The case of the disappearing turkey

Thanksgiving is not the time to try new recipes, but who has time to do a dry run of an elaborate meal? Plus, I’m a risk taker. A jump-out-of-a-plane skydiver. A zipline-over-the-canyon kind of gal. Well, not really. Regardless, I go foolhardily into new recipe adventures on Thanksgiving with total confidence—my first being Rachael Ray’s stuffin’ muffins recipe that failed. Hard. Instead of crunchy yet moist individual portions of stuffing, the muffins remained wet balls (go ahead, I’ll wait), uncooked in the middle. Still, I liked the idea of making stuffing in cupcake tins, so I brought them to my friend’s house anyway and we had a good laugh. Too ambitious, my desires.

Last year, I made gingerbread thinking it was a brilliant idea to swap out dried old ginger spice for the real thing, freshly grated. Calculations veering on trigonometry did nothing to achieve an accurate substitution amount. Result: ew.

This year, I tried a recipe I’ve had in my collection for a decade but have never made. A rich chocolate tart calls for a special occasion and Thanksgiving seemed just the occasion. But dough and I just don’t get along (it refuses to be dough), so while I managed to at least make a chocolate crust, I failed to note that cocoa powder is not the same as cocoa. You knew that? You could have told me.

I also realized halfway through (seriously, there’s a reason you should read recipes all the way through before attempting, but we’re stubborn, you and I) that the magazine clipping with the recipe was missing the part about how to make the chocolate filling. After Googling around and going for it, I had a rich chocolate tart that was half rich, half dry as unsweetened cocoa.

But no matter. All would be forgiven once everyone saw the adorable turkey figure I stenciled on the tart using a hand drawn turkey silhouette and powdered sugar. Before popping it in the car this morning, I took a peek at the tart only to realize that the turkey had disappeared; the sugar had dissolved into the chocolate, as if embarrassed. Back in the kitchen, I sifted more sugar around the salvaged stencil. Crisis averted. Until I arrived at my friend’s house with the turkey half dissolved again and fading fast.

But this is a day to be thankful. Thankful that I have friends who will pretend the bitter tart crust is delicious and that the cute turkey is still clearly visible even when it’s not. At least I snapped a picture of the sucker for proof. If you too want to attempt this tart using actual cocoa powder, and can somehow manage to roll the dough out to the recommended 4″ x 16 ”  rectangle and find a tart pan that size while not burning the edges and not watching your turkey shape disappear, by all means try the recipe.

On my drive home, a shooting star shot across the sky—a magical moment considering that it was, well, a star shooting across the sky to its death but more so because it was so clearly visible even from a city highway. You’d think I wished for more sense when it comes to baking, but I didn’t.

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A recipe that took as long as the Oscars

Even though I know you should read a recipe before you attempt it, I failed to follow my own advice and embarked on an epic communion with my kitchen Sunday afternoon to make this layered salted caramel shortbread in time for the red carpet action. By the time the Best Actor category rolled around, about seven hours into the show, it was done. Mostly.

But I couldn’t give up. The recipe and picture in Ready Made magazine were swoonable, no?

The goal

The first step involved my least favorite baking instruction: combine flour and cold butter to make a dough. Flour and cold butter do no like each other, but I force them to play nice and let the dough rest in the fridge for an hour. The dough hits the oven and emerges as shortbread; then I make caramel and layer that on the shortbread. Into the fridge for another hour. Next up: a stab at tempering chocolate—a complicated recipe in itself because temperature is key and my candy thermometer is vague. I taste the dark chocolate and it has an odd, fruity taste, and I start to regret buying cheap chocolate at Trader Joe’s. The chocolate (tempered?) gets spread on top of the caramel to set—another eternity.

In fact, it’s not humanly possible to wait until it sets, so I cut into it and it oozes all over the place and marvel at how unlike the picture it looks. It’s as if I entered the Ruin this Recipe contest. Winner!

Huh. Did I miss a step?

The unicorn of ice cream trucks

When it comes to recognizing the distant sing-song music of an ice cream truck, I have the acute hearing of a schnauzer. What’s that musical number 15 blocks away? Why, it’s the ice cream truck and it’s headed right to me. What service!

But let’s be honest, with the advent of Ben & Jerry’s, organic ice cream, goats milk ice cream, etc., popsicles and Hoodsie cups have lost their luster. So I was psyched to happen upon the Van Leeuwen artisan ice cream truck when I was in New York recently. There, parked at the corner of Prince and Greene in SoHo was the ice cream truck to crush all other ice cream trucks (think potential summer blockbuster called Ice Cream Wars in which Eddie Murphy and Kevin James do battle in trucks painted with flames with a chase scene at the end and ice cream splattered everywhere). I had heard about this truck, but in the vast city of New York, I figured it was like a unicorn—one of those mythical creatures you know is out there but never stumble upon. Well, behold the unicorn.

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The truck is the sweetest, painted in a soft yellow and nicely designed. Even the flavors are illustrated with love:

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My boyfriend got the pistachio, but he reports that it was bland and there was nary a pistachio to be found. I got the chocolate. Duh. You can never go wrong with chocolate.

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A soufflé of chocolate air

I’ve had a number of soufflé recipes in my collection for years now, none of which I’ve ever made. An anniversary seemed liked the perfect time to celebrate with a special dessert. Of course, any day is reason to celebrate with a special dessert, but it’s nice to pretend there’s a reason sometimes. 

The hype about soufflés—how they’re impossible to perfect, how a whisper outside the oven may make them collapse into a heap and all that—has always discouraged me from attempting one. But after listening to a guest on The Splendid Table podcast insist they’re not all that finicky, I gave it a whirl. Yes, the egg whites needed to form peaks just so, and yes you need to fold in said egg whites as gently as you would tuck in a baby, but you know, it worked. And 1) we used salted butter, 2) someone dropped a plate on the oven that we were sure spelled disaster, and 3) we didn’t even have a proper soufflé pan, whatever that is, but instead used ramekins, and a giant mug. They puffed up just like popovers to the point that the mug was brimming with a solid form of hot chocolate. And who wouldn’t want to eat that? I’m telling you, it was like eating chocolate air.

A cloud of chocolate

A cloud of chocolate

 

Here’s the deal, courtesy of the estimable Mark Bittman in his know-it-all cookbook How to Cook Everything:

Chocolate soufflé

3 T unsalted butter, plus 1 t for greasing the dish

1/3 cup sugar, plus some for dusting the dish

1 cup milk

3 T flour

2 ounces bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, chopped

4 eggs, separated

Pinch salt

Confectioners’ sugar for dusting

Use 1 teaspoon of butter to grease a 2-quart soufflé dish or other deep baking dish (or, you know, mugs), such as a Corningware-type dish. Sugar the dish or ramekins and preheat the oven to 350º.

Warm the milk in a saucepan with 1/3 cup of sugar. In a small saucepan, heat the 3 tablespoons of butter over med-low heat. When the buttery foam begins to subside, stir in the flour. On low, stir it almost constantly until the flour-butter mixture darkens, about 3 minutes.

Stir in the milk, a little at a time, using a whisk. It will be quick thick; stir in the chocolate and remove from heat. Let cool for 5 minutes. Beat the egg yolks and stir them in. 

In a clean bowl (free of any fat), beat the egg whites with a pinch of salt until very stiff but still glossy. Stir a good spoonful of them into the sauce to lighten it, then fold in the remaining whites, using a rubber spatula or your hand. Hands are cool. Transfer to the prepared mold and bake until the center is set, or nearly so, 30 to 40 minutes (15-25 for individual soufflés). Dust with confectioners’ sugar and serve immediately. 

And don’t take that “serve immediately” part lightly because the creation will start to fall as soon as it hits the table. Best to get a spoon and pull up a chair next to the oven.

Chocolate + bread = chocolate bread pudding.

Bread and chocolate are a magical combination. Must be true, because I have no less than five recipes for chocolate bread pudding. All that mushy-gushy squishy sweetness: delicious. 

I made this tonight to share with my special someone, but I cannot guarantee that it will still be in the fridge when I see him on Friday. Fair warning. I am powerless when it comes to bread pudding.

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Note that this version is half the original and it still makes a giant ‘ole casserole dish of the stuff, but double it if you’re greedy.

Chocolate bread pudding

1/2 lb. brioche bread (or whatever, just avoid Wonder Bread, OK?)

1/3 cup sugar

4 egg whites 

6 oz. bittersweet chocolate, roughly chopped

1 cup milk

1 cup heavy cream

1 vanilla bean (I substituted 1 tsp. vanilla)

1 cinnamon stick (or sprinkle some flippin’ cinnamon in there)

Combine the milk, cream, vanilla, and cinnamon in a pan and heat to a boil. Remove from heat and cover with plastic wrap to concentrate the flavors for 30 minutes or until your patience runs out. I freaked out a little at the melty plastic, but whatever. 

Cut the bread into cubes (half inch, say) and throw in a casserole dish or baking pan.

Whisk together sugar and egg whites. 

Return the milk mixture to a boil. Remove from heat. Take out the vanilla pod and cinnamon stick. Theoretically, you’re supposed to let it sit another 30 minutes, but who’s gonna do that? Whisk in the chopped chocolate bits. Then, slowly, slowly add the chocolate mixture to the egg/sugar mixture until blended and pour all that goodness over the bread, soaking every last morsel of crust.

Bake at 325 for 30-35 minutes. No idea how to tell when it’s done. Just take it out when the aroma becomes intoxicating.

Eat this

I indulged in amazing food this weekend, which is not much of an indulgence, I suppose, since I do it regularly, but still. First was a stop at Sofra, a Cambridge neighborhood bakery and cafe that opened a month ago and already has a line almost creeping out the door. Unable to decide which dessert to try, I ordered a cookie lunch: one chocolate sandwich cookie with milk jam (called “maureos”), a decadent chocolate chip cookie, and an earthquake cookie, so-named in my mind anyway, because the chocolate is powerful and there’s a little dust-up of powdered sugar every time you take a bite. (Note: the sandwich cookie is not pictured because well, I have no will power. But you can see them here because Flickr photogs get the job done.)

Cookies from Sofra

Cookies from Sofra

For lunch, I stopped by another Cambridge favorite: Formaggio Kitchen. The guys at Formaggio have this dangerous habit of holding an outdoor barbecue on Saturdays that tempts neighbors from blocks away with the aroma. Pulled pork that’s been marinating for hours can be had on Iggy’s square rolls, along with meaty ribs, pulled lamb, hot dogs, chicken and a special that called to me, even after I had already bought a half rack of ribs: a grilled lamejune with a paste of herbs, a little pork and a sprinkling of manouri cheese. Oh, God.

A pork-filled lamejune with melty manouri cheese and ribs

A pork-filled lamejune with melty manouri cheese and ribs