Tag Archives: baking

Crusty Perfection

31 Oct

I’m always amused when it happens.

When after 10 years–a decade–the City throws me for a loop.  It crystallizes for me how confusing and dynamic and thrilling it must be to be a newbie or visitor here all over again, and reminds me why I live here, gives me that old thrill for just one second.  It also makes me blush like hell and mutter a bit to myself like a crazy lady.

Take Tuesday for example.  I had jury duty at Brooklyn Supreme Court.  What a simultaneously fascinating, and frustrating, experience!  Whatever algorithm the Kings County court system is using to ensure a diverse jury pool sure does work.  Sadly, the processes they use for picking juries are still a bit outmoded.

I got paneled for a case that I couldn’t sit on because the trial is scheduled for while Isaac and I are in Colorado visiting his family.  Could I tell the lawyers this and go back into the jury pool to possibly get on a jury I could sit on, thus possibly helping a fellow New Yorker?  No.  I had to sit there, for four hours and listen to the droning lawyers until my name was called, at which point, I could finally, officially, tell them I couldn’t sit on the jury because I wouldn’t be here.  Sigh.

But I did learn one very important lesson.  If you are forced to listen to a lawyer who is passionately in love with his own voice, don’t fight it.  No matter how smart you think you are, you’re never going to be able to read the Economist.  Do yourself a favor and bring a copy of US Weekly…. Just in case.

And that was it.  I was released back into the pool where I sat down, did some work, and was then, a few hours later, released back into the cold, windy, wet world.  Brooklyn’s court house perches on the edge of one of the most beautiful neighborhoods in all of Kings County, Brooklyn Heights, but sadly, it was too icky of a day to enjoy it. So I scurried to the Court Street subway stop as quickly, and dryly, as possible.

And here’s where the city threw me for a loop.  Court Street is a very deep, very old station. The sides of the walls are rounded, the platform is narrow and the trains feel very close.  It’s also a disorienting station with trains arriving in both directions and scarce singage saying “This way for Manhattan” or “This way for the rest of Brooklyn.”  So, I relied on my internal compass, something every New Yorker has whether they know it or not.

A train arrived.  My internal compass said, “Yep, that’s the one! That’s the train that will get you home hours earlier than you’ve gotten home in months and months and months.” So I hopped on, grabbed a seat and resumed reading about why the world is going to hell in a hand basket.

And then, after a few stops, I looked up, expecting to see us pulling into the Atlantic-Pacific station only to see scaffolding and workmen.  “Heeeey,” I thought to myself, “That looks like Cortland Street station in Manhattan… How’d I get here?”  And then, a few feet further on, there were the station signs.  It was, in fact, Cortland Street station in Manhattan.  I had been duped.

This is the point when I started blushing and muttering to myself.  Not that anyone on that rainy day-R train could possibly have known that I, seasoned New Yorker, humbler of the forgetful, mocker of the mistake-maker, had just pulled an “Oopsie!”  Regardless, I was embarrassed.  I slyly exited at City Hall, crossed the platform and re-started my journey home.  I still made it home hours early, but I had been humbled, for the umpteenth time, by the city I thought I knew so well.  It was kind of refreshing, actually.

So why am I telling you all of this?  Because sometimes after a great triumph, one must fall.  And what was my great triumph.  Pie crust my friends!  Isaac, for weeks, has been agitating to make both caldo verde and pumpkin soup.  And while I love soup, we settled on him making a version of the Portuguese kale soup over our long weekend and, riffing on his pumpkin idea, I decided to make Christina’s winter squash quiche.

But, before one can crack a few eggs, butter and flour must meet.  And since I was using up the bulk of our beautiful, incredibly tasty free-range eggs from farmer Dan, and a beautiful kabocha squash from the Chatham farmer’s market (which we finally got to go to since it’s held, rather inexplicably, on Friday evenings from 4-7pm), I knew the crust had to be special.  So I checked with Martha.

All of her crusts say to use a food processor.  Which is fine, I have one of those.  Only problem, it was down in the city, and I was up in the country.  So I decided to continue on anyway with my God-given food processor.  My hands.  I remembered reading somewhere about a lady who made the most wonderful pie crusts in all of creation, and her secret was using her hands.  I figured if she could do it, so could I.


I followed Martha’s pate brisee recipe, cutting the frozen butter into the flour with two knives until I got tired, at which point I used my hands, rubbing the butter into the flour and working in the water.  I didn’t over work everything, believing that the crumbliness would hydrate in the fridge. And I was right.

I know this is a “like duh” moment, but you don’t need a food processor to make absolutely perfect pie crust.  Seems logical given that women have been making pies for centuries and the Cuisinart has only been around for a few decades.

And so, we had an everything-must-be-in-a-crust dinner, and it was delicious.  Christina’s quiche is so magical.  It’s custardy and sweet and tangy and smokey and elusive and mysterious and gosh darnit delicious.  If you make it for friends, they will beg you for the recipe, she’s right. I can’t wait to make it for my family for Thanksgiving dinner.  And the pie? Oh my god, the pie.  It’s been so long since I baked an apple pie, and back then, it was kind of a disaster.  The crust was bad and the filling was meh.  But this time?  Sublime.

So if you’ve got some pumpkin guts hanging around from your pre-Halloween carving activities, roast them up and toss them with some eggs and make yourself a pie crust with your hands.  Don’t be shy. Go ahead, get a little dirty. Apparently they make guilt-free choose-a-size paper towels these days.

So make a mess!  It’ll be tasty, guaranteed.

Head below the jump for the recipes for Christina’s Squash Quiche and Ann’s Apple Pie.

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Right Aid

16 Apr

I went to Macy’s on Saturday.

April Flowers

Compared to the last time I was there, and to the tumult in my head, it was an oasis of stillness, a sea of calm.

Things have been a little hectic at work since we’ve been back from Italy. I got one day to re-acclimate, one day to tell my silly stories about getting stuck in the parking garage in Perugia, of nearly being trapped on the Autostrade, of running around Orvieto with my nephew like a pair of headless chickens, and then, *wham* right back into the thick of things.

I have been working on my first really big, really high profile project since getting promoted. You see, The Plan worked! The new gig isn’t that much of a change from the old one. It’s more of a readjustment. And my work on this big thing was my first big test. It’s been stressful, and thankfully, it’s over. The project launched late last night and it’s beautiful. I’m really proud of the work I did on it, but holy cows am I glad that’s over!

Almost Cherry Blossoms

I find the tumult of big, chaotic stores soaked in history and cloaked in shabby gravitas soothing when my mind is full of too many thoughts. I like rambling around Tiffany’s, gawking at all the pretty baubles, staring into the depths of the lofty, dark wood ceilings, marveling at the grace with which the sales girls handle the throngs of tourists with dollars burning holes in their pockets.

I love the shoe floor at Saks. The packs of women, milling and foaming, like lions in the Coliseum, or concubines in a harem, protecting their chosen pair from usurpers. The armies of salesmen hidden behind tall stacks of boxes, like a footman in a Jane Austen novel. The bored men, reclining on silly, uncomfortable grey poufs like a pod of walruses, wishing to God there was a newspaper and that his wife would just be honest and buy the damn shoes she wants, not the ones she thinks he wants, because, seriously, he doesn’t care. Lust, betrayl, elation, boredom; it’s a lot like being at the opera.

Buds, Sunshine

And then there’s the men’s store at Bergdorf’s. Isaac and I stumbled in there on Saturday. There’s not a thing in there we can afford. Okay, maybe we could buy a pocket square, or the very cheapest set of cuff links, or a tie… But that’s not the point. Walking around, staring at all the beautiful craftsmanship is, especially when it happens to be a day that they’re serving free wine and very good Scotch and macarons and brie with caramelized pear and toast points with caviar all accompanied by a jazz quartet. It was so civilized and calming and delightful.

But, what about Macy’s you may be asking? Well, I went to Macy’s because I wanted to buy myself a little present, for being almost done with “the project.” I’m such an only child that way… I was standing in line, when a salesman, with massive dreads and a huge smile, waved me over to his register. I popped my chosen gift up onto the counter, and he leaned in and asked me in a lilting, Caribbean brogue, “Is this your first KitchenAid?”

The Darling Buds Of... March

I nodded, and then he dissolved into a puddle of breathless raptures, “Oh my god, you’re going to love it! I have one. I make roti and all my kids’ birthday cakes and pies for my mother and bread for our dinners! Oh, you’re just going to love it! You’re going to always be asking yourself how you ever lived without it!” I was dying. Never in a million years would I have pegged this man for a baker, and there he was, positively gushing about a kitchen appliance. It was too funny. I turned around to leave, giggling to myself, but found my way blocked. There, directly behind me, was another man.

“Oh! Is that your first KitchenAid?” he asked. I was thinking to myself, “Ohyouhavegottobekiddingme.” Uh-huh I nodded. “Oh my! You’re just going to love it! I’m a baker myself. I make a few loaves of bread a week, all different sorts. What are you going to do with it?” “Uh, bread, mostly,” I stammered. “Oh, you’re just going to love it!” he replied in his gorgeous, proper English accent.

Action Shot

I positively floated out of the store. I had been slightly hesitant about my purchase. Where would it live? Would I bake enough to make it pay for itself? But all my fears had been blithely pushed aside by those two gentleman’s enthusiasms.

I got home, unpacked her, (I got black caviar in case you’re wondering) and made a beeline for Rose Levy Beranbaum’s The Bread Bible. I knew exactly what recipe I wanted to make first. Focaccia. It’s the one bread you absolutely, positively cannot make in this book without a stand mixer, and it is, of course, the one I’ve been most hankering to make since Isaac brought the book home to me as a gift months and months ago.

Garlic/Oil

It’s a very wet dough that should, as she puts it, resemble melted mozzarella when it is done. It requires 20 minutes of “kneading” during which it forms all sorts of mesmerizing patterns as the gluten activates and relaxes, throwing out strings of dough and then gathering them back in. I stood transfixed, staring into the bowl, rocking with the rhythm of the mixer the whole time.

And then it rested. While the dough was rising and relaxing, I made garlic confit to tuck into little pockets of the dough. The garlic was delicious, sweet, piquant and yummy, but it is the oil that remains that is the real prize.

Garlic & Rosemary Focaccia

As the bread was baking, we used the garlic oil to dress a salad with a dash of sherry vinegar and a drizzle of lemon juice. Holy moley is that good! I only wish the oil had still been a little warm. It would make an excellent stand in for bacon grease in a warm spinach salad. Yep, it’s that good. It rivals bacon.

And the bread? Amazing! I don’t think the stand mixer (she really needs a name) has paid for herself yet, but if everything I make with it comes out this well, she will soon. The focaccia was laced with giant, fragrant bubbles amidst the pockets of garlic and spiky, toasted splinters of rosemary. I wish I could eat it for breakfast every morning.

Garlic & Rosemary Focaccia

I’d stink, but I’d be very, very happy.

No recipe for the focaccia as it’s not mine, but head below the jump for instructions for making Garlic Confit.

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