Friday, February 18, 2011

Mama Metafora's Salad Dressing, Armenian Potato Salad, and wonderful Volcano Cake


I’m not sure why everyone asks for this dressing after eating one of our tossed green salads – it’s a version of my Mother's wonderful dressing! - using a simple basically Mediterranean recipe: For a salad serving four, use juice from half a lemon and/or half a lime adding up to a tablespoon, add a half a teaspoon or so of vinegar (apple or wine vinegar, for flavor); mix in a half teaspoon of salt (and if you’d like a split garlic clove, to be removed before pouring over the salad); then add four tablespoons of extra-virgin olive oil. The proportion, in other words, is one to four, for us, or if you would like a more acidic dressing, one to three. Our salad consists of two or three types of lettuce, arugula if available, tomatoes (when good), torn basil, and if you wish, avocado, some chopped parsley (and sometimes chopped fresh basil and/or mint) and sliced cucumber.


This is a very simple potato salad, consisting of only potatoes, a lemony dressing, and parsley. Made without mayo, it is extremely picnic-/warm weather-friendly. I am always amazed at how popular this simple recipe is – great with bar-b-cued chicken or lamb or spareribs. There is a secret to the preparation, which I’ll tell you before you start. As soon as you drain the potatoes, you put the dressing on; that way the flavor is absorbed by the hot potatoes – this means that the dressing must be made while the potatoes are cooking.

INGREDIENTS, part one: 9 to 10 medium waxy new potatoes (thoroughly washed, skin left on) – approximately three pounds; and 1 teaspoon salt. Cut potatoes in 1 ½ by ½ inch thick pieces. Bring water to boil, add potatoes and the teaspoon salt, bring to simmer, and partially cover (I use a large frying pan). This takes about 15 minutes, mixing around gently from time to time. Meanwhile mix the dressing.

INGREDIENTS, part two: Juice of one medium lemon (strained, almost a quarter of a cup); 1 teaspoon apple cider or wine vinegar (optional); 1 ½ teaspoons salt, dissolved in lemon juice; freshly ground pepper to taste; add to mixture a quarter of a cup of extra-virgin olive oil. When potatoes are fork tender, drain and place them in a shallow bowl. Immediately pour the dressing over the potatoes, mixing gently. Taste for salt. Let cool (chill if serving half a day later). At serving time, mix gently into the salad ½ cup finely chopped Italian (flat-leaf) parsley. Serve at room temperature.


We first had this cake with our very dear friends at JoJo’s, one of the wonderful (and more affordable) restaurants of the chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten. I would say it is probably the best chocolate dessert I’ve ever eaten. I’ve read that it might be because of the warmth of the chocolate. Something happens to chocolate when it is very warm that makes it taste even better than usual. Since then a version has been in practically every restaurant menu I’ve been to, but never as good as the first version. Soon after we ate it at JoJo’s Chef Jean-Georges happened to be on Martha Stewart’s TV show, and coincidentally he happened to make the chocolate cake we had recently eaten at his restaurant. If you want an excellent version of this dessert, I would advise you to make it yourself, with just three caveats:

1. Use GOOD quality chocolate (I use Callebaut, and Valrhona is also great; do not use chocolate chips, unless of remarkable quality).

2. Use sweet butter.

3. Watch the baking time, pulling the cakes from the oven when a quarter-size wet spot remains on top.

The recipe can be made in the morning and chilled before baking – just add a couple of minutes to the bake time. The best way to tell it is done (and still oozy in the center) is making sure the small moist spot the size of a quarter shows in the center.

INGREDIENTS: 8 tablespoons (i.e., one stick) unsalted butter – plus more for buttering the molds; 4 ounces of good dark (bittersweet) chocolate; 2 large whole eggs plus 2 large egg yolks; punch of salt; 2 teaspoons flour, plus more for dusting the molds; ¼ cup granulated sugar.

ONE: Preheat oven to 450 degrees (hot!). Butter and lightly flour four 4 ounce molds or ramekins (I use brioche molds). Tap out excess flour. TWO: Place butter and chocolate in top of double boiler, and heat until chocolate has almost completely melted. Or microwave in 40 second increments, stirring after each time. THREE: In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment (or by hand), beat together the eggs, salt, yolks, and sugar until light and thick. FOUR: Add the melted chocolate mixture, and beat to combine. Quickly beat in the flour until just combined. Divide batter evenly among the molds. FIVE: Place filled molds on a rimmed cookie sheet, and put it in the oven preheated to 450, and bake until the sides have set, but centers remain soft with wet spot visible on top – about six to seven minutes. SIX: Invert each mold onto a plate, and let rest ten seconds. Unmold by lifting up one corner of the mold using tongs; the cake will release onto the plate. Serve immediately. In restaurants, the cake is served with vanilla ice cream. These are called volcano cakes because, when eaten, some of the hot chocolate in the middle oozes out. It’s heavenly!

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