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Month: December 2004

Misers?

Misers?

I know Christmas probably tapped most of us out, but really, compared to the folks in these photos we all have so much more than we need. So send money — since we’re not already in Asia, sending donations of clothing etc probably will just clog up the delivery pipelines even more — there are any number of great organizations you can send donations through. I donated to the International Red Cross because Cisco, who employs me in my day job as a tech writer, will match dollar for dollar. Check out the South-East Asia Tsunami Help Blog for links to donation sites.

Our president may be a miser who took three days to come out of his Texas bunker even to address this issue, and who originally pledged a mere 15 million dollars, which I might point out is less than half of what they’re planning on spending on the inauguration (but then again, we know what US Governement pledges are worth — ask the folks still living in tents in Turkey who never got the aid money this president pledged, or the AIDS victims in Africa who have never seen one red cent of the money the president pledged in the 2003 State of the Union Address — but I digress into ranting). Despite the stinginess of our government, I must continue to believe that the American people have not become so hard hearted as to share his miserly nature. Give. Give generously. Look at your kids and the Christmas tree and your pets and imagine it all engulfed by a 30 foot high wall of water and write that check. Take some money out of the food budget, rob the piggy bank, do whatever it takes. Prove to the world that we, the people, are not misers.

The Croquembouche That Wouldn’t Die

The Croquembouche That Wouldn’t Die

crocquembouche
Here it is! In the back of my car on it’s way to the first of the three parties it graced over the weekend (yes, the car is dirty — I have two dogs, but that’s why I put the newspaper down).

Part of the reason I made a croquembouche this year is because one of my all-time favorite Martha Stewart episodes was the one where she and Julia Child made croquembouches together. Martha was over on her side of the counter carefully and precisely arranging her cream puffs, while over on the other side, Julia was sort of flinging them into a cone-shaped pile. This made Martha a little crazy, but she couldn’t very well start ragging on Julia — because, well, she’s Julia. So Martha got antsier and antsier while Julia, with great verve, dipped her fork into the caramel and waved wild strings of sugar at her croquembouche.

I had to remember this when I sort of screwed up the top half of the croquembouche. The first couple of batches of caramel went pretty well, but as they started to thicken up, I put on another batch. Then I thought I could lighten up the caramel that was getting too stiff by adding some of the sugar syrup that had melted but hadn’t yet caramelized. This was not a good idea. It looked like caramel, but it never quite came together, and when it cooled on the cream puffs, it wasn’t shiny and brown, but matte — like dried sugar solution, not caramel. I was really horrified. It was four o’clock, and Maryanne’s Christmas Eve open house was starting at six, and I hadn’t made any plans for a backup dessert.

This is when I remembered Julia Child on Martha Stewart’s show. What Would Julia Do? I cleaned out my saucepan and started a fresh batch of caramel. I was patient. I waited for that wonderful toasty smell, and then I carefully swirled (don’t stir! the directions were specific that one shouldn’t stir, but should swirl. I never did figure out why) the caramel until it was a clear medium brown.

And in the spirit of Julia Child, I dripped the new caramel all over the top of the croquembouche! I dripped and then, as the caramel started to set up, I tried pulling strings of caramel out so it’d get that nice spun sugar kind of look. It was still lumpy, and there weren’t as many stringy glistening strands as I would have liked, but overall, it was a hit.

It worked! The croquembouche was beautiful. It was shiny and tall and once people started to crack the cream puffs off of the cone, they liked them! I thought they were too sweet, myself, but the next day, as Maryanne and I were standing in the kitchen picking at the slightly-ravaged croquembouche, we agreed that it was delicious (of course, the slight hangovers might have had something to do with the deliciousness). It was a fun holiday thing — people liked pulling the cream puffs off the cone — and because it’s so rich, it feeds a crowd.

Which is why the croquembouche went to three parties before the weekend was over! It started at Maryanne and Bill’s on Chrismas Eve, then Bill insisted I take a hunk down to Nina and Elwood’s on Christmas day (some people thought it was too sweet, but it seemed to be disapearing little by little), then we took the nearly-intact front face to Margie’s Boxing Day party yesterday. It was the Dessert That Wouldn’t Die …

Croquembouche: Part One

Croquembouche: Part One

Patrick was the pastry chef in the family. He was a little dyslexic and so he loved the precision of pastry recipes — if you follow the recipe exactly, pastry usually works. A few years ago, he made a Paris Brest for our Christmas dinner. The first few years we lived together, we had these great, impromptu Christmas dinners — one year, Patrick called me from the fancy butcher shop at the Stanford Mall and said “What do you think about Guinea Hens for dinner?” So Guinea Hens it was … The year of the Paris Brest, I was off doing last minute gift buying when Patrick, consulting his beloved Jacques Pepin, decided the Paris Brest looked good.

The first batch of pate choux, when he piped it into an oval on the cookie sheet, looked very unpromising. “This can’t possibly work,” he told me he thought and so he threw it out without even cooking it. When the second batch looked just like the first, he figured that must be what it’s supposed to look like, and so he put it in the oven. It puffed! Just like it was supposed to! Joy and celebration were ours that Christmas Eve as we ate the yummy pastry stuffed with pastry cream and frosted with a chocolate ganache.

Maryanne is doing Chrismas eve this year, and she asked me to bring something for dessert. At first, I thought I’d do a trifle — because it’s pretty, and I have a nice trifle bowl (hmm … Christmas Day?) and then I remembered Patrick doing pastry on Christmas eve. Maryanne is having an open house, and there will be too many people for a Paris Brest, so I thought I’d try a croquembouche. It’s festive. There’s a lot of it in little pieces, so it should work for a bunch of people. And because it’s pate choux, it’s sort of Patrick-like.

So, today I made the cream puffs. The first batch was sort of a problem — I forgot about the altitude. There are a few flat-ish puffs, but I figure they’ll be good for the base of the croquembouche. The second batch of pate choux I used a little more flour, and one fewer egg, and I put the dough in a baggie and cut the corner to use it as a pastry bag. They’re rounder, the second batch, and poofier. Clearly these are the star puffs that are going up on the top of the croquembouche where everyone can admire their fabulousness.

Tomorrow — the pastry cream, the filling of cream puffs, and the exciting new world of caramel! Think good thoughts for me that I don’t burn myself … I’ll try to take a picture of the finished croquembouche!

Antelope Meatloaf

Antelope Meatloaf

Well, this isn’t really a recipe, since I don’t have any measurements, but sometimes a girl looks in the freezer, and feels a tiny flame of inspiration. So, here’s the deal — I had some ground lamb and ground antelope left over from last year. I took a pound of ground lamb, two packages of antelope (they didn’t have weights on them, I think they were about a half pound each) and two mild Italian sausages, and decided to make a meatloaf. I started by sauteeing two ribs of celery, a couple of carrots and a medium yellow onion with a little salt and a big sprinkle of red pepper flakes. In a big bowl, I crumbled up two slices of stale whole wheat bread, and added enough milk to moisten them. Then I smashed four or five cloves of garlic and threw them in the minichop with a bunch of fresh rosemary, lots of thyme and parsley, the zest from half a lemon, and a big pinch of coarse sea salt. I whizzed it all up with some olive oil to emulsify. I added the herb mixture to the wet bread, and, when they were soft, I mixed in the sauteed vegetables and one package of thawed chard I had in the fridge (chopped up fine). Like I said, it was one of those what’s-in-the-fridge kind of recipes. Then I added the meats, and two eggs, lightly beaten and a hefty sprinkling of oregano. I smushed the whole mess around until it was all mixed up, and packed the mixture into a greased loaf pan. There was about a third of the mixture left over, which I think I’ll use for meatballs or ravioli — it went back into the freezer. I cooked it at 375 for two hours — it was a big meatloaf so it took a long time.

It was great — it didn’t have that heavy meatloaf-y taste — all those vegetables I think. And it had a nice Greek-ish kind of taste from the lemon zest, oregano, and herbs. Antelope is a really lovely meat — it gets a bad reputation because the season is early, and too often people aren’t careful to get their game packed out in hot weather. But the antelope that Parks brought me last year was delightful — from a young animal, and while lean, and a dark red meat, has a nice clean light taste. I think a comparable mixture might be veal, lamb and a little ground pork.

Anyhow, now I have a whole meatloaf to cut into portions and freeze, a winter’s worth of easy re-heatable meals for those crummy evenings when a girl doesn’t feel like cooking. Yum.

Why We Miss Martha

Why We Miss Martha

I caught an old episode of Martha Stewart Living this afternoon. She was making a cranberry gelatin mold, and after taking it out of the fridge, she said “You can immerse it in warm water to loosen, or you can use this.” At which point she picked up an ENORMOUS propane blowtorch! And used it on her lovely copper jelly mold to loosen the dessert. I laughed for five minutes. Out loud. Oh we miss her, our domestic goddess with her two foot tall blowtorch. For a jelly mold. I’m still gasping for breath.

A Christmas Tree, Mac-and-Cheese, and the NFR

A Christmas Tree, Mac-and-Cheese, and the NFR

I got a tree today — I’ve been kicking around whether or not I wanted one this year — but there I was at the grocery store, and there was a perfectly lovely little tree for fifteen bucks, and so, I have a tree again. I have a little issue with my inner Martha Stewart — and it sometimes manifests itself in the desire to create my platonic ideal right here in my living room. This year’s tree is about a six on the Martha-meter — it’s not as elaborate as some trees I’ve decorated in the past, but there’s still more stuff on it than most people feel compelled to put on a tree.

And so, after a lovely day in which I went to hear my eight year old friend Sophia sing in the Holiday Recital, that would be Sophia-of-the-perfect-pitch, and in which I got my tree up and decorated, and took advantage of the unseasonably warm weather to wash all my windows so I can see through the old-fashioned storms, I’m now curled up on the couch, eating a delicious bowl of mac-and-cheese-with-hotdogs, and watching the final night of the National Finals Rodeo in Las Vegas. Next year, to paraphrase my Jewish friends at a different holiday, Next Year in Las Vegas!

They’re back!

They’re back!

Because Heather pointed it out in the comments, and because it needs to be shouted from the rooftops, let’s point out that the Oxford American Magazine is back! May I suggest that this fine publication would be a terrific Christmas gift for anyone on your list who is interested in good writing, southern life and literature, and FABULOUS music. The whole subscription is worth it for the annual music issue, which comes with a CD that will make you dance with happiness around your living room.

The other good cause I’m supporting this year, is Heifer Project International. I’m buying animals for several people on my list, especially for a couple of the kids who are big enough to play with the little toy chickens I’m giving them, and think about the kids in China or Guatamala or Africa who now have a flock of chickens … a flock of chickens that will provide eggs and meat and cash, a flock of chickens that can be leveraged into a better life. Of course, the kids will still get markers and art supplies, because that’s the kind of auntie I am — the art supply kind of auntie.

Anyhow, those are my suggestions for stemming the tide of silly stuff none of us really needs this year. My idea of a great Christmas is where we all just spend our money on good food and good wine and are grateful to be together. Hokey, yeah, but it’s Christmas, the season of hokieness …

Roasted Brussels Sprouts!

Roasted Brussels Sprouts!

I grew three brussels sprouts plants this year — they take a lot of room in the garden, and they’re really slow, and frankly, I wasn’t sure they were worth the time or the space. It’s been cold — small freezes on and off for six weeks or so, but last weekend when the weather said a real cold spell was coming in, I went out in the near darkness to pick my brussels sprouts.

I grew them in part because when I lived in New York City in my 20s, I loved watching the little boys carry their spikes of brussels sprouts home from the Union Square Greenmarket — they always turned them into swords, and it seemed like that was a cool way to get your kids to eat their greens.

But they’re kind of a pain. And picking them is sort of a pain — the little sprouts hide under the big cabbage-y leaves. Tonight though, I was making a quicky dinner — a little salmon, some rice, and I wanted something green. Since I was doing the salmon in my cast iron skillet in a hot oven, I thought I’d just roast the sprouts first. So I cut a handfull of them in half, tossed them in olive oil, and threw them in the hot skillet, cut side down, for about ten minutes. Then I flipped them over, put the hunk of salmon in the same skillet, skin side down, and kept roasting it all.

Yummy! The sprouts got all carmelized on the outside, and were creamy and delicious inside. Salty, slightly burned in a good way, and out of my garden.