I used to think it was awful that life was so unfair. Then I thought, 'wouldn't it be much worse if life *were* fair, and all the terrible things that happen to us come because we actually deserve them?' So now I take great comfort in the general hostility and unfairness of the universe. – M. Cole
Back to some fun stuff. I found a recipe for German buttercream frosting on Serious Eats, one of my favorite food sites. This stuff is very good, not too sweet, and full of tasty tasty fat! I recently made a spice buy at Penzey’s, my favorite socially concious spice merchant, and used my new vanilla beans. I did end up using salted butter which was noticeable but fine on a chocolate cake, rather like the salted caramel craze. I just used a boxed chocolate cake mix.
I honestly can’t frost a cake worth crap. but it tastes good.
This weekend we are going to return to an old recipe, the blue cheese tart. This time we are going to grab a rotisserie chicken and add the shredded meat to the tart. Should be tasty!
I’ve been watching “The Terror” on AMC. It’s a horror tale about the failed expedition to find the Northwest Passage back in the 1840s based on this book. Generally I’m not big horror fan, still having nightmares from watching “Alien”. But this show grabbed me somehow. There’s lots of blood, cannibalized bodies, etc, but the characters are interesting. I very much enjoyed it. It’d make a great Cthulhu tale if one just added a few tentacles.
This weekend we made a chicken vindaloo. This was from the Saveur magazine recipe and it just wasn’t quite what I had grown used to in most indian restaurants. What the recipe produced was a chicken and potato curry stew but not much of the vinegar tang that I like in vindaloo. So I ended up taking a can of tomato sauce (I didn’t have tomato paste) and cooking it down with a bit of balsamic vinegar to get the flavor profile I wanted. Then it came pretty close to what I was wanting. We had this with jasmine rice.
We’ve also been trying some new alcohols lately. With our Indian meal, we tried a new cream liqueur called Somrus. This stuff is delicious! It has a wonderful mix of cardamom, rose, and other exotics. It’s built on a rum base. We made a lassi and poured some in. My spouse just poured some over a brownie, which he has found very good.
We also tried a new wine, Macaw Tannat from Brazil. This is a nice simple red wine. The grape is supposedly notoriously tannic but this wasn’t bad at all. It’s nothing complex or expensive but a decent table wine.
We also tried a mixed six pack of beers from a local microbrewery, Howling Henry’s. Pretty good beers, and one really odd but good one, Basil Onion Pale Ale. This is one of the few beers I’ve had that I’d consider savory, the others being Shock Top’s Twisted Pretzel beer (alas, discontinued) and Dogfish Brewing’s Ta Henket, the Egyptian beer. This would be great in a beer bread.
Lastly, I’ve been stressed out about work and have been hiding by watching a lot of TV. We watched the first of the Mythica movies which was a lot of fun. This is what D&D movies should be. All the way around a perfectly decent sword and sorcery movie with amazingly decent CGI. This was partly funded by a Kickstarter request. Unfortunately, it has Kevin Sorbo in it, who has become a Christian twit in his “God is not dead” type movies, but he’s not bad looking. In the first, he’s only on screen for about 10 minutes.
I made a loaf of bread that has all of the holes in it I wanted. It only took more than a decade since I’ve first started trying baking bread.
I started baking bread since I do love that smell through the house. I started baking the standard sandwich loaf that my grandmother made dozens of loaves of, being a farm wife with 5 kids and the usual helpers. She raised this family back when they were still using draft horses along with tractors.
But I wanted a holey, crispy/crunchy loaf like the French are so good at. And it took a recipe from America’s Test Kitchen (publishers of Cook’s Illustrated) to make it. I will admit, I’ve made fun of them for years, wondering why someone would need to cook 50 chickens to get something right. But the method of understand and analyze does work in cooking (as it does in the sciences). I’m guessing that someday that recipe will vanish from KCET’s website, so you may have to become a member of ATK or ask me nicely to get it. 🙂 In the photos, you’ll note that a 500 degree oven just about chars parchment paper.
Yes, it take a bit of time to do. It’s worth it. We ate it with warm triple crème brie, cherry preserves and a fig and olive relish mentioned in this post.
I also made their sticky buns and they are amazing! The use of a cooked water and flour roux, a technique from Asia called tangzhong, makes all of the difference. I’m thinking of subscribing so I can have access to all of these all of the time.
We also made queso fundido. I’ve tried this before and just can’t get the liquid texture I like in restaurant versions. So we stumbled upon Herdez Queso dip and it’s perfect. We heated it in the oven until hot, and topped it with fried chorizo (the fresh kind, not the preserved Spanish kind).
That was dinner with Fritos. I love tortilla chips, especially Xochitl brand since they are so thin, but sometimes a girl has to have her Fritos.
I haven’t had a food and drink post for awhile. A handful of weeks ago we decided to see if we could grill whole Cornish hens on our small barreled shaped grill. We didn’t want to butterfly them which would be simpler, but to have a little whole chicken for each of us.
Many years ago, I was a member of a medieval recreation group called the Society of Creative Anachronism. I was friends with some folks who were part of a somewhat parallel group called the Tuchux, a group that recreated fantasy barbarians, and got their name from the rather atrocious Gor books by John Norman (very bad fantasy of a fellow who ends up on a alien planet where his fantasies of submissive women come true). They are quite a bit more egalitarian than the Gor nonsense and were some coolest people I ever met in my sojourn in the SCA (it’s been about a decade since I’ve had any contact with the SCA). At one of their Yule Feasts that I was kindly invited to, we each got a small loaf of fresh bread and a roasted Cornish hen and it was the best feast I think ever had. I wanted to recreate that.
We managed to do so by putting a pile of charcoal on both side of the grill aka indirect grilling and putting the chooks between them for about 45 minutes and then moving them over the dying coals to crisp up the skin for about 15 minutes at the end. I do recommend getting the biggest charcoal chimney as you can get because then you never have to worry about having lighter fluid or having that nasty taste on their food. We use brown craft paper to light ours since some inks smoke like crazy.
About two weeks ago now, we took an extra-long weekend up to Boston. My spouse has been working on a fiction story set there (and in New England, Cthulhu donchaknow? 😊 ) and it seemed as good as any place to vacation.
We took the train overnight to the city. That made for one long day without much sleep, since it is very rare in the US to have sleeping berths. We sat in seats that reclined only a bit.
Getting there about 8 AM, we were able to drop off our luggage at our hotel and they were kind enough to call us when a room was available. We stayed at the Kimpton Hotel’s Nine Zero, and I always try to stay with them because of their policies. The only thing that wasn’t great there was their attached bar, which really could stand someone who had more design skills than early frat bar. A hundred yards of decent fabric, or hell, broadcloth, would go so far!
Boston traffic is entirely insane and I am so glad we took the train. Most streets are one-way, and definitely not meant for the easy passage of modern cars, being crazy narrow. No wonder they had such misery trying to get rid of the snows that the big blizzards dump. There is simply no where they could possibly put the stuff even if it would be plowed. Boston, at least the actual city is pretty tiny, and no problem to walk it.
We went to Boston Common and it’s smaller than I thought, but has a great carousel with a kitty to ride. We also went to the Faneuil Hall, much smaller than it seems in photos, and filled with tourist tchotchkes. There is a farm type market nearby and it was nice. Behind it, toward the bay, is the market hall which is Foodcourtia, surrounded by national brand shops. It felt like there were about a zillion tourists from China, Korea, Japan…. I’m not sure. They certainly wanted the lobsters. The chowder and lobster roll weren’t that great (I’m of course spoiled by my spouse’s chowder recipe). We also got a little lost and ended up in the Italian area of Boston (like I said, Boston is small). There is one fantastic liquor store there, V. Cirace & Son, that has about 20 bottles of things I haven’t seen other places like Batavia Arack.
That evening we found a great bar/restaurant literally down the alley by our hotel, Barracuda. It was on a second floor, which is a bit unusual. Tiny place, but it was friendly to everyone, and had great food. It also would make such a great bar to send
characters to in a role playing game like Shadowrun, with a skylight that just begs to be crashed through. We had some great fried fish and scallops and beers, including one that became a favorite, Allagash White.
Next day we headed to Salem, of witch fame. We went by fast ferry which took about an hour to get there and was a very nice addition to be able to be out on the water. Some folks tried to set out on the unprotected part of the deck, which got them wind whipped. Salem is mostly a bedroom community for Boston, though it does have the usual tourist stuff. A lot of it was cheesy and we indulged in the cheese. We got our photos taken in witch costumes. We also went to a nice classic dark bar/dining room that one can see “made men” taking dinner at, and stopped at a brewery. We went in some of the new age shops and picked up some incense that is very full of the good resins: Fred Solls. More expensive than a lot of incense but worth it. I used to consider myself a Wicca and it was kinda neat being back in those stores.
What’s amusing is that in high school I played an old witch in a play (complete with bringing my real live pet cat on stage with me). It’s amazing how close the images are, me in make up at 17 and me now in these silly photos.
We got back just before dinner time and hadn’t made a decision where to go. We were a bit nuts and ended up at the Union Oyster House, a fixture of Boston and where *all* the tourists go. Many thanks to the staff who got us in quick despite no reservations, and where we got the fastest service I’ve had in a long time so bravo to the kitchen staff. We tried the chowder there and it was better than the other but still not what I wanted. I got a raw seafood appetizer as a meal (oysters, clams and a couple of jumbo cocktail shrimp) and I’ll be damned if I can remember what he got. Oysters were good, clams are a bit gamey for me.
We went up on Beacon Hill on Saturday, and found this fabulous (and expensive but everything edible, with an exception below, is expensive) bakery/pastry shop, Tatte. We got in line, and then got coffees and two pastries, a cream cheese Danish and a thing I can’t remember the name of, other than it probably sounds something like “queen” but isn’t spelled like that. It was a layered pastry, no filling but a caramelized sugar top.
We then headed to the Boston Public Library which was gorgeous and in amongst the very very high end stores, like Hermes, Chanel, etc. The murals in the library were wonderful (pictures on Flickr). My favorite is this https://www.flickr.com/photos/boston_public_library/7727592768/in/album-72157630936484918/one, which I interpret as Sophia conquering the pale Galilean. I’m sure that’s not what was intended. 😊 There was also a book sale in progress by the friends of the library group. After that we were feeling the stress of traveling and dealing with people, retreated to our room and read our prizes from the sale and the ones we brought along.
The last day found us an outdoor arts market just south of Chinatown (and just down from a Whole Foods). Had some nice stuff but we didn’t have much way to transport it back. We wanted to do dim sum in Chinatown so we headed there for brunch. I don’t remember the restaurant we picked because there were so many and we just picked one that looked nice and had a few signs in English in the windows. Most signs were in some dialect of Chinese. At the restaurant we got three things, soup dumplings (where they are filled with broth and you have to suck out the juice before eating), a scallion pancake with beef and chilis rolled inside and bao which were also fried like potsticker dumplings. All very good, especially that pancake! This was the only reasonably priced (from a central PA standpoint) food on the whole trip.
The samoa in the title is the Girl Scout cookie. My spouse *loves* them. They are basically a shortbread cookie covered in caramel, toasted coconut and chocolate. They still are pretty good, though many of the cookies seem to less than what I remember. Of course it could simply be the glow of nostalgia. I, for the record, was a Brownie for about 6 weeks. I was there long enough to make a “sit-a-pon” and then was bored with the antics of little girls. Such is the burden of reading way way early and just not caring who had what doll, etc.
Spouse found a recipe for a “samoa pie”, and asked nicely for one. The recipe came from Averie Cooks, and is a very nice recipe indeed. It is quite the sugar bomb. I think it is better than the cookies. It is also very close to the circa 80’s Seven Layer Cookies, but I find it much easier to make since I almost always have the ingredients on hand. I got randomly lucky and the chocolate on top evidently hit the tempering temperature and it ended up shiny. I do recommend baking this on a sheet pan because the sweetened condensed milk got very very close to boiling out of the pie pan. This is very very good with a cup of dark roast coffee with a bit of cream. I’m really enjoying the Gevalia Majestic Roast lately.
As for the wine, we finally got a bottle of Apothic Crush. This is one of their limited editions, and I think for Valentine’s Day. It’s very much like their Red and Dark, velvety and rich, but a bit lighter than both. They are now coming out with a Rose for the spring/summer.
That’s it. Eat and drink well.
Postscript: if you are a new visitor, be warned that the bulk of my posts are my opinions of politics (pragmatic liberal) and religion (hard atheist). If you only want to see the food and drink posts, just pay attention to the titles. They’ll always have “from the kitchen” or “from the bar” on them. Occasionally, you’ll see a “from the back room” which will detail our adventures in home brewing. Visit The Boss’s Office to find out about your host.
After cooking the Thai flavored pork shoulder for Thanksgiving, we decided we needed another side dish for it since there was about 8 pounds of pork to eat. The December 2016 Food & Wine magazine presented yet another Thai flavored recipe and that’s what was made as a side to accompany the rest of the pork. This recipe, Crispy Coconut Sticky Rice, is great, and could serve as a meal on its own with perhaps a nice salad. I used a cheap 10” non-stick skillet to make this in; my cast iron skillet is a bit of a monster and far too big to use for the amount of rice. You just need to watch it, and it doesn’t take that long to get a nice golden, with a few darker spots, crust on the rice. It is soft in the inside, a bit crispy outside and has a lovely coconut curry flavor with a fair amount of heat. It also nukes up very nicely.
The cheesecake was a bit of serendipity. I had been craving a crustless cheesecake like I used to get when I was on my internship in Washington DC all of those year ago (no, not the White House). I would go to the local Giant grocery store and they would have lots of items that were for single folks. You could buy a slice of cheesecake and I could make it last a week, nibbling on it. (that’s when I also discovered Frusen Gladje praline ice cream which I also crave and which is no longer produced).
Then, at weekend before Thanksgiving, my mom hands me this yellowed slip of newspaper. “Do you remember this?” she asks. It was a clipping of Father Guido Sarducci’s cheesecake recipe. Now, for those of you who perhaps were too young, non-existent, or not from the US, Father Guido Sarducci was a character most known from Saturday Night Live, the Vatican’s gossip columnist and rock critic, played by Don Novello (who also did a character on the Disney Atlantis, Vinny Santorini, an explosives expert).
This is the recipe which has been around for at least a couple of decades now.. I haven’t the slightest idea why it is named for him:
1 lb. ricotta cheese
2 c. sour cream
16 oz. cream cheese
1 1/2 c. sugar
1/2 c. butter, melted and cooled,
3 extra lg. eggs
3 tbsp. flour
3 tbsp. cornstarch
5 tsp. vanilla
5 tsp. fresh lemon juice
Makes 1 (10 inch) cheese cake. Let all ingredients come to room temperature. First process ricotta in food processer to make smoother (this doesn’t have to be done but I like sinfully smooth cheesecake). Then, combine ricotta cheese and sour cream in a mixing bowl. Beating slowly, add cream cheese, sugar and butter. Increase speed to medium and add eggs, flour, cornstarch, vanilla and lemon juice. Beat on highest speed possible without splattering for 5 more minutes. Pour mixture into a 10 inch springform pan.
Bake in a preheated 350 degree (F) oven for 1 hour. Turn heat off and leave in oven with door closed for 1 more hour. Cool on rack.
I had a standard spring-form pan of about 9 inches that you get in the sets of three that are commonly seen around the holidays. I did put about two teaspoons of micro-planed lemon zest in since I had a whole lemon right there. I think if I made this again, I would cut the temp to 325 degrees F and up the active bake time to 1 ½ hours. That might cut the browning just around the edge and make it more even. The batter did not escape the pan (I did put a layer of aluminum foil around the pan in case) though at the time and temp indicated on the recipe, it did rise like a soufflé about an inch and a half out of the pan much to my consternation (it sinks as it cools). I would also make the batter and stir to release more air, and then let it sit overnight, then let the batter come back to room temperature to make a denser cake.
As you see, there is a big crack in it. Oh well. That would be easily covered by sweetened sour cream/crème fraiche or some fruit. Or both!