Borscht, scallops and succotash, and gingerbread trifle

Building the trifle. I have put down the first layer of gingerbread cubes in the bowl on the right, which will be covered with the lemon curd mixture and blackberry sauce on the left, then more gingerbread...

The mostly complete trifle.

Borscht. Check out that color!

Succotash and scallops.

Very soon after having moved to Philadelphia, I made the following meal: borscht, scallops with succotash, and gingerbread trifle.

This was my first meal in a new kitchen, so I thought I’d go with something simple. Borscht is a delicious beet soup with the typical awesome magenta beet color, and it’s pretty easy to make. The only time-consuming thing is boiling the beets, which takes quite a while.

(On an unrelated sidenote, according to the Wikipedia article there are apparently other types of borscht that involve tomatoes or sorrel. Amazingly, sour cream, which is a typical borscht ingredient, reacts with the molecules in sorrel that cause a sour taste, neutralizing them.)

Succotash is a mixture of vegetables such as corn, lima beans, and zucchini; scallops are sauteed for a few minutes and served on top. The first time I made this I used jumbo scallops, which are quite large but which are also extremely expensive. This time, I just used small ones.

Dessert was the most complicated piece, as it often is, because it is the most important. (I am only half-joking).

In general, a trifle is “a dessert dish made from… custard, fruit, sponge cake, fruit juice or gelatin, and whipped cream”, arranged in layers (Wikipedia). In this case, the trifle is made from lemon curd, gingerbread baked from scratch, and a blackberry sauce.

The flavors go really well together. You get the sweetness of the gingerbread first, which is balanced by the lemon curd, and finally the tart blackberry sauce hits you. As time goes on, the flavors and textures come together even more. This is very similar to banana pudding, which I would argue is also a kind of trifle.

Eight courses

2: Gravlax, cucumber jelly and crackers.

4: Carrot and ginger soup.

5: Coq au vin!

7: Cheese.

8: Banana cardamom ice cream, kiwi sorbet, and honey cookies.

I have many times in the past made 3 course dinners, and a few times I’ve also gotten to 5.

But, fairly soon I won’t be able to spend as much time cooking. So, I thought, why not go for 7? (I later increased this to 8). It took me about three or four days of solid cooking, but overall it went well. Why yes, I am unemployed…

Below is what I served; I made everything from scratch, with only a couple of minor exceptions.

  1. Amuse: Parmesan cracker cones with pea-mint sorbet. These came off alright. I wrapped the parmesan crackers around molds as they cooled, to make small trumpets. I don’t know if I’d make this again, though, something about the texture of the crackers always disappoints.
  2. Appetizer: Cured trout gravlax with cucumber jelly and crackers. See followup entry here.
  3. Salad: Blackberry salad with flowers. Link is to my previous entry on this.
  4. Soup: Carrot ginger soup. This was delicious. This is the first thing I’ve made where I more or less ignored the recipe in order to produce something that tasted really good, and I’m glad I did.
  5. Chicken: Coq au vin. I’ve made this a few times, it’s another great example of the wonderfulness of braising. It makes a good case for the wonderfulness of bacon and red wine, also. I left the chicken in a bit long and it sort of fell apart; need to remember to be more careful here, if you overcook meat and vegetables they still taste good but you lose the texture.
  6. Intermezzo: Marshmallows. See followup entry here.
  7. Cheese: Munster, a raw milk blue, and a cheddar together with grapes and homemade beet jam. See followup entry here.
  8. Dessert: Banana/cardamom/honey ice cream and kiwi sorbet, together with soft honey crackers. These were a great combination; I wanted to serve this together with a coconut-based ice cream (about which I will also be writing an entry soon) but it didn’t work out. I learned that sorbet needs to be eaten within a couple hours after it’s churned, otherwise it starts losing its texture and becomes unpalatably icy in the freezer.

This was a great experience overall, and taught me some important lessons about food timing. One of those lessons, however, is that many things can be made in advance without losing flavor, as long as they are stored carefully. I would add that, having now made this many courses for one dinner, 3 seems like nothing! (For the curious, by the way, we spread these courses out over about 5 hours of eating.)

Raita-Marinated Salmon, and Succotash

A few weeks ago, I made honey-mustard-glazed salmon. My girlfriend said, “you know what would be good? Salmon marinated in raita.”

For those who don’t know, raita is an extremely refreshing mint/cucumber/yogurt sauce that’s often served with certain types of Indian food. I decided to serve this salmon with some succotash, which doesn’t have a recipe as far as I’m concerned – I usually take a bunch of corn, and sautee it with a little basil, cider vinegar, garlic, onion, and tomato, and a whole bunch of other vegetables ad libitum. I used zucchini, carrots and celery because that’s what I had.

That Wikipedia articles says that succotash is supposed to involve corn and beans as a foundation, I guess this makes sense since that I believe that would make succotash a complete protein.

Can we talk about complete proteins for a second? Wikipedia says that “a complete protein (or whole protein) is a source of protein that contains an adequate proportion of all of the essential amino acids for the dietary needs of humans or other animals.” Typically, this is eggs, meat, dairy, etc. This is also a few very rare grains (e.g. quinoa) or vegetables.

You can also make complete proteins, however, by combining two of (a) a grain, (b) a legume, (c) a nut. This combination “explains” in some way a lot of the basic dishes in many cultures. For example, beans and rice. Or corn tortillas and beans. Or beans and toast (English breakfast). Or hummus (chickpeas and sesame seeds). I find it fascinating that humans appeared to have discovered many of these combinations well before understanding their nutritional basis. Others might find it unsurprising!

Anyway, back to the recipe description. So I made the succotash. To try to make it go with the salmon a bit better, I added a little mint and cumin too. This didn’t taste bad, but it was  little strange. I also am not a big cumin fan, so I’ll probably leave that out of the raita next time I make it.

In addition to the succotash and salmon, I also made some more polenta. I am getting hooked on this stuff – really easy to make, and very tasty if you make it with stock. It has one major drawback, which is that when heated it gets very nerflike in texture. You have to spend a lot of time reheating it in a pan, and as far as I can tell also adding some water, to get its original creamy texture back.

Watermelon curry and mustard-glazed salmon

Preparing the watermelon curry.

The complete dish.

A couple of days ago I made watermelon curry, with cucumber, on a bed of rice with cinnamon and raisins, together with this mustard-glazed salmon. Everything went together well because it was all rather sweet. Though I had never thought of watermelon as a savory ingredient before, it also worked pretty well in that role.