Posts Tagged ‘odyssey’

cheers to that

Ladies and gentleman: as of midnight last night, I have officially finished applying to grad school. Everything is submitted. For those keeping track at home, that includes three professors’ recommendation letters (and wasn’t THAT a cause for premature graying), transcripts, tailored statements of purpose, writing sample and the accompanying images, resumes, GRE scores, application forms, and heinously expensive application fees that I am trying to recast as “professional investments,” but having a spot of trouble with, because where does a city university get the nerve to charge a $125 processing fee?

Oh, what’s that you say? It’s my first choice? And they can do whatever they want? And I would still apply? Okay then. I’ll shut up.

This process was an adventure, diplomatically speaking. Read: it gave me the vapors. I have had to Fedex overnight more applications and/or supplements than I care to admit. Basically, I had better get in somewhere, because at this point I would rather just not go, just can the whole Master’s thing, than go through this smelling-salts-clutching process once more.

So I hope I get in somewhere. Or somewheres.

Anyway, the cookies. Wouldn’t you like to know about those. Several reasons for baking them: to toast the end of applications; to thank our good samaritan, snow-blowing neighbor with a special delivery; and to honor a very special, yet little-known holiday, one which officially falls tomorrow but that I couldn’t help celebrating early. Please tune in then, and do yourself a favor: make sure you have Nutella on hand.


the dilema of our times

Temperatures aren’t supposed to break out of the negatives today . . .

Unless it starts to snow. Which’ll warm it up.

And I’d say, “Thank goodness for my chai lattes” . . .

But I already drank it all.

And I need more star anise and cardamom pods to make more.

To leave the house, or not to leave?

live blogging: buche de noel edition

3:14: I think the mushrooms are my favorite part. Look how cute their little tops are. Meringue domes + meringue stems, attached with a little melted chocolate. I can’t resist. They’ll go on the cake right before we eat it, along with powdered-sugar snow. And I think we’re done for now.

2:31: Mushrooms, outta that oven!

2:30: All frosted! I sneaked some tastes. The cake is wee dry. Grrrr. But hopefully the vats of mousse and ganache make up for it??? And the fact that it’s totally bark-ified?

2:15: Wedges cut off. Ganache whipped. Log transfered to platter.

2:02: Back into the kitchen, and realizing, How foolish. I actually thought I was done whipping things. I actually shelved the kitchenaid. But no, Martha tells me to “whip the ganache until it has the consistency of soft butter.” I kind of think it’s like soft butter already, but what do I know!? So away we whip.

1:37: I ate some. I think that’ll help it. With the loneliness, I mean.

1:07: Hope ganache doesn’t start getting lonely.

1:04: And it’s back in the fridge. Unrolled the cake, dolloped huge amounts of mousse upon it, spread around, re-rolled, saran-wrapped, and toweled up. No ganache yet applied. Mushrooms still cooking in the (very low heat) oven. The cake’s gotta sit with the mousse for an hour. They gotta get acquainted.

12:59: Ruh roh. Cracks discovered. Must press on. That’s what extra mousse is for. It’s like cement.


12:55: Mousse: eaten tested and deemed worthy. Ganache: cooled. Cake: um, unexamined but prayed over. At this point, would it surprise anyone to learn that we have a platter dedicated to yule log serving? Like, that’s what it’s made for.

12:47: Kitchen is cleaned. And everything (save the decorations) is made . . . ? I think it’s time to start assembly? I think it’s time to start assembly!

12:33: Picking solidified candy off a mixer bowl = not as much fun as it sounds like.

12:26: Guys. I HAVE MADE MUSHROOMS. Now into the oven to dry out for two hours.

12:12: Vanilla, cocoa powder, in. This meringue is the consistency of mashed potatoes. I am impressed. Was it worth burning the stove? I’ll let you know.

12:09: I may or may not have set the stove on fire while removing the syrup.

12:07: It’s there!!!!

12:06: Oh! Okay! Movement! It’s also boiling away to — well, not nothing, but a very small amount.

12:03: Okay. Sugar water is boiling and not going higher than 220 degrees. Why is that? I mean, doesn’t that make sense? How can something go hotter than boiling? I do not understand candy making. What if I just added it to the whites right now? It’s not even at “soft ball” stage. Which is way below 248 degrees, aka HARD BALL STAGE. Not that I know what either is.

11:51: OMG syrup pan was too shallow, must switch.

11:45: Parenthetically: I say “riiiiiight, but I am following Martha Stewart to the letter. The letter.

11:44: “In a small saucepan, heat sugar and 1/2 cup water over low heat until sugar dissolves. Bring to a boil; cook until liquid reaches 248 degrees (hard-ball stage) on a candy thermometer. Meanwhile, in the bowl of an electric beater fitted with the whisk attachment, whip egg whites on low speed until soft peaks form. Increase speed to high, and add hot syrup in a steady stream, beating constantly. Continue beating until cool and stiff, about 5 minutes. Beat in vanilla. Fold in cocoa powder.” Riight.

11:42: Aaand we are officially out of eggs.

11:38. Oh dear. Yolk in the egg whites. Out it goes.

11:36: Apparently we have a candy thermometer. So much for my excuse. For the mushrooms, you gotta separate the eggs, beat up the whites and add a super-concentrated syrup of sugar water. It’s weird, I’ll explain in a sec.

11:35: Oh my God these mushrooms call for a candy thermometer?? The syrup needs it needs to reach 248 degrees. WHAT.

11:33: Martha Stewart thinks it would be a really grand idea if I made mushrooms out of meringue. Because it’s a yule LOG, and there are MUSHROOMS on LOGS.

11:31: Unless you add whipped cream. Not that I’m doing that. Ganache is as good as done.

11:30. Okay, the ganache. At last, an easy one! Here is what you do: put chocolate in a bowl. Heat cream and pour it over. The end. Actually, the end is when you succeed in not eating a vat. A VAT. It is hard to imagine something better than ganache.

11:27: Martha, I am sure they sent you to jail because your mousse is criminally good.

11:24: Question. What is not improved by the addition of whipped cream? What thing, containing chocolate, eggs, vanilla, and whipped cream could not be delicious? If this log cracks on me, I am eating plain mousse for dinner.

11:13: Oh yes, this is grand. Egg whites + egg yolkandchocolateandbutter.

11:05: Back to the mousse. Now this I very much like. Separating eggs. Beating whites. Breathe!

11:01: I just went for it. It’s rolled. It’s in the fridge. We’ll deal with it later. Eek!

10:57: Time out, I am watching a video. I think I overbaked mine!??!


10:54: And I remove the parchment paper. No sticking. Encouraging.

10:53: And I flip it upside down….

10:52: Back to the now cooled cake. Dust with cocoa powder: check. Cover with a sheet of wax paper: yes. Damp dish cloth: so far so good.

10:47: So for the mousse, kids: what you do is melt the butter and chocolate together and add four egg yolks. Then you beat and beat and beat the whites until stiff, and gently spoon them together with the yolk-chococolate-butter goodness. Now we’re all on the same page.

10:44: About to start the mousse. I would like to point out that this is the second time I have used a double boiler in the last hour. A record?

10:40: People! It is baked. It is cooling. I’m going to have to roll it up soon.

10:36: Oh God, two more minutes until I have to roll the cake in a dishtowel.

10:32: A couple weeks ago, when I was “babysitting” the middle schooler and high schooler, we were cutting out Christmas cookies and I started eating the batter, and the younger one shrieked, “Salmonella!!!” and I rather cavalierly tossed off, “I”ll take my chances,” so of course they started to pop little pieces in their mouths, only when the parents came home later they said, “Now you girls remembered not to eat the batter, right, because it has raw eggs in it,” and I felt SO BAD. But I just tasted the batter which contains, count ’em, SIX raw eggs, beaten into oblivion. It’s yummy. I will still take my chances.

10:23: Crisis over. Baking.

10:18: And while we’re at it, reline the pan.

10:16: CRISIS. While pouring the batter into the pan (buttered, lined with parchment paper, re-buttered, and floured), I discover lumps! Pockets of unincorporated cocoa! Decide to dash it all back into the kitchenaid and stir more.

10:14: Sifting in the flour.

10:12: I don’t know why I didn’t think of Martha Stewart earlier. Then I looked at her recipe and realized, oh, this is why. It’s 10 o’clock in the morning and I have: clarified butter, made cake flour, sifted together said flour with cocoa powder, and my stand mixer has been beating eggs, sugar, and vanilla together for the past ten minutes. It’s working: behold the pale yellow ribbon that sugared eggs turn into after extensive abuse:

my precious



hello. I have missed you.

You know that feeling when you’re driving to the airport and half-way there you realize you’ve forgotten something? Let’s say it’s your travel journal or contact solution. Maybe the present for the people you’re visiting. It’s nothing crucial, like your passport or wallet, nothing you can’t buy there or live without, so you just say, “Darn it! Oh, well.”

A year and a half ago, my parents drove me and a trunkful of clothes, shoes, books, and paintings to Iowa City. And around the time we crossed into Ohio, it hit me: I forgot to raid the kitchen. It mattered more for some things than others: several weeks later, my parents mailed me an enormous box containing the pie pans, rolling pin, blender, copper pans, and wooden spoons I’d left behind.

But listen. The post office isn’t always telling the truth. If it fits, it may not ship. And this is the story of how my KitchenAid mixer stayed behind.

I mean, as kitchen items go, this definitely falls into the “luxurious and unnecessary” category. I think all regular visitors here can attest that its absence has not exactly slowed down my bread kneading, egg whipping, and batter stirring. Perhaps its absence has been a blessing in disguise. Even though you can buy attachments that make ice cream AND PASTA!

But I am always soooo happy to use it when I get home. A couple nights ago, it got its first workout of the season with Chocolate Whiskey and Beer Cupcakes, courtesy of the Smitten Kitchen. Because the description is even more fun than the title, I will go on to say that you bake a batch of Guinness and chocolate cupcakes, drill out some cake with an apple corer and replace it with chocolate ganache (whiskey optional), and top it all with cloud-like puffs of Bailey’s buttercream frosting. As I was visiting a British friend whose parents just finished constructing a full basement bar and called it THE GLOBE, it felt appropriate. And they were pretty delicious, if I do say so myself.

Tomorrow, though, the workout of this little Kitchenaid’s lifetime: terrifyingly enough, we’re making a buche de Noel.

pie today, pie tomorrow

Let me tell you: this pie was torture. This pie was the second circle of Hell. I hated making this pie. And yet. As much as it pains me to admit it and though I fully concede that hellish processes do not always lead to breathtaking results, they often do — and this falls squarely into the “breathtaking” category. This is a pumpkin pie and a half: light as air and perfectly spiced, and for someone who does not love pumpkin pie, that is Saying Something.

I can explain the torture-quotient in a few points. First, I started the process, from crust inwards, before the sun came up. It was 7:30 in the morning; sure, by “come up,” I mean the lawn wasn’t bright and sunny green yet. It wasn’t pitch outside, but let’s let this one slide. Point being, I hadn’t had coffee yet, or even a nub of bread to chew because I am a Serious! Pastry Chef!, and pretty soon the heady scents of all that butter and pumpkin and canned yams in anonymous syrup made my stomach rather unpleasant company. (I know I am a weakling with first world problems, but I come bringing pie, so let’s be friends?).

The second point has to do with appreciating the difference between a fine mesh strainer and a medium mesh strainer. One will literally fish your sanity, your composure, your domestic goddess grace from the garbage disposal, elbow-grease it back to new penny shine, and set it on the crown of your head with a deferential bow and a wink of “I knew you could do this.” The other is going to kill you. It is going to reduce you to a two year old in full-fisted tantrum mode, you will be tempted to pitch the entire orange-colored puree out the window and in the unlikely event that you do not, you will need a nap afterward. To say nothing of a proper cup of coffee.

Um. Here’s the third reason. Well, no, let’s call it a Really, Self, Are You Serious?. It’s a little silly. A little embarrassing. But this is a circle of trust, so tell me what that pan looks like to you.

It is a cake pan.

Yes, I made a pie in a cake pan.

I am calling it piecake. Though it’s a little more like a shallow cheesecake. Anyway.

Had I but known, or more aptly, “had I believed Smitten Kitchen’s warning of the asterix-inspiring fine mesh strainer,” I would have hopped in the car, pajamas, dark sky and all, and high-tailed it to Target for a medium-mesh compadre — but I don’t regret the pie for one second, and you won’t either. And while I would trade pumpkin pie for apple or pecan (to say nothing of the Times’s new, nutso ideas), Boyfriend would not, and since he is the one staying in Iowa through the holiday to study for exams and is rather partial to pumpkin, pumpkin he gets.

Let’s talk about crusts, baby. I am a firm subscriber to the “No Fear!” kitchen policy, and I think you should be, too. Don’t fear the crust. You can do it the old fashioned way, with a pastry cutter. You can do it like them whippersnappers, with a food processor. I tend towards the latter, because I am a lazy child of the Eighties who craves instant gratification. Either way, this is what you do.

  1. Cube your fats (butter or shortening, I use both) into a large dice and stick ’em in the freezer while you complete steps two and three.
  2. Measure out your flour and salt into a large bowl OR the bowl of your food processor. Mix to combine.
  3. Put some ice cubes in a small bowl and fill it with cold water.
  4. Haul out them fats! Either cut them into the flour with the pastry cutter, or PULSE them together with the food processor. You want the butter/shortening to be the size of LARGE peas. Do not go smaller. Repeat: do not go smaller.
  5. If you’ve been using a FP, do the rest by hand! If you have been using a pastry cutter . . . you already are doing it by hand, good job! Tablespoon by tablespoon, add the ice water, combining well after each addition. When the dough holds itself together in a ball, stop with the water. You’re done.
  6. Plop the dough onto some wax paper, flatten it into a disc several inches thick, and refrigerate it for at least 30 minutes, and up to three hours. (You can also freeze it well in advance. But since Thanksgiving’s tomorrow, you probably won’t.)

That’s it! Bravo! You’ve made pie crust!

Mine isn’t going to win any beauty pageants. But it’s flaky. Let’s go by that standard, okay? Another question: why the Arctic temperatures? Because visible peas of butter = flakiness. If you let things get too warm — either the fats are warm, the water’s warm, you roll it out warm — then the butter will melt. And you pie crust won’t be flaky. And you don’t want that, do you? Keep it cold. Get a medium-mesh strainer! And make this sit-down-and-shut-up, this stand-up-and-be-counted, this delectable pie for your wonderful Thanksgiving table.

Pumpkin Pie

For the crust

(From James Beard)

  • 1 cup sifted all purpose flour
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 2 Tbsp + 2 tsp butter
  • 1/4 cup vegetable shortening
  • several Tbsp ice water

Make the crust as described above. Go on, I’ll wait.

After refrigeration, roll out crust on a well-floured board, moving the dough constantly to prevent from sticking. Go about 1/4 inch farther than the edge of the pie pan. Gently lift up and transfer to the pie pan. Push the dough gently into the sides. Trim overhang to 1/4 inch beyond lip of the pan. Tuck under, and crimp around the edges. Refrigerate until firm, about 15 minutes.

Line the pan with aluminum foil and weigh down with pie weights (or dried beans, or pennies, or . . . ). Bake in a 400 degree oven for 15 minutes. Remove weights and foil, rotate pan, and continue baking for 10 to 15 minutes, until golden.

For the pie

(From Smitten Kitchen, via Cook’s Illustrated)

  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 1 cup whole milk (I used 2 cups of half and half instead of one cup each of cream and milk)
  • 3 eggs plus 2 egg yolks
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 (15-ounce) can pumpkin puree
  • 1 cup drained candied yams from 15-ounce can (I used something called “yams in syrup,” which I am guessing is comparable and, more to the point, worked fine)
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1/4 cup maple syrup
  • 2 tsp grated fresh ginger (I skipped this entirely)
  • 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
  • 1 tsp table salt

While pie shell is baking, whisk milk and cream (or half and half, in my case), eggs, yolks, and vanilla together in a medium sized bowl. Set aside.

In a large, heavy-bottomed pot, combine pumpkin puree and yams, sugar, maple syrup, spices, and salt. Bring to a sludgy simmer over medium heat, about 5 to 7 minutes. I pulled out my potato masher here, though a wooden spoon would work, too: start breaking down those yams against the pot sides and bottom. Continue cooking, stir-mashing all the while, until mixture is thick and shiny, about 10 to 15 minutes. Remove from heat.

Slowly whisk in cream-egg mixture. Strain through a medium-mesh strainer, pushing solids through as best you can with the back of a ladle. Breathe. You will finish.

Whisk strained mixture together once more and pour into pie crust.

Bake in a 400 degree oven for 10 minutes, then lower heat to 300 and continue baking for 45 minutes to an hour, until center is set but still jiggly. Jiggly but not soupy.

The pie will continue forming up outside the oven, at room temperature, for the next couple hours.

Serve with whipped cream and a much-deserved pat on the back.

eating through chicago

B and I went to Chicago this weekend — or, as I have taken to calling it, ChiacGOING.

Because we’re always GOING there.

Get it?

In typical fashion and in no way deviating from the norm, the trip was a total food glut. A rolly polly, happy glut. On the drive in, we made straight for Pequod’s, an unassuming dive outside the city serving up cast-iron skillets full of the Windy City’s best, caramelized-cheese-crust deep dish pizza. We mercifully skipped the appetizers this time, but felt no less roll-able an hour later, as we rolled down to the car and on to the skyscrapers and ever more food comas.

Somehow, I summoned enough strength to drag boyfriend (and enough self-denial to drag myself) shopping afterwards. So on to Anthropologie, JCrew, Bloomingdales, and more glimmering lights on Michigan Avenue. Shockingly, little pleased me. I cannot imagine why. Surely it had nothing to do with the pizza hangover/gut.

The next day, we spent a couple hours at the Art Institute (more later), and then traipsed across the street to what has become our post-Institute lunch staple: Gage, an English-style bistro-pub featuring what I’m calling haute barnyard fare, plus a masterful beer selection.

I would like to point out that I have now used seven hyphens in about ten sentences. It’s a disease.

We both had one of their seasonal brews on tap, Dogfish’s rich and full Punkin Ale. Served in its own, appropriate glass. Beer: it’s just like wine! B had their signature burger, piled high with caramelized onions and Camembert whereas I, in an admirable bout of restraint, ordered their brisket, yes brisket sandwich with mustard, green apples, caramelized onions, and arugula.

Then we went for a run.

Or an espresso and a nap.

What do you think?

That night, dinner at Graham Elliot, a restaurant which deserves a post all its own and which I will merely foreshadow with the words: Truffle. Oil. Popcorn.

I will now go continue my diet of lemon water and leaves. Thank you for your time.

ketchup [catch up] from france; or, this blog still exists!

Oh man, friends. What a rough couple weeks, bloggly-speaking. As predicted, beret-wearing and croissant-eating took up entire days, leaving absolutely no time for blog-writing, which is a shame, because now that I’m back stateside, I’m going to spend the next couple entries making you very hungry, rather than spreading it out organically. Sorry. Anyway, on with it!

A very late arrival followed a very late departure into a very rainy Paris, and we very gratefully settled into my friend Mathilde’s cozy and quirky apartment in the seventh arrondissement, which featured such merveilles as: wifi, hot showers, fresh bread and nutella, and of course a friendly face. Our first dinner, appropriately, was at Le Relais d’Entrecote. By the by, this should be everyone’s first dinner in Paris. It’s easy: they only (ONLY) serve steak-frites, so the only decision you need make is how you would like your meat cooked. It’s delicious — and they even refill your plate with a second helping of meat slices, thinly sliced golden fries, and the crucial, wowzer mustard sauce. And it’s quintessentially French, and isn’t that why you came to Paris?

The next day, valiantly defying jetlag, we woke up earlyish and hightailed it to Hertz. First off, the rental car — a 2010 Diesel Volkswagen Golf — came out of the garage with only seven kilometers on it. Brand new! Second of all, we drove from Paris to Bretagne, a little over five hours, and can I tell you, we only used half a tank? And when it started to rain, the windshield wipers turned on automatically and adjusted themselves to the level of rain? This car is the greatest. Everyone should own this car. The drive was pretty fun, too. French radio stations are ridiculous. One (Sky Rock?) came back from commercial with the clearly enunciated, IN ENGLISH phrase, “F*CKING. GOOD. REMIX.” That is allowed?

We got to my aunt and uncle’s house that evening and fell upon an enormous heap of langoustines, a tagine, cheese, bien sur, and fruit salad. The following day, the entire family came over and we ATE. And DRANK. For the entire day. More startling yet: in the garden!, because it was a beautiful, brightly sunny afternoon, in defiance of stereotype and my own expectations. We even tanned a little! I think Billy was in awe of the sheer volume of food, all topped off by three desserts (fraisier, apple tarte, chocolate mousse), but we both tucked in enthusiastically.

No sooner had everyone left around five than it was time to leave for dinner — luckily, preceded by a long walk in the one-time artists’ colony of Pont Aven. We had a wonderful meal of galettes/crepes (savory “crepes” are, properly, made with buckwheat flour and called galettes; “crepe” actually refers to only dessert ones) and hard cider on the ocean. We rolled into bed several hours later, wishing for about three more stomachs and five more days here.

Luckily, we still had a week left for Paris…