beer above 8% ABV (blueberry ale and smooth going down)

59. Poutine
60. Carob chips
61. S’mores

62. Sweetbreads
63. Kaolin (Rolaids anyone?)
64. Currywurst
65. Durian (stinky feet!)
66. Frogs’ legs (I’ll get around to it one of these days)
67. Beignets, churros, elephant ears, or funnel cake
68. Haggis (um….no.)
69. Fried plantain
70. Chitterlings or andouillette
71. Gazpacho
72. Caviar and blini
73. Louche absinthe (last time I checked, still banned)
74. Gjetost or brunost
75. Roadkill
76. Baijiu
77. Hostess Fruit Pie
78. Snail
79. Lapsang souchong (tea snob)
80. Bellini
81. Tom yum
82. Eggs Benedict
83. Pocky (I’ll eat anything covered in chocolate)
84. Tasting menu at a three-Michelin-star restaurant. (*sigh* someday.)
85. Kobe beef
86. Hare (does rabbit count?)
87. Goulash
88. Flowers
89. Horse (horses are for riding, not eating)
90. Criollo chocolate
91. Spam (just the e-mail version)
92. Soft shell crab
93. Rose harissa
94. Catfish
95. Mole poblano
96. Bagel and lox
97. Lobster Thermidor
98. Polenta
99. Jamaican Blue Mountain coffee
100. Snake

Fabulous Feasting,
The Diva.

Monday, September 15, 2008

The Diva bakes a cake...from scratch.

Inspired by Deb's Project Wedding Cake undertaking over at Smitten Kitchen, I decided to try my hand at baking a cake from scratch for my mom's birthday. Prior to this, I was Duncan Hines' best friend and had never had even eaten good old baked-at-home scratch cake, let alone made one. Undeterred, I decided on vanilla cake with layers of dark chocolate ganache and raspberry curd and frosted with Swiss buttercream icing.

Go big or go home, I say.

A 45-minute car ride up to the family beach house in 90 degree heat made this first attempt at scratch cake even more exciting. Okay...maybe it's only a 3-layer birthday cake and not a 3-tier wedding cake, but hey, I still stressed.

I used Deb's vanilla buttermilk cake recipe, largely because her recipe notes are so detailed that it seemed practically foolproof (or perhaps I'm just foolish!). Unlike your favorite Duncan Hines or Betty Crocker cake mixes, scratch cakes typically require you to make two mixtures which are then combined. In this case, I made the flour mixture and the egg mixture, and then practiced my mad folding skills. Despite splatters of batter all over my kitchen, the cakes turned out beautifully.

Cooled cakes mean time to talk fillings and frosting. I decided to cheat on the chocolate ganache and used a jar of Shootflying Hill Sauce Co's Dark Chocolate Lover's Dessert Sauce, since it's amazing and probably better tasting than anything I could have thrown together in short notice. But more on Shootflying Hill later. For the curd, I knew I wanted something that was creamy and thick, but not full of seeds or reliant on whipped cream (no refrigerator space for the finished cake). In a nutshell, it meant a cooked sauce with lots of butter and egg yolks. Yum, but definitely not diet...

For the frosting, I was hell-bent on trying Swiss buttercream. If there's one thing I hate, it's an overly sweet icing, so this seemed like a nice change of palette. From my obsessive frosting research, I learned that it can be a finicky icing that takes a while to come together, but well worth the effort. With that in mind, I was determined not to give up if my Swiss buttercream turned to a curdily mess, setting the bowl in a large tray of ice in order to help it come together. Success!

Overall, the cake came out great, and there are already plans to bake another. Next time I'll likely double the icing recipe, since the one I used yielded just enough to cover the cake, but not as much as I would have liked. I'm also going to try freezing the layers right after baking in order to preserve the moisture, since I noticed that it dried out significantly from when it was baked and trimmed to when it was eaten (despite no complaints from the fam).

Dust off your cake pans and give it a try. The taste is well worth the effort.

Vanilla Buttermilk Cake
From Sky High: Irresistible Triple-Layer Cakes

Yields one three-layer 9-inch round cake

3 3/4 cups cake flour
2 1/2 cups sugar
1 tablespoon plus 2 3/4 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 1/2 sticks (10 ounces) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 1/4 cups plus 1/3 cup buttermilk
5 whole eggs
2 egg yolks
2 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Preheat the oven to 325°F. Butter three 9-inch round cake pans. Line the bottom of each pan with a round of parchment or waxed paper and butter the paper.

Combine the cake flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt in a large mixer bowl. With the mixer on low speed, blend for 30 seconds. Add the butter and 1 1/4 cup of the buttermilk. Mix on low speed briefly to blend; then raise the speed to medium and beat until light and fluffy, 2 to 3 minutes.

In a smaller bowl, whisk together the whole eggs, egg yolks, vanilla, and the remaining 1/3 cup buttermilk until well blended. Pour one-third of the egg mixture into the cake batter at a time, folding it in completely after each addition. There will be 9 cups of batter; our 3 cups batter into each pan.

Bake for 26 to 28 minutes, or until a cake tester or wooden toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.

Turn the layers out onto wire racks by placing a rack on top of a pan, inverting it, and lifting off the pan. Peel off the paper liners and let cool completely.

Raspberry Curd

Yields about 2 cups

3 half-pint baskets raspberries
1/2 C. sugar
4 T. unsalted butter
1 1/2 t. fresh lemon juice, or to taste
2 eggs
2 egg yolks

Puree the raspberries and put them through a fine strainer to remove the seeds. Measure 1 1/2 c. puree, heat it in a non-corroding saucepan, and stir in the sugar and butter. Taste and add the lemon juice to taste, or more sugar if needed. Whisk the eggs and egg yolks just enough to mix them, then stir in some of the hot puree to warm them. Return to the pan and cook over low heat, stirring until the mixture is thick and reaches a temperature of 170 degrees to ensure that the eggs are cooked. Store in an airtight container in the fridge until needed.

Swiss Buttercream Icing

Yields about 3 cups

1 cup sugar
4 large egg whites
26 tablespoons butter, softened (3 sticks plus 2 tablespoons)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Whisk egg whites and sugar in a large metal bowl over simmering water until sugar is dissolved. Remove from heat and use an electric mixer to whip egg mixture until it turns white and doubles in size. Add vanilla (or any flavoring you'd like to use) and begin adding butter a stick at a time. Whip until mixture forms a fluffy, smooth icing. Swiss buttercream can be refrigerated in an airtight container until needed. The icing may need to sit out to soften and may require additional whipping in order to spread.

Fabulous Feasting,
The Diva.