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Archive for April, 2009

When I checked out Momofuku Bakery and Milk Bar for the first time a couple of months ago, I grew envious of the workers, not because they had a steady job, for one, and also not because the job entails churning out tasty cookies and pies and soft serve (that I wanted so much to hate but ended up enjoying), but because of their uniform. I don’t have a photo of any of them working, but I’ll describe it: an airy, white, short-sleeve shirt with collars that bares the clavicle; a cute, printed scarf that serves as a headband/hat to keep the hair out of the food; and whatever pants they want on the bottom, which in this case meant skinny jeans sans the crack (the other “crack” goes into their pie). [Sigh] So hip!

All other baking/food establishments have women wearing the same ‘ole unflattering thing: checkered pants with too-tight elastics that are really made for boys, a cookie-cutter jacket that never fits right, and a cap that you can never fit all your hair in (then again, I have a lot of hair), but it’s so tight that after a shift during which you sweat—and you do sweat—you come home and all the sebaceous glands on your forehead are clogged.  Add to that the crinkly imprint of an elastic band on your stomach. How’s that for sexy?

So thank you, Chef Tosi, for restoring dignity to female bakers and pastry cooks.

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In honor of Obama’s 100th day in office, here’s a photo (courtesy of Billy K.) of a very impromtu cake (lemon cake with walnut buttercream filling) I cobbled together on election day, 11.04.08, with blue jellybeans I bought from a Tasty D-Lite and some raspberry jam spiked with kirsch(mmm):

The big O

The big O

You’ll notice there’s a yellow border at the bottom, and that’s because this cake was in the freezer for months after the dreaded Wedding Cake Final at school. This was actually the second tier of the cake, here:

Santorini Cake

Santorini Cake

The theme was Greece, and this was what happened when your ambition was clearly greater than your ability. I was envisioning recreating the vertiginous nature of Santorini, and the steps down to the Bay of Ammoudi from Oia. Alas, I wasn’t quite the engineer I had hoped to be. I ended up taking it home, actually thinking I’d play with it and make it look better, but I just ended up doling out pieces of the bottom layer to strangers on the street and the shopkeep at the leather goods store next door, and stuck the second and the top layer—as though it were from my own wedding—in the freezer.

Months later, the second layer’s reincarnation proved useful, and it occurred to me that I cried twice over this cake: the first time after the chefs told us to stop working and I clearly couldn’t finish in time, which led to the release of all the frustrations that mounted over three days and my PMS got the best of me; and the second time, because Pennsylvania, Ohio, Florida, etc., went to Obama, and I was elated and overjoyed at the prospect of not being mentally waterboarded any more.

And predictably, it tasted better the second time.

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There’s a terrible dearth of baking going on in my kitchen—a good reason, and not just the heat (which is a bad excuse anyway, having worked in professional kitchens), is that a new dishwasher arrived, and our woefully slow-to-respond super has been true to his defining characteristic (that is to say, slow as molasses in January) on having it installed. So it’s taking up 65% of the kitchen. No real room to clang pots/whisk/open oven/dance comfortably. Plus I’m trying to get my deadbeat arse a paying gig, so I’m spending the day writing pitches that hopefully won’t fall through the cracks.

But I will leave you with the DailyCandy Deals post. Usually I pass up its rampant calls for consumption, but today’s page grabbed my attention. I used to take sips of Manhattan Milk at the restaurant/bakery where I used to intern, and it’s darned tasty milk. The 1% tastes close to full-fat, and the full-fat might as well be drinking butter (ok, no, but it’s really good). They deliver anywhere in NYC, and ladies, word has it the milkman is hot.

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Um, hello Summer. I’ve been looking for Spring. Have you seen her today? Oh, she’ll be back Wednesday…Mmmkay. ‘Til then, I’ll have to fight the urge to stick everything sweet and frozen in my face, you say? Well, no can do. You see, this weather has reminded me that I’m suffering a long bout of post-vacation blues (ask my boyfriend about my ukelele playing), which began late March after I returned from the compact, lush isle of Kauai, Hawaii, where I had this:

Shaved Ice from Wishing Well Shave Ice Truck in Hanalei

Shave Ice from Wishing Well Shave Ice Truck in Hanalei; no, I'm not giving you the finger.

Yes, as per the photo it was pleasantly streaked with Highlighter-fluid-colored, unnaturally-flavored fruit syrup, and nestled in a very un-“green” styrofoam cup, but it was lined with rich, creamy macadamia nut ice cream on the bottom, the ice was finely ground, and it quenched my thirst and quelled my sweet tooth all at once. And that’s its main benefit. Because if you get a Shake Shack custard or simple ice cream, as good as they may be,  the sweetness leaves a residue and it can leave you thirsty. Get a Slurpee or Jamba Juice and you just had your daily caloric intake in a cup the size of a bucket that’ll run right through you. Not that shave ice isn’t calorically unendowed, but this is the right combination that’ll leave you cool and sated, at least until dinner.

I’m not waiting for Spring to come back (and it’s too late anyhow, we already bought a watermelon yesterday from Whole Foods, as though it were July!). Off to Koryodang, a Korean/French bakery on 32nd Street. They have a busier, East Asian version of shave ice with the ice on the bottom, and the accessories—canned and/or fresh fruit, red bean paste, mochi—on top, neatly circling the mound of ice cream in the center. It won’t transport me to Hawaii, but it will remind me of that one childhood summer when my mom brought home an ice grinder and my sister and I went buck wild until the blade was no longer sharp, and sometimes slurped red bean ice-water soup because we couldn’t eat it fast enough (brain freeze!). And I’m going to walk there, from SoHo, in this heat, because the reward will be that much greater.

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Barefoot Contessa” is the only show I can watch these days on the Food Network. I can take only so much of Giada’s cleavage and teeth; Sandra, who conjures up for me a Stepford wife; and Alton, who seems so, howdoyousay, earnest, so eager to make a pun. Enough being catty, though. Years ago when I was full-time at a magazine, watching BC was an escape—I loved the lighting (a sun-lit kitchen, so rare here!), the laid-back East Hampton living (well, I’m really just concerned with Dreesen’s Donuts and the beach), the fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants story of how she got started in the food world, and the esthetic—simple, elegant food. Not to mention I want to hug Jeffrey because he reminds me of Bilbo Baggins.

The show’s still an inspiration, and here are some tips I’ve picked up that she’s drilled into my head via reruns:
* Start all dishes with five pounds of butter. (I kid! I kid!)
* It’s ok to leave out butter overnight. (I did pass the SafeServ exam, mind you.)
* Crack eggs into a bowl separate from your work bowl; “You never know when you’re going to get a bad egg.”
* Coffee brings out the flavor in chocolate.

And other pearls of wisdom that I’ve memorized and makes me feel a little bit like a stalker: use homemade chicken stock, flat-leaf parsley has more flavor than curly, and use frozen peas and pearl onions lest you go bananas trying to make soup/paella/etc.

Post-school, however, I’ve decided that I disagree with her on these points. Earth-shattering news, indeed. Ina, please don’t cry.
* Buying frozen puff-pastry: Blech. It takes all day, yes, but make it yourself. It’s worth it.
* Putting a starch in creme anglaise: In school, they took great pains to tell you the differences between starch-bound custards (like pastry cream) vs. stirred custards (creme anglaise, lemon curd, etc.) so watching her do this was a little bit of a shock. As long as you keep the flame low, there shouldn’t be any problems.

Is it 5pm yet? [Cue the upbeat, synth-y music intro.]

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Last night at Macao Trading Company, we, a group of four who all grew up in the same town in New Jersey, finished off the meal (Portuguese chicken, Chinese prawns, Macanese paella, bok choy–all pretty solid) with two dessert dishes: the flan trio (espresso, caramel, and something herbal I couldn’t place), and the churros and chocolate. When I bit into a churro, it snapped off, and had the consistency of a hearty cracker. I couldn’t remember the last time I had a churro except for the ones I had to make when I trailed at a restaurant in the Upper West Side in November (and that is to say, I didn’t completely trust my first churro dough), so I asked the table for verification.

“Are churros supposed to be this crunchy?”

“No,” said P., “The ones at Great Adventure weren’t.”

Who knew? Great Adventure off Exit 7A is the standard-bearer of proper churro texture. Make with that what you will.

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Looks like the weather has finally turned a corner here. What to do on a sunny day when you’re underemployed? I mulled over my options this morning:
* Catch up on this week’s episodes of “In Treatment.” Nothing like make-believe therapy to make you feel better.
* Pick up dry cleaning and at least get some direct sunlight.
* Annoy my neighbors by practicing my ukelele on the fire escape. (Though it can’t annoy them any more than the ear-piercing construction nearby.)
* Muster up enough courage to toss the one-month-old sausage and kraut dish I took home from Cafe Katja.
* I have some mangoes—why not make some mango puree?

The mango puree is really for some recipe-testing a friend and I are going to do for a business idea we have (top secret!). But I thought I could do something with the leftovers, like make mango curd for a cake filling (lots of May birthdays coming up, as well as Mother’s Day), keep it for a sauce to accompany fish, or whip up drinks when cocktail hour or brunch time rolls around. Mmm.

soon-to-be mojito, bellini, and margarita

soon-to-be mojito, bellini, and margarita

Purees are easy peasy. Just peel fruit with a speed peeler, hack into bits that your blender can handle, add a squirt or two of fresh lime juice (I used about one whole lime), and press the right button. But be careful when peeling and cutting—mangoes are irregular in shape and can be slippery, and I can only imagine speed-peeler cuts require emergency assistance (you do have your tetanus shots, don’t you??).

Chop, chop

Chop, chop

It was tempting to stick my face in it.

I was tempted to stick my face in it.

To make it officially “puree,” you have to put it through a fine sieve, or something regrettably called a chinoix (or “China cap”—don’t shoot the messenger), to get out the fibrous bits and make it more “elegant,” as a chef at school used to say. I don’t have one, so I used a regular sieve/flour sifter/makeshift colander. Ah, New York kitchens…

Working it through

Working it through

Into the freezer until my biz partner gets back from her trip.

Or I might just gobble it up like a sorbet...

Or I might just gobble it up like a sorbet...

The rest is going on top of some yogurt, into a glass with some seltzer, and straight into my belly. Happy spring.

And in time, I hope to show and let you taste how the bulk of it ends up. ‘Til then…

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