Saturday, June 08, 2013

I'm so light, fluffy, and creamy I might just blow away

This was intended to show how many components go into a taco. 
I saw a fascinating movie today called Fill the Void about love and arranged marriage in an ultra Orthodox community in Tel Aviv. I don't know if this is a spoiler, but it's definitely an alert: the ending is abrupt and devastatingly ambiguous. For the last 20 minutes of the film I thought, please, please, please not an abrupt, ambiguous ending and then the movie ended. Abrupt. Ambiguous. Ending aside, it's a wonderful movie and you should see it. If you do, I would like to discuss.

Back to cooking: Tacos are casual but they aren't easy and I need to remember that next time I decide to make a low-key dinner for a crowd. I saw a recipe in the New York Times Magazine last Sunday for fish tacos and thought, perfect! That's what we'll have on Thursday night when Ben and Stella (nephew and niece) come to stay for the weekend. I'll just throw together some tacos.

It's easier to barbecue a brisket.

To make these particular tacos you season cod with various fiery spices, fry the fish, grate cheddar cheese, wash and slice radishes, trim and char scallions, mix chipotle peppers with sour cream, and then -- so weird! -- toast tortillas. I don't understand that step. When you toast tortillas they stiffen and break but what you want is for them to soften and fold. So instead of fish tacos we had fish tostadas. Fortunately, we like tostadas.

This was an elaborate taco recipe, but even with the simplest taco you need three or four components and each component needs its own plate that you subsequently have to wash and everyone reaches around to assemble their tacos and they drop shreds of cheese and fish on the table. When a 3-year-old eats a taco? Food all over the chair and floor. This is also the case when Owen eats a taco. Or, come to think of it, anything at all.

They were good tacos, but I won't rush to make them again.
The thing on the plate is sachertorte.
We've had a sachertorte sitting on the counter for the last few days. Here's Rick Rodgers, author of Kaffeehaus, on the genesis of the classic Viennese chocolate cake:

"The story begins in 1832 with Klemens, Prince von Metternich, one of the masterminds of the Congress of Vienna and no slouch in the party department. Here was a man who knew what he liked and got it. He had a big party coming up and he ordered his personal chef to create a new dessert. The prince wanted to make a splash, so he instructed the chef to come up with the opposite of the light, fluffy, creamy "feminine" Torten popular at the time, and to surprise his guests with a dryer, more compact "masculine" cake. 

"The chef was never able to fulfill the princes's request because he fell ill. The kitchen's sixteen-year-old second apprentice, Franz Sacher, would have to take over in the master's absence. Chocolate, one of the most aggressive and "masculine" flavors in the kitchen would be his cake's motif, tempered by the tart tang of apricot preserves. . . ." 


I used the sachertorte recipe from The Cooking of Vienna's Empire, but substituted a double recipe of the Indianerkrapfen chocolate glaze from Kaffeehaus. (Any simple chocolate glaze should work; the fussy recipe from Vienna's Empire had already failed me once.) This cake has kept well and been popular with everyone who tasted it, including me. I especially love the "tart tang" of the apricot jam between the layers of chocolate sponge. That little vein of apricot is enough to change how I feel about chocolate cake, never my favorite.

I'm not having as much success with the entrees from Time-Life Foods of the World. Last week, I made the recipe for paprika schnitzel (veal scallops with paprika and sour cream) from Vienna's Empire which resulted in skinny gray cutlets cloaked in coagulated bright orange sauce. Edible, but barely. Another night I made risi e bisi (risotto with peas) from The Cooking of Italy and it was tasty but you'd be better off with a Jamie Oliver risotto. More evolved, more exciting.

 Even risotto is easier than tacos.

32 comments:

  1. I think you may have toasted the tortillas a little too long. :)

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    1. You are probably right. I also might have used the wrong tortillas. I feel like fatter ones would have softened rather than crisped.

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  2. I place the tortillas on an open flame and flip when I smell them then pop them into a plastic bag in a cloth lined little basket. You could use a damp cloth instead I suppose. For sure many little bowls but I bet they were good!

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    1. Good idea. Next time -- thought I don't know if there will be one.

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  3. Thanks so much for posting the title of that movie! I had read about it and wanted to see it but then couldn't remember what it was called. I'm going to try to go this week.

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    1. Let me know what you think! I can't stop wondering about the ending.

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  4. The schnitzel sounds disgusting. I think in Austria they deep fry the cutlets, instead of pan frying them. However, my dad used to make veal milanese (lightly breaded veal cutlets pan-fried quickly in about 1/8" oil, then served with lemon.) He would trim all the fat and gristle from the cutlets, pound them with a mallet, and just dip them in bread crumbs and fry them. The thing that I remember most about this meal (aside from the fact that I LOVED it), was that after I ate all my own veal my dad would slip some of his onto my plate, and he had put way more lemon and salt on his and it was much better that way. It made me disappointed in retrospect that I had under-seasoned my own.

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    1. That's a sweet memory. That dish sounds delicious.

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  5. That's a lot of work for fish tacos. We marinate fish pieces, jalapeno and red onion slices in lime juice + Mexican spices, then clamp everything into a BBQ grilling basket. Plop on the grill, flip it once, and done. Time is better spent making tortillas from scratch, particularly here in NorCal where we can buy fresh La Tortilla Factory masa fina at any grocery store.

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    1. I think scratch tortillas would be worth the effort.

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    2. Even better, I've always found that I can enlist dinner guests into making them after I've prepared the masa and set up the tortilla press. It's all very much a do-it-yourself meal anyway.

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  6. Thank you so much for the taco review! I had seen the same recipe and was truly torn as to whether or not to make it in a hurry ... and now I know :)

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  7. I think risotto is one of the easiest things to make. I make it all the time. I agree that tacos are not easy. Neither are salads, multi-ingredient sandwiches, or Chinese food. Any dish that requires multiple ingredients, each of which must be unwrapped, possibly washed, chopped or sliced, possibly cooked separately, before actually being combined, is not an easy dish.

    Every time someone blogs about sachertorte I think I should make it. I look at the recipe, notice how many eggs are in the cake, and then don't make it. Of course for someone with chickens, a recipe that calls for many eggs would be quite a good thing.

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    1. The number of eggs we have right now is one of the main reasons I wanted to make sachertorte!
      Burritos are another dish that require too many components.

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  8. Oh no! I also have found fish tacos to be unnecessarily fussy. That being said, tacos are the goto dinner around here! steamed corn tortillas (microwave)+ beans + grated cheese + salsa + carrots/zucchini/broccoli = favorite of the 5 year old. I'm not proud. We also do a mean "breakfast" for dinner. --Dana

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    1. I'd be proud if my 5-year-old ate tacos filled with vegetables. You should be!

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    2. Oh! I meant that I'm not too "proud" to admit that my standard back ups is a meal that requires no real cooking and breakfast. :) I am happy with the vegetable eating. Don't worry though, she balances it out with chocolate chip cookie consumption. --Dana

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  9. There are two "rival" ways of doing Sachertorte. Both have apricot jam, but one just has one layer (underneath the icing) and the other has one in the middle of the cake as well. I personally am partial to the former. Whipped cream is essential, too. My mother is famous for her Sachertorte - apart from having less eggs it has the best icing - you have to "spin" sugar for it (is that the right term in English? Boil sugary water until a 'thread' forms on the spoon?) which is a bit tricky - if you do it for too long, the sugar crystalizes and the icing gets crunchy. But if you get it right it is the most delicous icing ever - with a very thin 'hard' layer on top and a softer layer in between. Yum.

    Paprikaschnitzel can be really nice although it is not my favourite thing.The way I know it, you make escalopes and serve it with a paprika sauce. (Schnitzel in German can mean escalopes but also the Schnitzel with breadcrumps - that's Wiener Schnitzel, very similar to what Kirstin's veal milanese; and yes, that needs to be deep fried. But escalopes aren't)-
    Sorry to get so carried away, it is so rare that people want to give Austrian cooking a try! I am not sure if your cookingbook has Knödel (dumplings)?

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    1. I have had a lot of trouble with the icings on these pastries. I felt that the icing should have been harder on the sachertorte, but I just used the recipe that was easy and had worked for me. I'm sure spun sugar would be spectacular if I thought I could pull it off.
      There are bread dumplings in the cookbook -- they sound delicious. There is also a recipe here for golden dumplings (dessert) and dumplings you make with fresh, whole apricots. I basically just want to cook Austrian desserts and forget about entrees and the whole rest of the world.

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  10. Austrians actually eat the Apricot dumblings as a main dish - usually for lunch but it could also be dinner. There are three possible ways of doing them - a dough (patter?) with potatoes, a dough with Topfen/Quark (similar but different to ricotta - I think you made it a few years ago but I cannot remember what it is called in American English, sorry) and with choux pastry. Either way, you cover the fruit with a thin layer of it (very important: no holes as the Knödel would fall apart) and boil them in water. Then you roll them in roasted breadcrumbs and serve with suger and melted butter. Delicous if wildly unhealthy. But it has fruit!! They often recommend stoning the apricots and putting a piece of suger inside, but I think it is overkill. Also, counting the stones on your plate is part of the fun. We also do the same dish with plums, which is lovely as well....

    If your dumplings are plain (bread, egg, and maybe a bit of onion/leek) they are meant as a side dish (lovely with roasts); a speciality from the Tyrol is Speckknödel (With bacon/speck) which is eaten with sauerkraut and salad or in clear soup.... but there are others as well, with liver, or cheese, or spinach.

    Hotel Sacher does a very hard icing on their Sachertorte, but that is mostly because they sell it boxed - you can even ship it! Mostly the icing should not be too hard - you could not ship my mom's Sachertorte, that's for sure! I am still practicing with the spun sugar - it tastes wonderfully but it is really tricky.
    And now I will stop blabbing. ;-)

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  11. I tend to make them creamy, that is what I grew up with. But recenty had the lightest, airiest, fluffiest potatoes at my husband's uncle's house. They were awesome! So I guess I am going to try to make the fluffies this week If you have been interested just click essayhogwarts.com:)

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