Tuesday, June 30, 2009

The honey haul

That's my current honey collection. On the left are three jars acquired on the recent road trip, on the right is the honey that I had in the cupboard.

It's shocking how different these honeys taste. The Wyoming honey has an intense flavor that reminds me of molasses; the clover honey from California, is similarly swarthy and robust. Both of these honeys taste fine until you compare them to the South Dakota honeys which are, by contrast, pale ("water white"), delicate, and exquisitely delicious. A totally different and vastly superior food.

Home is comfortable, but a little boring

Came back from vacation to a garden gone beserk.

Lots of beans.

Lots of tomatillos. Too many tomatillos. What to do with these? 

The Kerala red amaranth started to bolt in our absence.
I parboiled the leaves, which leaked red juice in the manner of beets. Sauteed them with garlic and tossed with whole wheat pasta shells. After 10 days of cheeseburgers, granola bars, and motel breakfast buffets, this was a perfect meal. 

Boys went to see Transformers II and Isabel and I ate this girly vegetarian dinner while watching Secret Life of Bees. So many thoughts about that movie. Don't know where to start! I want to live in a pink house in the South and bottle honey and be all centered and wise and nurturing like Queen Latifah, fearlessly speaking calm truths to scary white men and swarms of bees and Dakota Fanning.

It was a silly movie, but pretty good.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Home tomorrow

Last night of vacation. Am upholstered in mosquito bites, smell like a campfire, and have melted marshmallow in my hair. Arms are sunburned and epically freckled. They are also, I notice, massive. Wow. I need a long-sleeved shirt. And an exercise class. And a diet. And a shower. 

It's been an excellent vacation! Lots of hiking and scenery, some camping, more than enough ranch dressing and french fries. Very little culinary to report except that "local" and "organic" are concepts that have made no headway in Wyoming and South Dakota. We did not once see "grass-fed" beef on a menu, though we saw plenty on the hoof.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Sleeping it off in Rapid City

Indian taco, eastern Idaho. 

I intended to blog regularly on this vacation, but internet access has been nonexistent in the campgrounds and cabins where we've been staying. And now that we're in the posh Mt. Rushmore Holiday Inn with wifi, I can't remember any of the fascinating things I was saving up to say.

Vacation has been excellent so far, though has involved far too much driving.

A few things: 

1. I've been trying to track down local honey at our various stops, and only just today managed to find my first  jar -- at a gas station in Sheridan, Wyoming. The gift shops at Yellowstone sold Wyoming "honey" but it was doctored with berry flavors, which is ALL WRONG! I want to taste the local flowers, not "grizzlyberry."

2. Speaking of Yellowstone: amazing. 

3. One of our chickens died. The neighbor boy who is caring for them called and said he found the bird outside our fence, lying face down in the grass with a bloody beak. He doesn't know what happened. I suspect a cat. 

4. Not food-related but my review of Reality Check by Peter Abrahams is here. He's my favorite suspense writer, though as I say in the piece, this isn't his best book. 

Friday, June 19, 2009

Elko is great, but this book is greater

We had an exciting dinner last night at another Basque place, the Nevada Dinner House in Elko. The food was just meh, but at the adjoining table sat a posse of long-haired, fat, middle-aged guys in shorts and tank tops, all of them heavily tattooed. From these elaborate tattoos we gleaned that they are Vietnam vets and one had been a POW. Midway through the meal, one of them stood up, dropped his plate on the table and began complaining loudly that he was being ripped off. He was unbelievably belligerent, tossing his mane of gray hair, glaring at the waitress and saying, "You're tryin' to sell a chicken-fried steak for $30?" He said that over and over again. Eventually the male manager intervened and the party was escorted out. Wild. You don't see much of this in the Bay Area. 

The thing is, Mark agrees with him. He thinks the whole Basque family-style thing is a "scam." He calls it "cafeteria-style food at three star prices." It's true, the food isn't that great and it's not cheap. On the other hand, it's local, it's interesting, it's wholesome (vegetable soup, salad, beans with every meal) and the options are Burger King or a casino buffet.

For years I've wanted to hike in the Ruby Mountains outside Elko (see above), which is what we're doing today. Except I started a book I can not put down: Farm City by Novella Carpenter. It reminds me of Barbara Kingsolver's Animal, Vegetable, Miracle but funnier and minus the sanctimony. The author lives in Oakland and raises not just vegetables, but turkey, geese, ducks, chickens, pigs, and bees on the vacant lot next to her gritty, inner-city apartment. It's WONDERFUL and I wish I could stay in our hotel room all day reading. 

Thursday, June 18, 2009

When it's not grotesque and/or tragic, Nevada is fun

We're on our family road trip, currently in the Nevada phase of the ordeal  joyful odyssey. Since this is a food blog, I'll try to restrict myself to interesting eating experiences which, given our itinerary (Idaho, Wyoming, and South Dakota) will mean short posts. 

As many of you probably know, Nevada is known for its Basque restaurants, and in Reno last night we hit Louis'. I was too shy to photograph inside the restaurant, so I will describe: communal tables, waitresses in what I took to be Basque peasant garb, faux-wood paneling, and a hearty set menu featuring Wednesday's appetizer: tongue. The platter of tongue, partially submerged in what appeared to be wine sauce, was removed from the communal table twenty minutes after it appeared, essentially untouched. This was sad. I love that they serve tongue, but it doesn't mean I can eat it. There was also a mountain of french fries, a tureen of soup tasting of bouillon cubes, a salad, beans and sausage, steak, and dry Jack cheese to finish. 

Food wasn't great, but we felt better giving Louis our money than, say, Denny.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Into the Vietnamese Kitchen: What would Tami Taylor do?

So, Tyra's going to University of Texas, Tim and Billy bought a longhorn steer, Coach got fired, Matt did the wrong "right" thing. We're done with the Friday Night Lights dvds as of last night, thank GOD. Dillon, Texas has seemed more vivid to me lately than my own life, which is pathetic, and I have begun using Tami Taylor as a guide for my behavior, which is fine, since she's awesome, but hopeless since she's an extraverted TV character and I'm an introverted human being. Yesterday, I drove six hours and spent most of the time in a reverie about the Panthers, which is just sad. Very good thing it's cold turkey until 2010. 

Up top is an opo squash, bought from the Chinese market. It looks sort of like a pear but tasted vaguely like zucchini and made a pleasant, easy soup when boiled with fish sauce, water, and a tiny amount of pork shoulder. My one complaint is that in her opo squash soup recipe Andrea Nguyen does not call for peeling the squash, as even after extra-long cooking, the skin was too crunchy, like the rind of a gourd. The recipe is here, and I recommend it, though would also recommend peeling the squash.

On the side, I served Nguyen's crispy fried eggplant which was delicious, especially dipped in nuoc cham.

I told the children the fried eggplant was fried potatoes, but in a harried way so I could pretend it was an absent-minded slip, should the fib be detected. No one figured it out, and the kids enthusiastically ate the fried eggplant. This is wrong. Tami Taylor would not tell such a lie.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Two caramel sauces

On the right, the caramel sauce from Andrea Nguyen's Into the Vietnamese Kitchena bittersweet syrup the color of Kikkoman that you make by melting sugar and letting it gently burn. You use this sauce in savory braised dishes known as khos. I've made two khos in the last week, and they were both wonderful.
1. beef kho. Nguyen's recipe calls for rough flank, which is not the same as flank steak. Rough flank is a gnarled and gnarly and very cheap cut available at Chinese markets. There's a reason you have never heard of rough flank: the morsels of exquisite meat are sandwiched between thick layers of white membrane that I had to cut with shears. You hack your rough flank into smallish pieces, tie it into bundles, braise for a few hours in caramel sauce, then struggle to serve and eat with a modicum of decorum. The ratio of edible protein to gristle and other tissue was low, but I have to agree with Nguyen that the meat we did eventually excavate was "exceptionally flavorful." It was like pot roast except beefier, the flavors somehow condensed. If you want to try this yourself -- and though I've done a poor job selling, it was good! -- the recipe is here.

2. salmon kho with galangal. I've never before used galangal, which is sold at Asian markets and looks like this: 
You slice it into a pot with salmon, pork belly, and caramel sauce then cook the dish for an hour or so. This kho is fun because you don't have to worry about overcooking the fish, you actually want to overcook it so that the salty-sweet sauce impregnates every melting bite.

It was sort of sad to turn precious salmon into just another sloppy stew -- part of what makes salmon special is its creamy shell-pink color, tidiness, and overall delicacy -- but the results were ambrosial. Recipe is here.

Now for the caramel sauce on the left. This is the salted butter caramel sauce from David Lebovitz's Sweet Life in Paris, a wicked concotion of sugar, cream, butter, and salt. Lebovitz recommends slathering the stuff on buckwheat crepes, which was delicious, but it would also be tasty on ice cream, crackers, toast, waffles, spoon.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Fish gotta swim, girl's gotta pay the mortgage

I recently read Abide with Me, the 2006 novel by Elizabeth Strout, author of last year's Pulitzer-winning Olive Kitteridge. At one point the hero, a minister, worries aloud about being confused. Another character points out that confusion can be good because it's hard to be dogmatic when you're confused.
I'm confused all the time, which I hate, but this made me feel better. It's the underlying confusion that I appreciated in Wednesday's article in the New York Times by Mark Bittman about the ethics of buying and eating fish. Figuring out what to do isn't easy, and he wrestles with the moral and practical questions right there on the page. Compare his piece with this passage from a well-received 2008 cookbook:

"Wild salmon is the healthiest and most sustainable salmon, and it's also the best tasting by far. Farmed salmon are as bland an flavorless as factory chicken. They're fed a dubious diet and require antibiotics to control the disease that inevitably results from their crowded, polluting pens. When they escape, farmed fish endanger native species. Need any more reasons to go wild? 'Fish gotta swim for both flavor and health.'"

No, I don't need any more reasons to "go wild." What I need to "go wild" is a trust fund.

Ten years ago, after listening to a devastating radio program, I decided to never buy farmed salmon again -- except at Whole Foods. I like to think (but have no hard evidence for thinking) that Whole Foods holds its purveyors to higher standards that most shops, as they (of course) claim to do. High enough? Don't know. I should research this, but should also spend more time with my grandmother, read the newspaper, balance the checkbook, and find a new job. Meanwhile, this is where I've drawn a wobbly line in the sand with regards to salmon. The other day I bought the Whole Foods farmed salmon -- it's lovely, not "bland and flavorless" - for $6.99 a pound. The wild salmon: $24.99. 

I could be convinced to stop buying Whole Foods farmed salmon. I'm open to informed persuasion. Sell me. I might eventually be willing, if not especially eager, to agree that salmon -- beautiful, velvety, luscious salmon -- should be treated like caviar and chanterelles, a luxury the elite enjoy and the rest of us should basically forget about. If that's what needs to happen, okay. And if that's what needs to happen, we should probably outlaw farmed salmon completely because right now we're expecting an awful lot of high-minded restraint on the part of the middle-class consumer.
What I resent is the casual assumption -- common in food literature -- that upgrading to wild salmon is even an option for most of us. It's not. You need money to have your clear conscience and your salmon too. About that I'm not at all confused.

Farm report: The chickens appreciate my cooking

Chickens recycle leftovers that we can't compost or throw into the worm box, like leftover fromage blanc, Vietnamese noodles, and beautiful, not-that-delicious German pancake (see above.)

Since we had such luck with Molly Wizenberg's Dutch Baby a while back, this morning I attempted a variation, the pfannkuchen from the most recent Joy of Cooking. Joy: "Our recipe is based on one by Henrietta Davies, nineteenth century Germany's greatest cookbook author." 

Nineteenth century Germany's greatest cookbook author. Nothing on the internets about nineteenth century Germany's greatest cookbook author, which makes her even more intriguing. Aspiring biographers, take note.

Unfortunately, Henrietta's pancake -- which contained four eggs and 1/2 cup of cornstarch in place of flour -- was deemed eggy and "not as good as a pancake" by husband. The children seemed to concur. I wish I could rebut, but since I no longer have a metabolism, try not to eat pancakes. (I'm making buckwheat crepes with salted caramel sauce tonight, and for those will make an exception.)

Anyway, the chickens relished Henrietta's pancake, and I feel less troubled by the waste, which is no longer technically waste. Ok, it's still waste, but not as egregious.

Getting back to the fascinating subject of the worm box. Last year my mother gave me her worm farm which she'd been carefully cultivating  for years. This was one healthy, industrious colony. I used to lift the lid to see a seething, fleshy pink mass of fat wrigglers which was totally grotesque, but also fantastic. I wanted them to thrive and throw off lots of excellent compost, and since I'm definitely a "more is more" person, I fed them and fed them, carried every last coffee ground and cabbage core and crushed egg shell out to my babies. The box got very heavy and wet and oozed pitchers of so-called worm "tea" which I gave to the plants.

Then, over the course of a week, all the worms died. I had smothered them with kitchen scraps. Husband buried the noisome contents in a bare patch in the garden, and a month later I planted some tomatoes right there. The tomatoes have gone completely bonkers. 

For mid-June in a fog belt, that is bonkers. Note the tiny fruits:
Tomato plants elsewhere in the garden are a third the size with no tomatoes.

You don't have to kill worms to reap the benefits, you can just harvest the "soil" every now and then. I have acquired some new worms and, although it is a struggle, am practicing restraint in their feeding. I will spare you a photograph.

It occurs to me that maybe chickens should not be eating fromage blanc and German pancake, that "more is more" might endanger birds as well. I don't think so, but will check on that.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Lemons & cherries

Limoncello on the left, cherry bounce on the right. I started the limoncello (using this recipe) a few months ago, letting the lemon peel -- stripped of all pith -- macerate in vodka. The other day I added sugar syrup and more vodka, and now it has to stew for another month or two. I must say, the tiny taste I took was vile. I've given it my best over the years, but I just don't love vodka. 

I do love bourbon, and the cherry bounce is equal parts unpitted cherries and Jim Beam. It sits for a few months, then gets mixed with sugar syrup and bottled. Sounds like it might taste like cough syrup, but the name is so great I had to give it a shot.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Into the Vietnamese Kitchen: A long catch-up post

Owen is psyched about Vietnamese food.

Last night, I made the rice noodles with Chinese chives, shrimp and pork from Andrea Nguyen's Into the Vietnamese Kitchen, a handsome dish that I regrettably neglected to photograph. This whole entire bunch of monster chives went into the noodles:

Beautiful, no? Sadly, eating them was like eating grass, albeit very flavorful grass. Noodles get a B+
Another B+: Nguyen's poached chicken with Kaffir lime leaves. (Kaffir lime leaves: the intensely -- intensely -- fragrant foliage of a citrus tree that produces a gnarled green fruit. I bought a Kaffir lime tree last month, and it is thriving in a giant pot on our patio; you can also find the leaves at Asian markets.)
But even strewn with the lime leaves, the chicken was exceedingly plain -- poached chicken could be a synonym for plain -- and it was much improved when dipped in nuoc cham, as is everything. If you've never tasted nuoc cham -- lime juice, sugar, fish sauce, chilies -- you need to make some right away. Here's Nguyen's recipe, which gets an A+.

A couple of David Lebovitz desserts to report on: 

Monday, I made his dainty floating islands from The Sweet Life in Paris.
Not so lovely to look at, but lovely to eat -- foamy, crunchy, creamy, sweet. For a more cunning presentation of the same recipe, check this out

Finally, last night, following a reader's recommendation I baked the fresh ginger cake from Lebovitz's (excellent) first cookbook, Room for Dessert.

Moist and fiery with a crunchy crust, this was by far the best gingerbread I've ever eaten, probably because it contains a full quarter pound of fresh ginger. That sounded like a lot of grating, so I threw the peeled ginger in the food processor which did the job nicely in seven seconds. Even my finicky husband said the cake was "unbelievable," which is unbelievable. You can find the recipe here

Bees: This is bad

You can't really tell from the picture, but the bees are clearly in trouble. I went out today and while there are a few bees coming and going from the hive, there is now a large contingent just hanging around the entrance. They seem very sluggish, they are not fanning at all, just crawling slowly. It is strikingly different from their usual behavior. Whether or not this is due to the proximity of the toxic buckeye tree, I don't know.


a. Move the bees elsewhere in the yard. But is there any point in our yard that is far enough? And is it too late for these particular bees?

b. Cut down the buckeye.

c. Give up on the bees.

If it could work, "a"would obviously be my first choice. Until two days ago, I loved our buckeye tree.  But if "a" is impossible, I am currently leaning towards "b." It feels like a crime to cut down a native buckeye, plus it will be expensive. But the poor bees.


Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Buckeye honey

We have an enormous, spectacular California buckeye in our yard that looks like the picture above and every spring grows long, ruffled wands of white flowers. I situated our bee hives a few feet from the buckeye and yesterday realized, wow, we're going to get buckeye honey! How cool is that? I decided to see if there was anything written about buckeye honey. Indeed there is. 

From the USDA: "Do not plant buckeyes near apiaries as the flowers are poisonous to honey bees."

Further reading has only deepened my concern. The bees will have to be moved, the sooner the better. Shockingly bad luck.

My review of Molly Wizenberg's Homemade Life and Giulia Melucci's I Loved, I Lost, I Made Spaghetti is up on the NPR web site. You can read it here.

Monday, June 08, 2009

Into the Vietnamese Kitchen: steak & corn

If you noticed a small crack in your glass coffee carafe at 5:30 a.m. would you go ahead and make your coffee in it anyway? 

Just wondering.

I've cooked a lot from Andrea Nguyen's Into the Vietnamese  Kitchen over the last few years, and since I'm going to Vietnam next month, this seemed like the moment to delve deeper.  

Last night I made Nguyen's recipe for pan-seared beef steaks in which you briefly marinate strip steaks in soy sauce, garlic, and black pepper, then cook them in a hot skillet. These tasted exactly like non-Vietnamese steaks, which is to say, my family tore into them like a pack of ravenous dingoes. Something about rare meat. I can guess what it is.

On the side, we had Nguyen's grilled corn with scallion oil. Nguyen: "One of my most vivid memories is of our cook, Older Sister Thien, squatting and fanning the small charcoal brazier on which she grilled corn on the cob. As the corn cooked to a charred chewy sweetness, she brushed on scallion oil made with home rendered lard. The aroma and taste were heavenly. "

I should have used my home-rendered lard! Nguyen's Americanized version calls for you to parboil the ears, grill until slightly charred, then brush with oil in which you have fried some green onions. 

I almost burned the house down, but the corn -- smoky and succulent -- was worth it.

Dessert: David Lebovitz's ace chocolate chip cream puffs. He calls for covering them liberally with pearl sugar which I did not have. Lacking other options, I covered them with large-crystal green sugar and the results were delicious but dead ugly.  To make chocolate chip cream puffs, you can follow the recipe Lebovitz has posted here and when the batter is COMPLETELY cool, add 1/2 cup of chocolate chips. He doesn't specify in the blog post, but you should use a full 1/2 cup of large-crystal sugar to top these puffs. And don't bother with the egg glaze. Phenomenal.

Sunday, June 07, 2009

The price of birds, the price of bees

**When I first posted this I erred in my chicken calculations. Anyway, it's been fixed.

Slate ran a story a few weeks ago in which the author asserts that "keeping chickens is a filthy, time consuming, and expensive way to keep the pantry filled with eggs." 

I expected keeping chickens to be all those things, but have been rather shocked by how easy and cheap the whole experience has been. So far. For us.

In terms of cost, we had a head start:

1. we have a big yard that was already well fenced to exclude deer 

2. we had a ramshackle playhouse that everyone avoided because it was funky and filled with spiders. This was converted to a henhouse in one afternoon with an $18.99 roll of chicken wire. 

Here are our out-of-pocket poultry expenses as of today:

wire, water bowl, chick feeder, feed, bedding  $68.54
 bulbs & clamp lamp $18.24
the chicks themselves $35.00

Total $121.78

That's a steep down payment on eggs we will not get until August at the earliest, assuming nothing goes wrong. Alberta Einstein comes from a breed of bad layers and our bantam's eggs will be puny, so I'm going to assume those two losers will contribute nothing. Let's say the ten other hens (we're hoping they're all hens) lay 3 egg a week. Thirty eggs a week are worth $6.98 at the rate I've been paying for moderately fancy supermarket eggs. Will the chickens ever earn their keep? Don't know. But it seems at least conceivable. I'm keeping track and will report back.

As for labor, the chickens require 10 minutes a day. Filth is a non-issue now that they are outside. 

The bees, on the other hand: MONEY PIT. We won't get any honey until next year:

Here's what I've paid so far: 

sugar for feeding the bees in early weeks   $13
bees themselves (2 packets)         $188
equipment, boxes, gear, books, smoker, paint         $733.69
Total             $934.69

That is one freaking expensive hobby. Interesting and noble and all that, but holy hell.

Saturday, June 06, 2009

The Sweet Life in Paris: Short & sweet

Fromage blanc souffle: delicious. Like a very mild, fluffy, not-too-sweet cheesecake. David Lebovitz calls for sprinkling the top with sugar before baking so it forms a crispy, candy-like crust not unlike creme brulee. Big hit. 

Bunch of girls over here today doing naughty teen things (or so I suspect) on the computer and then running out and playing with the chickens like they're in second grade. Twelve is a funny age. To feed them, I "whipped up" some of Lebovitz's chocolate yogurt snack cakes because I am June Cleaver. 

They seem to appreciate the cakes. I'm not even tempted. I love that about chocolate. 

Friday, June 05, 2009

The Sweet Life in Paris: Chocolate coconut marshmallows

Cute! And delicious, too.

My foolish children objected to the coconut, but I loved everything about David Lebovitz's bouncy little marshmallows. Lebovitz calls for unsweetened coconut but next time (and there will be one) I'm trying sweetened coconut for an Almond Joy effect. Sadly, Lebovitz doesn't offer this recipe on his blog, but he did write a little essay about his inspiration which you can read here

In other news, my review of Michael Ruhlman's Ratio ran in Slate the other day. It was shockingly hard to write because I had so many conflicting thoughts and feelings about the book, so I ended up focusing mostly on my demented, happy experience cooking with his ratios. Baking Epiphanies (who has been baking some crazy-beautiful tres leches cupcakes) pointed out that Ruhlman responded warmly to the piece on his blog. And so he did, though he was obviously ruffled by my description of the book as "pompous." He and some of his commenters made me wonder if had misused the word so I looked it up in the dictionary and decided I hadn't. I thought the book was pompous -- but also "fascinating!" Let's not forget "fascinating!"

Actually, he's very cool about it. If I were him, I would have fixated on the "pompous" and been unable to see past it at all. 

Thursday, June 04, 2009

We get a "B" in irony, a "D" in ironing

Owen: "It's so weird!  Alberta Einstein is the easiest chicken to outsmart even though she's called Alberta Einstein. It's almost like a joke name."

A few minutes later he was telling me about this freaky moment today when the art teacher licked her finger and it sizzled when she touched  "that really hot thing that you flatten things out with."

I feel bad about that one. I think he's only seen an iron on TV. 

The Sweet Life in Paris: Cooking fish is hard, fromage blanc is easy

In the recent comments (thank-you very much!) there were a lot of votes for tackling the fromage blanc souffle from David Lebovitz's Sweet Life in Paris. I've never actually tasted fromage blanc and given your accounts of its tastiness and scarcity, decided to see if it would be hard to make at home. 

It isn't. I tried Emeril's recipe, the first one that popped up on the search engine, and it took about 10 minutes of so-called "active" time. You slowly heat milk with buttermilk and lemon juice until curds form, drain off the whey, and there's your cheese. It doesn't differ all that much from homemade ricotta, except it was smoother and slightly more delicious, maybe because I added the optional cream. I always add the optional cream, a personality trait and perhaps a problem. Tomorrow night: fromage blanc souffle.

I also baked Lebovitz's lemon-glazed madeleines, the recipe for which is here

Pretty. Lebovitz's innovation is to "swathe" each madeleine in a "puckery" lemon glaze to ensure that they are as moist as the madeleines at his favorite Paris bakery. I haven't actually tasted one yet, am trying to wait until after lunch.

In other news, I've decided it's silly to rush through the remaining dishes I want to try from Paris. Like, what's going to happen if I don't keep to a schedule? I'm going to have to fire myself? So I'm going to start cooking from the next book tomorrow -- Andrea Nguyen's Into the Vietnamese Kitchen -- and we'll just have a few days of overlap. Vietnamese entrees, French desserts.

Also, this interesting story by Joel Stein made me want to buy both the books he mentions and brew some cherry bounce

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

The Sweet Life in Paris: A really good sundae

The best sundae I ever ate was in France and consisted of vanilla ice cream topped with chestnut puree and billows of whipped cream. I already thought it was the best sundae I'd ever tasted when I got to a layer of dry, crumbly, airy meringue and almost collapsed from happiness. Meringue in a sundae is genius. Just when the ice cream has gone a bit soupy and monotonous, your interest is revived by a crispy/chewy cookie. 

Lebovitz's cinnamon vacherin with espresso-caramel ice cream, chocolate sauce and toasted almonds has a fancy name, but somewhat resembles that long ago sundae, which probably also had a fancy name that I have forgotten. Although there are four separate homemade components, they were super-easy to make: a basic meringue, a (fairly) basic and pretty wonderful ice cream, basic chocolate sauce, and basic candied nuts. I really mean it: basic. You just follow the instructions and you will succeed. 

My thoughts: If you substituted vanilla ice cream for the espresso, chestnut puree for the chocolate, and added whipped cream, this might be the best sundae ever.

Husband said: "I'd leave out the chewy thing in the bottom. It's unnecessary and distracting. You either have to deal with it or eat around it."

He ate around it; everyone else dealt with it. Very popular dessert.

I also made Lebovitz's brined pork roast with bourbon-apricot glaze. If you have to eat pork loin, this is a fine way to do it, though it's still dry and bland compared to other cuts of pig, like the shoulder. As I suspected, both my kids loved it. They prefer their meat tidy and pale, unsullied by sauce or too much flavor.  

Monday, June 01, 2009

The Sweet Life in Paris: On a chocolate bender

"Don't expect a light airy cake," David Lebovitz writes of his chocolate spice bread. "Pain d'epices is meant to be dense and packed with flavor." And so it is, just not a flavor anyone in this family relished. Too chocolatey for me, too "weird" for everyone else. I think they were referring to the anise. 

Also made Lebovitz's chocolate mole  which I served with chicken.
Ugly picture. Sorry. It tasted better than it looked, though as with all the moles I've attempted, this one struck me as less than the sum of its parts. Children did not appreciate, but I didn't expect them to. 

On the other hand, they loved the basic, severely chocolatey chocolate mousse. I had forgotten how easy it is to make chocolate mousse. 

Perhaps because I don't like chocolate.
Finally, I baked Lebovitz's cheesecake, which only looks like chocolate because our oven is so dysfunctional.
Despite the charred appearance, it was actually very delicious.

Here are the remaining desserts I'd like to make before finishing with Lebovitz's book:

-absinthe cake
-chocolate chip cream puffs
-lemon-glazed madeleines
-cinnamon vacherin with espresso caramel ice cream, chocolate sauce and toasted almonds
-floating island
-fromage blanc souffle
-salted butter caramel sauce
-chocolate-coconut marshmallows

Given that I want to move on to a new book after Thursday, what should I definitely do and what should I drop?