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May, 2007 | Manolo's Food Blog
Archive - May, 2007

Rainwater Madeira

In Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End, the unctuous Lord Beckett offers Captain Jack Sparrow a small glass of honey-colored liquid that must surely have been Madeira, the preferred drink of 18th-century British and Americans alike. (It was Thomas Jefferson’s favorite drink.)

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Least expensive of the fortified wines, Madeira bears the singular virtue of being utterly still like whiskey or eau de vie. Uniquely aged in heat rather than cool, the sweet wine oxidizes slightly and thus after opening retains its flavor even in hot climates.madeira.jpg

Riddled with flu on his return from Italy, Mr. Henry repaired to his favorite apothecary, Nancy’s Wines for Food. Though his head was full of cotton, his reasoning was not occluded. Mr. Henry decided that the purchase of a subtly aromatic libation would be money wasted. Consequently he threw himself on the mercy of a young apprentice with shaven pate and satyric smile who recommended an $11 bottle of Rainwater that Mr. Henry dutifully drank every evening for a week.

The cure was thorough and complete. Rainwater is the cough syrup of the gods.

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With newly-acquired curiosity for the mysteries of Madeira, Mr. Henry detected traces of it in a mascarpone cream dessert served by Cipriani at the McKim, Mead & White designed 55 Wall Street, one of Manhattan’s greatest rooms, former site of National City Bank, the Merchant’s Exchange, and the New York Stock Exchange.

The dessert is one that itself must be very resistant to decay because the cream is principally composed of stiffly beaten egg whites with some mascarpone and a splash of Madeira. Sandwiched between pastry layers and sprinkled with shaved coconut, it was light and toothsome. (Best of all, it can be prepared without cooking!)

Okra

Toddson Says:

Actually, it IS possible to ruin tiramisu following this recipe. An article in The Washington Post several years ago was written by someone who came from someplace (alas, I forget which) where “ladyfingers” refers to okra. As a result, she sliced okra, soaked it in coffee, and proceeded from there. It was not a pretty sight and, seemingly, tasted worse than it looked.

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Ladyfingers in the tiramisu! What a hoot! The South is SO worthwhile. Mr. Henry’s dear friend Trudy, bound in the shallows and miseries of Washington, DC, reported lately that one of her friends there promised to keep her “abreasted” of new developments, and this surely is one.

As it happens, okra is one of Mr. Henry’s secret lunchtime quick-fix foods. He places them in a bowl, rinses them, covers them with a dish, and nukes those fuzzy ladyfingers for two minutes. That’s it. Total preparation time: two minutes and change. Don’t eat the gnarly lil’ stems, by the way. (Mr. Henry is fearful that his reading audience might abandon all common sense in slavish devotion to his recipes.) The rest of the okra is a crunchy and gelatinous treat, a toothsome combination of green vegetable and nutty seeds.

Tiramisu & Stinky Accusations

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Emboldened by freely wandering the antique byways of Rome, Little Henry’s friend Stinky launched an accusation that Mr. Henry will not permit to stand uncontested in this or any other forum:

“Mr. Henry talks a lot about cooking but never does any!”

Ha! Only weeks ago Mr. Henry prepared a tiramisu at home that even the skeptical Stinky admitted was a bona fide, authentic, and glorious tiramisu.

It wasn’t exactly cooking, mind you, because no heat was applied. But it greatly impressed the crowd. Here for his gentle reading public so long ignored because he has been re-arranging his life, his office, and his books, Mr. Henry offers up a recipe of sorts, or rather recipe guidelines, for la vera tiramisu di Signor Henry.

Don’t worry. The thing is failproof. You can fudge any proportion and it turns out just fine.
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Mr. Henry’s Tiramisu

6 eggs
1 cup confectioner’s sugar
splash of scotch
1 large tub mascarpone (500g)
5 ounces bittersweet chocolate
1 ounce unsweetened chocolate
1 package ladyfinger cookies (200g)

First brew some coffee quadruple strength (In deference to the children Mr. H. chose decaffeinated.) and let it cool to room temperature or colder. Grate some good chocolate like Scharffenberger, mixing half a bar of bittersweet withScharffen.jpg a modicum of unsweetened to intensify the flavor. Have close at hand, as well, a bottle of single malt scotch whiskey. (Mr. Henry believes this to be sound advice for any recipe.) For this recipe, Mr. Henry chose The Macallan.

Separate six eggs. Whip the whites until stiff. Cream the yokes together with a cup (or more) of confectioners’ sugar, beating until the color becomes pale. You raw-egg worry-worts at home, please relax. The sugar preserves the egg. In the fridge the concoction will stay perfectly fresh far longer than it will survive repeated servings to you and yours.

Finally to the creamed yokes whip in a splash of scotch, dark rum, or any other spirit appropriate for a coffee, chocolate, and mascarpone confection. This last touch brings a perfume to the dish that separates it from a quotidian custard.

With big gestures and a big rubber spatula, lightly fold in the mascarpone and then the egg whites. Ecco! Mascarpone custard cream. Now you build.

Slice the ladyfingers in half lengthwise if you like. (This is a decision more of style than of taste.) Spread half of them loosely in a deep dish pan. Using a pastry brush soak them – yes, soak them – with coffee. [A Mr. Henry Dictum: Italian desserts must be either soggy or hard as brick.] Cover with a layer of mascarpone custard cream. Then cover the cream thoroughly with half the grated chocolate. Repeat the procedure to create a second story. Chill until set, at least three hours.

Mr. Henry is reminded of an equally false accusation hurled his way by his diminutive and opinionated life-long consort, Mrs. Henry, namely, that whenever he gets an idea for a new dish he feels compelled to purchase a new kitchen utensil. This is falseness itself! Mr. Henry always makes do with whatever is at hand. (A recent purchase of a Le Creuset oval enameled gratin pan was NOT an indulgence. Someday soon she will thank him for it, and mean it sincerely.)

As an example of his resourcefulness, on the morning after returning late from JFK he prepared a fine breakfast of marmalade and crackers borrowed from several of Italy’s nicer hotel breakfast baskets and conveyed trans-Atlantic in Aunt Bev’s backpack. Although there are grocery stores within walking distance of his apartment, Mr. Henry prefers not to conduct his marketing at 3:30 a.m., an hour when he receives stares from street strays and riff-raffy youth.

He prefers the adoring glances he believes he got in Florence from American college students envious of his casual insouciance and his fluency in Italian. He did not actually witness these glances, mind you, being too polite to stare slack-jawed at breathtakingly beautiful young women. Mr. Henry, you see, has faith in the unseen.

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