Wednesday, September 30, 2009
Monday, September 28, 2009
A few weeks ago while researching a butchering class I had read about, I learned of The Brooklyn Kitchen. A small store in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, they offer a rotating roster of classes every month at prices that even I can afford. Pretty much every month, it appears, they offer a few sections of a knife skills class for $25 a person. Two hours to improve my abilities and play with big knives? Sign me up! But what good would it do to improve my own skills if the sous chef, my beloved fiance Will, was still lagging behind? As I pick these crazy meals, he is usually in charge of most of the prep work. I usually have him chop my ingredients as I work on steps 6 through 32 of any given recipe. Neither of us is trained at cooking, making it up as we go along, so it can take quite a bit of time for him to get through the list of onions, tomatoes, peppers, and whatever else I line up for him. The 9pm dinners are somewhat common. Nope, it would not do to go to the class on my own. "Hey honey, guess what we're doing!" Okay, so the big knives helped sell him on the prospect as well.
The class was BYOK, or bring your own knife, specifically a chef's knife, 8" or better. To illustrate how woefully uneducated I can be in the area of cooking, I had to look up the definition of a "Chef's knife." I'm not kidding. Once we were certain of what it was, we realized we only owned one of them, and it was a kind of crappy one I had bought right out of college. It looked like we had a good use for the Bed, Bath and Beyond gift card I had received for my shower. Thanks Aunt Lorna! Once a decent knife had been acquired (and Will volunteered to use the crappier one in class) we were ready for our new lives as trained chefs. I'd be lying if I said I wasn't envisioning the chopping on Iron Chef and thinking, "That's totally going to be me." I also may or may not have been thinking about the scene in Kill Bill where Uma Thurman cuts a baseball in half in mid-air with a samurai sword. I'm pretty sure I could learn to do that in a two hour class in Brooklyn.
Last Wednesday, knives wrapped in paper towels and secured in my bag, we were off to Brooklyn. Luckily it was not one of the days they were searching bags on the subway so I was able to make it there without being wrestled to the ground by one of New York's finest. The store was cute; in addition to an impressive range of gourmet cooking tools, they buy and refurbish copper and cast iron pans and resell them. As a well seasoned cast iron pan is supposed to be the holy grail of cooking equipment, I looked on these with quiet envy. And by quiet I mean I poked Will repeatedly as I pointed them out.
Our teacher was a chef named Brendan McDermott, who was already extremely cute and his attractiveness was only increased by his deftness with sharp objects. What can I say, I like a man with steel. He started by teaching us how to reset the "teeth" of a knife with a honing steel. Apparently you have to go from an X to a triangle. Who knew. As he chatted about knife safety and tecnique, I listened attentively. Then my stomach started feeling a little funny. Then very funny. Then I broke into a sweat. Once my vision started to swim I became fairly convinced I was going to faint. I sat on the floor, which grabbed me a fair amount of attention. I've had a few fainting spells over the year, and there is just one thing about them I know for certain. Get on the floor, or fall on the floor, it's you choice, but you will end up on the floor. It's not always an easy call, because the first instinct is denial. "I'm fine, this will pass, I'm just having a dizzy spell, blurry vision is better, I like it this way." When you wake up on the floor, however, your ego's not the only thing that's bruised. And so I sat on the floor, and made my excuses from there. Will grabbed me water and helped me to the bathroom. He was very heroic, supporting me and promising not to pose me in funny positions if I lost consciousness. After slumping against the wall, breathing deeply, and splashing water on my face my constitution returned to normal.
I know what you're thinking. "And then Will hailed a cab and took you home?" Um, not exactly. See, I've had these spells before. And there's one thing that remains true about them, they never last more than fifteen minutes. Then I'm fine, like nothing ever happened. Had Will tried to drag me home, it would have been five minutes into the ride that my body would have righted itself and I would have been super pissed that we had lost out on all of the info and the $50 we paid to take the class. I splashed water on my face and headed back to class. Chef Brendan seemed surprised to see me, but with a wary look he let me pick up my knife.
The class was excellent; I got caught up chopping celery, as well as planing, julienning, and brunoising carrots. I awkwardly hacked out chunks of carrot, desperately trying to master the down and forward motion without cutting my thumb. I had a tendency to start hazardously high. Will was freakishly good at this, earning praise from the chef for his perfect tiny carrot pieces. I'm pretty sure he cheated. Cheater.
We then moved onto the fearful onion. With eight people chopping at the same time, statistically the chances were high that tears were imminent. Onions are cut by creating a grid that doesn't go through all the way, and then cutting downward to get perfect little squares. One girl lost her eyes almost immediately, but I've never been very sensitive to onions. Another girl nicked her finger, not seriously but enough to warrant a band-aid. She persevered for a few more minutes, and then in a warbaly voice she said "You're not going to believe this, but now I'm dizzy." She sank into a chair and sipped water of her own. I felt so relieved to not be the only one swooning that I put on my best Florence Nightengale and grabbed her a wet paper towel, assuring her that putting it on the back of her neck would help. Hey, I've been there. The chef shook his head at us, "Fainting, blood, you guys are a mess, we've never had this many casualties!" Well, at least we stood out.
The class concluded with a series of demos. Nimbly wielding his knife Chef Brendan took apart a pepper, a tomato, and a whole chicken with ease and speed. The chicken was pretty cool, and he explained how much more cost effective it is to butcher the chicken yourself then to pay for individual pieces. Culinary school makes for impressive skill. I tried to pay close attention, but I may have to look up an online video when I go to do these. Because I didn't have the hands-on practice, I'm sure I didn't retain as much as with the other veggies.
The store offers students 10% off purchases on the day of their class, so I bought a little salt dish that I am rather enamored with. I've heard of some other fantastic classes Brooklyn kitchen offers, including the butchering one I was initially researching. You don't get hands on experience in that one, but you watch an entire pig get butchered, and you get to take home four pounds of meat. I have a fantasy about hosting a "Pork Overload" party the next day, since there's no way Will and I can eat that much meat. Well maybe Will could...but he would probably spend the next week in the doctor's office while a skilled medical team scrapes the plaque out of his coronary arteries. I figure a class like this would be the best way to really learn about the cuts of meat you are getting from an animal, and give you a better understanding of what you are cooking. I've asked for the class for Christmas. I think Will's still wrapping his brain around the idea that his fiance wants to see a pig cut up for a present.
The only problem I had with the class is that it's actually held in the tiny store, with limited work space and people shopping around you. I've read that in November, Brooklyn Kitchen will be opening Brooklyn Kitchen Labs, a new facility with a butcher shop in the front and full teaching kitchens. As long as the prices don't skyrocket, they can count me as a loyal student. And I will do my best to stay on my feet.
Wednesday, September 23, 2009
Monday, September 21, 2009
- 2 chicken carcasses left over from roast chicken, any herbs in cavities discarded
- 1 onion, quartered
- 2 celery ribs, chopped
- 1 large carrot, chopped
- 1 head of garlic, halved crosswise
- Scant 1/4 teaspoon black peppercorns
- 2 thyme sprigs
- 8 parsley sprigs including long stems
- 4 quarts water
Bring all ingredients to a boil in an 8-qt stockpot. Reduce heat and simmer, skimming foam occasionally, 2 hours.
Strain stock through a fine-mesh sieve into a bowl, pressing on and then discarding solids. If you have more than 6 cups, boil to reduce; if less, add water. If using stock right away, skim off and discard fat. If not, chill stock (covered once cool) and discard fat after it solidifies.
Friday, September 18, 2009
Crab Cake Sandwiches
2 slices firm white sandwich bread
1/2 pound jumbo lump crabmeat, picked over
2 tablespoon mayonnaise
1/2 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
1 large egg, beaten
2 tablespoon unsalted butter
Old Bay to taste
2 Sandwich rolls
Tear bread into small pieces into a bowl with crab. Add mayonnaise, Worcestershire sauce, egg, and a pinch of salt. Mix together gently but thoroughly, then form into 2 patties. If you like, sprinkle patties with Old Bay.
Heat butter in a 12-inch heavy skillet over medium heat until foam subsides, then cook crab cakes, turning once, until golden brown, about 8 minutes total.
Toast rolls, place crab cakes on, enjoy with a glass of wine!
See? Easy as pie! (Note: Pie is much more difficult than this colloquialism would have you believe. I've yet to successfully pull off a homemade pie crust.) Will, a hardliner in the fight against mayo, ate his with enthusiasm and then declared that he would like to eat about eight more. That's when I felt the need to build a napkin fort around what was left of my own sandwich. He was right though, the 2 tbs do work well in the cakes, but don't leave it tasting like a mayo burger as some crab cake recipes have been known to do. It was a great way to send off a season, that, if I had it my way, would be spent largely sitting on docks and eating seafood. Now that I'm looking at a forecast full of weather in the 60's and 70's, maybe a pork roast with apples… or mushroom soup… or a pumpkin pie. Maybe I'll even make the crust myself.
Wednesday, September 16, 2009
Monday, September 14, 2009
I planned on coming up to visit Heather for Labor Day weekend solely with the idea of reading and flipping through fashion magazines all weekend, and came prepared with a suitcase full of books and some essential travel items. My first night there Heather went into the kitchen to start this "Salted Carmel Ice Cream" concept, which she hadn't really sold me on yet and I laid down on the couch to read the selected poetry of D. H. Lawrence. In between poems I would poke my head in the kitchen to see if anything was yummy enough to start eating and provide my services as taste tester. Heather was actively engaged in the home made caramel process which involved a really big pan, medium heat and an absurd quantity of sugar. The sugar was melted, but seemed to be separated into one watery brown liquid with a molten deep brown lava center that kind of moved like old rubbery snot when you touched it. Heather kept poking at it with furrowed brow and stated "There isn't a picture with the recipe but I feel strongly that it shouldn't look like this." I agreed. We futzed with the goop for a while, trying to unstick it from the spoon she was using to stir "it." The recipe suggested shaking the pan in a swooping circular motion, but that was clearly not the answer (I think we only angered it) and stirring this substance seemed to some how defy my previous understanding of physics.
The sugar melted into a triumphant caramel and I began work on the custard which I assured Heather I wouldn't ruin because I had "seen Giada and Ina Garten do it like a million times." I think really she was just more focused on the caramel but for whatever reason I took over custard duty. Even though I knew better, I didn't really whisk while I poured the simmered milk into the egg, I was slightly more focused on talking. Heather eventually stepped in and took over the whisk operation, but it was too late. There was about four tablespoons of scrambled eggs left over in the sieve after straining. Despite a major loss in our ingredient amounts, we remained confident.
I gracefully bowed out of the cooking process and Heather moved onto a chicken while the custard chilled. While she hacked the neck off the chicken I yelled "Viva la revolution, off with their heads," painting my toenails bright iridescent fuchsia. I felt very much like a modern day Marie Antoinette, but with poultry. Heather seasoned the chicken and put it in the oven using her nifty new roasting pan that--from what she tells me--is totally awesome. If the the final product was any indicator to the pan's value, then you should all go get one, because the chicken was pretty awesome. (Ed. Note: It was the Caphalon with rack and baster, a wedding present from my lovely Aunt Donna)
Will was slightly self-deprecating about his mashed potatoes, which he claimed were lumpy. However, I thought they were fantastic, which is amazing because I think all things potato, including chips and fries, are gross. Maybe it was the lump that I needed all this time?
The ice cream turned out to be a really rich carmel soft serve. Less ice cream, more chilled syrup. I made the suggestion to Heather that it be served with lady fingers, turns out those are hard to find at 9 pm. Will obligingly went to the store for Nilla Wafers, and that turned out to be a fantastic save, because it's insanely good with cookies. So from what Heather tells me, she is now eating the Salted Caramel Ice cream as a dip with cookies and it's an arrangement she and Will are on board with.
Gourmet magazine, August 2009
1/4 cups sugar, divided
2 1/4 cups heavy cream, divided
1/2 teaspoon flaky sea salt such as Maldon
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 cup whole milk
3 large eggs
Heat 1 cup sugar in a dry 10-inch heavy skillet over medium heat, stirring with a fork to heat sugar evenly, until it starts to melt, then stop stirring and cook, swirling skillet occasionally so sugar melts evenly, until it is dark amber.
Add 1 1/4 cups cream (mixture will spatter) and cook, stirring, until all of caramel has dissolved. Transfer to a bowl and stir in sea salt and vanilla. Cool to room temperature.
Meanwhile, bring milk, remaining cup cream, and remaining 1/4 cup sugar just to a boil in a small heavy saucepan, stirring occasionally.
Lightly whisk eggs in a medium bowl, then add half of hot milk mixture in a slow stream, whisking constantly. Pour back into saucepan and cook over medium heat, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon, until custard coats back of spoon and registers 170°F on an instant-read thermometer (do not let boil). Pour custard through a fine-mesh sieve into a large bowl, then stir in cooled caramel.
Chill custard, stirring occasionally, until very cold, 3 to 6 hours. Freeze custard in ice cream maker (it will still be quite soft), then transfer to an airtight container and put in freezer to firm up.
Ed note: The next day Stef and I picnicked on Governor's Island, so I leave you with a lovely picture of Stef in front of the Statue of Liberty!
Wednesday, September 9, 2009
Lately I’ve been incorporating bitters into my drinks. When I was first introduced to the concept of deliberately making one’s cocktails bitter, I bristled at the notion. Nay I say. Bring on the sweet, the salty, the sour, but not the bitter. However, as I matured in my mixological development, I came across more and more drink recipes that call for bitters of various kinds, particularly one called Angostura Bitters.
I might be late to the party one this one but Angostura Bitters is pretty versatile. I decided I had to pick some up. I went to the liquor store to get some. They had lots of bitters. No sign of Angostura. No dice. I checked a couple of other liquor stores too. No dice. Why is it that tons of drinks call for the stuff, but it’s so hard to find. I did some internet research and discovered it can be found on amazon.com. I order a bottle. It arrives. Like any good scientist, I inspect the bottle. It’s tiny with a funny looking label that sticks up over the neck of the bottle. I pour a little into a small glass and taste it. Holy crap does it pack a punch. It took a while for me to kill the taste.
In every recipe I come across, bitters is measured by the dash. The stuff is so potent, a little dash’ll do ya. When I mix drinks I like to get pretty precise. I haven’t mastered the art of the free pour. I use a shot glass with little markings on it for 1/2, 1, and 1 1/2 oz. I usually take more time than is necessary to complete a drink. I sacrifice time for precision. That’s why the whole dash thing confounds me. How do you convert a dash into milliliters? Where can I find it on a graduated cylinder? Sometimes the recipe calls for several dashes. That’s just great. Let’s combine an inexact number with an imprecise measurement. Occasionally it will say to add bitters to taste. Egad! I’m a scientist, damn it, and I can’t measure that. Sometimes I add too much and Heather makes a face. Sometimes I add too little and I wonder why I even bothered adding it.
I will say this though. I’m glad that I had the wherewithal to pursue this bitters concept because along with making me a better bartender, I believe it has expanded my palate’s horizons. Bitters can be the perfect thing to take a drink as sweet as an Old Fashioned and make it a little deeper and more complex. In my opinion, you can add it to any sweet drink to give it a little class. It’s a way to add your own little personal signature to a drink. I am glad I got the small bottle though because I haven’t even made a dent in it. A little goes a long way. I’m relatively new to the concept of bitters in the bartender’s arsenal but the idea intrigues me to no end. If any of you in the culinary or mixological community have any advise, thoughts or insights, I’d love to hear them. What’s a good bitters to invest in besides Angostura?
As a post script to my search for Angostura, I realized later that you can just pick it up at the grocery store. I felt like a tool for getting it on the internet. It’s got a pretty high alcohol content but the taste by itself is so unpleasant and strong, it acts as a built in disincentive. That’s my take on it anyway. There's an interesting article that appeared online recently that further whet my interest in bitters. Check it out.
Tuesday, September 8, 2009
I have recently discovered that there are cheeses being created that have ingredients mixed into them, like a cheddar with chives, which allows you to create a grilled cheese and not feel like you are five years old. Last week, with the first hint of a fall chill in the air I walked into Whole Foods and saw cheddar with smoked bacon on sale, and I knew what we were having for dinner.
Adapted from Bon Appetit
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 2/3 cup sliced shallots (about 4)
- 1 15-ounce jar roasted red peppers packed in water
- 1 teaspoon sugar
- 2 cups (or more) low-salt chicken or vegetable broth
- 1/2 cup orange juice
- 2 tablespoons whipping cream
- 3/4 teaspoon grated orange peel
- Thinly sliced fresh basil leaves
Wednesday, September 2, 2009
About three years ago, I was working at The Rehoboth Summer Children’s Theatre in Rehoboth Beach, DE. It was a fantastic summer. It was the first time I was living in a situation where my parents weren’t supporting me. I got a place to stay and a pretty decent stipend for arcade games, pizza and booze. I lived in a tiny little condo in Lewes Beach that overlooked the harbor and there was a bar called Irish Eyes that was stumbling distance from my residence. I want to be clear; I don't mean walking distance. I mean stumbling distance. Close enough where if I had passed out from too much to drink, the bartender probably could have carried me outside the bar and hurled my to my front door. My roommate and costar Annie and I frequented this establishment after our long days of character voices, costume changes, and making faces. Heather made frequent trips down and every time she did, it was like a little beach vacation.
There was a place we went to a few times that I thought was rather unique. It was a brewery on Rehoboth Avenue (the main drag in Rehoboth that leads to the beach) called Dogfish Head. If you’re fairly beer savvy, you’ve probably seen Dogfish Head beer available at certain bars. They make a pretty popular 60 minute and 90 minute IPA. But what I didn’t know was that they distill their own liquor—on premises. I’ve been to a lot of microbreweries, but not a lot of distilleries. On the menu, they have not only a beer sampler but a liquor sampler where you can try a few of their specialties. The one that we liked the most was the brown honey rum. It was really fantastic. It’s kind of like Captain Morgan but a little bit sweeter and slightly higher alcohol content. The finish is smoother and cleaner without losing any of its sweetness or spice. It created an all around pleasant experience. It was so good that while Heather was in the bathroom, I had the waiter add a bottle to our check. We enjoyed a lot of brown honey rum that summer.
Before my employment ended that summer, I bought a couple more bottles and took them back to PA with me. The bottles are pretty cool they have the Dogfish Head logo on them and the name of the liquor in a sparkly festive font and on the side of the bottle there’s a spot where the distillers initial each bottle, write the date it was distilled, and indicate which batch it comes from. It makes the rum feel unique. And the fact that you can’t easily get it anywhere else ensures that we drink it very carefully and choose our moments wisely.
By the following summer—2007 for those of you keeping track—we had long run out. I got very bored one day and decided to take a solo road trip back to Rehoboth Beach, DE. I didn’t tell anyone about it because I was afraid someone would talk me out of it. In defense of this hypothetical person, it is a really long way to drive for booze. I drove two and a half hours down with a hundred bucks in my pocket, picked up four bottles of brown honey rum, and drove two and a half hours back. I killed the better part of a day getting this stuff. When I got back and met Heather that evening, I pulled out a bottle like it was a magic trick. She was incredibly puzzled and refused to believe that I had gone through all that effort so we could enjoy this rum we both like. I am kind of a nut job sometimes.
We are currently down to our last quarter of a bottle. I love it but I'm so scared to finish it. I don't know when I'm going to get a chance to get down there again. I’m still looking for an excuse (and the funds) to take another trip down to Rehoboth to get some more rum. Suffice it to say living in New York and not having a car are obstacles that I didn’t have two years ago. Plus I don’t know the next time I’ll have a hundred dollars that isn’t already spent. In the end, I suppose there's always room in the budget for handcrafted quality and spirits that lift the spirit.