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Archive for August, 2009

You can sprinkle some powdered sugar on me, but I'm pretty much perfect

Powdered sugar unnecessary. It's pretty much perfect on its own.

Daaaaaaaaaaaamn, this is good. This thought was on loop in my head with each bite last night when we had them for dessert. I will say, though, these take some planning ahead, but they’re well worth the effort. The only substitution I made in the recipe was using regular oranges for the blood oranges. They’re not even in season, nor are they locally available for us Mid-Atlantic East Coasters. Them Californians are so lucky with their volcanic soil, hot days, and cool nights. Sigh.

rhubarb jam, photo by bf

rhubarb jam, photo by bf

So according to the recipe, you first make a rhubarb jam/compote, then the brown butter crust, pre-bake that, then make a brown butter filling. Then you assemble these three parts together and shove it back in the oven for about half an hour.

Cooling on the windowsill, it attracted a lot of sweet-toothed animals

Cooling on the windowsill, it attracted many a sweet-toothed animal

While I was breaking down the brown butter in the flour and powdered sugar mixture with my hands, I could smell the nutty-ness and the caramel from the brown butter wafting up to my nose. Not too far away the rhubarb compote was bubbling away and cooking down, and I got an olfactory prelude to the harmonious marriage of all of these ingredients, which presented themselves as equal parts sweet, tangy, and very rich on the tastebuds.

I’ll bet it’s even more fantastic with blood oranges as the recipe suggests. For once I can’t wait for winter.

The recipe is in this book. And it alone is worth the $40. That’s how damn good these are.

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So, say you have $36,000 lying around and you were contemplating a career change. You can enroll in one of the fine culinary or pastry programs available in the tri-state area. I’d say The FCI dressed, brined, and prepped me pretty well for the hot oven that is this industry, EXCEPT for ONE THING: The art of quenelle-ing.

(I’d post a photo, but I’m having issues with wordpress. I will post one later.)

Quenelles are basically egg-shaped serving portions of anything (the root of the word and origin here), but in pastry they can apply to whipped creams, ice creams and sorbets, creme fraiche, or anything that can be molded with a spoon dipped in hot water. We never learned how to make them in class, and to this day I shake my fist at The FCI overlords.

At the restaurant where I worked at for a grand total of three weeks, the quenelles there were more relaxed, with rounded tips—a more classic egg shape, if you will. But the chefs are very particular about quenelles at my current workplace. They’re made with very pointy ends, which gives them a more modern feel. (Truthfully, I’ve no idea if that makes any sense, but.)

So I’m learning on the spot. A lot of it depends on your wrist motion and timing, but most of it is in confidence. Because we never learned it, even just hearing the word became a source of anxiety (death que-knell, if you will, cheesily), and my quenelles of creme fraiche and vanilla whip cream in the first couple of days looked like flaccid balloons because I’d be too nervous and psych myself out. So at the sous’s and my friend’s suggestion, I made some whipped cream, and practiced making them between tickets, lining them up on my cutting board like ducks in a row. By the sixth one, I’d kind of got it. Not perfect, but building up the confidence, and getting there.

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Brown out

Brown as George Hamilton

Brown as George Hamilton

Suffice to say, the job is taking a lot of me physically, so I haven’t really baked or created anything proper lately. But my bf came home from the farmers market the other day with two big stalks of rhubarb, which are still going strong, and I came across a recipe for brown butter rhubarb bars in The Big Sur Bakery Cookbook which I’ve been wanting to try, so the teensy weensy step I could take today was to make brown butter with my eyes half-closed and feet dragging (they hurt, sorry).

So, two sticks of butter over medium-high heat for five minutes. You’ll also need a whisk.

We're melting...! We're melting. . .!

It’ll all melt, obviously, and you’ll see the white milk solids separate from the yellow-y butterfat. At this point, you can scoop out the milk solids and make clarified butter, with which you can do many things because it has a higher smoking point.

Anyway, let’s keep whisking. Around minute 5, the butter goo will start turning color into a tawny brown, and smell nutty and sweet. When it’s turn a nice rich brown, transfer it to a bowl, and put in the fridge or freezer. And ta da! There’s my step 1. But you can make it for other cookies like shortbreads or toss it with pasta and beans.

It’s a marvel of cooking that one was able to find something so good, as in butter, and make it even better. I wonder if brown butter was created by accident, like caramel, say, or chocolate chip cookies.

I’ll aim to do at least one step every day…and hopefully I can actually make them before the rhubarb stalks turn a not-so-good brown.

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When in Bermuda…

Please, hurricane Bill, be kind

Please, hurricane Bill, be kind to this beaut

From time to time I will post past vacation photos and highlight the food consumed during our stays. This is a coping method, being that I will not be allowed to take a one week vacation for a year, the cruel and unusual norm in this restaurant industry.

When we arrived in Bermuda recently, we asked our innkeeper where we can grab good Bermudian food, as we try to adhere to ol’ travel principle “When in Rome…” for the same reason that we’re puzzled at tourists in New York City who crowd places like that lone Applebee’s on 50th Street. I mean, why go to France and stop in at the Charles De Gaulle airport McDonald’s, right?

The flip-side of this may be a toll on your health. In 2006, when we visited Argentina, we sought the local and well-known parrilladas for the juicy, grass-fed sides of beef. My bf wholeheartedly embraced the gaucho diet and ate steak probably every day (mind you, gauchos really ate meat once every three months) and I’d wake up in the mornings and eye him suspiciously as I’d read in medical articles that heart attacks frequently occur in the AM.

Anyway, back to Bermuda. “There’s really no Bermudian food, really,” the innkeep replied. “It’s just rice and peas and chicken.” She was partly right—there’s plenty of rice and black-eyed peas, but she was definitely wrong about there not being Bermudian food.

Gloria's fish dinner

Gloria's fish dinner

Above, Gloria’s Kitchen served up a fresh, flash-fried fish dinner with crunchy cole slaw. Tasty and filling.

When we stopped in at Black Horse Tavern near the airport, there were virtually no tourists. Here we grabbed some conch curry with rice and vegetables. The veggies were clearly from a frozen mix, and the conch wasn’t local (I asked), but Bermudian food is like “American” food in the sense that it’s a changing amalgam of different cultures from Portuguese to West Indian, and the bounty of export, which accounts for the stratospherically-high prices.

Conch curry at Black Horse Tavern

Conch curry at Black Horse Tavern

We adhered, too, to the strict Dark and Stormy recipe: Goslings Dark Rum tempered with Barritt’s Ginger Beer. As far as ginger beers go, Barritt’s was less than impressive (and not made with actual ginger), but it was the only ginger beer available for purchase. We made note that it wasn’t the best Dark and Stormys we’ve had, but you pay for the ambiance, eh?

Ginger beer, left + Dark and Stormy, right

Ginger beer, left + Dark and Stormy, right

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The word “hot” has lost all meaning. I can tell you that it’s hot, and I’ve said it a tra-ga-ba-jillion times over to my co-workers, but it doesn’t make it go away. It’s a persistent, oppressive, humid heat, and the best you can do to is keep drinking vats of ice water, which, as soon as you pour, start beading. The other day, there was a thready plume of vapor rising off of my plastic quart container of sweet, thirst-slaking hydration, as though it was a mini fake laboratory with dry ice and all. It’s that mothereffin hot in there, folks.

So what do I do today on my first day off? I made another batch of the olive oil granola. As soon as I dumped all the ingredients together, I realized that in order for the mixture to turn into granola, you have to turn on the oven. Good thinking, B! Why don’t I just put on my winter parka and sheepskin boots and head to the beach?

For the record, I was not among the peeps who complained about the June cold spells/late onset of summer. I will happily take a tepid summer over this torridity.

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B’s Work Index

Number of days B has successfully completed work without serious burns or a cut: 2, and counting.

Gallons of perspiration exuded from B’s sweat glands during one shift: What feels like 15

Number of days B suspects til an onset of heat rash: .5

Number of times B has thought per shift that there must be easier ways to make money: 3

Number of times B has thought per shift, “Hey, this is actually fun!”: 2

Number of times the deep fryer shorted and had to be reset yesterday: 19

Average number of dishes per day sent from savory to pastry during shift, for sustenance: 2

Odds that the dish is corn risotto that B can’t eat: 2:2

Number of times B had to whip a meringue by hand after the two KitchenAids stopped dead mid-whipping: 1

Number of times B has suffered a bicep cramp in her lifetime: 1

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Mmm, 2-D food

I saw the too cutesy but still enjoyable “Ponyo,” the new Miyazaki movie on Saturday. I don’t know what it is about food depicted in cartoons, but it makes my mouth water more so than real food in movies with actual people. I’m not a big ham person, but I wanted a slice of ham after Ponyo slurped up her first slab. It’s been years—decades, even—since I had instant noodles, the kind in styrofoam cups that you pour water into, and you have to wait three to five minutes until the noodles  soften and the seasoning packet blooms into a flavorful (read: salty) broth, but I wanted to run to the nearest Korean grocer and get a tub of Shin Ramen after watching Ponyo and Sosuke dive into their bowls. I hear my tummy grumbling every time I watch the part in “Spirited Away” where Chihiro’s parents start eating the heaps of food in random unattended huts in the woods. I know it’s the foods of the spirits, but I would’ve easily turned into a pig in that situation. (Random food in platters? No waiters? Strange surrounding? Why not!)

I don’t know what it is. It’s might be that it’s often so attractive looking—the ham slice was a ruddy pink with perfect rounded edges, and the bowls of ramen had the half-moon slices of fish cake and steam rising from them just so. Or maybe it’s just fantasy in that I don’t need to worry about where it comes from or whether it’s local or organic or minimally-treated or raised without hormones. Eating without worries or consequence (no weight gain!). Maybe a desire for regression. Hmm.

Lard Lad donuts, anyone?

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