Thursday, September 19, 2013

Making blog posts out of molehills

Maybe we should've drunk the extra glaze.
You should know I'm a big fan of Smoke and Pickles no matter how much I might complain, which is what I’m about to do. 

Tuesday night I cooked Edward Lee’s pork chops with ginger-peach glaze, a recipe that involves brining chops in a fascinating black syrup of gin and sorghum (or molasses) then searing them in a cast iron skillet.

You spread peach glaze (3 fresh peaches, wine, honey, ginger) on the seared meat and crumble pistachio gremolata (garlic, pistachio, parsley) over the glaze. Put the skillet in the oven and 12 minutes later you have delicious, juicy pork chops with a fragrant peachy-nutty topping. Loved by all in the household.

But let's focus on the negative: After making the pork chops, there was more than a cup of peach glaze and roughly a cup of gremolata left over. There was more left over than I’d used and it wasn’t like I’d been stingy. How annoying. I checked Chowhound, where they’re also cooking through Smoke and Pickles, to see if anyone else was irritated by the waste of peaches and pistachios. No. No one was irritated. One cook remarked equably that he/she had tossed the extra gremolata into sauteed green beans. Another used it to flavor some beets. 

I admire their resourcefulness, but I really didn’t want extra peach glaze and gremolata. Chef Lee can store extra glaze and gremolata in his walk-in refrigerator and use it on the next round of pork chops or maybe some fabulous new dish he dreamed up because he's an artist. It's like he just mixed a little extra paint. 

I’m not an artist and our refrigerator is a hellhole of  juice boxes, caperberries, hoisin sauce, leftover pizza, mayonnaise, beer, about-to-expire cream, tuna salad, horseradish, sprouting carrots, and parmesan rinds. How I feel about my refrigerator is how Nora Ephron felt about her purse.

I hate to waste food, but it took me a lot longer to write this than it did to decide to throw out the glaze and gremolata. I waste food all the time and usually it's my fault, but this one's on Edward Lee. A shame either way.

Conclusion: Great pork chops. If you make them, cut the glaze and gremolata by two thirds.  

Lee’s warm roasted okra and cauliflower salad, which I served with the pork, was less of a hit. Oh, what am I saying! It wasn’t a hit at all. My friend Melanie and I ate it for lunch the next day so it didn't go to waste, but don't bother making this for picky eaters. Like you needed me to tell you that.

On the other hand, these quinoa chocolate chip cookies were a hit with picky eaters. Soft, crunchy, substantial. You can tell they’re healthy, but after 24 hours they're almost gone. The unholy power of chocolate chips. 

Monday, September 16, 2013

A slightly oddball roast chicken

the Library of Congress image bank, a treasure trove
I’m not much of a roast chicken person anymore. I roasted a chicken once a week for many years and then I just quit. It's an easy meal and everyone in our house eats it, but the others are just as happy with grilled cheese sandwiches and I’m happier. Zuni, Bouchon, beer can -- nothing moves the needle. I seem to be over roast chicken. I don’t expect anyone to share my feelings. 

But Edward Lee’s potato-stuffed roast chicken from Smoke and Pickles looked novel and beautiful and I had to try it. I'm glad I did. Unlike a lot of his other recipes, this one is simple and you can buy the few ingredients at any supermarket. The results are lovely.

Here's the story: You peel and grate an 11-ounce Yukon Gold potato (or any waxy potato) then wring out the extra liquid as for potato pancakes. Season the shreds with salt and pepper and saute in butter for "exactly 2 minutes, no longer." Cool. Gently separate the skin from the chicken’s breast and slip the potatoes between skin and meat, spreading them evenly over the meat. When you're done, rub oil all over the chicken and season with salt and pepper. Sear the breast quickly in a very hot cast-iron skillet, flip the chicken over, place the skillet in the oven, and roast at 400 degrees F for about an hour. 

The idea is that the layer of buttery potatoes will keep the breast moist while the fat from the chicken skin flavors and further enriches the potatoes. The whole thing works exactly as advertised.

Let's start with the potatoes. Dangerously good. They melted into a rich, luxurious substance that resembled very soft, very flavorful hash browns. The only problem was that we each got about a tablespoon and wanted more. Could you stuff more potato shreds under the chicken skin and end up with more of these incredible hash browns? Lee doesn't say. I bet you could add half again more potato without messing up the recipe or damaging your health, but won't swear by it. 

The chicken itself: tasty and moist. But I just can't get excited about roast chicken. If you want rhapsodies, folks really, really adore the chicken over at Chowhound

Sunday, September 15, 2013

A fight and then some cookies

my grandmother's cookie jar
Don’t worry, I’m not turning this into a blog about fights with Owen. The following did occur in the kitchen and afterwards I baked cookies. Plus, this dispute was so archetypal I may never need to describe another fight with adolescent Owen again. Only the details change. Good times.

Thursday I came home and found Owen hunched at the table eating cereal. I said, “What happened at school today?”

Owen: “Stuff.” A silence. Then: “When are you going to give me back my iPod Touch? 

He knew the answer to this, but wanted to bicker, to make clear right off the bat that we weren’t friends on this particular afternoon. The answer to the question was: You get the iPod back when you’ve emptied your lunch box, picked up your dirty clothes, finished your homework, and somehow managed not to be a complete jerk during the time it takes to get that done. Good luck with the last part, little buddy. 

The iPod issue passed without detonation.

A few minutes later, he went to the refrigerator, extracted the orange juice, and started swinging the bottle back and forth like a pendulum. It wasn’t a gentle swinging. It was the motion you make when bowling.

“Stop that please,” I said. “It makes me nervous you’re going to drop it.” There is precedent.

He stopped. I didn’t see his eyes light up, but in a cartoon, his eyes would have lit up. Immediately, he began to shake the bottle up and down. It wasn’t a gentle shaking, it was the motion people make when chopping wood with an axe, but faster. I hate the word "bark" when used to describe human speech, especially my own, but I barked: “STOP IT! I told you not to do that.” 

Owen: “What?! You did not!” He continued to shake the orange juice bottle, which I then wrested from his hands and returned to the refrigerator.

Jennifer: “I told you to stop swinging the orange juice.”

Owen: “I wasn’t swinging it, I was shaking it.” 

Jennifer: “You are definitely not getting your iPod back today.”

Owen: “Oh my God, Mom, you're so unfair. I was shaking the orange juice. You have to shake orange juice before you pour it. Don’t you even know that?” The last line spoken with withering condescension.

Et cetera. It went on for about 7 minutes. 

My mistake was shouting at him, engaging, letting know he got my goat. I can break this cycle only by keeping my cool and exacting stiff penalties, but I often find it hard to be unruffled, wise, far-sighted, tired, stern, and intensely irritated in a single moment. 

After that, I made cookies. Owen had said earlier that he wanted chocolate chip cookies, so I made gingersnaps. My paternal grandmother always kept gingersnaps in her cookie jar in the corner of her kitchen. 
 Sometimes when I can't sleep, I walk through their house in my mind. 
Not that anyone other than my sister cares, but you can see the cookie jar against the wall, behind my grandmother's arm. You can even see gingersnaps. They were supermarket gingersnaps the size of silver dollars, dark brown, very hard, incredibly good. I used to get up at night and tip-toe to the kitchen, take a handful of gingersnaps and carry them back to bed where I would eat them in the dark. Why did I feel the need to sneak the cookies? Would my grandmother have reprimanded me for eating them openly? It's possible. She was a cool, strict grandmother, not a soft one. No orange juice-shaking episodes on her watch.

I love gingersnaps. They’re plain-looking cookies, spicy and direct at first bite, but then they open up, become rich, warm, complex. I used the recipe for English gingersnaps from The Essential New York Times Cookbook and baked the cookies at the upper end of the recommended time range so they would be super-hard, which they are, though not as hard as the supermarket gingersnaps Do they use some deadly industrial fat to get the cookies so hard? A chemical? Also, these cookies could use a bit more ginger. But overall? Buttery, lively, crispy, delicious. 

Friday morning I put two gingersnaps in a bag in Owen’s lunchbox. Then I decided to run a little experiment and added two store-bought graham crackers, the '67 Dodge Dart of cookies. 

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

A choppy week in the life

The Vitamix box is now a mask. But a mask of whose face? The first person to answer correctly in the comments wins a copy of Smoke and Pickles
Shorter, more frequent posts going forward. This one wore me out.

LAST WEDNESDAY I made the yellow squash soup with pickled strawberries from Smoke and Pickles and a prettier soup you’ve never seen. Just look at it. Sadly, it's a cold soup and I don't love cold soup. I thought maybe I'd changed, but no. I heated the leftovers for lunch the next day and in my view hot is the way to go with this and all soups except gazpacho. Pickled strawberries sound daunting but are just sliced berries tossed with salt and sugar and allowed to sit for an hour. The recipe for the soup and strawberries is here

THURSDAY Made fudgy, soil-black brownies from Melissa Clark’s In the Kitchen with a Good Appetite. The batter calls for both unsweetened chocolate and cocoa powder, then you sprinkle sea salt on top of the brownies before putting the pan in the oven.  (The recipe also calls for cayenne, which I omitted.) Mark and Isabel declared these brownies the best I've made. I liked them, but The Essential New York Times brownie remains my #1. You can decide for yourselves. Clark recipe is here

FRIDAY In Smoke and Pickles Edward Lee offers a handful of recipes for what he calls "rice bowls:" individual bowls of hot, crusty rice onto which you pile a variety of other ingredients and then mix into the rice with a spoon. It's a dish that appears sloppy and effortless, like something a young drunk guy  throws together when he comes home starving at midnight and then shovels into his mouth while standing at the counter of his crappy apartment in Ballard or Oakland or Brooklyn. 

Well, it's not like that at all. No drunk person could assemble an Edward Lee rice bowl except maybe Edward Lee. Friday night I made Lee's rice bowl with beef and this “simple but satisfying rice bowl” contains 43 ingredients including homemade remoulade, freshly shucked corn, cooked collard greens, marinated flat iron steak, and fried eggs. It’s a little deflating to go to the trouble of gathering/making all these components and then see everything dumped into a little bowl and mixed up. But I got over it real quick. The steak was tender and full of flavor, the collards rib-sticking and almost meaty themselves, and the crunchy-creamy-salty corn remoulade tied it all together. The recipe is here and you should make it before the last of the summer corn disappears. This is a stupendous dish.

My family, of course, is not a family of eaters. Isabel didn't eat the collard greens or egg. Mark didn't eat the collards. Owen wouldn't eat the collards, remoulade, or rice (which he complained was "mushy") and because he was in a lousy mood he also informed me that despite all evidence to the contrary, he hates brownies and why would anyone put salt on a brownie?

Eighth grade is a hard year.

SATURDAY I decided to help Owen clean his room, which hasn't been vacuumed in 6 months. The floor was covered with Legos, Optimus Prime figurines, Joker drawings, clown wigs, school papers, and dirty jeans in layers so thick and ancient that you couldn't even see the the floor much less vacuum it. In the course of our cleaning, he yelled at me. I yelled at him. Mark came up and gazed at us both reproachfully and asked if we couldn’t do this without yelling. I wanted to throw Decepticon at him. After several hours, the room was 67% of the way toward vacuumability and Owen went to a birthday party. 

I decided to sign up for a 10-day free meditation program

SUNDAY Owen woke up with puffy eyes. Apparently we'd stirred up a hive of dust mites during our cleaning, but I decided this should be a day of rest. I went to see Short Term 12 which is wonderful. Did day #2 of the meditation program and felt calm for about 3 minutes afterwards. No cooking.

TUESDAY Owen woke up with puffy eyes again and had to take a Benadryl before leaving for school. He begged to stay home because he thought he looked "freaky," but I said no because he didn't look freaky. We argued. He slunk off to school. We're not getting along, but we'll always have Cuzco. I decided I’d finish cleaning his room myself and get it vacuumed. I scooped up fistfuls of Legos and dirty Kleenexes, petrified gray socks, stuffed animals, a grotesque horseshoe crab shell, crayons, unwanted Harry Potter books, Archie comics and a broken picture frame on which I cut my hand. Once finished with his room, I booked a business trip, made a dental appointment, answered a query letter from the IRS, bought batteries and a canister of Comet, paid the auto insurance, ordered a cover for the Weber kettle grill, and sorted laundry. I did meditation session #4 and took a moment, as directed, to “notice my mood." Mood: foul.

But it improved. Since we had leftover remoulade, I made Lee's rice bowls with salmon for dinner. Holy smokes, this is an amazing dish. Even better than the rice bowl with beef. Marinated salmon, shiitake mushrooms, proscuitto, remoulade, slivered dried mango. Big hit with all. I can't find the recipe online, so you'll need to track down a copy of Smoke and Pickles.  Library, bookstore, or start trying to identify that mask.

Tuesday, September 03, 2013

Sometimes the shoe actually fits

nectarines, rhubarb, pistachios
Here’s something I regret all the time: the name of this blog. 

Back when I started out, I gave zero thought to the fact that I was linking my identity to mild drunkenness. Shame! But if I had to go and do something foolish like that, why didn't I just use the word itself rather than a coy, girly euphemism? 

Too late. 

I neither bake nor drink anywhere near as much as I used to. This past week, however, I did. 

Drinking. I reconnected with various friends after the separation of the summer and that called for alcohol. During the course of the merriment, I mastered the pisco sour. I started out mixing the classic Peruvian cocktail in a shaker, but could never work up a significant head of foam. Then, on Saturday I mixed pisco sours for my friend Melanie in the Vitamix and they were nearly perfect. (Any blender would work, I just like to type the word Vitamix as often as possible.) These drinks were pale, pale, pale creamy green and atop the otherworldly liquid floated a layer of snowy meringue. Showstopping.

Last night Mark and I carted the Vitamix up to our friend Hilary's house in Petaluma and made pisco sours for her and her husband, John. I decided these pisco sours might be a little too tart. After leaving Hilary's, we drove the four minutes to my father's house where I made pisco sours for my sister and her husband. (My father tasted one and went back to his martini.) We added more sugar to the pisco sours and now they really were perfect. It had been a long, hot day, I was thirsty, and perfect pisco sours are dangerously refreshing. Everything after the second pisco sour is a blur. Back home, I fell asleep on the couch still wearing my clothes, setting a wonderful example for my impressionable adolescent children. There will be no more pisco sours anytime soon.

For me, that is. You should try one. Here's my recipe, adapted from the recipe in Boozehound which was adapted from the recipe at Hotel Mossone in Huacachina, Peru. The author says to be sure to use key limes, but I didn't and these were outstanding pisco sours.

Into a blender: 3 ounces pisco, 4 teaspoons powdered sugar (more to taste), 1 ounce fresh lime juice, 1 egg white, a generous handful of ice. Blend until the ice is demolished and the drink foamy. Pour into a highball glass. Top with a dash of bitters. Serves one.

Now, baking.

Yesterday I baked the rhubarb peach kuchen from Smoke and Pickles by Edward Lee, a Korean-American chef in Louisville, Kentucky, and took it to my father's as my contribution to that blurry steak dinner. Smoke and Pickles is
 full strange, intriguing dishes like tobacco cookies, a chilled squash soup garnished with pickled strawberries, rice bowls that contain kimchi and remoulade.  I didn't have peaches so I used nectarines in the kuchen and didn’t peel them, but otherwise stuck close to the recipe.  I wish it had been slightly more exciting as I want this book to amaze me. The kuchen was a good. I want this book to be better than good.

Also, I baked another batch of brownies, this time using a recipe that calls for cocoa powder rather than chocolate. These brownies are decidedly inferior to the brownies I made from The Essential New York Times Cookbook but still tasty enough that Owen ate ten in under ten minutes. Exaggeration, but not much of one.

Having read some of your comments, I compared the ingredient ratios in the Essential New York Times  brownie to those in the Joy of Cooking and Katharine Hepburn brownies. Adjusting for pan size, the Essential New York Times brownie has twice as much chocolate and butter as Joy's. Otherwise it is identical. It contains the same amount of butter, but twice as much chocolate and flour as Katharine Hepburn's brownies. It calls for the same amount of sugar, but the KH brownies contain unsweetened chocolate so this would indeed make the Essential New York Times brownie sweeter. I don't know what any of this means except that there's lots of leeway in the making of brownies. I shall continue testing brownie recipes until we get sick of eating brownies.

That's a Russian tea cake on the left. I rolled it in powdered sugar that I made in the Vitamix. A cup and a half of granulated sugar plus 1 tablespoon of cornstarch. Blend until powdery. Supercool.

I can’t wait to see where this Slate series on entertaining goes.