Saturday, June 22, 2013

I didn't even think I liked art glass

Our refrigerator was broken and then I was gone. I went to Tacoma and Seattle where I, looked at a lot of art glass, interviewed people who know about art glass, visited an art glass school, and seriously considered buying a modest piece of art glass but knew it would break in my suitcase so didn’t. 

Today, back home, I interviewed more glass artists on the phone and looked through my books of art glass and thought about ordering a modest piece of art glass online and might. 

I can’t stop thinking about glass, but I’ll get back to cooking soon. Maybe not tonight, but definitely tomorrow. 

Saturday, June 15, 2013

I'm talking about the little boy goats, OBVIOUSLY

I have some new carrot soup recipes to try. Thank you!

But I won't be making carrot soup or anything else this weekend because the refrigerator quit on Thursday. Freezer too, which was a big old mess. This morning it was actually warm inside the fridge, making it the ideal place for rising bread. Smells terrible. Almost everything had to go except mustard, jam, and yeast. It was hard to part with that prosciutto, let me tell you. No repairman until Monday.

Looking on the bright side: clean refrigerator, clean slate, new leaf, will have to eat out some this weekend.

The other day I made "s"-shaped butter cookies out of The Cooking of Germany. They contain sugar, butter, flour, and only the yolks of eggs. They're very rich and dense and we like them. Each cookie is filling, like a meal, like a cookie you'd take on a backpacking trip through the Black Forest. My only quarrel with the recipe is the addition of lemon zest. Even a little lemon turns a butter cookie into a lemon cookie and that interferes with something deep and mellow and boundless about the flavor of butter. It's not that I don't like lemon, but sometimes I want to hear what quieter flavors have to say.

The addition of lemon was one of my two complaints about Nanci McDermott's rhubarb pie recipe from Southern Pies. I made it a few weeks ago and it was almost perfect, but there was this hit of lemon that kept getting in the way of the rhubarb. Also, there wasn't enough fruit for me; the pie seemed flat and underfilled. So I made it again adding more than twice as much fruit, doubling the sugar and thickener (flour,) but omitting the lemon. This time it was perfect in all ways except:

Can you see how soupy? You need a spoon to eat it. Layne suggested pre-cooking the filling so that's what I'll try next. I have to keep on with it, because I wrote "perfect rhubarb pie" down on my list.

About the list. Everyone has their own way of keeping track of life and mine is a crazy list that I retype every year and add to constantly with hand-written notes. I've kept it going for at least 15 years. It is many pages now, full of books I want to read, movies someone recommended, donut shops I "need" to visit, people to call, projects to finish, medical tests to schedule, chores involving the goats (see below), clothing items to mend. It sounds unwieldy, but works for me. I flip through it every day and every time I get to this page I stop for a split second.

By coincidence, we are about to go as a family to Doughnut Dolly and Donut Savant as there's nothing to eat in the house and no milk for coffee and it just feels like the morning.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Carrot soup vs. carrot soup

Carrots are so gaudy.
Carrots. Not my favorite vegetable and yet a refrigerator feels empty without a bag of carrots. Why is that? I go to the supermarket, can't remember if we have carrots, buy carrots, come home, see that we already have carrots. Repeat. Funny how I don't have a problem remembering whether we have cherries or camembert or salami.

I made two different carrot soups this week and didn't start out planning to make any carrot soup at all. Carrot soup isn't high on my list of delicacies or even on it.

1. carrot soup from The Cooking of Provincial France. I'd thawed chicken stock to make asparagus soup from Provincial France, but ultimately couldn't justify spending $14 on asparagus when we had a crisper full of carrots. I switched soups. This soup, whose French name is potage Crecy, calls for cooking sliced carrots and onion in butter, then adding stock, a tiny bit of tomato paste, and rice. Cook until the carrots are soft. Puree and stir in 1/2 cup cream. Smooth, rich, and delicious! There was a time when I would have balked at the cream and that time was the 1980s when people were really down on cream. But a half cup of cream is not a lot of cream and I now think it's smart to put 1/2 cup of cream in a pot of vegetable soup if it means everyone will eat and enjoy vegetable soup. Seems like a net gain for human health. Everyone but Owen, who doesn't like soup, ate and enjoyed this vegetable soup. GRADE: A-

2. carrot and orange soup from The Silver Palate Cookbook. I know! Blast from the past. Next thing you know I'll be getting a perm and cooking chicken Marbella. This soup popped into my head and wouldn't leave, probably because it was the first carrot soup I ever cooked. According to notes in Silver Palate, I made it on May 29th, 1986 and deemed it "a wonderful soup." I remember it seemed sophisticated and edgy to put orange juice in carrot soup. In fact, carrot soup itself seemed sophisticated and edgy back in the day.
Sour cream helped.
To make this soup you saute lots of onions in butter, add lots of carrots and stock, cook until the vegetables are tender. Puree. It's very similar to the previous recipe until this juncture where, instead of adding cream, you add orange juice.

In my view, a mistake. Carrots are sweet to begin with and orange makes them cloying. This soup is stark and lean, sweet and garish, and I missed the mellowing cream. I would say the Silver Palate recipe reflected the 1980s fear of cream, but there's too much cream elsewhere in the book to make that argument. Mark and Isabel both liked this second carrot soup and seemed disinclined to elaborate or discuss. Odd. What could possibly be more interesting? GRADE: B

I started thinking I should try even more carrot soup recipes and then checked the impulse. Off the top of my head, here are a few things I'd rather make than carrot soup in the next week or two: veal shanks in pickle sauce, spaetzle, trifle, rigo jancsi, cronuts, Black Forest cake, corncob jelly.

On another subject, the bobcat is back. He swiped a chicken today while I was standing in the yard not 30 feet away. Nervy.

Saturday, June 08, 2013

I'm so light, fluffy, and creamy I might just blow away

This was intended to show how many components go into a taco. 
I saw a fascinating movie today called Fill the Void about love and arranged marriage in an ultra Orthodox community in Tel Aviv. I don't know if this is a spoiler, but it's definitely an alert: the ending is abrupt and devastatingly ambiguous. For the last 20 minutes of the film I thought, please, please, please not an abrupt, ambiguous ending and then the movie ended. Abrupt. Ambiguous. Ending aside, it's a wonderful movie and you should see it. If you do, I would like to discuss.

Back to cooking: Tacos are casual but they aren't easy and I need to remember that next time I decide to make a low-key dinner for a crowd. I saw a recipe in the New York Times Magazine last Sunday for fish tacos and thought, perfect! That's what we'll have on Thursday night when Ben and Stella (nephew and niece) come to stay for the weekend. I'll just throw together some tacos.

It's easier to barbecue a brisket.

To make these particular tacos you season cod with various fiery spices, fry the fish, grate cheddar cheese, wash and slice radishes, trim and char scallions, mix chipotle peppers with sour cream, and then -- so weird! -- toast tortillas. I don't understand that step. When you toast tortillas they stiffen and break but what you want is for them to soften and fold. So instead of fish tacos we had fish tostadas. Fortunately, we like tostadas.

This was an elaborate taco recipe, but even with the simplest taco you need three or four components and each component needs its own plate that you subsequently have to wash and everyone reaches around to assemble their tacos and they drop shreds of cheese and fish on the table. When a 3-year-old eats a taco? Food all over the chair and floor. This is also the case when Owen eats a taco. Or, come to think of it, anything at all.

They were good tacos, but I won't rush to make them again.
The thing on the plate is sachertorte.
We've had a sachertorte sitting on the counter for the last few days. Here's Rick Rodgers, author of Kaffeehaus, on the genesis of the classic Viennese chocolate cake:

"The story begins in 1832 with Klemens, Prince von Metternich, one of the masterminds of the Congress of Vienna and no slouch in the party department. Here was a man who knew what he liked and got it. He had a big party coming up and he ordered his personal chef to create a new dessert. The prince wanted to make a splash, so he instructed the chef to come up with the opposite of the light, fluffy, creamy "feminine" Torten popular at the time, and to surprise his guests with a dryer, more compact "masculine" cake. 

"The chef was never able to fulfill the princes's request because he fell ill. The kitchen's sixteen-year-old second apprentice, Franz Sacher, would have to take over in the master's absence. Chocolate, one of the most aggressive and "masculine" flavors in the kitchen would be his cake's motif, tempered by the tart tang of apricot preserves. . . ." 

I used the sachertorte recipe from The Cooking of Vienna's Empire, but substituted a double recipe of the Indianerkrapfen chocolate glaze from Kaffeehaus. (Any simple chocolate glaze should work; the fussy recipe from Vienna's Empire had already failed me once.) This cake has kept well and been popular with everyone who tasted it, including me. I especially love the "tart tang" of the apricot jam between the layers of chocolate sponge. That little vein of apricot is enough to change how I feel about chocolate cake, never my favorite.

I'm not having as much success with the entrees from Time-Life Foods of the World. Last week, I made the recipe for paprika schnitzel (veal scallops with paprika and sour cream) from Vienna's Empire which resulted in skinny gray cutlets cloaked in coagulated bright orange sauce. Edible, but barely. Another night I made risi e bisi (risotto with peas) from The Cooking of Italy and it was tasty but you'd be better off with a Jamie Oliver risotto. More evolved, more exciting.

 Even risotto is easier than tacos.

Monday, June 03, 2013

The pitmistress?

brother-in-law, barbecue sandwich, niece
Where did the last week go? Have I been busy? I sure hope that's it.

On Memorial Day I made Texas barbecued brisket. Here's Steven Raichlen, author of The Barbecue Bible, on the subject of brisket: "Pit masters spend years learning the right combination of smoke (lots), heat (low), and time (measured in half days rather than hours) to transform one of the toughest, most ornery parts of the steer into tender, meaty perfection."

As my father used to say, Whoa there big horse. Raichlen makes barbecued brisket sound like an epic feat requiring years of study and the brawn of a bull rider. Yet somehow on the very first try I wrestled the toughest, most ornery part of a steer into tender meaty perfection. You could do it too. It wasn't hard. Making tuiles? That's hard. 

I hesitated to mention how easy this brisket really was, as barbecue has a mystique that many of us cherish. We like the idea that the best tasting barbecue can only be made by an old redneck with a drawl and cheekful of chewing tobacco. An elderly black man also works. A woman? No. Women should be off in some kitchen baking pie or something. It's sexist, but as sexism goes, benign. There's little enough romance in the world and maybe I'm just making it worse by demystifying barbecue, so I won't. I'm SURE old men in Texas make far better brisket. But the brisket I made was still really good.

Here are the basics: Start with an 8 pound brisket and the night before you cook, rub the meat with seasonings: chili powder, cumin, black pepper, coarse salt, sugar. Refrigerate. In the morning, as early as you can get up, start the barbecue (a few smoldering coals, a chunk of soaked mesquite) and place your brisket on the grill. Cover and stick a long-stemed thermometer in the vent and try to keep the temperature between 180 degrees and 220 degrees F until dinner time, replenishing coals and mesquite as necessary. You'll need to check every 30 minutes or so.

As Chris Schlesinger and John Willoughby write in Thrill of the Grill: "Obviously the key here is a tremendous amount of patience and a day when you want to do nothing but sit around. .  . Put the top on the cooker, pull up a chair and grab the cooler."

There we ago again with the manspeak. Women just don't grab coolers. We have other vices.
A friend asked if I'm becoming an exhibitionist. Answer: Anyone who keeps a blog like this is already an exhibitionist.
Anyway, you slice the brisket against the grain and serve with barbecue sauce and whatever else you like. In the picture the brisket looks burnt, but it's not. The spices and sugar caramelized to form a dark crust. You could see the succulent meat through the cracks if you got close up.

About the rest of the meal:

-I tried an excellent recipe for coffee-laced barbecue sauce from Smokestack Lightning that included ketchup, hot sauce, Worcestershire, vinegar, brown sugar, and instant coffee. Smokestack Lightning is a fun book and if you're ever planning to travel around the South visiting barbecue restaurants, you should track it down.

-Ginny Lee alerted me to a fantastic cole slaw recipe. I've been making the same mayonnaise cole slaw for 15 years, but this is what some people would call my new "go to." I do think the dressing can handle more cabbage, so I wouldn't stop at 1 1/2 pounds.

exciting cousin Owen
- For the second time in a month I cooked the baked beans from Make the Bread, Buy the Butter and for the second time in a month thought they were too spicy when I first tasted them and then perfect a few days later. What's going on with that? I used pinto beans and now prefer them to navy beans. Bigger, softer, more velvety. I also call for an apple in the recipe, but omitted it because we didn't have one and nothing was lost. In future, no apple. Recipes can always be streamlined, augmented, and clarified and these are changes I would make in the book if I could.

- For dessert: rhubarb pie from Nancie McDermott's indispensable Southern PiesWith two small adjustments this should be the perfect rhubarb pie recipe and I will post when confirmed.

That is all. It was a lovely party and I'm sorry it took me almost a week to post about it. We had so many leftovers I didn't cook a single meal last week. Tonight, though, I'm going to have to cook.