The D/C ratio

August 22, 2009

This voluntarily cryptic title hides a simple observation:
The D/C ratio stands for Difficulty/Contentment … which does not provide much more explanations, does it?

It is well known that the difficulty of preparation of a dish is not proportional to the pleasure of eating it.
Of course, a refined presentation, a marriage of colors, tastes and textures make an overall sensory experience.
But this is not always achieved by chef-level techniques or high end utensils.
Sometimes, crude preparation of simple products can reach the same level of … goodness.

That being said, I’m not going to brag about today’s preparation, or present it as an unrivaled delicacy.
If cooking taught me anything, that would be humility. You can be confident in your favorite technique, which you have mastered to the point that you can play it by heart, and with your heart (not unlike music, isn’t it?), but there is always a variation you never thought of, a spice you don’t know, an … interpretation you can fall in love with.
And so, simple things are not necessarily plain-tasting, and complex constructions need not be an unforgettable moment.
I wanted dead simple today, so I chose to bake cupcakes.
Flour, chemical yeast, ground almonds and the ubiquitous pinch of salt

Dry elements

On the moist front, we have butter and sugar

Butter and sugar

And two eggs beaten in, with almond extract (oh, the smell of that!)

Beating in eggs

Mixing everything with some milk leaves us with a simple batter

And milk even

Some nuts fall into the mortar: walnuts, pine nuts, pistachios.

The nutty mortar

They are no match for the hard stone pestle … “rock and hard place”, anyone?

The crushing truth

The smiling cupcakes are swiftly baked, we’re nearly there.

Ready to roll

I did a light syrup with honey and lemon, and used it to moisten the cupcakes, so that the crushed nuts would hold in place.

Finished

Of course, the lemon and honey’s flavors definitely added an extra information to process when eating these little things.
I’m satisfied with the results: friends I was baking this for were happy.

Isn’t that the primary goal of any cooking?

Close-up


So obvious

August 21, 2009

The heat seems to be taking a break. Let’s hope it’s a permanent one.
Trying to exorcise its effects by cooking is fairly simple: lemon ice!

Thank you to Luiz for the recipe he posted a few days ago in response to my cry for help…
I tried it, and it worked perfectly!

Lemons … I had one regular lemon and a lime at the time I took the picture.
Then I found another lime … which I added to the mix of course.
Grating lemon and squeezing the juice out of them is a nice and easy task … until you discover you had a small cut on your hand!
Lemons
Hard pressed

A syrup is prepared with water, sugar, lemon juice and grated peels

Sirup

Egg whites are whisked vigorously, until thick and welcoming.
The syrup is then folded into the whites

Whisked eggs

Before using the “ice maker” (a simple slowly rotating plastic blade), I slowly add cream.

Of course there's cream!

And the result comes close to being ancient magic: as the coolness is conjured, the heat is repelled.
The communicants experiment an acidic and impossibly sweet flavor, and can’t help but close their eyes before such an awaited event.

I like it when you do that ...


I don’t have time for this …

August 20, 2009

We’re having an extremely hot summer, with the kind of heat that is able to drain me from any (good) intentions.
And cooking does not escape this generalized discouragement of mine.

And yet, the urge to cook is coming back, even after yesterday, our hottest day ever, with 31°C indoors, at 11PM (about 88°F).
The house can’t even cool down at night, and this morning’s fierce sun was announcing yet another tedious day.
That’s when I said to myself “Paella!”

The prospect of heating the kitchen with blazing fire, boiling water and feverish activity should have acted as a strong deterrent, but here you are, reading this post, meaning the deed is done!

I tried something new for this paella: replace the peas by courgette (or zucchini if you like).
Onion, garlic, tomato, spices (among which the almighty saffron) were invited of course.

Onion, what a surprise ...

And still I didn’t have shrimps, and going out with this heat was out of the question, I aimed for the freezer, and fished four big scallops.
Gentle thawing in warm water was followed by delicate drying (scallops don’t like rough manners)

Big ones

An olive oil/lemon juice marinade was their new environment for the next hour.

Marinating

On the other hand, red peppers were savagely cut, sliced, and thrown in a devilish pan.
They did not escape from it unscathed …

Redburnt

Now the cooking begins …
Sizzling olive oil and chopped onions … not very original …

Show begins

Diced courgettes quickly joined the onions

Enter the magnificent Zucchini, aka Jean Courgette

Until the golden color and aromatic smell concluded a very interesting first chapter.

Golden

The tomato abruptly crashed this party, and started mingling …

It's just a can

Until it became everybody’s best friend.
The ‘sofrito’ is ready.

Yes it smells good

Once the veggies are set aside, some meat is unceremoniously cooked.

Second cooking

Nothing to see here (but the smell was mouth watering)

Predictable result

Now that cooked and spiced vegetables and meat are united, the chopped garlic is very much seen as an intruder

Mixing it all, with garlic

But the garlic is quickly assimilated, and we are ready for the last act.
Snow-white rice rains on the colorful scenery.

Rice jumps in

Spices and hot water do their best to help achieve the impossible mix

All spices aboard!

Bubbling and smelling, the pan is traversed by perfumed eddies

Hot bath

Remember the peppers, and never forget the scallops!

Marinated scallops, always late

Cooking is just a formality now, a matter of waiting for the rice to puff up, adjusting the heat level, or the water quantity.

Almost there!

Until, finally, my urge is satisfied, and yet another meal is ready to be served.
¡Buen provecho!

That wasn't so hard!