Thursday, January 22, 2009

Links

Before Christmas, the super-cool site Apartment Therapy (WARNING: ADDICTIVE) was running this huge contest series in which they were essentially giving away the whole world one piece at a time. Since Dana and I are extremely cheap (or was that poor? I can never remember which), we entered almost all of the sweepstakes for kitchen gadgets and plywood chairs that retail for eight hundred dollars (seriously).

I never counted but I would guess I must have filled out their sweepstakes form a shameless forty or fifty times. Name, address, blah, blah, blah, the usual stuff. Since I'm a respectable citizen of the modern age, I copied and pasted everything I could, of course. I learned the shortcut to switch between tabs in Firefox and then filled in one form field at a time for whole minutes of my life. At the end of each form, it would ask if I wanted to sign up for any of their newsletters. Mostly, no, thanks, I don't want to receive more useless email. Except I did eventually sign up for The Kitchn, Apartment Therapy's semi-weekly cooking newsletter, after being asked thirty times and now, something like six weeks in, this thing is killing me!

This week's letter just came out and let me paraphrase it for you:

You know what you've never tasted? PASTA!

Why? Because you purchase it. At the store. Like a sucker.

Why not spend your afternoon making it? It's simple, check out this completely readable post about it that's full of close-up photographs and is, we're not joking here, hardcorefood porn

Seriously, check it out. Do this. We'll judge you if you don't.


So... now I want to make pasta. Just an update for you on the state of my obsessive food mind. Also, I kind of just wanted to link you to The Kitchn because it's an awesome site that I have spent way too many hours drooling over.

But... but... homemade pasta! Come on!

Monday, January 19, 2009

It's Turkey!

There's this essential thing that happens when you love food, love cooking, and are out of work so long you start to forget what it means to wake up and leave the house: you start to think really time-intensive dishes are within reach for a normal dinner, maybe even reasonable. You think, why, this five hours of prep work, this is the work a practical mind would undertake, the kind of work a wise person would do (when they weren't solving all the world's problems, obviously), in fact it would be impractical not to spend the morning, the afternoon, and part of the evening cooking dinner. How could we refuse this meal? It would be a crime! They would come to our door and take us into custody for foolishness. And then what would we eat? Stale bread, the dessicated body of a mouse, maybe a decades-old tums but we'd have to split it. We have to do this.

You've been hearing versions of this tale from me a lot lately, this is why we made the challah, how we put together those resplendent cookies and carne asada before Christmas, it's also how we ended up with three (kind of failed) baguettes earlier this week (more about those in a later post). But this, friends, this is the story of how the two of us found ourselves, at 7pm on an ordinary Sunday night, with twelve pounds of roast turkey heaped onto a serving plate.

I can still validate every step of this journey. Piece by piece, it checks out as completely reasonable, I just can't put together how a dozen reasonable steps and a large dash of extra time can transform our lives into some sort of paean to oven heat and hearth bread. This is one of those mystery formulas, I guess. It starts with our yen for good Thanksgiving leftovers and our acknowledgment that going to friends' for the holiday would probably not allow us the opportunity to keep them. Perhaps too conveniently, Butterball turkeys just happened to be on sale at Aldi (have I talked about Aldi on this blog? No? Well, trust me, I will) the last week of November. Of course then we had the sort of buyer's remorse that everyone goes through after Thanksgiving. You know the drill: you build up this altar to turkey, you wait for it, you salivate over it, it fills your dreams from Halloween on, but when you're finally at the table with knife and fork in either hand, after you've folded that red checked napkin into your shirt front, cocked your tiny bowler back on your head, and tucked into the coveted the lusted for the perfect dream of turkey, it's not nearly as glorious as you thought. And actually it's kind of dry in spots and is this undercooked or is it some kind of anatomy lesson I wasn't even nearly prepared for? Even with eyes as big as November you get like half a pound in and you're done, you're done for a while. For a year, you say, and put a hand on either side of your stomach, a whole friggin year. So suddenly there is no dirtier word than leftovers, no mouthful of anything more unpalatable than mashed potatoes or stuffing or... oh god, don't even say the T word.

Fast forward to New Years and it's like a government-sponsored brain wipe for everyone concerned. It's like, Turkey? I don't mind if I do. So we pull the little butterball out of deep freeze. And we wait. And we wait. And everyday the turkey gets bigger in our heads, gets juicier, by day three we're imaginging that the bird will come out of the oven basically gilded, baked with the sort of skill ancient monks might exact on their calligraphy. By day four it's into the brine with peppercorns, bay leaves, and garlic, day five we're rinsing, we're patting dry, desperate to devour this thing. I do not hesitate to call us frenzied. We were veritably foaming at the mouth. We plugged in the thermometer, set the alarm for 165 and leaned over the oven wringing our hands. So did it satisfy? By jove it did not dissapoint....


Jealous? Who's forgetting how miserable he was after Thanksgiving dinner now?

Wait, wait, I think that's actually still me. Whatever, man, I got leftovers to eat!

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Bonus Picture: Breakfast


Here's Dana enjoying a breakfast in and the last of our loaf of challah (which, as I said before, made a wicked awesome french toast). Of note, the orange-juice laden Belikin beer glasses we brought back from our honeymoon in Belize, our strawberry sugar dish, and the cat in Dana's lap who has been continually desperate for attention since we got back from California about a week ago. At breakfast every morning, she twines around our ankles until she remembers that she can squeeze herself between the edge of the table and our bodies then she promptly jumps up and stares lovingly comatose either at a space under our chins or just past our foreheads. It's... kind of intense. And weird. Kind of intense and weird.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Challah

I think we've done something very very bad. Well, okay, a couple of things. The other one, the one I didn't mean to indicate, is that we bought an antique. No, I know, "What the dickens could ever be wrong with that?" you say. And I'm like "Nothing, Sherlock. Superficially, this is a solid life-affirming thing that we've done wherein we traded (increasingly imaginary) paper money for well-made furniture which happens to predate our human bodies." But then think about it. We've been married, what, like 7 months? Almost 8? And we've already gone from ogling Ikea furniture online to finding and purchasing a gen-u-ine art deco china cabinet? Nay, good sir, I tell you truly that this art a bad step for our wallets and for my very credibility as an impish and irresponsible man child!

But let me tell you this: it is so pretty. For serious.

The first thing I was going to confess before I went and blew all of that suspense shamelessly reveling in our recent purchase was that we made our first loaf of yeast bread, a sweet, soft, dastardly loaf of challah. While Ithaca outside was essentially unfit for human life, we cooled our heels in our cozy apartment alternately petting cats and playing our new Wii Fit while the timer ran down the fermentation process, then the rising process, then the post-degas proofing process, then the resting before baking, then the first leg of baking, then the second, and finally, like Santa Claus stumbling from the chimney drunk on rye, out of our oven rose a golden loaf of the most gorgeous bread I had ever seen in my life. You know how they say that every mother thinks her baby is the cutest in the world (although sometimes, man, she's just gotta know), well that's me with this loaf. I'm starry eyed, clutching it to my breast to feel the subaudible crackle of crust, poring over the crumb until I'm satisfied that this is, in point of fact, the perfect distribution of bubbles to bread that has ever been, and I am its maker. Well, Dana and I anyway.
But it's gorgeous and it's really good, too. It's a little sweet, soft at the center and a bit crunchy at the tips of the crust, it's a challah. Do you see where this is a bad thing yet? No? Let me lay it out: it's like two days later and it's gone. Poof! As if by gastronomical magic, our beautiful loaf has been consumed, has been disappeared. Most we just straight up ate by any excuse possible: "It's 9 degrees in the middle of the day, I guess we'd better have a slice of bread!" And the remains we turned into some kick-ass french toast this morning. But now? No more bread. So here it is, Friday night, and suddenly I find myself hooking together a Pate Fermentee--the number one cause of all french breads--and I'm just getting started. We've got everything to put together english muffins? You don't say! This cheddar-chive torpedo takes three weeks to pre-ferment? Well what's your February look like?

Last year it was pizzas, a couple years back enchiladas, we're 16 days into 2009 and I'm already ready to declare it the year of the bread.

This is all ultimately down to the Peter Reinhart's The Bread Baker's Apprentice. That book's luscious photographs and tantalizingly opaque descriptions of bread composition are to blame for this blight. A mere ten minutes flipping the oversized high-gloss pages and I'm powerless to resist the call of the oven. It was his book American Pie that led me to my pizza dough recipe last year and I think given this latest interest, I shall never forgive him.

Anyway, here's his recipe for super-duper challah:

4 cups flour
2 Tbsp sugar
1 tsp salt
1 1/3 tsp instant yeast
2 Tbsp vegetable oil
2 large eggs, slightly beaten
2 large egg yolks, slightly beaten
7-9 ounces of room temperature water
2 egg whites, whisked until frothy (for egg wash)

Stir together the dry ingredients in one bowl, the wet in another, add wet to dry and mix until combined.

Sprinkle your counter with flour and knead for 10 minutes or use the dough hook on your mixer at medium low for 6. Your dough should be soft, supple, but not sticky and should be around 80 degrees.

Transfer the dough to an oiled bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Ferment for an hour. After the hour has passed and just to make sure you don't see a movie or something, knead the dough for like two minutes and then put it back in the bowl and let it rise again.

Remove the dough and split it into 3 equal pieces. Cover with a towel and set aside for ten minutes. Roll the pieces into strands of the same length and braid, transfer to a pan, brush them with the egg wash and cover loosely with plastic wrap.

Proof for 60-75 minutes, brush with egg wash again, then bake at 350 for 20 minutes, rotate 180 degrees and bake for another 20-45 minutes until it comes out of the oven glowing and so beautiful you can barely restrain your tears. Set it on a cooling rack, then don't eat it for like an hour because you're a massochist.

DeliciousLater, go buy the book and flip through it until you're also a bread slave, then tell me which ones are good so I don't have to spend my time separating all that succulent wheat from the chaff (I'm looking at you, Potato Rosemary Bread).

Monday, January 12, 2009

Apple Pie!

For Thanksgiving in Philadelphia this year, Dana whipped up this fantastic pie from the Moosewood Restaurant Dessert book: a layered pecan and pumpkin contraption (which quickly got named the marriage pie) which united the best parts of the classic holiday pies (their nom-worthy ingredients) and mitigated the worst parts (there's just so MUCH of them, I mean, come on!). It was a huge hit, and completely delicious, and we left Philly swollen and fat with adulation or, like, turkey or something.

This Christmas, flush with the pie's success, we made a couple more, but this time at my parents' house in California. Again, a total home run, even though I think I inadvertently just set up some sort of narrative tension that indicated it would not be. It was. It was awesome and gooey and wonderful and everything it had been the first time around, even though we used a different recipe for the crust (my Mom's never-fail pie crust which she pulled out of the Better Homes & Gardens cookbook 40 years ago. Ingredients: Shortening, flour, water, salt, delicious), and made it two or three days before we actually got around to eating it. Anyway, it's consistently amazing and can totally beat up your dad's pie and I'll have to post the recipe for it in a bit, but not now. Right now, I wanted to talk about this other pie we made, one of my old favorites and (amazingly) something I'd never made before: a classic apple pie.



Maybe it's a total American cliche, but there's something perfect about apple pie. To take something sweet and juicy, cover it in sugar, and bake it soft inside a pastry shell is so inspired, so complete, so right an activity that you simply cannot go wrong. You can find recipes for these pies anywhere (I got my starter recipe here, by the way) but the process is essentially ordained. The whole thing is so ingrained in the American subconscious that actually working the steps is like finding yourself behind the prongs of a dowsing rod. You cannot make a step that is wrong for itself, close your eyes and mix, your blood will lead you home. From Martha's recipe, we added a bit more sugar to the apples, a bit more lemon juice, forgot the sprinkling sugar, baked it a bit longer, but it didn't matter. I feel like apple pie isn't something you bake, isn't something you measure and level, it's something you create from three pounds of apples and the inexplicable succulence of possibility.



And if it doesn't turn out as gorgeous or delicious as mine did?

Well then probably you weren't listening to the universe singing in your veins. And I'm better than you are and in your face and all of that stuff.

But it will.

I promise.

And I'm a poet and I'm a cook so my promises mean nothing.