Saturday, February 27, 2010
I don't have any tattoos. They have always been something I appreciate, or even admire, on others, but have never been able to commit to for myself.
Chefs (the bad boys that they tend to be) have a reputation for being tatted up, and in the last dozen or so years, I've seen a handful of occupation-related tattoos popping up on them, or perhaps more likely, on aspiring chefs, the ones who are trying desperately to make their mark and get noticed.
The knuckles tattoo, which if I'm not mistaken was used in a montage for one of the seasons of Bravo TV's Top Chef, is probably the most popular one.
Searching around the net, I found a few that I think have more style and personality than the brazen knuckles.
There are tattoos of equipment.
Some people prefer tattoos of edible animals and plants.
I found a huge number of cartoonish food tattoos, most of which grossed me out, like this burger. The best one I found was a milk-and-cookie tattoo (not shown here because the copyright for the photograph is held by Sarah Goldstone) .
And finally, I found a number of product spot tattoos. While I would never want to be a walking advertisement, I fell in love with this Morton's Salt recreation because of the image's style.
Wednesday, February 17, 2010
Oh, beautiful French pastries. Who can resist them?
These little cream puffs, straight out of the oven and unfilled, are made from pâte à choux. Pâte à choux is the wet, sticky dough that's used to make éclairs, cream puffs, and profiteroles.
I had no reason whatsoever to try my hand at them, until I started looking into recreational baking courses at some of New York City's best cooking schools.
For $100 to $500, I could hang out in a beautiful kitchen for a couple of hours, talk to baking instructors about technique, watch others as they learn their techniques, and churn out a couple of pies, cakes, some pastry cream, and of course, a couple of pâte à choux pastries. Seeing as I learn best (and enjoy learning most) when I'm in a formal setting, this all seemed like a great deal.
On the other hand, I could spend $15-$50 on ingredients and equipment — all of which I would keep after the cooking was said and done — and make most of that stuff at home, learning through hands-on experience, thumbing through a couple of cook books and blogs for recipes, and reading online resources or watching online instructional videos for additional advice.
For the time being, I opted for the latter option. And I decided to start with the pâte à choux. I searched through a couple of recipes and settled on one from Gordon Ramsay from BBC's Good Food for just the base (not the sauce and filling). You'll notice in the photo that two of the puffs are much darker than the other. The darker ones were the result of following Ramsay's advice to cook the pastry until it is dark gold. They are much firmer than the lighter colored one, but both came out soft and slightly chewy when eaten.
Then I consulted Alice Waters' The Art of Simple Food to make a classic vanilla pastry cream, which is surprisingly close to pudding. In fact, it was so runny that I didn't end up using it for the pastries at all.
I initially made these thinking I'd serve them as either cream puffs or profiteroles during the Super Bowl, but my friends brought so many other amazing sweets and treats that I ended up just chucking them into a plastic container and popping them into the freezer — where they have been ever since.
Pâte à Choux
Adapted slightly from BBC's GoodFood.com
50 grams of unsalted butter, or about 3 1/2 Tablespoons
60 grams of all-purpose flour, or about 1/4 cup
1 Tablespoon white sugar
2 large eggs, beaten
150mL water, or about 2/3 cup
1/8 teaspoon salt
Preheat the oven to 425F.
In a small, heavy-bottomed sauce pan, bring to a simmer the water and butter. Add the salt. In a separate bowl, stir together the flour and sugar. Bring the liquid to just barely boiling, and ready yourself with a wood spoon. Dump all the flour and sugar in at once and stir or beat vigorously. Continue beating until the mixture is shiny and is pulling away from the pot.
Transfer the mixture to a bowl and continue beating. Add a few spoonfuls of the egg, but not all of it. You may not need to add all the egg, so add it slowly. The dough needs to be quite wet and able to drop off the spoon.
Line a baking sheet with a Silpat or parchment paper. Pipe (or spoon) about a mounded tablespoonful of dough, leaving at least an inch between each puff. If there is a tip on any of the spots of dough, wet your finger and smooth them down so they don't burn.
Pop them into the hot oven, and don't peak for at least 15 minutes.
Remove the puffs from the oven and very gently, but immediately, set them upside down on a cooling rack. If they are dark enough in color, they will hold their shape fairly well despite being upside down.
Allow to cool. When ready to fill, snip off the tops with sharp cooking shears or a sharp knife and fill with small scoops of ice cream or whipped cream.
Frenchie Sammich Monster says, "Bon appétit!"
Illustration by Sara D. Reiss.
Wednesday, February 10, 2010
I'm about to go on a severe cheap eats kick.
Every couple of months, I get sick and tired of planning and paying for two- and three-star dinners. Because of the expense, fine dining is more of a luxury hobby than a habit for me, something I do about once every six weeks or so. I don't come from money; I didn't grow up in a fine-dining kind of family. I grew up with pots of spaghetti that could stretch to feed nine people and iceberg lettuce salads (my two greatest comfort foods). And while I live comfortably now, the cost of living in New York city alone is enough to curb one's appetite for $200-dinner-for-two bills.
So every couple of months, I fling my arms into the air in protest: "That's it! No more high-end eating out! No more meals out that cost more than $10-$15 per person. We can still spend our money on good quality ingredients to cook at home, but I declare a moratorium on eating at any restaurant that requires a reservation or costs $18-$30 per entree. We're done!"
It was in this mindset that two weeks ago, Boyfriend and I went to L'asso in the Nolita (north of Little Italy) and Soho area of New York. We went on a week night at 6:30 in time to make it for happy hour, when the restaurant offers two slices of margherita pizza and a draught beer for $6.
The pizza oven sits right behind the bar, allowing happy hour diners to see when a fresh pie comes out of the oven. The pizza, incredibly thin but doused with a little too much tomato sauce and wet mozzarella, sagged a bit at the small end, but was crisp enough toward the crust. The beer list seems to rotate, but it didn't impress me enough to have me clamoring back for more: choices from Brooklyn Brewery, Six Point Brewery (also Brooklyn-based), some kind of pilsner, an ale, an IPA.
But a light, early, pizza dinner in New York in a cool part of town for $6 really can't be beat.