Restaurant dishes

Take on challenging restaurant dishes at home

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I’m confident in the kitchen, but there are a few dishes I never considered making at home. Always up for a challenge, last month I gave myself one that seemed doubly difficult: I would cook not one but two difficult dishes — the kind I thought you could only find in restaurants — to the first time. And I would do it for dinner.

First, at least in terms of preparation: Baked Alaska. It’s really just a fancy ice cream cake, but it’s packed with drama that culminates in approaching guests around your table wearing a shimmering white dome of French meringue, accented with charred peaks because you just pull an ice cream cake out of a 500- degree oven. Baked Alaska uses seven ingredients, six of which are purchased, and takes about 24 hours to prepare. What? Who has time? Who has the patience? And is it worth it? I was about to find out.

According to tradition, Baked Alaska made its debut in 1867 at Antoine’s restaurant in New Orleans. Chef-owner Antoine Alciatore created it to celebrate the recent acquisition of the new territory of Alaska by the United States from the Russian Empire. Finding a recipe I wanted to use was easier than I thought – there it is, on the Food Network app on my phone. There was even a video.

It’s not complicated, just a mix of two flavors of ice cream, plus sorbet, cookie crumbs, store-bought pound cake, and a meringue finish. I had never made meringue before and thought it would be tricky. It turned out, like the rest of the recipe, you just have to be patient.

The evening started with the Valencian paella.

I studied Spanish in school and have visited Spain several times, for business and pleasure. There, I fell in love with the Valencian paella. A rice-based dish originating in the coastal city of Valencia, where fresh seafood and meat are abundant, it has several popular variations – some with seafood, some without; some with rabbit, a traditional main ingredient. I searched online and found a recipe to my liking, although I knew it would need a little tweaking.

The paella had seemed beyond my abilities at home, for several reasons. First of all, I don’t own a paella pan, which is really just an oversized pan, so I decided to use the biggest pan I have at home. First barrier removed.

Now we have to talk about saffron, arguably an essential ingredient in paella. It not only brings deep floral notes to the dish, but it gives the rice a gorgeous golden color. Finding saffron in local stores proved difficult, but I eventually discovered the last bottle of expensive, hand-picked crocus flower stamens at Four Seasons Natural Foods in Saratoga Springs.

I’m happy to report that, like Baked Alaska, making Valencian paella really wasn’t tricky. It involved several steps that, when followed in order, resulted in a perfectly balanced main course and proved that I didn’t need to wait for dinner out – or a trip to Spain, tempting as that might be. appear – to take it back.

For seafood, I went to Moby Rick’s in Saratoga. Although the recipe called for three-quarters of a pound of mussels (about 18), I threw in a full pound. Who doesn’t love plump mussels popping out of steaming rice? I also bought prawns larger than expected at 13-15 per pound, knowing they would shrink a bit during cooking, and wanted them to be prominent in the paella.

In Spain, short-grain bomba or calasparra rice is standard in paella, but my recipe said to use Arborio, named after a town in Italy’s Po Valley. It’s also a short-grain rice, and if Italians can use it for 200 years in risotto, why couldn’t I use it in paella?

In another change, the original recipe called for links of chorizo, the slightly spicy and tangy Spanish sausage, but I used ground chorizo ​​from Saunder’s Farm in Greenwich, available at the Spa City Farmers Market. It may not have been traditional, but I think it helped the sausage spread more evenly. Inside were also tomatoes, onions, capers and cilantro. The result was a nutritious, deeply flavored and visually impressive feast that wowed my family and friends.

We drizzled it with a delicious Spanish albarino wine, using crusty bread to soak up the last remaining saffron flavors in the paella pan. And then came Baked Alaska. From the looks on my guests’ faces when I introduced her, I knew I had made it. Valencian paella is hard to top, but Baked Alaska won the night.

Does an ice cream cake born in New Orleans named after a state 4,000 miles to the north make sense alongside a seafood and rice dish eaten in Spain since A millenium ? That’s an argument for another time. What I do know is that it was an exceptional festive meal to punctuate the end of the summer.

It also boosted my self-confidence as a home cook. Now here’s my challenge for you: choose two or three dishes that you’ve been intimidated to make at home. Invite guests. If something fails, open more wine and burst out laughing. If everything is a disaster, call for takeout. But I don’t think that will happen. And if you’re really proud of the result, send me pictures. I could feature them and your story on my blog.

Ralph Elwell of Saratoga Springs writes the Ordinary Cook blog, cook-ordinary.com. You can follow him on Instagram: @ralph_the_ordinary_cook.


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