Q:Why do cold souffle' recipes call for attaching a paper collar around the rim of the souffle' dish? I've never seen a single one rise.
A: The idea behind a cold souffle' -- actually not a souffle' but a bavarian cream -- is masquerade. Like truffled monkfish sausages and lobster ravioli, using an unorthodox method of presentation entices curiosity and stimulates consumption.
When you make a cold souffle', tie the collar around the dish's rim and fill the dish 1 1/2 inches above the rim. After the bavarian cream has set (3 or 4 hours later) remove the collar, and you have a dessert that looks like a souffle', but is really a mousse in a big dish.
Q: Does placing hot stew or hot, cooked vegetables directly in the refrigerator cause souring?
A: Both stews and vegetables are quite high in water. Both have a fairly neutral pH. This combination makes these dishes especially prone to spoilage.
Soil bacteria present on most utensils and food preparation surfaces and a number of other species resident in the human mouth cause souring. If these are introduced, the food spoils. Introduction of such bacteria is almost inevitable, and most often occurs in one of the following ways: sticking one's fingers or dipping a spoon several times into the cooked food, stirring with a wooden spoon, or transferring the food into a slightly soiled container.
Placing hot stews or vegetables directly in the refrigerator without proper cooling encourages souring, especially if the stews or vegetables are stored in plastic and/or covered with a lid. To cool hot foods quickly before refrigerating, you should place the container in a running, cold water bath or in an ice-water bath, which are both better conductors of heat than refrigerated air. Stir the stew or vegetables to aid cooling. When the food is lukewarm, place in the refrigerator -- preferably on the bottom shelf where the cold air stays longest.
Q: One of the cheapest seafoods now available in supermarkets is artificial crab meat, actually made with pollack and flavored with crab. It tastes sweet and bland, but the moist texture and the fact that it is cooked make it desirable and convenient. What sort of recipes could one use this product in?
A: Artificial crab, sold under a variety of names, could be incorporated into a mayonnaise-based fish salad, it could be part of a stuffing, or it could be used in a saute' or stir-fry. Whatever its intended use, it requires other, stronger flavors to add personality. In a mayonnaise-based fish salad, for example, you might add fresh dill and diced cucumbers. The cucumbers contrast with the crab's moistness, and the dill substitutes for the artificial crab meat's lack of flavor.
In a stuffing, the item that is stuffed, whether fish or vegetable, will benefit from the artificial crab's moistness. A little seasoning or an interesting sauce make up for lack of flavor.
In a stir-fry, such ingredients as garlic, saffron and sesame oil add flavor. The crab fares well in the skillet or wok. Even after recooking, it remains moist thanks to added stabilizers which prevent loss of moisture.
Q: Some years ago I tasted an eggplant dip with a delicious smoky flavor. I never learned the name of this dish and only know that the eggplant was wrapped in foil, the flesh was scraped out when cooked and that it was pure'ed. Do you know of the dish's name and how to prepare it?
A: The dip you have described is baba ghanouj, commonly served in Lebanese restaurants. It is flavored with olive oil, garlic, and the all-purpose Middle Eastern condiment tahini, which is the sesame equivalent of peanut butter. Most supermarkets sell tahini these days, so you should have no trouble preparing baba ghanouj. It isn't necessary, by the way, to wrap the eggplant in foil. The eggplant's skin is tough enough to hold in the steam and cook the vegetable's interior uniformly.
1 large, firm eggplant
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/2 cup pine nuts
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1/2 cup tahini
2 cloves garlic, mashed
Salt to taste
Dash of hot pepper sauce
Bake eggplant on a cookie sheet in a 450-degree oven, until quite soft. This takes about 20 minutes. As the eggplant bakes, heat olive oil in a small skillet or sauce pan. Add pine nuts and cook until they turn a very light brown. Remove from heat and pour through a strainer, reserving oil for incorporation into the pure'e.
When the eggplant is soft enough to be easily penetrated by a sharp needle, cool and slice in half. Scrape the flesh off the skin into a mixing bowl. Beat until a pure'e and then add olive oil, lemon juice, tahini and garlic. Continue beating until smooth again and season with salt and hot pepper sauce.
Transfer baba ghanouj to a shallow serving dish. Smooth surface with a spatula and sprinkle with lightly browned pine nuts. Serve with pita bread.