Sunday, September 28, 2008

Crepes follow up, burgers

Inspired by Michele's suggestion of savory crepes with chevre and spinach, we spent this weekend's breakfasts in with a variation of the recipe I posted: cracked pepper cilantro wheat crepe (nix the powdered sugar and vanilla, sub in wheat flour for the AP and up the milk by a splash, plus obviously the fresh cilantro and about a 1/4 tsp of cracked pepper) wrapped around eggs and a combination of the following ingredients:
  • roasted red pepper
  • zucchini
  • summer squash
  • fresh tomato
  • green onion
  • fresh jalapeno
  • bacon
  • sharp cheddar
They are seriously more awesome than they have a right to be.

Also, oh man, we've been drooling over the burgers at Mustard for the past couple of months even though (as always) we're less interested in the actual burger you get beside your fresh greens than the various potentials it represents. The actual thing is a bit too oily to eat comfortably and easily five times too large, but the potential burger... oh what summer days I have whiled away dreaming of its lofty peaks.

The beef should strike a perfect balance of fat and salt, should be just a little too hot to eat comfortably, pressed between thick sliced bread glanced with the slightest bit of toastiness, the garlic mayo piquant but mellow on the palate, the onions toothsome and just under bursting with balsamic vinegar in every pore, a heavy slice of a tomato for which refrigeration is no more than vine myth, the butter lettuce has been replaced for the duration of the season by fresh arugula, and those accompanying fries actually pretty much exactly the same as they are in real life, tossed in black pepper and sea salt and thyme. Of course since this is a dream burger it also has a blue cheese--let's say Gorgonzola--instead of cheddar and the whole bacon thing (which I'm just going to say I find generally unnecessary, though you might revoke my guy credentials immediately) has evaporated and it's all served hot to me on my couch where I'm already on the second disc of the third season of Buffy (which aired ten frickin' years ago, I might add).


Oh, and all that stuff up there about the dream burger? Yeah, D and I have been making those like once a week for something around a dollar a pop. Take that, restaurants we can't afford.

I haven't been taking pictures of the burgers for no reason I can discern but here are some garlic fries in pre-production. I like to think that the oil is a feature:

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Caramel Banana Crepes

We got to meet a few of our kitcheny wedding gifts face to face while we were still out in California wrapped up in the actual business of getting married this summer. As you might imagine, three thousand miles from our kitchen was not the most ideal place to receive cookware, but suddenly there this stuff was, big and real and heavier than most of the bags we brought put together. It's not that we didn't want this stuff, we'd all but filled the aisles with drool over it all while still in that heady process of registering for gifts, but we wanted it here, in New York, not all the way out in California. No matter how nice the digital scales and the salad spinners and the bamboo nonskid cutting boards, I do not even want to imagine passing through security with all of this stuff, let alone trying to stow it in checked luggage. I mean, have you seen the prices they're charging for checked luggage these days? That is some serious business right there.

So we took the sneaky way out. We returned it all. Every piece went back to the stores in California and we started making our elaborate plans to buy it all again once we made it back home. And then there were the impediments. First of all, the Bed Bath & Beyond in Ithaca was closed for months for these mythical repairs (I mean, when they reopened again, nothing had changed in the slightest degree. Going into the new store was like walking back in time to before they were closed only nobody could actually care or tell. (Can I just say, while I'm on the topic, how weird it is that every big box store is identical to the other members of their franchises inside, down to shelf height and smell? Do they have like independent arbiters who pass from town to town ensuring that every Bed Bath & Beyond smells like new shower curtains and cloves or is this just a natural thing inherent to their stock?)) and when they reopened, they still didn't have everything we had returned. Some of it we had to flex on and some we just kept searching for until we found what we wanted. Our crepe pan falls into that latter category.

Crepes weren't anything I ever really thought about. This is not to say that I didn't like them--I did, but vaguely. They were always just sort of immaterial, the jet engine to some eggy-proteined breakfast payload. If they got the mix from plate to mouth swaddled up tight, they were forgotten before my teeth closed across them. Dana was the believer, she insisted that home made crepes could transcend the medium and become something wonderful themselves. I can now report that I have been converted.

Owning a pan built especially for crepes makes a man do crazy things. Things like waking up early in the service of crepe production, things like getting--nay, jumping--out of bed specifically because he sees crepes in his future and he wants that future to be inside him. Wait wait. That's... Okay, so that sentence got away from me, but c'mon guys, I'm just talkin bout crepes (we can dig it)*. ANYWAY, what I'm saying is I [heart] crepes now because I make them and they are awesome.
The best recipe Dana and I have found so far is also one of the simplest.
  • 1 cup flour
  • 1/4 cup powdered sugar
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1 cup of milk
  • 2 eggs
  • 3 tablespoons of melted butter
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract (doubled from the original, I like me some vanilla)
Mix thoroughly (maybe even blend it for the ultra-smooth consistency you're looking for, though I've had decent luck with a wire whisk so far) and pour as little as possible (you want it to spread out over the whole pan without laying too thick on the surface, I have the best luck with a bit less than 1/3 of a cup) into a hot oiled crepe pan. Tilt the pan to coat and cook until the crepe starts to get bubbly (about a minute) then flip, cook for a few seconds more, and remove from heat.

Meanwhile you've been doing this other stuff, right?:
  • 1/4 cup butter
  • 1/4 cup packed brown sugar
  • 1/4 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp nutmeg
  • 1/4 cup half-and-half
  • 3 bananas, halved lengthwise (down from 6 (6!) in the original)
Melt the butter in a large skillet, stir in the brown sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg and half-and-half. Cook until slightly thickened. Add half the bananas at a time to skillet; cook for 2 to 3 minutes, spooning sauce over them. Remove from heat.

Combine it all and you've got yourself the kind of breakfast that will keep you from doing anything else the whole day except for gloating that you own a crepe pan and you, like, ate your future or something? I'm not sure what I was trying to say up there exactly. Okay, it's really really sweet, I give you that, but it's so intensely delicious much of your mouth may actually be eradicated AND YOU WILL NOT MIND.

*: Yes, I made a Shaft joke. Yes, I am a huge dork.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Stories of Long Ago: Chocolate Tasting

Now that the semester is fully going and our classes are demanding a LOT of time, I'm looking back fondly on the end-of-summer time glut and the ways we made use of it to start branching out with food.

One of the best things we did, I think, was spending an entire morning and some of the afternoon walking around Ithaca's downtown buying every brand of high-quality chocolate we could find. We tried to go for a range, from a 32% cacao milk chocolate (an Art Bar, which describes itself as exquisite though I wouldn't necessarily agree with its assessment), all the way up to a ridiculous 88% cacao bar put out by Endangered Species Chocolate (which, I'm sad to report, refers to some sort of commitment to helping endangered species and not actually to a construction of chocolate so rare it qualifies as an animal).

This day of chocolate shopping was in preparation for our beginning of semester/we just spent two weeks cleaning the house/end of summer/we got married/thesis defense blowout which drew a modest 15 people or so to our house for the height of both summer beers and Ithaca heat. The chocolate tasting was a last minute addition inspired by a chocolate-tasting guide we stumbled on recently and it was good--in fact, it was great--maybe one of the high points of the evening along with the birthday dirge we sang for Eisha at midnight.
See, what made the chocolate tasting work in a room full of mostly writers was what makes everything work in that crowd: giving them pens and encouraging them to use their words. In this case, we had everyone write an adjective describing each chocolate's flavor on the sheet which had the name and cacao percentage for each piece. So the sheet for that Endangered Species 88% has coconutty and grainy and woody and dirty scribbled on it, the 32% Art Bar has S'mores written in big letters. Between those two extremes we had a 55% Equal Exchange bar (like a medicine, but a good tasting one), a Scharffen Berger Semisweet 62% (Simply the best! and This chocolate had sex with my sister!), a 70% from Green & Black's (Hickory-grilled and Reminds me of a Tom Hanks movie), and Dagoba's New Moon 74% (tangy and yes, of course, the homage: I thought these things smelled bad... on the outside).

The sheets, which have been collecting dust on my desk for over a month now, are covered in scribbles, the distribution of which I assume gives a sense of preference. The Scharffen Berger bar (part of a gigantic two pound baking slab we bought a while before the party and will probably not use up in the next six months) was my favorite and its sheet is filled with comments, many of which are indiscernible chicken scratch but, I think, positive? But it seems like the favorite in this mode is our EXTREME dark Endangered Species bar, the original details of which I can barely make out for all of the writing on the sheet.

The morning after the chocolate tasting, faced with six plates full of dark chocolate bits, we decided to make some dark chocolate banana pancakes and seriously, you guys, if you ever find yourself spending thirty dollars on chocolate, you could do worse than using up the excess making these:

Okay, now I'm off to grade papers for the rest of the day. Lucky me!

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Bonus Pictures: Later Summer Dahlias

Up until this August I didn't know what dahlias were. I'd heard the name, but I can guarantee you that there were no flowers that looked like this anywhere near my house when I was growing up. I absolutely can't stop buying these at the farmer's market.

But really, can you blame me?

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Long Weekend Living: Bismarcks

School is back in session as of this week so we're back to really basic meals every weekday. Already our kitchen is starting to reflect our increased workload. The cupboard over the microwave is jammed with cereal boxes and mini bagels, we've been flying through turkey bacon and coffee. It's all ease of use and speed, out-the-door kinds of food. Only a week into the semester and already the baking supplies are starting to gather dust.

Since I got my first stack of papers on Friday and want nothing more right now than to not grade them, today brought some delectable opportunities. Obviously foremost was the prospect of actually not grading for a little while longer; but only slightly less important was a morning when we don't have to be anywhere in particular and won't. And you know what that means. Well, you probably don't, but I do. Fancy breakfast!

A recent post on Pete Bakes! had us on the hunt for a baked pancake type dish, a craving for which the Silver Palate provided its fix-it-all solution: make something delicious, and then soak that bad boy--whatever it is--in just gobs and gobs of butter. The Palate's Bismarck recipe is dairy wastefulness at its finest. It starts with putting an entire stick of butter in the oven in a cast iron pan and, when it's melted, dumping the otherwise simple batter into this frothing yellow vat of hot oil you created like some kind of classic horror movie villain. The whole time I was spooning batter into the pan and watching it disappear under literally half an inch of butter I was thinking "this is disgusting. I love this. This is disgusting." After the cake rises and starts to brown, you pull it out of the pan and, I'm serious here, POUR THE BUTTER OUT OF IT. While it's in the oven, the cake magically transforms into a hot little dough swimming pool for tiny eccentric billionaires which you have to drain before eating.

The whole cooking process reminded me somehow of watching the inner workings of those mini-doughnut machines at our local fair when I was a kid, watching the dough fall into the roiling tumultuous oil which had gone thick and nearly opaque with castoff dough and cinnamon sugar. Witnessing both these processes of nearly inedible fluff transform into recognizable food was somehow simultaneously revolting and tantalizing. I wanted to back slowly away in both cases and make my way out of the building, to find something genuine and earthen and lay in it, to just be in it for a while, far from the gruesome transmigration of grease and sugar into body fat and stomach acid, but also finding that the process itself, the creation of this mutant horror, speaks to something primal in me. Maybe it's something akin to the poet voice that Lyrae speaks of, the voice in your head that makes poets look at the awful thing, makes her witness every facet of the degradation, because real experience lies within it and her obligation to the craft of poetry relies on that rare glimpse at the absolute. Only for me, I guess, it's just that I'm dropping things in hot oil and then eating them, so I admit, maybe it's not quite as honorable an urge.

Anyway, I don't continuously return to the Silver Palate cookbook because its recipes are awful, I do it because in some way I feel big when I cook them. They're so unabashedly fatty, so anti-health, that I can't contain my sense of devious joy at the results. This one wasn't overwhelmingly delicious--the taste of butter overrode every other flavor in the actual cake--but it might have been. It's the potential of the genius recipe that draws me back. That maybe at some point the meeting of butter and sugar and fruit will result in something so much more than the sum of their parts that some tiny door will open inside me and I will be changed. Okay, so maybe it's not that good a cookbook. But it's good, and excess butter or not this was decently tasty and tremendously beautiful, so I guess that's good enough for now.

Seriously, though, if anyone could hook me up with the recipe that'll open the door and all that stuff, uh, yeah, that'd be great.

Monday, September 1, 2008

Eggplant Parmesan

Sweating the eggplant roundsThis Sunday, already late for the end of the farmer's market until all the way to, like, Tuesday, Dana and I decided to try to rustle up the ingredients for the eggplant tomato stacks we'd spied in the latest Williams-Sonoma catalog. Don't ask me why we get the Williams-Sonoma catalog delivered to our house, we just do. It's some sort of penance for past sins, maybe, to have this decadent, gorgeously photographed, foldout of food porn at our fingertips once a month and not be able to afford even a measly olivewood cellar to hide our salt's accursed nakedness from the neighbors. Anyway, that's another story. Luckily for us, the people at the Accidental Farms booth still had a few glossy purple eggplants unpacked that they grudgingly sold us so the eggplant tomato stacks were on.

Tonight, after the hussle of my first set of classes of the semester was laid to rest, we brought out the recipe for the eggplant tomato stacks we'd been so craving on Sunday and let loose a resounding and worthwhile "Eh." For while the pictures are beautiful enough, the possibilities of such a stack are limited by their sheer verticality. It's one thing to layer flavors, it's another thing to layer and bake slippery ingredients in hopes of making the whole batch sing. And maybe it's just the pessimist in me but I can't imagine myself wringing true flavors out of farm-quality vegetables by bending them toward the sky, tossing them under the broiler, and thinking of England. Okay, sure, I know there's nothing wrong with modern architectural gastronomy at its core, it's just that I wasn't in the mood for its fuss and bother. No no, a satisfying dinner tonight was going to take a whole different style of dish. Something classic and hearty that could really reflect this end of summer flush that I've been feeling.

It was Dana who suggested a variation of this Eggplant Parmesan and I think she should be canonized for it or her name should forever grace the refrigerator in purple Sharpie or, you know, something. What we delivered to the table was not just any eggplant parm but one rich with ripe roma tomatos, buttery eggplant with all the bitterness sweated out of it, and a bubbling crust of mozzarella and romano cheese. This was everything good about late summer baked into a pyrex dish. This was everything hoity-toity stacks wish they could be.
You wish, stackSo you can just eat it, Williams-Sonoma. Keep your stupid salt cellar. As long as I have summer produce, I don't need you.