Monday, January 24, 2011

This is Hollandaise Sauce

Now this, this is breakfast, not that I ate it in the morning. It was more around noon on a Saturday that I got around to making the Hollandaise to go on top of poached eggs and bacon, but it was the first meal of my day. And what a way to start.

It was something like two and half year's ago that I first made Hollandaise, botched it and wrote my first blog post about it. I over-cooked it, something I now know I could have fixed with a little hot water or another egg. But in a way it started me on a path of discovery involving food, a lot of mistakes and even more reflection. It was also the trajectory that landed me somewhere in a field of contentedness. Before Food Eaten I was up and down, all over the place really. Sky high one day, imagining myself as a young Senator fielding calls for outings with attractive celebrities (you think I'm kidding?), and then turning into a bumbering ball of tears the next day struggling with a weekly existential crisis. I won't say it was all food that led to this so-called healing. It was friends, family, vitamin B supplements (a miracle if you ask me, run to your nearest drug store), the realization that yes, I was at least somewhat attractive to the opposite sex (that was nice), plus the faith I tether my life to--if somewhat loosely tied. That's not to say I haven't run into the occasional full blown meltdown or the despressing string of a month or so. But it has gotten better, and so has my cooking.

There's this knowing that made the difference. For the longest time I had an unreasonable fear of pie crusts. I screwed them up a few times, one time getting the dough stuck in a too-small food processor and then trying to transform the mess into shortbread cookies. But this one time, I followed some detailed instructions for pate sucree and voila, perfect tart dough. Now I can't get enough. I will never mess up tart dough again because I know what it's supposed to feel like, look like, taste like. The same goes for this Hollandaise. You whisk two eggs with some cool water in a double boiler until the whisk slows down across the yellow sauce creates streaks. Removed from heat, you pour in seven ounces of clarified butter, slowly while still whisking until you don't think the sauce can take any more. And then comes the salt, enough lemon juice to flavor it and some cayenne pepper. In this way, I learned to walk, talk, kiss, write, love.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Brussels Sprouts Are Good

I'm just going to go out there and state the obvious: Bacon is my favorite food. At least it's one of them. Along with tomatoes and vinegar. Brussels sprouts are another beast altogether. I'd wager that no one labels them among their personal top ten. My mother puts them at the bottom of her list, right next to any kind of beans (especially limas). But this is a dish that I think could change her mind, and it's not just because of the bacon.

Those cabbages in miniature soaked up just the right amount of grease, which slipped part of the way between the leaves like legs between sheets and lent a sultry edge to the greens. They were still crunchy after a good saute in the Dutch oven, taken off the heat just shy of the point at which they turn into the vegetable people loathe, bitter and slimy. You have to take care of these brassicas, watching not to overcook. The apple brought out the sweetness in the bacon, while the vinegar (the finest brand I've ever tasted) cut through the grease with a zing. I was popping down Brussels sprouts as if it were candy.

Sauteed Brussels sprouts with bacon and apples: serves 4
1/2 pound bacon, diced
1 pound Brussels sprouts, quartered
1 apple, peeled and diced
salt and pepper
apple cider vinegar to taste

Cook the bacon in a hot pan until just shy of crispy. Toss in the Brussels sprouts, stir to coat with oil and saute for five minutes or so, until the edges have turned slightly golden. Add the apples. Saute another minute or two until apples are toasted and sprouts are cooked. Season with salt and pepper. Remove from heat to a serving bowl. Drizzle with vinegar to taste.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

On a Dark Night

It's 2011 and I'm 27; I decided sometime last week that it was high time I get rid of my anxiety. I actually didn't even realize how anxious I can get until I got the job at the Jewish Community Center and I walked through the day with a tension headache and rock-hard back. I felt on edge, ready to cry and/or yell at the next person who crossed me. The more I thought about myself, the more I realized that I let anxiety build up to this level at which point I burst or my lung does, one or the other. The only thing to do is to let it go.

So let it go I did, starting on my birthday last week. At a restaurant, I let other people flag down our slow waiter, and under a time crunch to finish this apple frangipane tart before people showed up at our potluck on friday, I did not freak out like I did with the almond cupcakes. Last potuck, both Amanda and I were running around like crazy people screwing up cupcakes and shouting to Amanda's boyfriend to clean this and grab that. He performed the tasks with ease and even managed to pour us both wine. This potluck we were just as time-crunched but there was no harassing of the boyfriend, there were no early sign of high blood pressure just laughter (and wine pouring).

This potluck was arguably the best in the past year or so that we've been hosting them. True, Phelix didn't perform his clean-up dance, but the party carried on until well past one in the morning as Justin and Sean created a line drawing together while being serenaded by Amanda on her guitar. The buffet was lined with Lane's birthday cake (baked and decorated himself), doughnuts, two kinds of soup, vegetarian lasagna, red beans and rice and, of course, hummus.

The frangipane tart made it out of the oven just before the first guests arrived to feast on its creamy almond goodness. There's only just a bit left, still moist, sitting seductively on the counter.
Apple Frangipane Tart:
8 ounces butter
7 ounces almond paste
2 ounces granulated sugar
5 eggs
4 ounces flour
1 pate sucree crust
1 1/2 pounds apples, sliced and partially-sauteed with cinnamon and sugar

Cream the butter, almond paste and sugar. Beat in the eggs one at a time until it's smooth. Add the flour and mix. Transfer to the partially-baked crust. Arrange partially baked apples on top and bake at 375 for 30 to 40 minutes or until the batter is cooked through. Top with slivered almonds.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Braising to Health

This recipe for braised beef and onions was touted as perfect on a cold winter night. It snowed the night I made it, so much that the intended recipient of this majectic meal was unable to make it to my cozy house in the snow and ice. After a brief albeit intense cry and once two other friends successfully arrived at my house, we settled in sheltered from the first real storm of the season. My fear of eating a grand dinner alone was not realized at all. We listened to soft music and plotted summer trips to California between bites of tender meat slathered with a savory beer reduction sauce. I wanted more people in my life in 2010, more people and more food. It happened. I recovered from old wounds, healing them up with food and friends. And while 2010 may have delivered its own scars (and some under-eye circles from my recent severe lack of sleep), it's nothing a pie crust and some listening ears won't fix ... right?

Braised Beef Short Ribs in a Beer Glaze:
1 tablespoon vegetable or corn oil
4 pounds beef short ribs (bone-in or -out)
1 large onion
2 sprigs thyme
3 tablespoons flour
2 bottles Trappist beer
2 bay leaves
1 tablespoon apple jelly

Preheat the oven to 350. Season the meat with salt and pepper and sear the outside until its brown in hot oil. Set aside. Lower the heat and saute the onions until just softened. Add the thyme and flour, stir to coat. Place the seared meat back in an oven-proof pot. Pour in the beer (and definitely go with Trappist, it's well worth it). Bring the liquid to a boil. Put a lid on the pot and place it in the oven for one to one-and-a-half hours or until beef is fork tender. About halfway through season with more salt and pepper and the apple jelly or apple butter (which is what I used).

Once the meat is cooked, remove the meat from the pot and strain out the onions. Place the cooking liquid back on the stovetop and turn the heat to high. Reduce the volume of the liquid until it is a glaze, nearly the consistency of gravy. Stir in slices of cold butter. Serve.