Friday, January 27, 2012

Where Ideas Come From

I love cooking from other chefs’ recipes. I follow a recipe closely the first time because I want to taste what the chef was thinking and tasting.  I’m also curious about the recipe writing (this is an occupational hazard).   If there is something unusual about the technique or use of ingredients, I want to learn from it rather than assuming that my usual way of doing something will be better or just as good. I think cooks who pride themselves on never following a recipe exactly sometimes miss out on some spectacular outcomes and amazing nuances, but that’s another post for another day. 

Once I taste a dish, ideas come even (especially?) if the dish is fantastic.   It’s not always about improving a recipe, but about using something learned from it to do something else. Sometimes a recipe creates a spark that flies pretty far from the original fire. 

When I made carrot soup from Mourad Lahlou’s Mourad: New Moroccan, I was intrigued that the carrots were cooked in carrot juice instead of stock and each serving was garnished with fresh citrus.

The soup was lovely.  I started to imagine a new carrot soup with raw carrot juice added at the very end to capture both the bright flavor of raw and the lower and mellower notes from the cooked carrots.  Then I drifted to carrot sorbet made from a combination of cooked carrots and raw juice.  And now I thinking about a carrot duet: a smooth creamy carrot ice cream to serve next to a scoop of icy carrot sorbet.  Wait for it...

Meanwhile, a salad from Paula Wolfert’s Couscous and Other Good Food From Morocco inspired this  seductive dessert, which will appear in my own upcoming book, Sinfully Easy Delicious Desserts (coming May 2012 from Artisan Books).

From Sinfully Easy Delicious Desserts (Artisan 2012)

Scoops of creamy vanilla ice cream and icy mango sorbet in a pool of juicy scented orange segments with sticky dates, toasted almonds, and a fragrant top note of cinnamon. Serves 6

8 oranges
1/4 teaspoon orange blossom water, or to taste
6 small scoops vanilla ice cream
6 small scoops mango or orange sorbet
12 plump dates, pitted and quartered
1/3 cup (1.5 ounces) chopped toasted almonds or toasted slivered almonds
A cinnamon stick (optional)

Microplane zester (optional)

Up to 1 day before serving, prepare the oranges: Suprime 6 of the oranges or simply peel and slice them, reserving the juices. Pick out any seeds and collect all of the juices and the segments or slices in a bowl.

To serve, taste the juice and adjust the orange flower water if necessary. Divide the oranges and juices evenly among six serving bowls. Nestle a small scoop of ice cream and a small scoop of sorbet in the center of each bowl. Distribute the quartered dates around the ice cream and sprinkle each dessert with the chopped almonds. Grate a little bit of the cinnamon stick over each bowl with a microplane zester, if desired, and serve immediately.