Friday, August 28, 2009

Yo, Jersey. Whatup?

I was in the land of guidos, Sopranos, Bruce Springsteen, Bon Jovi, Newark, weird smells, and target of SNL's Governor Paterson's wrath. (In this clip he also does a good job at insulting most of NY state, too.) Aren't those things that most people associate with Jersey? I learned that the beach in New Jersey is pretty great. I know the Jersey shore if famous and a popular get-away destination for New Yorkers, but I had never been there until last week.

I went with friends who also happen to be members of the TNTE club. We had the good fortune of staying at a condo owned by the sister of one of my friends. The condo is smack dab on the boardwalk/beach at Point Pleasant. I only stayed four days but would have loved to stay the full week as my friends did. For one reason or another, I needed to come home early.

We cooked, we lounged, we lived in the pool, we walked the boardwalk, we ate out, we played cards, we watched episodes of The French Chef on DVD, we talked, we drank, and we watched the gigantic waves produced by Hurricane Bill. I also got sunburned. It was great fun. I know this isn't all food related, but here is the trip in a few pictures.

On NJ Transit playing Scrabble.

I made lemon poppy seed muffins filled with raspberry jam to take on the train and to have around at the beach house. This is a picture of them. These were quite good and cake-like. I used jam that Steve's mom had made. I'll make more muffins to take to New Hampshire in a couple weeks.

We also played Scrabble on the patio watching the waves.

We got custard from this place Monday night. I had an orange-vanilla twist. Yum.

Here are other sights from the boardwalk. I love that the sign with the hermit crabs is dramatic, over-the-top and edited.

We also played quite a bit of skee ball and redeemed our tickets. We left our redemption coupon at the condo for the nephews to redeem for a prize next time they are there. Believe me, there was plenty of good stuff to tempt us, but in the end we decided we could live without a cheesy pineapple candle or Jersey shore espresso cup.

Walking back on the boardwalk with fried clam and crab cake leftovers.

Gnocci seems like a good place to start

I have so much to tell you about but I'll start with things that I promised updates on last week before I went to New Jersey.

The first and most headline worthy food-related thing I did was make ricotta gnocci using homemade ricotta.

I have made ricotta gnocci only once before. I have made potato gnocci several times. The first ricotta gnocci attempt was okay. The recipe I used called for toasted bread crumbs to be mixed in with the ricotta. This ingredient is supposed to be a binder to help keep the individual gnocci together. But I thought it overpowered the delicate flavor of the ricotta and the gnocci just tasted like toast. Of course, I may have over toasted the breadcrumbs, but whatever. I don't want toast flavored gnocci.

Mario Batali, Mr. Italian himself, has a pretty good and easy enough recipe in his Molto Italiano cookbook. I decided to give it a try. Now, Mario's recipe does not call for homemade ricotta. In fact it calls for "1 1/2 pounds fresh goat's milk ricotta, preferably Coach Farm, or regular ricotta." Hmm. I had never seen goat's milk ricotta the the grocery store. Maybe a place like Whole Foods would have it, but I rarely go to WF anymore as I have Trader Joe's and a basic grocery store very close to home. (But I do LOVE the WF at 2nd Ave and Bowery. It's huge and splendid. It's only 4 subway stops away, so if I do have the yen to go, it's actually pretty easy to get to.) Since I don't have goat's milk ricotta and Mario said that "regular ricotta" - read boring ricotta - would be okay, I decided to use the freshest ricotta I could get - homemade. I knew making ricotta was simple but I had never actually looked up how to do it.

Duh. It's crazy simple.

Here's what you need to do:
1) Warm one gallon whole milk to 185 degrees.
2) Off the heat, add lemon juice (or vinegar) until milk curdles. (At least 1/3 cup of the acid but use more if curdling doesn't start immediately. I started out with fresh lemon juice, but then squeezed in a bit more.) Add salt. Gently stir and then let sit for a few hours.
3) Drain by straining through cheesecloth set in a colander.
4) Set colander in a larger bowl, allowing ricotta to drain further in the refrigerator, at least overnight.

Ta dah. That's it. From my one gallon of whole milk, I got 10 ounces of ricotta. I have no idea if that's the yield I was supposed to get or not, but I think that's a decent amount. It did feel like I was trowing out a bunch of whole milk when I drained it, though. However, it was way short of what Mario's ricotta gnocci recipe needed, so I did have to supplement with store bought. I picked a store bought ricotta that only listed three ingredients: milk, salt, and lemon juice. I avoided the ricotta with other ingredients such as stabilizers.

Now it was time to follow Mario's instructions, which were very easy. The only thing I would change is the size of the gnocci. He instructs to use two tablespoons of dough per gnocci. That seemed a little large to me and took longer to cook, so I'd do smaller ones next time. Overall, this was pretty good but I had difficulty nailing down the cooking time. Gnocci is tricky to cook - if you overcook it, it just turns to mush but if you under cook it, it's doughy. After I took the gnocci out of the boiling water (this had to be done in batches because you don't want to crowd the pot), I put them in a frying pan that had the sauce. We opted to go simple and have an olive oil and garlic sauce. I finished the sauce off the heat with fresh basil and grated parm-reg. The pan frying helped finish cooking the gnocci and gave them a delicious little crust. Mario's recipe didn't include this step but we really liked the flavor and texture the gnocci gained by a short pan fry over high heat. We also reheated the leftovers this way.

And now the pictures! Yes, I documented the ricotta and gnocci making process with Steve's help.

1. Milk warming
2. After lemon juice was added, milk curdling.
3. Draining the ricotta.
4. Gnocci dough before I mixed it.
5. Rolled gnocci.
6. Gnocci hands.
7. Finished.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Much to catch up on

But I don't have time to write right now. It's already 10PM and I haven't packed for a three-day minimum trip to the Jersey shore. Yikes.

When I get back, here is what will be covered:

-making ricotta & ricotta gnocci
-pizza success again
-new recipe: lemon poppy seed muffins from Dorie Greenspan's Baking
-Top Chef: the new season has started and Masters concluded
-Twitter: food related people/places/things I follow

I even have photos!

See you Tuesday or Wednesday. Have a great weekend.


Sunday, August 16, 2009

Celluloid Julia Love

Julia Child has just been introduced to an entirely new generation of cooks thanks to the yummy film, Julie & Julia. I finally got to see it yesterday, and not since Big Night has a movie made me so hungry. With Big Night I wanted that perfect risotto into which Primo pours his heart and soul. With J&J, I want the boeuf bourguignon or that duck en croute thing she made at the end. Bird stuffed with something delicious, butter, and wrapped in pastry? Yes please.

In my opinion, Hollywood isn't very nice to food. In movies or tv - food shows aside - there is often food, preparation of food, sitting down to eat, or whatnot, but very little eating of food. The food is usually more of a prop in the scene or simply a mechanism for that particular scene. Doesn't Hollywood know how much people love food?

Food is handled a little better in books. My favorite non-food books that describe food are the ones in Cormac McCarthy's Border Trilogy (All the Pretty Horses, The Crossing, and Cities of the Plain). The food is in those stories not because it is essential to the story - they are certainly NOT stories about food - but because it's essential for the characters to survive. It's always simple, hearty, sometimes meager, food of cowboys - beans, coffee, tortillas, or eggs if they happen to be in town. But it makes me hungry and I can smell the beans on the campfire.

In Julie & Julia - both the book and the film - food is a co-starring with Meryl Streep and Amy Adams. I read the book a couple months ago, and thought it was just okay. I liked certain things about it, but I really couldn't stand the author, Julie. After seeing the movie, I still don't like Julie at all. Whiny, depressed, self-centered, not very nice, and fame-seeking Julie is. Julia, however, is impossible not to love. She's warm, smart, focused, fearless, and jolly. Maryl Streep is one of my favorite actresses and I thought she did a very good job portraying another legend. How does she do it so well? I did think she got dangerously close to becoming a caricature of Julia, but managed to reel it in just enough to prevent that from happening. I found myself forgetting it was an actress playing Julia and not Julia herself up on that screen. I loved the all-too-short scenes when Julia's sister (played by the always funny Jane Lynch) and Julie's friend, Sarah (played by 24 favorite and comedienne Mary Lynn Rajskub). I also really liked the Simone Beck role and the actress who played it.

I would have loved to have 2 hours of a Julia biopic rather than the spliced story, but overall I enjoyed it very much. In addition to the appetite I got as a result of watching the movie, I also learned that Paris makes everything more delicious, and copper is obviously the only thing to use for pots & pans. I would love all that copper, but I wouldn't want to clean it.

Tonight, alas, I am not making anything French. Italian actually. After a glut of left overs last week, I did not need to make the ricotta gnocci, so it is on the menu tonight. I made my ricotta a couple days ago (will be covered in another post) and tonight I will actually make the gnocci and cook it. Shouldn't take too long. The lemon vinaigrette for salad is already finished. And the Dutch baby, well, that might be dessert.

The Dutch baby kills me

I just finished up my second attempt at a Dutch baby (aka German pancake). I don't get it. It's a very simple recipe and ingredient list. I used the correctly sized cast iron skillet this time. I used pretty strawberries and free-from-mold raspberries, and nada.

Unlike the first try, in which the sides puffed up correctly, this one hardly puffed around the sides at all. But the entire thing puffed up. Not dramatically, but enough to be noticeable. It browned on top nicely and I determined it was done even though it did not have that trademark puff.

I was also curious to see if the texture, consistency, and density of this was the same as the first. Yes. It is. I cut myself a wedge while the thing is still piping hot and sure to burn my mouth but I didn't want to wait thinking that if it cooled, it might change the texture.

Still dense. Not as greasy as the last one. I liked the berry combination better this time. But still not fantastic. I'm wondering if there is a misprint in the recipe because it seems like there is far too much butter and that's what's causing the problem.

Needless to say, I don't think I'll make another one. Dutch Baby 2 - me 0.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Mid-week report

I last told you about the dinner menu for the week. Thought I'd give you a progress report on all of it so far.

Sunday night was chicken piccata, one of Steve's favorites. I couldn't remember where I found the recipe when I made it last time, so I used the one from the Bon Appetit Easy, Fast, Fresh cookbook. If my memory accurately remembers the first recipe, then I would say I preferred the one I made Sunday night. I thought it was very simple and the sauce was excellent. It included fresh shallots, which I love, and just the right amount of lemon and capers. I did make a note to double the sauce for next time, though, because Steve "likes it saucy." The chicken was slightly overcooked but not too bad. No picture.

Monday night was more chicken but in a completely format. I have made this panko crusted chicken schnitzel before and we both really liked it. The last time I made it, I also included a lemon, caper, butter sauce and we ate it over pasta. This time, Steve wanted just the chicken part so we made sandwiches out of it. Think Chick Fil-A only better. The chicken was cooked perfectly - nice and crispy on the outside, juicy & tender on the inside - and we paired it with freshly baked brioche buns from one of the several local Italian bakeries in the area. Topped with some may and dill pickle slices. Yum. No picture.

On Monday afternoon, I made a fresh vinaigrette for the green salad we had on the side. Cook's Illustrated Sept/Oct issue has a "foolproof" vinaigrette recipe and variations. Well, foolproof obviously doesn't apply to me. I'm making up the dressing and just plopped in the oil. As soon as I did it, I knew how dumb that was. The whole point of the dressing is to make a nice emulsion, which requires that the oil be whisked in slowly. Duh. Poured this made-wrong-but-still-perfectly-edible batch of dressing into a container and put in fridge. Attempt number two went perfectly and even hours later when we used the dressing, it hadn't separated at all. The dressing I made incorrectly had separated into obvious layers. No picture.

Also on Monday afternoon, I made the Dutch Baby that I saw in the July issue of Food & Wine. (I don't normally buy or read F&W, but I bought it at the airport on my way to ALA. I used to buy Bon Appetit for airplane reading, but as I now have a subscription, I had to get a different food mag.) Dutch Baby was new to me and it sounded tasty and easy to make. The recipe said that Dutch Baby is also known as a German Pancake, which still didn't make it any more familiar to me. Here is the link to the recipe I used. The picture accompanying the recipe led me to believe that this would be a puffy, light breakfast/dessert food. Hmmm. I must have done something wrong because mine looked nothing like the picture. Here is what is should have looked like:

Mine turned out to be sort of right looking. The sides of my Dutch Baby stood up and were nice and puffy. The middle however, was another story. The middle never rose or puffed, and looked like I had offended it somehow. The middle had a dense custard-pudding consistency that sat in the tummy like lead. I also only used blueberries, so mine didn't have the cheery, colorful mix of berries that was recommended. I bought raspberries to use but when I opened them - only ONE DAY after I bought them - they already had a nice growth of black fuzzy mold. (I think they must have been purchased that way and I just didn't check them carefully enough.) Don't get me wrong, the whole thing tasted just fine, but it just wasn't pretty to look at and since I've never had a Dutch Baby, I wasn't sure if the consistency was right. I have poked around online to look at other recipes and photos and actually mine might have been right. Several sites describe it as being fluffy, but others say it has a more of a Yorkshire pudding consistency. Who knows. I'd like to try it again because I may have also made a crucial mistake. The recipe said to use a 10-inch CAST IRON skillet. Of course, I had read that, but when I went to prep a pan, I for some reason grabbed the All-Clad 10-inch skillet. I have no idea why. Between the pan mistake and the vinaigrette emulsion mistake, my head was clearly not in the kitchen on Monday afternoon. The cast iron shape and material might really make a difference, so I'd try this again using the correct pan. When I served this to Steve, he wasn't terribly enthused, but I dolloped on a huge amount of fresh whipped cream and he ate it. It isn't one of our favorite desserts, but it will do until I make something else. No picture of this possible mistake.

Tuesday night was pork tenderloin with pineapple, lime, and chile glaze. This took a little longer than I anticipated to make, but it was pretty good. The recipe asks for TWO pork tenderloins to make FOUR servings. I didn't think this was necessary so we only used one, fairly large, tenderloin. The recipe also calls for red jalapenos. Well, I forgot to look at the produce stand on Sunday for these, and our corner grocery store only sells green jalapenos in pre-weighed sealed packages. I would have happily substituted green ones for red if I could have bought just a couple loose. I didn't need a dozen jalapenos for the two tablespoons required. So we improvised with green Tabasco sauce, chili powder, and a can of green chiles. I don't think the end result was as spicy as it should have been, but it was wonderfully sweet with all that pineapple juice. The pork cooked up p-e-r-f-e-c-t-l-y. We ate slices of pork over white rice drizzled with more of the glaze. Green salad on the side with the dressing I didn't make correctly the day before. I didn't want to buy a six-pack of pineapple juice, or a large 32 ounce container, so I bought two cans of pineapple chunks in juice and used the juice from those to get my cup for the glaze. We ate pineapple for dessert and probably tonight and tomorrow. There is a lot of pineapple in two cans. No picture, do you get the pattern yet?

Tonight, I'm going to make the sweet corn soup. I was supposed to make the gnocci, but I have to first make the ricotta, which I will do today. The ricotta has to drain out in the fridge overnight.

More tales to tell.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Going to be a homemade week

This morning, Steve and I put together our dinner menu for the week. With the exception of breads, I'm going to make everything from scratch. For instance, one night we are going to have ricotta gnocci. I'm going to make the ricotta with which to make the gnocci. Ricotta appears to be extremely simple to make, so why not try it at least once? Other first attempts will be made, including a Dutch Baby (aka German pancake) with berries. Cook's Illustrated also has a recipe in their Sept/Oct issue for a skillet lemon souffle, which I would really like to try, but I've had my eye on this Dutch Baby recipe longer so it will be made first.

We will grill at least one night this week - flank steak with egg salad and Romaine salad with vinaigrette. Homemade vinaigrette. I'm going to try several vinaigrette variations this week for our salads.

Pineapple and lime glazed pork loin, panko crusted chicken schnitzel, sweet corn soup, and chicken piccata round out the week. Actually, the piccata is tonight. Everything is going to be with green salads or other veggies. Pears, berries, and pineapple will also be on hand.

I'll keep you posted on how everything turns out and will try to have pictures, but you know how I am with pictures.

Friday, August 7, 2009

August 6

August 6th is the anniversary of Hiroshima, the day after Marilyn Monroe's death day (8/5/62), and the day before Philippe Petit walked on a tightrope between the Twin Towers in 1974. I also happens to be the birthday of three people I know: My dad's (a milestone age was reached), Amy's husband's Gareth's, and Steve's birthday (also a milestone age). While I was not able to celebrate with Dad or Amy & Gareth, I did celebrate with Steve here in Brooklyn. I invited a few friends to join up at Clover Club for cocktails after work and then we went out to dinner to Chestnut. After that, we came back to the apartment for dessert - Boston Cream Pie.

A couple weeks ago, I asked Steve what sweet he wanted for his birthday and he immediately selected BCP. I've never made a BCP, but good ol' America's Test Kitchen has a recipe for it in their Family Baking Book. While none of the individual components were difficult to make, the total prep time for this cake is long - try 6 hours. Make the cake. Let cool at least 2 hours. Make the pastry cream. Chill in refrigerator 2 hours. Make the glaze. Let that sit 20 minutes before using. Assemble cake. Chill for 2 hours before serving.

Needless to say, I started this creation around 9:30 yesterday morning. Made the cakes first. Beautiful "foolproof" sponge cakes. I weighed the cake pans as I filled them to get evenly distributed batter. When Steve made my birthday cake back in April, I sorta teased him about getting too precise when he weighed the batter between the pans. But as I stood in the kitchen yesterday trying to eyeball the evenness of the batter, I realized he was smart to weigh it. So I got the scale out. The recipe said the cakes should brown a little bit but to remove them from the oven if they pass the toothpick test. My cakes didn't brown at all but passed the test so I pulled them. After I removed them from the pans, I then worried they weren't baked enough.

Since the cakes only have to bake for about 12 minutes, I wasn't able to really start on the pastry cream while they baked. After separating eggs, and prepping the ingredients, the cream came together perfectly. EXCEPT when I broke a cardinal rule of baking - I turned my back on the stove. My two cups of milk were in the saucier coming to a simmer. As any cook knows, milk will look like it's not doing anything for quite a while and then very quickly reach that simmering point. Well, when I turned back to the stove, my milk was just about ready to boil over the edge of the pot. So I ended up with scalded milk. Since I didn't have more milk, I had to use it. I could definitely taste the scalded milk in the cream but hoped that once the cake was put together, the other flavors would cover that taste up.

After the cream was chilling, I cleaned up the gargantuan pile of dishes I had created during these two steps. Then I spot cleaned the apartment because there was a chance that guests would be over in the evening. Got the recycling and dirty cat litter ready to take downstairs later. I also kept one eye on the clock, because I had to leave the house at 3 for an Egmont event which involved librarians & other book people and mint juleps. More on that later. I was going to be cutting it close because I wanted to get the cake assembled and chilling before I left.

Finally got as much done as I could and hopped in the shower around 2. Put on my nice clothes for the Egmont event. Donned an apron over my black dress and proceeded to VERY CAREFULLY whip up the chocolate ganache glaze. After that sat for the required 20 minutes, I assembled the cake. By now it is most definitely 3 o'clock and I'm late leaving the house. But I got the cake together, glazed it, and got it in the fridge. Took off apron, grabbed bag and was out the door. I arrived at the Egmont event just as they were arriving, so my timing couldn't have been better.

The Egmont event was actually the last event on a day-long itinerary. Egmont has a new book coming out this fall by a well-known young adult author. It is historical fiction set in NYC during the Civil War. A key plot point is the draft riots that took place at this time. So, Egmont put together a very unique and special bus tour for librarians and book people that visited historical sites in NY that tied into the plot and story of the book. They also involved a NY Historical Society historian and the author. As my status with Egmont is a bit nebulous, I did not go on the bus tour, but did meet up with the group at their last stop for refreshments. Feedback about the bus tour was glowing and enthusiastic, and it was nice to have mint julep with the group. I left this event close to 5:30.

Scooted home, changed clothes, and Steve got home about 20 minutes after I did. We then went out to Clover Club where friends met us for those great cocktails CC serves up. It was another nice time there. CC is running summer specials 5-7pm on select drinks and bar eats. We ordered deviled eggs, pigs-in-a-blanket, and olives. I think we each had about two very-easy-to-drink cocktails before we decided more food was needed. I had another Moscow Mule, which was served in a freezing cold, old-fashioned, copper and enamel mug. The ice didn't even melt.

Departed the bar for Chestnut. The last time we ate here was during the winter. Chestnut has a very seasonal menu, so there were plenty of new options. There were one or two things that must be popular no matter what time of year it is because those items were still on the menu. There were five of us. We split the entree special - baby back ribs - between all of us. These were very good. Steve had eaten Chestnut's ribs during the Smith Street Festival earlier this summer and really liked them. These were just as good and were rubbed with a somewhat atypical spice blend. We definitely tasted coffee in the rub and tamarind. The ribs were also served with a tamarind sauce and really excellent cole slaw. The overall flavor of the ribs was spicy, a little bitter, a little sweet, and a little smoky.

I also had squash blossoms stuffed with curried chick peas. These were cooked very well, and the filling pleasantly flavored, but the batter could have used some more salt or other seasoning. Overall, these were bland. The second dish I ordered was the chicory, aoli, pancetta, and egg salad. I thought there was a bit too much dressing, but I loved the flavor of it. Chicory is a bitter green but the salty pancetta in the dressing played really well with this bitterness. The egg was a perfectly soft boiled egg, lightly breaded and fried, and then the yolk was injected with truffle oil. D-e-c-a-d-e-n-t to say the least. Reka also ordered this salad. We all marveled at the perfectness of the eggs.

Chestnut is a nice restaurant. We enjoyed the food again. We were able to walk in and get a table without any wait. They have what appears to be a lovely garden lit with hanging lanterns, but they didn't have any tables available out there so we were inside. The temperature last night was very pleasant and sitting outside would have been nice. Chestnut has floor-to-ceiling glass doors at the front of the dining room which were open letting in the nice night air. Service was pleasant but we did encounter quite a noticeable lull between two of our courses. The bill was extremely reasonable. However, three of us did not order entrees but two appetizers instead. Between the five of us, our alcohol order included a bottle of wine, a single glass of wine, a beer, and a cocktail. We did not have dessert.

Dessert was the Boston Cream Pie back at our apartment. Ah, you forgot about the BCP, didn't you? By now it's just about 11 o'clock. Everyone is a little tired, but the siren's cry of cake is too much to resist. After cutting it, all the layers looked right. And we gobbled our pieces up. Delish! Couldn't really tell I had scalded the milk (I could tell). The cake I worried about being undercooked was just perfect. The glaze was rich and tied everything together.

The bottom line is that Steve had a nice time and really enjoyed his cake.

Here are some not-so-pretty pictures of the cake since I forgot to take pictures BEFORE it was cut and devoured.

The unmarred side:

The hacked into side:

I think we'll have an egg white omelet with goat cheese and olives for lunch today. I have six egg whites as a result of the cream only needing the yolks yesterday. Even though the completed, assembled cake was chock full of eggs - 9 yolks, 2 whole eggs, 3 whites - it was surprising low on butter and sugar. Of course, while light on butter, it was heavy on milk fat as whole milk and cream were ingredients. Oh well.

August 6 also happened to be the day that the film crew for Eat, Pray, Love was in the neighborhood. While I didn't spot any celebrities - Julia Robers, Javier Bardem, Viola Davis, Billy Crudup, and James Franco are all listed as being in the film - it was fun to see all the trailers and crew. They appeared to be filming inside the restaurant Robin Des Bois, which Steve and I ate at not long after we moved here. It's very close to the apartment and the movie crew had parking blocked off all down our block, the block parallel to Baltic (Warren), and the block on Smith where the restaurant is.