Friday, October 26, 2007

Photo of the Week

Hmm....apparently this whole idea of blogging my experience of being in culinary school is....not so much happening. Oh, I mean, I'm experiencing all right. I'm experiencing all kinds of crazy, bizarre, blog-worthy happenings. But somehow, the part where it actually gets, you know, posted to my blog? Hmm, not happening. Or at least not happening quite as frequently as I oh-so enthusiastically imagined back when I still did things like go to bed before midnight and had pass-times other than cooking. Funny, huh? (For purposes of full disclosure, this fantasy of having all sorts of time for blogging was usually followed by a day dream of being 'found' by someone begging me to write a witty-yet-touching book about my harrowing adventures in culinary school.)

Anywho, I might not be writing very much, but I'm certainly taking tons of photos. Yup, a whole backlog of awesome food s
hots and chefs-in-training and things on fire (oh yeah!). So I'm thinking that I'm going to start posting a weekly photo or three, just to keep y'all in the loop. I'll let you know when the talent agent starts begging me to be the next Super Star Food Photo Journalist, kay?

And so, without further ado, here is your photo of the day: Gateaux St. Honore. It's a pretty shmancy little number. The base is pate sucre (a.k.a. sweet pie crust). On top of the pie crust is a hollow ring of puff pastry, with several cream puffs strategically perched for an extra dose of decadence. The center of the ring and the cream puffs are filled with pastry cream--in this particular case, a pistachio pastry cream that was so wonderfully creamy and so
astoundingly pistachio-y that I could have brushed my teeth with it every day, to hell with cavities. The ring is glued to the pie crust with caramelized sugar and then the puffs are glued to the ring the same way. We used the excess sugar to make the cage in the center of the cake and the decorations for the cream puffs.

The cage and decorations are one of those oh la la! things that are actually super easy to make (shhhh....don't tell!) For the cage, we sprayed the und
erside of a soup ladle with non-stick cooking spray, then dipped a spoon in the sugar, and gently shook thin ribbons of the sugar over the ladle. You let the ladle cool and then gently ease off the cage. For the decorations, we shook designs onto parchment paper. When the sugar cools and hardens, you can unpeel the parchment paper and...oh la la! shmancy decorations! Easy peasy!

The key in all of this is working with the sugar when it's still warm, but not too hot and not too cool. If you dip a spoon into the pot and shake ribbons over the sugar, the ribbons should hold for just a second before melting back into the sugar. If you don't get ribbons at all, it's too hot. If the ribbons hold for too long, your sugar is probably almost too cool to work with. Once the sugar cools, it hardens into a big mass of teeth-cracking caramel that doesn't re-heat very well.

Ok, just one more picture:
Oh, pistachio pastry cream. I do love you. [drool drool drool]

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Wednesday Roundup

Currently reading:
Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life
by Barbara Kingsolver

Yeah, didn't get very far with Seven Storey Mountain. Yeah...oops. That's because I was completely swept away by Barbara Kingsolver's latest book, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle. I have been an avid Kingsolver reader for several years, but was so annoyed by the preachy environmentalism masquerading as fiction in her book Prodigal Summer that I haven't ready anything she's written since. When Animal, Vegetable, Miracle first came out, I rolled my eyes and walked right on by.

And then picked it up off of a friend's coffee table, read the first page, sat down on the couch, read a little more, and couldn't put it down. I think what turned me off about Prodigal Summer was the underhanded way that (I felt) Kingsolver pushed her environmental agenda onto the reader. It felt passive aggressive, overly defensive, and forced. But in Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, Kingsolver can be direct and honest with the reader about her views, and the resulting book feels like conversation between the reader and Kingsolver. A conversation that perhaps takes place in her cozy kitchen while canning tomatoes or flipping through poultry catalogs.

Anyways, it's a good read, especially at this time of year when the summer bounty is winding down and hot tea starts to sound like a mighty fine idea.

Speaking of which...

Currently drinking:

Nutcracker Sweet Tea from Celestial Seasonings

Earlier in the summer, my good friend Dave arrived in my cube all a-flutter and grinning from ear to ear. He held out a box wrapped in Christmas paper: "Open it! Open it!" By this point, he was hopping from foot to foot and giggling a little, so I tore off the paper in about two seconds and entire box full of Nutcracker Sweet Tea. That's right, Dave had heard my cry for a dependable supply of Favorite Tea Ever, and went straight to the source: Celestial Seasonings Mecca and got me six whole boxes of Nutcracker Sweet Tea. All for me! To ration or splurge as I please! Oh, Dave, did I ever tell you that you're my hero? Yes, and also the wind beneath my wings.

At the time, I had one lonely box of tea that I'd been slowly rationing out. Then it got hot here in Boston and hot = iced coffee, and for whatever reason, it's only been this last week that I cracked the first box of Favorite Tea Ever. And it's so timely since just this week, fall arrived. Just like that. Sweater time!

Currently Knitting:

Not a sweater, alas. No, it's that time of year when I still believe I can really truly finish all my knitting projects in time for Christmas. Yes, like any true Red Sox fan, I still believe.

And yes, pictures of the Daisy Dukes to come. Sorry it's taken me so long. Sorry sorry sorry! They're done, actually, but just haven't gotten photographed. To come. To come. The best is yet to come.

Currently eating:


I need to do a separate post about this asap as this is my new favorite thing ever. It's essentially my recipe for pizza dough (HERE) split into eight pieces and folded into calzone-shape. I spread out the dough into a palm-sized round on a piece of parchment paper, put a few spoonfulls of filling, fold it over into a half-moon and pinch it shut. Leave the parchment paper around it (the paper comes off in the oven) and cut a few steam vents in the size. I bake these on a baking sheet in the oven because the filling tends to ooze out and get all over my oven (which is always perfectly clean. Of course.). That's it! They're about 3.5-4 Weight Watcher points each, depending on the filling and they freeze like a dream. I made a double batch this past weekend--sixteen calzones! I had a whole production-line going there. These are perfect for how crazy my life is these days--I leave a bunch in the freezer at work for lunches and throw one in my bag to scarf down between lecture and lab on class nights. Yum!

What else?....mmm...that's about it. That's about all I have had time for! Well, that and watching America's Next Top Model. (Go, Bianca! So fierce!)

Later, gators!

Sunday, October 07, 2007

Husk Cherries: A Love Story

Husk cherries stole my heart this summer. They rustle in your hand, weighing nothing and smelling of dust. It seems impossible that inside each paper lantern can hide one single golden berry. They're the humble Cinderella of the farmer's market, for sure.

I walked by them for weeks, achingly curious about what wonderful delight could go for $5 a half
pint, until I finally caught one of the farms offering samples. I hovered nearby, pretending to inspect a box of bean varietals while sneaking covert glances at the farmer's demonstration of the proper way to husk these cherries. He grasped the fruit by the stem and gently pinched the shell until the berry popped out the bottom. Denuded berries were passed and sampled. The reaction from the crowd was mixed. A few "mmm..."s and some "Huh"s. One or two folks paused dramatically before saying "Now that's different" and wandering off. My heart fluttered. Could my summer crush really be a bust? When the group departed, I sidled in and casually picked up one of the remaining samples.

"Ever had a husk cherry before?" The farmer asked.
"Me? Um..." (As a chronic know-it-all, my first instinct is always to feign experience.) "Well, actually no."
"Oh great!" He said with real enthusiasm, "You'll love these!"

And without further ado, he popped a marble-sized berry into my open palm.
I looked at it dubiously. It was yellow-orange (I'd been expecting red). I could see thin veins running just underneath the taut skin. I gingerly lifted my hand, rolled the berry into my mouth, and bit down. The skin broke without any resistance and my mouth was filled with the subtle, caramelized flavor of just-baked cinnamon bread. I kid you not. I thought immediately of bread. And my second thought was, "Omigod, omigod, omigod, what can I DO with this fruit?"

I've seen them called husk cherries, ground cherries, husk tomatoes, and cape gooseberries (though I think the last one is actually a different variety). These guys are indeed cousins to the similar-looking tomatillo, as well as to tomatoes and wild tobacco. The taste is described as vanilla pineapple, which I was able to agree with upon extensive further sampling and a gentle "down, boy" to my baker proclivities. I would also add "honey" to that description. They range in size from pea-sized to plump marbles like the one I first sampled. In my research, I also discovered that this plant is in the "endangered" section of the Slow Food USA Ark--Rock on, Boston-area farmers! I also found evidence that this would make an excellent container plant. I happen to have several containers and a "warm but not too sunny" back porch....see where I'm going with this? (Yup, already planning next summer's garden and it's not even November yet. This is going to be a long winter.)

So what CAN you do with a handful of husk cherries? The flavor is so subtle that it can get easily overwhelmed by other fruits, so they're perhaps best as solo-players in a green salad, thrown into a fruit-mix or paired with a subtle-yet-tart fruit. They're high in pectin, so if you can afford it or steal enough from friends with CSA's, you can make some very lovely jam. One site I found
recommended dipping them in chocolate, which immediately sent my salivary glands into over-production. Personally? I couldn't let go of that first baked-bread taste and have had visions of tartlettes dancing in my head.

Actually, I can't
claim that I actually set out to bake a tart. A few weeks ago I was setting out to bake a plum tart (you know, to practice my pate brisee) for a friend who had just returned from a jaunt in La Jolie France. I had just admitted to myself that I didn't have as many plums in my fridge as I thought when my friend walked in with a bag of husk cherries to share. I looked at my handful of plums. I looked at the bag of husk cherries. A little niggle in my brain reminded me of some candied ginger I'd been saving for a special occasion. Brilliance ensued. And here is the recette, in honor of my friend the Tart Savior:

Rebekah's Plum and Husk Cherry Tart

Pate Brisee:
1 1/2 c. flour

3/4 tsp salt

9 TBS cold, unsalted butter, cut into 1" p
4-5 TBS ice water

I'll do a longer tutorial on how to make classic pate brisee later on, but here's a basic method:

Combine the flour and salt on your counter top. Use a pastry scraper to cut in the butter
until you get pea-sized chunks of butter (you can use the tips of your fingers to break the butter, too, but be careful that the butter doesn't get too warm). Add the water one tablespoon at a time and use just the tips of your fingers to incorporate it into the dough. When you can squeeze the dough in your hand and it doesn't fall apart, stop adding water. Gather it into a ball pat it into a thick disk. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for one hour.

Plum and Husk Cherry Filling:
~10 oz of tart golden plums (weighed un-cut with the stone in), cut into slices

1 pint husk cherries, husks removed

1/2 c. candied ginger

1/2 c. sugar

zest of 1/2 lemon

zest of 1 orange

1 tsp vanilla

1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp nutmeg
2 TBS flour

Combine all ingredients. Cover and set aside while preparing the dough. (The liqui
d in the plums will dissolve the sugar to make a thick paste. At this point, you can taste a bit and adjust the flavorings to your liking.)

Preheat ov
en to 375-degrees.

Roll the dough out into a rough, 10" circle of even thickness. Lift the dough frequently as you roll and flip it over to make sure it doesn't stick to the co
unter. Use a light dusting of flour if things start to get sticky. This is a rustic tart, so the exact size of the crust doesn't need to be exact. Transfer the crust onto a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Pour the filling into the center of the pie crust and spread it to within 4-5 inches of the edge of the crust.

Looking at the crust as the face of the clock, fold the lip of the dough over the filling at 12:00. Next fold the lip over at roughly 2:00.
Then at 4:00. Then at 6:00. Then at 8:00. At 10:00, fold the lip over but then unfold the 12:00 fold partway to tuck the 10:00 fold under so that all the layers fall in the same direction. Brush the top with egg or milk thinned with a little water.

Bake for about 40-50 minutes, until the crust is a deep golden brown. Let c
ool for about 15 minutes before serving. Sprinkle the top of the tart with Demara sugar (or the spiced gold sugar mix from THIS place) just before serving. Enjoy!