Wednesday, February 24, 2010

The Inaugural Brew

After I bottled my beer, I set the bottles on the bookshelf to shield them from the harsh ambient light. I had two weeks to stare at the forty-three bottles of beer on my bookshelf and contemplate their contents. There's a certain element of awe involved. Soon it will be ready to unleash upon the world. Will it be good? Will it be bad? Who knows? Such is the mystery of life. It could be doing anything in those bottles and I'm powerless to stop it. Like an expectant parent, I worried about the future of my beer and dreamed about its infinite potential.

The best possible outcome would be if the beer turned out great. I could enjoy the fruits of my labor (or rather, hops of my labor) and share my bounty with all. The second best outcome would be if the beer was awful and undrinkable. The reason this scenario takes second place is that then I could bear my defeat in private. Sure I told people about my brewing project and shared my progress in cyberspace, but the beer would go down the drain and I could chalk it up to experience.

The worst case scenario in my mind--aside from the bottles exploding on my bookshelf--is that the beer is drinkable but off. There is an entire chapter in the beer brewing book I have about off-flavors called "Is My Beer Ruined?" It talks about causes for strange tastes in beer and possible remedies. Then when Heather and I took our yeast class in Brooklyn, our instructor emphasized how temperamental beer is as it's fermenting. I got nervous like an expectant mother. To calm myself down, I just kept telling myself, "As long as my beer has ten fingers and ten toes, I'll be happy."

But no one wants to make excuses for their beer. I didn't want to apologize as I handed out bottles. "Look, this won't be enjoyable but try to get through it." Also, I don't like being lied to. I would be forcing people to either bad mouth my creation or lie to me and say they liked it. I think if my beer were drinkable but not very good, I would be forced to drink it all myself.

I brought a six-pack to Pennsylvania for a weekend to unveil it. Heather and I snuck a taste with her mother just to make sure that it was indeed beer and not a stale mess of wort. I pulled the bottle from the fridge and slowly eased off the cap. As soon as I heard the pssst noise, my heart leapt. "That's what real beers do!" I thought. I poured the bottle into a glass, being very careful not to disturb the layer of yeast at the bottom. I took a taste and got very excited. Not only was it beer, it was decent beer. Nice and hoppy, just the way daddy likes.

I took it over to my parents' house and set up a little taste test. I let everyone try a little of my IPA and a little Dogfish Head 90 Minute IPA. My mom actually said she preferred my beer to the Dogfish Head. Score one for me: My mom thinks I'm cool. Not only is it exciting to have accomplished something like this, it's exciting to have dozens of bottles of drinkable beer. Heather thought it would be a good idea to have a beer party as a way to share this beer with the world. I thought it was a great idea. She also thought that it would be a good idea to have it coincide with her birthday party. The small gathering seemed to enjoy the brew. It wasn't all about Heather's cake.

As my first beer brewing experience draws to a close, I want to say that I think it has been a rewarding experience. I like the investment of labor and patience involved. I like the seemingly magical process of sugar turning into alcohol and carbon dioxide. And I like the social aspect of beer creation--being able to share the benefits of my crazy science experiment. I already have my next exciting new batch in the bucket and I'm very optimistic. I look forward to continuing this hobby, fine-tuning it and sharing it with you on the blog.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Happy, Happy Birthday Baby

Well, it's happened. The moment has arrived. I am officially 27 years old. I'm not entirely sure how that happened. I'm pretty sure I was turning 21 about 10 minutes ago; I'm still half convinced when I wake up most mornings that I'm going to be late for my first class. Then I roll over and discover I'm in a grown up big girl apartment in Queens sleeping next to my husband. It's a bit jarring. Last week as I stumbled blearily out of my bedroom and into the kitchen to make some breakfast, a tiny bit miffed that there isn't a dining hall to just make it for me, I noticed a recipe tacked to the cork board. It's been there for quite awhile, last May to be exact. The title reads "Happy Birthday to Me, With a Spanish Lilt".

Last May as I rode the subway to work I was completely absorbed as Melissa Clark described her birthday cake that year--sophisticated, elegant, and with a bit of a European tinge. She had made herself an almond cake, and topped it with rich buttercream spiked with lemon and sherry. The article and recipe were so captivating that I nearly missed my stop, so for nine months this cake had taunted me. I wanted this cake.

At the time I read the article, as regular readers know, I wasn't much of a baker. I still struggle, last week I tried to make cornbread to go along with the Jambalaya, and forgot the egg. I got corn cracker, sitting sadly in the bottom of my cast iron pan. Baking and I tend to get in fights. At the time I found the recipe, I did not even own cake pans. It is entirely possible that the last time I made a cake I was 12 and there was a box marked "Duncan Hines" involved. This cake, however, was calling out to me, and it was more then your usual cookies and brownies type baking. It was grown up baking, challenging baking, figure out how to build a double boiler type baking (way easier then I had thought).

Along the way through, I sort of wandered away from Spain. Will brought home a bottle of cooking Sherry, a product I have never worked with, and it was awful. I don't know if this is typical to Sherries, but it had salt mixed in for no reason I could come up with. There was no way it was going in my icing. My eye caught on a bottle of Madeira I've been keeping around. Therefore, I took a bit of a detour around the Iberian Peninsula and ended up in Portugal. It was a damn good detour.

Almond Birthday Cakes with Medera-Lemon Butter Cream
Adapted from the New York Times


For the Cake:
-1 Cup plus 2 tablespoons (2 sticks plus 2 tablespoons) Unsalted Butter, at room temperature; more for greasing pans
-3 large eggs
-1 cup sour cream
-1 teaspoon vanilla extract
-1/2 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest
-2 1/2 cups cake flour
-1/2 cup finely ground almonds (can be done in food processor)
-1 1/2 cups sugar
-3/4 teaspoon baking powder
-3/4 teaspoon baking soda
-3/4 teaspoon salt

For the butter cream:
-4 large egg whites (yes Will made me a cocktail with one of the yolks)
-Large pinch salt
-3/4 pound unsalted butter (3 sticks) at room
-2 tablespoons Madeira (or to taste)
-1/2 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest
-1/4 teaspoon cinnamon

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease two 9-inch by 2-inch deep round cake pans and line bottoms with parchment or waxed paper. In a bowl, beat together the eggs, 1/4 cup sour cream, vanilla and lemon zest.

In bowl of an electric mixer, whisk together the cake flour, ground almonds, sugar, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Beat in butter and remaining 3/4 cup sour cream until light and fluffy, 1 to 2 minutes. Slowly beat in the egg mixture until fully combined.

Scrape batter into prepared pans. Bake for 30 to 35 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in center of a cake layer comes out clean. Let cake layers cool in pans on wire racks for 15 minutes, then invert onto racks and peel off paper. Let cool completely on racks.

While cakes cool, make frosting: In a heatproof bowl suspended over a pan of simmering water (or use a double boiler), whisk egg whites, sugar and salt until sugar is completely melted (130 to 140 degrees on a candy thermometer), 3 to 4 minutes. Remove egg whites from heat; beat mixture with an electric mixer on medium-high speed until completely cooled and thickened, 5 to 7 minutes.

Beat in the butter, a little at a time, until frosting is smooth and fluffy. Beat in the Madeira, lemon zest and cinnamon. Taste, add more Madeira if desired.

To frost cake, put a little dab of icing in the center of your platter to give yourself a little stability. Place 1 layer on a cake plate, rounded side down, trimming if necessary so it lies flat. Spread with a third of the frosting, top with second layer (rounded side up this time) and frost remainder of cake.

The "suspend a bowl over a simmering pan of water" thing is not nearly as hard as it sounds. Just take your largest mixing bowl (heat proof is more important then usual here) and rest it on top of a saucepan full of boiling water. Voila! You've built yourself a double boiler, and saved yourself $35.

When I ground my almonds, I ended up grinding way too many. Therefore I spread them on my toaster oven baking pan, and just toasted them for a few minutes. After the cake was iced, I carefully went around and pressed the crushed almonds into the bottom 2" of cake. I swear, I don't know if I'm becoming domestic or am just a show off.

The cake was everything I wanted it to be. It's a dense cake, with all of that almond, but richer and more complex then what you expect biting into what looks to be a vanilla cake. The icing was even better, all the heart stopping butteriness that you usually get from a buttercream, but with this very grown up something extra involved. It was certainly a cake I was happy to serve guests in my very grown up big girl apartment, because, lets face it, I am not a college student anymore. I am a grown up big girl of 27 years of age. But I'm still going to wear the tiara.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

We're in Quite a Pickle

The first time I tried a McClure's pickle was a newer restaurant in Astoria called Sweet Afton. They are served as a side, battered and deep fried. The best part about them is that they are spicy. They leave a burn in your mouth that makes you want another one. Before you know it you've eaten them all and are sad.

We had kind of forgotten about them until recently when Heather and I were watching the Food Network. It was during one of their ever-present marathons of food porn. Ten Diners, Drive-ins and Dives followed by a bunch of The Best Thing I Ever Ate. On one of the episodes of The Best Thing I Ever Ate, Ted Allen talked about McClure's pickles as the perfect snack food. He mentioned their crunchiness, their spiciness and his ability to house an entire jar without thinking. It got me thinking about them...and talking about them to Heather. I was getting all wistful about how how good they were. The crunch. The burn. Heather--having the product fresh in her mind--ran off and bought a jar for us to enjoy.

I know what you're thinking..."Today is Wednesday...Wednesday is for drinks. The Wednesday booze blog on Epicurette is the one constant I have in my life. For the love of Pete, please don't take my drink blog away." Well relax. I thought it would be fun to try a noble experiment. Occasionally, in the places we go and the circles we travel, we will see a "Pickle Martini" on a drink menu. It is quickly dismissed, by us, as an eye grabber--something to show off how creative and bold a bar can be. "We put pickle brine in our drinks. We're CRAZY." This was kind of in the back of our heads when we got the jar.

The other day, Heather--that internet-happy partner of mine--was checking out the McClure's website for recipes, serving suggestions and what-have-you when she noticed a funny thing. There is a recipe for a McClure's Pickletini that reads:
Using your favorite gin or vodka, add a splash of McClure's spicy or garlic dill brine to liven up your cocktail. Garnish with a pepper, pickle or garlic clove left in the McClure's jar.
We decided to finally put this subject to rest, and what better way to test the mettle of this cocktail that with a trusted local brand like McClure's.

I mixed one up and decided to garnish with a bit of pickle. The result: The first couple of sips were an interesting sensation. Not entirely unpleasant and it had that nice burn that is indicative of a McClure's pickle. The next couple of sips were a bit more difficult because of the heavy sour/saltiness. By about midway through, I was struggling and not long after that I decided to throw in the towel. The drink was tasty but ultimately, I don't think it's for me. Part of it may be my small mindedness--the cognitive dissonance that comes from drinking a cocktail that tastes like a pickle; part of it may be because I used too much brine (a little under half an ounce.) Nevertheless, it is probably something I will not make again even though I will continue to eat and enjoy pickles--particularly McClure's brand pickles. If only I could get them to sponsor this blog...

The beer that I brewed is all done and we are in the process of tasting it. Stay tuned to next week's blog to find out how the beer turned out.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Epicurette's First Jambalaya

There are few things as amusing to me as the concept of Mardi Gras. The idea is that the day before Ash Wednesday we all go friggen crazy, indulging in all of the things that you aren't supposed to do during Lent. Essentially, the church inadvertently created a day of debauchery. Rome must be very proud of itself. The indulgences are different depending on the part of the world. In the UK it's known as Shrove Tuesday or Pancake Day. In Philly, where I'm from, it's known as "Donut Tuesday" from the local PA Dutch festival of Fastnacht, which is also the word for a fatty, donut like pastry. The local Yum Yum will open early for it. In the days leading up to Mardi Gras, I like to spend a good deal of my time trying to think up new sins and then spend Mardi Gras committing them.

Lacking the space for (or desire to own) a deep fryer, I was not about to make donuts to celebrate this day of indulgence. I decided to follow Mardi Gras to its most famous source, New Orleans. Hey, if Will could master a New Orleans drink, I could handle some of its cooking, right? After the valentine's sweets that had entered my apartment in the form of chocolates and cupcakes, I wasn't about to dig out the flour and sugar again to attempt a king cake. I was craving something spicy, something meaty, something really fun to say. I settled on making my very first Jambalaya.

Southerners, it seems, refused to keep things simple for me. In the same way that I discovered there are two different types of Pulled Pork--depending if you are on the East or West side of the Carolinas--it appears there are two different ways to make Jambalaya as well. Cajun Jambalaya is a brown sauce, made by browning the meat before cooking. Creole Jambalaya, the kind more common in New Orleans, is made with tomatoes giving it a red sauce. I went back and forth between these two, and finally decided, despite New Orleans being the epicenter of Mardi Gras, that the Cajun style sounded more interesting to me. Maybe I just love the accent. Maybe it's the nerd in my that still has a crush on Remy LeBeau. (The X-Men's Gambit, for those of you who don't speak nerd)

Now that I had settled on style, ingredients were the next order of business. I must have paged through 50 different recipes looking for common themes in order to get an "authentic" jambalaya. There were a few things that seemed to be rules.

1. The Trinity. Louisiana cooking almost always has what is referred to as the Culinary Trinity, onions, green peppers and celery. These are to be sautéed in oil and added to the Jambalaya.

2. Andoulille Sausage. This was a spicy sausage of French decent, brought over with the French settlers the Cajun's descended from. While many recipes suggested spicy Italian sausage as a substitute, Andoulille was the consensus as to what the true Jambalaya pork should be. In fact if you Google "Andoulille" and "Jambalaya" you get nearly 700,000 results. I accidentally only bought one package before I realized that I needed two pounds, so I bought another package of a different brand at another store. Therefore I had two different spice levels in my sausage. I thought it added complexity.

3. SPICE! This is not meant to be a gentle dish, one that will coddle you. Cajon seasoning is a subjective but consistently spicy dish. Paprika turns up often. I didn't have that but found a recipe with a good deal of chili powder, which I am fairly in love with. Cayenne is a MUST.

Other then that it's sort of up to you. It's a whatever you have around kind of dish, I had green onions and a jalapeno so in they went. I defied many recipes by omitting shrimp and going with chicken and sausage only. Will can't STAND shrimp and there was no way I could through an entire dutch oven full of jambalaya by myself. Some recipes call for just water, but most seem to feel chicken broth is superior. I would have needed six cups of broth and only had three left in the freezer, so I did half and half. Don't panic, I made more last night. There are few things worse then a freezer completely devoid of chicken stock. Besides, I've fully butchered two chickens in the last week and have an abundance of parts. Well, not the killing and de-feathering kinda butchered. The wuss kinda butchered.

Epicurette's Cajun Jambalaya
Adapted (heavily) from Bon Appetit

-2 Tablespoons Olive Oil
-A 3 and a half to 4 pound chicken, cut into 8 pieces
-2 Small Onions, chopped
-1 Large Green Pepper, chopped
-3 Sliced Green Onions
-2 Jalapenos, chopped
-2 pounds andouille sausage, cut into 1/2 inch slices
-2 bay leaves
-2 teaspoons chili powder
-1 teaspoon dried thyme
-3/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper (more if you really like smoke pouring out your ears)
-1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
-3 cups long-grain white rice
-6 cups of low-salt chicken broth


Heat oil in large heavy pot or dutch oven over high heat. Working in batches, add chicken and cook until brown on all sides, about 8 minutes per batch. Transfer chicken to platter. Reduce heat to medium-high, add sausage and cook until brown. Remove sausage to separate platter. Add onion, bell pepper, jalepeno, and green onions to pot. Saute until onions are tender, about 5 minutes. Add sausage, bay leaves, herbs and spices, saute until spices are fragrent and flavors blend, about 5 minutes. Add rice; stir to coat.

Pour broth over rice mixture in pot. Add chicken, press to submerge in liquid. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low, cover and cook until liquid is absorbed, rice is tender and chicken is cooked through, about 35-45 minutes. Remove bay leaves. Season with salt, pepper, and more cayenne pepper if desired.
Okay, so I had a bit of a problem with mushy rice and water not absorbing. And still not absorbing. And I was late to meet Will for drinks and dinner. And I gave it another ten minutes and it still wouldn't freaking ABSORB! I may have banged the lid on, thrown it in the fridge, and plunked it back on the stove the next day. I also may have made some inappropriate comments about some Cajun's momma. I don't really know any Cajuns, so I didn't get specific about which Cajun's momma...all of them I guess, it didn't seem to matter at the time. I got most of the extraneous liquid out, but the rice was still fairly mushy. I read some reviewers on the original recipe and many felt that if you rinse the rice three times before using, you will avoid mushy rice syndrome. Probably should have read those reviews first. Doh. Despite the mush factor, I had made a very tasty and tongue burning pot of Jambalaya. The browning of the sausage had given the pieces a delightfully crispy edge, and the chicken fell apart into the rice. And lord knows moistness wasn't a problem.

So have a Happy Mardi Gras everyone, enjoy your day of indulgence, be it culinary, boozy, or *cough* indelicate. I'm sure we'll be ever so good this Lenten season...

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

The Incredible Drinkable Egg

A few weeks ago--in Anthropologie of all places--I spotted an old timey looking book called The Savoy Cocktail Book. Heather dragged me there to look at housewares and such so I was groping for entertainment to begin with--you know, between being fascinated by floral patterns on linens. The book is a 1999 reprint of a 1930 book that features all kinds of specialties from the Savoy Hotel in the period surrounding prohibition. While Heather was looking at clothes, dishes, and bedspreads, I flipped through the thing and decided that I needed to own it. I'm a big fan of all things anachronistic and old timey.

As I examined the book a little more closely in the comfort of my own home, I realized that many of these drinks would be a little harder to execute than I thought. Many of them call for things I've never heard of. Hercules, for example, is one I had to look up. The internet cocktail database lists Hercules as a "defunct proprietary British sweetened anis-flavored absinthe and/or substitute. Possibly wine-based." Scratch that as an ingredient. Many of the drinks include gin--of which I am not fond--and absinthe, which can be upwards of fifty dollars a bottle.

One common thread that runs through many of the recipes is their inclusion of raw egg. I've been reading a lot lately about fancy bar around the city including raw eggs sin their cocktails to give them a thicker, smoother, frothier texture. Heather forwarded me an article in the New York Times the other day about a bar called the Pegu Club and their brush with the health department for serving raw egg in cocktails. The Times then printed a follow-up article about the health departments retraction and the Pegu Club's vindication. I, as an amateur, don't have to worry about that; also I don't like to shy away from a challenge. If Rocky can down multiple raw eggs on their own, surely I can enjoy downing one mixed with tasty liquors.

I set to work earmarking the recipes that seemed the most delicious and could be made with the ingredients on hand. I narrowed it down to two. For Heather, the "Coffee Cocktail" which contains no coffee. It only has the name because of the way it looks. I tried a little when it was mixed. I wasn't a huge fan because I don't like port, but the sweetness was a plus and the texture and froth were great.

Coffee Cocktail
From The Savoy Cocktail Book
-The Yolk of 1 Egg
-1 Teaspoonful Sugar or Gomme Syrup
-1/3 Port Wine
-1/6 Brandy
-1 Dash Curacao
Shake well, strain into a small wineglass, and grate a little nutmeg on top.

The one I decided to try was called the "Thunder and Lightning Cocktail" This one was a bit simpler and had the same thickness but less froth. Heather said it reminded her of Egg Nog. I've actually never had Egg Nog so I can't comment. I will say that though it had its fair share of sweetness, it was also quite savory due to the cayenne pepper. I enjoyed it but it's probably not something I would make often.

Thunder and Lightning Cocktail

From The Savoy Cocktail Book
-The Yolk of 1 Egg
-1 Teaspoonful Powdered Sugar
-1 Glass Brandy
Shake well and strain into medium size glass. Dash of Cayenne Pepper on top.

The Savoy Cocktail Book has its flaws. There's no glossary or index, so it can be hard to find things easily. There are also no standard measurements. Occasionally it will just give you a fraction or say something like "1 Glass Brandy." What's a glass? How big a glass? I hate lacking this type of knowledge. But the book, with all its flaws is a great jumping off point and a great insight into the way people used to enjoy a cocktail in the years between World War I and World War II. Plus it gives me the excuse to buy and experiment with mixers that I never would have otherwise considered. Maybe soon I'll have an extra fifty bucks for absinthe.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Red Velvet with that Slow Southern Style

Valentine's Day is coming up quickly--a time of flowers, red tinted everything and sweets. As I pondered what I was going to make my husband of three months and partner of seven years, it seemed like the obvious choice among the New York diet was that of the cupcake. It's a ubiquitous desert that threatens my willpower daily, working just a stones throw from both Cupcake Cafe and Billy's Bakery. My weakness lies in a popular cupcake, the Red Velvet, with its rich color and ridiculous cream cheese icing. I would have married a Red Velvet were it possible for woman and dessert to mate. With its intense red color, it is the perfect sweet for Valentine's. After digging myself out of two feet of snow in PA and returning to NY, I set out to find a recipe.
For a Red Velvet Recipe, there really is only one place to go. If you've ever turned on the Food Network and seen any episode relating to this type of cake, you've heard of Cake Man Raven. This amazing cake maker was born in Harlem but was trained in cakes in South Carolina. I make sure to stop in at his shop in Fort Green, Brooklyn every time I'm down in that area. Despite the rapid gentrification in the neighborhood, his is a no frills shop that reminds me of a suburbs strip mall bakery, not the trendy confectionaries and coffee shops that are so prevalent around it. They have what the hipster coffee joints don't however, case after case of amazing Red Velvet cake slices. He is the go-to man for Red Velvet, and luckily, not stingy with the recipe, as it appears both on his website and has been on Food Network.

His recipe, however, is for a three layer cake. That is hard to enjoy in small portions, and even harder to start giving away after you notice your scale ticking upwards for three days in a row after this cake sits there, begging you to eat it. Cupcakes, I decided, were more manageable and equally delicious. This recipe will make an even dozen, just enough for you and your sweetheart and maybe a friend or two at the office if you're looking to disperse them. If you're planning a Valentine's Day party with more people, the recipe is easily doubled. This makes a little more frosting than you are going to need, but it's so tasty I doubt you or your beloved will mind finding a use for the leftovers.

Red Velvet Cupcakes
Adapted from Cake Man Raven


Vegetable oil for the pans
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cups sugar
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon fine salt
1/2 teaspoon cocoa powder

3/4 cups vegetable oil
1/2 cup buttermilk, at room temperature
1 large egg, at room temperature

1 tablespoon red food coloring (1/2 ounce)
1/2 teaspoon white distilled vinegar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

Cream Cheese Frosting (Recipe Below)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Line cupcake pan with liners.

In a large bowl, sift together the flour, sugar, baking soda, salt, and cocoa powder. In another large bowl, whisk together the oil, buttermilk, eggs, food coloring, vinegar, and vanilla.

Using a standing mixer, mix the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients until just combined and a smooth batter is formed.
Fill cupcake papers 2/3 of the way. Bake until a toothpick inserted in the center of a cupcake comes out with only a few crumbs attached, rotating the pans halfway through cooking, about 18 to 22 minutes.
Remove the pan from the oven and remove the cupcakes from the pans. Let cool completely.

Frost the cupcakes.

Cream Cheese Frosting

8 oz cream cheese, softened
2 cups sifted confectioners' sugar
1 stick unsalted butter (1/2 cup), softened
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

In a standing mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, or with a hand-held electric mixer in a large bowl, mix the cream cheese, sugar and butter on low speed until incorporated. Increase the speed to high, and mix until light and fluffy, about 5 minutes. (Occasionally turn the mixer off, and scrape the down the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula.)

Reduce the speed of the mixer to low. Add the vanilla, raise the speed to high and mix briefly until fluffy (scrape down the bowl occasionally). Store in the refrigerator until somewhat stiff, before using. May be stored in the refrigerator for 3 days.

Okay, so I'm still working on the whole "Pretty Frosting." But look how red they are! And even if the icing isn't spread on the prettiest, it's still amazing and you want to lick it off.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Silicone is Best

My office thinks I'm trying to make them fat. I'm not really. I'm trying to keep myself from getting fat. It's not malicious, it's just selfish. I like to make savory things and I'm even getting the hang of this baking thing. The problem is, if I leave that stuff hanging out in my apartment, with only Will and myself to eat it, it's going to get eaten. Upside Down Pear Cake for dinner suddenly seams like a GREAT idea. And so I bring the food in, and it is eaten, and amongst the "Thanks for the treats!" emails I always get one or two about how I'm trying to sabotage a diet or two. Funny, that didn't stop my office from giving me a lovely gift certificate to the Broadway Panhandle as a wedding gift. And it certainly didn't stop me from buying equipment, taking it home, and then making the office a little something as a thank you.

I am a cookie bottom burner. The first batch will be okay, just a little dark, but every batch after that, once the oven really gets going, will come out with solid black underside. The cookie will rock, if you can deal with that slightly burnt aftertaste due to that blackened bottom. I was standing in the elevator the other week with a coworker, Jason, who had received a roll of silicone that was to be placed on a baking sheet. He regaled me with the wonders of it, the non stick surface, and the perfectly cooked cookies that came off them. I wanted to bake a perfect cookie. After my shopping trip, my new SilPat lying on my kitchen counter, I knew exactly which cookie I wanted to perfect too.
A fan of the David Chang empire--as evidenced by the great time I had at Momofuku Noodle Bar--I have long been customer of Momofuku Milk Bar. It's a little place tucked behind Momofuku Ssam Bar on East 10th St, there are tables you can lean on but no chairs, and there isn't an alcoholic drink to be had. It's one of my favorite places to take out of town guests (Holly, Mike, Amira, I'm looking at you!) because after a night of drinking in the East Village, there's something so awesome about going to a bakery that is still open at 11pm for cookies and milk. These aren't your run of the mill desserts either. There's a cookie with cornflake and marshmallow. There is PB & J soft serve. The milk is flavored to taste like cereal, so you immediately feel like you're about five years old, in your footie pajamas, sitting in front of Saturday morning cartoons while you drink it. And then there is my very favorite cookie. The Compost Cookie. It is a cookie filled with wondrous things, chips, pretzels, a true monument to the American Junk Food Diet, all in one cookie. It manages to be sweet and salty all at once, finally bringing these two distinct camps of snackers together. This is a wonder cookie. It would be mine.

Now the recipe for the Cereal Milk you can actually find on Martha Stewart's website, apparently she did a whole feature on the place. You can even find their recipe for their famous "Crack" Pie (it is the East Village after all). But the Compost Cookie, that recipe is a guarded secret, it's not even in the Momofuku cookbook I'm coveting. One intrepid blogger, however, took it upon himself to make his own knock off recipe. God bless Greg Johnson at the Oatmeal CookieBlog. When a recipe calls for "Roughly crushed" junk food, that means I get to take a bag of Fritos and beat the hell out of it. That part was fun. Since I basically didn't change this recipe at all, and Greg obviously did a lot of work creating it, I'm not going to repost the recipe here, you'll just have to follow this link to his site and you'll see the exact recipe I used.
They were a huge hit. I got seven "Yum" emails, and zero "Why are you doing this to me?" emails, which I will take as a double complement. One woman who had a meeting and no time to eat grabbed one and said it saved her life. Salty, sweet, a tribute to all processed food, and a life saver. You see? Wonder cookie.

Editors Note: After writing this blog an interview with David Chang was written saying that Milk Bar pastry chef Christina Tosi is working on a cookbook. I am nearly mad with joy and anticipation! Also while I have your attention, a few people have complained about how hard it is to add this blog to their RSS Feed. I have put a tool in the right hand column to make it easier! Have a great weekend all!

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Cocktails in the "Old Square"

On one of our many trips to Dutch Kills, Heather and I decided to order a "bartender's choice." What he came up with was a Vieux Carre--a sweet and savory mix of Benedictine, cognac, sweet vermouth, rye whiskey and bitters. The name of this drink is French for "Old Square," a reference to the French Quarter of New Orleans. I'm not particularly a football fan (baseball is my game,) but since the Saints are in the Super Bowl and Heather has family in that part of the country, I figure now is as good a time as any to share this recipe with you fine people.
Easter Egg alert... If you look at the reflection in the window towards the end of the video, you can see Heather's reflection. We would have shot it again--but it's such a cute reflection...

Monday, February 1, 2010

Why is There Pasta in the Shower?

With my resolution to learn decent Italian cooking this year (and thereby resist the temptation of dining out every night as the Italian trend sweeps NY) I decided that in order to make truly authentic dishes, I would need to be able to create my own pasta. Since I already owned a Kitchen Aid mixer, the pasta roller and cutter attachments were the obvious choice, and I ordered a set. They arrived last week, and I have been plotting how to use them ever since. Now for pasta you need dough, and since dough is related to baking, things did not go smoothly at first. As I did my research, many websites talked about and Italian 00 flour, hard to find but ideal for true Italian pasta. "Ha!" I thought. I live in NY City. "I'm going to an Italian store to buy other ingredients anyway! I'll find the flour I need!"

Well... I couldn't find it. And then I found Semolina, which I remembered seeing on another pasta website, so I thought maybe that would work. I got home and found a recipe for that kind of pasta, and after I had all of the eggs and salt and oil in the bowl, I discovered I needed 3 1/2 cups of Semolina. I had only purchased a bag with about 2 1/2 cups in it. Well.... another recipe in the book combined another flour with All Purpose, maybe I could just fill in the rest with All Purpose.... You can see where this is going. I ended up with hard rock like clumps, and adding a little bit of water gave me some sticky hope, until I tried to put it through the roller and it crumbled. The moral of the story is never compromise your vision--not when dough is involved. The stakes are too high.

You know that scene in Julie and Julia, where something going wrong and she collapses spread eagle on the floor of her kitchen sobbing? During that scene my mother was elbowing me going "That's you!" "Shut up!" I said. "It is not!" In the months since this movie has come out, other people have managed to combine it and me in the same thought. I protested immediately, for I am a mature, poised woman, an accomplished chef and self possessed woman. I am not the kind of person who would, say, throw and unusable ball of pasta dough across the kitchen and start crying. And then sit in the living room and pout as her husband very calmly goes for the broom. Ooops. God Dammit.

Making your own pasta is one of those things that people say "Is very easy, once you get the hang of it!" And what you hear is "Is very easy!" And by that point you've stopped listening because you're envisioning yourself, every night of the week, with angel hair and fettucini and stuffing your own raviolis, and people come to your dinner parties and ask, "Where did you buy this perfect pasta?" And you smile knowingly and glance across the room at your mixer. Possibly while Frank Sinatra plays in the background. Not that I've ever had this fantasy.

Eventually the disaster dough was in the trash, a nice sized glass of wine was put into my hand, and I reevaluated the situation. I tossed the idea of doing anything fancy out the window, picked out a dough with similar ingredients, and actually did end up with usable pasta. I didn't own one of those fancy pasta racks, and in my four foot by six foot kitchen, I did not have the space to lay all the noodles out on towels. Therefore I did what any intrepid urbanite would, I made do with the tools and space I did have. I took my clothes drying rack, washed it down with dish soap, rinsed, and plunked it in the tub. My husband calmly walked into the kitchen. "Sweetheart, why is there pasta in the shower?" I handed him his own large glass of wine and the Nintendo remote. He nodded and sat down in front of Super Mario. It's a lovely understanding we have.

My noodles were soft, not nearly al dente, and cut a bit too thin, though were still pretty tasty and very fresh. I've decided, however, not to give you any recipes or advice until I really have this skill hammered out. I would, however, like to refer you to this video if you're looking to to try it yourself sometime soon, it's from kitchen aid and shows what it's supposed to look like if you're doing right, which can also be helpful for knowing when you've done it completely wrong.

I am going to let you know about my latest experiment in Italian cooking, though. As I planned my first night of fresh pasta, I wanted to serve it with a sauce that wouldn't overpower, as I wanted to really taste my first noodles. Tomato sauces were out. It was then that I settled on trying my hand at Spaghetti alla Carbonara. When I was searching for recipes, I landed on one by a chef that I ridiculously respect, Ruth Reichl. This woman was the New York Times Restaurant reviewer in 90's, and was the Editor in Chief for Gourmet Magazine for the last ten years. It was her vision that put more emphasis on sustainability and food politics, and when the magazine closed, it was through her determination that the Gourmet magazine and cookbook archive be donated to libraries. She is my food writing idol.

In the 1970's, broke and living in NY (sound familiar?) she wrote a now out of print cookbook, with possibly the most adorable cover of all time. Recipes from this book can now be found on her website. I did a little tweaking, she uses bacon where I subbed pancetta (if I wanted to be super authentic I would have used guanciale, otherwise known as cured pork jowl, but damn do I love pancetta). However, for all my single ladies, all my single ladies, (yeah so that will be in my head the rest of the day) this recipe really is full of things you have in the fridge most of the time. Pasta, eggs, parmesan cheese, a bit of garlic, and if you go this route, bacon. It takes very little time and creates a gourmet meal for a weeknight, or when you impulsively bring a boy home and want to seem like you can just throw a gourmet meal together like the brilliant goddess you are. And if you used boxed pasta you won't even have to worry about them seeing you throw things across the room.

Spaghetti alla Carbonara
Adapted from Ruth Reichl

-1 pound spaghetti
-1/4 pound sliced pancetta
-2 cloves of garlic, split in half
-2 large eggs
-Black Pepper
-1/2 cup of grated parmigiano cheese

Cook pasta according to package directions. If you are using fresh pasta, keep in mind that it will only take a few minutes so cook the pasta right at the end.

Cut the pancetta into strips about 1/2 inch wide. Cook in skillet for about 2 minutes until fat begins to render add garlic cloves and cook five minutes longer, until pancetta is beginning to get crispy. If you wish for a more garlic taste remove one clove and smash the other one to pieces and mix in. Otherwise remove all garlic.

While pancetta cooks break eggs into the bowl you will serve the pasta in. Whisk with a few grindings of pepper.

When pasta is finished cooking, drain, and toss immediately with the beaten eggs. Mix thoroughly, eggs will form a sauce. Add the pancetta with it's fat, and the cheese. Toss again and serve.

This dish was AWESOME. It was creamy, even though I had added no cream, and from the meat it was salty, though I had added no additional salt. It was one of those dishes that is comforting and rich, but had not taken much effort at all. The whole thing will be easy, once I get the hang of the actual pasta.