Buckwheat Cake, Honey-Almond Semifreddo and Red Wine Poached Apples

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Buckwheat is such an assertive flavor with a unique earthy and somewhat grassy flavor. It is not a flavor that you can use as a background in dishes. Some people like that while others really cannot stand it. I fall in the first camp firmly and have enjoyed it in desserts ever since I first tried it as an ice cream flavor in this Alinea dessert. We eat buckwheat flour regularly in pancakes as well mixed in with grated apples and white flour. It is such a fall-ish flavor and I wanted to use it in a dessert again.

Honey Semfreddo

I had already had the honey-almond semifreddo prepared and in the freezer when I thought of the rest of this dish’s components. The semifreddo is a classic combination of three different foams – a custard, a meringue and whipped cream. Here it is flavored with honey in the custard and it has some roasted almonds stirred into the mix before pouring it into a loaf pan and freezing it.

Honey Semifreddo

David Lebovitz in  Ready for Dessert has a recipe for a buckwheat cake served with cider poached apples. As soon as I saw the recipe I knew I had the remaining parts of this dish. The apples in  my case got shaped into spheres with a melon baller and poached in a mixture of spiced red wine and sugar (lemon zest, cinnamon, clove). When the apples where cooked I let them sit in the syrup in the fridge until I was ready to finish the dish.

To finish the apples I took them out of the syrup and cooked that down to thick sauce consistency then tossed the apples in to coat them. This warmed up the fruit and gave me an intense rich sauce that is drizzled around the plate.

Red Wine Apples

The cake contains no wheat flour and gets all its texture and structure from buckwheat flour, ground almonds and eggs – both yolks and whipped whites. It ends up tender and fluffy with an assertive buckwheat flavor.

Buckwheat Cake

To serve it I sliced the semifreddo loaf and then used a cookie cutter to cut it into rounds. It melts very quickly and it is very airy so I had to work pretty fast here. This went right next to a slice of cake and the poached warm apples. I needed some more texture in the dish so I made a streusel from almonds, butter, sugar and flour and baked it in a thin layer. When  it was cooled I  broke it into small pieces around the cake. The flavors and textures were very nice. The dessert really worked for me mostly. The semifreddo was maybe too light in here and an ice cream with a denser texture set in a loaf pan and cut the same way could’ve been a better alternative.

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Interstellar (Christopher Nolan – 2014) A-

A couple of months ago I went t NASA with a couple of cousins who were visiting from overseas. I was a bit surprised by how much I enjoyed the whole visit. I was awed by the last few decades of space travel and the shear human achievement of it all. It’s simply amazing that we have been to space and landed on the moon. I don’t think we give this as much thought as we should. It really is a testament to what humans can achieve at their best. Then a few days before seeing this film an unmanned ship lands on a moving asteroid! That’s brilliant stuff! Interstellar at its core has this idea, that space exploration and discovery is not just “nice” but is essential to the human race’s survival. I love it for that. It is a really spectacular piece of movie making with gorgeous set pieces that I am so glad I got to experience in  a movie theater.

Cooper, played by Matthew McConaughey in yet another strong performance, is an ex NASA astronaut who is forced to leave his daughter and son behind on a mission to explore the viability of three separate “worlds” that are exposed via a wormhole close to Saturn. I don’t care much of the science is “accurate” or not. This is not a college course. I did like how it handled the idea of relativity. When Cooper and Brand (Ann Hathaway) are debating which planet they should explore, they have to seriously consider that an hour there is about 10 years on earth! Time is really of the essence. As they waste time on a planet people back on earth are aging and dying. One particularly heartbreaking scene is right after they get back from one of those planets and Cooper is going through years of messages from his family. 

Interstellar is spectacular as I mentioned and it has many flaws -mostly script and dialogue- but it is so worth seeing because it is done so well and when it is firing on all cylinders it really is great. It’s a film that we do not see much of anymore. I am curious to see how this one ages. Will I see it again in 10 years and admire still? I hope so.

 

Big Hero 6 (Don Hall, Chris Williams – 2014) C+

Typical decent animated movie. Looks good with a predictable plot. I like the mashup of San Francisco with Tokyo in the setting here…called fittingly San Fransokyo. It’s an origin story of sorts and features a really cool robot that looks unique and is quiet funny. All in all it makes for a fun time for the kiddos.

The World’s End (Edgar Wright – 2013) B+

It’s funny and charming in it’s own British way. I like that a lot. This one is the third in what is known as the Cornetto Trilogy and it’s a very good entry. The premise is that five high school buddies, now in their middle age, brought back together by the leader of the pack (Simon Pegg) to do what they failed to do on their last day of high school. They need to go on the 20-pub crawl in one night in their quaint hometown ending in the pub known as The World’s End. The comedy works and the film has many funny moments but it really is a bit more than that. The character played by Pegg, Gary King, is the only one who never changed out of the group. He still wears the same clothes, talks in the same manner and even drives the same car. He’s the guy who peaked in high school and never went anywhere in life. The idea that going back and finishing the pub crawl will fix everything is really his. It’s his way of “doing something”. Everyone is different by now though including their hometown and it’s residents.

This is a concept most of us are familiar with. We like to think that we can go back home and do what we used to do exactly the way we used to do it as if that mythical home town is stuck in some time warp and never changes. The World’s End takes that idea to the extreme and plunges our heroes into a literall war to save mankind all wrapped in a funny charming package.

Coppa

Coppa

The process to make a Coppa is very easy with the biggest challenge being actually locating a Coppa. The way meat is cut and butchered in the US pretty much ensures that this cut is never left whole. It gets sliced through with the rest of the shoulder-Boston butt of the pig. This means that your best best is to procure a large whole chunk of bone-in pork shoulder and then do the butchering yourself to harvest the Coppa. The last couple of times I’ve done this the pork shoulders from the butcher counter at the Whole Foods store had been perfect. There are several online videos and pictorials showing the location and method of removing the Coppa like this clear video or check out Jason Molinari’s pictures here. It’s a thick cylindrical muscle that is relatively easy to see when you have a whole shoulder piece from the butt end (i:e the end closer to the loin not the end closer to the leg) of the shoulder.Coppa-Potatoes2

To remove the muscle in one piece just follow the seam, that’s why this style of butchering meat is called seam butchery and trim it a bit to get a semi even shape. I used the process and recipe from Ruhlman and Polcyn’s Salumi to salt and cure the meat. They recommend the “salt box” method. I put a generous amount of kosher salt in a dish and rolled the meat thoroughly in the salt. Then the meat went into a FoodSaver bag along with thyme, bay, peppercorns and juniper. I vacuum sealed it and let it cure for a couple of days in the fridge. I then removed the meat, rinsed it off and dried it well before rolling it in a bit of spice (fennel and black pepper coarsely ground). Now the waiting starts. I tied the meat and hung it in my little wine cooler (That’s my makeshift curing “chamber”) until it lost 30% of it’s weight. That took exactly two months.

By then it was firm throughout and covered with a thin layer of good powdery white mold. The mold is something I sprayed the meat with when I hung it to dry. It is not strictly required but I like to use it when I have it. It is very similar to the stuff you see on the outside of a Brie cheese. The mold helps keep any undesirable bacteria away (just in case) and helps keep the meat from losing too much humidity.

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I could’ve sliced the meat right then, but since controlling the humidity in the wine cooler is a bit tricky the meat had a little bit of surface dryness. Meaning the outside is a bit too hard and would be drier than the interior. To balance the moisture in the meat, I vacuum sealed it and allowed it to sit in the fridge for about 9 days. This helps the humidity to equalize in the meat and softens the surface. Now it was perfectly ready.

How to serve it? That is not a problem. We’ve been enjoying it mostly as is, thinly sliced with good bread and little else. It does go good with a few shards of medium sharp cheese like Manchego. Sometimes I do like something a bit more…composed like these two examples.

Coppa with Warm Potato Salad and Olives

Coppa-Potatoes

This one is straight from the Zuni Cookbook. Warm potato salad with plenty of olive oil, parsley and olives. It matters a lot that the potato be warm here since just slightly softens the Coppa giving it a lovely texture.

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Coppa with a salad of Nectarines, Mozzarella and Tomatoes

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The salad of mozzarella, nectarines, tomatoes and basil from Diana Henry’s A Change of Appetite was the kids favorite salad this summer. It’s  just a rif on a Caprese salad of course but the addition of juice nectarines just elevates it. Adding salty savory Coppa was a natural fit here.

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Gone Girl (David Fincher – 2014) A

Gillian Flynn’s novel is packed full with plot twists, subplot, backstory, alternate points of view and a whole lot of subtext about relationships, our image and what we choose to portray, modern news cycles, shitty parents, fame, and awful people…whew. the film captures all that pretty much perfectly! At 2.5 hours a less competent director could’ve made a mess of things. Here we get the story of Amy Elliott Dunne and Nick Dunne told perfectly from the moment they meet at a New York City party and through the events that happen years later after they get married, have troubles and she is gone.

The movie is at face value a thriller, a procedural of sorts as we try to suss out what happened to Amy. Is Nick involved? Is he good guy or a bad guy? In reality there is much more going on here as I alluded to in my opening. The film (and the book actually) manages to capture our attention from the opening close-up shot of Amy’s head lying on a white pillow and Nick’s monologue:

“When I think of my wife, I always think of her head….cracking her skull open and unspooling her brain….”

It worked very well for me and I loved every minute of it. Sure, the book has more nuance and more balance between the him and her points of view but Fincher delivers beautifully shot scenes and perfect restraint in his movie. His choice for Nick (Ben Affleck) and Amy (Rosamund Pike) is excellent as well. They play those roles so well that I could not see anyone else in their shoes, especially Pike. Even Tyler Perry is used to great effect here. This is a dark and morally ambiguous film with characters who are tough to like by and large. Still it is one of the best I’ve seen recently and would love to watch it again.

12 Years a Slave (Steve McQueen – 2013) A

What a horrific story. Obviously, slavery is a horrible enterprise but here we see it just how terrible it is framed with the true story of Solomon Northup. He was an educated free black man, a well-off violinist, a husband and father of two living in upstate New York. He gets abducted and sold as a slave in Georgia where his nightmare goes on for 12 years! It really is a horrible journey as we follow Solomon from one master who is “kind” to the next who can be described as a monster (although his wife might be even worse). We meet various slaves and see how they try to adapt and survive. Northup on the other hand faces various difficult choices and  tries to survive a day at a time. He is not a hero, he is not hatching plans to free his fellow slaves. He just wants to get home and his actions are at times not enviable.

McQueen does a brilliant job in telling this difficult story and builds well-rounded characters who we grow to hate, love or pity. The movie is tough to watch at times but it never felt exploitative or gratuitous. It is just bold and unflinching in its depictions of slavery and its impact on everyone. The movie has a lot of excellent performances from Chiwetel Ejiofor as Solomon to Michael Fassbender as his sadistic master Epps and Lupita Nyong’o as Patsey, Epps’ favorite and most unfortunate slave. It is not a movie I want to watch many times over but it is a great telling of this tragic story that I’m guessing almost no one knew about.