Monday, July 30, 2012

Recipe: No-Bake Peanut Butter Mousse Pie

Peanut butter pie made with peanut butter mousse or frosting and chocolate ganache
Peanut butter frosting is one of the best things I make, but the dark secret about this delectable topping is it's not really frosting. It's basically peanut butter mousse, or as I sometimes call it, "peanut butter whipped cream." I call it frosting because I will gladly smother any cake in this stuff, left, right, and sideways.

To make it, I start with two bowls. In one, I whip up a batch of cold whipped cream. In another, I blend peanut butter with powdered sugar and hot water and adjust it to reach the right sweetness and consistence (see my full recipe for peanut butter frosting).

Other people must love this recipe, too. It's one of the most visited pages on my blog. And sadly, I've been letting down a lot of people by not having a photo of the beloved peanut butter frosting/mousse/whipped cream.

To take a photo, I had to make a batch, and I did. But I don't have an oven at the moment because I'm waiting out a kitchen remodel that can't start for various reasons until September. No cake, no baking. So what could I do with this delightful PB stuff?

Well, I bought a bar of dark chocolate, melted it with cream to make ganache, buttered a round casserole dish, and spread it all around. Then I topped that with graham crackers and piled on the peanut butter filling. The filling makes the grahams soft and cake-like. The whole thing sat in the refrigerator for an hour or so, and then Boyfriend and I dove in.

It didn't quite work out as planned. The ganache was too hard. Drippy peanut butter mousse didn't hold its shape. But it did taste delicious. The rest of the "pie" is in the freezer. I'm hoping it sets up better so that if I defrost it for an hour in the fridge, it will keep its form better.

No-Bake Peanut Butter Mousse Pie
Serves 6 to 8
4 oz. dark chocolate
1/4 cup heavy cream (*I would suggest using more than 1/4 cup in hindsight)
butter for greasing
1 cup peanut butter
1/2 to 1 cup powdered sugar (confectioner's sugar)
a few tablespoons hot water
1/2 cup cold heavy cream (double cream)
1 tablespoon granulated white sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
5 graham crackers
peanut butter and chocolate mousse pie
Butter a round casserole dish or pie dish. In a bain marie, melt the chocolate with 1/4 cup (or more) heavy cream, stirring and scraping the sides all the while. Remove from heat and let the chocolate ganache cool 10 minutes, then pour it into the buttered dish. Spread it evenly.

Break up graham crackers and set them in a single layer on top of the ganache.

In one bowl, blend the peanut butter using egg beaters or an electric mixer. Slowly add the powdered sugar. The mixer or beaters may struggle, so go gently on them. The mixture will become clumpy. Add hot water 1 tablespoon at a time until the peanut butter begins to smooth out and move again more easily in the beaters. Continue adding powdered sugar to taste.

In a second bowl using clean beaters or a whisk, beat the cream. Slowly add 1 tablespoon sugar and continue beating until you have soft peaks: that's whipped cream. It's better to err on the side of under-beating. You can always whip it more, but if you beat too long, you'll have butter, and you can't undo that.

Using a rubber spatula, fold a little of the peanut butter into the whipped cream. Add more and continue folding until both are fully blended. Spread this mixture on top of the graham crackers, and set the dish in the refrigerator for two hours so that graham crackers soften.

*Notes and adjustments: You can try freezing the pie and thawing it slightly in the refrigerator before cutting into six to eight slices with a hot knife and serving. Other adjustments: Lighten the ganache with more heavy cream (perhaps 1/2 cup total) and 1 tablespoon butter to give it a softer texture, as it was quite hard with 4 oz. chocolate to 1/4 cup cream.




Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Just Because You're Good at It, Doesn't Mean You Have To Do It

Just because you're good at something, doesn't mean you have to do it. Not for your career. Not to make others happy. Not because you would be successful at it.

I've long said this about cooking. I love cooking, and I've good at it, but I don't want to do it for my job.  I've also said this about raising children. Would I make a good mother? Absolutely. Does that mean I should have children? No.

An Opportunity Arises...
A position opened up in my workplace recently for a managing editor. The job requires a blend of all my strongest skills: organization, scheduling, creative problem-solving, and meeting deadlines.

I've been a managing editor before at a different company (I'm a writer now). I'm really good at it. And this open position would be a step up the ladder in terms of company structure. And although I didn't ask for the details, I'm fairly certain the pay would be higher.

Would this be a good move for my career?

At first light, most objective observers would probably answer, "Yes, and you're a fool not to go for it."

The Happiness Factor
When I thought through the opportunity, however, I decided it would not make me happier than I am now. Plus, that job comes with a different stress level, one that I frankly don't feel as a writer. A lot of other writers in the company feel the pinch of deadlines, the burden of generating story ideas, the worry that  their online articles aren't generating much traffic for the website. But I just don't worry about those things. I do worry about whether I got all my facts straight. I worry whether the headline reflects the story that I've actually written, because I've messed that up in the past pretty royally. I stress out about potentially missing a huge feature of a product that I'm planning to write about. But I never worry about the things I consider to be procedural level.

To be a good managing editor, you have to be really competent at the procedure-level stuff. And I am. But you also have to enjoy it, which I do to some degree, but I don't enjoy it more than writing.

Money in Decision-Making
Not long ago, I read some advice that said, "Never make a decision based solely on money." I think by and large only the privileged among us can take that advice fully. Money drives a lot of decisions, especially when you don't have it. But I did take away from that advice this idea: Any time I have the opportunity to set money aside from a decision, I should. It won't always be the case, though.

My job pays me what I need. I'm comfortable. When I think about where I want my career to go, I don't have to consider money as a factor at this moment in time. I'm extremely fortunate in that sense.

Persuasion
Having made up my mind not to think more about applying for the open position, someone in my office asked me if I might be interested in it. He said he knew my skills made me a great candidate. He reminded me that it would be a big step up in hierarchy. 

Flattery can be quite persuasive. Nothing makes me reconsider a decision more than hearing from other people how great they think I'd be if I made the opposite decision. I once was in a department store trying on a jacket that I didn't like that much, when another shopper spotted me and said, "Wow! That fits you like a glove!" Actually, I think I own two jackets purchased under those same conditions.

Opportunity Costs
Economists love to talk about "opportunity cost," which means when you choose to do one thing, you necessarily can't be doing some other thing or things at the same time. In other words, you are giving up some opportunities in order to pursue one specific opportunity.

And it's a little more complicated than that, having to do with the estimated value of the thing(s) you're sacrificing in order to have the thing of your choosing, but let's not go too far down that road.

Sometimes I think the idea of opportunity costs leads people into false dichotomies. Here's an example: If you go to college and choose to major in English literature, you cannot also choose to study biology. You have to pick one or the other. Or do you? Can't you double-major in this case and get two degrees? Maybe you can choose a university that supports double-majors across both humanities and the sciences.

A lot of times, job positions are what you make of them. You can mold them to your strengths, desires, or ideas. Could a managing editor also spend a lot of time writing? It's possible. It's very possible.

The Decision
For this particular decision, I'm 90 to 95 percent certain I'd rather be a writer and continue along my chosen path. I think there are some opportunities as a writer that I would not be able to replicate, even if I were to manipulate the nature of the managing editor job. There's still a chance I might have a few more informal conversations about the job with the people who are most closely connected to the position. I wouldn't want to write off an opportunity without fully giving it a chance.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Review: Sushi of Gari (Upper East), New York

To eat good sushi in New York, you have to pay for it. I've tasted spectacular sushi in this city, but at $50 to $100 per person without drinks, it's a rare treat. 

Sushi of Gari, whose upper east side location lays claim to on Michelin star (there are two other lesser famed outposts in New York: one at Columbus Circle, the other in the upper west side), is perhaps the most affordable high class sushi restaurant in the city.  

No need to order appetizers, though plenty of traditional Japanese small plates fill the menu, or a $700 bottle of champagne, or any of the miscellaneous cooked noodle or tempura dishes. The set Sushi Deluxe dinner ($37, shown with one additional item on the plate) is nine delectable, mostly classic pieces of sushi and one roll, in this case, a fatty tuna with scallion if I'm not mistaken. On the top row in the photo, the third piece from the right is an additional uni sushi piece ($7.50) that I added to the dinner.


More adventurous sushi fans might prefer the Special Sushi dinner ($45), a chef's selection of more artfully designed sushi pieces, such as fatty tuna tartare with hijiki and pine nuts, which was on the set Boyfriend ate, slowly and with more restraint to savor each bite than is usually his speed. 

Even my very classic set came with a few surprises. The sushi piece shown with a blob of sauce (shown, top row, second from left) held a fried oyster and a hint of fruitiness. Salmon roe (top right) usually isn't something I order because it occasionally tastes like getting punched in the face by a wave at the beach, but every ruby egg in this monster-sized bite popped gently, more like dipping your toes in the ocean while breathing in the sea air.
 
Though I might question whether the shrimp could have been cooked more delicately, or if the decor could use a makeover, these nitpicks would fly in the face of Sushi of Gari's biggest draw: value. A $37 high quality sushi dinner ain't bad.

Sushi of Gari, Upper East
402 East 78th Street (between First and York Avenues)
Reservations recommended

Monday, July 9, 2012

Food of the Gods

Lobster for dinner.

How do you follow lobster for dinner with conversation? It's so delicious and takes so much energy and focus to eat that talking isn't really a priority.

So at the close of the meal, I asked Boyfriend, "What are your top five most delicious foods of all time?"

It can't be a "composed" food, like bacon cheeseburger, but it can be processed within reason.

Everything on the list must be something that, if you found out some adult had never eaten it, you'd be a little bit horrified and make it a mission to get the person to eat it.

The other assumption is the person has no dietary restrictions or palette sensitivities. Their palette will taste everything as you taste it.

Here are Boyfriend's (he struggled to pare his list to five):
1. bacon
2. sea urchin
3. beer
4. eggs
5. lobster
with his alternates for lobster being chocolate and coffee.

Mine:
1. chocolate
2. coffee
3. beer
4. raw salmon
5. dried figs

What are yours?