Thursday, August 25, 2011

I Don't know What This Is, so I'm Going to Eat It

There's a philosophy that applies equally well to me & my recipes as to toddlers & their boogers. NOM.

Tagliatelle with Prosciutto and Orange
This one is valuable more for the technique than the taste (although that too, is very good). Instead of crafting the noodles and sauce separately, you combine them in a skillet shortly before the pasta is al dente. In a sense, the sauce gets cooked in, flavouring each individual noodle and bringing the dish together much better than you could otherwise. Also, it takes literally no time at all; it's effortless deliciousness, no matter what you throw in the sauce. You could simply add pepper and cheese, and it would be to die for.

If you knew this trick already, good for you. If you don't, congratulations, you will never think of pasta dishes the same way again.

ps. homemade pasta rocks
  • salt
  • 12oz egg tagliatelle or fettuccine (preferably fresh)
  • 2 Tbs (1/4 stick) butter
  • 2oz thinly sliced prosciutto, torn into 1-inch pieces
  • zest and juice of 1 orange
  • 1/2 cup heavy whipping cream
  • freshly-ground black pepper
  • 1/4 cup finely grated parmesan
Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Season with salt; add pasta and cook, stirring occasionally, until 1min before al dente (about 2min for fresh pasta, longer for dried). Drain, reserving 1/4 cup pasta water.

Meanwhile, melt butter in a large heavy nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add prosciutto; sauté until browned, about 3min

Add reserved pasta water, orange juice, half of zest, and cream; bring to a boil. Add pasta; cook, stirring, until sauce coasts pasta and pasta is al dente, about 1min. Season with salt and pepper. Stir in cheese and divide among warm bowls.

Penne with Chocolate, Pistachios, and Goat Cheese
Ok, read this recipe. Right now, just read it. You will probably have the same reaction I did, namely: "...what? what? What the ...what?!" And so on. In my world, such a reaction to a recipe entails cooking it as soon as possible. I mean, come on! You boil your penne in wine, and then smother it in cheese and chocolate! How could you not want to eat that?

The dish works surprisingly well. Disparate flavours meld together to form an elusive yet elaborate taste that left me staring dumbly into my bowl. The catch is that it's very creamy -- so much so that you can't eat more than a medium-small serving before you simply get sick of the texture. Overall, I would qualify this as an unexpectedly impressive dish, but one better suited to fancy dinner parties. All chocolate dinner, anyone?
  • 2 Tbs olive oil
  • 1 small white onion, finely chopped
  • 12oz penne
  • 4 cups (1 liter) dry white wine
  • 2 Tbs milk
  • 1 Tbs salt
  • 1/2 cup shelled pistachios
  • 3oz white chocolate
  • 4oz mascarpone cheese
  • 2oz fresh creamy goat cheese
  • 2 Tbs milk
  • 3oz bittersweet chocolate, finely grated // waaay too much. Try 1/2oz
Heat the oil in a small saupan and sauté the onion until just transparent; do not let it color. Add the penne and stir well over medium heat for 2min. (Note: no, I have no idea why we're sautee-ing raw pasta with the onion. Suspect you could skip this.) Pour in the wine and milk and season with salt. Bring to a boil and simmer until cooked al dente.

Chop the pistachios coarsely in a food processor. Place the white chocolate in a double boiler over barely simmering water and stir until melted. Remove from the heat and stir in the mascarpone, goat cheese, and milk. Drain the penne and place in a heated serving bowl. Pour the chocolate sauce over the top and sprinkle with the chopped pistachios. Toss well. Serve hot with the grated dark chocolate sprinkled over the top.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Celebrating Anonymity (with pie!)

Several weeks ago, I was tapped to take part of a collaborative project between my University's IT dept and the local art museum. In less than a month, we needed to plan, design, and implement some way to present interactive multimedia within their upcoming exhibit on the human form. That, by the way, is a very short and hard deadline to create something completely original, with no amount of previous experience.

After going through designs, initial builds, tests, snafus, bugs, rebuilds, and many cries for help to other departments, everything was up and running on time. I was particularly pleased with the product, given that I played an unusually central role in the project. From research to implementation, and following through with testing and monitoring, I feel like I did the bulk of this project's heavy lifting.

And today, there is recognition! The main news feature on the University's central website is devoted to my project! "Smart exhibit blends art and technology", it reads, "Organizers of Go Figure use touch-screen technology to engage visitors, tell artists’ stories." Organizers...? The article tastefully recounts what moved the exhibit's curator to create the videos, and how my boss was inspired to lead this innovative collaboration. It goes on to chronicle how their boundary-breaking brainchild elucidates the deeper meaning of the works to the average museum goer, granting each a discreet view into the artists' respective thoughts. The two of them felt very privileged to have been part of such a landmark work, and both see many opportunities for this sort of partnership in the future.

I think I might even be mentioned in there. Somewhere. Possibly the phrase "...and others" refers to me. Maybe.

Far be it from me to feel slighted, though! Rather, I am tacitly amused. And I won't deny that they deserve a good helping of credit for what was, despite my ironic posturing, a pretty cool project. But I'm going to extend thanks to some the poor plebes who don't have enough of a title to be publicly recognized: yours truly, for one, who built the thing from ground-up from little more than a photoshop design (and we'll just gloss over the amount of redesigning & debugging it required); one of my department's designers, for creating said design; the University's mobile iOS developer, who originally constructed the pseudo-browser app that we used as a platform to present the media; and finally, the Smart Museum's videographer, who filmed & edited all 19 videos currently on display, side-by-side with the art pieces. These must be thankless jobs: I worked with all of them, and even I don't know all of their names.

So well done, mates. Have some pie. Some crazy pie for a crazy good job on a crazy project.

This pie brought to you courtesy of Bon Appetit's August edition. And let me just say, you should go eat some immediately. It's divine.

Rhubarb-Gingersnap Icebox Pie

for the crust:
  • nonstick vegetable oil spray
  • 1 cup ground gingersnap cookies (20-30 cookies, depending on brand, ground in a food processor)
  • 2 Tbs sugar
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/8 tsp nutmeg
  • 1/4 cup (1/2 stick) butter, melted
for the rhubarb compote:
  • 1 cup fruity red wine, such as Shiraz
  • 3/4 cups sugar
  • 3/4 lbs fresh rhubarb, (or frozen rhubarb, thawed,) cut lengthwise into 1/3-inch slices, then crosswise into 1,1/2-inch-long pieces (about 3 cups)
to assemble:
  • 1 quart good-quality vanilla ice cream
  • 1/4 cup chilled heavy cream
  • 1/4 cup crème fraîche or sour cream
  • 1 Tbs sugar

Preheat the over to 325 degrees. Coat a 9-inch glass or metal pie pan with nonstick spray.

Process cookie crumbs, sugar, salt, and nutmeg in a good processor until well incorporated. Transfer mixture to a medium bowl and drizzle butter over; stir to blend. Pour into prepared dish. Use bottom and sides of a measuring cup to pack crumbs onto bottom and up sides of dish. Bake until crust is deep golden brown, about 12min. Let cool on a wire rack and set aside.

Brine wine, sugar, and 1/2 cup water to a boil in a wide pot, stirring to dissolve sugar. Reduce heat to medium and simmer, stirring often, until syrup measures 1 cup, 10-12min. Add rhubarb, increase heat to high, and cook, without stirring and swirling pan occasionally, until compote thickens and syrup is slightly reduced, 4-5min. Slide onto a plate, keeping rhubarb intact. Freeze for 10min to chill quickly.

Chill bowl and paddle attachment of a stand mixer (ie: a spatula) in freezer. Soften ice cream in the refrigerator for 20min. Spoon ice cream into the chilled bowl and beat with paddle attachment on low speed until smooth. Set 1/3 cup compote aside; add remaining compote to ice cream and mix until evenly incorporated. Spoon the ice cream into cooled crust; smooth top. Freeze until firm, about 2 hours.

Whip cream, crème fraîche, and sugar in a small bowl just until peaks form. Spoon into center of pie; spread evenly, leaving a 1-inch plain border. Spoon remaining compote onto center of cream. Freeze until firm, about 1 hour and up to 8 hours. Let pie stand at room temperature for 10min before serving.