Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Where I'm From: Food Edition

I am a different eater now, but I have not forgotten where I am from.

I am from Lauren’s salty chocolate chip cookies, from Good Season’s Italian dressing on iceberg lettuce, and take-in double-cheese Bocce Pizza while we watch the game on Sundays, always. I am from weekly chicken fingers at the Four Seasons Diner, hands and face dripping with chunky-tangy Rudy’s blue cheese.

I am from home-baked chicken dinner with steamed broccoli and Uncle Ben’s wild rice pilaf. Four people at the dinner table, every weeknight; TV off. I am from Lauren and Arthur, bickering, bickering. A kiss. A smile. Bickering more.

I am from “how was school today?” and “pass your chicken bones to Dad” and “yes you can have seconds on dessert.” My sister talks about Grease rehearsal  while Dad Hoovers the drumsticks clean. They wait forever for me to finish my broccoli stalks (tops go to mom).

I am from thumbs on the wishbone, pulling hard, and taking turns for chores: Aimee set, so Tammy clears.

I am from a camera shop owner and a Catholic-turned-Jew. I am from a boy scout troop leader and a dentist who found chickens and eggs on his doorstep as payment for pulled teeth. I am from theater people. They wrote their own stories and sang them. I am from travelers. I am from Poland and Russia and New York and Syracuse and Buffalo.

I am from sloppy/sappy/noisy/crowded Christmukkah in our brown living room, where dozens of family and near-strangers gathered to devour a mountain of presents and bagels and lox and sweetsweet kugel. High on holiday spirits, dripping brisket juice and applesauce onto the shag rug, the guests pledged lifelong devotion to my parents. They made good on their word. 

I am from 30 Jews and adopted Jews stuffed around the Passover table, helping themselves to seconds on everything except the lousy kosher desserts. They sing about four flawed brothers to the tune of Clementine and belt out God Bless America in honor of Irving Berlin. Slowly I progress from "the one who cannot ask at all" to "the wise son."

I am from shore lunches on the rocks of the Georgian Bay and Sahlen’s hot dogs charred and steaming from the grill, indoors or out. I am from Lauren’s fresh blueberry pie at family reunions by the stream. I am from Easter in the woods with The Woods, where I helped peel potatoes for thirty. I stole my annual taste of ham and gorged on peanut butter cups from my Easter basket while Aimee was off fishing with the boys. 

Today, I am the keeper of half-forgotten recipes. I’m from “add a little of this and a little of that” followed by the shock of “yours doesn’t taste like mine.” I am from much more sugar. I am from a significant amount of real butter.

I am the owner of Synagogue cookbooks and the handwritten matzah ball soup letter (“because someday you’ll want to know how to make my soup and I won’t be around to tell you.”) I have bound copies of the close-enough zucchini bread recipe card and the transcribed, “best I can remember” ratios of potato to egg for Aunt Robin’s scalable potato kugel. My own record-keeping has not been much better.

And my children will inherit this tangled mass of edible history. They will know that the food we eat is bound up in our identity. It is part of every story we tell about ourselves and about our families. As in all cultures, our food links us to our past and helps define our future. 

My childen will understand their place in my history and reconcile it with their place in their father’s very different food legacy. They will eat with us at the table (screens off); they will hear our stories, and they will add their own. They will know their food, and they will know where they are from.

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Thank you to Nina Badzin, via Brain Child Magazine, and Galit Breen, via Mamalode for introducing me to this template and prompt. It was a perfect jumping-off point to help remember the food that defined my childhood.


Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Surrender.

They look cute, but don't be fooled.
I've faced off against my perpetual enemy, Italian pastry, and I've lost.

I'm admitting defeat but I'm taking a stand.  I've had it with those anti-butter, anti-flour cookie fascists. From this point forward, I'm swearing off Italian desserts. I WILL NOT EAT A SINGLE AMARETTI.

At least not one that I bake.

Because my amaretti are truly atrocious.

I tried to make friends with this recipe, I really did. I chunked up the almond paste, eggs and sugar, and piped my little heart out, giving them a friendly pat with a wet finger, and a tiny chocolate chip peck for good luck. (Somehow I knew that investing in pine nuts would be a waste.) I had my doubts, but I baked on in good faith. Really I did.

Apparently the almond paste I used had an arsenal of it's own sugar, because the cookies I baked came out of the oven ready for battle with my teeth. They were helmet-hard and cloyingly sweet -- brutally mocking my attempts at a truce. After one bite, I knew the Jewish-Italian cultural cookie divide could not be breached. An entire plate of amaretti -- trashed.

This TWD recipe was enough to turn me off Italian desserts forever. Except maybe for cannoli. I'll take the cannoli.


Weapons of cookie destruction: plastic bag for piping, scissors for snipping the corner off the bag, and Rollerworks ruler (acquired at a birthday party circa 1987) for ensuring consistent size of cookies.

Other bakers fared better than I did, it seems. To learn more, check out their posts at Tuesdays With Dorie.

Friday, November 14, 2014

New Beginnings with Baking Chez Moi and Ladies Pucks



How fortuitous is it that the beginning of a new bake-along coincided with the beginning of hockey season? And, as fate should have it, we baked these beauties, literally translated to "Ladies Pucks," from Baking Chez Moi.

Many thanks to Dorie Greenspan and the Tuesdays with Dorie group for timing the birth of this book and baking group so perfectly to fit the Yale Bulldogs' home season opener. I'm sure that was at the top of their mind, right?

The only way it could have gotten better is if the cookies had been called Palets de Monsieur, since it was technically a men's hockey game at which my cookies made their debut. But I won't quibble: I'm a lady, I eat dainty, vanilla and lemon frosted white cookie "pucks" in the literal way. These men, they eat pucks in a "take my teeth out with a three-inch vulcanized black rubber disc going 90 miles an hour at my mouth" kind of way. 

But I digress.

These cake-like cookies bear a strong resemblance to the classic black and white, minus the black. My chocolate-lovers balked a little at this ("what's the point of a cookie without chocolate?"), but they settled down once they tasted them.

I've written about our hockey obsessions before, so for now, let me just say this:

The super-simple recipe came together quickly and performed well under the scrutiny of some of the most discriminating fans. Unfortunately, we can't say the same for the Yale bulldogs this year. We could be looking at a long and torturous hockey season. Thank goodness we've got Dorie's incomparable recipes to see us through. 


You can download Dorie's recipe here. Check out the other Tuesdays with Dorie participants take on this recipe here.

Isn't this a beautiful tray? My mother painted that flower!

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

I'm Headed to Bread Mecca

Oui, I made that.
I'm going to Paris.

Let me say that again: I'm going to PARIS!

After four years of studying bread baking from my kitchen and living room, I am going to the bread mecca. Immediately after we arrive, I plan to drag my jet-lagged body, suitcases and all, straight to Poilane bakery.

I don't think I'll have any problem ordering bread. There are a total of 23 words in my French vocabulary, and 20 of them relate to dough. I think that's a pretty good ratio. (Stupid American bakers.) Finding a bathroom or a hospital might be a problem, but gosh darn it, I can find bread.

By happy coincidence, a recent Tuesdays with Dorie project was the lovely French batard pictured above. I was so pleased with this project that I made it twice just to prove I could replicate the slashes. (I did it!) Lovely, aren't they? And tasty, too. For a bread, the recipe is pretty straightforward and quick (maybe 4-5 hours, start to finish), but it doesn't yield a real depth of flavor. Still, the loaves are perfect for sandwiches and a million times better than store-bought bread, so I will keep this in the repertoire for the many occasions when I need a pretty, fast solution for kids' lunches or when I need a dinner date for my soup.

In the meantime, I've immersed myself in Chad Robertson's inimitable Tartine Bread cookbook. Having now memorized the entire 78-page basic bread recipe, I'm battling on the front lines with a  sourdough starter, metric equivalents, and (usually) floating leavens. I've entered a whole new stage of bread-ucation, and it's not for the faint of heart. Case in point: My family has been forced to eat 7 loaves of gummy, vinegary breads sporting nearly impenetrable crust in the past 10 days. Butter helps, but still, that's a lot of bad bread.

My technique is improving with each loaf; it's just a lot to learn.  In the movie of my life, this would be the "Tammy tackles the hardest bread recipe in the world" montage. At the end of the montage, I emerge, a victorious and confident sourdough breadmaster. But we are nowhere near the end.

The haj to Paris will give me a much-needed break from my studies, and it will allow me to obsess about someone else's bread for a change.

If you've got any leads on good food in Paris, I'm all ears. (Yes, that was a bread pun. But I also really want to know where else to eat!)

Au revoir!


Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Crisis. Averted: TWD oven-roasted plum cakes

“Can we walk to school without you this year?” 

I should have been singing with joy when I heard this last week. They are in 6th and 4th grade, after all. They’d be walking with their friends. And there are about a thousand friendly neighbors to help them find their way, if god forbid, they should get lost. But still, they were taking a flying leap out of the nest, and I was in no hurry to let them go.
 
But I resisted my usual obsessive-compulsive-mother-hen instincts. Instead I put on my bravest smile and kissed my little chicks goodbye at the front door. Then I got busy with the vacuum cleaner so I couldn’t flutter into the car to follow them.

And would you believe it? They survived!

At pickup time, there they all were – smiling and proud and eager to walk home. Without me. “We’ll meet you there, Mom. Can we just go? Please?” Ouch. Give ‘em an inch…!

And suddenly, there it was again – swooping down on me like a shrieking, red-taloned bird of prey. The mid-life crisis was back.

These little creatures I’ve created – they can feed themselves! They can clean themselves (if they choose to). They can cross the street alone! The enormity of the fact that they can survive in the suburban wild sent me into a tail-spin of the familiar old-mommy questions.

What now? The kids are aging, so am I… Why did I dump that corporate career? What’s next for me? The questions go on and on like a broken smoke detector, chirping in my ear every ten minutes to remind me that something more must be done. Soon.

Of course I know that the mommy-ing is never really over. These kids have simply gnawed off another chunk of my heart and carted it off with them in their big-kid backpacks. They still need me for a few things -- at least until they learn to drive. But this walking milestone can’t be ignored.

And so I turned back to the places that give me comfort: the familiar, honeyed luxuries of baking and writing and dance. I Jazzercised every day for a week. I baked challah and ciabatta and whole wheat bread. And I returned once again to the Tuesdays with Dorie project, which this week featured warm, fruity mini cakes.


Oven-roasted plum cakes: a reprieve.

The cakes were a promise that my kids would stay with me for at least as long as it took to finish dessert. With this bribe, I could keep them home and safe for a few minutes longer.

So I tucked my head back down into the satisfying whirl of sugar and butter and vanilla and eggs. I actually squawked with delight as my plums split perfectly on the first try. The house bubbled up with the reassuring scent of warming sugar and all was right with the world.

After their long migration home (12 minutes!) and a light dinner, we shared these adorable desserts. Each ramekin housed little half-moons of plum, all sleepy and resting in a downy pillow of brown sugar cake. 

The mid-life crisis was averted, at least temporarily.

 The kids slurped down their dessert in two gulps, and raced each other to the door. Their friends were ready to play.

We’re going to need a lot more cake to make it through.

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To read more about this recipe, check out the other bakers' posts, or go buy the book.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Phyloccine Ice Cream Sandwiches -- In 3 or 4 Simple Steps.




Phyllo + fetuccine = phyloccine. Brilliant!
Ice cream + anything = immediate win with the kids.
Fruit + stick = immediate win with pretty much anyone.
Sugar + butter = count me in.

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In the spirit of throwbacks from the days of yore, I present to you a pared down recipe from Baking With Julia, care of our inimitable Tuesdays with Dorie baking group (more than two years into the project and still going strong!). 

If you really need more details, check out the other bakers' posts, or go buy the book.

Step 1: Roll and slice phyllo dough and separate strips into little "nests." Sprinkle with sugar and butter and bake for 10 minutes at 375, or until golden brown.


Step 2: Assemble fruit skewers and make raspberry compote (raspberries + sugar + five minute macerate. Add a little mint to the compote if you're feeling inspired.)


Step 3 (Optional): Make whipped cream if you want. No photo available, since I didn't use it. But I'm guessing you know what whipped cream looks like.

Step 4: Assemble layers: phyloccine nest, compote, ice cream, phyloccine nest, skewer. Whipped cream goes on the bottom as "glue" and wherever else it feels good.


TA-DA! You've got a tall, retro, kid-friendly, low-stress dessert that is certain to win friends and influence loved ones. You're welcome.



Monday, May 5, 2014

Party of the Year

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Once upon a time, before the reign of Reality TV, I was the star of my own social experiment. The setup reads like the beginning of a joke:

What happens when a lowbrow, mid-western young Jewish girl (me), lands a PR job at a posh New York City investment firm … run by the bluest blue bloods still surviving today … and THEN… gets put in charge of the 80 year-old CEO’s social calendar? 

I'll tell you what happens: there's a major culture clash. Comfort-zone-wise, it was worse than Wife Swap. Hilarity ensued.

Although I had had plenty of experience planning fundraising events in my previous job, I had no idea of the mountain of etiquette I'd need to scale in order to organize this company’s soirees. 

I couldn't figure out the rules about how to address envelopes to Lords and Ladies; where to seat the dinner guests at a formal dinner party; even placing a stamp on a return envelope became a lesson in class distinctions. (“If they can’t afford the stamp on the return envelope, they shouldn’t be attending the event,” I was told.)

I was reprimanded for wearing blue suit pants, rather than a skirt, to the office. I flubbed the menu for the Board meetings at the 21 Club and miscounted the guest list for the dinner at LeCirque. And the wine lists! Our CEO had a very specific idea of what should be served, and I didn’t know my cabernet from my claret. Thank God for the sommeliers (a word I learned on the job).

Then there was the annual trip to the Ascot races and the after party in London. I planned every detail of the lodgings, food, travel and entertainment --  long-distance --  for months in advance, but was not invited to cross the pond with the team. Talk about class distinctions!

Our grandest event of the year was held the first Tuesday in December, in conjunction with the lighting of the Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree. For this party, 200 of New York’s high society hovered above the festivities taking place in the freezing plaza below, observing the lighting ceremony from the floor-to-ceiling windows in our office. Dom Perignon flowed as swiftly as the ancient aristocratic blood in our CEO’s veins, beluga caviar disappeared by the tinful, and 24-carat-gold encrusted hors d’oeuvres whirled around the room on gleaming silver trays. The elite of New York City were dazzled.

Does it surprise you that my time at the investment firm was brief? Alas, I only regret that it had not been filmed. "The Blue Blood Chronicles" would have made great TV.

It is in this spirit of Gatsby-esque decadence that I embarked upon this week’s culinary adventure, sponsored by Julia Child and her featured guest baker, Gale Gand. Our Tuesdays with Dorie project was scallop and pesto “purses”.
The recipe itself was simple enough, but I did visit five different stores to gather the choicest ingredients. After making the pesto and melting the butter, it was all about assembly. (But first place the scallop in a strategically lit dramatic pose for the blog photo op.)

14 minutes in the oven, and the party began. The phyllo/parmesan dough purses were appropriately buttery, and the scallops inside, dripping with pesto and garnished with scallions, devolved into an opulent, fleshy indulgence that inspired sighing and fawning from my honored guests: my 8 and 10 year old. 

We slumped in my worn out Ikea kitchen chairs, decked in our coziest pajamas after a long sweaty day on the baseball field, happily licking cheese and butter off our chins. Seating arrangements be damned. The ornate purses were served on white, Stop and Shop paper napkins, paired with nothing but tap water. There was not an ounce of  gold plating to be seen, and yet, it was the party of the year.


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 To see how other bakers from Tuesdays with Dorie fared, check out their links here. For the recipe, buy the book!

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