Thursday, December 30, 2010

20 Things from 2010

1. Ayers Creek Polenta
2. A lovely glass of scotch at Laurelhurst Market
3. Getting the poached egg just right
4. Toasted 3 seed bread
6. My walk to work
7. Fresh horseradish
8. Gaffer's Fish n Chips
9. Black Basque beans
10. My namesake
11. Braising greens that I harvested
13. Lobster mushrooms foraged by my neighbor
14. Hannah Bridge cheese from Ancient Heritage Dairy
15. Cranicocktails and brussels sprouts fritters for Thanksgiving
16. Passing around Soul of Chef
18. A single sour orange
19. Fried green tomatoes

Friday, December 3, 2010


I can tell you when I stopped worrying and learned to love brussels sprouts. It was the day they came to the table as fritters.

I come from hearty New England stock. We do not, as a general rule, fritter. Frittering is Bad News. In fact, these fritters may have been the first fritters I ever had. It opened new worlds of frittering to me. With the help of friends, I experimented with frittering on my own. Eventually, there was even Appleflappen, but that's a story best told at a bar with a few drinks in me.

Still, these remain one of my favorite fritters.

Here's the trick about working with brussels sprouts: cook them as little as you can manage. I'm not saying raw, although you could eat them that way, I'm saying don't put them in a pot of boiling water and then walk away until the air smells of sulphur. If this is how you cook your brassicas Captain Cabbage will hunt you down for the villain you are. Also your sprouts won't taste good, and this kind of overcooking is often responsible for people making the yuck face.

Instead, try these fritters.

4 c brussels sprouts*
1.5 c all purpose flour
1 c grated cheese (I used half parmesan, half gruyere following the "It's what is in the house right now" rule of thumb)
2 eggs
.5 c heavy cream plus a little just in case
3 t baking powder
1 t salt
1 t black pepper
.25 t nutmeg

oil for frying

1. Get a big pot of salted water boiling. Drop those happy sprouts in for 4-5 minutes. Drain and shock them with ice water to stop the cooking. Drain again.

2. Chop the sprouts into small bits. If the sprouts are big, something like an eighth is dandy, very small sprouts can be just quartered.

3. In a large bowl beat the eggs lightly. Add the flour, baking powder, salt, pepper, nutmeg and cheese to mix. It will be super thick. Add the cream to thin it. Stir in the chopped sprouts. You want to end up with a batter that is thicker than pancake batter, but not stiff, so feel free to add a bit more cream if you need it.

4. If you have a deep fry rig you could deep fry these, but I don't, so instead I heated a quarter inch of oil in my cast iron skillet to slightly above medium heat. A generous spoonful of batter makes a good sized fritter. Fry a few fritters at a time (I could only do 4 at a time in my pan), leaving plenty of room between each, and flip with tongs when golden brown. Fry until golden brown on both sides, and then place on paper towels to drain. (See, really, it's kind of like cooking bacon, not scary.)

5. Serve these hot, with lemon wedges to squeeze over them. If you have to fry them in advance, you can reheat them in the oven. If you are me, you won't care if they are hot, cold, or from yesterday.

*The recipe that I adapted this from called for 4 cups of brussels sprouts, but I have no idea how much that is actually supposed to be. I don't have time to put brussels sprouts in cups! Instead, I took one of those stalks of brussels sprouts and cut the sprouts off, and used however much that was. I didn't measure it. It turned out fine.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Popovers and other impromptu party fare

Man, the 70s must have been rough.

I make this grandiose assumption not based on my own childhood, the tales of family and friends, or any real evidence. Instead, my hunch comes from the Betty Crocker Recipe cards circa 1971 that I have tacked up on my kitchen wall.

"Hurry Up Main Dishes" (favorites like liver with piquant sauce!), "Family Breakfast Brighteners" and "Dessert Spectaculars" are just a few of the categories of recipes. I can feel the pressure to provide good, fun and exciting food for every meal just ooze off these cards. Michael Pollan may say that America's food disorder stems from our overwhelming abundance but I think back then it was about being able to produce culinary awe at any hour of any day no matter what the status of your pantry, budget, or to do list. Sheesh.

My favorite is the set on Impromptu Party Fare. The idea is that anytime guests stop by you could be ready. Yes, there is a reference to when "guileless husbands turn up smiling with a dinner guest at six". Right. The recipes themselves are basically dressed up regular meals but one card has haunted me: Creamed Chipped Beef on Popovers.

Yes, that's right, SOS with the shingle being replaced by a popover.

For the record, I love chipped beef (dude, bechamel makes everything good). So I knew I would love this. And I did. But what got to me, as it does every time I make them, is how wonderful popovers can be. Why don't we make them more? I have no idea. It's super easy, can be sweet or savory and is strangely fascinating. I mean, the recipe is almost exactly the same as my favorite crepe batter, but because of the way it is cooked, it becomes a big, crusty, poofy pocket waiting to be filled.


1 Tbsp butter, melted
1 c. milk
2 eggs
1 c (140 g) all purpose flour
a good pinch of kosher salt

The only real key to this recipe is make sure your oven is good and hot when you put these puppies in, no skimping on the preheating, and make sure you give them the time to brown so they don't fall on you.

1. Preheat the oven to 450.

2. Grease up a muffin tin. Yes, popover pans exist, but I use a muffin tin that makes big muffins and it works out just fine.

3. Whisk up the eggs in a bowl until light and frothy.

4. Add everything else and whisk together until smooth. It's going to look like thin pancake batter. Don't be alarmed, that's how it is supposed to be.

5. Fill up muffin tins no more than half way. They will puff up significantly, so don't overfill them.

6. Bake at 450 for 20 minutes, then drop the temperature to 350 and bake another 20 minutes or so until well browned, crusty and crisp outside. Steam is what makes them puff, so don't be tempted to open the oven early! Better to check them after they have had some time at the lower temperature.

Let them sit a few minutes in the pan before popping them out on a rack. These are awesome with all sorts of butters or with soups and stews, and are available for parties. What more could a good hostess need?

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Things I have learned here: market edition

I thanked my sweetheart recently for his continuing patience and indulgence where our food is concerned. When we lived in Chicago, food came from the grocery store or the produce market, because that is where I knew food to come from. Sometimes, a lot of it came in boxes. I had heard of farmer's markets, made tentative explorations in their direction, found good cheese.

Then we moved.

We moved to Atlanta, and there is a super big year round farmer's market there. I went there weekly, on my own and with my boss, to pick up fruits and vegetables (and cheese). I brought visitors there. We didn't take pictures because you aren't allowed to. After a couple years of this, and reading a book or two, it occurred to me that it isn't the same when the farmers in question live on the other side of the world. Did I really need berries in January?

Then we moved.

Now, I shop at my local farmer's market almost every week. Here's where my gratitude for my sweetheart's continued understanding comes in. We eat stuff now like weird turnips, and mysterious greens and the best polenta on the planet. The stuff we get is seriously tasty. It may not be the prettiest, and I have learned the hard way to wash stuff, and soak your cauliflower in salt water. (Seriously, folks. Soak it.) We eat a lot of plants, and less meat. I have a hard time buying meat, especially chicken, since I know where to get the good stuff. I also know, from actually talking to the person who raises those animals, how bad that other stuff can be. That holds true for a lot of our food. We aren't completely seasonal or local; I confess I bought bananas at the grocery store today. We make a pretty good effort, though. The only berries in my house right now are the ones I preserved. I know where it came from. It's never been subjected to a crazy giant recall.

Flat out, we also spend more on food.

Can we afford it? Probably, no. But I don't think we can afford not to do it, either.

Also, there is excellent cheese.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

My role in the end times: chocolate zucchini cake

Yeah, in case of apocalypse, I'll need a farmer. Or at least a good gardener. Preferably one with no cooking skills whatsoever. The sum total of what I have harvested from all my plants this season, with the exception of herbs, is one (1) orange. I haven't even managed a green tomato, which is fine because I don't like raw tomatoes, but REALLY. Here we are smack dab in the prime season for dumping vegetables on your neighbors because you're sick to death of them and all I can do is be a recipient.

And make cake.

Chocolate Zucchini Cake with Pistachios

340 g all purpose flour
65 g unsweetened cocoa powder
6 g baking soda
6 g salt
8 g powdered ginger
375 g sugar
110 g butter, room temperature
105 g vegetable oil
2 eggs
5 g vanilla extract
110 g buttermilk
275 g grated peeled zucchini (don't use the seedy center because bleh. Also you could leave the peel on but why?)
175 g coarsely chopped dark chocolate (I used a 54%)
75 g pistachios, unsalted

1. Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Line a 13x9x2" pan with parchment and spray lightly with pan spray.

2. Sift together flour, cocoa, salt, baking powder and ginger.

3. Cream butter, sugar and oil together. The key to this is to have everything at room temperature, so it mixes together smoothly.

4. Add eggs one at a time, mixing well and scraping the bowl between each addition, and then add the vanilla.

5. Alternate adding in the dry ingredients and the buttermilk to the butter/sugar mix. Mix it just enough to combine. Fold in the zucchini.

6. Smooth the batter into the pan. Sprinkle the chocolate chunks and pistachios on top.

7. Bake until tester comes out clean, about 45 minutes. You probably should wait until it is cool to eat it, but who am I to judge, since I didn't.

Why pistachios and ginger? Because I like them with chocolate. You could probably use some other nut, or leave out the ginger. But the chocolate chunks really are better than chips, so don't change that part, ok?

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Why do you need a pastry chef?

Because if you are a place that specializes in other people's occasions, having someone who can write "Happy Anniversary" legibly and correctly spelled on a plate is a good thing.

Because maybe someday you will want to make a galette, or put something on puff pastry, and you won't have to buy the dough.

Because a pastry chef can contribute to the savory side of things more than most savory cooks can contribute to pastry.

Because it isn't hard to figure out if your desserts are bought frozen and then served up, even if you garnish the plate.

Because it would be nice to have something on your dessert menu besides creme brulee, molten chocolate cake, key lime pie and cheesecake. Oh and a scoop of ice cream, ask your server for "today's" flavors.

Because that VIP will really like having a custom dessert whipped up just for them.

Because even though its the labor costs that make having a pastry chef expensive, a good pastry chef is going to work to make the expense worth the money.

Because long after your appetite for savory fails, your appetite for sweet carries on.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Sunday, June 20, 2010


I figured out what makes me different from a hobbyist baker. I think.

It starts with a simple thing, really. My neighbor is gluten free, and yet still willing to be a guinea pig to my culinary experimentation. My plan was to make chocolate cupcakes anyway, why not try and make gluten free ones?

(Obviously, the answer to that is "You don't have to make them gluten free you crazy person, so what are you thinking?")

At first, a hobbyist and I may proceed upon the same course. There is an internet, and it has many many recipes on it, even for crazy faced gluten free chocolate cupcakes. Some of those recipes make TASTY crazy faced gluten free cupcakes. At this point the hobbyist might say, "Hey look, a recipe from the Babycakes folks! It's gluten free and vegan! I'll use that!" and then go shopping and start baking.

I find the same recipe and then I take the path less travelled by. Yes, I hear from many sources that this would be a tasty, tested, workable solution. But it isn't mine. And it requires a lot of ingredients I don't have in the house. Things like fava bean flour. And xanthan gum. Now I love shopping for ingredients, but am I going to use fava bean flour that often? And xanthan gum is expensive for how little I need. Surely there is a better way? Oh, and the vegan thing is a useful notion, I'll make mine vegan, too. Because I am crazy.

So first I find some gluten free flour formulas that contain things I already have in the house. Yes, I have tapioca flour hanging around. Then I look at a whole bunch of recipes noting similarities. I write down some notes. Some other notes. A few crazy wild hair suggestions. Then I grab the scale and start making some stuff. And it goes horribly wrong. I try again, restraining myself to the scientific method and only changing one variable. (this is really hard, because I want to change six.) There is edibility. Again. Well, ok. Ooo! Coconut milk could add fat and moisture! Not bad, but I really miss eggs. And butter. And flour. Once again. Hey, these are tasty! I would eat these! Did I write down what I did? Oh good, I did.

And so it goes. Do I need a gluten free vegan chocolate cupcake recipe right now? No. But it's good to have. When will I make it next? Depends on what the neighbors think of it. I can always change it a bit here, a nudge there. Always something that could be better.

Then my day off comes to a close.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010


It comes up, inevitably.

Something along the lines of, "For the love of all that is good and glorious in the world how can you work with all of this stuff and not weigh a gazillion tons!"

Here's two secrets: 1. When you work with something every day it becomes just stuff, a "product", less of a consummation devoutly to be wished. Even if that something is well and truly beloved. 2. I ain't skinny.

I'm not bad off. In fact, if you look around my place of employment, you would see a bunch of people up to their elbows in butter, sugar and dough all appearing to be relatively healthy. But truth is, last time I saw the doctor I was told to lose a few pounds. Like at least 10. Seriously. And that was the first time a doctor has ever flat out told me that.

And of course, that was the day before making some 400 rhubarb mini pies with a ginger crumb topping. I really love rhubarb. And ginger. And pies. Especially small ones.

Since then I have given up nothing (except eating my fill of rhubarb mini pies). But I am walking to work more. I am watching portions as much as I can without making myself crazy, adding a bit more exercise. I bought a scale that was big enough for me. So far it is ok. I am losing weight, at a reasonably healthy rate. It isn't fun, it isn't my favorite thing, and I certainly hope it will be worth it in the long run.

But I'm not going to let it stop me from finding inspiration for a chocolate tart in a twix bar.

Monday, April 19, 2010

on perfect lemon tarts

I have this theory about tuna sandwiches. The tuna sandwich seems to be something that people imbue with deeply felt, intensely personal preferences. It starts with the water vs oil debate, then it goes deeper. The proper mayonnaise ratio. The question of pickle. The marriage rending issue of hot or cold. And don't even get started on additions like dill or onion or green Tabasco or Old Bay. What it comes down to for me is simply, "If you want a tuna sandwich exactly the way you want it, make it at home." This is the Grand Unifying Theory of Tuna Sandwiches.

(I like tuna sandwiches a lot. Probably why I've spent so much energy thinking about this.)

I've come to realize that this holds true about lemon tarts as well. It's such a simple thing, a lemon tart. A crust of some sort holds a lemon filling. Easy, yes. But that ease makes it fall prey to mediocrity. A thick, boring crust. A lemonish filling (or worse, lemonesque). Accessorized with all sorts of craziness. Or, the worst possible circumstance, a SWEET dessert. And yet, we'll eat these bad lemon tarts because they are ok. Safe. Fit the bill. It's like the fast food cheeseburger of pastry. Its like a bad tuna fish sandwich.

So what is a good lemon tart? Rich, yet light on the tongue. Bright, a little sweet. A crust that has flavor but is not the focus. Mostly, it is about the lemon.

Now, these are reflections of my preferences. I want my lemon tart filled with a good, tart lemon curd. That lemon curd should be fresh, and well made, and really, I don't see a reason for it to have gelatin. It could be lemon curd that has been mixed with a bit of whipped cream, but only on certain alternate Thursdays. I want a well cooked sweet crust that is barely thick enough to hold the tart together, to provide the tiniest texture contrast. I don't need meringue, or whipped cream, or powdered sugar or a garnish of mint. Seriously, it is about the lemon.

Really, it is just better if I make it at home.

Lemon Curd for My Perfect Lemon Tart:
equal parts lemon juice (meyer lemon for variety), sugar, whole fresh eggs and cold butter

Mix sugar and lemon juice in a pot.
Beat eggs in a bowl.
Cut the cold butter into cubes.
Bring the sugar and lemon juice to a simmer over medium heat.
Add the juice mix to the eggs a little at a time, whisking constantly, until all is mixed together.
Pour eggs and juice back into the pot, and return to the burner over medium low heat.
Using a wooden spoon, stir constantly until the mixture thickens. It should not boil.
Pull the pot off the stove, and begin whisking in the cold butter, a few pieces at a time, until all the butter has been added and has melted.
Strain to remove any bits. Fill already cooked tart shells, and bake at 350 for 5 minutes to set. Cool and eat or refrigerate.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

A Theoretically Life-Changing Event

My niece and namesake was born at the time this bread was being baked, on April 9th.

If you don't know what TED talks are, basically there is a conference (now international) where people are invited to talk about something that matters to them. The results are fascinating, educational, and, as intended, worth sharing.

Peter Reinhart does this talk about the cycle of life as manifested in bread. Now, personally, I don't think about my doughs this deeply, philosophically. But somehow, at this time, I felt this was a good thing to share.

Monday, April 5, 2010

I look at this every day

There are two of these notices on my sheeter. One of my coworkers pointed out how elegant the hand looked. This is why I note all those Do Not Operate Heavy Machinery warnings on my allergy meds.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

why the recalls scare the bejeesus out of me

In today's news: Health care vote, injustice, war, harassment, celebrity gossip and then a tiny, tiny little note: oh by the way, some food is bad. And then I walk in the grocery store and see the recall signs. All. over. the. store.

I don't consider myself a righteous foodie. I can't afford to be... I work on a cook's wages. I eat things out of boxes, love me some gummi bears dipped in bad chocolate and have been known to succumb to the lure of cheese food. I am not a locavore, vegetarian or vegan, don't spend my ducats on organic bananas and I know that my chocolate is imported from far away lands and I am ok with that. I won't go to someone else's house as a guest and criticize them for the same things. That is just bad manners, as I understand them.

But I'm noticing that it is harder for me to buy meat from the store. I'm more likely to pick from the fruits and vegetables that are in season, or, even better, from my local farmer's market. I find myself planning on spending more on food, and buying less. Some of this is the natural result of educating myself, but mostly, its a cross between fear and revulsion.

Pepper: one of the oldest known spices, and at one time considered a medicine for among other things heart disease, toothaches, (ironically) indigestion and diarrhea. Black pepper is the unripe pepper berry which is cooked(!) and dried into what we know as the peppercorn. So how the hell can it be tainted with salmonella? How can a food additive, HVP, (once again made from a cooked product, and used in processed products) cause so many things all over the country to be pulled from the shelf and yet receive so little attention from the media? Oh yeah, no one died. And yet there are such crazy rules and regulations surrounding things like raw milk cheese production that if I wanted to make my own cheese from my own milk in my own home for myself, I would be doing something illegal in some states.

Our food system is completely messed up. And somehow, I feel like this has happened in my lifetime. Sure, the roots were there before I was born, and there are things (read: chocolate) that I benefit from in the current system, but somehow food has become dangerous. Food has become Unhealthy.


So how do we fix it? I don't know. It's too large a problem, on too large a scale. I have a hard time figuring out how to deal with it in just my household alone, living with someone who is a classic soda and junk food-fueled geek. He still gets his soda, I don't drink it. I try for a higher quality of junk food, or try and find healthy options that fit the bill. But it is hard. And I'm saying this as someone who knows how to cook, knows what to look for to ensure I'm getting good food and is willing to put in the effort to do so.

What are the options for everyone else?

That's what scares me.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Normal, for a given value of normal

January. Things... slow... down. People are still fancifully admiring their new year's resolutions and delicious, rich, happy pastry is usually not a high priority. This lull is not unexpected. It is the kind of thing you can plan for, and many kitchens use the time to consider, ponder, plan, test and start prepping. It's also a time where the job gets easier. It's a time where the needs get scaled back. When you're used to running on all cylinders to just keep up with the holidays, you find inexplicable pockets of dead time. You can look around a bit more, take the time to notice the people around you.

So who is around me? Who cooks? It's a question I find interesting because, quite simply, this is a weird industry. We work, for the most part, inconvenient hours. We expect to not take holidays off. It is blue collar, hard labor, and has long term physical effects. According to one BBC article chefs take the lead as far as unhealthy lifestyles go. Can't say I've seen too many examples to the contrary. Little money, little chance of greatness, celebrity or even serious recognition. So what gives?

Only one possible conclusion. We are all batshit crazy.

Oh, there are different types of crazy: chemically induced, DSM-IV recognized, food obsessed, lost... but every one of us is tweaked out in some way. This doesn't make us necessarily bad people (although some are). It just means that if we were forced to sit at some desk, move around numbers and speak cheerfully to strangers, lots of people would get a first hand opportunity to see how crazy we are. Somehow, though, the kitchen is an outlet, a direction. The food gives us a connection to the world, grounding. People who cannot manage a coherent sentence in a party situation can be a social butterfly in this safe place of fire and water and flour and eggs.

I've never met a cook who bored me. Yes, I've met plenty who I wouldn't want to meet up with outside of a kitchen, but all of them had a story behind their eyes. What is interesting is that there is no coherent link, no absolute shared anything. Educated or not, ambitious or not, even skilled or not. Race, color, creed, sexual orientation, family history, religious affiliation, dietary considerations, gender, allergies, whathaveyou doesn't matter. There's a kitchen for you somewhere.

If you're crazy enough.