Sunday, October 25, 2009

Now for the Fun Stuff!

Okay folks, thanks for holding on through my L-O-N-G tale of how I came to subsist on shrubs and bushes. I'm switching gears today to talk about my weekend in food:

Tuesday was Dylan's birthday, but since I had to get up at 4 a.m. on Wednesday for work and I don't have the tenacity of Martha Stewart or the programming of a Stepford Wife, I didn't cook him anything special. In fact, we had leftovers - 3 day old leftovers. Sorry Dylan.

Anyway, I promised I would take my vegan cap off (it's green and covered in moss and pretention) and cook him whatever meat-packed, artery-sludge meal he wanted for dinner last night. He chose braised lamb chops, vegan (!) mashed potatoes, roasted brussels sprouts and garlic and a Dobosh Torte. Good choices!

See, braised lamb chops are pretty much the only meat-based dish I do well - well, that and beef stew. I think it's because you can't really overcook them. Once you sear them, you just make the sauce, pop the chops in it, cover it and leave them alone until the meat starts falling off the bone. Easy-peasy. Oh, the only other meat-based dish I do well is seared ahi. In this case that's because, according to Dylan, you can't undercook it. He'd be happy if it leapt out of an aquarium and onto his plate. But I digress...

Vegan mashed potatoes are awesome. I grew up eating nearly-vegan mashed potatoes anyway since my mom made them with margarine instead of butter (you know, the trans-fat packed nightmare that everyone thought was healthier then...makes me wonder what research will be released about my beloved Earth Balance in 20 years...), and skim milk which really doesn't bring much flavor to the party anyhow. It's an easy and painless switch to exchange Earth Balance non-dairy, trans-fat free spread for the margarine and unsweetened soymilk for the skim milk. I topped them with mushroom gravy made with Cabernet, cayenne (of course), Herbes de Provence, and miso for that umami flavor. Yummy yummy.

Roasted brussels sprouts and garlic. Man, I love this man, could this meal get any easier? Halve some brussels sprouts, crush some garlic, dump them in a pan, add salt, pepper and olive oil, and bake at 375 until brown and yummy. I think brussels sprouts are one of the most misunderstood veggies in the plant kingdom. They've developed a reputation for being bitter little balls of unhappiness that insistent mothers shove down their children's throats, or tiny green vehicles for an obscene amount of butter sauce. I've developed brussels sprouts rules...well rule actually. There is only one rule: Do NOT steam or boil them. Period. Cooking them in water brings out the naturally bitter compound also found in broccoli. If you treat your brussels sprouts with love (AKA olive oil and garlic), they will give it right back to you, honey. That's why I always, always, ALWAYS either saute or oven-roast brussels sprouts. They mellow out, acquire a nice sweetness, and get that yummy caramel-y layer of brown goodness. Deliciousness - no butter sauce or sneaky spoon-wielding moms required.

Now we've come to the Dobosh Torte: most decidedly un-vegan heaven. I discovered this recipe a few years back when I made a pact to bake and cook my way through Maida Heatter's Book of Great Desserts in a year. I never made it to the end owing to some irreconcilable differences between Maida's idea of tasty and mine (she likes fruitcake, I do not. She likes raisins, I do not. She likes tortes made with ground nuts, I do not.), but I did find some gems: Palm Beach brownies, Moosehead Gingerbread, Beignets, Buttermilk Spice Cake, and the king of them all, the Dobosh Torte.

The Dobosh Torte in Maida's book is 7 thin layers of sponge cake spread with a rich chocolate icing. It sounds simple, but it is quite complex...and contains 13 eggs and 2 sticks of butter - yikes... The first time I made the torte, it took me 4 hours. This time it took me an hour and a half owing to my mad production skills, but that's still an hour and a half for one torte.

You begin by drawing circles on sheets of parchment paper, then buttering and flouring the circles. 7 layers is the minimum. This time, I made 13 smaller layers since this was a personal-sized torte (well I actually made 15, but one was sacrificed to my attempt to trim the edges. I placed a dish on top of it, and cut around it. "Perfection", I thought, until I lifted up the dish and discovered the sponge layer was basically Gorilla-glued to the bottom of it. Oops! The other one hid from me under some discarded parchment paper while I assembled the torte and was only discovered after I ran out of icing. Double oops.)

The batter is composed of egg yolks, powdered sugar, and a eensy bit of flour. You beat the crap out of this mixture until it's ridiculously stiff (the second time I made this torte, it broke my hand mixer. It actually yanked the part that holds the beaters right out of the mixer. I have proceeded with caution ever since). Then, in a separate bowl, you beat egg whites until they hold a point and fold them into the batter in 3 additions.

Once you have the batter, you spoon it onto each parchment circle and carefully smooth it out and then bake the layers. As you might imagine, 15 cake layers don't fit into a dinky home oven very well. I baked them 2 at a time. Luckily, they only take about 5 minutes to bake because they're very thin.

Here's where things start getting hairy. You can't stack these layers on top of each other. Maida gives you some tricks that she swears keep the layers from sticking to each other, but please, the woman likes fruitcake: can she really be trusted? The answer to that question is, "No." I have tried each method and each resulted in me jumping up and down and cursing while trying to unpeel the friendly little layers from each other. So, you have to have space in your kitchen to lay out 15 layers. If you've seen my kitchen, you'd know this is a laughable challenge. I have 1 square of counter space and it's mostly taken up my coffee maker and crock pot. So, I had to get a little creative. There were layers everywhere! I almost put one on top of the dog. I think she was waiting very still and quiet hoping that I would do just that. Alice is a gourmet ;).

Once all the layers are baked (or while they're baking), you make a chocolate icing by beating 2 sticks of butter, adding vanilla, and a little powdered sugar and some chocolate you've melted over a double boiler. Then, you assemble the torte by smearing icing on a layer, stacking the next one on top, and on and on ad infinitum.

It's a lot of work, yes, but the results are superb. I even broke my golden vegan rule and tried a bite. The flavor is slightly reminiscent of those European rolled-up wafer cookies with chocolate in the middle - the kind my sister and I used to pretend were cigarettes - but the texture is softer than that, and it looks very impressive when you serve it. People look at all the tiny little layers and say, "Wow, that must have taken you all day!"

And chances are, it probably did.

Anyway, the birthday dinner was a wild success. Dylan pronounced everything yummy and proceeded to eat 2 lamb chops, a huge plate of mashed potatoes, and a solid ton of brussels sprouts. However, I was so exhausted from my afternoon of cooking that I fell asleep on the couch at 9:15, so we ended up going to bed early and skipping dessert. He got up this morning, though, and cut himself a huge slice of torte for breakfast and called it "awesome", and there's no higher praise in Dylan's vocabulary.


  1. That all sounds SO good! Although I still don't know about the brussel sprouts-I had them once (boiled) and it really was a terrible experience for me. My landlord had put like five on my plate for the first night when I moved in to her house a few years back and so I was forced to eat all of them. I felt like puking after the first bite, and it didn't get better!

    The torte sounds to die for- but now that I know how much butter is in it, I don't know that I could ever eat more then a bite. Some of the best desserts are ones I don't make yourself;)

  2. I was never fed brussel sprouts as a child so I never really thought to make them. I tend to think everything is great roasted and everything is great covered in olive oil and garlic. THANK YOU!

    Nutrition tip: after cutting them up, let them hang out for five minutes before cooking them because an enzyme changes a certain compound (forget what it is called) is released and actually makes them even better for you!

    PS when are you going to start posting appetizing photos?


  3. and I was referring to ALL cruciferous veggies, not just brussel srouts

  4. Thanks for the tip Kim! I'm a cooking vet but a nutrition newbie ;). I will start posting pics as soon as I get my act together. Dylan stole my camera to photograph salamanders so I have to figure out where he's keeping it and steal it back!