If Yan Could Cook. . .

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The Great Puff Disaster

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For some reason, I thought the best way to spend my birthday was to make a gazillion cream puffs. If you recall, I was extremely pleased at how easy it is to make puffs of any sort. I was punished for speaking too soon. To the kids watching at home – greasing the pan is EXTREMELY important.

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Using the same recipe as the link above (bring one cup water and one stick butter to a boil, add one cup flour and pull away from the sides, blend with four eggs and pipe or spoon into balls, 400 degrees F for twenty minutes), I ruined around fifty puffs by not greasing the pans and sheets on which they were being baked. This left me with about three dozen puff-scraps, and a boyfriend prepared to run to the grocery store repeatedly to lessen my dismay.

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Solution number one: stuff them with a mixture of onions, cooked spinach, and feta!

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Solution number two: stuff them with a mixture of mashed potatoes, sour cream, bacon, and green onions!

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Solution number three: for the absolute worst ones, top with finely chopped pineapple, mango, and strawberries, and cream whipped with sugar, cinnamon, and vanilla.

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Solution number four: distract party guests with additional strawberries and cream!

Happily, I have since then managed to make functional puffs. Actually, there have been several parties since then, none of them noteworthy (an overwhelmingly fishy “Brazillian stew”, a soup with too many sweet vegetables, various remakes already blogged about), one of which included frozen profiteroles (puffs filled with ice cream) and chocolate sauce. I intend to make them again and have the appropriate pictures taken, although—

although, I am about to uproot my whole life and move elsewhere. In a week and a half. Abandoning all I hold dear and moving into a tiny, noisy, smelly room over a grocery store and facing a McDonalds, whose kitchen I cannot being to imagine. Which is not to say that takes precedence over chocolate and ice cream concoctions.

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Written by skimfu

August 11, 2009 at 11:20 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Two Uses for Pesto: Roasted Vegetable Sandwiches & Pesto Linguine with Pancetta

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Pesto is an easy, simple, and clean way to remind your blender that you care. You know that it saves time on chopping and mincing. You know it truly integrates flavours for pastes and bases. And you know that it can take and grind a finger on a bad day. Oh yes, you know who’s boss, but how often do you truly express your subservience, or give sacrifice to its grudging benevolence?

I buy my blender flowers each week. Then we have tea.

First off, darken the desired amount of pine nuts and garlic gloves in a bit of oil.

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Two or three bunches of basil, leaves only, go in with just enough oil to blend. Too much raw olive oil can overpower with its soapy, horticultural taste. Add the pine nuts and garlic, along with lots of shredded or grated parmesan or parm-reg, and use the blender on one of its coarser (lower) settings. Be extremely liberal with the cheese. When was the last time someone told you there was too much cheese in the sauce? Never? I thought so.

These pictures were taken during my pancetta phase, when I felt that salty cured pork held the universe together. Toss the sauce with hot cooked linguine and crushed pancetta bits.

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The same pesto is the key to great roasted veggie sandwiches. Toss cubes of eggplant, red and yellow peppers, and zucchini in olive oil and salt (a touch of balsamic vinegar and oregano or rosemary works too, if that’s your thing), then lay them in one layer on a baking tray. If they overlap too much, they’ll steam and get soggy. Put them in the oven at 375 degrees F until they shrivel a bit. If you’re used to roasting root vegetables, keep in mind that these vegetables cook very quickly – it should take less than twenty minutes.

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Use a fun kind of bread. Here we have an overly thick, onion-studded ciabatta. Spread one side with pesto.

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Build your sandwich with roasted veggies and an ample heaping of feta or a creamy chevre. Goat cheese is, of course, tastier and more structurally sound. And sometimes all I need from a sandwich is that it doesn’t fall apart. Just like life.

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Written by skimfu

August 11, 2009 at 10:09 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

L’Entrecôte Attempt #1: Tarragon & Parsley Butter Sauce

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Le Relais de l’Entrecôte, mentioned earlier, is part of a family of restaurants in Europe that serve steak frites in a magnificent, unforgettable sauce. The sauce is regarded – at least by journalists and huffy cooks in internet forums – as impossible to reproduce. You want it? Go back to Paris and get in line!

Ah, if only.

This is my first attempt at re-creating it. The resulting sauce bears almost no resemblance to the one of fame, but is nevertheless delicious and amazing on steak.

In a deep pan of butter on very low heat, I smushed some stewing beef until it melted away all its outer bits and left only tough, butter-soaked stringy pieces, some of it to be reserved and the rest “thrown away” (meaning eaten. Meat that has paradoxically absorbed that much fat but given up all its moisture to the pan is transcendent and dirty at the same time, like jerky made from angels). JP walked in at this point and said, “Hey, it smells like the L’Entrecôte sauce!” before I had told him what I was trying to do and I got dumbly excited.

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To this meaty butter I added a mirepoix of sorts: celery rib, one carrot, one onion, one shallot, four gloves of garlic, all chopped very fine. While that cooked, in the blender I put a couple pieces of the beef with a little bit of water, and then liquified it into meat-mulch. I’m not entirely sure what possessed me to do this. I then added parsley and tarragon leaves, as well as lemon juice, to the blender. In Paris, I had been convinced that the sourness in the sauce was from vinegar, but the forum debaters were so unanimously convinced it was lemon juice I decided to believe them.

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The fresh herbs, the mirepoix, and the meat mixture all got blended together (with an additional 1/4 cup of melted butter and tons and tons of black pepper) into a pea-green sauce that matched other people’s descriptions of the colour but not my own memories. I cooked the two steaks (rare, oozing all over the plates, mmm…) in the same pan that the mirepoix had been in, and then deglazed the dark bits with red wine.

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The deglazed liquid was added to the sauce in a pan (to keep it warm and keep the butter melted) and stirred in, and it was only then that it started to resemble the L’Entrecôte sauce to me at all, in taste, colour, and texture.

Probably correct: parsley, deglazed red wine liquid, black pepper, and beef fat in butter. I still think it’s supposed to have vinegar and mustard, not lemons. Whatever the heck I made, it tasted wonderful on oven fries and steak, the best meal I’ve had in weeks.

Other such people say that they can taste anchovies, liver, lemon grass, and/or marrow; we’ll see if my experimentation gets to that point before I can no longer remember the original.

Written by skimfu

March 23, 2009 at 12:23 am

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Saturday Brunch

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Above: how to compensate for being a bad roommate in half an hour.

Spinach and Ham Omelette

Two 1/2 inch slices of a roasted ham, with the skin cut off and chopped into small cubes, goes in the hot pan with olive oil, 1/2 cup chopped fresh spinach and one minced shallot. Add three large eggs, whisked in a bowl with two tablespoons of whole milk or cream. Give it a minute, then add a cup of grated cheddar or Monterey Jack (or both). Pop it in the oven (on broil if your pan can stand it; lower if it can’t) until the top is set. Slide it out for a large circular omelette for one or cut it in half for normal-sized omelettes for two.

French Toast

Each egg makes enough batter for just over one slice of bread; two eggs is almost enough for three slices. Eggs, milk or cream, vanilla, and lots of cinnamon make up the batter in a bowl with a large mouth. Dip thick slices of white bread on both sides. Fry in butter, flipping once until golden brown. Butter is non-negotiable. If there isn’t lots of butter then it isn’t French toast. Pictured is some pretty basic, squishy, diner-style, five-minute French toast; you can make mini-French toasts with slices of baguette and crisp them extra in the oven and then bury them in a mound of fresh fruit or compote for something else entirely.

Also pictured are slices of cantaloupe, nectarine, and banana, and chunks of orange.

Really, at least half of the reason I’m a bad roommate is thermodynamically irresistible. The organization of my possessions degrades on its own. I combat it elsewhere with meal formations.

Written by skimfu

March 14, 2009 at 3:15 pm

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Four Breakfasts

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Twice this week I have been surprised with the need to make someone breakfast (not in the picked-you-up-at-the-bar way; those guys I throw out in the night. Ho!). The first time, I fried some bacon chopped into mulch, drained off most of the fat, and then added finely chopped shallots and green onions, because they were what I had on hand. Beaten eggs and then micrograted strong white cheddar went into the pan next, and then the whole thing went into the oven. The result was, for a fridge-cleaning omelette, actually quite good. My companion swooned. Of course, in classic form, I grabbed the pan handle with my bare hand and ended up with six separate large blistering burns on my fingers and palm. Half an hour later I was gently, lovingly washing the same beautiful pan, sighing over the way the omelette had slid out in one motion, with no resistence. My cookware abuses me, but I love it anyway. It’s not a healthy relationship.

The second time, more pressed for time, I threw about 1 1/2 cups frozen strawberries, blackberries, and raspberries in the blender, along with a handful of ice, several dollops of peach yogurt, and about 1/2 cup of the mixed tropical juice in my fridge. Again, a pleasant impromtu start to the day.

Photo by Laura D’Alessandro. My. Doesn’t food look beautiful in sunlight?

On Sunday, there was a much more planned breakfast. I again used this recipe, doubled to make about 18 pancakes for six people. Still in awe of my new 12″ Calphalon: I could make three 1/4 cup batter pancakes at once, with ease, with equal cooking times and perfectly even browning. I’ve had more trouble making two pancakes on an actual double-element flattop. If anyone tells you a bad cook (or carpenter) blames his tools, I say: you’d be surprised at what better tools can do.

Accompanying it was an apple and pear compote (stainless steel! Oh, how you caramel differently!). One gala and two spartan apples, and two Bartlett pears, peeled and sliced, a dab of butter, a heaping of brown sugar and a touch of white, cinnamon, and lemon zest. I didn’t make enough for the amount of pancakes; next time I would double the amount of fruit.

I also gave this recipe for buttermilk biscuits a go, but I couldn’t make it work. I had to add way more buttermilk and handle it incessantly to get a reasonable dough, and the resulting biscuits were doughy and…whatever the opposite of buttery is – dry? Not crumbly? I think they would be okay with jam and additional butter, though; in that spirit, I brought them over to Phil and Laura’s at about 7:15 in the morning. That is really the only acceptable reason to show up at someone’s home before eight a.m. – to bring them baked goods.

This week I trained at Savate four days in a row, going to both my university’s club and another. People at the other gym take the sport more seriously; there was a conversation where people related their various successes and failures with calorie-counting, and I just stood by silently, mulling on my dorky hedonist ways. Weighing out produce? The pros and cons of popcorn? What does this have to do with landing my foot on the bridge of someone’s nose?

Later, standing in a corner store, I had this thought: does every candy bar make you a worse fighter? And, well – yes, it probably does. And I knew I could never do what they do. When I think of it as a choice (candy bar vs. better fighter) it isn’t so much that I choose the candy bar, it’s that it doesn’t compute. My brain replies: false dichotomy! Let’s have it all!

Later still, feeling sick off of a huge styrofoam plate of some truly heinous Chinese food, vegetables gliding down the slight gradient of the table in their slick cornstarchy goo, I had this thought: okay, it’s not that I eat too much, it’s that I live badly. This is the real choice, a choice I can believe in: Cheetos, or getting to cook my steak in butter instead of olive oil? American processed “grilled” cheese in a campus cafeteria, or getting to smother my pasta sauces in cream? A week of vile vending-machine plasticky chocolate, or one Friday with the best, bottomless milkshakes in town? I could never give up bad junk food to be a different shape, to be slimmer, to run a little faster. I think – I hope – I can give it up for better junk food, for deeper pleasures.

Written by skimfu

October 23, 2008 at 2:08 pm

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Aromatherapy

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Today, feeling low, I put a loaf of bacon, potatoes, and onions in the oven. Not because I wanted to eat it, but because I wanted to smell it. Aromatherapy. Sandalwood and boysenberry and white musk might comfort some people; I need crackling fat.

Now I don’t know what to do with it.

Written by skimfu

October 6, 2008 at 5:45 pm

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On Eating

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I just realized, with a small degree of horror, that I love to eat. Not the way a wastingly thin member of the upper class might say that, in the middle of a globe-trotting hunt for the perfect olive oil and the world’s greatest chocolatier, nor even just that I love to cook or that I love food. I love the actual process of mastication, of being in a state of eating, putting food in your mouth and chewing and feeling it enter your body. I would rather be eating than not eating. I would rather be eating and walking than just walking, rather be eating and reading a book than just reading. The best part of alcohol and vigourous exercise is that food tastes better afterward. The best part of vacations is the exotic food. There is almost nothing I can be doing that doesn’t make me want to reach for something to eat.

This has obvious consequences, both in terms of weight control and childlike stomachaches (“Well, Jimmy, that’s what you get for eating all that pie in one sitting!”), and the embarrassed delight of eating potato chips in the street. But I didn’t realize that I had anything I would characterize as a “problem” with food until I watched the astonished expressions of my siblings, on this trip, as I cleared the table. I always thought my whole family ate the way I did, but now their appetites seem dainty, birdlike, and I feel like an ogre ravaging the fields.

I’ve tried filling my house with fruit (because how can you overeat fruit, really), but it just gets ridiculous – no amount of fruit is large enough that I won’t eat it all in two days. It’s also distressing to have to treat yourself like a manipulative six-year-old, rarely having junk food in the house, keeping it on the topmost shelves, trying in vain to reason with its stubborn, illogical demands (“I. Want. A. COOKIE!”).

What I love most of all is eating in restaurants, every part of it, but particularly a long, slow, luxurious meal with one other person. Restaurant meals with lots of downtime where you can do nothing but speak in easy, intimate tones, lulled by good food and alcohol. There is no one in my life who shares this passion. For all of my friends, the question posed by dining out is usually “How quickly and cheaply can I get this over with?” or is something you only do with your significant other.

Someone told me, in that neofreudian way, that food is fulfilling another need that has nothing to do with taste or hunger, that underneath I am lonely, or horny, or unstimulated, or simply lost. It’s not like this is news to me. It’s not that food is fulfilling one need; it’s that it fulfills all needs. Look, here is guaranteed pleasure, in small, discrete amounts, that demands nothing of you, that can be bought everywhere, at any time, that you can manufacture at will, that society condones engaging in several times a day, that always feels good – whether elegant, social, and creative, or quick, dirty, and alone – and will always be there for you, so long as you survive.

Written by skimfu

August 28, 2008 at 1:57 am

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