Monday, May 31, 2010

Happy Blogaversary!

We did it! We've lasted 1 year of blogging! For a whole year we've been making drinks and cooking up a storm. In the past year we have had nearly 2,400 independent visitors from 57 countries and 48 states! I also only need 5 more Twitter followers to reach 100. Come on people. You know you want to follow.

Thanks for reading everyone, it's been so great sharing my insane ramblings, crazy experiments and even my wedding. As a special treat I've gone back to some of the old blogs and cleaned things up a bit, adding recipes where I used to just have links. It's gotten addicting, I may have to remake some of the originals that I apparently took no pictures of the first time around. I also edited out the references to the unfortunate first two weeks where I thought "Feather's Fare" was an excellent blog name. Yeesh.

I've settled into a better pattern now, I think, with greater standards on how the blog is set up each week. How have you all enjoyed the journey so far? Do you like the changes that have evolved over the year? Anything you'd like to see more of? We'll do our best!

I thought I'd pull out one of the original blog photos, where I demonstrated what I meant by "I cook in an alleyway with applianes." Ladies and Gentlemen, the massive work space of Epicurette in New York.

And before you ask, no, there is no dishwasher.

PS- Since Monday's blog was self congratulatory ramblings Will's cocktail blog has been bumped to Wednesday, and the food blog will appear on Friday.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Chinese Pork and Chive Dumplings

Back when I met Will, his diet consisted mainly of chicken tenders and fries. "Ah," I thought, "A true American diet. He will eat anything that can be found in a shopping mall food court." And then I discovered I was wrong. Oh sure, the pizza, the burgers, the Auntie Anne's Pretzels, all that he was good with. But horror of horrors, Will wouldn't eat Chinese food.

Lo Mein, Egg Rolls, Wonton Soup, none of these were on the menu for Will. And for years we went on this way, me picking up General Tao's Chicken, Will recoiling and heading for the box of cereal. About two years ago, mostly in order to keep himself from starving to death when I insisted on dining at an Asian restaurant, Will ate a dumpling. And then another one. And suddenly my leftover takeout was disappearing from the fridge. If you are in NY, and you want some truly banging dumplings (great drunk food btw) there's a place in the East Village called Dumpling Man that is now one of Will's favorite dinner spots.

In Jackson Heights however, there is no good Chinese food. We've canvased a few places, but the dumplings always turn out horrifically doughy. If I wanted in house dumplings, I was going to have to make my own. The recipe I found by digging though my old Gourmet magazines, and it came with a kick ass dipping sauce. Seriously, even if you have a great source of dumplings and don't intend to make your own, make the sauce. It's worth it.

Lantern Dumpling Sauce

- 1/2 Cup Soy Sauce
- 1/3 Cup Water
- 1/2 Tablespoon Shaoxing Wine vinegar
- 1/8 teaspoon Asian Sesame Oil
- 1 Garlic Clove, smashed
- 1 Dried Red Chile
- 1/8 teaspoon sugar

Stir all ingredients together and let stand at room temperature for at least 2 hours and up to two days.

Once your sauce is getting all marinadey, its time to set up your dumpling stuffing station.

Adapted from Gourmet magazine

- 1/2 pound fatty ground pork
- 1/2 Tablespoon Shaoxing Wine
- 1/4 teaspoon Asian Sesame Oil
- 1/2 teaspoon Vietnamese chile-garlic sauce (look for the one with the rooster on it)-
- 1 1/2 teaspoons finely grated ginger
- 1/2 teaspoon rice vinegar
- 2 teaspoons soy sauce
- 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
- 4 Tablespoons finely chopped chives

- 25-30 Frozen Dumpling Wrappers

Defrost and separate wrappers. Do not try to pry them apart if they are still a little frozen, you get a lot of torn wrappers that way. Be patient, they'll come apart.

Combine all ingredients (save for the chives and wrappers) in a medium bowl, then stir in the chives. Set the bowl in a larger bowl of ice to keep chilled while forming your dumplings. If you don't feel like the elaborate set up, just stick the bowl in the fridge and bring the filling out to your work station about 3/4 of a cup at a time.

Place a rounded teaspoon of filling in the center of each wrapper and moisten area around filling with water. Fold in half to from a crescent.

From here you have 3 options. You can leave all smooth and folded. You can crimp up the edge to be all pretty.  Or you can moisten the two corners, pull them together, and press to make them stick together. Because I'm currently obsessed with the neat little CHOW Tips videos, let them show you! (I'm not getting paid for this I swear, I just really love these videos)

I decided to test 3 methods of cooking.

Poaching: drop dumplings into a bot of gently simmering water until pork is just cooked, about 3 minutes. Remove with slotted spoon and serve with sauce.

Steaming: Oil the bottom of a colander and bring about 2 inches of water to a boil so that the bottom of the colander sits above the water. Arrange dumplings about 1/2 an inch apart and steam over medium heat, covered, until the wrapper becomes translucent and filling is just cooked through, about 6 minutes. Remove and serve with sauce.

Seared: This is where you get "Pot Stickers" cause the little buggers like to stick to your pan. I'll be honest, I kinda failed at this. This was the hardest method I attempted. I tried, I'd get a little bit of browning, a little bit of crispness, but it never came out quite right. Dumpling Man's website has some tips on this method, if you try and have more luck, tell me about it in the comments.

I liked my dumplings a lot. I found them a bit dry, I just used the standard grocery store ground pork, I probably should have found something with more fat. If you have a butcher from whom you can ask about fat content of their blend, that's probably best but you may just have to grind your own. The NY Times has a great article giving advice on how to do this in a food processor. We enjoyed our homemade Chinese food with a screening of Mulan. Because few things are as authentically Chinese as the stylings of Donnie Osmond.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Summer Citrus

Heather and I are looking forward to Summer and all its bounty: The outdoor concerts, the reopening of Governor's Island, the ability to go from place to place without being encumbered by a jacket. I've been trying to help the warm weather along by focusing on some citrusy drinks in preparation for the season--specifically ones that focus on lime.

I prefer drinks that incorporate lime to those with lemon for some reason. I think it yields a more complex drink. I love lemon but it can be a bit overpowering at times and can quickly take over the flavor profile of a drink whereas lime, in my opinion, is more of a team player.

The mojito is a tried and true favorite in our household and also one that I've posted about in the past. Delicious. The combination of mint and lime is fantastic, incredibly refreshing and one that I can't pass up.

-2 oz. white rum
-1/2 oz. simple syrup
-Juice of half a lime
-8-10 mint leaves
-Club soda
Muddle the simple syrup and mint in mojito glass or pilsner. Add ice and remaining ingredients. Tumble in a cocktail shaker to incorporate. Garnish with lime wedge and mint sprig.

Another favorite of mine is the Vodka Gimlet. It's made exactly the same way as a Vodka Martini except it replaces the vermouth with the juice of half a lime giving it a fruitier, more festive feel.

Vodka Gimlet
-2 oz. vodka
-Juice of half a lime
Shake and strain into a cocktail glass. Add a lime wheel for garnish.

A drink that the New York Times recommended last year was a Rye Rickey. It's a variation on the popular Gin Rickey but with rye whiskey substituted for gin. The NY times article calls for a full lime but I eased it back to half. Sometime you can have too much of a good thing.

Rye Rickey
Adapted from the New York Times dining section
-Juice of half a lime
-2 oz. rye whiskey
-1 teaspoon grand marnier
Top with club soda, stir and garnish with a lime wedge.

And to top off our limey battery of drinks, a twist on an old favorite. The Cuba Libre is simply a Rum and Coke with the juice of half a lime. It gives the drink more of a tropical taste and Cuba Libre sounds much more exotic than Rum and Coke.

Cuba Libre
-2 oz. white rum
-Juice of half a lime
Add rum and lime to a tall glass with ice, fill with cola and stir. Garnish with lime wedge.

There you have it. Four summery cocktails to kick off summer. And they don't even include old standbys like a Cosmopolitan or a Margarita. I hope I've been able to add more ammunition to your Summer drink arsenal.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Soft Shell Crab Sandwich

I am a sucker for a season change. In the fall, a tinge of color on a leaf sends me straight for the pumpkin recipes. In the winter, the first hint of a flurry has been buying the largest hunk of meat I can roast. But spring, spring is intoxicating. It is a test of patience and wills, staring at farmers market tables where an early spat of warm days or a sudden cold snap can alter by weeks the arrival of food you want so badly. You spend your time willing asparagus to show, or being disappointed by the lack of strawberries (as our heroine was last week, desperately wanting to make strawberry ice cream).

But it was not at the farmer's market, this past week, that I knew it was really spring. It was in the fish shop. They're here! They're really here! Finally, after waiting and wishing and hoping, there in perfect little rows were the soft shell crabs. As I mentioned a few weeks ago, when I made the Crab and Asparagus Tart, I'm a little crustacean crazy, by way of a generational tendency to crave them. When I was a kid and the Little Mermaid was my favorite movie, I didn't really understand why the Le Poisson song was supposed to be so shocking. Of course he'd want to cook the crab. They're delicious.  Sorry Sebastian. Now shut up and get in the pot.

Soft shells, on the East Coast at least, are blue crabs in their molting phase. They molt their shells, and then can only be eaten as a soft shell for about four days before it grows back. During this time you can cook and eat them, shells and all. This is not to say you can eat the whole thing. Soft shell crabs do need to be "cleaned". And by cleaned I mean you have to cut it's face off. And rip out its lungs. While it's still alive. Here, let the chef from the Mermaid Inn show you how it's done. I'm certainly not going to. I make the fish monger do it.

Yeah, if you have a really nice fish salesman, you can make him do it. The crab then needs to be cooked the second you get home. If you want to store it in the fridge and cook it later, then you better buy them live and get ready to snip its face off.

Once the faces are off the little buggers, they are actually really easy to cook. You can batter and fry them, or bread and saute, I go with a milk soak, a seasoned fouring, and then sauteing in garlic, olive oil, and butter. Completely unhealthy, completely fantastic. The legs get all crispy and crunchy. The insides burst with flavor. And the best way to eat them, in my opinion, is to stick them on a really good roll, toasted, with mayo. Mmmmm.

Soft Shell Crab Sandwiches

-4 Soft Shell Crabs
-1/2 Cups Milk
-3/4 Cup All Purpose Flour
-1 tsp Old Bay
-Salt and Pepper to Taste
-2 Tbs olive oil
-2Tbs Unsalted Butter
-2 Tbs Chopped Flat Leaf Parsley
-4 High Quality Rolls, cut and toasted

Place crabs in shallow container in a single layer. Cover with milk. Let soak refrigerated for 1 hour. Drain and discard milk. Whisk together flour, salt, pepper, and Old Bay. Lightly dredge each crab in the mixture.

Heat the oil and butter together in skillet over medium high heat and saute the crabs until golden, about 4 minutes per side. Do not crowd the crabs, cook in batches if necessary, adding more oil and butter to the pan between batches.

Place one crab on each roll. Sprinkle chopped parsley on top. Add mayo if desired.

My one regret is that we had no lemon in the house. I think a squirt of fresh lemon juice on top of the crab would have been tasty. It has been enough to hold me over until the grown up crabs come in. You can't eat those shells. Therefore you just have to rip the crabs apart. Poor Sebastian.

Monday, May 17, 2010

The Infamous Bobby Burns

In my last blog about PDT, I mentioned a cocktail called the Bobby Burns cocktail that I enjoyed. The ingredients listed were Benromach 12 year scotch, Dolin sweet vermouth and Benedictine. The problem with bars is that they never list the proportions of the liquors they use. Damn them and their not giving me detailed instructions on how to make all of their signature creations. Bastards.

In the past week I've toyed with a couple of different recipes that I found on the internet for the Bobby Burns. Many of them had way to much vermouth. I thought it best to take matters into my own hands and adjust the recipe to my own taste.

In full disclosure, I did substitute the scotch in the recipe with some Irish whiskey we had left over from St. Patrick's Day. The Bobby Burns I had in PDT had a bit of lemon peel in it so I thought it appropriate to add some lemon juice. Some of the recipes I saw called for a dash of Benedictine but I found myself wishing the flavor was more prevalent so I added more. An idea I saw and stole was to add some Angostura Bitters--can't go wrong there. I cut down a little on the sweet vermouth and there you have it. A cocktail fit for a king...or at least a Scottish poet named Bobby Burns.

Bobby Burns Cocktail
as adapted by me
-2 oz. Scotch (or Irish Whiskey if it's what you've got)
-1/2 oz. Sweet Vermouth
-1/2 oz. Benedictine
-Dash or two Angostura Bitters
-Juice of half a Lemon

Shake with ice and strain into a champagne flute. Garnish with lemon.

I welcome you all to try it. Post your feedback in the comments. I'm still tinkering with the recipe and your thoughts are always helpful.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Pan-Roasted Asparagus and Slow Poached Egg and Miso Butter

There are two things I've been obsessed with lately. One is eggs. The other is the new spring fruits and veggies. I'm mad about them, and desperate for them. I spend half an hour circling the farmers market this week before I came to terms with the fact that the East Coast just didn't have strawberries yet, but I didn't leave empty handed. My bag was bulging, it is officially Asparagus season.

Since my experiments with Ginger Scallion noodles, I've been scouring my Momofuku cookbook for recipes I could make without spending hundreds of dollars on obscure ingredients and a cold smoker. With my obsession for cooking embryonic food and the piles of asparagus popping up all around me, it was time for my next David Chang challenge. There it was, on page 90, Pan-Roasted Asparagus and Slow Poached Egg in Miso Butter. The set up for the recipe seemed fairly simple, and astoundingly all things I keep in my cabinet, with one exception. The damned miso butter. I had purchased Chang's miso butter at Milk Bar a few weeks back, played with it exactly once, then left it out overnight and had to toss it all out because of damned "food safety" concerns.

Miso butter is not hard to make, literally mix together miso and butter. Ta da! This method, however, assumes you are the kind of person who just has packages of miso on hand. Well, now I am one of those people. At the Assi Asian grocery near my mother's house last weekend I picked up my very own package of miso. I have no idea if it's the shiro (white) miso that Chang recommends, it just said "Miso" and then a lot of characters I can't read. When I mixed it together it looked like the one I bought at Milk Bar so I'm counting it as a win for me.

The whole recipe comes together rather quickly, as long as you have that poached egg. That slow poached egg. Poached eggs are generally broken, put in a dish, and then slid into water. If your lucky the whole thing does spread apart and go to shit. Momofuku avoids this problem by slow poaching the eggs in their own shells, bringing the water to between 140 and 145 degrees (a nifty test for my new digital thermometer) and then plunking in the eggs for 40 to 45 minutes. When you crack the shell, out comes poached egg, nice and pretty. Since they keep (in their shells) for up to 24 hours in the fridge, they can be made ahead of time. I was curious though, if I did not have the nearly an hour to make the egg the Momofuku way, could I pull off the traditional?  Blog commenter Deanna pointed me toward Smitten Kitchen's tutorial. But that didn't satisfy my desperate need to cheat. (And according to my pasta making teacher this week, I'm a big cheater, with my Kitchen Aid and all.)

I decided to use a brand new Poach Pods in a side by side test. These silicon little toys float on top of your simmering water, keeping your eggs in tact and pretty. I did a side by side comparison, poaching one egg the normal way and one in the pod. The pod has to be lightly oiled before use, so it's not technically the completely "oilless cooking" that pure poaching is. The color of lose egg was a purer white then the Poach Pod one, and had a more natural shape to the finished product. The Poach Pod egg was very obviously the shape of a Poach Pod, so if you were doing this for company, slow poaching or normal poaching would probably be best. If you were just trying to knock together something like this recipe or an Eggs Benedict for yourself though, the Poach Pod has it on ease and piece of mind. There is absolutely no need to worry that your egg will break apart or will be undercooked when you use a pod.

Will, as previously mentioned, is not an egg fan. Can't stand even the smell of them actually. Therefore I waited until a night he was working and prepared a dinner for 1. It was a tiny meal, if you are looking for a filling main course maybe throw a piece of chicken next to it.  I still made plenty of miso butter, because I love having a new condiment around to play with, and it's tasty stuff.

Pan Roasted Asparagus and Poached Egg & Miso Butter
Adapted from Momofuku

-1/4 cup of Miso (and pray it's the right one)
-3 1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter at room temperature
-6 stalks of Asparagus, ends snapped, peeled if they are thick
-Kosher Salt
-1/2 teaspoon sherry vinegar
-1 poached egg (slow if you're doing this the Momofuku way, pictured right)
-Freshly ground black pepper

First make miso butter: In a small bowl combine 2 1/2 tablespoons of butter with miso until well mixed. Stir until it's one color, not full of chunkiness. Reserve half of the mixture at room temperature for the dish, the other half can be stored, wrapped in the fridge for a few weeks. Trust me, it's a fun ingredient, you'll want to play with it.

Heat the remaining tablespoon of butter in a medium skillet over medium high heat. When the bubbles have cleared, put in asparagus. If making more don't overcrowd, do in batches with fresh butter if need be. When asparagus begins to brown (about 2 or 3 minutes) season them with salt and pepper, turn the heat down to medium, and flip with tongs. Brown on reverse side, another few minutes. When you have some satisfying color and tenderness, remove from pan and lay on paper towel lined plates to drain.

Put sherry vinegar in a microwave safe dish for about 10 seconds. Using a small saucepan, mix warmed vinegar with reserved miso butter over low heat until butter starts to separate but does not melt, about 2 minutes. Spread miso butter on the center of the plate in a "thickish puddle".  Arrange asparagus on top of the butter and place the egg on top of the asparagus. Finish with a small pinch of salt and a grind of fresh pepper.

Look how much it looks like the picture! I was very proud of myself. The taste was phenomenal, salty, tangy, buttery, the crunch of the asparagus versus the softness of the egg, the smoothness of the egg versus the graininess of the miso, it was a pretty banging and impressive dish.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Please Don't Tell

Yesterday, Heather and I spent the entire day in the East Village. The main purpose of the trip was to attend a pig butchering demonstration and bluegrass music at Jimmy's No. 43 on 7th st. It ended at 4:00 and we were kind of left to our own devices for the rest of the evening. This, it seemed, was the perfect opportunity to try an establishment that I've wanted to try for a while. PDT.

PDT stands for Please Don't Tell. It's one of New York's many not-so-well-kept secrets. You go inside a hog dog place called Crif's Dogs and walk into a phone booth. Once inside, you pick up the phone and wait for the hostess to answer. She will then open the secret door in the back of the booth to let you in. It might sound a little cheesy but I like little touches like that in a bar. A little something unique that sets it apart from other places. Plus, who doesn't want to feel like they're in an episode of Get Smart.

The place isn't that big, so generally you need reservations to get in. Like many of the other places we like to go, they won't let more people in than they can handle. There's nothing worse than having people eye my bar stool while I'm trying to enjoy my drink. But we arrived just as it opened, so we were in luck.

Heather has been there once before but I haven't so this was all very new and exciting. The place is very dimly lit and adorned with animal heads on the wall. Theres a bear wearing a hat on one side of the bar and a rabbit with antlers and sunglasses on the other. We sat at the bar itself--I prefer to look back there and see what's going on. Behind the bar, there's a little monitor that looks into the phone booth. It was kind of cool watching people enter the phone booth on this little black and white TV. It reinforced the illusion that we were doing something we weren't supposed to be doing.

After much deliberation and soul searching, I decided to order a Bobby Burns cocktail--a drink combining Benromach 12 year scotch, Dolin sweet vermouth and Benedictine--while Heather went with a Black Jack--Pierre Ferrand Ambre Cognac, Clear Creek Kirsch and 9th Street Coffee Concentrate. My drink was very well put together and was garnished with a bit of lemon peel. It had a nice sweetness to it that went well with the smokiness of the scotch. Heather's was sweet as well with a heavy coffee flavor and was garnished with a few brandied cherries; right up Heather's alley. She had to pace herself, the drink tasted like a coffee candy and threatened to go down way too quickly.

Also behind the bar, there is a little window through which food from Crif's Dogs--the front for this secretive establishment--could be slid. Crif's Dogs is known for it's deep fried dogs with a variety of unusual toppings, Heather was both disgusted and excited to read about dogs with cream cheese and scallions and a bacon wrapped dog with avocados and sour cream. We had just eaten so we did not order any food, but it's nice to know we could have. There's something charming about a really fancy drink and food that not just could, but probably will kill you.

There's a little kid part of me that wanted there to be secret doors all over the place, like a puzzle you have to figure out. I wanted there to be a lever that you have to pull while standing on a certain spot that releases a trap door in the floor to bring you to the bathroom. I wanted a false floor tile to reveal a secret staircase that leads to gangsters playing dice or craps. I wanted to pull a candlestick and have a bookshelf rotate to reveal a secret bar-within-a-bar where you could get really crazy drinks made with stuff like snake venom or bald eagle eggs. I'd like to think that that stuff could be there at PDT and I just haven't discovered it yet. Sigh. Someday.

We only stayed for one round partly because we had other stuff to do and partly because the cocktails were fourteen dollars a piece. Dutch Kills is much more reasonable at ten. Instead of spending another $28, I played a round of Double Dragon in Crif's Dogs. It was fun but it reminded me how bad I am at Double Dragon. We then headed over to Desnuda to enjoy dollar oyster night.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Goat Cheese Arugala Ravioli with Panchetta Butter

My mother likes the words "Over Programed." A lot. And applying them to me. This is usually due to some insane project I've decided to undertake where I forgo all shortcuts, forsake the premade, and insist on everything being "original" and "from scratch". Personally, I prefer the term Ambitious.

My ambitiousness this past weekend came in the form of trying to kill two birds with one stone. One of my oldest friends was having her baby shower this weekend, so I was Pennsylvania bound. In order to avoid having to go there two weekends in a row, we decided to do Mother's Day last weekend as well. Will and I planned to throw a little dinner party for both moms, invite my Aunt and Uncle, and dazzle all with the cooking and mixology skills that we had been so rude as to move away with. A dinner party, not so bad right? People have them all the time. Except I was going to do it in my mother's kitchen instead of my own. On the same day as the shower. On the same evening as the Kentucky Derby. And we weren't getting into town until 7 p.m. the night before. Guess how many minutes I was in town before my mother and I started arguing over the intricate difference between her terminology and my own?

I wasn't Over Programed really. I was Perfectly Programed, down to the minute, as long as Will and I got out of bed at 6:30 a.m. on a Saturday. He was not pleased, but was a good sport and after a cup of coffee he threw himself into it. We spent the morning picking up baby gifts, selecting vegetables, meats, and seafood. We piled back into my mother's house, I wrote up a list of all the things that needed chopping while I was at the shower and made a schedule of when each dish should be prepared. See? NOT Over Programed. Perfectly Programed. And Ambitious.

For my appetizer I was making my favorite Scallops with Asparagus, an impressive but not too challenging spring dish. That was going to require the most prep work from me, but would be easy to pull off while the parentals watched the ponies in the living room. The biggest challenge to a dinner party is to be able to enjoy the first course with your guests, but not to have the second course come out cold. On this very ambitious day, however, I had one Ace up my sleeve. Most of the dinner was already prepared. Three days before I had stood in my tiny kitchen in Queens, rolling out sheet after sheet of from-scratch-pasta, trimming and stuffing them. I then froze them, and toted them south in a cold bag. The sauce was made just before the guests arrived, so all I had to do was boil the ravioli and warm the sauce! Every bit of the dinner came from scratch ingredients and time consuming hand crafting, but I was able to breeze into the kitchen and come back with dinner with just a five minute lull between courses! Suck it Martha Stewart, I had this thing nailed.

Goat Cheese Arugala Ravioli with Tomato-Pancetta Butter 
Adapted from Bon Appetit



-2 tablespoons olive oil
-3 large shallots, minced
-8 oz arugula, roughly chopped
-6 oz soft goat cheese, crumbled
-1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese
-2 pounds of pasta dough, rolled into 3" wide sheets
-2 large egg whites, whisked just until foamy

Tomato-Pancetta Butter

-6 oz sliced pancetta, coarsely chopped
-1/4 cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter
-6 large plum tomatoes, seeds and membranes discarded, tomatoes diced
-1 tsp chopped fresh thyme


Make Ravioli:
Heat oil in heavy large skillet over medium heat. Add shallots; saute 10 minutes. Add arugula; toss until wilted but still bright green, about 3 minutes. Transfer arugula mixture to a large bowl and cool. Mix in goat cheese and Parmesan cheese. Season filling with salt and pepper.

Take a sheet of pasta sheet, spoon 1 generous teaspoon 1 and 1/2 inches apart on the sheet, about 1/2 an inch from the edge of the sheet. Brush a little egg white around each dollop, and fold the sheet over, pressing the pasta together firmly to seal. Cut into individual ravioli with a pizza cutter or pastry wheel. (If making ahead of time, arrange ravioli on a cookie sheet and freeze. Then place in plastic freezer bag for up to 1 week. If pasta is still somewhat moist, let dry on drying rack before freezing, or they will freeze to the cookie sheet.)

Make Tomato-Pancetta Butter:
Cook chopped pancetta in large skillet over medium-high heat until crisp and brown. Using slotted spoon, transfer pancetta to paper towel; drain. Set aside. Pour off all but 1 tbsp drippings from skillet. Add butter to drippings in skillet; melt over medium-high heat. Add tomatoes and thyme; saute until tomatoes are tender, about 5 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. (Can be made 2 hours ahead. Let stand at room temperature.)

Cook ravioli in a large pot of boiling water until just tender, 4 minutes if fresh or 5 if frozen. Drain. Rewarm tomato butter over medium heat. Add reserved pancetta, saute 1 minute. Spoon sauce over ravioli; garnish with thyme.

The mothers seemed to think it went pretty well. As the candles burned down and we whisked away dishes, I overheard the group discussing next year's party. That is the curse of the ambitious--you pull it off, and suddenly you have an annual event on your hands...

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Beer Season Finale-Nut Brown Ale

The third batch of beer has been completed. It's a Nut Brown Ale and it's coming right off the heels of the "Stout" I made for round two. I put the word Stout in quotes because when you look at it, the first thought that comes to mind is not Stout. It's very good, but it's very pale.

I might have guessed that it would be that way from the very beginning. It looked a little pale from the onset even after all the ingredients were added. In the back of my head, I thought, "Well maybe it will darken over time." Now I know for the future that it won't--at least not in any substantial way. I have two theories about what happened; it could be either or both. The recipe I used called for two cans of light malt extract. It struck me as funny that one would use light malt extract for one of the darkest styles of beer.

Second, (and brace yourself for nerd talk) the darkness of the barley malt is measured in degrees lovibond or ˚L. The recipe I was using called for a rating of 675˚L and the darkest I could find was 413˚L-450˚L. As I've mentioned in a previous blog, we went to the Brooklyn Kitchen to pick up all of the ingredients. They didn't have exactly what the recipe called for so I had to settle for a lesser lovibond. What's the big deal right?

Now I know the significance. The Nut Brown Ale turned out a lot darker than the Stout and I think it has a lot to do with the type of malt extract used (Amber as opposed to Light) and the grains used (338˚L was the darkest grain used, but there was more grain used overall.)

So the Stout didn't turn out exactly as I planned. But you know what? It's still really good and I learned a lot from that batch of beer. It was my first attempt at making a yeast starter and it was a rousing success. For those new to brewing, a starter gives the yeast a fighting chance by letting it reproduce by itself before pitching it into the wort. It was difficult to tell if the starter had the proper amount of activity inside. I only sealed the top with a piece of plastic wrap fastened loosely with a rubber band--the MacGyver approach to staving off bacteria. For a good chunk of time, I didn't know if it was working. This time around, for the Nut Brown Ale, I picked up a rubber stopper that I can attach my airlock to so I can actually watch the air escape bubble by bubble. Less than a dollar is a small price to pay for piece of mind.

I've learned that priming the beer with sugar before bottling is easier than priming with malt extract and produces a thicker head and more carbonation. I will still continue to toy with different priming sugars to see the different qualities of each. People use corn sugar, honey and even maple syrup. The possibilities are endless and delicious.
But I could not be more pleased with the latest beer. It's fairly dark, almost to the point of looking like a porter, and it's got a bit of bite to it. It's nice and warm and roasted and goes down smooth. I like it a bit more than the last one. Take a look at the picture on the left and guess which is the Stout and which is the Nut Brown Ale. You'd be wrong. I'm still getting the swing of things.

I'm really enjoying this whole beer brewing process and look forward to brewing more and blogging about it in the future, but unfortunately I'll have to hang it up for the season. Brewing requires consistent temperatures of about 65˚F-70˚F and our apartment just gets too hot. As you've read in my posts before, I was tempting fate as it was by keeping the fermenter in the bathroom with the window open to keep it cool. I was entertaining the idea of emptying out the fridge, putting the fermenter in there and just eating take-out every night, but Heather nixed that idea pretty quickly. Women--am I right fellas? Always letting sanity get in the way of good beer.