Day 89: Braised Lamb Shanks, Mashed Potatoes with Caramelized Shallots, roasted asparagus, Spanikopita triangles, Pavlova with berries and cream, and Crème Brulée
In Lethbridge, in the dark to honour Earth Hour.
It was fantastic. I was in Lethbridge to cook and eat with the wonderful folks who were the highest bidders on a private dinner/cooking class with me that was auctioned off for the CBC Petro-Canada Food Bank Drive at Christmas. I asked what they would like to make and they were interested in learning to make fresh mozzarella – something I hadn’t done before. The process was simple but we tiptoed through it, skeptical that it was actually going to turn into cheese in the end, and it did! Although we were shocked at how little 2 L of milk produced; one handful-sized ball, which we managed to squeeze enough slices out of to make this salad layered with tomatoes and fresh basil:
Here’s how you do it:
Dissolve 1 tsp. citric acid into 2 L of cold milk (we used homo), briskly stirring it with a whisk in a largish pot. Set it over medium-low heat and warm until it reaches 100F, or just slightly warmer than body temperature. Remove from heat.
Crush 1/8 of a rennet tablet and dissolve into 2 Tbsp. cool water. Add this in a thin stream, whisking constantly, to the warmed milk. Stir for about a minute, then stop. Let it sit for 10 minutes.
Using a slotted spoon, scoop out the curds into a small microwave-safe bowl, pressing out as much of the whey as you can.
Microwave for 1 minute (this will coax out a little more whey; just pour it off) and then plop it out onto a clean countertop and start to fold and stretch it. It will be almost too hot to handle, but will cool to warm quickly. Pull and stretch it until it’s smooth, then shape into a ball and put in a bowl of cold water until firm.
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 1/2 tsp. cornstarch
6 large egg whites
1 tsp. white vinegar
1/2 tsp. vanilla
fresh raspberries, blueberries, blackberries, and/or sliced strawberries, peaches, plums, apricots, kiwi or fruit salsa made with any combination of finely chopped fruit – strawberries, kiwi and mango looks and tastes great
Preheat oven to 250° F and line two large baking sheets with foil or parchment. Stir the cornstarch into the sugar. In a large bowl, beat the egg whites with an electric mixer until soft peaks form. Gradually add the sugar, beating until the mixture holds stiff, glossy peaks, like shaving cream. Beat in the vinegar and vanilla.
To make one large Pavlova, spoon the meringue onto the baking sheet and spread out with the bottom of a spoon to form a 9”-10” circle with a slight indent in the middle and raised edges, like a nest. To make individual Pavlovas, spoon small mounds (about a tablespoon of meringue) about half an inch apart on the baking sheet, then make little indents in the middle using the tip of a teaspoon. Bake for an hour, until crisp but still soft inside.
Let the meringues cool on the sheets, then peel them off the foil. To serve, top with a dollop of whipped cream or curd, and berries or fruit salsa. Makes 40 pavlova.
Crème brulée has an unshakable reputation as the penultimate fancy dessert, one you can guage the quality of a restaurant based on, and one uncommonly made at home. But truly, it is one of the simplest desserts you can make. All you do is whisk together egg yolks, sugar and cream, pour it into cups, and bake it. At Williams-Sonoma they have 1 L tetra packs of crème brulée for something like $22, and I’m constantly gobsmacked every time I go in there and see people buying them by the basketload. That’s the easy part! If there’s any trick to it, it’s baking the custards in a water bath and bruléeing the surface, but even that part is easy – you don’t need to have a torch (although it is fun), all you need to do is scatter the surface with sugar and run it under the broiler for a minute or two. Because they are chilled before this part, this is the ideal make-ahead dessert if you’re making a special dinner.
5 large egg yolks
6 Tbsp. sugar
2 cups heavy (whipping) cream or 18% coffee cream
1/2 tsp. good-quality vanilla (I used Madagascar vanilla bean paste, in which you can see the teeny seeds from the vanilla pod)
sugar, for sprinkling on top
Preheat oven to 325°F. In a bowl, whisk together the egg yolks and sugar. Whisk in the cream and vanilla.
Divide among 6 small ramekins, and put them into a roasting pan or 9″x13″ pan; pour water in so that the water comes about halfway up the sides of the ramekins. This will sort of insulate them so that they cook gently and evenly.
Bake for about 40 minutes, until the custards are set but still just slightly jiggly in the middle (you’ll get a feel for this!). Take them out, let them cool and then refrigerate for a few hours or overnight, until nice and cold.
Sprinkle an even layer of sugar over each dish and caramelize with a torch or transfer to a cookie sheet and place under the broiler in the oven for about 2 minutes, just until the sugar is caramelized and golden. Turn the sheet around if you need to to help them caremelize evenly. Refrigerate again, or just let them sit on the countertop while you eat dinner or make coffee, just until the sugar is set and crackly.
The drive home was longer than I anticipated, having blithely missed some turn at Fort McLeod and not realized it until I reached Pincher Creek. After turning around, driving back to F.M. and then finding highway #2 North, a snowstorm hit that lasted the entire drive back (almost 2 hours) to Calgary – it was one of those storms that makes you feel like you’re driving through an asteroid field, making it impossible to tell how fast you’re going or how far away that rig is in front of you.
But totally worth it.