Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Birthday Cake

Amos wanted yellow cake with chocolate frosting for his birthday. Cake from The Cake Bible, Downy Yellow Cake (what does downy mean, in reference to a cake, anyway?), frosting from my own hand written cook book called "The Really Great Chocolate Frosting".

The trouble with really great chocolate frosting is this -

But we made wishes on it anyway...

Monday, June 28, 2010

you can't make a sweet cobbler out of a sour fruit

I know that isn't technically true, you can just add more sugar. But blackberry cobbler is a challenge because blackberries are so very large, and when you bite down on one, there is a burst of severe tartness. Even enrobed in lots of sugary juices, the tartness overwhelms and offputs.
This is a great cobbler dough and with whipped cream it was even a very nice dessert, but if I were to make it again, I would substitute another berry, elderberries, because they are smaller, blueberries, because they are a Superfood, gooseberries, because it would be so fun to say.

Monday, June 21, 2010

There are two kinds of people in the world

Charcoal people and gas people. I am a gas person. I had a gas grill once, and I used it. I grilled regularly, easy things like hamburgers and zucchini and more challenging things such as ribs. Then I lost the gas grill in the divorce and I got one of those small, portable gas grills. The ads show groups of high spirited kids galloping off to the beach with their towels, hackey sacks and small portable grill. They look like little portable boom boxes and they cook about that well. I left it on the side of the road with a FREE sign next to and some optimistic person, who had presumably seem the ad, took it.
The bf is a charcoal person and cleaning a gas grill is a real drag, so I got a small charcoal grill and I just let him do the grilling. About twice a year I have to try to grill something and turn it into pure carbon in a matter of minutes just to remind myself that I'm a gas person.
But yesterday was father's day and his son's came over and the three of us were going to do the grilling. I had bought some natural charcoal because really charcoal seems to be comprised of pure carcinogens that are released into your food when you burn them. Naturally, the natural charcoal didn't light. We dumped a can of lighter fluid all over them, pretty much obviating any "natural" and "non-carcinogenic" properties of the charcoal. But they still wouldn't burn. Then we read the directions and they recommend wadding up newspaper and lighting that under the charcoal. We did that. Well, the paper burned except where it was touching the natural charcoal. I think that charcoal was sprayed with asbestos.
We gave up. The boys went to the store for some MatchLight and I dumped the cold and recalcitrant natural charcoal in an old metal barrel.
You know where this is going.
The MatchLight burst into flames. The boys might be gas people too because they emptied about 20 lbs of charcoal into a small Weber. We had a very hot fire. Two inch steaks cooked in about 5 minutes. But no one complained because by now it was nine o'clock and they just wanted to have a popsicle and watch the golf.
The golf ended, everyone went home and I went back out just to check the fire, more routine than any real concern. Well, the natural charcoal was burning merrily and very hotly. The old metal can was glowing; the wooden porch was smoking and smoldering. The porch looked like charcoal.
I have a fire extinguisher, but I don't really know how to work it, or more specifically, what sort of fire calls for a fire extinguisher. I went with water. I dumped the natural coals on top of the still glowing MatchLight coals, so now the small Weber was overflowing with glowing coals. Then I dumped all the dogs' water on the smoldering porch and pitcher after pitcher of more water on the coals and the porch. (no hose on that side of the house. Hmmm.) Whenever I stopped pouring water, the porch would immediately be dry and hot again. The coals were finally floating in water and that seemed to thoroughly discourage them. The porch took a little longer.
I considered calling the fire department, but I have neighbors near me and I didn't want four fire trucks with lights and possibly sirens parked in front of my house at 11 PM. I would have liked one fireman to come out and just look things over and reassure me, both that my house wasn't going to burn to the ground as I slept and that these sorts of things can happen to anyone and I really shouldn't feel bad about it. I'm fairly certain the fire department raises an eyebrow at such requests.
In a few days, when I can face the mess, I'm leaving the grill by the side of the road with a FREE sign on it. And I'm going to buy a grill pan.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

our annual june turkey

It's June, 90 degrees, feels like Helios's tea cozy, air quality code red, unsafe for children and pets. What better time to fire up the oven and roast a turkey for 5 hours?
This turkey had been languishing in my freezer since November, when I couldn't be bothered to cook it for Thanksgiving. It was a swell, natural, organic, free range, spa raised turkey and I didn't want it to turn into a solid block of freezer burn and be WASTED. Better I toil over it for a number of hours and then throw it out.
I defrosted it on the counter for a while and then in the fridge for a few days. I didn't bother with stuffing, or gravy or side dishes or accessories. It's June. But I planned to do the whole upside down at a low temp for a few hours and then right side up at 400 for another few hours. I was trying to do a good job. Some might call it overcompensating.
The first thing I noticed about this turkey was how bony it was. Really lean and ripped, that turkey. And the dark meat was very dark. Inky almost. Both legs looked badly bruised. But I mostly roast chickens so probably my eye just wasn't used to this bird.
I cooked it and cooked it. I remembered my sister's experience with the mysteriously instantly overcooked turkey so I checked and checked.
Now, I am a tad anxious about food borne illness so I err on the side of slightly overcooked when it come to poultry. When my chickens come out of the oven all you have to do is jostle the pan and the whole bird collapses in on itself like one of those buildings being demolished in the middle of a busy city center. The thermometer said 180 which was 5 degrees more than Christopher Kimball recommended and only 15 degrees hotter than the kitchen. But the leg was stiff and no amount of jostling was going to dislodge a joint. I could have thrown it into the middle of a building demolition and it would have remained intact and probably walked away.
There are two possible explanations for this. The first is that I got an aerobarexic turkey. When her coop-mates were noshing on acorns, she was trying to fly, practicing wind sprints, performing 1000 lunged in each direction. When her siblings were picnicking on corn, soybeans and gummy bears, she was dreaming of being a ballerina, and believing that what she lacked in aptitude, she could make up for in silhouette. Whatever her motivation, I imagine she was as sturdy and rangy as Renee Zellweger in Cold Mountain.
The other possible explanation is that the turkey was not entirely thawed. It felt thawed, but internally maybe it was still frozen and those frozen parts took longer to cook. So even though the thermometer read 180, if I had probed a little deeper, it might have read 68. This would also explain the pale pink juices that ran out of the bird after I carved it. "Juices run clear" is usually the admonishment for all poultry cooking tests of doneness.
As we sat down to eat, I said to the bf, "this is something we eat because it's good for us." We struggled through and then rewarded our fortitude with ice cream.
Because it's important to not waste all that food, I tried again. I pulled all the meat off the bird. I made turkey enchiladas for dinner. I cooked and cooked them just in case any of the meat had not been sufficiently cooked. The dark meat was still rubbery and strongly flavored, the white meat was just rubbery. I boiled the carcass for stock. It's still boiling. This is the fourth June day I have been cooking turkey. And I think I might be cured of turkey for ever. Maybe that was her plan. Maybe she was really Linda Hamilton in Terminator 2, sacrificing herself to remove one more turkey eater from the face of the earth.
She wins.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Summertime, and the dinner is chicken salad

Here in the Mid-Atlantic we went from braised meat season to chicken salad season in about a week. Spring was cold and I still had quite a bit of meat in the freezer, so I just went on braising right through dogwood winter and on into blackberry winter. Then, the next day it was 87 degrees with a dew point of 98 so really 87, feels like Beelzebub's sauna. That is dinner salad weather, main course salad weather, composed salad weather, and for me that comes to mean chicken salad. I try occasionally with a crab salad or a shrimp salad, but really, I go back to chicken salad the way Volvo owners go back to Maine.
This is how it goes. I start with a chopped salad-- chicken, tomatoes, a grain, (this year it's quinoa, super grain of the future), arugula or some sort of greens. The dressing is mayo, buttermilk, lots of basil and some lemon juice all whizzed up in a blender. The garnish, and the garnish is crucial, is grated asiago, roasted pumpkin seeds and raisins. This is a variation on a salad from Epicurious. I'll have that for a few weeks and then branch out. Tarragon instead of basil in the dressing, chicken, bacon, avocado and tomato. If the mayo based dressing starts to cloy, I'll spend a week with chicken, greens, avocado and mango, dressed in a mixture of lime juice, brown sugar and fish sauce. There's another recipe, originally from Epicurious, but significantly spiffed up, where the dressing is oil and vinegar and garlic and chutney and curry paste and the salad is chicken and brown rice and scallions and raisins. You could probably serve it on a bed of greens.
There's a chicken tikka salad with tomatoes and raita. A chicken pasta salad with artichoke hearts, tomatoes, olives, feta and a vinaigrette. I like to make a tahini dressing and maybe add some whole wheat noodles, a red pepper and more scallions. Late in the summer corn goes well with most chicken salads.
It's early yet. I'm still with the first one and just starting to think I might defrost some bacon for the second one. But I know in a month or two, it will still be 89, feels like Mars and I'll start fantasizing about a pot roast salad.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

OMG Brownies

As I see it, these brownies are flawed. One is so good that you have to have a second, and two are so dense that then you feel sick. I am going to try one and a half today.