Tuesday, July 26, 2011

peach ice cream with sour cream and black pepper

peach ice cream

Oddly enough, one of my favorite things to do in the kitchen is to temper eggs and make egg custards. Funny, how something that made me anxious just few years back is now a favorite activity in the kitchen. My fear caused me to resist egg custard-based recipes for years, until I finally bit the bullet, gave it a try, and found that it’s really not so terrible or difficult.

Tempering isn’t exactly rocket science, but it is slow, measured, deliberate, patient. So if drizzling hot cream while whisking it into eggs makes you crazy just thinking about it, tempering might not be that enjoyable to you. I, on the other hand, find it meditative, much like focusing on your breath in yoga. Tempering requires that you make fast friends with your custard, one trickle of hot cream at a time, turning eggs into a lush, golden-hued, velvety fluid.

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Thursday, July 21, 2011

apricot jam

apricot jam

I’ve always viewed jam making to be more of an art or a science. In the US, it’s must more linear – add pectin here, or bring the jam to 222 degrees F before canning. In Russia, while everyone made his own jams and preserves, no one had pectin (never mind using it) or owned a candy thermometer. You stirred, smelled, tasted, and waited patiently, tending to the consistency of the burbling liquid. You learned from your mothers and grandmothers what couldn’t be taught in a recipe but was passed on through seasons of watching and helping out in the kitchen.

We canned a lot of our own jam back in Russia. Berries and stone fruit were only available in the summertime, and if you wanted a sweet reminder of the summer’s bounty in the cold winter months, you had to set aside a few days to make some jam. Every year, my mother and grandmothers turned out what seemed to be vats of jams, pickles, and conserves. I remember my mother skimming off the jam foam, setting it on a small plate, and then letting me eat it with some bread and butter – it was heaven.

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Thursday, July 14, 2011

cold borscht – chilled beet soup

cold borscht

This here, to me, is the epitome of a Russian summer. A cold borscht on a hot summer night. Pull up a chair, stir some sour cream into it, and taste how refreshing beets can be. The tang of sour cream, the crunch of the cucumber, the grassiness of dill – that’s the stuff you remember years later and it makes your mouth water just thinking about it, and your stomach growls audibly. You grow both giddy and slightly melancholy just thinking about it.

I had a good childhood in Russia – a wholesome, leave-it-to-Beaver-whole-milk childhood. It stands at a stark contrast to what people might imagine a Soviet childhood to be – and mine was a good as they get full of books, walks in the forests, fishing in the rivers, and gazing at the stars. Summers were idyllic in particular – I spent them at my grandmother’s: a lot of time outside, hours foraging for berries and mushrooms, dipping my toes into cool lakes (I couldn’t swim back then), scratching itchy mosquito bites, and icing bruises and scrapes – the childhood that was simple and minimalist, yet lacked nothing. Bill Cosby had this stand-up bit back in the day, when he would talk about his childhood and how his parents would give him a stick and would tell him to go play in the back yard. And there he would be, sitting in an empty backyard, dirt all around him, digging a hole in the ground with his stick, happy as happy can be. That was me, happy to be outside and dig a hole with a stick. Happy to find wild strawberries and bring them home in a basket to have them for dessert sprinkled with sugar and dotted with golden-hewed cream so thick you could stand a spoon in it.

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Wednesday, July 13, 2011

what salt to use?

Kosher salt

The other day, a reader left a comment on the blog asking about what is kosher salt. I directed him to an excellent piece in Wikipedia, hoping it hasn’t been altered by the likes of Sarah Palin, lest we learn that Paul Revere carried salt (as well as bells) with him on that famous ride. You never know.

But in all seriousness, it got me thinking about various salt that we use for cooking. Some folks swear by their regular table salt. Others rely solely on sea salt. And still there are some folks who like fine salts, boasting dozens in their kitchen rotation.

I happen to stand somewhere in the middle – I like fancy salts in some cases. I love the nuances different salts offer, and I have a few in my pantry (somewhere in there I have a wood-smoked salt from Japan – and it smells amazging!). But for standard cooking, particularly baking, I turn to kosher salt – it has a clean, unprocessed salt taste that works best, I think.

Still, even with kosher salt, there are questions: Morton’s or Diamond Crystal? Personally, I stick with the latter, though I find that it’s a little more difficult to procure in stores. But across the board, I see more chefs using it, it’s finer than Morton’s, and you should adjust the proportions accordingly to compensate for the difference – i.e. because Diamond Crystal is smaller and flakier, you might need more of it, and if using Morton’s (which is larger) might need less.

I hope this helps. And if anyone has any more questions, please post it in the comments and I’ll try to answer as well as I can.

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Sunday, July 10, 2011

classic fried chicken

classic fried chicken

Last night was an absolute, spectacular dinner fail. Andrew got the summer plague – the kind that makes you achy all over and forces you to want to sleep most of the day, or at the very least just convalesce on the couch. We were hoping to make dinner at home, but the kitchen sent us a blunt do-not-attempt message –eventually we got it. We were elbows deep in the Season 2 of “The Wire”, and I was all, “What?! Ziggy?!! Really?!? Oh… no…” and “Will they kill him? What about him? She won’t end up well, now will she?”, and also, “What no, Bubs?!? Again???!? For serious?!!??” Andrew, who is watching the series for the second time, is very patient with my inquiries, and tells me nothing.

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Friday, July 8, 2011

broiled tofu with snow peas, broccoli, and shitake

broiled tofu with snowpeas, broccoli and shitake

We were going to go to Boston this afternoon to look at wedding venues this weekend, but we cancelled our trip. Andrew has the dreaded summer flu, which in my mind, is way worse than the winter flu because in the winter you’re at least expected to get sick once or twice. Summer flu is the pits – it’s warm outside but you’re running a fever and are therefore cold.

Outside of rescheduling appointments, it’s not a big deal. We’ll get married one way or another some time next year. It’ll happen. You know why? Well, for one, I bought the dress – so um, I have got to wear that thing one way or another. And moreover, I believe I’m owed some wedding pie, so that’s that.

Continue reading broiled tofu with snow peas, broccoli, and shitake.