Wednesday, May 23, 2007

cake testing, yet another batch of ice cream

Today I went to the Berkeley Farmers Market. It was interesting. Someone gave me blueberries (I think it's the same people who do the Ferry Building market) and they were different. Which is to say, they weren't really like Maine blueberries, which is what the reference point should be. It's possible they just really weren't all that ready to be picked yet, because they weren't very sweet. They rolled around kind of funny in my mouth, more tart than sweet, less like something I think of as blueberry and more like something strange.

While buying up carrots and onion for my excellent dinner, I was persuaded to buy some lovely looking basil from Full Belly Farm, as well as a bunch of lemon verbena. And I noticed they're actually selling lamb's quarters. Making a profit off their weeds. Seeing that made me nostalgic for farm living, and coupled with the blueberry interaction I pouted for the East Coast for a little while.

When I got home, I stripped the verbena leaves and infused a milk-cream mixture for ice cream base, to be made and possibly churned tomorrow. I used the veggies for a really excellent dinner courtesy of one of Rick Bayless's cookbooks. Chicken thighs with pickled jalapenos, onions and carrots. The colors were kind of flat, adn it smelled rather strongly of vinegar, so I was unenthused, but the food turned out to be great. Not perfect chicken, but damn good chicken. The broth was all oily and fatty, the veggies were tender. I'd only used oregano, allspice, salt and pepper but with the jalapenos it was all very spicy and flavorful in a nice, organic way. I picked two thighs apart. They were really well with the crispy skillet-fried zaatar potatoes I made. I ate until I was stuffed and happy and then I set about cleaning my room.

I also whipped up a batch of the troublesome polenta cake, using half semolina and half polenta. This cake was on the menu twice at Sonsie during my tenure there and I'm not sure where my boss got it, only thatit always gave him--or me--a lot of trouble. In his blueberry version, we could never get it out of the pan. In the orange version, it also sucked getting it out of the pan, but the cakes were shriveled and anemic looking and generally ugly. Here is the 9 inch polenta-semolina cake, a hybrid. I spent so many days stirring that pot of milk over the tiny range in the prep kitchen, getting in everyone's way while I waited for the flour to thicken. Now I like my version better. It's grittier, and when unadorned almost breakfast-like. I'm serving it, currently, with anise cream and candied rhubarb but I can see re-introducing it with blackberries or stewed stone fruits. I like how it cracks in the center, how serious it looks while baking, big belly puffed up before falling. It's an eggy, light cake with an unexpected corn grit, and it isn't very sweet. It's a good basic for something a bit unexpected, a bit homey. It's incredibly moist and goes well with loads of things. For some reason Michael always paired it with panna cotta but I really don't think I'd do the same.

Semolina Cake, Revised
2 c. milk
1 vanilla bean
1/2 c. sugar
3 heaping T semolina
3 heaping T polenta
3 eggs, separated
2 oz. butter, soft

Bring milk + vanilla to boil. Stir in sugar, semolina and polenta and cook over high heat until mixture thickens considerably. Best if it pulls away from the side of the pan in a clean motion. Remove from heat and temper into egg yolks. Add butter. Cool over ice bath. When cool, whip the whites and fold these into the batter. Pour into 9 inch pan and bake at 350 for 45 minutes or until tester is clean.

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