A brief statement of purpose

There are already about a billion food blogs, so what might be a justification of yet another one, and who am I to do it?

What I aim to do in this blog is more than simply provide recipes. While recipes of my own will, in fact, be posted, some of the blog will consist of a variety of comments about restaurants and their practices, food preparation tips, personal annoyances (such as loud restaurants and the epidemic of misspellings on menus), and whatever else pops into my head relating to what we put in our mouths (and swallow, I hasten to add). The whole thing is meant to be somewhat provocative. I hope, if nothing else, it won't be boring. I, of course, solicit reader participation.

As for who I am and why I think I might have something to contribute to public discussions on this essential and pleasurable activity - eating - you'll have to click here.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Tomato aspic, with scallops or not

Here is an easy and refreshing recipe. I should say putting it all together is easy, but unmolding it sometimes isn’t. It’s a throwback to the 1950s and 1960s, and sure enough it was my mother who made it during that era. Her version was very simple, so I’ve attempted to update it a bit with goat cheese instead of cream cheese and a couple of other ingredients not typically found in kitchens of five decades ago. Yes, it conjures up visions of jello with miniature marshmallows and molded salads found even today at Lutheran Church basement suppers. But it tastes nothing like such items.

I remembered the small metal molds with fluted sides which she used, so I went in search of them in local cookware stores. When I described to sales people what I was looking for and why, it was as though I had stepped out of a time capsule from an era completely alien to them . They had never heard of tomato aspics; nor had they any recollection of having such molds in stock. These sales people weren’t young; they were somewhere around forty or fifty years of age, I would guess. I concluded that the boundary between remembering aspics and having no memory of them must be somewhere past the half-century mark in terms of years lived thus far. (Parenthetically – that’s why you see parentheses here – I just saw what certainly appeared to be a tomato aspic in an Oprah Winfrey cookbook. Draw your own conclusions.)

I accepted failure in my quest and used instead 4-ounce ramekins, liberally sprayed with non-stick cooking spray. They worked fine, although, as I mentioned, the aspics exhibited a certain reluctance to leave their little houses. More about that later.

This recipe isn’t an example of haute cuisine. I just find it a nice change from ordinary salads, and it’s quite versatile in the sense that its components can be changed about. For example, use other kinds of soft cheese if you don’t want goat cheese. The various flavors of Boursin are good. Toss in some chopped black olives (real ones, not “pizza” black olives). Mince some celery leaves. Place a barely poached sea scallop in the center of the mold. I did this in an earlier version, and it was quite good.

The number of servings the following amount makes is to a large extent a function of the size of the ramekin-molds you use. Four-ounce molds will give you four individual servings.

1 12-ounce can of Spicy V-8 Juice
About 3 oz goat cheese, cut into small pieces
1 package of gelatin
3 Tbs red wine vinegar, or 2 Tbs vinegar and 1 Tbs water
Minced fresh basil (fresh tarragon would be a good alternative)
A couple of minced scallions, white parts
1 Tbs Worcestershire Sauce (or less)
Paprika, however much you want

1. Sprinkle the gelatin in a bowl with the vinegar or vinegar-water combination. Wait ten    minutes for it to soften.
2. Warm the juice in a saucepan, and remove it from the burner.
3. Put the gelatin and vinegar mixture in the warmed juice and mix. Pour this into a bowl.
4. Put the rest of the ingredients in the bowl and mix. Don’t smash the cheese pieces – i.e.- allow the pieces to maintain some of their structural integrity; otherwise, it’ll cloud the finished product and will look more pink than deep red.
5. Pour the mixture into the prepared molds, and place the molds in the refrigerator overnight . . . unless you’re doing all this at 6:00am and you intend to consume the aspic at dinner.

Now, as far as unmolding is concerned, here’s what I do: First, I run a thin knife around the edge (the sides) of the molds, so now only the bottom of the mold (the top of the aspic once it’s on the plate) is stuck. I then place the ramekins in a larger bowl filled with enough hot water to cover the bottom. Then I wait. It’s taken around five minutes, I think. You’ll just have to test them by picking up one and jiggling it and listening for movement indicating the aspic has broken free of its gelatinous bondage. The photograph shows an aspic resting on a bed of light salad greens, with a couple of basil leaves on top. Watercress would be even better as a bed for the aspic.

At noted above, a nice additional touch involves gently poaching four sea scallops – not bay or calico scallops – and placing them in the middle of each mold. Do not overcook them; the heat from the aspic mixture will cook them a bit more.

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