Garam Masala is subtle. No one would mistake this for curry. It’s more like a warm summer welcome that announces the flavor of scallops and corn, hands you a drink and a fork, and then gets out of the way.
For your consideration: Po’s Easy Pots de Crème. Po is my mother-in-law and she is a master of complicated dinner party timing. None of the slatternly boozing it up with the help in the kitchen that characterizes entertaining chez nous. She’s all guests-in-one-place, cooks-in-another, and the brevity of a host’s absence from her guests only redounds to her reputation for efficient culinary management. Ninety-percent of this recipe is “Place all of the ingredients… in a blender.” Not that you’d know it from the taste and texture. Remember how the genie in Disney’s ALADDIN describes his life? “ALL THE POWER OF THE UNIVERSE… in a teeny little space.” That’s this dessert.
When did asparagus start to look like it grew up down creek from the leaky nuke plant? Once upon a time all bundles of asparagus resembled packs of Ticonderoga #2’s, except they were green instead of school bus yellow, and tipped with terminal buds instead of pink erasers. And thin. Thinner than pencils. Not these Asparagus with Horseradish Cream, Chervil and Honey. These guys are hefty, but by today’s standards they’re mid-size. Larger examples abound, at least at our local WFM. Blame France–they started it. A handful of Februaries ago, in a more innocent age of asparagus, I was strolling through the open air market near Bastille with a Parisian friend when she paused before a box of giant asparagus, not yet widespread in the US. Gargantuan and lavender. She pincered a particularly fat one with two fingers, cocked an eyebrow upward as she examined it and then said, “C’est genial, ceci.” Nice, this one. Nice embraces a variety of meanings, but for purposes of this post I’m going to take it to mean delicious. After eating some I had to agree and since then, I’ve grown to prefer big asparagus. Once you get past the, uh, big factor there’s more there there, more asparagus flavor. Thin asparagus are the vegetable analog to spare ribs. Crazy delicious, but you need to eat a wheelbarrow of them before you cry, “Enough!” With the new Schwarzenegger stalks the crazy delicious remains, but embodied in fewer stalks to snap and peel (if you’re the snapping-peeling type) and, since asparagus are finger food, sigh, less opportunity to dribble sauce down your front.
In his brilliant maritime novels set during the Napoleonic wars the English writer Patrick O’Brian was ruthlessly accurate about the handling of square-rigged sailing ships and the social relations in the British navy. In order to keep readers from feeling completely adrift O’Brian, whom the NYT Book Review dubbed “Jane Austen at sea,” often had his sea-wise characters explain details of shipboard life to landlubbers who had wandered into the story. Those new to cuisine afloat soon learned, for example, that chowder and the dreaded “portable soup”* were thickened with hardtack lest the liquid slosh out of the bowl and onto the diner. Hardtack, sailors then cheerfully pointed out, was infested with worms, nicknamed “bargemen,” after their resemblance atop the crackers in the soup, to pilots steering captain’s barges from one side of the bowl to the other. In MASTER AND COMMANDER, O’Brian has a character contemplate his soup with its infested crackers and then observe, “Don’t you know that in the Navy one must always choose the lesser of two weevils. Oh ha, ha, ha, ha!”
You’re either on board with this kind of humor or you’re not. If you’re not, you can console yourself with today’s post, Corn and Mussel Chowder. Oh ha, ha, ha, ha!
This is the easiest elegant dish you will ever make. Seared char with creamed spinach and sorrel. Despite my French introduction to cooking I’m not a fan of the just-add-butter-and-cream approach to life on the stove top. It’s too easy to lapse into a dish whose primary flavors are cream and butter rather than the ingredients you brought home from the store. Nevertheless, there are combinations that ask for butter and cream. Salmon, spinach and sorrel is one of them.