Monday, November 23, 2009

still baking

I was very excited when my Amazon order came in last week, having been waiting through two backorders with great anticipation for My Daily Bread ever since flipping through it in an overpriced bookstore and seeing a walnut bread with a snappable crust like nothing else. That is, until I had the book in my hands and learned that every recipe called for a clay baking pot, lidded cast iron skillet, or le Creuset style earthenware dish. The trick to that cracked crust, apparently, was in the pot.
Such cookware has been on my kitchen wish list for a long while, but it was not the time to cross any of them off of it (le Creusets, as I am sure you know, are worth their weight in gold as the saying goes). But I had to have that bread, and I tortured myself for the next few days perusing cooking stores and lifting many a heavy clay pot. Just when I was beginning to think I would not have the bread of my dreams until next April (when i would again be comfortably employed), I found a much less expensive version by Wolfgang Puck, just as heavy, but less than a third the price. I could smell the yeast already.
Now I did not jump right into the walnut loaf (though I have a shwonkity-shwonk of them, more on that later), deciding to start with something a little simpler, read: no add ins. Settling on a ciabatta I prepped the dough last night, giving it its full eighteen hours rising time. Then a second rise of one hour, then onto a hot pizza stone with my knock-off creuset as a lid, into the oven and more pensive waiting for bread. At least this time, the smells were real. And it turned out lovely, see?!

It was so lovely, in fact, that I decided to do another. Well, really, I decided that this morning, preparing a rye dough before heading to school (bread this way is not exactly a spur-of-the-moment-notion). Technically I could have let it rise another six hours (though that would have had it ready for the second rise at 2 am, so perhaps I am better off...), but it looked ready, bubbly and stretched on top, and I let excitement get the better of me. Another hour and half rising, and now it is in the oven. It is nearly midnight. I have school tomorrow and will be up in six hours. And the bread still has and hour to go. But it smells so damn good. I will sleep, eventually, very well.

Monday, November 16, 2009

And its back to the real world

Today was my first day of school, traditionally complete with a bagged lunch and loaded with apprehensions.

I dont even know what to say about this; what to think; or what exactly I am afraid of.

I do know I need some waffles, otherwise I wont make it there at all.

Wish me luck.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

smells like lovely

I wish I could photograph scents--its smells amazing in here right now. I am making quince paste, and the quartered fruit is simmering in water to soften on the stove, wafting intoxicatingly through the whole suite. Oh its good.
Really though, the smells of cooking are so intrinsic to what you are making, so part of the final dish, that you should be able to capture them. Not to bottle as a perfume (love roasting garlic, but really dont want to smell like it) per se, but to hold so that it is not lost with the seeing and tasting. The smell is the first point of enrapture, breathing in the joys to come. It truly is beautiful.
And I do, perhaps strangely, wonder what a smell looks like. It might look like the memory it is invoking, or mimic the weather or color toned mood of the day or yourself, as we often cook inspired by what we see or feel. It could be new though, the beginning of an association, many colors or only one, something solid or something more whimsical.
The quince in here right now--it is blue streams of silk, like sashes on one of those old fashioned poles for dancing around. It is fresh air and it is fancy free, sweet and crisp, and like rolling around in the grass.
Call me crazy, but you would be too if you could smell this.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

taking my time

(lots of headings about "time" lately, huh? hmmm, wonder why? Probably because I have plenty of it...)
Actually, the last three days have been pretty busy considering this is supposed to be time off. And all because I fell in love. His name is Walter, and he is a Chow Chow-Golden Retriever cross; yes, Walter is a dog, and I am head over heels. So much so, that since meeting him on Thursday, I have asked my landlords permission, gotten a negative, gave them one months notice, started apartment hunting, found two, and am waiting until noon tomorrow for the final verdict on mine (and potentially, hopefully, Walter's). I almost feel as if I am jinxing it by writing about it here, but I am just so darned excited. And tired.
You would think that catching up on sleep would be easy what with notoriously leisurely pace of retirement, but like I said, the last couple of days have been: wooosh. These are big changes I am making, so besides spending all day in the car here there and everywhere Kelowna, and countless sleepless hours on the internet scanning for dog-friendly non-hole-in-the-walls, I am a little, well, stressed. Heres why: no job, possibly no place to live, and possibly all for nothing if Walter gets adopted by some other home-owning folks. And then there is the am I being irrational nag, reminding me that again, I have no job at this point and am about to begin school, a nag that I want to kick in the ass because quite frankly, there isnt a better time, a time that I have more time, than now, to get a dog. For once I will have an actual, routine schedule, with time in the mornings and late afternoons onward for me and my pooch. There is nothing less stressful than spending my time doing that.
Tonight though, with all the sudden I feel like turning my world upside down business, I needed to spend time in my kitchen. Considering the original intentions of my little holiday here were to cook endlessly in my own home, I really havent at all. Did the leftovers thing, the pasta quickie, and last night, all intentions to make a vanilla roasted kabocha squash and parsnip soup ended with me on the couch with a plate full of vanilla roasted kabocha squash and parsnips, not even a fork for that one. This afternoon, however, with some final pre-decision visits and phone calls, I called it a day, not able to do anything more but wait (pensively) until tomorrow, at four o'clock, at which point I enjoyed my last two pumpkin muffins with a latte (perfect happy ending), went for a walk with the last of the fall daylight, then aproned myself for the kitchen. Tonight: carrot gnocchi.
Gnocchi is something I often play with. Having finally perfected it (you'll recall that triumph), I have ventured to try its other forms: ricotta gnudi, gnocchi verde, and now, carrot gnocchi (the familiar butternut squash variety was one of my disasterous first attempts: a big ol' gummy glob, rendered edible by copious amounts of sage brown-butter and parmesano). Starting at five thirty and not eating until nearly nine should tell you how slow going I was. I even weighed the carrots for my little half recipe--whole and sliced. I let the puree cool completely, busying myself with a glass of wine and some cookbooks to read, standing all the while by the stove. I meticulously shaped the readied gnocchi dough with two teaspoons into, oh dammit, what is that word, not quenelles...y'know, little pointed pillows (technical term, I swear), before gently boiling them. I prepared a strong vegetable stock with herbs and aromatics to finish them off. While they baked, I made a salad of persimmons, shaved fennel, and sunchokes. And three and a half hours later, I ate all of that, with some bread. Of, course, it all could have been done much more quickly, but I was immersing myself in only that, relaxing, enjoying the smells, standing on my feet as I am used to doing, not sitting in a car, and photographing most of the beautiful steps to dinner. Dinner itself was kind of disappointing, seriously lacking in carrot-ty flavour, but I enjoyed every minute, all two hundred and ten of them. And the pictures turned out quite nice. But I dont have time to post them now, since dinner took so long...

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

camera happy

I know this site is pretty sparse when it comes to photos, and I really have no excuse because I sure take enough of them. Or at least I did. My photo taking has been on hiatus for the last week as my camera was stolen from my car (i know, what the heck was I thinking leaving it in there in the first place? Again, me without an excuse). Since then its been kinda lonely without it, and frusterating with food looking particularly photogenic and the sun actually out these days, the colors of fall mockingly alive, the lake glistening. Yesterday I couldnt take it anymore, I needed a camera in my hands, and here it is: a Nikon d5000.
Now I am not going to pretend to know much about cameras or even how to work them; all I know is this is an upgrade from my last one (a SONY something, nice, but not an SLR. It did all of the work for me). I am a beginner photographer by all definitions and comparisons, but I love the art, and often see things as photographs. So once I have figured out how to work this baby (and then some) I hope to share a little more of what I capture, and make this place a prettier place to visit. Off to learn and play now!

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

slow down

Repeat after me: caramelization. No, slowly, sound it out: car-a-me-li-za-tion. God thats a beautiful word, isnt it? Sugars are found in the least likely places when you let things slow roast, when they are subjected to car-a-me-li-za-tion. lovely.
Take, for instance, a bulb of garlic. Bite into that: ZING! You will burn off your tongue (do not test this assertion at home, folks, raw garlic munching is not for the faint of heart or taste). Even minced ever so fine, fresh garlic speaks volumes in flavour. And that is delightfully all well and good, a kick, a "bam" as Emeril Legassi made infamous, that I could not imagine hummus or fresh pesto without; even when it is most commonly softened as a prelude for many (any?) dish, garlic is a wonderful aromatic and flavour--but caramelized, it is taken to a level of sublime-ness. It is gooey and sticky, more subtle, yet more rich than its raw state, smear it on bread and youll find yourself licking your fingers.
Baking anything at a low temperature for a little extra time than you might devote to a sautee in a pan, seems to yield similar results. The skin of whatever it might be (parsnips and carrots are among my favorites) crispens and becomes sticky, while the inside, still aldente if done right, is sweet and moist; together the out and in are nutty and, well, caramelly. Its a beautiful thing, when you just let the oven do the work.
Thats what I did tonight. Well I busied myself with other things (such as reading the instruction manual of my NEW CAMERA!!...more later), a small head of cauliflower (ok, not that small, but I was hungry...) broken into florets with a few slices of shallots and a good slug of olive oil roasted away in my toaster oven. Before I sound too repetitive, this is a recipe I posted in the summer, but prepared this way, I swear it is like a whole new meal--plus, I did a few things differently, and quite frankly, I feel it has been improved. Meanwhile, I made a pesto from some toasted (roasted too, actually, alongside the cauliflower, but for only five minutes or so), a good handfull of parsley, a clove of garlic, homemade ricotta salata, and 5 pitted kalamata olives. This only killed about three minutes, while to let the cauliflower tinge itself brown, I had to wait at least twenty--I highly recommend a glass of wine to pass the time. When the cauliflower was near ready, I boiled some fusilli. When that was ready (a mere eight minutes in comparison) I drained it, poured the cooked pasta back in the pot, added the beautifully car-me-lized cauliflower and pesto, gave it all a good toss and tucked in. ohh. Nutty. Thats what I loved about it. Sure it couldve been the walnuts, but the veg itself was nutty. I am nutty, about car-me-li-za-tion.
So we may all be sad that summer is over, but as we transition into winter, lets enjoy fall and all of its caramelly things (toffee-coated apples included, but in a whole different category of splendor); drizzle a head of garlic with olive oil, wrap in foil, put in a low temp'd oven and unwind to the smells for an hour or so, and then sop up the reward for patience with some good bread and a warming meal, or roast your favorite root veg (or brassica) until its exterior is golden--and thats what life'll be.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Early retirement

I meant to write this post last night, but after too much champagne, I decided the morning might present a more coherent read.
Yesterday was the official last day at the Grapevine (hence the champagne--I was celebrating...?). It was all cleaning, all fun, and all over. Until April first next yearI wont be making any more Goat Cheese Apples, roll balls of butter, bake tortilla rings, or fasion Romanoffs; wont be yelled at in German; wont have to scarf down lunch in thirty seconds flat before the next rush starts. And I will miss it, deeply miss, all of it.
The truth is, I love the chaos, the stress, the yelling, because they come part and parcel with the wind-down, the success, the laughter. Such crazy afternoon services meant that we broke records twice this season: one Saturday we served the most lunches in seven years, the next day, we broke that record by another fifty. The three high fives that came of that gave a feeling of commaradery that would last for many seasons beyond--you could just feel it, we achieved that together, we all kick ass at our jobs! I pinpoint that weekend as a starting point for a mutual respect that existed all along, but at that point became conscious. In fact, this season I really saw and felt a pride in and appreciation for myself; where I felt welcome before, I was now unstatingly a key part of it all. There are many little memories, looks, compliments, moments, that make me smile and look forward to the next season of complete and utter chaos.
Though it will be nice to have my heart rate and blood pressure at a relatively normal level for awhile, yesterdays final closing has left me with a bit of a gap--no a Grand Canyon. The Grapevine is such a huge all-or-nothing part of my life for eight months that the next four seem impossibly vacant. Especially the next two weeks before school starts; I do not do well with free time, and this enforced vacation is somewhat daunting. Sure I plan on doing all of the things that there is simply not time for while immersed in our season: writing more, working on my photography, visiting family and friends, cleaning my home (no it has not been eight months since the last time doing that), catch up on sleep, cook in my own kitchen whatever I want, maybe learn German for next year--but it all seems so low key in comparison. It is only a matter of time though, before I get used to that, to the quiet, to the normal paced eating, to the relaxation--all of which I will happily give up again in the spring.
So the champagne toasted last season and the next, while what was left this morning to have with breakfast,celebrated the in-between. Cheers.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

playing willy wonka

Today is Halloween, so in the spirit of a holiday that seems to celebrate corn syrup, I tried my hand at making candy. Both hands, actually.
Let me start from the beginning. After the farmers market today, where (sidenote) I picked up the most generous bouquet of curly endive I have seen this side of the border, I did errands around town: the bulk food store for oats and lentils, the bank, the grocer for milk, and about six other grocery/drug/jumbo-shopping-plazas in a fruitless search for old school molasses candies. Remember those? Wrapped in brown or orange wax paper with little black witches flying past moons or yellow-eyed jack-o-lanterns, have a pillowsack of trick or treating loot was inevitably those cheap candies. Most kids loathed them. I loved them. I still do, the way they stick to your teeth and really get your spit going, their almost salty, deeper than caramel flavour. I would trade chocolate bars for them years ago, and now, i wanted a whole bag to myself (and possibly the two kids that might knock on my door). No such luck--I would have to make my own.
But could I find a recipe. No. Apparently such candies have completely vanished off the face of the earth--though, in discussion with others, that is probably not possible, they were made to withstand the test of time and will probably, one day, be indicative of our species time here on earth when dug up by the next inhabitants. What I did have though, was a recipe for fleur de sel caramels, so I figured molasses would make a fine substitute for corn syrup and went on my way. I did the salted caramels first, to test the recipe. Well I should have tested my thermometer, because the caramel went black and it read only 180F when it was supposed to reach 248F when ready. I would have to start again (very determined at this point to have something uber sugary for halloween), but now I did not have enough cream to make those and the molasses candies. The closest dairy selling store is fifteen minutes from my house, and the cream was two days passed due. He let me open it though, and it smelled fine so I got it at half price, though about four times as much as I needed. Again at the stove, I was more careful with stirring and attentiveness to color, but had no idea what I was looking for without a temperature gage. So I flipped open the ever-knowledgeable Joy of Cooking and there it was "soft ball" stage and the like. If only I had known 2 cups of cream and one very scorched pan earlier. But they worked: melt in your mouth, wrap around your teeth, feel the cavities perfect, just as I remembered them. Complete with a fabulous Vegan dinner inspired by my friend Torrence and a clovey pumpkin beer, it turned out to be a pretty fabulous celebration of corn syrup after all.

Salted Molasses Candies
This is my twist on a recipe from Gourmet. I used less butter and more molasses, and cooked til the soft ball stage (drop some candy mixture into a cold glass of water, remove and squish with your fingers, if it forms a soft gummy ball, you are good to go). Though not as good as the original--where are those things...anyone have any left from their Halloweening days?

1 cup heavy cream
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into pieces
1 teaspoon coarse sea salt

1 1/2 cups sugar (I used white, but I am thinking brown, or even demerrara would have been better)
1/3 cup dark molasses

1/4 cup water

Line bottom and sides of an 8-inch square baking pan with parchment paper, then lightly oil parchment.
Bring cream, butter, and salt to a boil in a small saucepan, then remove from heat and set aside.
Boil sugar,molasses, and water in a 3- to 4-quart heavy saucepan, stirring until sugar is dissolved. Boil, without stirring but gently swirling pan, for three to five minutes. Carefully stir in cream mixture (mixture will bubble up) and simmer, stirring frequently, until caramel registers 248°F (haha--or hits the soft ball stage as discussed) on thermometer, 10 to 15 minutes. Pour into baking pan and cool 2 hours. Cut into 1-inch pieces, then wrap each piece in a 4-inch square of wax paper, twisting 2 ends to close.

For those few people who, like me, love those nasty little molasses chews, small drugstores still carry them--i by-chance called our local Winfield Paragon Pharmacy and sure enough they sell them, but they were sold out on the first day. I guess they are more popular than I thought--or there are alot of unhappy kit-kat-less children in this town.