Tuesday, May 08, 2007

No Coulis for Me!

Fancy chefs have mostly gotten over this by now, but the managers of banquet halls and "casual dining" restaurants haven't gotten the memo: Enough with the coulis already!

I understand the principle here: A drizzle of raspberry covers a multitude of sins. Dry chocolate cake? Coulis! Colorless panna cotta? Coulis! Huge slab of bland cheesecake? Coulis!

For those of us who are not big fans of the raspberry to begin with, this is sheer torture. In fact, the coulis has become so standard that many menus neglect to mention its presence at all, thus denying a polite, if fanatically coulis-averse diner from requesting that it be omitted. And it is the height of churlishness to send back a dessert due to unannounced drizzle. (Not that I haven't been tempted.) But nothing is sadder than the pure joy of a slice of chocolate cake tainted by overly sweet, radioactive red raspberry drizzle.

So...enough! We unhappy few shan't be trod upon any longer. Stand up for your right to a coulis-free dessert! Join my Anti-Coulis Crusade, small and quixotic thought it may be. Adorn your blog with one of my logos (below) and boldly speak up in restaurants: "No Coulis for me."

Just think what the world could have been like if great men had devoted themselves to a topic that truly mattered, like coulis:

Martin Luther King, Jr.:
I have a dream that my four little desserts will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their drizzle but by the content of their character.

Karl Marx:
A spectre is haunting American restaurants—the spectre of coulis.

The Anti-Coulis Crusaders disdain to conceal their views and aims. They openly declare that their ends can be attained only by the forcible overthrow of all existing patisserie conventions. Let the ruling classes tremble at an dessert revolution. The proletarians have nothing to lose but their coulis. They have a world to win.

Students for a Democratic Society at Port Huron:
We are people of this generation, bred in at least modest comfort, housed now in universities, looking uncomfortably at the desserts before us.

The American Founders:
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all eaters are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the freedom from raspberry drizzle. That to secure these rights, restaurants are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the eaters, — That whenever any dessert service becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the Eaters to alter or to abolish it.

If you care to join my tiny, pointlessly furious anti-coulis campaign, feel free to steal my big logo, the shrunken version at bottom, or use this little guy:

Sunday, May 06, 2007

Braised Bok Choy

This recipe is worth a trip to Chinatown. Of course, I am a woman who will seize virtually any reason to go to Chinatown. A dim sum run is my excuse of choice, but I've been known to head out because the freezer seems kind of empty (frozen dumplings are a staple in our household), when I get a craving for a particular kind of tea with preserved lemons, because I need to get a housewarming gift for someone (a set of bowls from a cheap Chinatown supply shop is always a good choice), or just because I have nothing better to do on a Sunday.

Once there, of course, a bagful of cheap veggies is a must. On a recent trip, an old women was unloading a box of the tiniest bok choy I have ever seen. You've heard of baby bok choy? These were fetus bok choy, or potentially blastocyst bok choy. I was standing there with my plastic bag, trying to make a decision when she appeared with hands full. The decision was made. I opened my bag, and from her two hands fell 12 perfect specimens.

The recipe below couldn't be simpler. The original recipe, from Nigella's Forever Summer, calls for Boston butter or little gems lettuces. I made it once with lettuce, and wasn't bowled over. But when Nigella insists on something, it stays with you. And this version with bok choy is divine.

Braised Bok Choy
Inspired by Nigella's "Braised Little Gems"

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

In a roasting pan or baking dish, lay in tidy rows:
12 tiny bok choy (this probably wouldn't work with anything much bigger than what I described above. For scale, the pan pictured is 9 by 16 inches.)

Pour over:
2-3 cups chicken stock

Drizzle on:
3 Tablespoons olive oil

Sprinkle on:
2 teaspoons dried thyme, or the leaves from a small handful of fresh thyme sprigs
Lots of salt and pepper

Cover tightly with foil and bake for 40 minutes, or until stalks are tender. Serve with almost anything.

Note: Save the stock. I used it for an outstanding matzo ball soup the following night. The herbal, green taste of the leafy bok choy infused the stock, and the mellow thyme balanced out the fresh dill I sprinkled directly into the soup.

Tibetan Momo, or Yak Dumplings

Tibetans love their yaks. ToastMom's recent trip to China featured a stop in Tibet where she claims she was nearly drowned in something called yak butter tea, a horrifying salty tea drink with butter made from yaks' milk churned into it. Far more delicious, though, are these traditional Tibetan dumplings, momo (or མོག་མོག, if you happen to read Tibetan).

Nepal also lays claim to these tasty dumplings, and I first tried them at a Nepalese/Himalayan restaurant in Washington, now closed. Their warm-spiced filling and slightly fluffy skins have haunted me every since. Once I had actual yak in hand, another craving hit. It seemed serendipitous, so I made my first ever foray into dough production in an effort to recreate the magic.

This is, of course, part three of ToastPoint's exotic meat series:

Tibetan Momo

First make the dough. Combine in a large mixing bowl:
3 cups flour
3/4 cup water
pinch baking soda

Mix the dough until crumbly, then use your hands to knead the dough into a coherent ball. Add additional water 1 Tablespoon at a time as necessary if dough refuses to cohere. When a ball has been formed, cover the dough with a damp cloth and let it rest from about an hour.

Meanwhile, make the filling. Combine:
1 yak rib eye steak, approx 1 lb., trimmed of fat and minced (ground or minced beef would work, too)
1 medium onion, finely chopped
1 small handful cilantro, chopped
1/4 teaspoon powdered ginger
1/8 teaspoon cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon cumin
2 cloves garlic, finely minced or microplaned
1 Tablespoon soy sauce
2 Tablespoons oil

Let this mixture rest for the remainder of the hour. When the dough is ready, remove it from the bowl, knead it for another minute or two, then divide it into 1 inch diameter balls. Roll the balls between your hands, then flatten them into 4 inch circles. I used a rolling pin dusted with a little flour, but some recipes prefer momo skins made by patting each ball of dough flat with your hands. Your call. Put 1 Tablespoon of yak filling in the middle of the skin, then fold the skin in half and pinch the edges to seal them, making semicircular dumplings.

Put the dumplings into a steamer lined with a cabbage leaf or lightly oiled to prevent sticking, like the bamboo version pictured above. Steam for 20 minutes. Eat with soy sauce or jarred chili sauce for dipping.

For a hilariously weird version of this recipe, visit the website of Momo Tours.