Pucker Up

In food on 12/29/2009 at 1:36 pm

Ah, snowfall. White Christmases are so…cold?

What better way to celebrate the close of a Christmas banquet than to serve a tropical dessert to wipe the palate clean? In the end, here’s what we came up with after an exhaustive trip to Midway Asian Foods of Madison, WI, where only the stock boy and butcher speak Mandarin.

Christmas Dinner Menu:
1. Tea-Smoked *farm-raised* Chicken with Scallion-Ginger Tapanade
2. Bouncy Peep (pig + sheep) Ball & Fructus Litchi Consommé with Sizzling Rice
3. Crystal Shrimp with Honey Walnuts and Fried Prawn Chips on Steamed Rice
4. Pimp (pork + shrimp + chives + shittake) Dumplings
5. Yu Choy Sauté (the digestive course)
6. Dan Dan Noodle, Taiwan-style
7. Key Lime Pu-din/Panna Cotta

Since I’d made most of these dishes before, it was manageable in theory. The other half saved me a lot of time by taking over the dumpling wrapping, with the help of various Christmas elves. When I was told dinner service was going to be moved up an hour in the afternoon, it wasn’t too difficult to ramp everything up a notch.

Chinese dishes are best served piping hot, so I stayed at the stove, cooking as everyone else ate. The other half assures me the courses tasted good at the time of service, because when I finally sat down to eat at the end, they were mediocre cold. The bouncy meatballs were the biggest risk since I’d never made them before, and the texture was not as ‘crisp’ as they are from factory-made ones. I think I added a smidge too much lye water, which has an off-putting, distinctively mineral-y pungent odor. After calculating all the mistakes and shortfalls, overall, I’d give myself a 5 out of 10 for this effort.

Originally the resident baker was going to make Chinese egg tart mashed with Pasteis de Belem, i.e. crust of the latter with filling of the former, bruleéd, but I was feeling like I couldn’t do everything myself so I demoted the other half to sous chef. Ultimately I was overruled anyway. This was the easy compromise.

There was a recipe for pu-din/panna cotta we procured at the New England Culinary Institute. They were giving away free recipe postcards at the maître d’s podium, so we snatched one up to see why this dessert is a favorite of cooking show contestants. It’s basically creamy Jell-O Jigglers from scratch.

The other half spied key limes at the Asian mart of all places, so it became the secret spiked ingredient. This recipe was online (the postcard is currently misplaced), but it ended up being too runny since we didn’t use ramekins, rather, a large Spode tart dish. Egg nog was also used as a replacement for heavy cream, which made it a tad too rich. We Asian-fied it by topping it with a fortune cookie, tres kitsch. But added to a few spritz and melt away Christmas cookies, the tartness was adequately neutered. Here it is, amended.

2 1/4-ounce envelopes unflavored gelatin
2/3 cup fresh lime juice (from about 10 limes)
2/3 cup sugar
1 cup heavy cream
2/3 cup milk (whole or 2 percent)
2 teaspoons liquor of your choice (optional)
Zest of 2 limes, minced

1. Lightly oil 8 4-ounce ramekins or one large tart tin.
2. Sprinkle the gelatin over the lime juice in a small bowl. Let stand for 5 minutes to soften.
3. Put the sugar, cream, and milk in a nonreactive saucepan and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Remove from the heat and add the gelatin mixture, liquor and minced lime zest.
4. Stir until blended, then divide the mixture and refrigerate until firm, ~ 5 hours.

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