Look Ma, No Pans: Spontaneous Ricotta Cheesecake Baked in a Coffee Mug

Tonight I reached a new milestone in my career as an Amateur Gourmet. In fact, I may have to change my site’s title to: The Slightly Better Than Amateur Gourmet. (Not as catchy, I’ll admit.)

See, here’s the truth about many of the things I cook: the leftover ingredients sit in my fridge until they rot, and then I throw them out. I am never quite industrious enough to stretch their use beyond my original intention. Such was to be the case with the ricotta cheese left over from last night’s bland potato/squash pie.

But then an idea struck me.

“Ouch!” I said. “What’d you do that for?”

But this idea was a good idea. Why not use the recipe in the Chez Panisse cookbook for Ricotta Cheesecake and whittle it down to coffee mug size, since that’s all the ricotta you have to work with. In other words: why don’t you improvise a recipe?

Me? The Amateur Gourmet? Improvise a recipe? In italics?

But off I went. And to be honest, it was pretty easy. I dumped the ricotta cheese into a bowl and mixed in a sprinkling of sugar (about 2 Tbs) a sprinkling of flour (about 1 Tbs), some dried currants (left over from the curried couscous), an egg, cinnamon*, vanilla extract, and almond extract. I whisked it all together until it was smooth:

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(* Do you know that every time I attempt to spell cinnamon, I have to look it up in the dictionary? EVERY TIME, I TELL YOU!)

Now then, I poured it into a Pam-ed and floured coffee mug:

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Put it on a baking sheet in a preheated 375 degree oven and left it for an hour.

You must understand that at this point I had no idea what the results would be. This was my first true innovation in the kitchen and I was a bit nervous. I began pacing furiously. The neighbors downstairs banged on the ceiling and so then I began banging my head against the wall. The person on the other side banged back. So I sat quietly until the cake was done.

And you can hardly imagine how relieved and delighted I was to see this:

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It looked like cheesecake!

I let it cool for 10 minutes and then removed it to a plate:

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Gorgeous, no? And you must admit for a spontaneous recipe based on leftovers it’s mighty impressive. But how did it taste?

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Terrific! Lighter and sublter than cheesecake; more sophisticated. Sure, real cream cheese cheesecake is my preferred choice of cheesecake but when it comes to cheesecake made in a coffee mug this is the way to go. And plus you can experiment with it: the currants worked well, but you can add raisins, I’m sure, or chopped apricots or lemon peel or whatever you damn please. This recipe’s all about innovation.

To quote The Funk Azz Gourmet: “Don’t hate / innovate.”

Disappointing Butternut Squash and Potato Pie with Tomato, Mint, and Sheep’s Milk Cheese

One book that’s sat on my bookshelf for a while is The Slow Mediterranean Kitchen by Paula Wolfert.

One reason for that is that by the time I decide to cook something, I don’t have time to make anything slow. Last night, however, even though it was 6 pm, I was willing to cook something slowish. I eschewed Friday night plans to read “Hamlet” for class on Monday, and thought the smell of something cooking slowly might propel me along.

I chose a vegetable recipe because they require no marination or expensive ingredients. I chose “Butternut Squash and Potato Pie with Tomato, Mint, and Sheep’s Milk Cheese.”

So first there’s mint:

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I love fresh mint. It tastes awesome in lemonade, iced tea and Mario Batali’s lamb ravioli (which I ate at Babbo). Too many assosiate mint with toothpaste, but it has a culinary life all its own. Fresh mint adds a cool, refreshing component to any dish. Next time you cook, why not cook with mint? (This paragraph brought to you by the Mint Association of America.)

We chop the mint with flat-leaf parsley, garlic, salt and black pepper:

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Paula calls for 1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper and then just “salt.” This proves to be disastrous later, but we’ll get there soon enough.

Now we grate a tomato using the grating feature on our food processor: (but we forget to take out the blades, so the tomato gets semi-pulverized):

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Toss the tomato with half the mint mixture and butternut squash:

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Add manchego cheese (a Sheep’s milk cheese):

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Add fresh ricotta: (did you know Whole Foods sells fresh, home-made ricotta?):

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Mix it all together:

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Meanwhile, slice red and Yukon Gold potatoes (peeled according to Paula, but I was too tired to peel). Toss with the other half of the mint mixture:

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Add the potatoes to the bottom layer of a 2 1/2-quart earthenware baking dish. I had a 2-quart glass baking dish so I went with that. (The voice of Julia Child rings in my head lately; she and Jacques Pepin on one of the clips I watched say that any chef who doesn’t do a recipe because one little thing is off—they don’t have the right baking dish, say—isn’t really a chef. Good chefs make due.)

I made due and added the squash layer:

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Add the rest of the potatoes and pour in milk:

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You sprinkle flour and olive oil on the top in the hope they will form a crust.

This bakes for 40 minutes at 350 and then for 30 minutes at 400. In my case, the top still looked floury and oily and Paula wants you to wait until it browns completely. But time kept ticking by and the top still looked floury until finally I took it out:

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No matter. What’s a little flour?

I served up a heaping bowl and sprinkled some reserved parsley and cheese on top:

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Smelled great, that’s for sure. And how did it taste?

Sadly, devastatingly–bland. Texturally pleasing, sure, and the mint was nice and refreshing but it needed, it begged for salt. I ran to the pantry and grabbed some and sprinkled it on, but it was too late. I wished that Paula was clearer with how much salt needed to be added earlier on. Had I gone back in time I would have seasoned every layer heavily and then I bet it would have tasted delicious. But we fail so we can grow, right? Maybe next time I won’t be so slow when I attempt slow Mediterranean cooking.

Brownie Math

Ok class, here’s a little formula I’d like you to memorize. It goes like this:

One pound of butter

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+

Three pounds of chocolate

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=

Barefoot Contessa Brownies

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Now I know I’ve gone a little Contessa crazy lately but I had company over on Saturday (playwrights here to watch movies for class (Jaws, On The Waterfront, and Raising Arizona)) so I went for snacky foods that people tend to love. People tend to love the Barefoot Contessa’s sun dried tomato dip (it’s really the best dip ever) and, of course, her brownies.

These brownies, I think, are falsely named. These aren’t brownies. They’re fudge with flour. They’re that rich and chocolatey. Their secret depth of flavor comes from instant espresso. I had a little tiff with my friend Lisa after the playwrights left in which I brought Brownies to Lisa’s place and invited her to eat one. Before she did I said: “Oh, by the way, there’s a little coffee in there so don’t eat it if you’re going to bed soon.” She moved the brownie away from her mouth before she even took a bite. “I hate coffee, Adam, you know that,” she said. “But Lisa,” I urged, “you can’t taste the coffee; it just gives a depth of flavor.” “No!” she pleaded. But I pressed and she took a bite. “Blech!” she said. “It tastes like coffee!”

Some people.

Curry My Cous-Cous

Not sure if I’ve mentioned this yet, but I love the Barefoot Contessa.

Ok, I am sure I’ve mentioned that—one of the sites that links to me writes “Barefoot Contessa worship” in its description of what I do. That may be true. The shrine to Ina Garten dominates my living room and prayers take extra long at night thanking her for every recipe of hers that proved to be a success. (She still hasn’t answered my prayer for a time share in the Hamptons.)

(Actually, this is a good time to parenthetically mention that my parents and I trekked out to the Hamptons last week where I intended to make a pilgrimage to the Barefoot Contessa store. Alas, it is there no longer—my mom found out that she sold the store and now does a mail-order only business. Needless to say, I was heartbroken.)

One of my favorite Barefoot Contessa recipes is her recipe for Curried Cous-Cous salad. It’s wildly easy, really. I’m sure the recipe is on the foodtv site so I’m not going to type it out here. But I think you’ll see how easy it is as I describe it.

Basically, you buy some cous-cous. You put the cous-cous in a bowl. Your boil some water, add some butter to the water, then add it to the cous-cous. Cover for five minutes:

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That’s all the cooking you do. After that, you fluff the cous-cous with a fork and then make the dressing.

The dressing is way easy too: plain yogurt, olive oil, curry, tumeric, salt, pepper.

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Pour the dressing over the cous-cous, fluff more with a fork and then go chop your veggies.

(Another sidebar: lately I’ve broken out a bit. Some may say this is due to stress. Others may say it’s due to the weather. The woman at the Kiehl’s store in SoHo said it’s due to poor diet. “You need to eat more vegetables and drink lots and lots of water. Oh, and buy our products.”)

The veggies for our curried cous-cous salad are diverse and delicious: carrots, onions, scallions, and parsley. There’s also dried currants and almonds. I’ve never bought dried currants before but they are scrumptious. Like raisins except smaller and tart-er. Here’s our finished product:

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Looks delicious, no? And there’s so much of it. Enough to feed me for several meals. And that’s the other thing I love about the Barefoot Contessa: her recipes yield large results that you can keep on eating and eating and eating…

Sort of like Jesus with the loaves and fishes. Wait a second? Could Ina Garten be the second coming? (Or, if we go by my Jewish belief system: the first coming?)

Nah. If God lives in the Hamptons we’re all in trouble.

Let It Be Fall: Butternut Squash and Wild Mushroom Risotto

Walking around New York yesterday was a rather surreal experience. There were cops on every single street corner–sometimes in clusters of threes and fours. Near 8th Ave., barricades upon barricades lined the way to Madison Square Garden, between which protesters stood–in the hot sun–holding signs decrying the horrors of George W. Bush. Red “No Smoking” stickers replaced the cigarette with a “W,” and stores appealed to the political climate with cutesy signs that read, for example: “Feeling Bushed? Kerry yourself inside.”

In many ways this is a good and exciting time to be in New York. In most other ways, though, it’s not. I find myself growing more and more weary of the political scene. Also, I’ll confess, it’s a little bit scary: helicopters flying overhead and sirens wailing past every few minutes. I really want this convention to be over.

Therefore, I decided to do the equivalent of a culinary rain dance: I decided to make a dish more appropriate for fall than summer. Call me a rebel, I can take it. I whipped out my newest Strand cookbook purchase—Tom Valenti’s One-Pot Meals.

I like the concept of this book because you basically end up with a big pot of food that will last you through the week. That’s one of my newest goals in this expensive city: to make food that will last a long while.

Risotto is no such food. It turns gloppy and pasty once it sits in the pot after being taken off the heat. Yet it’s in my fridge right now and I plan to eat it anyway. But we’re getting ahead of ourselves…

To start, you must buy many things to make this risotto. Among those many things is sage:

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Sage is an herb I haven’t worked with much. I am told it complements butternut squash incredibly well. This is appropriate, then, because here’s a butternut squash:

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Ladies and gentlemen, this is my first butternut squash. Scary, no?

Now I watched a Sarah Moulton once where she talked about safely peeling and cutting up a butternut squash. Unfortunately, I forgot everything she taught me. So I began by peeling the squash straight down with a vegetable peeler:

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This worked fairly well, though the outsides were still tough and bricky. I eventually cut off the outsides with a knife. But before that, I cut the squash in half and scooped away the seeds:

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Now Tom has you cut up the squash into half inch squares. This part, I’ll concede, was quite difficult. I almost sliced my thumb off twice. But somehow I made it work:

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Then into a pot with 2 Tbs of butter:

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Season with salt and pepper and cook “until brown and slightly softened but still holding their shape, about 12 minutes.”

Sadly, it began losing its shape 8 minutes in–begining to resemble mashed sweet potatoes, so I took it off the heat.

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Poured it into a bowl with the chopped sage and stirred it around. This won’t get used until later.

Tom has you wipe the pot clean and then put it back on the heat. This leaves glorious brown bits on the bottom that white wine will eventually pick up, giving a huge flavor boost to your risotto:

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But first mushrooms. Now I cheated here and I regret it. Tom wants you to separate all your wild mushrooms and cook them separately with 2 Tbs of butter each. But it was getting late, Lisa was coming over, and I wanted to have dinner ready. So I threw all the mushrooms in: (Also, I’d done all the mushrooms at once before when I made the Chez Panisse Wild Mushroom risotto, so I figured I’d be ok):

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Unfortunately, I only used 2 Tbs of butter to start and then, halfway through, as the mushrooms got dryer and dryer I realized it was 2 Tbs for each type of mushroom so I quickly added 6 more Tbs of butter. This made the mushrooms way too buttery:

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Then I thought about Julia Child and wondered if one could really have too much butter. I yanked a mushroom out and tasted it and it tasted wonderful. Very good, then. I poured the mushrooms into a bowl and tossed with freshly cut thyme. Mushrooms and thyme is a killer combination.

Now, we wipe the pot clean again and add 1 large spanish onion diced. That cooks for four minutes (in olive oil and butter) and then we add 2 cups of Arborio rice:

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This is a ton of rice for risotto. Since it plumps up with the liquid, this is way more than two people can heathily eat. No matter. Remember our goal: to eat through the week. And to skip past the Republican National Convention. I peered out my window: still Republicans.

Lisa arrived just as the vegetable broth on the back of the stove began to simmer. I had added wine to the rice and onions and it was now absorbed. The challenge was now to begin: the 18 minutes of frantic stirring and ladeling simmering broth into the risotto. This was a job for a virile, well-endowed kitchen god. This was a job for Lisa:

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After 18 minutes (the requisite time), there was still broth left but the risotto looked well brothed. I tasted a spoonful and felt the texture was right. The flavor was off, but we hadn’t added the mushrooms or squash yet.

And that, indeed, is the last step. You add 2 more Tbs of butter, the mushrooms and the squash and you end up with this:

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Suddenly, I looked out my window and saw a flurry of white men in suits spinning in a tornadoed mass back to middle America. The helicopters fled the skies, the police left the streets and the only noise was the noise of New York applauding. Lisa and I sat down and ate risotto. And it was good.

ReTARTed Tart-Making 101: Raspberry Almond Tart

Some disclosures:

1. I have no idea what I’m doing.

2. I really have no idea what I’m doing.

3. Why are you still reading this site? I know nothing.

With that said, come join me as I attempt to make the almond-raspberry tart from Ruth Reichl’s “Tender at the Bone.” The tart shows up in Chapter Six and is the most glorified recipe so far in the book. Its potency promises to soften the heart of the camp director at a Parisian summer camp. In my case, it serves to fulfill several desires:

1. The desire to make a tart;

2. The desire to use the tart pan I just purchased from Williams Sonoma, using some of the $200 I made when I was interviewed about my Google Ads.*

* Did I tell you about this? Some marketing research person from England flew in last week and asked if he could meet me outside Central Park to videotape me discussing my Google Ads. He said his company would pay me $200 for my trouble. I said yes. When we met, the interview lasted barely more than 5 minutes. He paid me $200 in cash. I ran over to the Time Warner Center and went on a William Sonoma mini-shopping spree purchasing fancy olive oil, dish towels, and the aforementioned tart pan.

3. I really love the combination of almond and raspberry.

A New York Times blurb at the start of Reichl’s book exclaims, “Reichl writes with such simplicity–even the recipes included in this memoir are stripped down to their bare goodness.”

That was the thing. Reichl’s tart recipe was not intimidating. And tarts always look so professional, it was nice not to be intimidated. I thought I’d give it a go.

Give it a go I did.

The first part was easy enough: I did the same thing a few days ago when I made pie. Basically, with your fingers, you work butter into flour and sugar until it resembles coarse meal. Done and done.

Then my first problem-part: add an egg yolk.

Now I’m no chump, I’ve separated eggs before. But for some reason tonight was not my night. It took three eggs before there was any success:

As you can see, I’m still in denial about my lack of a garbage disposal.

Finally, I separated the yolk from the white using just my bare hands (the way the real hardcore chefs do it). I plopped it and 2 Tbs of cream into the coarse meal:

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Now then, Reichl has you gather the dough into a ball, wrap it in plastic and refrigerate for THREE HOURS.

That, my friends, is a mighty long time in the world of Adam Cooks. Adam doesn’t like to wait three hours for anything. But patience is a virtue, and virtuous Adam shall be. Adam waited the three hours watching “The Assistant” marathon on MTV. Adam has watched too much TV since moving to New York. Adam has many books he’d like to finish. Adam must stop referring to himself in the third person.

Finally, three hours passed and I attacked the next step in the process: remove the dough from the fridge, flatten and roll out.

Houston, we have a problem:

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This dough? To quote the 80’s song: “Solid. Solid as a rock.”

I waited the requisite 10 minutes Reichl has you wait for the dough to warm. Did the dough warm? No, the dough didn’t.

And when I pushed with all my might to begin rolling the dough out (hey, it was already 10 pm) the dough began to crack.

Noooo!!!

I shoved the pieces back together.

I attempted Plan B: warm dough with hands, then roll out.

This plane worked in its own weird way. Basically, I’d flatten with my hands, roll a bit, pieces would crack and I’d shove back together. Finally, the dough was spread 11-inches—Reichl’s specified measurement.

Now for the hard part. Because the dough was so fragile, I knew I couldn’t roll it on to a pin like a did with the pie: it would fall a part. So I did the only thing I could think to do. I used a Baker’s Peel:

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This worked well in the sense that I peeled the dough off the counter. This worked bad in the sense that I couldn’t get the dough off the peel. In the process of transferring the dough into the tart pan, I ended up with this:

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This wasn’t so pretty. No, indeed, Martha Stewart rolled over in her prison cell. What had I done!

But a good chef is not a quitter. A good chef turns lemons into lemonade. I’d make some tart-ade but I didn’t have a pitcher. So I pushed and I pressed and I stretched and I tugged and I ended up with this:

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Not bad, considering the previous image.

From there it was just a matter of prebaking with the beans again (350 oven for 20 minutes), pulling it out and preparing the almond filling.

The almond filling was easy. Almonds and sugar in the food processor:

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Butter, sugar, vanilla and then the almond mixture in the mixer:

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Spread into the pre-baked tart:

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Add two cups raspberries:

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And bake 40 minutes:

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Had I really done it? Was all my worrying in vain?

Can’t answer that yet, bub. Reichl has us cool the tart for TWO hours. It is now 1:42 am and the tart will be cool at 2. Will I taste it at two? Probably. Will I blog about it? No. For this tart-making heartbreaker is then off to bed, to dream about friendly dough that rolls out perfectly, fits the pan tightly and calls me in the morning.

A good dough is so hard to find.

An Evening of Firsts: Nectarine Pie with Candied Ginger and Crunchy Topping

Two firsts happened tonight: my first cooking project in my new New York apartment (sans garbage disposal) and my first pie. Well, ok I won’t lie: a long time ago I made a pumpkin pie, but I was heavily drugged and living in a nudist colony so it doesn’t count. And besides, this is the first pie I’ve made for you!

The pie recipe I used comes from Bon Apetit (posted on Epicurious): “Apricot Pie with Candied Ginger and Crunchy Topping.” However, because Whole Foods was out of apricots (they weren’t getting raises)(see post below), I decided to sub nectarines. This proved to be a good choice.

Since the link will take you to the recipe proper, I won’t go into the details. I’ll simply share with you the experience of making my nectarine pie.

First, of course, comes the crust. To make the crust, we mixed flour and sugar and salt and butter with our fingers until it resembled coarse meal.

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Then we added 3 Tbs of ice water and stirred until moist clumps formed. Nothing says home cooking like “moist clumps.”

Once there were moist clumps, we gathered the dough into a ball, flattened into a disc, and wrapped in plastic wrap.

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It went into the fridge and I watched “Family Guy” on Fox. This show, I must concede, is terribly funny. The humor is very much in sync with my own, except more polished. Plus it’s animated. I’d be a lot funnier if I were animated.

Now then, when it came out of the fridge it was time to roll it out. This part scared me. I was scared my pie dough would tear.

“Please don’t tear,” I begged. “Little Timmy really likes pie.”

I figured inventing a destitute handicapped pie-hungry fictional character would compel the pie not to tear. I was correct:

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Then came scary part number two: transferring the pie from the counter to the pie tin. How do we do this again?

Luckily, I recalled a Martha Stewart Living where she addressed the very issue. You roll the flattened dough on to the pin and then unroll it into the pie tin.

Here is one of those cooking moments where it’s a leap of faith, and you have to act with confidence. Like when you flip an omelette in the air and catch it on its way down. I can’t do that yet. But it’s the same idea. You have to dive in and do it and it will work out. And that’s the philosophy that got me to this point:

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Look how successful I was! Little Timmy gurgled with pride.

Then I crimped the pie crust. This part was fun. I’m the Crimp Pimp:

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Went into the fridge for another half an hour and I watched another “Family Guy.” When it came out, I put tin foil in and beans and popped it into a 375 oven for 20 minutes:

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Why do we do this? I guess this pre-baking is necessary maybe so the fruit juice doesn’t mush up the bottom? Anyone have an answer?

Anyway, when that came out I worked on the “crunchy topping.” The crunch topping is particularly delicious. In goes Grape nuts, brown sugar, flour, toasted slivered almonds*, cinnamon, ground ginger, salt and butter.

*I starred the almonds because at Whole Foods I figured my chances of finding already slivered almonds was minute, and I was ready to give up on the almonds altogether when, upon purchasing the candied ginger for the filling, I saw slivered almonds on the shelf below it. Talk about Serendipity!**

**Serendipity is an ice cream parlor that makes rockin’ frozen hot chocolate.

***It’s also a movie with John Cusack.

Here’s the topping stuff in the bowl, pre mixing:

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Then we simply toss the nectarines (or apricots, if you follow the original recipe) with sugar, crystallized ginger, cornstarch and almond extract, add it to the warm pie shell, and sprinkle on the topping and it will look like this:

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Pop in the oven for 45 minutes and go watch “Six Feet Under” on rerun. I missed the episode before this, so I wish I would have seen the fallout between Brenda and Joe(?). Did he walk in on her and Nate? I got that impression from the “scenes from last week.”

While watching, the most beautiful smell filled the air. The combination of butter, ginger, cinnamon and nectarine perfumed the apartment and I wondered if neighbors walking down the hall would be seduced by teh smell and tear into my apartment completely naked. (That didn’t happen).

What did happen, is the pie came out of the oven looking lovely:

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And then the waiting. To quote Tom Petty: “Don’t come around here no more.” Oops, I mean: “The waiting is the hardest part.”

I did some cleaning, some reading, some more TV watching and one hour later I returned to the pie and cut a slice:

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May not look perfect, but it was heaven on a plate. I gobbled up every last crumb. Which is probably a good impetus to return to the gym tomorrow. In any case, it was a happy first pie experience and a great way to break-in my new kitchen. Here’s to many more tasty treats to come! And here’s to Little Timmy getting better. It’s so sad how he doesn’t have a mouth…

Cars, Cats, and Cooking Without a Net: “Jerusalem” Salad with Goat Cheese and Dill

Let me tell you about my day. It started with a phonecall from a man in a truck. The man in the truck was supposed to pick up my car on Tuesday to deliver to my grandparents in Florida who are assuming ownership now that I’ll be riding subways and horse-and-buggies around Manhattan. I’ve had my car since my sixteenth birthday which means I’ve been driving it for NINE years—almost a decade of shifting gears and blasting mix CDs featuring eclectic pairings of show tunes, pop songs and 60s relics. Passengers frequently requested radio.

I named my car Bruno after my friends and I in high school started naming our cars. The only one I can remember is my friend Amy’s car Matilda because I wrote a song about it called “Matilda, Queen of the Road” featured on the hit CD “The Bus with My Initials.” (Yes, my shameful secret is that when I was 16 my father “produced” a CD of nine songs that I wrote, composed and sang. May your ears forever be spared its prepubescent shrieking.)

The funny thing about my car is that my parents bought it for me because they wanted me to be safe on the road. That’s funny because they bought me a Ford Explorer. I can list a thousand reasons why that’s funny, among them the fact it was recalled 90 times for faulty tires, faulty suspension, faulty trunk. Nevermind that because I had the biggest car I drove the most people thereby incurring the most liability–but I have no complaints. My car and I have been through a lot. I was looking forward to a tender departure.

And then the phonecall. The man in the truck said he was a few days early because his wife was in the hospital and could he come pick up the car now? Well, no, he couldn’t really—I mean I have a ton of stuff I still need to move and throw out and places to go and people to see and… well what are my options? “I can come now or there won’t be another trucker through til the end of August.”

I met him in the Kroger parking lot, passed over my key, and bid Bruno farewell.

Meanwhile, earlier today I had a moment of parental crisis when Lolita had what seemed like a drug induced seizure. Let me explain. Yesterday, I took Lolita to the vet to get a bill of health so I can fly with her on Friday up to Manhattan. On the way there, Lolita threw quite a fit. And by that I mean she meowed at a decibel range that would shatter the eardrums of Mariah Carey. This was bad. This cannot happen on the plane.

So when we got to the vet, Lolita sat unhappily on the examination table. The doctor came in and I told he how worried I was about the high-pitched screaming. The doc prescribed cat tranquilizers and she suggested that today (Saturday) I give her one to see how she reacts. Very well, I thought.

So today I gave her one and she seemed fine and then I was sitting at my desk, typing a thesis on world hunger, when I hear a kerplunk in the other room. I run out there and Lollita is on her back, her eyes glazed over and her paws in the air. I ran to the phone and called the vet who told me that it’s normal, to set her on her feet and to see if she walks. She did. All was ok. But poor Lolita slumped around the apartment today like Liza Minelli at Studio 54.

There, plus the packing and organizing and going through things, was my stressful day. For dinner I wanted something special, something celebratory, something visceral. For dinner I wanted the Jerusalem salad I had in Albany (see: Albany post).

So popping a cat tranquilizer, I slumped over to Whole Foods where I decided to shop and cook on instinct…cooking without a net, as the title of this post implies. I bought baby arugala. I bought dill. I boughut a lemon. I bought goat cheese. I bought mutton. Ok, just kidding about the mutton.

I got home and washed some baby arugala and put it into a bowl. I chopped up a tomato, a cucumber and a red onion and threw it in:

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Then I chopped some dill:

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Remember Dill from “To Kill a Mockingbird”? Did you know he’s based on Truman Capote?

I attempted a dressing I saw on TV once, which is basically just lemon and olive oil, salt and pepper.

Here’s the lemon:

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Here’s the olive oil:

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Salt, pepper and taste—and it tastes ok. Retrospectively, I think it needed vinegar but I was living in the moment. Cooking without a net. Did I already say that?

Finally, presentation. I decided to use Boticelli’s Primavera as my model:

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Floral yet winsome; dark with edges of light. In other words, this:

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See how I mounded the salad in the middle and created a border of dill with the goat cheese layered on top? Yeah, that was all me. You know you’re jealous. Admit it. Some of us are just inspired. Others of us drink wine while we cook.

Wine, cat tranquilizers and goat cheese and I’m set. Now drop the disco ball and pass the silver spoon. Hey is that Ricky Schroeder?