This has been a long week. I cooked a lot of food, and even took photographs, but there was no writing to be had. My friend David says the number of loaves of bread baked in his house sky-rockets during finals week; his procrastination technique is baking. I can definitely relate, but my technique is much less refined; with so many activities and deadlines I forget to buy things at the farmer’s market and then my cooking enters into the danger zone: pure experimentation. Being tired means I’m too tired to look up a recipe, so I wing it. Yesterday we had zucchini pancakes for dinner: finely grated zucchini, an egg, minced chives, some salt, pepper, cayenne, olive oil, and just a bit of flour. The batter was so wet I worried it wouldn’t hold a pancake shape, much less end up cooked in the center. All I can say is that I got lucky, and they were more than edible.
The beginning of the week was much better, and I made chocolate ricotta pudding in the cute red ramekins I borrowed from Jen while she was in Europe. I also attempted chocolate granola for Ingrid, twice, and steaks with an onion wine sauce and what ended up being vegan mashed potatoes and tomato salad. The chocolate ricotta pudding is really one of the most simple, yet delicious desserts I’ve made this summer. You don’t have to put much sugar in, and you can use almost any form of chocolate. The first time I made them I used larger glass dishes so that the pudding cooked in a thin disk. The ramekins however, required almost 20 minutes longer to cook than the recipe originally called for because I only used 4 instead of 8 of them. I would suggest using as many baking dishes as it takes to bake the pudding in a layer not much more than an inch thick. The original recipe is from In Late Winter We Ate Pears, by Diedre Heekin and Caleb Barber (also responsible for the orange and mint meatballs), but I’ve never followed it exactly. Here is my version:
Chocolate Ricotta Pudding
(Serves 8 wonderful people deserving of such deliciousness)
15 ounces fresh ricotta (usually the size of one container)
1/3 – 1/2 cup sugar (if you use sweetened chocolate use closer to 1/3)
3 egg yolks
3 ounces unsweetened chocolate, finely grated
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1 tablespoon Grand Marnier
Special equipment: 8 ramekins.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F and butter the ramekins. Mix all the ingredients in a bowl; the batter should have a cake-batter consistency. Depending upon how wet your ricotta is, you could strain it before mixing it with the other ingredients, or you could add more or less vanilla and Grand Marnier. The original recipe suggests rum and vanilla instead of Grand Marnier, so I think you could use just about any alcoholic substance. Pour the batter into the ramekins and place the ramekins in a water bath (fill a lasagna style baking pan with water about half-way up the sides of the ramekins). Bake for 30-40 minutes or until a knife stuck into the middle of one of the puddings comes out clean.
I have also made chocolate ricotta pudding with 2 tablespoons cocoa powder and 1 ounce finely grated milk chocolate instead of the unsweetened chocolate. I hope to try a honey instead of sugar version, and maybe a vanilla instead of Grand Marnier plus cinnamon and maybe even a touch of cayenne version (Mexican hot chocolate anyone?). Below is a photograph of the unbaked chocolate ricotta puddings in their water bath, just in case the water bath is hard to visualize. It’s good to leave space between the ramekins for even baking.
I didn’t want to write a whole post about our dinner of steak and potatoes because it was thrown together in such a haphazard way, and I would have done quite a few things differently had I had the correct ingredients. It was still delicious, proving that sometimes the less you do to a fabulous ingredient, the better. We buy our steaks, and all other beef products, from DeyDey’s Best Beef Ever, which, if you can’t tell by the name, is pretty much the best beef ever. But seriously, DeyDey’s made a sausage-lover out of me, which is impressive since normally I’d really rather eat vegetables. The Book of French Provincial Cooking by Hilaire Walden has a recipe for steak that involves doing practically nothing: fry steak seasoned with salt and pepper in a cast-iron skillet until “done”. And that’s exactly what we did. The recipe also instructed me to make a sauce of cooked shallots (I used onions), red wine, and butter (I had 1 teaspoon and the recipe called for half a stick). But a nearly butterless steak sauce was not the worst of it, because half-way through making mashed potatoes I realized we were out of milk too. This is probably the only time in my life I will admit to having made vegan mashed potatoes, but I’d just like to say that water and olive oil make excellent substitutions. Don’t be deceived, this meal was delicious.
And finally, here is a photograph for Pings of chocolate granola. I made two batches this week and wasn’t completely happy with the chocolatiness of either of them. One batch tasted vaguely like cocoa puffs, which is a good start since I did indeed use cocoa powder. I am clearly doomed to making batch after batch until I can think of the perfect combination. On the docket for possible ingredients we have peanut butter (or more likely almond butter), coconut, and Michel Guerards French Chocolate Sauce (really just cocoa and sugar). It will be a good weekend if I can make a batch with all three.