Monday, January 31, 2011

My Big Announcement

After agonizing for years, I made my final decision so quickly that I realized I haven't told many people yet:

I've enrolled in culinary school.

It was something I've wanted to do for awhile,  but was always afraid I didn't have the money or the time. Neither of those circumstances have changed, but I decided if I was ever going to do it, I should jump in before we have a family and life gets even more complicated. So I took out student loans (I'm not going to say how much because it still freaks me out) and signed up for classes 9-5 on Saturdays and Sundays at the Institute of Culinary Education in New York City, while holding onto my full-time job. 

I'm studying to get a diploma in baking and pastry. Maybe I can use it to open my dream cookie shop one day. Or it can help with my husband's idea of opening a Bed and Breakfast in Asbury Park. No matter what I end up doing with it, at least I won't have to wonder anymore if it's something that I should have done.

I just finished my second week of classes. We've done some simple things like make caramel, which just involved heating half a pound of sugar and 1/2 teaspoon lemon juice. Before it hardened we drizzled the hot liquid off the tip of a spoon to make designs like this caramel Saturn:

The second week our work got a little more complicated. We made apricot pectin candies called pate de fruits which I heard one of my classmates describe as a flavor explosion. Very accurate.

We also learned how to cut up, poach, dry, candy and macerate fruit (soaking in sugar to draw out some of the liquid which enhances flavor). Buried under all that wonderful Zabaglione cream are strawberries and basil that soaked in sugar with a 1/2 teaspoon of balsamic vinegar for about an hour.

I'm not sure how I went from growing up to in a house where cakes came from mixes or the supermarket bakery to candying grapefruit rinds in class and making my own mayonnaise. I've always wondered if my parents had enjoyed food more, would I have known how much I love it from an early age and taken a different career path? I had no idea how wonderful food could taste - or there was more to eating out than Chinese restaurants - until I became an adult. But I've learned there is something magical about food that makes people happy and I am hoping to learn to tap into that magic.

And yes, I do get to bring home what I make in class and will share with everyone!

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Lower East Side Food Tour

My husband and I recently ended up on an impromptu mini food tour of New York's Lower East Side after a visit to the Tenement Museum. It was a freezing cold night so we ducked in some of the restaurants and food stores that were on a list I picked up at the museum on our way back to the subway.

Our first stop was Pickle Guys, which made me feel liked I was suddenly in a scene from the "Crossing Delancy." My husband has an inexplicable obsession with pickles and was very excited to try this place out, but sadly it had already closed by the time we showed up, a little after 6 p.m. So we will be heading back to the neighborhood soon to check it out.

Next we ended up outside Streits Matzo Company on Rivington Street. I peaked in the window and there were two men busy taking matzo from the oven and stacking them in baskets. I snuck a few shots with my camera before the cold air forced us to move on.

At this point we desparately needed some coffee and a spot to warm up so we ducked into Sugar Sweet Sunshine a few storefronts away. If I ever make good on my threat to open up a cookie shop, I'd want it to look a lot like this place. The cupcakes were tempting and I starred at the Pumpkin Triffle for a while dreaming of what it tasted like, but I was saving myself for what turned out to be a final and filling stop:

Yonah Schimmel Knishes on East Houston St, a short walk from Katz's Deli. Just our luck the place was about to close, but we convinced the man behind the counter to sell us a knish to go. He handed me a giant, round, heavy, pillow of potato happiness that was about the size of the well packed snowball. I starred longly at the tables before we left dreaming of what else could be on the menu of this east side relic to a era when people like my grandmother still went to the butcher, produce stand and baker to make dinner.

We ate our knishes walking back to the subway and decided we wouldn't need to eat dinner for a while.
I'm not surprised most of the places were closed by the time we got there - that is pretty typical for us. But I am anxious to recreate our tour a little bit earlier in the day when it's not so bitter cold.

Anyone want to join us?

Monday, January 10, 2011

A Blond(ie) Moment

I used to turn my noise up at blondies. I thought of them like brownies with a lot less chocolate.

What was the point?

But author Nick Malgieri changed my mind in his new cookbook "Chocolate" that I got as a Hanukkah present. He described blondies as a different take on the chocolate chip cookie, which I think is the most underrated, under appreciated baked good ever!

So maybe I was wrong. Especially since I was staring at a recipe that called for 12 ounces semi sweet chocolate chips, chopped walnuts dark brown sugar and lots of butter. What could there be in this recipe that isn't to like?

I ran out and bought a 10-15-x1 inch jelly- roll pan and made the blondies as a treat for New Year's. As soon as I cooled them, cut them up and saw how they were loaded with rich chocolate chips I knew I was in love!!! They were chewy and wonderful and easier to make than cookies because it didn't have to drop batter on trays, rotate in the middle of baking, and then refill for another batch.

I found a new favorite dessert. And based on the look on my husband's face, he was pretty happy with them, too! I guess gentleman do prefer blondies and now so do I!

Blondie Squares
Adapted from "Chocolate" by Nick Malgieri

2 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
16 tablespoons (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
1 1/4 cup granulated sugar
3/4 packed dark brown sugar
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 cup chopped walnuts
2 cups (12 oz) semi sweet chips

Set rack in the middle of the oven and set at 350 degrees. Butter one 10x15x1 inch jelly roll pan then line with buttered parchment paper.

In a mixing bowl stir together flour, salt and baking soda.

Beat butter with sugars until combined. Beat in eggs one at a time and then beat in vanilla.

Stir the flour mixture into the butter mixture, then stir in nuts and chips.

Spread batter in prepared pan (which takes a little effort to spread all the way to the edges) and bake for 30 minutes, until well risen and firm to the touch. Cool in pan on a rack.

After cake is cool, invert onto a flat surface, peel away paper and cut into two inch squares.

To store: keep in tin or plastic air tight container. Blondies can be individually wrapped and frozen in an closed plastic container.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Recipe for a Happy New Year

I received the best compliment from my mother on New Year's Day.

My family came over for dinner and I made cholent, a 15-hour stew usually served on the Sabbath that simmered overnight in my crockpot. I saved us from a dinner of pre-cut chicken coated with  a seasoning packet that my mother had offered to make. It took longer hunting in the grocery store for some obscure ingredients (like cranberry beans that add a chestnut flavor) than it took to prep the stew before I went out to celebrate New Year's Eve.

I lined the crockpot with some chopped onions and potatoes cut into cubes. I cut up boneless beef short ribs that I bought in Whole Foods (where I found most of the other ingredients for the dish) and laid them on top. Next went in some beef broth, smoked paprika, molasses and an assortment of beans. I stirred the dish once before I went to sleep that night and added a little more water. By 7 a.m. the next morning the meat had completely fallen apart and blended in with the rest of the ingredients creating the perfect tender dish.

It sat in the fridge until I was read to reheat it for dinner. I served it with a side of kasha varnishkes, a childhood favorite of mine that I made from a Joan Nathan recipe I found online.

It was another wonderful dinner that took minimal effort and another successful dinner party at our house. After everyone at the table raved about the dish my mother came up to me and asked, half joking, "Where did you come from?"

I took the question as a compliment and an admission from the woman who rarely cooked. The answer is easy. I spent time pouring over cookbooks and cutting out recipes from cooking magazines. Now if I could only figure out where I am going. I love to cook and make people happy. I dream of going to culinary school and now my husband has put a bug in my ear about one day opening a bed and breakfast in Asbury Park, which seems like the perfect way to combine our love of entertaining and my love of cooking.

The future might not be so easy to figure out just yet. But at least I can be happy that I started out the New Year with a wonderful home cooked meal and a compliment from my mother, who didn't teach me how to cook but taught me a few other things about having fun.