October 5, 2009
For the past few years, Freya and I have been members of a local farm CSA. I heartily recommend it, but as we’re busy folk, we frequently struggle to keep up with the volume of agricultural treats arriving every week between June and November. This is particularly true in bountiful Fall.
This week’s case in point: plums. In fact, we’ve been getting plums for several weeks now, and while they’re quite good, we end up throwing away a fair number each week.
Well not today, fellas! You, unlike your brethren, will compost in my belly and not the dumpster.
As you can see, they’re a bit different from the variety most commonly sold in American grocery stores (at least in my experience). Diminutive in size, with an oblong shape and inky dark-purple flesh, they in fact look like pre-wisened prunes. Go figure.
So this afternoon, as I sat staring balefully at this week’s haul of plums wondering what the hell I should do with them, I remembered a plum clafoutis recipe that I had stumbled onto not too long ago. Now, for those unfortunate enough to be uninitiated to clafoutis, it’s a cake-shaped custard that’s studded with fruit (cherries, traditionally). Actually, the batter is quite reminiscent of a crêpe batter. Most importantly, clafoutis are delicious and reputedly quite simple to make.
I adapted the following recipe from Béa’s at La Tartine Gourmande. Mostly, I was too lazy to saute the plums, and was enamored of the idea of macerating them in a bit of sugar and alcohol instead. Plus, I figured this way I’d have a basis of comparison when I eventually remake this with cooked rather than macerated plums.
Given the ease and results of this recipe, I mourn the neglected plums of preceding weeks. All of the clafoutis ideals are represented. The lightly caramelized, sweet spongy custard substrate is a perfect foil to the tart plums. My only error was baking it in a 12-inch skillet, resulting in a thinner layer of custard and just a hair more caramelization than I would have preferred.
- About a pound of plums, washed and cut in half, pit removed*
- 2 T of sugar + a splash of brandy (I used apple brandy), for macerating the plums
- 7 oz milk
- 2 oz corn starch
- 2 eggs + 1 yolk
- 3 1/2 oz of cream
- 1/2 c sugar
- 2 T butter, melted and cooled
1. Preheat the oven to 410 F. Toss the plums with 2T of sugar and a splash of brandy. Set aside. Grease ramekins, a cast-iron skillet, or whatever you’re baking this in with butter.
2. Mix the milk with the corn starch. In another bowl, beat the eggs, then thoroughly mix in the sugar, the butter, and the cream.
3. Line the baking vessel(s) with the plums, cut-side up. Combine the milk mixture with the egg mixture, then pour over the plums.
4. Bake at 410 for about 30 minutes.
* If you’re using larger plums, further cut them into quarters or even eighths.
September 4, 2009
In the interest of resuscitating my thus far trifling attempt at food blogging, I think it’s time I redefine the scope of this blog. I still hope it will encourage me to cook more and document my evolution as a cook. But there are times when I don’t: feel like cooking / have time / think what I’m cooking is blogworthy / feel like tweaking my sub-par attempts at food photography. Sadly, such sentiments have long thwarted my efforts at resuming this blog. After a while, I realized: 1) I missed writing, and 2) none of the aforementioned negatives abated my desire to write.
The solution, while obvious, did not occur to me until now: I can still write about food regardless of whether or not I happened to have cooked it. *facepalm*
Ahem. Thus, I will continue writing about food, one of my life’s foremost passions. And, as we all know, food includes alcohol, so I’ll be writing about that too. Now the entire universe of food (and alcohol) is an admittedly broad topic. But, as my prose has no doubt already amply illustrated, I tend towards intellectual self-indulgence, which means I will at times shamelessly defy good blog practice to draw from this mammoth topic as it strikes my fancy. I will, however, strive in Herculean and sometimes Sisyphean fashion to adhere to a somewhat narrower focus.
To wit, aside from chronicling my actual cooking experiences, I want to write about food artisans and their excellent foodstuffs. I have found that, at its heart, my interest in food is really a reverence of technique coupled with a fascination for the ingredients themselves. Of course, chefs and their craft fit snugly in this framework. But I am more inspired by the craftsmanship that goes into producing a meal’s individual components than by the skill of weaving such superlative ingredients into something cohesive and delicious. Butchers, bakers, affineurs, vintners, brewers, farmers… to me, these people play a far more important role in determining the quality of a region’s cuisine than the chefs who rely on them to deliver the best ingredients. When I can, I intend to relate this discussion back to Pittsburgh, my hometown and current home.
And so I blog again. This time, I think I’ll have more to say.
April 17, 2008
This Saturday is a friend’s bachelor party. Since few things are as stereotypically manly as meaty feasts, we decided to begin the festivities at the Green Forest Cafe, Pittsburgh’s only churrascaria. Those of you unfamiliar with this concept, brace yourselves, as I explain the meat-eating genius of Brazil. Basically, a guy with charred meaty delights on a spit wanders periodically from table to table slicing bits off on request. Each table is given a little block of wood with red and green poles. Diners flip the block so the green side’s up to signify they want what the meat-man’s offering, then they flip it to red to take a break and digest in preparation for continued gluttony.
This is clearly an excellent way to begin a bachelor party (for carnivores, at least), and this time I intend to do it right. In the past we’ve been… undisciplined. We gorged ourselves on the tantalizing flesh, barely coming up for air, until we were utterly spent, bloated, gasping. Then we waddled home and wept in shame at our failure to maximize our consumption of sizzling beasts. This time will be different. We will pace ourselves, repeatedly flipping the magic meat marker to pause while duplicative meats pass us by. And then, hours later, after sampling every last variety of meat the establishment has on offer, we will stagger home to poop.
Any suggestions on how to ease the digestion of obscene quantities of meat?
April 11, 2008
White bread is now my enemy, a stubborn obstacle preventing me from reclaiming a hobby too long ignored. Never mind that the yeast, and not the bread itself, foiled my triumphant return to bread baking. The possibility that I may have scuttled my own loaf by failing to properly proof said yeast is similarly unimportant. No, white bread will pay despite the arguably extenuating circumstances, though I admit my scapegoating may be unjust. And the only way to truly enact revenge on bread? Why, to create it from a mere pile of flour and then devour it.
The recipe is based on one of the white bread variations in Peter Reinhart’s Bread Baker’s Apprentice, my standard reference. If you have the slightest interest in baking bread, find yourself a copy. Mr. Reinhart manages to explain the underlying chemistry of baking bread in such a way as to inspire confidence while remaining accessible. With some practice and a few re-readings, this book will have taught me enough to start fiddling around with my own bread recipes.
It rose this time, though I wouldn’t have minded a bit more of a rise from either the primary or secondary fermentation. Then again, I’ve had bread that overproofed and then totally deflated during shaping and baking. Shaping is by far my biggest bread weakness. There’s an old saying about how good bakers need an iron hand and a velvet glove. Basically, it means you need to be assertive in shaping the dough, but gentle enough not to degas it. Less air in the dough = denser bread. With rustic breads such as the classic French baguette, this is very important, as these breads call for a big, open crumb with lots of spacious air holes. With this bread it’s a little less imperative, as a tight chewy crumb is a desirable attribute in sandwich bread.
This may be the happiest I’ve ever been with the crumb of my bread. It’s just tight enough. While it’s sturdy enough to work in a sandwich, and delightfully chewy, it’s still surprisingly soft and light. This is a sign that, for once, I did not overwork, and thus excessively degas, the dough during shaping. As for shaping, I did better than I expected. Not only did I manage not to squelch the gas out of the dough as I shaped it, I also produced two reasonable looking loaves
This bread is freakin’ delicious. I’m pretty derisive towards mass market white sandwich bread, but this stuff teaches me what Wonderbread yearns to be: perfectly chewy, with a hint of sweetness and a mildly buttery finish. And man, does it make excellent toast.
Take that, white bread. You slap me with a velvet glove, I punch you with an iron fist.
Recipe follows… Read the rest of this entry »
April 10, 2008
I am susceptible to new hobbies. Once I am enamored of something new, I set to it with a sort of manic fervor until my curiosity is satisfied or until I burn myself out on it and move on. I have learned to recognize my true interests as the ones I am willing to return to subsequent to these overzealous, abortive forays. Baking bread was one of these mini-obsessions. I spent a good six months feverishly baking and reading about baking bread. Of course, I wasn’t interested in starting with the basics; anyone could do that, and besides, I had baked bread with my mother at least a half-dozen times. And so I made baguettes, or other subtle breads that almost invariably involved cranking the oven up as hot as it would go and me sticking my head into it several times during the first few minutes of baking to spritz the sides of the oven with water (steam early in baking = crustier crust). Unfortunately, this phase occurred during the summer. Aside from the obvious unpleasantness of sticking one’s head into a 500 degree oven when the ambient temperature is already above 80, the residual heat alone would leave the kitchen a sweltering inferno for a good six hours afterwards. Freya was typically unamused on my baking days.
Sadly, the results never quite approached the level of quality that I yearned for. And, as I realized that baking bread is labor-intensive and difficult, I became discouraged. Thus, as I grew busy with the onset of 2L at Pitt Law, I let bread baking lapse without much of a fight.
Last week, I decided it was time to resume my bread efforts, but with a more sensible approach. What better way to ease back into it than with a nice, basic white bread? I cheerfully measured, mixed and kneaded, secure in my newfound perspective. As I savored the tactile pleasure of methodically slapping around a big glutinous ball of dough, I reflected on how well my triumphant return to bread baking was shaping up. Then, dough sufficiently kneaded, I set it aside to rise, pleased with my efforts and in heady anticipation of that first bite of freshly baked bread.
Two hours later, I was profoundly disappointed. It didn’t rise. At all. Evidently either the yeast was bad, or I had killed it by proofing it in water that was too hot. Regardless, it was far from a triumphant return to the land of bread-baking.
Me: Hey, Yeast. How ’bout some white bread?
Yeast: No dice.
Me: This. Ain’t. Over.
February 23, 2008
Mid to late winter is just not a good time of year for me. Generally, sloth subverts all motivation to engage in anything remotely creative or productive, and these days I must use what little motivation remains to fulfill my academic obligations. Hence my lack of posts.
I’ve done a bit of cooking since my last post, and even documented it with the intention of writing about it. Inspired by the exhortations of the good Mr. Bourdain, I made demi-glace. Two weeks later, I turned some of it into boeuf bourguignon. I even whipped up some of the bacon toffee that’s been rattling around the food blogosphere lately.
You will hear about these things, and soon. I have broken silence, and thus shattered a psychological barrier to continued blogging. Though Pittsburgh is still beset by chill, foul weather, some part of me knows winter is waning. And, as wanes winter, so too my ennui.
November 13, 2007
Salsa is one of the few foodstuffs I already feel comfortable experimenting with. Give me a collection of onions, peppers, tomatoes and garlic, and I can whip up something relatively delicious. Thus, when our pileup of leftover CSA produce came to include just those ingredients, I jumped at the chance to thumb my nose at November by making a big ol’ batch of salsa. Plus, I intended to bring something to a going away party, and nothing says soused revelry like salsa stains on your drinkin’ clothes.
Mind you, by default I don’t really make the most authentic salsa. From what I’ve gathered, authentic salsas tend to be thinner, but often with more concentrated flavors than their tex-mexy American counterparts. They make excellent condiments, but I’ve always found them to be less satisfying as standalone snacks. When I decide to make a more authentic salsa, I invariably turn to Rick Bayless’ Mexican Everyday (the only Bayless cookbook in my collection, but an excellent one). In fact, I frequently use his more authentic salsas as inspiration when making my chunky, chip-appropriate versions.
The recipe — Read the rest of this entry »
November 4, 2007
Consider this a tentative first step into the crowded realm of food blogging. I make no particular claim of expertise, nor do I expect my foodly forays to be especially unique. Rather, this blog is meant to facilitate a goal.
I’m a reasonably creative person, when given the opportunity, and I have most consistently expressed this through writing… and food. Or so I thought. But in a recent bout of self-reflection (an all-too-common and tiresome predilection of mine), I realized that my cooking is far from creative. I follow recipes. Sometimes, I combine multiple similar recipes into one. Yet I have never just taken a handful of ingredients and created something, as would a chef. I yearn for this capacity to nonchalantly make delicious things, ever adapting to the availability of fresh ingredients and according to the whimsy of my muse.
But I am not ready. I’m operating under the assumption that this is, to some extent, a learnable skill based on culinary experience and familiarity. Thus, if I just cook, regularly and adventurously, whether from someone else’s recipes or the twisted grottoes of my fancy, I will shuffle incrementally towards my goal.
Alas, despite my love of food and cooking, my fledgling skills languish more often than not. I will eat microwave-able convenience food, when lazy enough, and those times are frequent. Which is where you, dear as-yet-nonexistent reader, come in. I’m hoping that even a meager audience will be enough to spur me into culinary action. For those of you willing to slog through my overwrought prose, I will feel an obligation to generate content.
Hopefully, some will find this interesting. If not, I will be satisfied using this blog as a mere tool for personal development.
I must give fair warning, though, that my commentary will at times stray from the practical into the philosophical, and indeed onanistic. As you may have noticed, I like to discuss things, sometimes for the mere sake of discussing them.