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Crepe station @ #PinkSlipParty

Crepe station @ #PinkSlipParty

I’ve now cooked crepes for a crowd twice in the past two months, both times on the occasion of a Pink Slip Party organized by Laura Fitton (@pistachio) and hosted by the Betahouse.

Given the fact that I’m not in a position to hire any of the newly unemployed party-goers, cooking a delicious dessert for those involved seemed like a good bet for a contribution.

I’m happy to say that my crepes were well-received. So much so, in fact, that when the second party came around, there was some genuine third-party interest in me making them again. Jeff Cutler even recorded a short podcast, crepe tips from Alex and Gradon. My voice is hoarse (I’ve been under the weather) but it’s a good summary of the event and provides some interactive commentary and context for crepe making. Thanks to Jeff for being such an able and generous mobile reporter.

Crepe Tips from Alex and Gradon [MP3]

Jeff wasn’t the only media present: Our local CBS affiliate, WBZ, sent a reporter and video cameraman to tape a short segment, Newly Unemployed Celebrate With Pink Slip Parties. The Boston Globe also sent a reporter and still photographer. I’m happy to note both members of the media sampled crepes and pronounced them tasty.

As I prepared for the party, packing crepe pans, apron, knives, bowls, zester and spatula into my backpack, I realized I hadn’t posted about my first experience cooking for the crowd at the first Pink Slip Party. That’s a shame — I had a blast and the crepes came out quite well.

The second time around, creating the batter in advance was considerably easier because of the research I’d done in January. Specifically, it led to determining a “magic ratio” of ingredients. I looked through 12 different recipes online and in my collection of French cookbooks, comparing what had worked in the past to the sugggestions therein.

Experience and the sum of these recipes suggest the following:

1 cup of liquid (ideally 1/2 cup milk, 1/2 cup H20, though all-milk works)
2 eggs, beaten
1 cup of sifted flour
2 tbsp melted butter

That’s it. Well, not quite — a large pinch of salt and some vanilla flavoring for sweet crepes are worth adding as well.

And there is some craft to making it; I found that mixing with my Cuisinart was much easier for creating two quick batches than handmixing as I often do. It’s key to add the butter after mixing the first three ingredients as well and to try to allow the batter at least an hour or two in the fridge before use to settle to remove bubbles.

I was glad to see happy faces last night and clean plates coming back as party-goers sampled the Nutella-strawberry-lemon juice crepes coming from the stove top. I added some mint to later versions; tasty. The substitution of fresh, handmade whipped cream for the canned variety was a marked improvement too.

Gradon Trip, Crepe Chef Extraordinaire

Gradon Tripp, Crepe Chef Extraordinaire

The evening was all the better for having transferred some cooking knowledge to a new friend, Gradon Tripp. Gradon needed to pick up crepe-making so that he could cook them for his girlfriend’s birthday in a few weeks. I was happy to help him — Meg is good people too and deserves to enjoy the benefit some TLC expressed in food.

Soon after the normal mangling of the flip of the first crepe, Gradon was turning them out like an old hand on the line. Pretty half moons of lightly-browned delicacies dusted with cinnamon sugar and adorned with a spare berry slice or two.

I put the extra batter to good use today after carrying it back home in a Ziploc bag in my backpack. I sauteed onions, broccoli and ham until soft, adding as a filling along with a hefty pinch of shredded cheddar cheese. Delicious.

All that remains is the cleanup, as usual.

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One of the privileges of living in New England is the access to fresh fish from the Georges Bank and local waters. When the frigid temperatures of late January set in, I often find myself craving the hearty stews and baked dishes that epitomize some of the best seafood cuisine around. This past Sunday was no different. As I walked across the frozen fields of Dennehy Park in northern Cambridge, I fantasized about what I might find laid out on the ice.

Monkfish? More skate? Sole?A bag of mussels or fresh steamers from Maine?

When I arrived at the market, the mound of gleaming white filets at the center of the fish counter immediately drew my attention, not least because of the sale tag.

Cod Fish

Cod Fish

Cod.

Cod is one of my favorite fish, though it is a  species I’ve had a few qualms about eating after reading Mark Kurlansky’s excellent “Cod: A Biography of the Fish That Changed the World.” In that excellent tome, Kurlansky details the history of Gadus Gadidae, stretching back to the dark ages when the Vikings jigged for codfish by hand over the gunwhales of their longboats.

Unfortunately, in choosing cod for dinner I made a decision that would not please Seafood Watch. They’ve put cod ‘on the list of fish that sustainability-minded American consumers should avoid.’ I knew better. I let my hunger for the cod’s tender white flesh overcome my commitment to choosing from fish that have not been dramatically overfished.

All that being said, this dinner was one of the best I’ve made in some time. I knew I wanted to model the meal on a delectable dish my sister introduced to me years ago at Henninger’s in Fells Point, down in Baltimore’s Inner Harbor. Henninger’s pan-fried oysters with Pernod & fennel cream sauce remain one of the best things I’ve ever tasted, anywhere. I knew that my dish might not match that idealized first bite but I was determined to adapt its memory.

When I left the market, I’d collected a medium-sized filet of cod (1.2 lbs), a fennel bulb, a small container of heavy cream, a sweet onion, a bunch of ruby chard, a package of fresh wild mushrooms (oyster, shitake & porcini) and a lemon.

Before I went shopping, I’d split a butternut squash purchased the previous week, deseeded it, set it cut-side downwards in a baking tray with 1/3″ of water and put it into an oven heated to 350 degrees F. One hour later, the squash came out fork-tender.

I rubbed the filet with three large pinches of  citrus salt, a kind gift from the very same sister, and set it aside.

I cooked the onion until it was just short of caramelized, sauteed the mushrooms in the same pan with a pat of salted butter and set both aside as well.

Cod, cream sauce & chard on the stove top

Cod, cream sauce & chard on the stove top

Finally, I shaved the fennel bulb with my chef’s knife and cooked it on medium high for a few minutes on each side, enough to add a bit of brown and fill the kitchen with the distintive, licorish-y aroma. I added enough white Bordeaux to cover the fennel, turned the heat to low, covered the pan and left the fennel to simmer and reduce. Fiftteen minutes later, I dumped the fennel slices, now translucent and tender, into a stainless steel bowl and used an immersion blender to combine them with 1/2 cup of cream.

I added that mixture to a saucepan and folded the onions and mushrooms in. I added a touch of salt and pepper, a bit more cream and some vegetable stock, andthen put it on the back burner.

Once the sauce was burbling away quietly, I focused on the fish and chard. I added safflower seed oil to a sauce pan and brought it to high heat, adding the cod when the oil was dancing. I cooked it on each side for two minutes, transferring the pan to a hot oven to finish the fish after I’d browned it and squeezed half of the lemon juice over the filets.

I’d cut the chard into thin strips, across the stalk, during prep.  I added the shredded mass to some hot olive oil in a sauce pan, sprinkling a dash of soy sauce and balsamic vinegar and tossing it in.

Cod with mushroom fennel cream sauce, squash & chard

Cod with mushroom fennel cream sauce, squash & chard

While I was working on the above, my ‘sous chef’ had been busy with the butternut squash. I’d ground up rock salt, allspice, cinnamon and brown sugar in my mortar and pestle. Once added, the squash puree was a tad oversalted. That clever, creative sous chef mixed in half a jar of orange marmalade to balance the salt. The result was tangy, sweet and had delicious citrusy notes.

The final dish was better than I’d expected, though perhaps not the match of Henninger’s oysters.  (I blame the absence of Pernod.) For once, there was very little I’d change in the preparation or cooking. A Sauvignon blanc might have been a better match than the white Bourdeaux but I enjoyed the combination of flavors. I would reconsider the use of cod, perhaps, as other species of white fish might do just as well under a mushroom fennel cream sauce. I’d love to add the sauce to crab cake, certainly, or even plebian chicken.

Next time. For now, I’m going to go enjoy the leftovers.

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I wrote this post last December, in the weeks following Thanksgiving when I was still craving more pumpkin pie. My greyhound subsequently ate the filling from one of them, when I unwisely left him alone with it for more than thirty seconds. Happily there was no dire outcome, at least on his end.  Lost pie or no, I had enough leftover dough to make a tart.

***

Earlier in the week, I made two pumpkin pies from scratch. I was proud of the outcome — lightly spiced, creamy dessert with flaky, tasty crust, balanced perfectly with some whipped cream — but I was left with a orange-sized ball of pie dough. I put it into the fridge, planning to use it later.

Last night, I found the perfect excuse.

Raspberry Nutella pie with tangerine zest

Raspberry Nutella pie with tangerine zest

A dear friend was enduring side affects from a flu shot that distinctly resembled actual flu: nausea, fatigue, aches, headache, loss of appetite.

I brought along my dough, some Nutella and a package of raspberries, hoping to make a treat that would appeal to that lagging appetite. The picture above bears proof to the success of the enterprise. I rolled my dough to about 1 mm thick, stretching it to fit the pie pan. I spread the Nutella around, rolled the crust inwards, dotted the creamy brown expanse with raspberries and sprinkled tangerine zest over the top.

Baking the pie at 450 degrees F for 20 minutes, followed by 10 at 350, turned the crust into a flaky delight and the raspberries nearly into jam-like consistency.

The audience (of one) declared the result to be a ‘mouthgasm,’ a compliment I deeply appreciate.

I’ve never had a Nutella pie until yesterday. I wasn’t sure if how well this would work.

As it turned out, I shouldn’t have worried. The addition of berries for sweetness and the counterpoint of tangy citrus balanced the chocolate hazelnut wonderfully. The filling is so dead simple I won’t bother to share proportions. If you have pre-made dough, this is about as fast a baked dessert as I know how to prepare.

Making crust is straightforward. The following will work for any fruit pie. This following is a tried-and-true classic, direct from family. Enjoy it.

Chop up a stick of butter into small pieces. Do the same with an equal amount of neufchatel.  Pinch the butter and cream cheese into 2 sifted cups of flour until each piece of shortening is a flake. Don’t overmix. Add just enough cold water to bind into dough. Separate into two balls, cover and set aside for a few hours before baking if possible, though you can use the dough immediately if necessary.

Happy pie making!

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