Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Pilaz de Riz Traditionel au Fenouil / Traditional Rice Pilaf with Fennel

I’ve avoided fennel in the past. The mention of a licorice-flavor was enough to turn me off without even giving it a chance. Black licorice ranks right up there with artificial banana as one of my least favorite flavors. I’m happy to report that this project opened me up to the idea of using fennel in the future. We even added it to our favorite olive oil, red pepper flake and garlic pasta. It’s always nice to have new vegetables to use in the kitchen.

The pilaf starts with sautéing fennel with onions until they caramelize. The rice is toasted, and fennel seeds and saffron are added. Cook the mixture in chicken broth until the rice is cooked through and fluffy.

We sometimes struggle with getting rice to cook all the way through at our house. I suspect it has something to do with atmospheric pressure, though it might also be attributed to our stove’s difficulty in functioning at low level temperatures. Rice will go ages without cooking through, sometimes to the tune of an hour and a half. The rice and liquid mixture will be hot, and there will be steam, but the rice doesn’t absorb the liquid. It’s probably the stove itself, as I can transfer to our rice cooker and be okay. I need to get better at remembering to transfer the contents to the cooker instead of cursing the rice when it’s not ready, but I never seem to remember until I’m muttering obscenities. Oh well. The end product was a little crunchy, but I’d be happy to try it again. It tasted great for lunch the next day with some of the chicken’s sauce spooned over the top. The only minor quibble is with the fennel seeds. The crunch is a little too much like the sound of squishing a bug, with a little pop in your mouth. I might eliminate them if we were to try it again.

The subtle flavor of the saffron and fennel complimented the Domaine Drouhin Arthur Chardonnay we paired with dinner, and the pilaf was a great match with the Chicken with Forty Garlic Cloves. I really enjoyed the combination of the three. Overall, the flavor of the pilaf was delicious, and I’ll be sure to use the rice cooker next time so that it gets done in the suggested time frame. And we’ll excitedly use the fennel Mom’s planting in the garden this year.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Gâteau au Chocolat Lyonnaise / Light Chocolate Cake

We had a busy cooking night last Sunday--four recipes in one evening! Scott made a cheese brioche. We had chicken with forty garlic cloves and fennel rice pilaf for dinner, followed by a light chocolate cake for dessert. Why is dessert first in the posting? Well, because Scott made the bread and has to give his observations himself, and because of this:

Yep, I managed to turn on the wrong burner on the stove and melted part of the cutting board the bread was sitting on when I melted the chocolate for the cake. The resulting mess meant that we had to adjust the cooking method for the chicken. I don't often make mistakes that stupid, but Scott was kind about it. After a lot elbow grease and a few minutes on high a few days later to burn off the bits I couldn't get off, th burner is back to normal. The best part was that I told myself to move the cutting board maybe 3 minutes before I turned on the burner.

Back to the cake: This definitely is not your typical chocolate cake. It does not have any flour to it. Rather, the whipped egg whites and chocolate are held together by potato starch--something I've never cooked with--and given heft with ground almonds. I believe there is at least one other recipe in the book that requires potato starch. As for the almonds, I opted for the easy way out and purchased Bob's Red Mill's almond meal. I've heard that you have to be careful when blending nuts to avoid making butter and thought I'd make life easier for myself. Both the potato starch and almond meal are sitting in the freezer awaiting their next recipe.

Much like the soufflé, egg whites are folded with a chocolate mixture and baked, this time in a spring form pan. This is definitely not a soufflé though. Willan suggests that the cake is best when slightly underdone and gives a caveat that it is easy to go too far. I confess that I did not watch closely enough and over-baked. The resulting cake is cooled and served with a crème Chantilly.

The resulting cake was very crumbly. The almond meal gave it an interesting texture and flavor. Perhaps it would have been better if it had still been creamy in the center, but it seemed like it went from goopy in the middle to dry. I may attempt it again on a night with fewer distractions. The cake is supposed to firm up if it is left for a day or so, and it can keep in an airtight container for 3 days. We had leftovers the next night when our friend, Leil, came over for a little wine and The Hangover. The almond flavor was a bit more pronounced, and the crème Chantilly helped with the dryness. The description of the cake in the introductory paragraph says it can be thought of as resembling a chocolate mousse with a crisp crust. If that is the case, I think I may attempt it again.