Sunday, October 26, 2008

In a pickle

Okay, so I'm working on an idea. It calls for pickled ginger, and so I wondered how much better and fresher it would taste if I pickled the ginger myself rather than buying it from the Asian supermarket.

It's quite easy to pickle ginger; you just need a mandoline to slice the ginger into paper-thin slices. Slice it up, salt it and let it set for half an hour or so, then drop it into a sterilized jar and cover in a boiling bath of rice vinegar mixed with sugar and let it set until cooled before covering and refrigerating. So as I was finishing up, I was directed by Jess that I needed to review the recipe because there was another instruction after cooling the ginger.

Here was the instruction that followed:
Taste piece of ginger and wretch uncontrollably. Try not to vomit from hideous flavor of ginger.

Did I mention that Jess hates ginger? He also doesn't like vinegar much, either. I'd say he wrote that last instruction in. He'd tell you that's a dirty lie.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Fresh? Not exactly.

Michelle Ann and Anita are sure to love this one.

I make holiday candy every year, and I usually start around now, when the weather begins to turn cold enough that I can store the candy in the garage without worrying about the heat ruining it.

So I've already made a batch of cashew brittle, and this morning I was lining up my ingredients for a batch of hot pepper peanut brittle.

I pulled a bag of peanuts from the freezer and put them on the counter to thaw while I started boiling the sugar syrup.

At some point I glanced down at the package and was startled by what I read: EXP OCT 98.

So I am apparently a FIFO (first-in, first-out) kind of cook when it comes to ingredient accounting, which isn't good. Fortunately, I always check those freshness dates when I am baking.

So, from the expiration date, these nuts were purchased for the 1997 holiday first holiday season living in New York. We were living in our little apartment in Roslyn. It's a big surprise to me that these peanuts traveled from the apartment to the old house and then to this house. Wow. Those nuts have seen so much since 1997.

By the way, nuts can be successfully kept in the freezer and stay fresh for up to 36 months. Eleven years is a little over the top, though.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Cape Cod weekend

Ah, the enjoyment of a couple of days off.

We drove up to Cape Cod last Friday to spend the long holiday weekend there at the charming and cozy Whalewalk Inn, a lovely bed and breakfast located in Eastham. The grounds were beautiful, the room was lovely and the owners were very cordial. Our room, on the second floor of the rear house, was like a treehouse...the house was built into a rise so that the second floor was actually high above the ground, and our terrace looked out over a large, secluded clearing. It was so nice to step just outside the room onto the landing at the top of the stairs, where coffee was waiting each morning, and then slipping quietly back into the room and onto the terrace, where the slight chill in the air was just enough to wake you up without being bracing.

Our ulterior motive to be accomplished with this trip was meeting Greg, our blogging friend from The Midnight Garden, whom we decided was real, after all! Greg has recently moved into a new place and had done a nice job of decorating. His cat, Badum (or should I say, "ba-dum!"), was a charmer...he was really very un-catlike. Surprisingly, Greg's place was less than a quarter-mile down the same road our bed and breakfast was on! We had a nice bit of conversation before Jess drove the three of us to Hyannis to pick up another blogging friend, Patrick, from the bus terminal, and when we returned, it was time to make dinner...and drinks.

I had brought some of the chicken and noodles I had made and frozen a few weeks ago, along with a loaf of challah that I had baked and frozen a week or so earlier. That was Friday night's dinner. The chicken and noodles weren't thawed by the time we were ready to eat, so I had to finish thawing them in the pan as I heated them up, and the noodles promptly disintegrated from all the stirring. That was disappointing. So we wound up with very thick chicken soup. Oh, well. The challah wasn't as moist as I would have liked, having lost some moisture from freezing...but it was still good. I thought the blackberry cosmopolitans turned out great, though. Overall, I'd give the meal a B-, but the company was an A!

That was Friday night. Saturday, Greg had to work, so we had lunch together at this great little hometown place called Home Port. What a terrific place. Jess and I had clam chowder, fried clams, french fries and slaw. The chowder was quite good and the fries – oh, the fries! – were some of the best I had ever eaten. Really crispy, really brown and potato-y and just incredible. Then Greg was off to work while Patrick, Jess and I took a drive to Provincetown.

P'town was quite busy for it being so late in the year. I didn't mind it, but Jess was less than amused with the traffic and the crowds. I was on a mission to get a shirt and some fudge. Fortunately, many of the shirt shops were clearing out their 2008 inventories and had big discounts. I bought a nice t-shirt for 50% off, about $12. Jess also bought some great coffee mugs at a shop that was having a 70% off sale. I hit two different fudge shops on Commercial St, south of the pier, remembering that somewhere along Commercial, there was a shop that made really great fudge. Those two shops weren't it: their respective offerings looked totally unappetizing. In fact, there was a penuche product in one of the shops that literally looked liked someone threw up in the pan. But a little further up Commercial, we walked into Provincetown Fudge Factory and found the chocolate bliss I had been searching for. The peanut butter chocolate fudge was the best of the three we ordered (rocky road and chocolate coconut were the other two) and it was truly delicious. They ship anywhere. Yum.

Leaving P'town, we briefly stopped at a beach to snap a photo or two, then went back to Orleans for some dinner, which we had at a local seafood place. It was okay for me, but Patrick and Jess really enjoyed their dinners. After dinner, we went back to the B&B, had some more of those blackberry cosmos, and sat outside, enjoying the chill in the air and the stars in the sky.

Next day, I was on another mission for some chocolate, but not fudge. I had noticed an article in one of the magazines in the room about the large number of chocolatiers on the Cape, and one in particular had my attention. The Wellfleet Candy Company, located in South Wellfleet, about 9 miles north from Eastham, was everything the magazine promised and more. I was very excited when I called them to see if they were open that day: the owner herself answered and replied, "we're not only open, we're in production today, so it's a great day to visit!" That would be Jade Huber, a positively delightful person who was there in the kitchen working on a batch of turtles and was truly engaging as we discussed chocolate and candy theory and we sampled some of the things they were making as well as some of the truffles they had ready for sale. Trust me when I tell you that her truffles are magnificent, especially the oyster-shaped ones which are genuinely works of art. There was a peanut butter and jelly truffle that was excellent; a mint truffle that was bursting with the flavor of freshly pressed mint direct from the garden; the Elsa truffle, which was sinfully rich with a dark chocolate coating covering a dark chocolate center.

I bought three oysters and two regular truffles to take back to my employees at work, as well as a small box for Jess and me, and what a response I got from my employees as they sampled them! These are some of the most expensive chocolates you will eat, but worth it. If for nothing else than to see the beautifully, artfully designed oyster truffles, you must make a stop at Wellfleet Candy Company when you visit the Cape. Or order online, of course. And tell Jade I told you about her! Remember, people: Wellfleet Candy Company. Jade Huber. Fabulous.

We made a stop for lunch at Arnold's Restaurant. The fried clams and onion rings were so light they nearly floated off the table, and the clam chowder was wonderful. The lobster roll sandwich we ordered was okay, but I have had better, and for what they were charging, it should have been larger. The place was expensive for the type of restaurant it is. Overall, I'd say it was good, but not worth a long wait in line like we saw on Saturday afternoon and evening. The place is an order-at-the-counter, grab-a-table-and-sit-down affair, very low overhead, very loud. We were lucky enough to get a table outside and enjoy the sunshine and beautiful temperatures.

After an afternoon of candy shopping in Chatham and Dennisport I was unimpressed. I can make better candy at home than either of the shops those towns offered. We headed back to Orleans.

We met Greg after his short workday and drove into town for a wonderful dinner at Abba. It had been highly recommended by our innkeeper and she wasn't wrong. The food was very good: local foods with an asian influence, all delicious. Very much like what you'd expect in New York, and I don't offer that kind of praise lightly. Afterward, we went back to Greg's for some relaxation and conversation, and Greg brought out a blueberry peach pie he had ordered, which was a very nice cap to the delicious restaurant meal. Stuffed and tired, we headed back to the room for our last evening.

The next morning, we all went back to breakfast at Home Port. I can't say enough good things about the simplicity of good homestyle food, and they have it down. I had eggs with toast, canadian bacon and homefries. Terrific. If you want good homestyle food at good prices, this is where you want to go. Everything is delicious. Great call, Greg!

We drove back home with few traffic snarls (except the one where the nav system in my car pulled one of its famous Magellan moments and attempted to lead us in an out-of-the-way big circle. Fortunately, my bullshit meter was working well that day and I caught it before we went too far out of the way. I have advice for any of you buying a GPS. Don't buy Magellan! It SUCKS. Magellan is also the famous maker of NEVERLOST, or, as we like to call it, EVERLOST. Magellan sucks as a GPS. Never buy one. I should make sure that all search engines pick this up so that others are not led astray: Magellan GPS systems are the worst I've ever had experience with. The worst. Don't buy them.

But I don't want to end on a sour note. The little getaway was wonderful, and it was great to meet Greg and spend time with him and Patrick.

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

John McCain: Pompous Ass

Watching the presidential debate, I am incredulous that John McCain just pointed to Barack Obama and referred to him as "that one." That one?! That what, Mr. McCain?! You are a patronizing, self-important bastard and extremely disingenuous. Color me infuriated.

Sunday, October 05, 2008

Happy Challah days

If you're familiar with Hebrew speech, you know that my title there is pronounced much like the greetings used in December, except with the "ch" being pronounced as a guttural "h" from the back of the throat.

And this being the week between the Jewish high holy days of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, it's naturally time to make a challah or two, even if you're one of the goyim like me. Even though I'm not Jewish, Jess is, and it's nice to make a challah for the holidays. For me, it's a wonderful reminder of his mom and his Nana Nan, who were two great cooks, and the holidays were a time for feasting. Jess' mom made the best brisket and matzo ball soup, and Nana Nan was an expert at chopped liver. I never liked chopped liver until I had Nana's.

Lemme tell ya, I can kick some tokhes when it comes to bread, though, and challah is no exception.

Dodger likes anything going on in the kitchen. He's always ready to clean up.

Mandy sits outside the kitchen and watches...

...although once in a while, she comes in for a look.

The way I make challah is a process: you mix up the dough from flour, sugar, salt, lots of eggs, warm water and melted margarine.

Then the fun begins. You warm the oven, turn it off and put the dough in and let it rise for 30 minutes until it has doubled.

Take it out, punch it down, repeat with the oven rising for 20 minutes.

Take it out, punch it down, repeat with the oven rising for 15 more minutes. Take it out, punch it down (oy vey! Can we get on with it already?!)

The dough can be quite sticky. Jess' caption suggestion for this photo: "Achoo!"

Using only enough flour to make it workable, knead the dough by hand for 6 minutes. Remember to heat that oven back up to'll need it in a few minutes.

Then the dough is cut in half, and each half is cut into six pieces: three smaller, three larger. The three larger pieces are each rolled into ropes about 8 inches long, and the three smaller pieces are each rolled into ropes about 6 inches long.

Each set of three ropes is braided. The larger braid is placed on the pan and the smaller braid is placed atop the larger braid, centered side to side and end to end.

Then, when both loaves have been braided, you brush them twice with an egg wash for a gorgeous shellac-like finish when baked. Are we tired yet? Ah, finally, time to bake!

Time to bake, that's the easy think? No, it is not; at least not for the recipe I use, which is from Joan Nathan, goddess of Jewish food. Baking is done is stages. You put the loaves into the 180-degree oven and let them set/rise for about 20 minutes. They get all nice and billowy, like bread clouds. Then you raise the oven temp to 200 degrees and bake them for 15 minutes. Then 275 degrees for 15 minutes. Are we finished yet? No. 375 degrees for 6 minutes, followed by convection baking at 375 for 6 minutes to put the final beautiful shade of brown on it.

I love making bread, but challah is probably one of the most tedious breads I make what with the multiple rises and punch-downs and the convoluted baking process. But it's the results that count: you're rewarded with two beautiful, moist, heavy loaves of the best challah you'll ever eat. Yum. This is what makes it worth it.

Bernice says, "L'Shanah Tovah...L'Chaim!" (Happy New life!)

Saturday, October 04, 2008

Evil in a cup

Okay, so I "Stumble-d Upon" this website where you are taught how to make chocolate cake in about five minutes. You read that right, five minutes.

I was skeptical, naturally.

I read a lot of the comments. Some for, some against. Obviously some commenters to the post haven't cooked much, based on what they said/did.

I made a few of my own changes, nothing substantial. I only used 1.5 tablespoons of oil because 3 tablespoons for that amount of batter is horrendous. I used a little more cocoa than called for. Next time I'd use at least a tablespoon of chocolate chips, maybe more. The "cake flour" called for is the self-rising kind. Don't make the mistake of using regular cake flour. Also, I used half brown sugar, half white sugar. I don't usually use all white sugar in a cake. I added a teaspoon of vanilla, and a pinch of salt for the correct flavoring. And be sure you use an oversized coffee mug, like a soup mug. It rises a lot.

A bit spongy, but pretty good, and I am sure it would be much better with the chocolate chips. We ate it with a little ice cream and it was nice. And at five minutes (actually more like seven) to make it from start to finish, it's hard to complain too much.

Don't make it too often: the way I made it (which was with less oil than called for) it was 614 calories. It would be even more using my suggestion of chocolate chips and if the full amount of oil called for was used (but it would be unnecessary). Actually, it makes enough cake for two, so you could call it 307 calories if you only ate half of it.