Sunday, September 26, 2010

Floating Islands

Not everyone can eat an island.
But I can.
My brother can.
Infact we both ate three islands apiece.

And then some.

Floating islands are sadly, not part of America's Cultural Makeup. They are not often on restaurant menus. They are not particularily easy to make or transport. They are not particularly well known outside of their home country (France).

This is all excruciatingly sad, because eating a Floating Island ranks on my list of things you must do if you want to drastically improve your quality of life.

What is a floating island?
It's whipped meringue, formed into a sort of vague ovoid shape, that sits in a puddle of the most luscious, rich, sweet creamy custard. And then caramel is drizzled over all this bliss.

What makes this dessert so special is the remarkable play of textures in your mouth, the sticky crunchy caramel, the smooth tounge coating cream and the fluff of whipped egg white.

This is a good dessert to make with someone else. The recipe isn't difficult, but because of all the different elements, it's a nice idea to do it with some one else, for maximum efficiency/relaxation. My wonderful brother Michael was my co-pilot on this one. He made the meringue islands (and took the pictures).
He was very proud of himself.

And then we ate them all.

Every single island.

Floating Islands
from The Perfect Finish by Bill Yosses

Spiced Creme Anglaise:

2 cups whole milk
1 teaspoon green cardamom pods, lightly crushed
2 whole star anise
5 large egg yolks, at room temperature
5 tablespoons suar
pinch of slat

Caramel Sauce:

1/3 cup granulated sugar

Floating Islands (Iles Flottantes):

1 cup milk, for poaching liquid
4 egg whites, at room temperature
1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
1 cup confectioners' sugar, plus additional for sprinkling

1 pint whole raspberries or sliced strawberries, for serving

For the Creme Anglaise:

1. In a saucepan over medium heat combine the milk, cardamom pods and star anise, and bring to a simmer. Simmer for 2 minutes, then turn off the heat and let the spices infuse for 5 minutes.
2. Bring an inch of water to a simmer in the base of a double boiler (or in a saucepan over whick you will be able to suspend a metal bowl).
3. In the top bowl of the double boiler (or metal bowl), whisk the egg yolks with the sugar and salt. REturn the milk mixture to a simmer and strain it through a fine-mesh sieve into the yolks, while whisking constantly (discard the whole spices). Attach a candy thermometer to the side of the double boiler (or metal bowl). Transfer this custard to the top of the double boiler (or the bowl) and cook, stirring constantly, until it thickens and coats the back of a wooden spoon (at 160 to 170 F), 3 to 5 minutes. Trasfer to a bowl and let cool to room temperature.

For the Caramel Sauce:

Have ready 1/4 cup hot water. Pour the sugar into a heavy saucepan and add 2 tablespoons cold water. Cook over high heat, stirring, until the sugar dissolves. Let the mixture bubble, swirling the pan occasionally if it colors unevenly, until it form a dark amber caramel (at about 374 F), about 10 minutes. Take the pan off the heat and carefully whisk the hot water into the caramel (it may sputter). Return the pan to the heat and stir until smooth. Set aside, covered.

For the Floating Islands:

1. In a saucepan over medium heat, prepare the poaching liquid: Combine the milk with 1 cup water and bring to a simmer, then turn off the heat.
2. In the bowl of an electriv mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, beat the whites with the cream of tartar on medium speed until foamy, about 8 minutes. Gradually add the sifted confectioners' sugar. When all the sugar has been added, raise the speed to high, and beat until the meringue forms firm, glossy peaks, about 8 more minutes, which will give the meringue the strength it needs.
3. Fill a glass with very hot tap water. Dip two serving spoons into the water, then scoop an egg-size about of meringue into one of the wet spoons. Rotate the "egg" of meringue, transferring it from soppon to spoon, to get a smooth, ovoid shape, then slide it oto the lined baking sheet. Repeat with the rest of the meringue (you should have twelve "islands"). Note: We ended up with 15.
4. Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 350 F. Line a rimmed 11-by-17-inch baking sheet with parchment paper or a nonstick liner.
5. Bring the milk-and-eater mixture back to a simmer and pour it into the 9-by-13-inch baking pan. Use a wet spatula to transfer the meringue "eggs" to the pan. Sift 2 or 3 tablespoons of confectioner's sugar over the tops of the meringues. Bake on the center rack until set, about 10 minutes. Use the spatula to transfer the meringues to a parchment-lined baking sheet once they are cooked. Allow the meringues to cool to room temperature. They last for 2 hours uncovered, no longer.

To Serve:

Ladle in 1/3 cup of the creme anglaise onto each of six shallow, wide bowls. Place two meringues on top of each pool, drizzle them with caramel sauce, and scatter with raspberries or strawberries.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Carrots Vichy

Let me show you something that makes my life so, so much better:

Mick Jagger.

I am in love with Mick Jagger.


I watched this video I thought I had died and gone to heaven. A heaven, that is, where very skinny men with enormous mouths filled with enormous teeth mince around in white pantalones with matching shoes.

Obviously, bliss.

The other thing that makes my life beautiful, are carrots. And not just any carrots baby, and we're not even talking about carrot cake. We're talking about dull, by themselves carrots. These are very mild, just carrots and butter darling. With a sprinkle of sugar and salt.
Life with these carrots is very good. (The above photo is practically CARROT PORN.)

But life is even better with Mick Jagger.

Carrots Vichy
from The Gourmet Cookbook

1 1/2 pounds carrots, peeled if desired (YES. YOU DESIRE TO PEEL YOUR CARROTS.)
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/4 cup water
1 teaspoon sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt, or to taste

Combine carrots, butter, water and sugar ina 3 quart heavy saucepan, cover and cook over moderately low heat, stirring occasionally, until most of the liquid has evaporated and carots are tender, about 15 minutes.
Remove lid, increase heat to moderately high and cook, stirring occasionally, until carrots are glazed, 3 to 5 minutes more. Remove from heat and stir in salt.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

just. corn bread.


Life is so confusing most of the time.
It's scary a lot.
Because you never know what's coming around the corner to bite you.

I'm one of those people who lives in a constant state of anxiety about The Future.

The Future.

Especially now, when I've kind of realized, that I'm just getting older, and I still haven't made my first million or starred in a movie or even gotten my driver's license. And suddenly, all these Major Life Descisions are creeping around that corner.

What I love about cooking and baking in particular, is that you don't have to worry about The Future. Cooking is an excercise in being present. If you set out to bake a chocolate cake. You'll get a chocolate cake. (And of course, there's uncertainty about the deliciousness of your cake, but regardless, you get a chocolate cake.)

Baking is not like life, where sometimes you give the world love and then it gives you lemons.

I'm so afraid of getting lemons.

But the really gorgeous thing, is that lemons are a very vital part of your cooking repetoire, because, hey man, you can make lemonade. And so really, lemons aren't so bad, and aren't you glad that things turned out the way they did? Because really, everything always happens for a reason somehow?

At least, that's what I tell myself: Everything happens for a reason. Even if that reason happens to be totally the most lame-ass, stupid reason in the world.

You would think that I would follow all this up with a recipe that has lots of lemons. Instead I'm giving you a recipe for something a bit unexpected. Corn bread.

Humble, plain jane, workman, ordinary, everyday corn bread. Corn bread for beans. Corn bread to go with mystery meat. Corn bread with jelly and butter and corn bread warm by itself. Corn bread is the perfect comfort food. Corn bread will always be cornbread and it will always be there for you, even when The Future is looming, hiding around the corner, coming to bite you.

Jeanne Owen's Corn Bread
from James Beard's American Cookery

I am in love with this recipe. It's the best cornbread I've ever eaten ever. It is delicate and rich, without being overwhelming. It is not fancy. There are no expensive cheeses in it. It's. Just. Corn bread.
This is also the first James Beard recipe I've ever tried and I really liked it. According to Beard, this recipe is from a lovely woman named Jenanne Owen, who, "Was a brilliant cook and a stalwart discipline of the art of good living. "
I love that, a discipline of the art of good living. Good living is all about discipline. I am a big believer in discipline.
In addition, Mrs. Jenanne often served her cornbread for cocktails "In the form of small square sandwiches filled with bits of ham." Obviously, I want to go to one of Jeanne's cocktail parties RIGHT NOW, only I would probably be the awkward anti-social guest who is too busy eating corn bread and ham sandwiches to actually socialize and get plastered.

1/2 cup sifted flour
1 1/2 cups yellow corn meal
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon sugar
3 teaspoons baking powder
3 eggs well beaten
1 cup milk
1/4 cup cream
1/3 cup butter

Sift all the dry ingredients together in a mixing bowl. Add the eggs and milk and beat with a wooden spoon. Beat in the cream, and lastly the melted butter. Pour into a 8 1/2 x 11 inch well buttered pan, and bake at 400 degrees, for about 15 to 18 minutes, or until center is baked through. (Testing with a toothpick is a good idea. Also, lightly tapping the surface of the bread is a good indicator for how baked it is.) Remove from oven.
Eat warm, preferably slathered with butter and served with a hearty, earthy comfort foody complement.

p.s. I put some diced mild chile peppers on top. Because I think color is nice.

Saturday, September 4, 2010


it's hard to make pesto photogenic:
even when you turn the spoon the other way:
hi there.

i made this pesto several weeks ago, and then never said anything about it because i am a lazy bum. in fact, i am so lazy i refuse to capitalize.

i'm such a rebel.

the point is, i made an incredible amout of pesto, because we have an incredible number of basil plants, and you know, in winter, when there is no basil or pesto to be found for cheap, pesto is all you want to eat. so i made pesto to freeze. i made about a bushel of basil into about three jars of basil, which was oddly anti-climactic and depressing.

i hope you've had a nice labor day weekend.
i did.
in fact, it was about as perfect as labor day weekends can get, because on saturday i bought approximately 15 hats of no particular vintage or anything, but this lovely lady in my neighborhood was having a hat sale. so of course i showed up. and spent a lot of money on hats.
i love hats.
they are making my life very good right now.

the thing is, pesto also makes life very good. esp. when that pesto is on pasta.
pesto and pasta are a wicked combination. esp. when there are tomatos involved.
(i always think that tomatos shouls have an "E" so it would be tomaTOES. i think that would be cute. but then, i didn't create the english language, now did i. thanks, dead people who decided that tomatos were tomatos instead of tomaTOES.)

Notes on the recipe: Deborah (is it weird that i whenever i think of cookbook authors, i use their first names?
i mean seriously, pick any great writer in the english canon, and we refer to by their last name: Twain, Steinbeck, Dickinson, Shakespeare. But I just can't think of Julia Child or Alice Waters or Dorie Greenspan or David Lebovitz by their last names, they're not Child or Waters or Greenspan or Lebovitz. They're Julia and Alice and Dorie and David. Except for Mark Bittman. He's always just Bittman.)

NOTES ON THE RECIPE: I don't use pine nuts. For one, they're expensive, and for two, they're expensive. The flavor is gorgeous, but they're expensive, and when you're making vats of pesto to feed the raging hordes, it's far cheaper, and not neccesarily less flavorful, to just use pecans or walnuts. I used walnuts. Also, Deborah suggests an extra 2 to 3 tablespoons of grated pecorino-romano, and 2 tablespoons of butter. Which seemed silly and extraneous and fatty. So I didn't do it. Also, she suggests making pesto by hand. Which is lovely. But much faster with a gizmo like the food processor. I'm going to leave it to you, to figure out how to do it by hand. I'm sure it tastes better and is more magical in your mouth by hand, but I didn't want to spend all day, wearing out my poor wrists grinding nuts and leaves together to create a savory green paste. That's what the internet was invented for. That's what the food processor was invented for.
adapted from Deborah Madison's Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone

1 or 2 plump garlic cloves
3 tablespoons pine nuts or walnuts or pecans
3 cups loosely packed basil leaes, stems removed, leaves washed and dried
1/2 cup freshly grated parmesan, preferably Parmigiano-Reggiano
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil

In the Food Processor: Process the garlic, salt, and pine nuts until fairly finely chopped, then add the basil and olive oil. When smooth, add the cheeses and butter and process just to combine.
BAM. Magic.