Thursday, May 27, 2010

Our goat family is complete

This is Natalie. She's a good kid.  If all goes according to breed reputation (she's an Oberhasli), she will grow up to be a quiet, docile, smallish dairy goat with a not-so-hot udder. I don't know what the last part means, but that's what I've heard. Sleek and skinny and elegantly colored, she's a supermodel goat and makes Peppermint look like a pudgy, squinty, smudgy runt.

I'm disappointed we won't have a milkable goat for a whole year as I've been making a lot of cheese. I thought about buying another lactating doe, but when I stood there gazing at the beautiful grown Oberhaslis on the farm where I bought Natalie, I knew that if I brought one home I would open the possibility of sleeping in the calf hutch again. I couldn't face that.

The babies bleat and they sound like kittens. I ignore them and every day they bleat a little less. They like to eat the Scotch broom and Natalie chases the chickens.

I haven't been cooking much the last few days for various uninteresting reasons, but will start up again shortly. 

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

The dark horse chocolate chip cookie

Smitten Kitchen, The Kitchn, Layne, and Wednesday Chef all recently featured this book, so I had to buy it. I'm glad I did as I want to bake every single recipe Kim Boyce dreamed up, from the maple scones to the rye-crusted apricot boysenberry tarts and kamut flour cookies. Boyce treats grains not as a virtuous replacement for refined white flour, but as the source of enticing flavors and textures. This, to me, is the far more appealing approach. One morning last week I baked Boyce's strawberry barley scones which were lovely, aromatic, and crumbly. Then Isabel tried the chocolate chip cookies which call for 100% whole wheat flour and sounded too healthy to be delicious. They turned out to be some of the best chocolate chip cookies any of us have ever tasted -- dark, crispy, buttery, more intensely caramel flavored than others Isabel has baked. 
  Here's another fine attribute of these cookies: you eat one and you don't feel like you have to immediately eat ten more as fast as you can. When it comes to food, is "addictive" really a compliment? I wonder. This cookie is perfect when you're eating it, and when you're done, you're done. I need more cookies like that in my life.

About a year ago, I asked a food editor at a newspaper what the policy was on reprinting recipes from cookbooks. She said that in the context of a review it was generally considered acceptable to reprint from one to three recipes, with attribution, as you would reprint a passage from a novel. I don't think it's quite the same thing, but because I really do review cookbooks, because the cat is already out of the bag, because I want to know what other people think of these cookies, and because I think they might convince you to buy her book, here's Boyce's recipe:

Whole-wheat chocolate chip cookies

1. Preheat oven to 350. Line baking sheets with parchment. 

2. Sift 3 cups whole wheat flour with 1 1/2 tsps. baking powder, 1 tsp. baking soda and 1 1/2 tsp. kosher salt, pouring back into the bowl any bits of grain or salt that may have remained in the sifter.

3. Cream 8 oz. cold unsalted butter with 1 cup dark brown sugar and 1 cup white sugar just until the sugars are mixed, about 2 minutes. Use a spatula to scrape the bowl.

4.  Add 2 eggs, one at a time, mixing until each is combined. Mix in 2 tsp. vanilla.

5.  Add flour and mix until just barely combined. 

6. Add 8 oz. bittersweet chocolate chunks (you can chop your own, but Isabel used Guittard chunks.) Use your hands to finish mixing. 

7. Scoop mounds of dough about 3 TBS in size onto the baking sheet, leaving 3 inches between them. 

8. Bake for 16-20 minutes. 

Revised cookie ranking:
1. Cakewalk by Kate Moses (Robust cookies flavored with espresso powder, irresistible and possibly unbeatable.)
2. Baking by Dorie Greenspan (The classic -- but better.) 
3. Good to the Grain by Kim Boyce
4. All Recipes (Stout, chewy, more-ish)
5.  Toll House (The classic.)
5. Ad Hoc at Home (Too much severe chocolate, too little cookie)
6. Joy of Cooking, 1975 (Thin, pale, unimpressive.)

The top three cookies are neck-and-neck so Isabel will ultimately have to retest. Can't wait.
She's going to bake David Lebovitz's recipe this week.

Monday, May 24, 2010

A real Ad Hoc dinner. . .

in the restaurant! 

My friend Mary and I drove to Yountville last night for dinner at Ad Hoc, which is located in a nondescript beige building, like where you'd find a real estate office in an upscale strip mall. I didn't pay much attention to my surroundings once we got inside, but can say with confidence that the dining room was light and airy and full of murmuring people. There was no salt on the table; the bread was stupendous. The friendly waiter waxed so enthusiastic about the food that he blushed and got flustered. The set menu consisted of:

-a "living butter lettuce" salad. Mary asked why it was called "living" lettuce and our waiter answered to the effect that the lettuce had been recently living. It was a refreshing salad, quite lively.

-sous vide short ribs. I would kill for this dish. The chunky boneless ribs had the succulence of a braise, but the meat didn't fall apart when you touched it with a fork and none of the flavor had seeped away in a sloppy gravy. I guess thats the magic of sous vide? Worth the price of the whole meal. Now I want a sous vide machine -- and could almost afford one if I hadn't just bought a molded plastic calf hutch. The meat was served with white beans and fat, fresh Brooks cherries. Five stars.

-Sally Jackson goat cheese. Wrapped in grape leaves, this pink-tinged ivory cheese from Washington State was delicate and creamy, but also curiously bland. Neither Mary nor I could understand why this was the cheese. 

-buttermilk layer cake. It sure was purty, like a cake from a Mobile church potluck. Or how I imagine such a cake. If you look closely you can see that there was strawberry jam spread between the layers, which didn't taste quite as wonderful as it looked, but who cares? I love that dessert was a layer cake.

Altogether an excellent meal and, at $49, cheaper than Keller's book, which was prominently displayed near the front door. In my opinion, the meal was a better value, even after tax and tip.  I've cooked soft shelled crabs and a quail and duck breast out of Ad Hoc at Home in the last few days and have more to report. I didn't realize until I sat down to type this that I was done with Ad Hoc at Home. But I'm done. 

Monday morning conversation:

Tipsy: How can you not like cherries?

Husband: Because they have PITS in the middle of them. I think that's reasonable. 

Friday, May 21, 2010

So much for the goat brie

Yesterday, we bought a second goat, a gangly Nubian beauty named Pastry. She stepped into our yard, glanced around, started yelling, and did not stop. If one of us left her side, she chased us, ears akimbo, and shouted. All night she screamed. Depending on the hour, she sounded like a wounded elephant/angry donkey/dying man who's lost his wits. If we lived in the country, we would have ignored her. But we have neighbors, we like our neighbors, and we were mortified.

I spent the night in the hutch to keep Pastry hollering once every few minutes, as opposed to once every few seconds. When I tried to leave, she ran around the yard in the dark, bellowing hysterically. I emerged from the hutch this morning with straw in my hair and cloven hoof marks on the sleeping pad. I smelled like goat and I'm sure I was peed on. It was one of the worst nights of my life. 
At 7 a.m., I dragged Pastry back to the minivan and drove her an hour north, back to the gracious 4H girl who sold her to us. Pastry is a fine goat, but she is not the goat for us. I came home and took a shower and put on a dress. Sometimes you only know your limits when you pass them.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Some cornish game hens, some crackers

I'm behind in my Ad Hoc at Home reporting.

Monday, Isabel and I made Thomas Keller's flatbread which looked simple, but -- to our shock -- wasn't. You mix a yeast dough, let it rise, and roll it in a pasta machine until you have several miles of gossamer that you brush with olive oil, top with salt and spices, and bake in painfully small batches until golden and crispy.
Isabel: "He always makes the recipes incredibly annoying and then the results are amazing." These feathery crackers were amazing -- restaurant amazing. I will never, ever, bake them again.
We were baking and topping flatbreads for at least an hour, which gave us lots of time to catch up. That's important with a teenager. She told me she thought both the male leads in Letters to Juliet were "ugly." I dissented. I told her Vanessa Redgrave was actually more famous than Amanda Seyfried. We agreed that The Office was better before Jim and Pam got married and we're both glad Tim Riggins ditched San Antonio State.

I felt good about the conversation. 

More dishes cooked out of Ad Hoc at Home in recent days:

-Cornish game hens.
Very plain recipe -- just some butter smeared under the skin. I didn't truss, though Keller tells you to, which is why they looked sloppy. I couldn't find string. They tasted like roasted chicken, which is what they are, except they cost $10.99 each and you need one per person.

-Braised pork belly. 
Cheap! Especially when you buy your belly at the Chinese market. First you brine the belly and while you're brining it, make Keller's elaborate beef stock. More on this all-day roasting-simmering-skimming ordeal some other time. Then you braise the belly in the beef stock and when it's tender, you press the belly in the refrigerator (plate, weighted can) overnight so it compresses into a compact and pretty package. Reheat, serve. Due to the pressing, I guess, this was less fatty and unctuous than pork belly usually is, which probably makes it more palatable to most people. I was disappointed.

On the side: caramelized fennel. Very nice.

There's more to report, including a dark horse contender in the chocolate chip cookie testing! But this morning I have to rent a truck and drive to Acampo to pick up a calf hutch for our goats. Attractive, no? I'm glad the fence is done. We bring home our second goat tomorrow. When the breeder told me her name was Pastry, I knew she was the one. 

Friday, May 14, 2010

Chocolate chip cookie update

As promised, Isabel is working down the list of reader-recommended chocolate chip cookie recipes. Last night she baked the All Recipes cookies and made them big, per Wendy's suggestion. They're outstanding. I just ate one and am marshaling all my self control to keep from eating another. It's hard to remember the nuances of the other top-ranked cookies, so Isabel may need to re-test a few of those. But All Recipes is definitely better than Keller or Toll House. Revised ranking:

1. Cakewalk by Kate Moses (Robust cookies flavored with espresso powder, irresistible and possibly unbeatable.)
2. Baking by Dorie Greenspan (The classic -- but better.) 
3. All Recipes (Stout, chewy, more-ish. A cookie that could double as a meal.)
4. Toll House (The classic.)
5. Ad Hoc at Home (Too much severe chocolate, too little cookie)
6. Joy of Cooking, 1975 (Thin, pale, unimpressive.)

Meat & sweet potatoes

Weirdly, Hannibal Lecter comes up often in the comments section of this blog. Weirdly, because I'm not a cannibal or murderer or even just mesmerizing and charismatic. But I do love fava beans, once ate a live sea urchin, and don't know how to photograph meat. This time, I'm just saying it before someone else does: that's a revolting picture of a delicious Santa Maria tri-tip

I've never cooked a tri-tip before, but will again after Wednesday night's triumph. Thomas Keller's method: pat your tri-tip with paprika, pepper and piment d'espelette. (I bought piment at the Spanish Table; it was spendy and not that special, so I recommend you pat the roast with any spice you like.) Refrigerate for 24 hours. Sear in hot oil. Add butter, crushed garlic, rosemary sprigs and lemon slices. Put in a roasting pan (or just use the same skillet) and slow roast at 300 for 40 minutes. Let rest in warm place for a half hour. It will be tender and scrumptious.

Keller's glazed sweet potatoes were less delectable. You scrub and then roast unpeeled potatoes until soft, dip in brown sugar, and broil. Failings: the leathery sweet potato skins were a turn-off and the sugar never really melded with the tubers.
My favorite sweet potato recipe comes from Barbara Kafka's Roasting. There are so many other fabulous recipes in Kafka's book -- the roasted broccoli in a lemon-garlic bath, the Richie Rich fish cakes, the soft polenta -- that I offer this recipe only as enticement to track down a copy.  You won't be sorry.

Maple-glazed sweet potatoes, insignificantly altered by me

1. Heat oven to 500.

2. Cut 3 or 4 (1 and 1/2 lbs total) peeled sweet potatoes in half lengthwise, then across. Cut each section lengthwise into 3 wedges.

3. Use the smallest pan that will hold the potatoes comfortably. Put 3 TBS butter in this pan and pop in the oven for a few minutes to melt. Remove and place sweet potatoes in pan and toss so that they are all coated in butter. Roast for 15 minutes. Toss with 3 TBS maple syrup. Roast 15 minutes more. 

4. Kafka: "Sweet potatoes should be easy to pierce with the tip of a knife. Immediately remove to serving plate or sweet potatoes will stick to pan. Soak pan."

If I had to cull my cookbook collection this would be one of the last books standing. I suspect Ad Hoc at Home will not fall into this category.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Some Thomas Keller catch-up

Remember A Perfect Storm? New England fishermen who earn a living on pitching boats in freezing sleet are the kind of people who should eat a soup made of butter, potatoes, slab bacon, and rivers of cream. Those are the people for whom Boston clam chowder -- a truly bonkers dish, when you think about it -- was invented. Not for the likes of me.

That doesn't mean I don't appreciate it. As you would expect, Thomas Keller's chowder was sensational -- rib-sticking, smoky-sweet, packed with clams. It also required 11 cooking vessels, plus a parchment lid and a conical strainer. Keller cooks ingredients separately: leeks in one skillet; shallots and clams, in another; a pan to crisp the bacon; yet another to boil the potatoes. Then you cool the potatoes on a tray. Keller often calls for cooling things on trays. I sigh. I feel slovenly. But there's just not room on the counter of my kitchen to cool things on trays. There's not room in my sink to wash the trays, or in my drainer to dry them. I mean, I can make room, but it's a hassle. I remain skeptical that this book belongs in the home kitchen.

Anyway, to garnish the chowder, I made Keller's soup crackers, which were tedious to cut out and ultimately ridiculous. 
I just typed that snotty sentence while eating leftover soup crackers. They are delicious. I still don't think soup crackers are worth the effort. Do I?

Some other dishes we've cooked out of Ad Hoc:

-Sweet potato and lentil soup. Again with the trays, but what fantastic soup. "I don't usually like lentils," said Isabel, as she devoured her soup. "I don't usually like soup!" said Owen, as he devoured his. Highly recommend. 

-Chocolate chip cookies
Isabel is trying to bake the perfect chocolate chip cookie and has been testing recipes for the last few weeks. The other day she tackled Keller's, which calls for chopping up two different strengths of dark chocolate then fastidiously sifting out and discarding the cocoa dust. We liked these cookies fine, but there was too much chocolate, not enough distinction between chunk and cookie to put them at the top of our ranking.

Incidentally, here are the interim results of Isabel's testing, listed by the source of recipe:

1. Cakewalk by Kate Moses (Robust cookies flavored with espresso powder, irresistible and possibly unbeatable.)
2. Baking by Dorie Greenspan (The classic -- but better.) 
3. Toll House (The classic.)
4. Ad Hoc at Home
5. Joy of Cooking, 1975 (Thin, pale, unimpressive.)

If you have a favorite chocolate chip cookie, Isabel is looking for more recipes to try.

Sunday, May 09, 2010

She is, after all, a herd animal

While I was in San Diego, the goat -- she's been named Peppermint, though everyone still calls her "the goat" -- started sleeping in Owen's bed. I would not have allowed this, but the damage is done. She arose early this morning for some milk, then scampered back to bed with him. When he got up, she moved to the bed where Isabel and her friend are sleeping. She's very clean; disposable diapers do their job. But it's going to be tough for her when she moves outside to a shed.

On another topic, I ran out of reading material in San Diego and shelled out for a hardcover of Sue Miller's Lake Shore Limited. Worth the money. I used to think of Miller as a "mom" writer because all the moms whose children I babysat in the 1980s had copies of The Good Mother up on their shelves. Fifteen years later, I finally read one of her novels. A month later, I'd read all of them. I'm only halfway through Lake Shore Limited, but so far: A+. This review gets it just right.

Saturday, May 08, 2010

From the San Diego Airport

Thank-you for all your compliments on our new goat! She is doing fine. Or so I hear. I've been in San Diego for the last couple of days

Weirdest San Diego meal: a live sea urchin at the Farmers' Market this morning. After telling me how delicious it was, the fish guy cracked the urchin in two then handed me both halves and a spoon and told me to scoop out the yellow stuff. As I ate its insides, the urchin cheerfully, foolishly waved its pink spines at me, which was horrible. The flesh or roe or whatever it was tasted salty and creamy and sweet, but I won't eat live sea urchin again.

Best San Diego meal: a $1 fish taco from the Mariscos German truck. 
Crispy, hot fried fish, creamy sauce, cool tangy salsa. Perfect. Thanks again, Chowhound

In any case, I got done what I needed to do, returned the rental car undamaged, and now go home to husband, children, and kid. 

Wednesday, May 05, 2010

Just like a Norman Rockwell

Isabel: "Um, Mom? This is, like, really good meat. Don't say bad things about this dinner just because you thought it was hard to make."

Okay, I won't. And it wasn't actually hard to make. Monday night, my sister brought a salad, and from Ad Hoc at Home I cooked:

-brined pork tenderloin
-scallion potato pancakes

I was initially intimidated by these pancakes because Thomas Keller warns of the difficulties of flipping them. Also, the picture in the book (page 231) makes them look impossibly neat and tricky -- latkes as conceived by a perfectionist jeweler. But my friend Mary said they were easy and great, so I made 'em. These were only the best hash browns I've ever eaten! If you nudge the potato shreds into a square (Mary's suggestion), the pancakes look like they were made by an actual chef.Sort of.  I liked this recipe a lot. 

The brined tenderloin had its advocates, most notably Isabel. I can see their point, but remain staunchly indifferent to lean cuts of pig, however well-salted and flavorful. Perhaps this is why I myself am not lean?
Or maybe this is it: For dessert, Isabel and I made glazed buttermilk donuts out of The Craft of Baking by Karen DeMasco. 
We're on a quest for the perfect homemade donut and while these were yeomanly spice donuts, spice donuts aren't our grail. We didn't know that until we made them. If you love spice donuts, you will probably love these spice donuts.

That was Monday.

Tuesday night, from Ad Hoc

-marinated skirt steak
-sweet potato chips

My spoiled family couldn't stop complaining about how tough the steak was. That's just the nature of skirt steak. I liked it -- when you have to chew real hard you know you're eating meat. 

I fried the sweet potatoes to reuse the oil from the previous night's donut escapade, but wouldn't bother with that recipe again. A bag of Terra chips is just as tasty.

Really, it is no mystery why I'm not lean.

Monday, May 03, 2010

Too late now

The new baby goat is hard to photograph -- her coloring is a little like that of a pinto horse, but also calico, like a cat. She is considerably smaller than our cats and has a Yoda-like profile. Honestly, not the cutest goat ever, but a good little Nigerian Dwarf, friendly and cheerful and peaceful. She slept through the night in the dog carrier without uttering a bleat and drinks milk out of a bottle three times a day. I cringe to see diapers on anything other than a human infant, but given that she can not live outside until there is a companion and a fence, we have no choice. She is currently about as objectionable as a guinea pig.

Sunday, May 02, 2010

I remember when I remember I remember when I lost my mind

 Yesterday, Owen and I went shopping for a mature milking doe. (We're getting our baby goat today and she will eventually need a companion.) We drove an hour to look at Stiletto, and fell hard. She's a lovely, mellow Nubian who gives a gallon of milk a day.  She is, however, large, about the height of a tall Doberman Pinscher. 

After this we drove another hour-and-a-half to look at Dusty, a squat, surly Nigerian Dwarf with freaky, opaque white eyes. She cringed away when we tried to pet her. She has never been hand-milked and her "sisters" give 2 cups of milk a day. No thanks. The only reason to even consider this unfriendly, underproducing goat is that she is petite, about the height of a border collie. Poor Dusty is probably just misunderstood but we don't have time to understand her.
It seems like the answer is obvious: Get Stiletto. And then change her name immediately.  
It is slightly more complicated than that, due to her size and my fears of neighbor reaction, but I think that's what I'm going to do, provided her breeder can keep her for a few weeks until our wooden fence is finished. With a wooden fence, perhaps we won't incite every passing busybody to report our illegal goats. 
You may question the wisdom of keeping goats illegally. I do. Constantly. But I am about to practice my first-ever -- and probably last -- act of civil disobedience. It strikes me as absurd and wrong that you can legally keep big, chicken-killing, barking dogs in this (or any) town but can't keep two docile, milk-giving, brush-clearing ruminants of the same size, or even much smaller. I am prepared to fight this fight, though I would prefer not to. For one thing, I might lose.
 My father came over for dinner after our big day of goat-shopping. I was shocked when he approved my illegal goat plan as he's a lawyer and usually very cautious. I served him Thomas Keller's pepper-crusted tenderloin from Ad Hoc At Home.

To make this, you poach peppercorns in oil for an hour, crush them, coat your expensive steaks, sear, then finish in the oven. Owen refused to eat his steak on account of the "bean things" on the outside, but my father and I thought they were delicious.
Nothing but the best for my lawyer.
For dessert, we had Keller's coconut cake.
Keller says his mother used to bake this cake, and the fussier steps in the recipe suggest the coconut did not fall far from the palm. You have to reduce a can of coconut milk over the stove, which struck me as too much work for what is ostensibly an ordinary layer cake. Worth it! The cake itself is springy yet dense, airy yet substantial, and you can taste the coconut right there in the crumb.