I finally bought that long rectangular tart pan I've secretly coveted at the Concord Shop for the past few years. All long, slender fruits and vegetables are fair game from here on in. Look out, rhubarb!
To celebrate me losing all of my dessert cookbook weight, let's have a salad!
I've been enjoying this grapefruit fennel salad for months now. It was inspired by a recipe in Amanda Cohen's cookbook, Dirt Candy. If you're unfamiliar with the NYC veggie-focused restaurant by the same name or its comic-book-themed cookbook spin-off, I suggest you seek out the latter the next time you're at the library or your local bookstore. It's an entertaining read as it illustrates, quite literally, the reality of opening a new restaurant, Cohen's stint on Iron Chef America, as well as cooking techniques for vegetables. As the author and heroine of this graphic novel, Cohen dons her chefly superpowers with wit and humility. The book is great fun, as is her blog. Check out this hilarious post on how her celery salad went over at the NYC Wine & Food Fest. If you find yourself defecting to her blog, I'll totally understand!
But back to the salad. Cohen's version includes candied grapefruit lollipops and grilled cheese croutons, which are no doubt delicious, but my version is a little more pared down (read: lazy). I've settled on this basic arrangement: mixed greens with thinly sliced fennel and red onion, segmented grapefruit, and crumbled feta. The salad benefits from having something fatty and salty in the mix, so if you forgo the cheese, fill the void with crumbled bacon, chopped almonds or pistachios, or cubed avocado with a sprinkling of sea salt. The dressing, which I make with anise seeds instead of fennel seeds, is mildly fruity and refreshing. It's the perfect pre-summer salad.
(It also reminds me a little bit of dessert!)
Below are my suggestions, but use what you like in the proportions of your choosing. Just be sure to slice the vegetables very thinly. A tangle of radish sprouts would be a nice addition. The amounts below serve two grownups. Scale up as you wish.
1 to 2 cups mixed lettuce, spinach, and baby kale
1/2 fennel bulb, thinly sliced
1/2 small red onion, thinly sliced (only cut what you'll use)
1 red grapefruit
Crumbled feta, goat cheese, or queso fresco
Chopped salted almonds or pistachios (optional)
1 tablespoon finely grated grapefruit zest (from 1 grapefruit)
2 tablespoons grapefruit juice
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon anise seeds
1/4 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
For the salad, toss the lettuce, fennel, and onion in a bowl.
Finely grate the zest from the grapefruit and set it aside for the dressing. Cut the grapefruit in half and reserve one of the halves for the dressing. To segment the other half, place it cut-side-down and slice the peel off the grapefruit in swaths, following the contour of the fruit. Then turn it over and cut between the membranes to remove the juicy flesh in between. Set the grapefruit segments aside in a shallow bowl.
For the dressing, add the grapefruit zest, grapefruit juice from the reserved grapefruit half, lemon juice, anise seeds, and mustard to a blender. Blend on high, then reduce the speed to low and slowly stream in the oil until smooth and emulsified. Add salt and pepper to taste. (The dressing can be stored in a covered jar in the refrigerator for up to a week.)
Lightly dress the greens and veggies just before serving. Arrange the salad on plates with the grapefruit segments, cheese, and nuts if using. Serve additional dressing at the table.
Source: Adapted from Dirt Candy by Amanda Cohen, Ryan Dunlavey, and Grady Hendrix
That's what this groovy cheese board is made of: Slate. Husband got it for me for Mother's Day so I can showcase my precious, precious cheeses. Want one, too? Visit Brooklyn Slate.
As for the cheese, this one is from Point Reyes Farmstead in California. I've been slowly working my way westward with the cheese-sampling, if you must know—a sort of manifest destiny of cheese. Don't hate, East Coast locavores. There's plenty of blue cheese here, too: Bayley Hazen blue from Jasper Hill Farm (VT), Ewe's Blue from Old Chatham Sheepherding Company (NY), Berkshire Blue, and Great Hill Blue (MA). But sometimes these are so popular that the local store runs out, in which case there's no reason to let perfectly good non-local cheese go to waste (she says as she tallies another mark on the underside of her cheese board with soapstone chalk. Only 923 more cheeses to go!)
Mother's Day got off to a great start this year. First, I was treated to a homemade pancake breakfast courtesy of Husband, which included his famous blueberry pancakes, bacon, and fresh fruit. The kids presented me with some sweet handmade cards (I find it interesting that my youngest still draws me with short cropped hair even though it's been down to my shoulders for a while now). We spent most of the day at the park kicking a ball around, and then we decided to go out to dinner at Mulan, the new Taiwanese restaurant that opened in Waltham where the old Beijing Star used to be. It's the second outpost of the original Cambridge location, which had received favorable reviews from Husband and his lunchtime companions.
Things weren't looking too good at first, as we stood on Main St. outside Mulan. The line was long, which always makes Husband antsy, and the kids were requesting things that weren't on the menu. It was starting to look like mutiny. In this case, mutiny would take the form of dinner at the Ninety Nine Restaurant instead. Now, don't get me wrong, I'll take the Kids Eat Free special at the Ninety Nine once in a while when the Red Sox win, but not on Mother's Day. I refuse. So I scolded everyone into submission, knowing that it meant one more strike against a potentially good meal.
But what actually happened is that we got seated within the 20-minute window they predicted. I've never seen anyone so competently manage a crowd as the woman running the hostess station. Friendly is not the word I'd use to describe her demeanor, nor entirely rude, but she got the job done efficiently. When she barked her orders, everyone listened, and that place moved like clockwork.
We got a big table right in the middle of the room, where the kids proceeded to devour the salted peanuts and pickled vegetables set in the center of the table. They sampled the tea, and liked it. Because we ordered our food while we were still waiting outside, the dishes began arriving 5 minutes after we sat down, which meant the kids had no chance to even think about whining. The boys are somewhat adventurous eaters at home (not necessarily by choice), but we haven't challenged them too much when it comes to restaurants. We've gone to a few Chinese or Thai places over the years, but mostly we opt for the typical kid-friendly fare, like pizza at Flatbread or a burger at the Warren Tavern after the 10YO's soccer win in Charlestown. Our thinking boils down to this: When we go out to eat, we don't want a fight. Also: If we're going someplace exotic, let's not bring the kids! On the other hand, they're old enough to try new experiences, and the older one actually seems to enjoy it.
The garlicky green beans arrived first. There were no utensils in sight, so the kids grabbed the chopsticks and started practicing. I feared it would devolve into angry frustration and possible tears, but they always managed to get the food into their mouths somehow. The older one got the mechanics down pretty quickly despite the awkward logistics of a left-hander trying to teach a right-hander how to do anything. The 7YO developed his own style where he clutched the chopsticks down by the tips and kind of wedged the food in between them. It worked just fine. It helped that they absolutely loved the green beans.
Next, in quick succession, came the eggplant with basil, scallion pancakes, chicken wings, crispy salt and pepper pork chops, crab rangoon, and big bowl of noodle soup for the 10YO. (Yes, we ordered way too much, but it was Mother's Day, damnit!) The kids absolutely devoured the chicken wings and pork chops. The scallion pancakes and crab rangoon weren't their favorites. No problem. More for Husband and me. But, aside from the green beans, it was the eggplant with basil and chilies that absolutely blew my mind. I have GOT to try to make this at home. They used the miniature fairy tale eggplants we get in our CSA and it was absolutely fantastic. Even the kids said it was "okay" (the kids have never liked eggplant).
Everyone had a great time, the prices were good, and the kids enjoyed reading their fortunes. Best of all: we had leftovers enough for a whole other meal the next night so I didn't have to cook. Both kids even asked for chopsticks!
Mulan, 835 Main St., Waltham and 228 Broadway, Cambridge (Kendall Square), MA
I had some leftover beet purée from the wedding cake last week, so I made the kids some chocolate beet cupcakes. To continue my education in wedding-appropriate food-styling, I practiced decorating them with frosting flowers: anemones to be exact.
This is another Martha Stewart special. But unlike the infernal truffle eggs, you don't need rigorous professional training to pull these off. You do need a pastry bag with a special petal tip (like Wilton or Ateco 104), which I just happened to have in my old culinary school baking kit. Watch this video for tips on how to pipe the petals. Surprisingly, I found the petals turned out more delicate and defined when I worked quickly and didn't worry so much about the technique. Now that's the kind of decorating I can really get behind! Then, you let the frosting chill until firm, slice some blackberries into circles, brush a little blackberry juice in the center, apply a blackberry slice smack dab in the middle, and sprinkle with poppy seeds.
Did the boys appreciate my girlish renderings? Of course not. But they ate them anyway!
Who got married? Nobody, yet. I'm making a wedding cake for a friend in November and let's just say I need a little practice. I've never made a wedding cake before. I've never had any desire to make a wedding cake before. But you do crazy things for friends, so I thought I'd better do a few test runs so I don't ruin her wedding by mistake. (Sure, she says she doesn't care how it looks—only how it tastes—but take it from the woman who ended up buying two wedding dresses because she thought, who cares about the stupid dress? You WILL care. You'll care a lot.)
Test Run No. 1 was last week's Waltham Fields fundraiser. They needed dessert to feed a crowd and I needed someone to eat 100 pieces of cake—someone that's not me—so it worked out well. Since it was a farm fundraiser, I stuck to vegetable-themed cakes, for which I have many awesome recipes if I do say so myself. The bottom tier was carrot cake, the middle tier was chocolate beet cake, and the top tier was butternut squash cake, all slathered in cream cheese frosting. Waltham Fields donated all the veggies. I donated many, many curse words as I attempted to assemble the whole impossibly heavy thing and then fit it into my refrigerator.
The process of baking the cakes went fine, though six cakes in one day was a new record for me. The assembly is what takes forever. You have to trim the cakes to be perfectly flat and level, shaving off microscopic crumbly layers over and over because you keep making things worse. You have to whip up at least five batches of frosting. Each tier is a double layer cake, so you fill and frost two stacked cakes for each tier. (Some bakers cut each layer in half horizontally so each tier has four layers, but I was suicidal enough as it was. Plus, that's the wrong frosting-to-cake ratio in this case.)
I like to apply a crumb coat to layer cakes, which means you apply a really thin coat of frosting all over to trap the crumbs and then refrigerate the cake until the frosting stiffens to lock them in. Then you can apply a final crumb-free coat afterwards. Sounds easy, right? NOT!!! It's really hard to get the frosting to be completely flat and wrinkle-free. It doesn't want to be that way at all. Every time you lift up your icing spatula, it leaves a mark. And every time you set it down to erase the previous mark, it leaves another mark. It's an endless maddening cycle, but, whatever, I did the best I could.
Here's the real problem, though. Once you get all of your cakes nicely frosted and you're feeling fairly proud of yourself, how the fuck do you then stack 20-pound cakes on top of each other, all perfectly centered, without leaving draggy marks in your nice frosting job as you pull your fingers out from underneath? Can somebody please tell me? Because I'd really love to know.
The other problem was that the finished cake was so heavy, I literally could not lift it. I couldn't do it! You may remember how much trouble I had carrying a regular-sized carrot cake a short distance last year. I've been working out, I swear, but the cakes keep getting bigger. I don't know how much this cake weighed (my kitchen scale doesn't go up that high), but here's a quick estimate based on the ingredients I used: 10 pounds of sugar, 5 pounds of cream cheese, 4 pounds of butter, 4 pounds of vegetables, 3 pounds of flour, 2 pounds of oil, 2 pounds of eggs, 1 pound of nuts, 1 pound of chocolate, and the board weighed 3 pounds. If I know simple arithmetic, that means the cake must have weighed at least 455 pounds. Luckily, Husband is strong. (I'm pretty sure he was sore the next day, but he'll never admit it.)
Here's another thing I learned: disassembling and serving wedding cakes is an unbelievably messy process. There's a reason why they take the cakes in the back to slice them: There's cake and frosting flying all over the place. I think the caterers who observed my amateur cake-wrangling skills were horrified. Once you take the tiers apart to slice them (and you need to do that or else you'll end up with an engineering disaster), the frosting in between the tiers gets suctioned right off by the cake directly above it. That means half the pieces end up with no frosting at all. Mind you, I had a GIANT bowl of leftover frosting back at the house that I could have used, but I didn't think I'd need it. None of my Wedding Cakes for Dummies books I took out of the library mentioned the bald cake part. They were all, bring a little frosting for last-minute touchups!, so I brought my little sandwich baggie of frosting that I then had to smear across 45 pieces of cake in a nearly invisible layer.
This is why you need test runs.
Anyway, all three layers were moist and delicious, and the cake as a whole didn't come out half as hideous as I thought it would be. I went for the rustic, spackled look, as you can see, adding a little texture to the sides to hide imperfections. I should probably practice piping frosting embellishments one of these days, but, for now, I'm just glad I have another 3 or 4 months before I have to do this all over again for Test Run No. 2.
(and, if you're wondering, no, those are not Martha Stewart's stupid truffle eggs. They're Jordan almonds, the ubiquitous Italian wedding favors, which just happen to work perfectly for springtime cakes.)
I looked up the other day and this is what I saw.
I see wild turkeys in the yard all the time. There's a substantial slope back there, so the turkeys are right at eye level. Sometimes they stop and peer in at me, especially if the windows are open and I'm making a racket. I'll be singing to myself and suddenly I'll look up to see a turkey or two staring back at me looking even more confused than usual. Everybody's a critic.
But this time the windows were closed and I wasn't singing. Mr. Turkey was pacing back and forth, staring at me through the window, clearly agitated, tail feathers straining. Can he tell I'm making chicken? Is there a poultry alliance I'm not aware of? I continued chopping my vegetables. Meanwhile, he proceeded with his very important turkey business, whatever that might be, which appeared to involve nothing but pacing and staring at me through the window for 15 more minutes. I searched his beady eyes. Is he mistaking me for a suitable mate? He continued pacing and staring, pacing and staring, tail feathers fanned and vibrating. I cranked open the window and yelled out: Shoo, Turkey! I'm not available!
That only seemed to encourage him. Typical.
Then I went into another room to get a better look. There she was: a female turkey perched on a fallen tree a short distance away. She had been out of view of the kitchen window. She was preening herself nonchalantly. Clearly the show wasn't intended for me at all.
I'll admit I was a little disappointed. That was the most male attention I'd gotten all week.
You know what I'm talking about. Back in high school, everything is poised to get better. The braces will be pried off soon. The glasses can be traded in for contact lenses, maybe even the kind that turn your muddy eyes a cool shade of aquamarine like a mood ring. You're finally easing up on all the Aqua Net (step away from the can of hairspray, Tammy). The ugly duckling becomes a swan and all that crap. Meanwhile, you're making a little cash throwing together sandwiches on the weekends and you feel real smart with that diploma in your hand.
The world is yours for the taking!
In high school, you can't wait for college. In college, you look forward to getting out of college because all this studying is putting a damper on your social life. Plus, you want a fun job with a decent paycheck. You want a mode of transportation besides your own two feet. Dates at fancy restaurants. A place to live that's not a dump. Vacations. Soon you have some stuff, and you like your stuff, but you want something more. You want love. You want a family of your own. Then you get a family of your own and, for the whole first year, you can't believe what a horrible mistake you've made. No more dates at fancy restaurants. Your place becomes a dump. Vacations take on an entirely new and unwelcome meaning. Sometimes you wish you'd just stayed home.
But then you learn to stop being so selfish all the time and things gets better. Your family becomes your whole life. Does anyone else have kids as awesome as yours? NO WAY! IMPOSSIBLE! And then you realize something. Your kids are halfway through their childhood already. They're going to spend the whole second half hating you. And then they're going to leave.
They say you get better with age, but in what way specifically? Nicer? I don't think so. If anything, I'm getting more crotchety and even less charitable behind the wheel of a car. Wiser? Uh-uh. By my calculations, I'm getting stupider by the day. I've always been a wee bit forgetful, but this is ridiculous. I left my coat somewhere last week. At the library? At Walgreens? Where? How did I not notice my coat was missing? True, it felt colder, but all that ran through my head was: That's New England for you. One minute you're toasty warm in your nice winter jacket and the next minute you're shivering by the parking meters fumbling for change while the icy wind sucker punches you in the spleen and there's no logical explanation for it whatsoever. (I still haven't found it, by the way. My coat. It's puffy and gray with a big hood.)
The other night I looked in the mirror and realized that it's all downhill from here. This is as smart/healthy/attractive as I will ever be for the whole rest of my life. And, I'll be honest, the bar didn't seem very high.
Is this what a midlife crisis looks like?
This recipe is stupefyingly simple. I don't even use stock anymore, just water. It's silky and surprisingly sweet. Snip a few chives on top and you have something tasty and healthful to warm you up on a chilly spring day when your coat is nowhere to be found.
1 Tbsp. unsalted butter
1 medium onion, chopped
2 celery stalks, chopped
1 garlic clove, minced
3 cups water (or veggie stock)
1 pound parsnips, peeled, cored*, diced
Salt and pepper
Melt the butter in a medium saucepan over medium-low heat. Sauté the chopped onion and celery for 4 to 5 minutes until soft and translucent. Don't let the vegetables brown. Add the garlic and sauté for 15 seconds until fragrant. Add the water or stock and the parsnips. Bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer until the parsnips are soft, 15 to 20 minutes. Let cool and purée in a blender or with a stick blender until perfectly smooth. Season with salt and pepper. Serves 2 or 3. The recipe can be doubled (just be sure to purée the soup in half-batches if using a blender).
*Some parsnips have a woody central core that runs from top to bottom. To remove it, I usually just slice the peeled sides right off the core, which is a slightly different color. (Then chop up the sides and discard the core.) But if you're not sure exactly where or how big the core is, you can also quarter the parsnip the long way. Then you can see it a lot better. Just trim along the interior edge of each quarter with a paring knife to remove it.
So far this spring, we've had very little in the way of April showers and lots in the way of freezing cold Arctic blasts that take your breath away. But I know you're coming, Spring. I know it because the snow piles have finally receded, exposing all the computer monitors that have been dumped in the woods behind our house, sun glinting off the screens at various times of day. I also know because the turkey vultures have returned to roost back there, as they do every year around this time, lured by rumors of carrion and free wifi.
But it's the appearance of rhubarb in the markets that truly announces warmer days ahead. Nothing says spring like weird pink vegetables. I made this ginger-laced rhubarb crisp for Easter weekend as the mercury inched past sixty degrees. The first real taste of spring!
Bracing and bright, these two flavors were made for each other. You want fresh ginger here, not ground.
1-1/2 pounds rhubarb, cut into 1-inch pieces
1 Tbsp. minced fresh ginger
1-1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 cup all-purpose flour
Pinch of salt
4 ounces (1 stick) cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
Preheat the oven to 350°F (175°C). Butter the inside of a 9-inch pie plate or 8x8-inch baking dish.
Combine the rhubarb, ginger and 1 cup of the sugar in the prepared dish. Set aside.
In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, salt, and the remaining 1/4 cup of sugar. Cut the butter into the dry ingredients with your fingers (pinching the butter into smaller and smaller pieces) or using a pastry blender until the mixture resembles a coarse meal flecked with pea-sized pieces of butter (you can also do this in a food processor). Scatter the mixture over the rhubarb.
Bake for about 1 hour and 15 minutes, or until the top is golden brown and the rhubarb juices are bubbly. Remove from the oven and let it cool slightly. Serve warm with vanilla ice cream.
Source: Adapted from The Country Cooking of Ireland by Colman Andrews.
Look at me all professional! I just made myself some sweet business cards through MOO even though I'm not sure what I do here constitutes legitimate business. But, hey, as long as you guys keep showing up, they might let me keep writing books and if that's not the awesomest business plan, I don't know what is.
In my earlier professional life, I was always too shy to give out business cards, if I had any at all. Perhaps I was worried people would be intimidated by my high-powered career titles like Administrative Sorceress. Executive Ass-Kicker. Editorial Ninja. Kung Fu Fact Checker. Trust me, the last thing you want in your entry-level position is someone with strong opinions about serial commas and an overactive sense of justice.
The truth is, I was more afraid that if I gave out my real business cards, which sadly never reflected the appropriate amount of badassery I brought to the table, somebody would immediately ask me for a cup of coffee. Because even though technically people weren't supposed to do that anymore, they still did. I wonder if that's why I never developed a coffee habit? Because I got so sick of grown adults asking me to get them coffee when they already knew where the kitchen was and they presumably learned how to pour their own beverages at some point in their hazy past. Can't you see I'm too busy with this very important filing to get you coffee? If these dumb forms don't get filed in the right place, you're not going to be able to find them later and who's going to have to deal with your caffeine-fueled rage? Me!
You know what nobody likes? An admin assistant with fricking attitude.
Ah, but soon I'll be a published author with fricking attitude. A published author who can't make a decent cup of coffee, but who, despite the state of the rest of the house, has the neatest files you've ever seen. (And business cards!)
I had a Martha Stewart moment yesterday, however brief. The kids had written a cute poem on the refrigerator door with magnetic poetry, and I wanted to feature it on my blog for Easter. I decided to recreate Martha's blue-marbled white chocolate-covered truffle eggs seen here so that: a) I'd have an artsy image to go with the words; and b) I could eat some decent chocolate on Easter for a change.
However, the eggs didn't turn out so well. I don't know what kind of sweatshop Martha runs over there that produces truffle eggs so perfectly egg-shaped with marbling so perfectly sharp and well-defined yet appropriately whimsical, but I finally understand why her original recipe called for three pounds of white chocolate. You'll need that much or more if you hope to achieve anything even remotely egg-like. Even then, you still might end up with what resemble misshapen lumps of gorgonzola. If you have the patience, dedication, and skill for such a task, I suggest you turn your sights to med school.
Eff that. I coated the rest of the truffle eggs in cocoa powder and called it a day.
Now before you get all up in my grill, I'm not dissing cauliflower or any of the talented chefs that prepare it. Cauliflower is delicious, and why shouldn't it be trending right now? I know that restaurants have to factor in overhead when pricing appetizers, even inexpensive ones, but still. Eleven dollars? Next time there'd better be some caviar on that cauliflower!
If you too get so blinded by your love for cauliflower that you're tempted to pay exorbitant amounts of money for coaster-sized portions, here's a tip: make it at home. One way to prepare it is simply to roast it in a little olive oil. The secret is in the browning. No pale, waterlogged cauliflower here. Concentrating and caramelizing the sugars brings out the best flavor.
Once you learn how to make awesome cauliflower yourself, you can take those eleven dollars you just saved and spend them on something else on the menu, like a second cocktail or a fancy dessert you'd never make at home. Or a whole bushel of cauliflower at the cauliflower store!
I find it's better to cut the cauliflower into flat slices rather than lumpy florets so you have as much surface area in contact with the hot pan as possible for maximum browning. Cut the cauliflower into half-inch-thick slabs and cut the core out of the middle slices. They will naturally separate into bite-sized pieces while cooking.
2 Tbsp. olive oil
1 cauliflower, sliced into 1/2-inch thick slabs
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
Preheat the oven to 400° F. Coat a sheet pan with a thin film of olive oil and sprinkle with a little salt and pepper. (You might need two pans depending on the size of your cauliflower.)
Lay the cauliflower in a single layer on the pan. No crowding. You don't want the pieces to sit too closely together or they'll steam more than roast. Drizzle with additional oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Roast the cauliflower on the bottom rack of the oven for 10 to 15 minutes or until the bottoms turn a golden shade of brown. Flip and cook 10 to 15 minutes more until the other side browns and the vegetables are tender but not mushy. Serve hot.
As much as I like my usual flatware, I'm getting a little sick and tired of seeing the same spoon in every single shot for the past seven years. I found this pretty serving spoon at a thrift shop in amongst the grubby, mismatched utensils thrown together in a bin. Now that it's spic and span, you can look forward to seeing that spoon in every single shot going forward.
The napkin-sized swatches came from the remnant pile at the local fabric store for pocket change. You may see them again. Your job is to pretend they're expensive linens. And the marble slab under last week's bagels was a Craig's List freebie. All I had to do was carry it away (no small task, as it turns out).
Sometimes having a shoestring operating budget is kind of fun!
This one was made by Formaggi Ocello in Sydney, Australia, but I wondered if the cheesemongers at nearby Formaggio Kitchen or South End Formaggio ever did this. Turns out, they do. Keep this in mind, blushing brides (and grooms).
It's enough to make you want to get married all over again!
I don't know about you, but this is the time of year when I get bored with the same food I've been cooking all winter. I want something a little different. Exotic even.
Yesterday I stopped by Savenor's, a butcher shop in Boston's Beacon Hill, and I was not disappointed. Of course, there was the usual pork, beef, chicken, and lamb, all cuts. There was duck, Cornish game hens, venison, and goat. They had the obligatory corned beef for St. Patrick's Day, but hasn't that been a little overplayed? How about trying something new for your Irish boiled dinner?
Here's a list of alternatives from Savenor's most interesting selections:
For the Irish immigrants who arrived here by way of the Rio Grande, how about some bone-in iguana? What does iguana taste like? I'm sure you can guess. Chicken, of course. In Puerto Rico, iguanas are called gallinas de palo (chickens of the trees).
Here we have some python fillets from Vietnam. I have to admit, I never thought snakes had much meat on them. I thought they were just a thin layer of skin surrounding a long, empty tube with the occasional bulge where a rodent was being digested whole. But then, according to my hypothesis, snakes would never be able to move around. I also assumed snakes were boneless—a boon to lazy meat-eaters like me. Wrong again! Check this out. (Ideas like these are why I flunked out of my biology classes in college.)
If you're worried about food miles and cage sizes, a great alternative to python is domestic free-range rattlesnake. It ain't cheap, but why should it be? If hunters have to chase these fanged, angry, venomous snakes halfway across the desert, you're going to pay a hefty price. Fair wages for the rattlesnake wranglers!
For a taste of the bayou, let's not overlook alligator sirloin. The young lady at the register said it tastes like frog legs. That's not helpful if you've never had frog legs, but since I have, let me break it down even further: imagine an amphibious cross between fish and—you guessed it—chicken. But this isn't just any chicken-fish. This is "sirloin" of chicken-fish. A veritable slab of tender, juicy meat you can really sink your teeth into. And if anyone knows the satisfaction of sinking their teeth into a giant slab of tender, juicy meat, it's an alligator. Turnabout is fair play, my reptilian friend.
Finally, if you're looking for something that doesn't taste like chicken (or chicken-fish), consider kangaroo meat. I know, I know. They're so cute and bouncy and the pouches—let's not forget the pouches! But apparently they're real pests in the same way that deer can be destructive in large numbers. The Aussies enjoy their kangaroo meat (although there seems to be some disagreement about the proper way to spell kangaroo on the label). My source said kangaroo meat tastes like any other red meat, and it's not super-gamey like venison.
So think about mixing up the repertoire this St. Paddy's day. And maybe—if you have the luck of the Irish on your side—your guests won't kill you!
It never once occurred to me to make my own bagels. Not until I picked up Jennifer Reese's book, Make the Bread, Buy the Butter. In the book, she outlines her advice for which foods are worth making yourself and which ones are better left to the professionals. I was surprised to find bagels in the "make yourself" category. I flagged the recipe for later.
Later never came.
But last week, Husband brought home some bagels from the grocery store and they were god-awful: chalky with an unpleasant flavor. Even I can do better than that, I declared out loud, not sure if I really could but knowing that you have to talk tough if you're going to show your below-average bagel who's boss. I pulled out Reese's book and flipped to the bagel section with an overly dramatic flourish.
Here's what I learned. Making bagels is just like making bread except you boil the dough rings for a few minutes before baking them to a golden brown. (I had no idea you boiled bagels.) The toppings, if you want them, go on after the boiling part (duh) but before the baking (aha!). Otherwise they won't stick. I found it hard to get the dough rings perfectly round. I tried forming the dough into a ball and poking my thumbs through the center as well as rolling the dough into a thick rope and joining the ends. Results were mixed. Most of them came out charmingly misshapen, but, boy, were they delicious, especially warm right out of the oven. They're fun to make, too, all speckled with various toppings.
So, do I agree with the author that homemade bagels are worth the work? If you don't live in New York City, then yes, absolutely. If you do live in NYC, let's face it, you're going to be comparing them to your favorite hallowed bagel place the whole time and nothing will ever live up (and even if they do, you won't admit it). Don't bother. For the rest of us, though, here's your next Sunday morning project!
Husband sure picked the wrong week to go back on the South Beach Diet. :(
3-1/2 cups high-gluten or bread flour (I used 4 cups all-purpose flour)
1-1/2 Tbsp. instant yeast (I used active dry and it worked fine)
3 Tbsp. granulated sugar
1 Tbsp. kosher salt
1-1/2 cups water or warm whey from making yogurt or cheese
2 Tbsp. barley malt syrup or brown sugar (I used date honey)
Coarse cornmeal for sprinkling
Optional toppings: poppy seeds, sesame seeds, coarse salt, caraway seeds, dried minced onion, dried minced garlic
In the bowl of a mixer, combine the flour, yeast, sugar, and salt. Add the water or whey and beat hard with the paddle for a few minutes until it comes together into a stiff dough (add a little more flour if necessary). At this point, either switch to the dough hook at your own risk (I busted my KitchenAid this way once) or knead the dough by hand on a floured counter for 5 to 10 minutes until the dough is smooth, supple, and spankable (my words—don't blame the author for my colorful descriptors). Place the dough in a greased bowl, cover with a clean, damp dishtowel, and let rise until doubled in bulk, about 1 hour.
Preheat the oven to 400°F. Bring a large pot of water to a boil. While the water is heating, sprinkle a rimmed baking sheet generously with cornmeal (use more than you think or the bagels will fuse to the pan). Lightly grease a second pan.
Punch down the dough with floured fists and divide it into 10 more-or-less equal pieces. Roll each piece into the neatest, roundest ball you can and then, with your thumb, poke a hole in the middle and coax the dough into a bagel shape. Alternatively, you can roll the dough into a thick rope and then join the slightly overlapping ends with a little water. Set the bagels on the lightly greased sheet to rest for 10 minutes.
When the water comes to a rolling boil, add the malt syrup (or brown sugar). Drop the bagels into the water three at a time. Let them simmer for a minute, then flip them over and simmer one minute more. Remove them with a slotted spoon, return to the oiled pan to dry a bit, and repeat with the remaining dough. Transfer all of the bagels to the cornmeal-coated pan and sprinkle on your toppings, if desired.
Bake the bagels for 25 to 35 minutes until golden brown. Store them in a paper bag at room temperature for a few days, or freeze, tightly wrapped, for longer storage. If you end up with some stale bagels, you can always make bagel chips (which are also great in salads and panzanellas).
Source: Adapted from Make the Bread, Buy the Butter by Jennifer Reese who got it from The New Complete Book of Breads by Bernard Clayton, who adapted it from the erstwhile Jewish restaurant in Paris, Jo Goldenberg's.
Okay, guys, you asked and I listened (nearly a year later). I finally got my blog's RSS feed converted into emailable form. And by "I," I'm referring to the good folks at Mad Mimi because "I" am incapable of such a thing.
If you'd like to receive new blog posts by email, you can sign up here. No, this is not a ploy to get all of your personal information so I can spam you to death with farmer's market propaganda. I don't want all of your personal information, trust me. Keep that shit to yourself. The only thing needed is your email address. The only propaganda I promote is the usual combination of good food and silliness. My only goal is to get through the week alive, same as you. You can unsubscribe at any time.
If you do sign up, keep in mind that you may need to click a link at the top of your email in order for the images to be visible. Assuming you want the images to be visible. I'll leave that up to you. As for the rest of you, if email isn't your preferred method of blog engagement, just continue to tune in the usual way, same bat time, same bat channel, which is right here whenever the hell I feel like posting.
Anyone else out there plagued by relentless hiccups? Or hiccoughs, if you prefer? In my younger life, I tried every possible cure: holding my breath, spoonfuls of sugar, having someone jump out and scare the shit out of me. Nothing worked until eventually I'd pass out from exhaustion.
But surely, I thought, surely there must be some way to interrupt the infuriating cycle of spasmodic insanity short of tasering my diaphragm into submission. Lo and behold, in the spring of 1994, I found that solution in the most unlikely place: A hostel in the northwest corner of Spain. There, a stranger noticed my plight (and by noticed I mean she was hideously inconvenienced by it). I believe it was the owner of the hostel, though I honestly can't remember because I dismissed her advice almost immediately. She said to clench a pencil between your teeth while drinking a glass of water and voila: hiccups gone.
I mean, really, what kind of medical advice is that?
Naturally, I assumed it was quackery, but every hiccupping person has his or her breaking point. Eventually I gave in. What could it hurt, right? I located the nearest writing implement and bit down on it as instructed. Then I took a swig from my water bottle. Or tried, at least. It's surprisingly hard to drink water when you're unable to fully close your mouth. Water streamed down the front of me until I burst out laughing, spraying the whole mouthful all over the room.
The hostel owner was obviously in on some kind of practical joke. Is there anything more fun for Europeans than tricking dumb, potentially drunk Americans? Probably not. Or maybe my Spanish wasn't as good as I thought. Maybe she had simply said "drink some water" and had offered me a pencil to write down this important advice. Perhaps the pencil was all in my imaginings. STUPID PENCILS!!!
That's when my friend noticed that my hiccups had stopped. I froze for 15 seconds. She was right! They were GONE!!! I was so happy, she snapped a photo of the momentous occasion:
See the relief in my eyes? And the water-splattered bedspread? (I knew this photo would come in handy someday!)
Over the course of that trip, my hiccups returned a few more times, as they are wont to do, and each time the trick worked immediately (if messily). Since then, I've gotten no closer to mastering the art of drinking water with a pencil in my mouth (or pen or magic marker), but I don't care because it never fails me. I'm sure there's a logical explanation for why it works—something more to do with physiology than fairies—but I'm no scientist. All I know is the past 20 years have been virtually hiccup-free. Not bad for an obscure Spanish home remedy.
I was in a bad mood the other day, so Husband sent me out of the house to get some fresh air and a gallon of milk. In one of the aisles of the grocery store, I saw a little boy sitting in a shopping cart.
He stared at me.
I smiled brightly and waved.
He held up a package of wooden spoons.
I made expressions indicating I approved of his treasure.
I was charmed!
He was still winking when he made a sort of clicking noise with his mouth. Then I heard a tremendous explosion, masterfully improvised, as he fired his makeshift weapon at my face.
My eyes went from soft, wide doe-eyes to the razor-thin slits of an angry snake as I registered the betrayal.
He appraised me with a look of smug victory.
I was suddenly filled with white-hot rage. My muscles began twitching under my poofy winter coat. A feeling of suffocating tightness came over me as I realized my body was expanding at an alarming rate. The seams of my coat burst. The fabric shredded all around me to reveal skin that was now a sickening shade of green. I had the sudden urge to rip those wooden spoons out of his hand and snap them over my muscular knee. I wanted to grab his Hostess cupcakes out of the carriage, tear open the package, and squeeze them until the creme and mangled cake crumbs extruded greasily between my fingers. I wanted to pull all of the six-packs of soda off the shelves and smash them onto the floor so hard that they exploded into hundreds of angry geysers. Then, amid the spray and chocolate wreckage, I would stand over his terrified little face and say in a very slow, very low voice:
But instead I kept on walking. Walking, walking down the aisle with my milk and my tattered clothing dragging behind me, walking right by his mother who didn't seem to mind that my virtual brains were splattered all over Aisle 7. Which is too bad, because he's likely to do that again, and I'm one of the saner individuals at my supermarket.
This was supposed to be part of my Tuesday Tease series of lazy photo posts, but then it suddenly became Friday. No problem—I changed the title to Friday Freeze. Seemed apt. Then Friday came and went. Now it's Saturday. Saturday Sneeze strikes me as too disgusting of a post title to be paired with a bowl full of yellow snow, so you're stuck with the outdated title (and an image in your mind that you probably wish you didn't have). You're welcome!
In my forthcoming cookbook, there are several recipes for homemade snow cones. And by homemade, I do not mean pouring a package of powdered Kool-Aid over the snow. While the Internet assures me that this is a perfectly delicious way to enjoy snow cones, the Internet disappoints me sometimes. After experimenting with various homemade syrups, I came up with some excellent alternatives using seasonal winter fruits like citrus, pears, and quince (pictured is tangelo). I stored them in jelly jars in the refrigerator and then waited for the snow to come.
And waited and waited and waited. Mind you, this was last winter (2011/2012). The winter before that (2010/2011), we got 80 inches of snow. Last year, nothing. Well, maybe a few dustings here and there, but only enough to make one pitifully small grassy snow cone flecked with dirt and debris. Not appetizing. I thought about driving up to the mountains with a cooler. Instead I pulled out the blender. Bad idea. You can't make snow cones with a blender. Not with my blender anyway. Not unless you like soupy slush cones studded with frequent whole nuggets of ice. Yuck!
Finally, I broke down and bought a cheap $20 shaved ice machine. It worked well for testing purposes, producing an acceptable snow-like accumulation in small quantities. But I had yet to try my syrups over the actual cottony stuff from the sky. Until recently, that is. And, oh, it's such a treat!
Following up on my trip to Philly, here's a peek into the photo shoot for my cookbook, Wintersweet. Above are food stylist Ricardo Jattan and his assistant Curt working on that day's recipes. Below is Steve Legato, photographer extraordinaire. The shoot took place in his spacious, light-filled studio.
How it worked was this: Ricardo and Curt would make the selected recipes (about 40 in all) in the studio kitchen. Amanda, the book's art designer, coordinated with Mariellen, the prop stylist, to select the right plates and props from several tables' worth of platters, bowls, plates, trays, and linens. Ricardo, a successful movie production designer who does food styling in his spare time, would artfully arrange the dessert on the chosen serving vessel, selecting just the right honey-roasted pear to feature (known as the "hero"). That includes making sure the caramel drips seductively in all the right places and the nuts are scattered attractively. It's trickier than it looks. Here Amanda is razzing Ricardo for trying to sneak an unwanted mint garnish into one of the shots.
Meanwhile, Amanda and Mariellen set up the appropriate backgrounds on the set: sometimes old cabinet doors or boards, sometimes fancy papers. Steve adjusted the lights and made various other calibrations that I can't even begin to understand.
Photos were taken, adjusted, cropped, snapped again, adjusted again, props swapped out, frosting dabbed just so, snapped again, etc., etc. You might start with something like this:
…and end up with something like this:
See the swirls in that napkin? Those are not accidental. This is why I will never amount to anything as a food stylist. I unceremoniously plop the napkin down right after using it to smear some ketchup across my face.
Mmmm, whoopie pies! Frankly, I was in my glory sitting back and watching everyone else do the hard work. I didn't have to lift a finger. The process was fascinating to watch, and I had so much fun. Such a nice and talented group! A huge thanks to the whole crew, as well as my editor Kristen Green Wiewora at Running Press and my agent Melissa Sarver.
I know you're probably tired of hearing me drone on and on about this, but I cannot WAIT to see this book!!
Why Philadelphia in February?
It was the site of my dessert cookbook's photo shoot with Philly-based Running Press and Steve Legato Photography. Just between you and me, I wasn't going to miss that experience for all the tea in Boston's icy harbor, snow be damned, Amtrak train cancellations be doubly damned, school cancellations be triply damned. I fishtailed my way down my barely plowed street at 5 am on Monday and flung myself onto the first southbound train that came my way. Six hours later, I woke up in Philly.
This is the view from my little hotel, The Independent, which I loved (wood floors, high ceilings, close to all the great restaurants). I didn't have much daylight to work with for sight-seeing, but I did manage a fair amount of walking before and after the shoot through the Old City and Rittenhouse Square.
Philly reminds me a lot of Boston with its brick and cobblestone sidewalks in some quarters and streetcar rails grooving the pavement in others. The architecture is similar, too, with pretty little row houses lining the streets, but with more brick than brownstone and simpler, straighter lines. The urban vibe seems grittier and funkier than Boston, though, and certainly more diverse. There seemed to be painted murals around every corner. The grid system of an urban plan (roads chronologically numbered in one direction, named after trees in the other) is very easy to navigate by foot, and the drivers don't rev their engines if you're still in the crosswalk when the light is about to change. That was a refreshing change of pace.
My editor treated my agent and I to a lovely dinner at Tria, a wine bar with a welcome emphasis on cheese and probably the friendliest service I've experienced at any restaurant ever. The next night, I dined alone at Fish at the bar overlooking the open kitchen. The food was delicious: seared scallops with chorizo, cauliflower, and Marcona almonds, and monkfish with parsnip puree, lobster butter, fermented garlic, braised fennel, and radish.
The staff kept me well entertained, teasing me for missing all the important Philly sights: the Liberty Bell, Constitution Center, Independence Hall, and the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the latter of which seemed better known for Rocky's triumphant training scene than any art contained therein. Let it be known, however, that I did get to the Reading Terminal Market housed in an old train station, where I procured colorful farm eggs and an assortment of winter squashes for photography purposes.
But, of course, a large part of why I loved my trip so much was the photo shoot itself. It was amazing. What a fantastic, talented, and welcoming crew! They made even my most unphotogenic recipes look scrumptious, hermits included. Hermits!! The shoot deserves a post all its own, which you will soon get, but first I need to spend a little time with my family.
(To be continued…)
Know what's good over a shot glass full of snow? This stuff: Sapling. It's a maple liqueur from Saxtons River Distillery in Brattleboro, Vermont. Sweet but not too sweet, it's a nice reward after four hours of shoveling 2 to 3 feet of snow.
The 10YO and 7YO joined forces over the weekend to protest the fact that I wouldn't give them dessert after lunch. Not part of the contract, I said. It's a discretionary bonus.
10YO: Then we'll go on strike.
Me: On strike?
Me: In the real world, when workers go on strike, the whole company shuts down because there isn't anyone to do the work. But, in this case, everything stays the same. You don't do any work!
10YO: We can stop listening to you.
Me: You could…
(brothers exchange nervous glances)
Me: …but then you're putting your dinnertime dessert at risk. Why would I want to make cupcakes and ice cream for a bunch of naughty boys?!
10YO: Pretend we never had this conversation.
I admit it, I take a little pride in winning these types of arguments because I know in three years or less, I won't be winning any of them and my cupcakes will no longer wield the power they once did.
Yesterday, the kids requested that I make some ice cream. They love homemade vanilla, maple, and peppermint stick ice cream, but their other favorite, coffee, was up in the rotation. As always, I put aside my concerns about a high-octane jolt of caffeine right before bedtime and got churning.
After dinner, the 10YO was writhing around in his chair in total ice cream bliss (or total caffeine overload, not sure which). He began strategizing all of the ways we could get rich off of this ice cream—never mind that the ice cream market is already very well saturated, and I'm far too lazy for any kind of business plan that doesn't involve sitting in one place for long periods of time, speaking to no one. Still, he insisted.
10YO: Mommy, you HAVE to start a company.
7YO: No, Mommy. I have a better idea. Start a company, make a million bowls of ice cream, and then shut it down and lock the doors so we can eat it all!
Wow, you can't buy that kind of press. Especially on double veggie night!
Anyway, I'd give you the recipe for my coffee ice cream, but I can't because it's under lock and key. Nobody's going to buy the cow if they can get the delicious coffee milkshakes for free! (The cow in this analogy is my cookbook, by the way, not me.) The book will also have the aforementioned vanilla, maple, and peppermint stick recipes, as well as some of my other favorite flavors, like pistachio, brown butter pecan, and cinnamon date. Speaking of dates, the book is officially on sale October 22, 2013.
Meanwhile, here's a fun question for you. I have a recipe in the cookbook for a vegetable-themed ice cream. Yes, a vegetable-themed ice cream. Stop gagging! I'll have you know it got enthusiastic reviews not just from an objective recipe-tester, but also Husband, TeenNiece, and the 10YO (the 7YO, not so much).
Can you guess what vegetable it is?
A few years back, I featured a recipe for banoffee pie. For those unfamiliar, banoffee pie is an amazing—and amazingly simple—combination of bananas, whipped cream, and dulce de leche (milk caramel) that everyone should try. However, I'm pretty sure nobody made the pie.
Show of hands: who made the pie?
So today, I'm offering you an even easier way to make this pie—by removing the pie aspect altogether and layering the filling components inside mason jars or wine glasses or whatever containers you happen to have at hand.
Since I got rid of the graham cracker crust, I inserted little Swedish ginger cookies between the layers (delicious!), but you could also use actual graham crackers, digestive biscuits, or Maria cookies. Break them up if you have to. You can buy dulce de leche already made in little cans in the Latin American section of the supermarket (you'll want to heat it up a little to loosen it slightly), or you can make your own by boiling the hell out of a can of condensed milk (remove the label, boil the can for 3 hours making sure the water level never falls below the top of the can, and let it cool completely before opening). If you're local, Fat Toad Farm in Vermont makes a killer cajeta (dulce de leche made from goat's milk). Russo's stocks it sometimes.
Then, slice some bananas thickly. Whip some cream (no sugar required, though a dribble of vanilla never hurts). Layer it all together and top it with chocolate shavings, a dusting of cocoa, or chopped pecans.
It's delicious and easy. Husband ate two.