Back in Business and Ain’t It Grand: Makin’ Olive Bread

With Passover over, and the shadow of death passed over our apartment (the lamb’s blood properly sloshed), the time has come to revive my starter. Last we checked, the starter was sulking and shivering in the fridge; but now it’s had three days of feeding and looks beautiful and bubbly:

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Today we’re making Olive Bread.

It begins with a mistake: I purchased kalamata olives (correct) and green olives in oil (incorrect). The instruction was: “Oil Cured olives” and it wasn’t until I got home that I realized that Oil Cured Olives are the wrinkly gross ones. Nancy Silverton wants the olives to fall apart in the bread and color the dough; but alas, that couldn’t happen now. So I doubled the kalamata and I’m a better man for it.

Anyway, I woke up at the crack of dawn (10:30 am) and began the arduous process.

I halved the recipe to produce only one loaf and to save my electric mixer from death (as almost happened last time with the extra tough, double dough portion).

So here we are adding some starter to some water:

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Then some wheat germ to the flour:

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Mixed it up with the dough hook:

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Added some salt, then the olives:

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Plus some Thyme:

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Mixed it all up:

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Kneaded by hand:

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Put it in an oiled bowl:

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Covered in plastic and went to school for four hours. When I returned:

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You can really see how it doubled in size.

Then we plop it out on the counter, and shape it into a boule. Place in a proofing basket:

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Let it rise for two hours and then cover in plastic and put in the fridge.

That’s where it is now. It will refrigerate until tomorrow when I will slide it into the oven. This process is known as retardation. I prefer to call it mentally challengedardation because I’m not evil. Stay tuned for the finished product.

[To see how the olive bread came out, read this very sane post.]

Toscanini’s Burnt-Caramel Ice Cream

Several days ago, in the comments section of my vanilla ice cream post, site reader McColl wrote: “The first ice cream recipe I tried was from a June 2000 Atlantic Monthly article by Corby Kummer (a great food writer) called Toscanini’s Burnt-Caramel Ice Cream. It’s still available on-line, I think. It is absolutely, I mean truly, amazing. (If I were the type of person to use exclamation marks freely, I would add several to the end of that sentence.) Plus it’s fun to burn.”

This immediately caught my attention. I searched and quickly found the article online. I printed it out and read it today while “writing” my “paper” for “school.” (Actually, I got a lot done: I’m on page 16!)

What follows is my story.

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Quiet, Disciplined Study and the Night of 1000 Sorbets

If there is one question I get asked more than any other it would have to be: “Why are you naked in our nursing home?”

But if there is another question I get asked more than any other, it is surely: “How do you manage your website and attend law school all at the same time?”

Tonight I provide a rare glimpse into the world of a third year law student-cum-international gourmet sensation.

The fact is, that balancing my many interests takes discipline. Cold, hard discipline. I began tonight at the kitchen table, away from the internet, focused on my 30-page paper due in a week.

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Lauren is out of town, and the apartment is mine. Cloistered in my academic hovel, I penetrated the issues of my paper like spermazoa invading an egg: my ideas bursting forth, creating life where there was no life before. (Although, some argue that life does not begin at conception. But I digress).

Suddenly, I heard voices.

“BLOOD! BLOOD! SPILL THE BLOOD!” a chorus of children sang out.

“No!” I shrieked. “Not again!”

But it was too late. I had no choice.

I ran to Whole Foods and picked up a bag of blood oranges. What else could I do?

I came back and poured sugar and water into a pot.

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I sliced a blood orange in half:

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I squeezed out a cup of juice:

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I photographed the carcasses:

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And then I poured the blood juice into the sugar water, adding a twist of lemon. I let it cool and then poured it into my gyrating ice cream maker:

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“BLOOD BLOOD SPILL THE BLOOD!” sang the children, and then I realized: the couple below me was watching The Lord of The Flies.* I stomped my foot and the voices ceased.

*(This is the second in a series of what will become an annoying array of Lord of the Flies jokes.)

I peered down into the swishy mess:

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What pretty colors!

I looked over my shoulder and saw my books. “One second!” I said, as I watched the liquidy syrup turn into sorbet.

Before I knew it, it was done:

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Look at that funky color! It’s like phosphoresent pink. And the taste! Mmm. This was right up my alley. Tart, sweet, citrusy. Loved it. I put the rest away for safekeeping:

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And then I returned to my studies.

Academic achievement is based on hard work and focus. As Jefferson said, I believe: “Genius is 1% inspiration, 90% persperation, and 9% sorbet.”

“What?”

“You heard me,” said Jefferson. “9% sorbet.”

“I just made sorbet,” I replied.

“You did, it’s true,” he said thoughtfully, scratching his chin. “But did you make Lemon Thyme sorbet?”

I saw his point. I immediately ran down to Whole Foods and purchased a bag of lemons and some Thyme.

“There ya go my boy!” said Jefferson. “Now hop to it!”

I grated some lemon peel:

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I squeezed some lemon juice:

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I bundled up some Thyme:

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And I steeped it all in boiling sugar water:

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I strained what I steeped:

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And after cleaning the blood off the ice cream maker, I poured it in:

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“Excellent!” said Jefferson, but another pawn was in play.

“What the HELL are you doing?” said my mother from her place in my conscience.

“Nothing.”

“Two sorbets in one night?! Are you out of your mind?!”

“Well,” I mumbled, “it seemed like a good idea.”

“I’ll show you a good idea!” She waved her wand and ZAP, the machine turned hot.

“MOTHER NO!!!”

But it was too late. The sorbet wouldn’t freeze:

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The machine spun round and round to no avail.

I sadly poured the liquid out into a bowl and covered with saran wrap:

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I put it in the fridge and cleaned and refroze the ice cream maker bowl. We would have another go tomorrow.

I turned back to the table where my books lay. I sat myself down and churned out a page. One out of thirty: it’s a start.

And now you know how it is that I do what I do. It’s not an easy life, I’ll tell ya.

Paradise Gained: Homemade Vanilla Bean Ice Cream

“Oh hear’st thou rather pure ethereal stream,

Whose fountain who shall tell? before the sun,

Before the heavens thou wert, and at the voice

of God, as with a mantle didst invest

The rising world of waters dark and deep,

Won from the void and formless infinite.”

– John Milton, “Paradise Lost”

Tonight I tasted heaven. Honestly; I can’t even describe to you how good this ice cream was. It was unlike any ice cream I’ve had before; even the best ice cream in the best restaurants with the best pastry chefs. This was silky and buttery and luscious. It felt like sex in silk pajamas on a cloud with Yoko Ono. Well, not with Yoko Ono. Oh my God, this ice cream was so good.

The recipe is listed in the Premium Ice Cream chapter of the ice cream cookbook that came with my ice cream maker. The ingredients cost an insane amount: almost $15. That’s like five cones at Ben & Jerry’s. But one scoop of this rich, creamy, velvety ice cream would send Ben and Jerry heading for the hills.

It began with a vanilla bean.

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The recipe said the vanilla bean should measure six inches, and mine did:

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[Julia Child reminds us: “It’s not the size of your vanilla bean, it’s how you use it.”]

Slice the vanilla bean in half:

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Scrape up its seeds on the back of your knife:

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Now prepare the cream and milk:

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1.5 cups cream, 1.5 cups milk goes into a saucepan with the vanilla seeds and the pod.

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Bring to a medium boil, then reduce to a simmer.

MEANWHILE, back in Gotham, Bruce Wayne prepares the eggs.

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We want two whole eggs and three egg yolks. [“But what do I do with the egg whites?” whines Bruce. “See the meringue post beneath this, you dummy!”]

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[Edited to add: “Add Sugar!!! 3/4ths a cup!”]

Now mix until pale yellow and thick, about two minutes:

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After the cream, milk, and vanilla simmers for 30 minutes, pour out a cup into a measuring glass:

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Slowly pour the hot liquid into the mixing egg mixture:

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Let that mix for a moment, and then pour the mixture mixture into the original mixture: [How’s that for clear direction?]:

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Mix over medium low heat until thick enough to coat the back of a spoon:

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Pour into a bowl:

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Cover with saran wrap (directly on the custard):

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Refrigerate for hours.

Go to dinner, eat salad, sing a song about it.

Then, get your ice cream maker ready. Pull the freezer bowl out of the freezer. Shake to make sure there’s no liquid. Put in place.

Then remove the bowl of custardy vanilla goodness from the fridge. Prepare to pour:

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Pour:

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Next time, pour from something with better precision.

Watch your ice cream churn:

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Follow Jeremy’s advise in the comments and scrape down the sides now and then.

Let twenty minutes go by.

Doesn’t that smell amazing?

And then:

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Behold its stiffness! Behold its glory!

Serve in a coffee mug:

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Watch your roommate’s eyes light up. Watch Katharine’s body quiver with contentment. Watch your cat chase a shoelace around the apartment.

Someday I want to make a list. The list will be called: “Things To Cook For People Who Don’t Cook To Convert Them Into People Who Cook.” These will entail dishes that are so jaw-droppingly good; so sensually gratifying that it will keep people up at night, craving their next opportunity to make it. This vanilla bean ice cream will surely make the list. It has me quoting Milton and lusting after Yoko Ono. It’s that good.

Marginal Meringues

While I was making my ice cream today (post to follow), I was left with three unused egg whites in a bowl. Not wanting to be wasteful, I channelled the late great Chief Joseph who reminded me that Native Americans eat every part of the buffalo. I, in turn, would eat every part of the egg. I would make meringues.

“Sissy,” said Chief Joseph.

I dumped the egg whites into the mixing bowl:

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I then followed a recipe I printed out on Epicurious. (The recipe called for two egg whites, so I found another recipe that called for three to figure out the proportion of sugar).

Anyway, I whipped until soft peaks formed:

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I took soft peak to mean that the whites dangled off the end of the mixing impliment without standing up on their own.

Then I added 7 Tbs of sugar (which turned out to be too much, I think) and mixed until hard peaks formed:

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Notice the elegant sheen.

Then you dollup a teaspoons worth into little kisses on a floured, buttered cookie sheet. I took teaspoon to mean mega Tablespoonfull and had complicated results because of that:

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See with the teaspoon scenario, they bake at 200 degrees for 45 minutes. With the portions I used, they came out crazy gross. Like gooey gummy and disturbingly chewy. And definitely not cooked enough.

So I put them back in the oven at 200 degrees and cooked them for a half hour more. Then they came out basically good:

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I liked that they didn’t cost me anything. And I like that they’re not that bad for you: just egg whites and sugar.

“And don’t forget,” says Chief Joseph, “you conserved every part of the egg.”

“True,” I say.

“Sissy.”

Candied Walnuts

Nancy Silverton is my new food guru. First it was Sarah Moulton. Then the Barefoot Contessa. For a while it was Mario Batali. But now Nancy Silverton’s picked up the torch.

First some grievances. Her writing is pretty humorless and her recipes are wildly specific, almost to the point of inadvertent comedy. And some recipes–mostly the ones in her sandwich book–are just plain nasty. Like her egg sandwich with anchovy cream. Or something like that.

Anyway, negativity aside, Nancy’s the bomb. Those negative attributes, despite being negative attributes, are what make her a superstar. Her specificity, as painstaking as it may be, yields fantastic results. For proof, check out my sourdough. (<--If I only had a nickel for every time I said that). Tonight, I plucked out a recipe from the back of her sandwich book in the bar food chapter: Spicy Candied Walnuts. I chose this because, as it happens, I had a large bag of walnuts left over from another Nancy recipe experience: the walnut coffee cake that didn't cook all the way through. The other ingredients--sugar, cayenne pepper, vegetable oil--were already at hand, so I said: "What the Hell" and got to work. First I dumped my walnuts into a bowl: IMG_1.JPG

Then I added 2 cups sugar, 2 cups water, and 1.75 tsps of Cayenne Pepper to a saucepan:

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Then I rubbed my eye:

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A good tip when cooking with cayenne pepper is: don’t rub your eye. I ran to the sink shrieking: “I have pepper in my eye! Cayenne pepper in my eye!” Lauren continued doing her homework.

When I’d recovered, I continued on with my recipe.

The sugar-water-pepper mixture reached a boil, so I added the walnuts:

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They cooked down for 20 minutes while I added vegetable oil to a large heavy-bottomed sauce pan and brought the temperature up to 350 degrees:

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When the walnuts had cooked down:

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I drained half of them (as Nancy instructs, so you don’t overcrowd the oil):

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And added them to the sizzling oil:

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This part was scary, but I maintained. I remember my brother’s kindergarten teacher’s husband burnt his eyebrows off making french fries. But I digress.

After three minutes, I put the fried walnuts on a cookie sheet and added salt:

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I repeated with the other half:

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And here’s the final result:

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Honestly, they’re absolutely delicious and like Nancy says, addictive. They’re also kind of hot, so have plenty of water handy. And eye drops. For when you rub cayenne pepper in your eye. Because that can happen.

You Will (Maybe) Make This Strawberry-Rhubarb Cobbler

If there was no Lauren there’d be no Maybe.

She felt that the rhubarb was too prominent, that the fruit wasn’t cooked enough. But tell me this doesn’t look delicious:

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Here’s a good tip for all you aspiring gourmets out there: when you’re at the supermarket, pay attention to what’s in the produce section. Recently at Whole Foods I noticed prominent displays of strawberries and rhubarb. So tonight, when I was craving a diversion from my homework and the bread in the refrigerator, I typed in “Strawberry Rhubarb” at Epicurious and came up with this recipe (which, incidentally, has a 100% approval rating):

STRAWBERRY RHUBARB COBBLER WITH CORNMEAL BISCUIT TOPPING.

My formula for a good recipe is as follows:

EASY TO DO + DELICIOUS RESULTS = GOOD RECIPE

This recipe was incredibly easy. My one mistake was with the rhubarb.

First, wash and dry the strawberries:

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Then wash and dry the rhubarb:

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Here’s where I made my mistake. Well, I’m not sure if it was a mistake. The recipe says to cut the rhubarb into 1/2-inch thick slices. I found this confusing. I mean, are we talking width or length? Should I have cut it like celery?

I ended up making little rhubarb sticks of 1/2 an inch width:

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If I had to do it again, I’d go the celery route.

In any case, you put the rhubarb and strawberries in a bowl with flour, sugar and ground cloves. (I think the ground cloves make the recipe terrific; adds a lot of depth to the flavor):

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Pour into the pie dish:

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Now make the topping. There’s flour, sugar, butter, and corn meal:

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Mush it up with your fingers until it resembles course meal. Then add buttermilk and stir with fork:

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[I don’t know why I’m giving you these instructions. Just follow the Epicurious recipe!]

Pour the topping on the strawberry mixture:

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And bake at 400 degrees for what I think is 25 minutes. (Follow the recipe, dummy!)

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Doesn’t that look delicious?

Here’s what it looks like in the bowl:

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I think Lauren’s main complaint was that the fruit wasn’t cooked down enough. Someone on the Epicurious site makes the same point and suggests cooking the fruit first before adding the topping. I had never cooked with rhubarb before, so I didn’t know the difference. In any case, I think this is a perfect Springtime Sopranos-watching dessert. Unless you’re Lauren. In which case, the fruit wasn’t cooked down enough.

My First Lasagna (Plus, A Nightmare Table Spread)

&uotI was a difficult kid to invite over for dinner. Growing up in a cheeseless home (my father being a cheeseophobe), I would inevitably find myself at a friend’s dinner table, starving, only to find his mother waddling over with a big tray of lasagna.

“Hope you’re hungry boys!” she would say, inevitably.

I would then proceed to mash the lasagna around my plate, creating a sense of consumption without actually consuming. I think my mother got a few angry phonecalls on the matter.

“Your son hardly touched his dinner,” I recall one mother informing my mother.

And yet today, with my bold forays into the kitchen, I have acquired more generous tastes. If I were allowed to play with youngsters (damned court order!), their mothers would be calling my mother to commend my hearty appetite.

“Your son ate three whole trays of lasagna!” a mother would say, inevitably.

Tonight, for a reason I can’t really fathom, I found myself craving lasagna. And sitting before me was one of my birthday books, The French Laundry cookbook to be exact.

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Buried between recipes that would take the most expert experts eons to complete, is a simple recipe under the heading: “Staff Meal.; The recipe? Lasagna.

Before I tell you about how I made it, I feel compelled now to highlight the most disturbing page in a cookbook I have ever seen. I am going to post an extra-large picture of it so you can see it too (click to make larger):

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Do you see what this is? This is supposed to be a beautiful spread on a beautiful table somewhere in the French Laundry. To me, it looks like the final scene from George Orwell’s “Animal Farm.” Let’s play a Highlights Magazine game of What’s Wrong With This Picture:

1. There is a pig’s head on this table!

2. There is a dead bird on this table!

3. There is a dead fish on this table!

I am most disturbed by the dead bird because in my wildest dreams, I can’t think of any other reaction to a dead bird on my lunch table other than: “Aahhhhhhhhhhhhh!!”

Unless, of course, there’s a pig’s head on the table too in which case my reaction would be: “Blech! Aaaaaaah!”

With that said, the lasagna came out delicious. It was incredibly easy to make. In fact, it was so easy, that I will not narrate the process. I will simply show the way through pictures:

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(Ok, so I cheated on the sauce. Thomas Keller wants you to make a sauce that takes three hours. My sauce took two seconds: I lifted it off the shelf and put it in the cart. And it tasted pretty good!)

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(This part was a little tricky. Those noodles are so thick I never thought they’d all cook together. But they did. I tore a few in the process though; and had too few by the end).

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(That’s ricotta and eggs. I used brown eggs because the store was out of white. Can anyone tell me the difference between brown eggs and white eggs?)

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(I think chopped parsley is what makes this lasagna so special. It brightens it up, so to speak).

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(This is pretty interesting: he has you flavor the mozzarella with salt and pepper before you sprinkle it on the top. Never done that before!)

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Bake at 350 degrees for 45 minutes or until the cheese is golden brown.

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Mmmm.

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Ok, so the ricotta’s a little unevenly distributed, but so what!

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Terrific!

Tasty and scrumptious. Lauren liked it too. Except when she got to the dead bird.

“What is this?” she asked, in horror.

“Dead bird,” I said, cooly. “It’s in the book.”

Some people just don’t appreciate great cooking.