Adam Potter and the Pickles of Azkaban (Plus a Tiny Spell of Family History)

There comes a point in every young man’s life where he must make a decision. For Harry Potter these decisions are frequently epic: how might I pursue the man who killed my parents? How can I learn the secrets of my past? Potter’s decisions, however, pale next to the heart-wretching decision I had to make myself this afternoon: should I use the jars I just purchased from The Container Store to make nectarine jam or garden pickles?

Ever since Mes Confitures arrived in my mailbox, I’ve been plotting my first foray into jam-making. Clotilde’s been coaching me via e-mail, preparing me both intellectually and emotionally for the task at hand. I even have the recipe picked out: nectarine-apricot-ginger. Whole Foods has the freshest looking nectarines you’ve ever seen.

And yet an owl swooped through my window this afternoon with a note. “Make Pickles,” it said.

It just so happened that I had Nancy Silverton’s Sandwich book on my desk and that I recalled a recipe for garden pickles in the last section. These were the sort of pickles I’d always seen on people’s countertops or in gourmet groceries and never really thought to try: the kind with carrots and celery and cauliflower instead of cucumbers. The kind I always thought looked gross.

The recipe itself would require the purchase of a slew of ingredients I would probably never use again. Fennel seeds. Mustard seeds. Eye of newt. [Kidding. About the fennel.]

The jam recipe required only three ingredients: nectarines, apricots and ginger.

Yet the owl hooted. John Williams’ music played. Lolita morphed into Maggie Smith. I knew I had to make pickles.

* * * * * * *

Pickles are, in a way, part of my family’s heritage.

You see, I am the proud product of three highly unique maternal grandfathers that peppered–either genetically or emotionally–my childhood. Let me explain. My grandmother (mom’s mom) has been married thrice, widowed twice. Grandpa #1, Arthur, is my mom’s father and therefore my genetic grandpa. He died before I was born and I was named after him. The evidence suggests that I get my writing skills and my humor from him.

Grandpa #3, Roy, is alive and well and living with grandma currently in Delray Beach, FL. You can see him in my video “What Retired Folks Eat.” His charm and light-hearted touch add a warm glow to all family gatherings. I love to see him whenever I go home.

But it’s Grandpa #2 that concerns us now. Grandpa Joe, my childhood grandfather (for he was “grandpa” when I was born and stayed grandpa until he passed when I was 11) owned a pickle factory on Long Island: Stern’s Pickles. This article appeared in The New York Times in 1997 and was written by a member of the Stern/Steur family. It’s a great (and not terribly long) biography of the factory’s history and its place in the community:

“It was a red, barn-like structure with shelves stocked with several varieties of pickles and sauerkraut at first, but later with additional pickled products as hot peppers, tomatoes, onions and cauliflower and other specialty items as olives, mustard, Maraschino cherries, ketchup and jams. “Pickle Products for Particular People” was their slogan, and as their reputation grew, people traveled from all over the metropolitan area for a shopping expedition to this wondrous place.”

I actually remember going there several times with my grandmother in my chidlhood. The memories are hazy, but I know for sure their context: while my grandfather manned the factory, my grandmother sold superflous pickles at the Roosevelt Field Flea Market. This was my grandma at her most industrious: she sold pickles like no one else. She recalls these memories fondly and someday we’ll do an interview about it for the site.

Suffice it to say that pickles are part of my family’s heritage. And also suffice it to say that my family would collectively moan in dismay if they learned that I spent $26 to make pickles that don’t even look anything like pickles. But first the jars.

* * * * * * * *

You would think jars would be easy to find here in Atlanta. Since I was in the neighborhood the other day I went to the Cook’s Warehouse in midtown. They apologized. No jars.

“Any idea where I might get some?” I asked.

“Kroger,” they answered.

So I went to Kroger.

“Jars?” I asked.

“Sorry,” they said, “Don’t carry them anymore.”

Neither did several other places. And then it occurred to me:

IMG_1.JPG

The Container Store is one of those stores that’s great when you’re in it, but when you’re not in it you never think to go there. I never think to go to the Container Store. But it dawned on me today that they sell jars. See:

IMG_2.JPG

So I bought three: two for jam and one for pickles. When I payed, the cashier actually shared family history of her own.

“Making jam?” she asked.

“Yes,” I replied.

“Ahh, my grandmother used to make jam,” she said sweetly, “She made everything.”

“That’s sweet,” I said. “Did she make pickles too?”

The woman looked thoughtful for a second. “No,” she said, “I don’t think so.”

“Booyah,” I said, and got on my way.

* * * * * * * *

Ok this piece is a little too epic in scope. It’s 3:16 am! Let’s get on with the pickles…

Here’s my $26 worth of ingredients:

IMG_3.JPG

And here are the vegetables all ready to be pickled:

IMG_4.JPG

First step? Cut up the cauliflower. I got to work:

IMG_5.JPG

You know what’s interesting about this cauliflower? It’s not cauliflower. It’s iceberg lettuce. It was placed in the cauliflower section of the display. I assumed I would peel back the outer layer and see white brainy matter. I peeled back the outer layer. I peeled again. I kept peeling. No white brainy matter.

So much for the cauliflower.

It’s ok, I still had carrots, fennel, celery and a yellow pepper which I chopped up promptly:

IMG_6.JPG

Next I toasted the fennel seeds and bay leaves (I skimped on mustard seeds and peppercorns):

IMG_7.JPG

This went well until a bay leaf started burning. I promptly dumped it into a pot with water, champagne vinegar, sliced garlic, salt and Thyme:

IMG_8.JPG

I let this boil and then reduced it to a simmer. And do you know what it smelled like?

Wizards!

I’m being serious. If you could scratch and sniff the Harry Potter movie (which I saw later on and really enjoyed) I think those cavernous magic shops would smell like vinegar, garlic, and Thyme–especially Thyme. This is what little old ladies smell like too. That is, when you scratch them.

Now, after 15 minutes of simmering add your vegetables:

IMG_9.JPG

Let this cool and then add it to the jar:

IMG_10.JPG

How pretty is this? Let’s get a closer look:

IMG_11.JPG

Of course, I can’t taste it until tomorrow (these are 24 hour pickles) but I can hardly wait. And in the meantime I can always make jam. And now this wizard is off to bed.

A Cobbler Recipe for Cobbler People: Cherry and Apricot Cobbler

In this world there are pie people, tart people, and cobbler people.

Pie people, bless their souls, say things like “bless their souls.” They wear aprons and buy toilet paper at Sam’s club.

Tart people are a little edgier, but not much. Their hair is cropped and they wear wire-rimmed glasses. They don’t favor Yanni, but they don’t dislike him either. In Sex and the City terms, tart people are Miranda.

And then there are cobbler people. We’re the rustics, the hands-dirty type. We like finger painting and eating glue. We’re impatient. We don’t care what it looks like as long as it tastes good. We are cobbler people.

What I like about cobbler is that it is so easy. You make the fruit, you make the topping, and you’re done. It’s a great way, also, to try different fruits and to celebrate the season. Except cobbler people don’t say things like “celebrate the season.” Pie people say that.

A few days ago I spotted apricots and cherries at Whole Foods. Remember how I told you to keep your eyes out for what’s in season? This was one of those times. So tonight I scrambled over there, loaded up on ingredients, and came storming back ready to make my cobbler.

Here are my apricots:

IMG_1.JPG

Here are my cherries:

IMG_2.JPG

After washing the apricots and cherries, I began the pitting process. Pitting cherries is the pits. I tried various techniques, but ultimately relied on my fingers. It took a while. Here are the results:

IMG_4.JPG

And here are the pits:

IMG_5.JPG

And the Pips:

IMG_6.JPG

Now you halve and pit the apricots. This wasn’t too hard, I used a paring knife:

IMG_6.JPG

The recipe I used (from Epicurious) has you toss the fruit with sugar, cornstarch and (rather unconventionally) almond extract. After which I poured it into the baking dish:

IMG_7.JPG

It baked for 35 minutes at 400 degrees. It came out smelling great:

IMG_8.JPG

Meanwhile, I made the topping. This was easy too. First I whisked together the flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda and salt:

IMG_9.JPG

Then I cut up a stick of cold butter into squares. Notice how ingenious (and immodest) I am. I halved the butter lengthwise, flipped it over, halved it again (thus quartering it). Then I sliced down horizontally to get cubes:

IMG_10.JPG

Work the butter into the flour with your fingers until it resembles “coarse meal.” I never get this instruction because I am none too familiar with coarse meal. I imagine, though, that coarse meal looks like this:

IMG_11.JPG

Sam Neil, on the other hand, looks like this:

IMG_12.JPG

Here’s where our recipe gets sloppy. You pour in 3/4 cup of buttermilk and 3/4 cup of whipping cream:

IMG_13.JPG

Everything turns quite gloppy:

IMG_14.JPG

The cobblers I usually make have crumby toppings; this one would turn out biscuity. It made the actual toppping process (glopping the batter on to the fruit) a bit more difficult. “Drop dough by rounded tablespoonfulls” says the recipe. I managed ok, and it looked like this:

IMG_15.JPG

Then I baked for 40 minutes at 375 and it came out looking like this:

IMG_16.JPG

Pretty huh?

Now from the side:

IMG_17.JPG

Served us up a bowl:

IMG_18.JPG

And it was quite delicious. I was worried for a bit. I thought the cherries wouldn’t be cherryey enough. That the apricots wouldn’t be tart enough. That the topping wouldn’t be crumby enough. But nothing to worry about: everything tasted bright and terrific. This is a good early summer recipe. That is if you’re a cobbler person. And who wouldn’t want to be a cobbler person? We’re the best.

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:

IMG_1.JPG

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:

IMG_2.JPG

Then wash and dry the rhubarb:

IMG_3.JPG

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:

IMG_4.JPG

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):

IMG_5.JPG

IMG_6.JPG

Pour into the pie dish:

IMG_7.JPG

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

IMG_8.JPG

IMG_9.JPG

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

IMG_10.JPG

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

Pour the topping on the strawberry mixture:

IMG_11.JPG

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

IMG_12.JPG

Doesn’t that look delicious?

Here’s what it looks like in the bowl:

IMG_13.JPG

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.

Charitable Chicken Soup for My Roommate’s Soul

Poor Lauren. She has a cold. When Lauren gets colds they last for two weeks, minimum. And since I have been basking in my good health all weekend (excluding explicit epilogues), last night I called her cell phone on her way back from the airport and said: “Would you like me to make you chicken soup?”

She said: “Would you? That would be awesome.”

So I whipped out my Epicurious chicken soup recipe which, since it’s on the internet, I can reproduce for you here. It is not the most authentic chicken soup recipe: that would involve making your own chicken stock (a process that takes over four hours). But this recipe is incredibly delicious, incredibly nutrtious and–to quote the recipe itself: “perfect for a cold winter’s night.”

IMG_2.JPG

OLD-FASHIONED CHICKEN NOODLE SOUP

16 cups canned low-salt chicken broth (<--I just bought two quarts worth and that was plenty) 1 3.5 lb chicken, cut into 8 pieces 1/2 cup chopped onion 2 carrots, peeled, thinly sliced 2 celery stalks, sliced 8 oz dried wide egg noodles 1/2 cup finely chopped fresh parsley (<--I subbed dill for the parsley because I love dill in chicken soup) 1. Combine chicken broth and chicken in heavy large pot. Bring to boil. Reduce heat; cover partially and simmer until chicken is cooked through, about 20 minutes. Using tongs, transfer chicken to large bowl. Cool chicken and broth slightly. Discard skin and bones from chicken. Cut chicken meat into bite size pieces and reserve. Spoon fat off top of chicken broth. 2. Return broth to simmer. Add onions, carrots and celery. Simmer until vegetables soften, about 8 minutes. 3. Stir in noodles, parsley (or dill) and reserved chicken. Simmer until noodles are tender, about 5 minutes. Season soup to taste with salt and pepper. It was really the last step that made this particular soup taste better than any I've made before. I don't think I ever use enough salt, so this time I was really generous and, according to Lauren, "this is the best one you've made by far."

Cobbler Sex City

Nothing says sex like apple cobbler. The bubbling sticky apple juices; the savory, buttery cobbler topping. Sometimes, when I’m feeling lonely, I break out a bottle of wine, turn up the Barry Manilow and bake myself an apple cobbler. I pour it over my head like Jennifer Beals in Flashdance and scream in agony. Apple cobbler is hot.

Last night, however, my cobbler and I had company. Friends came over to watch “Sex and the City” and, rather grudgingly, I spooned them up heaping portions of sex cobbler with a side of vanilla ice cream. Does this make me a voyeur? Or does this make my friends exhibitionists?

Either way, the recipe I used comes from Saveur magazine which usually contains recipes so exotic and forbidding that you can’t cook anything without a vast supply of squirrel meat and pigeon brains. Luckily, the most exotic cobbler requirement was nutmeg.

Due to time constraints, I am unable to reproduce every minute detail of my cobbler making. Suffice it to say, there were apples:

IMG_022223.JPG

I was forced to use Granny Smith instead of the suggested Cortland. All Oedipal implications of Granny apples in a sex cobbler shall be stifled.

After coring, peeling and chastizing the apples I sliced them and tossed them in a combination of: granulated sugar, brown sugar, ground cinnamon, ground ginger, freshly grated nutmeg, ground cloves, honey, apple cider and the juice of one lemon. I then baked them for 30 minutes, producing this lovely image:

IMG_022222.JPG

While they cooled, I sifted together 2 cups flour, 3/4 cup sugar, 1/2 tsp salt and 1/4 tsp baking powder:

IMG_01.JPG

I then cut in 10 tbsps of cold butter, stirred in 1/2 cup of rolled oats and 6 tbsps of heavy cream. I poured the combo on top and it looked like this:

IMG_01.JPG

And then I baked it for 45 minutes in an oven at 375 degrees. People started arriving.

“What smells so good?” they asked, removing articles of clothing.

“People!” I yelled, “This is not Eyes Wide Shut. Put your clothes back on.”

Finally, halfway through “Sex and the City,” the cobbler was done:

IMG_2.JPG

At this point, the living room couches were humming with sexual tension.

“BRING US COBBLER!” the guests demanded, breaking out in a communal cobbler sweat.

I served them up sexy bowls:

IMG_33.JPG

They snapped them quickly out of my hands and began feeding each other cobbler with such velocity and unbridled energy that several neighbors came over to ask what the fuss was about.

“Sorry,” I said, “It won’t happen again.”

“Is that cobbler?” they asked, and began streaking their way through the apartment.

“All naked neighbors please leave!” I shouted, to no avail.

The following image is just one of many examples of cobbler lust at its worst. In this ribald sex pic, AG reader “Carrie” spoon feeds cobbler to AG model “Andrew.” This is not safe for work!

IMG_32.JPG

9 months from now the Children of the Cobbler will be born. Their ravenous cobbler appetites will wreak havoc across all 50 cobbler-serving US states. Cobbler corruption will breed a new race of cobbler eaters; stalking their way across the country thirsting for bubbling apple juices and savory, buttery toppings.

Which is why, in the future, I’ll save my cobbler-making for those magic nights home alone. Just me, Barry Manilow, and 12 simmering apples slathered on my head. What a feeling!

A Mediocre Tropical Smoothie from The Barefoot Contessa

I have a love/hate relationship with The Barefoot Contessa.

On the one hand, her recipes are wonderful. Of all my cookbooks, hers produce the best and most consistent results: a terrific roast chicken, a great recipe called Pasta, Pesto, Peas that is as heavy on the flavor as it is the alliteration. Her desserts are buttery marvels: buttery in that they all contain 80 sticks of butter, but well worth it: luscious lemon squares, decadent brownies. You get the idea.

On the other hand, my political leanings make her TV show difficult to watch. Driving around the Hamptons in her BMW, chortling with her high-society friends, and flaunting her own unique brand of entitlement (“I always buy my chickens straight from the farm”) the Barefoot Contessa is a noxious hybrid of classism and greed. Case in point, after a shopping spree, her friend says: “Ina, how could you buy so much?” Ina’s response: “That’s what rich husbands are for!”

Which is all to say that earlier this afternoon I followed her recipe for a Tropical Smoothie. I purchased the following items from Whole Foods:

– 1 mango

– 1 papaya

– 1 cup yogurt

– fresh orange juice

– Milk

In addition to the items I already had at home:

– Honey

– Banana

– Cat (just kidding)

I then proceeded to follow her directions (which you can get at foodtv.com, but after reading this you may not want to) and liquified everything in the blender.

Lauren was my taster and she said: “Mm, it’s good.” But not in such a way that suggested conviction.

I tried it myself and shrugged my shoulders.

“Eh.”

In Ina’s defense, she says the fruit must be incredibly ripe for this to taste good. My mango was ripe but my papaya was not. I guess that’s what rich husbands are for.

Martha Stewart’s Pecan Chocolate Chunk White Chocolate Chip Cookies

So despite my self-proclaimed ineptitude in the kitchen, I do have a knack for all things sweet and desserty. I’m a baker, not a fighter.

One of my favorite cookie recipes comes from America’s most beloved white collar criminals / domestic goddesses, Marthalicious Stewart. Available on her website for no charge (or the occassional insider trading tip) you will find the recipe for some wonderfully delicious cookies. I served these cookies to friends this weekend and their reactions were as follows:

“Mmmm!”

“Ohhhh!”

“Wheeee!”

Clearly, these are some really good cookies. Since posting the actual recipe may cause legal trouble for The Amateur Gourmet (who, despite three years in law school, has no idea how the law actually works), here’s the link:

http://www.marthastewart.com/page.jhtml?type=content&id=recipe3472&search=true&resultNo=3

And, for your viewing pleasure, some pictures:

IMG_0973.JPG

IMG_0974.JPG

IMG_0975.JPG