Thursday, June 21, 2012

New England Clam Chowder

Reflecting back on my three-month stint in New England, it's easy to get stressed. I'm still dealing with the gastrointestinal repercussions of driving in Boston and putting way to much pressure on myself in school and at work. But when I think about the great food that I forced into my possibly ulcerated throat, nothing was more worth eating that the clam chowder at Petey's Summertime Seafood and Bar in Rye, N.H. 

I stopped there for the first time with my dad when he came to visit. We thought the line out the front door before the doors opened for lunch boded well. My dad is not a big seafood fan, and it has been a bone of contention in our family. My mom loves fish, but whenever she served it for dinner she would have to make something else for him and my youngest sister, Emily. He was a more than a good sport to indulge my craving for seafood on our day to the coast. In fact, I feel that I may have converted him. 

I ordered a cup of clam chowder and some fried clam strips while he went with baked shrimp--shrimp happens to be on his very short list of edible seafood. It was a brisk day on the beach, so the hot chowder was welcome when it arrived. I offered him a taste. "When I just might give it a try," he said whilst gingerly dipping his plastic spoon in my cup. 

Clams, potatoes and onions were packed into the thin opaque broth that tasted like it might be perfect for mermaids. I'm so used to those thick, almost pudding-like, chowders garnished with cheddar cheese like baked potato soup. This was not that at all. It was completely absolutely fish-y, not disguised at a tuna steak or mixed into a lobster mac-and-cheese. This chowder was boldly clam-tastic, and my dad, fish-hater, was eating it up. He promised me on several occasions "This will be my last bite." But then he didn't put down his spoon, and I couldn't very well deny him even though I could have easily polished off the entire cup. 

I came back several weeks later with my friend David. We didn't skip the clam chowder and both sprung for Petey's famous lobster rolls, which, for Midwesterners like myself who are unfamiliar, is a sandwich of bread filled with a lobster-mayo salad. Big deal, let me tell you.

Petey's, if you couldn't tell by the yard art in the top photo, catches its own lobsters. The second time I went to the restaurant, the boat and at least half the cages were missing--surely put to good use drawing in the days catch. I don't know that it could get any fresher, about 100 yards from the beach.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Barbecue and a Chocolate Cake

After what one could label a tedious 24-hour drive, I have arrived back home in Omaha totally broke and on the mend. My acid reflux, which had become something of an obsession (re: I troll the Internet at all hours trying to come up with a breakthrough), has lessened ever so slightly but enough, although I am still abstaining from all things fun, which is to say beer, spicy food, coffee, tea and carbonated beverages.

Part of my healing process shall be to do some cooking, and yesterday being Father's Day, I had a great opportunity to thank my dad for all his love and support during the Boston internship by spoiling him with barbecued beef short ribs and a triple-chocolate cake. He deserved that and more. Really, he's the best.

Unfortunately for the Internet, I signed one of those pesky nondisclosure agreements with America's Test Kitchen and cannot reproduce the recipe here. However, you are in luck because the recipe is featured in this month's Cook's Illustrated magazine. Let me entice you to purchase the magazine for this (and an awesome grilled jerk chicken recipe that I can't eat right now because of the habanero chile). Beef short ribs are maybe a little bit of a restaurant secret. Braised beef short ribs was something I was taught almost right away upon entering culinary school. You can get a lot of bang out of those ribs. The cut has a lot of connective tissue, making it pretty tough unless you cook it for a long time at a low temperature, at which point it becomes that melt-in-your-mouth meat.

Contrary to everyone else in the world, I have actually not been a huge fan of beef short ribs. There is a lot of fat in the cut. A lot. And it's that chewy, collagen-esque fat. It is always a heavy meal, especially when braised and all that fat just sits there in the stewing liquid and solidifies all over your leftovers. This technique solves that problem by roasting the ribs that are coated with a general rub. The fat melts off and you leave it in the pan when you move the ribs to the grill where they are treated to a mustard glaze. The glaze is the real ringer in this entree. It's mustard, vinegar (a personal favorite ingredient) and brown sugar. You glaze the ribs every half hour until the ribs gets this sweet-and-sour crust on the outside. The meat is completely tender once your break through that delectable outer layer.

We were stuffing ourselves not wanting to leave any meat behind. But once we had our fill, the family dog, Shelby, was more than happy to clean the meat completely off the bone and gobble down the last layer of fat and collagen right next to the bone. It was astounding really. Our eyes had not yet witnessed her skill at tearing through tough meat. She really such a wussy dog--she can't even jump high enough to get into the truck and this is a large golden retriever--we were impressed that she could rip the meat, clean off.
Not one to disappoint, I'll leave you with a different recipe. One for a Brooklyn Blackout Cake. We made it in my cakes class at school and I subsequently featured it at a Sukkot dessert reception where I worked last fall. My dad went straight for the chocolate on the buffet and requested it for Thanksgiving and Christmas. I held off until now, and I am happy to report that the cake came off without a hitch. It's not perfect by professional standards, but I think I may have finally moved beyond my early cake traumas with a little practice and the help of a screaming instructor. I present you with the Brooklyn Blackout Cake: a moist chocolate cake with a chocolate pastry cream filling and chocolate-butter frosting. 

Brooklyn Blackout Cake

1 1/2 cups flour
1 cup cocoa powder
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
2 cups granulated sugar
2 eggs
1 egg yolk
1 cup buttermilk
1/2 cup butter, melted
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 cup brewed coffee

1 cup milk
pinch salt
1/4 cup sugar
1 egg
2 tablespoons corn starch
2 ounces bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped

4 ounces bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
11 tablespoons butter, at room temperature
1 2/3 cups powdered sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Mix dry ingredients including flour, baking powder and soda, salt, cocoa powder and sugar. Whisk to combine. 

In separate bowl, combine eggs, buttermilk, butter and vanilla. In bowl of standing mixer, add wet ingredients to dry. Mix for one minute until combined. Pour in coffee and mix until smooth. Divide evenly into two nine-inch cake rounds that have been greased. Bake at 350 degrees for 30 to 35 minutes until toothpick comes out cleanly. 

To make pastry cream, warm milk and salt in a saucepan on medium-low heat until steaming. Meanwhile, whisk egg, sugar and cornstarch. Pour hot milk slowly over egg mixture, stirring continuously. Pour entire mixture back into saucepan and cook over medium heat until thickened. Pour hot pastry cream over chocolate. Stir until smooth as chocolate melts. Place in between layers of cake once cream is cooled. Assemble cake before making frosting.

For frosting, melt chocolate in microwave by pulsing and stirring frequently. Cream butter in bowl of standing mixer. Add powdered sugar and cream again. Finally, pour in vanilla and melted chocolate, mix until smooth. Frost cake before icing is cooled because it will harden at room temperature and be difficult to spread. Decorate outside with crumbs from evening out cake layers or leave plain as I have here.