Wednesday, 30 November 2011

Thanksgiving Break 2011, Part III: Southfield

Out of (now) tradition, the Friday after Thanksgiving is a special time to hang out with friends on one of the most commercial days of them all. Arguably still tired from the tryptophan and late night following a day of food festivities, the early morning caffeine fuel was in full force and clearly apparent at the shopping centers, with adrenaline kicking in at the sight of a great holiday deal. I eventually made it to the evening hours (midday I had brunch with Tom and Hua, two classmates and lifelong friends since grade school) and was presented with an interesting cooking opportunity. Having never cooked with Hua before, but knowing of his shared appreciation for the tv series, "Friends," I set forth to create a special dessert befitting this time of the year.


Perhaps you already know which dish I'm referring to, but if not, take a look at the video above (better version here).

As I worked on the dessert (which I will get to in a bit), Hua took on the appetizer and entrée. For the appetizer, we went to Italy in a toasted bruschetta topping of 1/2 diced white onion, a diced medium tomato and a fresh basil blend with garlic, mixed into ricotta cheese.

For the entrée, Hua got a pot of water boiling (in which he cooked spiral pasta) as he worked on the sauce. First he crisped up a pound of bacon and then browned three sweet Italian sausage links. After crumbling the cooked meat, he heated milk and heavy cream; into this he melted shredded cheese and two packages of cream cheese. Once thoroughly melted, he added back in the bacon and sausage, reserving some of the bacon as the garnish. To this combined (now) cream cheese sauce, he added the pasta, and then salt and ground black pepper to taste.

When Hua and I went to the grocery store to look for ingredients, one of the important components of the dessert (used in two of the layers mentioned in the above clip) was unavailable. To that end, I decided to make them: homemade ladyfingers. The ingredients, pictured at the top of this post, are quite common ones; know that it is the process which involves a more technical approach. [This being said, I'd like to preface the following by saying this proposed process comes as the result of two attempts--I over baked them the first time--at making the ladyfingers and a learned knowledge of what the process should be.] Combining this more involved process and this simpler list of ingredients, begin by either lining a baking sheet with parchment or lightly greasing and flouring the baking sheet. On top of this, using flour, make a series of parallel lines about an inch apart. Though definitely not perfect the second time around as demonstrated above, the idea is to use the flour as a border for the ladyfingers. The batter itself is rather runny and so the flour keeps that batter in place as it bakes. For smaller ladyfingers (as you'll soon see, I just broke them into the size I wanted), or for different shapes, simply arrange the flour into the shape you'd like. Not preparing the pan correctly will eventually make you create something like this; the batter sticks to the pan and the cookie is difficult to lift.

Once your pan is ready, it's time to begin making the batter. First, separate into two bowls four whole eggs. To the bowl of egg yolks, whisk in 1/2 c granulated sugar, and continuing whisking until the mixture is pale yellow and has tripled in volume; if you have vanilla extract, now would be the time to add 1 tsp. Next, sift together 7/8 c all purpose flour, 1/2 tsp baking powder and a pinch of salt. Combine very well the egg yolk mixture to the flour mixture. Take note that not whisking the eggs and sugar together and allowing it to triple will result in a crumbled dough rather than a batter as shown above.

At this point, whisk the egg whites until they form soft peaks. Working with the egg whites first could easily result in them eventually deflating and/or separating as you work with the yolks. When the egg whites are ready, fold them into the ladyfinger batter, working quickly (so the whites don't deflate) but carefully (again, the batter will be rather runny). Get the batter into a piping bag (I went with a plastic storage bag) and pipe out the ladyfingers onto the prepared baking sheet(s) and into a preheated 350 °F oven for eight minutes or until golden brown.

The actual homemade component as listed in the above clip is custard and for this, I went with an adaptation of Jamie Oliver's recipe; as tonight's dessert would certainly be a test dessert, I only made 1/4 of the aforementioned custard recipe. If the above ingredients look rather familiar, they should. Not only are they basic baking ingredients, but they (and the following process) are quite similar to items used in making flan. Begin by heating together 1/2 c each whole milk and heavy cream with 1 tbsp granulated sugar. In a small bowl, beat two egg yolks with 1/2 tbsp granulated sugar and 1 tsp vanilla extract. When the milk-cream mixture starts to bubble along the perimeter of the pot, turn off the heat and whisk in 1/4 of the mixture to the yolks (i.e., temper the yolks). Whisk in this mixture into the pot and allow everything to cook on medium heat, stiring constantly with a wooden spoon. When the back of the spoon is coated by the (now) custard, it's ready to serve. For the purposes of this dessert, transfer the custard to a bowl and get it in the fridge so that it is cool when it's time to assemble everything.

For the next preparation component, sauté 1/2 diced white onion in a few teaspoons of vegetable oil. To this, add 1 lb ground beef and cook together until browned. Once cooked, add enough frozen peas at a meat to pea ratio of about 5:1, and continue cooking until the peas are defrosted and tender. As all of this is cooking, prepare the final dessert component by whisking 1 c heavy cream and a few tablespoons powdered sugar to taste.

 With everything finally finished, it's time to layer the "traditional" English trifle (again, view the clip above if you haven't already to better understand the rationale for mixing together the English trifle and shepherd's pie ingredients). In all actuality, there really is no great way to present this hodgepodge of flavours (the above photo is of my best attempt), but as mad as it may sound, this dessert isn't as terrible as it is seemingly foreign. The custard made from scrach strangely goes well with the beef sautéed with peas and onions, the raspberries pair well with the freshly whipped cream, and the bananas go well with the jam (here, we used lingonberry). Together, however... well, let's just say I may only remake this for the next diehard "Friends" fan. For the complete album, including the layering process, click here.

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