Thursday, February 23, 2012

True Confessions

I'm an only child.  That meant family dinners with just three of us around the table when I was growing up, so it was always pretty calm, punctuated usually with conversation about what transpired that day.  We were too polite to talk with our mouths full, or interrupt one another.  And heaven forbid if we raised our voices at the table.

Not so with Henry.  He grew up with three siblings (in addition to a slew of others who took up residence in the house from time to time) and their family dinners were loud, raucous affairs.  The first time I was initiated, everyone was gnawing on huge veal chops sporting appendages that looked like dinosaur bones and his sisters were (loudly) comparing notes about their menstrual periods.  I am not kidding.  And when someone asked for a dinner roll, it was pitched to them from the opposite end of the table.  Then they all started yelling arguing about politics.  It was definitely a scene straight from "Annie Hall."

Oh, and his mom was wearing a t-shirt that said, "Beam me up, Scotty.  There's no intelligent life on earth."

All of this probably explains my addiction to the now-canceled :-( television series "Brothers and Sisters."  It gave me a great glimpse into a crazy dysfunctional family and I got to live vicariously through the relationships between the various sibs.  Of course, that's exactly the reason Henry hated to watch it and considered it a soap opera.

Which it clearly was, as evidenced by the fact that they are now airing reruns of it on "The Soap Network" (one of my also-addicted friends clued me in on this).  I recently watched one of the Valentine's Day episodes and cracked up when Justin (who reminds me an awful lot of my son, Eric) wonders aloud "what is it about this holiday that drags estrogen out of men?"

I wouldn't know.  I'm not a Valentine's Day kind of gal, as I have told you before.

We had a non-celebration of it (with like-minded friends) this year and I made a fabulous dinner for the four of us.  I slipped a little with dessert, though.  It involved raspberries.  Red raspberries.  Oops.

RED RASPBERRY GRATIN  (from” Cucina Simpatica”  by Johanne Killeen & George Germon

3 cups mascarpone custard (recipe follows)
4 ½ cups fresh raspberries
Confectioner’s sugar

Preheat oven to 425-degrees.  Place ¼ cup of the custard in each of six shallow ceramic gratin dishes (1-cup capacity).  Divide raspberries among them and sift confectioner’s sugar (to taste) over each one.  Top with remaining custard and sift additional confectioner’s sugar over the top of each one.  Bake for 5 – 7 minutes until custard is just heated through and berries have given off some juice.  Remove gratins from oven and change oven setting to “broil” then brown custards for 1 minute or until tops are golden and bubbling slightly.  Serve immediately.

Serves 6

For the custard:
1 cup whole milk
2 egg yolks (I used extra-large)
½ cup granulated sugar
¼ cup unbleached flour
¾ cup heavy cream
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
½ cup mascarpone

Scald milk in a heavy saucepan and set aside.  In electric mixer fitted with a whisk attachment, beat egg yolks until light and pale in color, about 5 minutes.  Add sugar by tablespoons, beating well after each addition.  Change to a paddle attachment and add flour, beating on low until just incorporated.  Pour hot milk into yolk mixture in a slow stream, beating on low speed until smooth.

Return the mixture back to the saucepan and cook over medium-low heat, stirring constantly until it comes to a boil.  Boil for 2 minutes, remove from heat and transfer to a mixing bowl.  Cool slightly, then refrigerate, covered, for at least 1 hour or until well-chilled.

Whip the heavy cream with the vanilla extract until it holds its shape.  Whisk the chilled yolk mixture until it is smooth  and gently fold in the mascarpone then the whipped cream.  Chill until ready to use (can be made up to 2 days in advance.  This yields approximately 3 cups of custard (enough for 6 gratins).

*  You could actually make this with just about any type of berry - I think it would be delicious with blackberries - but you may need to add more or less confectioner's sugar, depending upon the sweetness of the fruit.  Golden raspberries would work also, just not for Valentine's Day!

*  Watch the custard carefully when you put it back on the heat.  Make sure your burner is on medium-low and stir constantly so it doesn't scorch.  If you do end up with a few browned bits or lumps, you can always strain the custard before chilling.

*  I apologize for the lack of and quality of photos in this post.  I totally forgot to take pictures of the custard-making process and I didn't get any good shots of the finished dessert, either.  So shoot me.

*  Just in case you have any doubts, the friends to whom I served this are very successful restaurateurs here in Atlanta.  One of them made the pronouncement that this was one of the best dessert she'd ever had!

*  By the way, if you can ever get your hands on a copy of "Cucina Simpatica," go for it!  It was first published in 1991 and it has always been one of my very favorite cookbooks.

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