Mar 312013
 
Eggs: successful poaching eludes me.

Eggs: successful poaching eludes me.

This has been one of those weeks where Sunday has rolled around, and lo, I have no material to post. It wasn’t for lack of trying: for one, my camera’s two battery-chargers have apparently eloped and my batteries are dead, and two, I’ve been attempting to beat two different recipes/techniques into submission, but the wily bastards have gotten the better of me. I won’t go into huge detail here since they will hopefully get full write-ups of their own, but here are three very important lessons I’ve learned over the last several days:

  1. Lots of people on the internet — people I even trust and respect — will tell you that you can make brown sugar at home with white sugar, molasses, and a food processor. THEY ARE LYING. Shakes fist at Ms. Smitten Kitchen and Mr. Good Eats.
  2. Make sure the water is for-real boiling when you add eggs for poaching. This “almost boiling” crap is not going to cut it, unless you like under-cooked whites and over-cooked yolks. Seriously, how does that even happen???
  3. Also, trying to poach an egg in a little mixing bowl to cheat is totally unsatisfying and produces eggs that are distinctly not poached.

I hope your week in the kitchen was better than mine, and here’s to next week being better!

Cheater poached eggs are distinctly not poached eggs.

Cheater poached eggs are distinctly not poached eggs.

Jan 042013
 

I have been bursting-at-the-seams excited about something happening in my kitchen this week.

Something so scintillating, it has propelled my kitchen into a place of magic.

It is a magic elixir.

It is duck-stock. (What, you want a recipe? Couldn’t be simpler. Take everything from the duck that you didn’t eat — backbone, neck, all other bones, gizzards, skin, rendered fat, everything — put it in a pot, cover with water, simmer 4-24 hours, cool slightly, strain it, skim off fat and save it, reduce the stock if desired, and store it.)

Made from the remnants of Christmas dinner, this precious liquid also gave me something else: duck-fat.

Shiver of excitement (Yes, I stole that line from Alton Brown. He summed it up perfectly.)

These two substances have led me to the question: what to do with them?

The duck-fat query is the easier question to answer: anything. It’s one of the finest cooking fats in the world and can beat up bacon-fat and take its lunch-money any day of the week. Its flavor is unsurpassed and the smell… oh my, the smell. If you’ve never had the pleasure, please, let me know, and I’ll invite you over next time I’m cooking with it. I’m always looking for an excuse to pop up some pop-corn in duck-fat. Yes, you read that right.

Shiver of excitement

But what to do with the stock? Being totally flummoxed, I asked Facebook and immediately got nothing-short-of-inspiring answers from my friends Heather and Adri: risotto.

I’m just gonna let that sink in for a minute.

Ok, are you better now? Because I certainly felt as though I had been taken by a case of the vapors when I first heard their suggestion. However, I think I’m going to wait until the spring to make it because I can think of nothing better than fresh in-season asparagus to go into the risotto with my favorite fowl.

So what to do in the meantime?

I thought about putting it in a soup: something simple that would really let the stock shine. Perhaps a cream-less potato-leek soup? That certainly sounds amazing! But what could I do if I wanted to expand beyond soup?

Duck pot-pies! Poach up some duck in the duck stock and then use it to make the gravy that goes in the pie — glorious, yes? And we all know that the crust is easy to make (if you have the right recipe that calls for some vodka), but really good fat makes for really good pastry…

You see where I’m going with this, right? It’s only logical:

Duck-fat pie-crust! YESSSSS!

I did a bit of research, and of course, I’m not the first one to think of this (Exhibit A | Exhibit B). It turns out that duck fat is excellent in pastry, producing a wonderfully flaky and flavorful crust. Which means…

It’s on like Donkey Kong.

I simply can’t wait to do this. You know you’ll be hearing from me when I get an opportunity to get into the kitchen and go bananas!

Aug 302012
 

Making guac: we had three ripe avocados!

The Law of Avocado:

You say: “We have three ripe avocados.”

A foodie hears: “Let’s make guacamole!”

Let’s not forget an important relative, The Banana Corollary:

You say: “We have three ripe bananas.”

A foodie hears: “You should bake nanner-bread!

I’m pretty sure The Hubs knows all about The Banana Corollary. He’s gone on banana-eating-strike, hoping to force my hand into quick-bread territory.

Feb 012008
 

I am missing a fondue party right now.

This is killing me for two reasons:
1) I flippin’ love fondue.
2) I am missing said party because I am having a brunch tomorrow morning, the star of which is to be danish pastries. I just pulled them out of the oven and… they’re a disaster.

I’m missing fondue for a disaster.

I’m a little traumatized here.

I knew my December batch was too perfect and that I had gotten a little too smug with my pastry chef-ness, I knew I would have to pay for it down the line somewhere…

Allow me to elaborate.

Visually, well, from a bird’s eye view at least, they are a stunning masterpiece of pastrydom. They are the flakiest things I have ever seen come from a household oven. Behold Exhibit A:

Deceptively beautiful: hiding in the burnination within
Nikon D50

But alas, the top view tells an incomplete tale! For, alas, they were…. burned (Trogdor strikes again!). They taste ok (not perfect, but ok) if you just eat the top, but the flavor is not as delicate and nuanced as it should be. And if you eat the whole thing…. it’s just a disaster. The texture is all wrong too, it’s like they’re too tough and heavy. In a way they almost remind me of bad biscuits instead of the Most Perfect Pastry Ever Baked (which the last batch was). Just see for yourself:

Burninated: oh the humanity of it all!
Nikon D50

I can’t serve these. They are simply unacceptable. They certainly aren’t worthy of being my piece de resistance.

So I’m starting over again. At 8pm, the night before the brunch, starting over. I’ve been up since 5am and this recipe takes a good five hours, but I will get it right!

And now you all know: I screw up in the kitchen sometimes too.

The pride cometh before the fall…

Jul 072007
 

All spring and summer I’ve been humming a snug self-satisfied little tune to myself. Why, you ask?

Because I am growing my own herbs in my back yard. Oh yes, glorious rosemary, sage, and oregano, oh-so-fresh and free for the harvesting to better make my dishes so yummy! Raspberries bursting out of pods and ripening! And thyme, Italian parsley, and cilantro, on the way! But these were to pale in comparison to the prize plant in my herb garden, the crown jewel that was to grow in abundance and make my kitchen floweth over with the deliciousness that would be produced within.

Those pods harbor raspberries that have since burst out of the pods and are ripening as we speak!
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I am speaking of course of that king of herbs (no, really, that’s what the name translates to) — basil!

I was so proud of myself, planting the seeds, watching with delight as the little sprouts poked their heads out of the soil and unfurled themselves, sprouting leaves with exponential abandon.

My dad — gardener extraordinaire — sounded impressed. “I’ve never grown basil from seeds before…. well, intentionally that is.” (I should mention that my parents live in Texas, whose climate basil loves maybe even more than I love chocolate, and at the end of each summer there is a literal basil forest in their garden. Needless to say, they get enough volunteers from the previous year’s flowers and seeds to supply pesto to all of Italy. Twice.) I was well pleased. There was life — it was germination, biology, SCIENCE ITSELF — happening in my own backyard! How cool is that?

Golden sage enjoys a glorious June morning
Nikon D50

Well, before long, my basil got too tall to support itself. “No matter,” I thought, “it’s just these really long (20 hours long) Alaska days. The plant is growing too tall too fast to grow any supporting, er, infrastructure.” So I staked the plants. I had also noticed that some weird other spouts were coming up in the pots. This wasn’t terribly surprising since weeds compose, oh, about 50% of the plant life in my yard, so I pulled those sprouts out, again well pleased with myself. I was keeping invasive plants at bay, thus FURTHERING SCIENCE!

Before long, I noticed the plant itself wasn’t really growing in the shape I thought it would, but having only previously bought basil pre-sprouted and never having experienced BASIL SCIENCE before I figured it was just an awkward teenage phase and it would soon grow into the shape I associated with basil. And the lack of scent in the leaves could totally be explained by the lack of scorching heat in Alaska that the herb loves so much.

A drop of water rests on a perfect sage leaf
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Alas.

These illusions were to crumble like a cookie before me today, when I abruptly stopped singing my little self-satisfied tune. I’m no longer walking tall, proud of my contribution to science. It turns out that those sprouts — the ones that had first appeared in the pots, growing so expediently — were weeds. I’ve been nurturing invasive plants in pots on my back deck, and those smug little bastards were all too happy to keep the wool pulled over my eyes!

Oregano enjoys a glorious June morning
Nikon D50

And the worst part?

Those sprouts I pulled up in the name of SCIENCE? As photos from the internet were able to verify, (Google Images knows all) those were the real basil sprouts! Oh, the horror. I killed the very thing I was trying to cultivate! Instead of preening a lovely and understated herb, I may as well have been helping along the plant from Little Shop of Horrors. You’d better believe that it was screaming “FEED ME, SEYMOUR!” when I came ’round each day with the watering can (maybe that’s why they call it horticulture. It should really be horrorculture.).

Little green terranean terrorists. You’re about to get a taste of your own medicine tomorrow when you get pulled up and shredded.

And this time, I shall be sprouting the seeds indoors!

An Italian parsley sprout gets a good start on that growing thang
Nikon D50
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