Friday, April 23, 2010

All right, that's quite enough

I'm done wallowing in self pity (at least for April).  It's spring dammit, and even though work is stressful and my life isn't everything I wish it could be right now, it's pretty good anyway.  As far as work, my hands are tied, there's nothing I can do until June, so I'm giving up for now.  And I'm heading to Paris in a week.  For three weeks.  I've really earned it, working from home on my time off and stressing out every minute about things I can't control (oh, but I love control).
One thing I can control though, is food.  Every time I'm in an uncomfortable situation or surrounded by total chaos I return to the kitchen.  I do work in a kitchen, and that can be stressful at times to say the least, but in my own home or in someone else's it becomes more of a meditation.  Now, I think I'm pretty grounded in reality, and I don't think of myself as a very spiritual person.  But when I'm cooking for the people that I love it's probably as close to something like spirituality as I can get.  I recently had an experience like this when I cooked for some new friends of mine.  I showed up on their front porch armed with tools, food and wine and announced:  "I'll be your personal chef this evening", and was whisked into their lives for a few hours.  I hadn't prepared anything in advance, so was a bit nervous that I'd be able to have everything ready in one and a half hours.  When not under the gun I have a tendency to work very slowly, and then you add a glass of wine into the mix and it's molasses city.  M always found something really time consuming to do when I cooked for him, as he knew dinner probably wouldn't be ready till ten.  Well, I am happy to report that it all came off without a hitch.  We all were able to eat together----at six!!  B helped make the dessert, and the twins watched and said "I like you" over and over, and everything was delicious.  It was by far the most rewarding cooking experience I've had aside from the time that my Mom said a meal I made for her was the most delicious thing she ever ate in her life.
Remember that vanilla pot de creme from a little while ago?  This is what we ate with it, and it totally blew everyone's mind.

Roasted Rhubarb
(adapted from Canal House Cooking via orangette)

2 lb. rhubarb, trimmed and cut into 3-inch lengths
½ cup sugar
½ cup crisp white wine (I used an Alsatian riesling)
1 vanilla bean, split (or 1/2 tsp vanilla paste)

Set a rack in the lower third of the oven, and preheat the oven to 350°F.  Put the rhubarb in a casserole dish or other oven-safe pot.  Add the sugar, wine, and vanilla bean, and stir to mix. Bake (uncovered) for about 30 minutes, or until very tender.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

The key

To happiness?  Fulfillment?  I'm afraid I have neither these days.  Vacation looms large, and that's really great, but in the meantime I feel mired in frustration, sadness and longing.  Longing for that which I thought I had pinned down, though maybe that was the problem.  In the beginning of this latest test I wrote something down:  This year I learned not to rely on someone else for my happiness.  I know that's true, but relying on myself isn't working either.
It's spring now, and it's warmer, and I can see the sun most days.  But I'm spending too much time alone with my thoughts.  I've been trying to get outside more.  I've been trying to learn to walk.  I've been trying to enjoy these last two weeks.  I've been trying......

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Three weeks........

and I'm outta here.  Some things that are helping are:  my great friends, though I don't spend nearly enough time with them.  Also, taking things a bit less seriously, as it will all be here when I get back.  And springtime.  It's been windy and a bit crisp, but the sun pokes it's head out more often now and everything's blooming.  Now we're in a waiting game for spring vegetables, and I've got a mean craving for lamb.  I had a dream about it the other night in which I hadn't called the farmer in time to put lamb on the menu and was wringing my hands because it would have to wait another week.  I'm not going to let that happen.  Lamb with salads....and fresh pita....mmmmm.

fresh pita:
3 cups all purpose flour
2 tsp yeast
2 tsp kosher salt
3 Tbsp olive oil
1-1 1/4 cup tepid water

If you have a stand mixer, place all ingredients, in no particular order, into bowl with dough hook attachment, turn it on at the lowest speed and mix until dough clears the sides of the bowl, about 5 minutes.  If dough looks too wet, add more flour in 1 Tbsp increments until it's no longer sticky.  Let rest for another 5 minutes, then mix again for another 2.  Turn out onto a lightly floured board and knead until it's smooth like a baby's bottom.  Place in an oiled bowl, cover and let it rise in a warm place 45 minutes to an hour, or until doubled in size.  Punch down the dough and fold it over itself like a package, turn it over and let it rise again.  Now, turn it out onto an unfloured board and portion it out to approximately 5 ounce pieces and roll these into balls.  Place dough balls onto an unlined oiled sheet tray, oil their tops and cover with plastic.  Let rise again to double their size (I know this seems like a lot of rising, but it will help their flavor develop and also help them to puff up).  Dust with as little flour as possible so they don't stick and roll out to about 1/4 inch thick. Cook in a hot pan or on a grill (I use a grill pan) just until they're kind of dried out looking on the one side, about 30-45 seconds, then flip them over and cook the other side.   Stack the pitas on a warm plate.  Serve with anything you wish.
If you don't have a stand mixer, place your dry ingredients in a large bowl, creating a well in the center.  Pour in water and oil and with a fork, bring dry ingredients into wet a little at a time until a sticky dough forms.  Turn out onto a well floured surface and knead 5-10 minutes until smooth, then follow the instructions above for rising, etc.
With these pitas, I don't worry too much about them having a pocket, instead wrapping whatever I'm eating at the time in them and using lot's of napkins.  If you're after that pocket, one trick is to roll them out, let them sit for a few minutes, then spritz them with a bit of water before cooking.  Also, these can be baked in a hot oven on a sheet tray.  Turn an oven to full whack (450-500, as high as it will go), toss a sheet tray in there to heat up, and as the pitas are rolled, place them on your hot sheet tray.  Bake for 3-4 minutes.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Slowing down?

Did I just say that?  I seem to remember a certain feeling of ease the other day.  I think it was my lone day off, which would explain things.  Well, things are going to stay crazy for a little while.  That's okay; I'm learning new things every day (fish school is pretty awesome actually), about myself and about my work.  I'm trying to ask for help more, and stand up for myself more too, and listen to my gut.  I'm doing my best, even when I don't feel like it's my best, and I'm trying to see the bigger picture. 
I made something the other day, and it kind of made me feel better, if only for the one bite I was allowed (sugar:  you are my enemy, you are my friend).  Usually you see the chocolate version of this, which is lovely, but the simplicity of this recipe, the pared down list of ingredients, makes me think of the promise of good things to come, a clean slate.

vanilla bean pot de creme
(adapted from Alice Waters' The Art of Simple Food)

whisk until just mixed in a medium bowl:
    4 egg yolks
measure & pour into a medium bowl:
    3/4 cup heavy cream
combine in a small saucepan:
    3/4 cup half & half
    1/4 cup sugar
    one 2 inch piece of vanilla bean, split lengthwise & seeds scraped into the pan with the bean (I used vanilla paste, about a teaspoon, or you could use vanilla extract and get fine results)
Warm just until steaming over medium heat.  Stir occasionally to dissolve sugar.  When warm, whisk into the egg yolks, a little at a time so as not to scramble them.  Strain this mixture into the cold cream and mix well.  Remove the vanilla bean (if using) from the strainer and squeeze all remaining seeds and liquid from it back into the custard mix.  Preheat the oven to 350F.  Pour the custard into a 2 1/2 cup custard mold or into 4 ramekins.  Place into a large, deep pan and pour in hot water halfway up the sides of the container(s).  Cover the pan with foil and seal tightly.  Bake until the sides of the custards are just set but the center is still soft and jiggly, about 50 minutes for the large mold, 25-30 minutes for the ramekins.  Remove from the water bath and let cool.  Serve chilled with fruit, or cookies, or plain.
I made a rhubarb compote and shortbread cookies to go with these at the albatross, but anything or nothing goes well too.  As I said before, it's a clean slate.  A nice idea in the beginnings of spring.