Kitchen Exhibitionist
The Culinary Quests of a Food Enthusiast Stuck in the Sticks

Caribbean Shrimp Cocktail
with Jalapeno Lime Dipping Sauce

This is not your mother’s shrimp cocktail. You know the kind; cold rubbery shrimp served with horseradish flavored ketchup. This recipe shouldn’t even be called shrimp cocktail. Instead, I would call it shrimp nirvana.

The shrimp are quickly pan seared at high heat, keeping them succulent and tender, and then tossed and coated with a bit of the jalapeno lime dipping sauce, which is sweet, hot, tangy, and gingery all at once. After cooling, they are served with more of the same dipping sauce, which one of my dinner guests found so delicious he drank it with satisfied slurping sounds.

Caribbean Style Shrimp Cocktail
with Jalapeno Lime Dipping Sauce

From The Quick Recipe
by Cook’s Illustrated

Dipping Sauce:
1 medium clove garlic, peeled
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 (1 1/2") piece of fresh ginger, minced (about 1 1/2 tblsps)
2 medium scallions, white and green parts, minced
1 large jalapeno chile, stemmed, seeded, and minced
1/4 cup lime juice ( about 2 limes)
1/4 cup packed dark brown sugar

1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 pound extra large shrimp (21-25 count), peeled and deveined, tails left on
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

For the dipping sauce:
Mince the garlic and 1/8 tsp salt to make a paste. Mix the garlic paste, ginger, scallions, chile, lime juice, and brown sugar in a small serving bowl and set the mixture aside.

For the Shrimp:
Heat the oil in a large heavy bottomed skillet over high heat until it begins to smoke. Season the shrimp with the salt and pepper. Add the shimp to the hot pan and sauté until they are well colored and cooked through, about 2 minutes.

Remove the pan from the heat, add 2 tablespoons of the jalapeno-lime sauce to the hot pan, and toss to coat the shrimp. Spread the shrimp on a rimmed baking sheet to cool, about 5 min.

Once the shrimp have cooled, arrange them on a platter around the bowl of sauce and serve immediately.

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Wednesday, September 20, 2006

An Orgy of Souffles

It is almost unimaginable that I have reached my current age (which will remain undisclosed) without ever tasting a soufflé! Until recently, that is.

Throughout my life I’ve read about soufflés in cookbooks and learned of their temperamental attitudes. I’ve admired gorgeous magazine photographs of soufflés in all their airy splendor. I’ve watched Julia make child’s play of them on her old TV show. But not once has even a mouthful of soufflé passed between my lips. The only reason that can account for this gaping hole in my gastronomic experience is that the opportunity never came my way.

Well recently it came my way, big time. And I took full advantage of it.

I was in Paris for a week and had heard about this little restaurant that specialized in soufflés called, appropriately enough, Restaurant Le Souffle. It was time to lose my soufflé virginity! I only hoped I would still respect myself in the morning.

Darwin and I made reservations for dinner at Restaurant Le Souffle, located only two blocks from the Place de la Concorde. That evening as we emerged from the Metro we were greeted by a gorgeous nighttime view of the Place. Its beautifully lit fountain, lovely lampposts, and tall golden-tipped obelisk framed the illuminated Eiffel Tower in the background. As we were walking the Tower suddenly began its hourly twinkling. We had to stop for a few minutes to admire this wonderful scene.

The restaurant was cozy and comfortable and the staff very nice. They offered an all-soufflé prix fixe menu (29.50 Euros) that included a soufflé entrée (appetizer), a green salad, a soufflé plat (main course) and a soufflé dessert. Since it was my intention to try soufflés, we both ordered different items from that menu. Because we tried each other’s dishes, that night I tasted six different soufflés! Yes, I admit it; I went from a soufflé virgin to soufflé whore in one short evening.

We started with the wild mushroom soufflé and the classic cheese soufflé. They were light in texture but rich in flavor and just melted in my mouth. Having no previous soufflé experiences with which to compare these, I don’t feel qualified to judge them, but I can say that we enjoyed them very much.

After the salad, we had a foie gras soufflé and a crayfish soufflé as our main courses. Although there were small bits of foie gras in the soufflé, the entire soufflé was nicely flavored with foie gras throughout. I wonder how they did that. The crayfish soufflé was studded with seafood and served with a flavorful sauce on the side.

I had been particularly looking forward to dessert from the moment I spied the Gran Marnier soufflé on the menu because it is one of my favorite liqueurs. We also tried the raspberry soufflé, which had an intense fresh raspberry flavor and a gorgeous pink color.

I enjoyed the Gran Marnier soufflé experience most. The waiter placed it in front of me and poked a few holes in it. As the fragrant steam escaped he poured in a couple of good glugs of the amber nectar. When it hit the hot soufflé its vapors were intensified, just like heated brandy. Then he left the huge bottle of Gran Marnier on our table so I could continue to flavor it as I ate my way through it. It was all good!

After all that food and a bottle of wine, we were more than satiated. I thoroughly enjoyed my evening of soufflé excesses. Although everything was delicious, later that night I developed a bit of indigestion, due to the unaccustomed rich overindulgences, I’m sure.

I would certainly go back to Restaurant Le Souffle again, but next time I would have soufflés for only one or two courses, definitely dessert.

Restaurant Le Souffle
36, rue du Mont – Thabor
75001 Paris
(33) 01 42 60 27 19

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Amazing Food Combinations – Gelato Spazzacamino

There have been only a handful of occasions in my epicurean experiences where different flavors combined to create a synergy that physically jolted my senses. The pairing of Port and chocolate is one example that comes to mind. This simple dish is another.

This dessert is elegant yet takes mere seconds to prepare. The combination of these three ingredients may sound strange but they work perfectly together, creating a whole that is so much greater than the sum of its parts. You have to try this to believe it!

As with all recipes, but particularly those made with so few ingredients, each ingredient should be of the highest quality.

Gelato Spazzacamino
from The Classic Italian Cookbook by Marcella Hazan

2 scoops quality vanilla ice cream
2 teaspoons freshly, finely ground espresso coffee beans
2 teaspoons scotch whiskey (a good blended scotch is fine)

Spoon the ice cream into an individual dessert dish. Sprinkle with the espresso powder and pour on the whisky. Serve immediately.

Yield: 1 serving.

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Baking for Lacto-Vegetarians – An Eggless Chocolate Birthday Cake

Two of the guys who work for me are strict vegetarians whose diets prohibit eggs. I always bake a cake or cookies to bring to the office on the birthdays of my staff and because it must be something the entire department can enjoy, several times a year I am challenged to create delicious baked goodies without cracking a single egg.

I had previously taken for granted eggs and their wonderful cooking properties but now I understand they are responsible for much of the texture and quality of baked goods. They give cookies their chewy goodness and provide leavening power in most cakes. Without eggs, there would be no soufflés. Custard wouldn’t be custard were it not for eggs and their magical coagulation properties (coagulation; what an ugly word to describe the smooth silkiness of the custard’s curd).

No wonder many of the eggless cake and cookie recipes I’ve tried over the past years yielded mixed results. But this particular chocolate cake with fudge frosting is the never-fail, always-loved number one winner, not just for vegetarians, but for anyone. An added bonus, it is incredibly quick and easy to make.

The cake is from an old recipe going back to World War II when fresh ingredients such as butter, eggs, and milk were strictly rationed or even unavailable at times. Originally called War Cake, and later, Crazy Cake, it has appeared in countless cookbooks, magazines and newspapers over the past century.

You may think that with its lack of rich dairy products it is a compromised cake, but far from it. It’s delicious! Moist and spongy with a tender crumb and a rich chocolate flavor, no one would ever guess its humble disadvantaged beginnings.

The chocolate fudge frosting is a practically instant recipe. It does contain some milk and a bit of butter (my vegetarian birthday boys do consume dairy products) but I imagine if you wanted to make this for a vegan, you could use appropriate substitutions. It is the easiest frosting ever; no spreading required. Just boil a few ingredients together and pour over the cake for a beautiful, thick glossy frosting that remains smooth and creamy for days.

I get requests for the recipes for this cake and frosting every time I serve it.

Crazy Chocolate Cake
3 cups flour
6 tablespoons cocoa powder
2 teaspoons baking soda
2 teaspoons salt
2 cups sugar
2/3 cup vegetable oil
2 tablespoons white vinegar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 cups cold water

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Combine the dry ingredients in a large bowl. Combine the wet ingredients in another bowl. Add the wet ingredients to the dry and beat well. Pour into an ungreased 9x13 inch baking pan.

Bake for 35 minutes. Allow cake to cool before frosting.

Chocolate Fudge Frosting

1 cup sugar
5 tablespoons butter
1/3 cup milk
1 cup milk chocolate chips

In a medium saucepan bring sugar, butter and milk to a boil, stirring constantly. Remove from heat. Stir in chocolate chips until melted and frosting is smooth. Pour evenly over the cake that is still in the pan. Allow to cool.

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