Saturday, May 3, 2008

Recent Schemes: Spills, Thrills, and Laughs

This past week my scheming was focused on a Thai-themed office party; I have to share this experience, as it ended up being rather farcical in its execution - and I would love for you to laugh with me and learn from my mistakes!

The main entrees were catered, so I focused on providing the last touches: Thai iced tea with the meal, kiwi sorbet with mint chiffonnade and ginger snaps for the dessert.

The spills of the day started after everything was heated and in place on schedule.  I had made Thai iced tea to be tested by my fellow hosts; they gave it a thumbs up, but one minute later I went to clean up the kitchen area and closed a cupboard door that spilled one of the host's tea glasses nearly on top of my head.  To my relief, the guests had not arrived yet, so we mopped up that mess without an audience - but down one glass of tea and a bit of my pride.

The luncheon got to a start without other major hitches; food disappeared from plates, tea was enjoyed (although called "Boba" by some), and dessert time approached.

I pulled the kiwi sorbet from the freezer to find it already slightly melted, but proceeded to scoop it into the chilled plastic martini glasses and garnish it with the mint chiffonnade.  The garnish covered the fact that the sorbet could not hold the shape of a scoop, and I resolved to serve the dessert with confidence so that the guests would not know that it should be otherwise.  

I walked out of the kitchen with a tray of the glasses, initially met by oohs and ahs from the guests, followed by sudden gasps as the lovely martini glasses attempted to launch themselves off the tray.  The majority settled back into place, but at least four had scattered their innards on the tray and floor: a plop of kiwi sludge here, berries and mint leaves chiffonnading over there.  I wondered why the glasses waited until that moment to take action, since I had made it safely from the kitchen already, but it has become clear to me that the plastic ware that day was campaigning to humble my food-serving ego.

In any case, the remaining desserts were served; I do believe that the ginger snaps were a success, but I avoided watching the consumption of the melted sorbet.  So, here are the recipes, with my now-experienced recommendations:

Thai Iced Tea (derived from Emeril's Food Network recipe)
6 black tea bags (Awake from Tazo Tea works)*
3/4 C sugar
6 T heavy cream
6 T sweetened condensed milk

Bring 6 C water to a boil in a kettle.  Hang the tea bags in a tea pot or glass container (I used Pyrex liquid measuring cups).  Pour the water over the tea bags and let steep until strong.  If desired, loose leaf tea may be used to make 6 C tea; in this case, tea will need to be strained once steeping is complete.  Add sugar to the hot tea and stir to dissolve (this is a lot of sugar, so you'll need to keep stirring until you can no longer see sugar in the bottom of the container). Let cool to room temperature, then cover and refrigerate until ready to serve.

At the time of serving, fill 6 tall glasses with crushed or cubed ice and pour tea evenly in the glasses.  Add 1 T cream and 1 T condensed milk to each glass.  Serve with iced-tea spoons or straws (as I did in this less-formal lunch) so that guests can stir the mixture themselves.

Beware of oddly placed glasses and enjoy one of your own!

Kiwi Sorbet (from previously mentioned Paris in a Basket)
1 C water
1 1/2 C (325 g) sugar
2 C (500 g) pureed kiwis (about 8 whole).** 
1 lemon
Chiffonnade of mint leaves and fresh berries, for garnish
No ice cream maker required

In a saucepan, bring the water and sugar to a boil.  Stir until the sugar is completely dissolved. Remove from heat.

Peel the kiwis and puree in a food processor or pass through a food mill.  Add the juice of one lemon.  Pass through a sieve to remove the seeds (a few made it through the sieve into mine, but I left them to show what fruit this was made of).

Stir the kiwi puree into the sugar-and-water syrup.  Mix until homogeneous.  Pour into a stainless-steel bowl.  Cool to room temperature, and place in the freezer.  Leave a metal fork in the bowl.  It is essential that this mixture be in a metal bowl as the process continues, as the metal bowl will become much colder in the freezer than other materials would; my sorbet was already melting when I served it because I had removed it from the metal bowl to put it into an air-tight plastic container - an unnecessary and detrimental move.  I emphasize: both make and store the sorbet in a stainless-steel bowl.

Stir after 1 hour to break down the first frozen crystals.  Repeat every 1 to 2 hours, until the sorbet is firm.  Depending on your freezer, this can take between 4 and 5 hours.  Do not forget to give it a vigorous stir at regular intervals - otherwise it will freeze up into a solid block.  If you do stir it regularly, you will see the mixture grow thicker after each interval as the ice crystals harden and get redistributed by your stirring.  This is quite satisfying if you're spending an afternoon or evening at home and can return to the mixture every hour.

To serve, keep it in the metal bowl in the freezer until the last minute, and chill the serving dishes if possible as well.  I had the sorbet in a plastic container, in an insufficient freezer, served in plastic cups, so it was destined to melt early.  Form oblong scoops by using two spoons, dipping them into hot water between scoops.  Put 2 or 3 on each dish and sprinkle with mint chiffonnade (I used mint leaves, blueberries, and sliced strawberries).

When properly frozen, this sorbet is delightfully refreshing (as my earlier tastes revealed).  Avoid unbalanced serving glasses and try to eat it on a sunny day in comfortable chairs overlooking a lake/river/ocean.

Whole Wheat Gingersnaps 
These very closely followed the Chez Panisse Gingersnaps recipe on Chocolate and Zucchini.
I will just point out a few observations/adaptations I made:
  • I only had unsalted butter, so I added 2 tsp of salt.  I did feel that the salt was a nice complement to the spices.
  • It calls for 2 small or 1 1/2 large eggs; since most of us do not buy small eggs, I would encourage you to actually use the 1 1/2 large egg measurement; it worked for me to crack one egg into a bowl and then split the yolk in half (at least what looked like 1/2 to me) and dish about half of the white and half of the yolk into the batter, along with the other whole egg.  These cookies turned out great, so I would not mess with the liquid/dry ratio!
  • I substituted whole wheat flour for approximately 3/4 of the flour called for and it worked quite well, as whole wheat flour often does with molasses-flavored cookies.  I wouldn't be surprised if these cookies would turn out quite well with all whole wheat flour (I prefer King Arthur's White Whole Wheat flour).
  • I used a slightly smaller loaf pan than referenced in the recipe, which simply changed the shape of the cookies.  Do press it into the pan as evenly as possible, as my slices ended up somewhat uneven as a result of the frozen shape of the dough.  I left it in the freezer overnight, and in retrospect would have liked to return the dough to the freezer between baking batches to keep it from softening too much and changing the shape of the cookies - unless you're going for a randomness of form.  Slice the cookies almost as thinly as possible in order to get light and crisp snaps.  I also divided each slice of dough in half so as to get small square snaps rather than long rectangular ones.
  • Good luck not eating all the unbaked dough!
  • At least these can be cleaned up easily if spilled

*Some websites cite a special mixture of tea leaves for Thai tea that includes star anise; you may look in stores for "Thai" tea, but I had difficulty finding it at several stores without sugar and cream already added.  The orange color of Thai iced tea in restaurants comes from food coloring, which you may add a few drops of if so desired at the point of adding the sugar.
**The kiwis can be replaced by any firm fruit, such as strawberries, peeled peaches, bananas, or apricots.

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