Off my meds

I’m gonna goddam make a loaf of French bread that tastes like it was made in France if it kills me…or until I am forcibly committed whichever comes first. And you probably won’t have to force me I’ll go willingly, I’ll freaking skip into the asylum (but in a masculine way).

These are 2 different attempts using 2 different methods. One is Paul Hollywood’s method, the other Cook’s Complicated, er, Illustrated, well, America’s Test Kitchen anyway, same diff. Neither require a lot of kneading. One rises in a couche, the other on a French loaf pan. One uses a 6 to 24 hour proofed yeast, the other just yeast. One used “strong flour” the other just plain ol,’ They rest for different amounts of time but basically they are very similar. Both require steam in the oven.

And yet, they were pretty much the same and neither one is like a French baguette. They were good but no crispy, crunchy crust with a light and airy crumb, as it were. They both had a chewy crust and a dense crumb.

Get used to it. I’m on a mission.


Gateau au pommes

Apple cake for my French class. This is an apple batter cake that is relatively simple recipe, well, it’s relatively simple for Cook’s Complicated, er, Illustrated. (Actually it is from Milk Street but that’s Christopher Kimball and it’s all the same, Cook’s Country, Cook’s complicated, er Illustrated, America’s Test Kitchen, whatever). 

The cake is supposed to be served with crème fraîche. 

I believe that it is possible to buy crème fraîche in the grocery store for slightly more than a half a week’s salary so I decided instead to make it myself. It is stunningly easy. One cup of cream and 2 TBS of buttermilk at room temp uncovered for 12 hours or something. 

Letting milk or cream stand out at room temperature overnight goes completely against my nature but I did it and it was amazing. It turned thick and tangy and it was perfect on the cake.

Steak tacos

Another experiment with America’s Test Kitchen (Cook’s Complicated, er, Illustrated, Cook’s Country, Christopher Kimball, whatever). Steak tacos although I wasn’t looking to make them, I am always interested in making them. Or anything edible really, well not anything with anchovies.

If I were going to the store to get steak for tacos, I would always be unclear on whether to use flank steak or strip steak or God knows what, I think their other suggestion was something called a tri-tip whatever the hell that is. And for the life of me, although I probably have seen this show and/or recipe 10 times I would be unable to remember what they suggest when I am presented with the choice at the store.

This time, though, I was presented with the meat first. I stopped at Bavette, my local, organic, blah blah and they had strip steak and it was about $20 a pound cheaper (seriously) than the other options. So I got it thinking, oh you know, I’ll just make whatever comes up when I google strip steak. Then I went googled it and the ATK strip steak taco recipe came right up.

The process wasn’t difficult, in fact, all you have to do is let the steak sit with salt and cumin on it for an hour and then grill. I can’t get my grill to be as raging hot as they get theirs, but then, they are able to reduce liquids in a fraction of the time it takes me, so I just got my grill as hot as possible and threw them on.

I don’t know if it was the meat itself, or the (what I thought was a very small amount of) process, but it was excellent. I mean really-good-I’ll-do-it-again excellent.

Some Asian-ish beef stuff

Another recipe I co-opted from Cook’s Complicated, er, Illustrated, well, actually America’s Test Kitchen, so it will undoubtedly show up in the magazine, is called Chinese beef. Whatever. Chinese food needs a Chinese name in my book. It was supposed to use boneless short ribs but I had already purchased the beef, organic, humanely raised stew meat (I was at Whole Foods, it was there, I bought it) and I really didn’t have any idea what I was going to do with it and then I watched TV. That just sucks me in.

The braising liquid is simple enough to throw together and the meat just gets plopped into it and then into the oven. The difference is that short ribs end up falling apart and this meat, whatever it was, became little cubes of toughness even after 3 hours at 300 degrees.

After the braising you remove the meat, then strain out the ginger, garlic and scallions and reduce the liquid to a syrup. This takes 30 seconds. Not really, it took like 45 minutes. (I don’t know how they seem to do reduce liquids by half in 4 minutes as they do on all cooking shows.) Add the meat back into the pan and voila: Wel hong gai guy or char su beef. Whatever.

At some point it all tastes the same once you add hoisin sauce. It was good, tough, but good.

Pasta alla norcina

Suckered in again, as I am often am, after I both watched the show (America’s Test Kitchen) and read the recipe for this pasta dish(Cook’s Complicated, er, Illustrated). I thought it looked sufficiently putsy and delicious enough that I ought to try to make it. Italian sausage, mushrooms, cream and orecchiette. You have to make your own Italian sausage because regular sausage has fennel in it and apparently this particular sausage from the north of Italy does not make use of it.

Making your own sausage is easy enough since you don’t put it into a casing (that would give me pause). Shape the eat into a patty and quickly brown it, then chop it up. In the grease that remains in the pan, you brown mushrooms that have been chopped fine (I used a processor) and then combine it all with cream and toss in your pasta. Orecchiette was fine but anything would work.

It was a lovely meal but not lovely enough to make again. And I’d just as soon use regular sausage than go through the hassle of making it. Unless I want to go through that hassle. Which isn’t out of the question.

Cookbooks and trending

I found this cookbook at my mother’s in her piles of food magazines and cookbooks (including The Dump Cake Cookbook, The Cake Mix Cookie Book, the Cookies and Bars Cookbook and the Taste of Home [ugh] Cookie Book and several other cookbooks that relate to cake mixes and/or cookies). She has about 60 boxes of cake mixes in her pantry that one day I will be throwing out since there is no possibility that my mother will ever use any of them. I don’t know where they all come from. The irony here is that in my entire childhood she never made a damn cookie. We never, or I should say rarely, even had them in the house and if we did they were purchased, the dreadful Pecan Sandies, that my father called “dust cookies,” fig newtons, another ugh, and occasionally Twilight Desserts which I presume were cheap cookies that sorta resembled Oreos in a visual but not delicious way.

Anyway, I asked her if I could borrow this cookbook and she was very iffy about it, there was, she thought, a recipe that looked interesting. Well, it’s Cook’s Complicated, er, Illustrated. (America’s Test Kitchen, Cook’s Country, Cook’s Illustrated, it’s all Christopher Kimball). They’re all interesting but there is no recipe in this cookbook that isn’t mind numbingly complex. It may look interesting but it will be even more interesting to attempt to make. And by interesting I mean frightening. My mother’s idea of cooking these days is a baked apple in the toaster oven. Furthermore, there are no recipes in it that involve cake mixes.

Included in this cookbook are all the recipes from last year’s America’s Test Kitchen. I don’t know why it says 2015 since every single recipe in the damn thing is from 2014. Be that as it may, I have seen every single episode, some of them 2 and 3 times, and know every single recipe in this book. Many of them are scribbled in my cooking notebook(see below). I follow My Year with Chris a website devoted to making all of Christopher Kimball’s recipes.

When I opened the book it was like coming home. It was then that I realized that I had a problem. It’s not a collection of cookie cookbooks yet, but I am trending.

Baba ganoush

Or however you spell that. There was an aging eggplant under the detritus of vegetables, or “veg,” as they so annoyingly say on America’s Test Kitchen, in my crisper drawer. And just moments before it was trashable, it made its way to the grill.

Baba ganoush is not one of my go-to foods. In fact, except for the parsley, garlic, tahini and vague taste of burnt, there is no flavor I can discern. The eggplant adds nothing identifiable except long fibrous strands which pretty much seem like hair and therefore render the dish not quite as appetizing as one might like. I didn’t really enjoy seeing the gloopy strands hanging from the lentil chips (Yes, lentil chips) as I dipped into the mess. But I ate it.

Tater tots

To accompany my ham meal last Saturday night I decided to make tater tots. I saw these made on America’s Test Kitchen and they looked exquisite. It seemed easy enough. What I didn’t anticipate was the anxiety ingredient. Foolish me. There is almost nothing I do that doesn’t involve some level of anxiety. Deciding on breakfast can be stress provoking.

And what did I think was gonna be so easy about deep frying in my kitchen in an appliance I had never used? And, with a fire alarm that goes off when I boil water, what was I thinking??

To make home-made (house-made, if you’re a pretentious restaurant) you grind up potatoes in a food processor with some salt water, drain them and then microwave them until they are cooked. This step is important since it also dries the potatoes. Later on, I would discover that wet tater tots going into a deep fryer causes a certain boiling reaction that is at once alarming, as well as, seriously dangerous.

Once they are cooked and then cooled, they are formed into the “tot.” After that they are deep fried. They were amazing. In part because I served them with house-made (home-made if you are a plain talking normal person) tartar sauce. 

There were no left-overs, my anxiety not withstanding.

Recipe follows

Tater Tots Recipe

1cup water

2 1⁄4 teaspoons salt

2 1⁄2 lbs russet potatoes, peeled, cut into 1 1/2-inch pieces

1 1⁄2 tablespoons all-purpose flour

1⁄2 teaspoon pepper

1⁄8 teaspoon cayenne pepper(optional)

4 cups peanut oil or 4 cups vegetable oil

In a small bowl, whisk water and salt together until salt dissolves. Transfer salt water and potatoes to the bowl of a food processor fitted with the metal blade and process until coarsely ground, 10 to 12 pulses, stirring occasionally.

Drain potato mixture in fine-mesh strainer, pressing potatoes with a spoon until dry (liquid should measure about 1½ cups); discard liquid. Transfer potatoes to a microwave safe bowl and microwave, uncovered, until dry and sticky, 8 to 10 minutes, stirring halfway through cooking.

Stir flour, black pepper and cayenne pepper(optional) into potatoes. Spread potato mixture into thin layer over large sheet of aluminum foil and let cool for 10 minutes. Push potatoes to center of foil and place foil and potatoes in 8-inch square baking pan. Push foil into corners and up sides of pan, smoothing it flush to pan. Press potato mixture tightly and evenly into pan. Freeze, uncovered, until firm, about 45 minutes.

Meanwhile, preheat oven to 200 degrees F. Set a wire rack in a rimmed baking sheet; set aside. Heat oil in a saucepan over high heat until 375 degrees. Using foil overhang, lift potatoes from pan and cut into 1¼ by 1-inch pieces (6 cuts in 1 direction and 8 in other). Fry half of potato tots, until golden brown and crisp, 5 to 7 minutes, stirring occasionally once they begin to brown. Drain prepared baking sheet, season to taste and place in oven. Bring oil back to 375 degrees and repeat with remaining potato tots. Serve warm. I made tartar sauce to go with them.


If your food processor has a capacity of less than 11 cups, you’ll need to process the potatoes in two batches.

Chop up any large pieces of potato remain after processing.

To make handling the uncooked tots easier, use a wet knife blade and wet hands.

To Make Ahead: Cool fried potato tots, transfer to zipper-lock bag, and freeze for up to 1 month. To serve, adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 400 degrees. Place potato tots on rimmed baking sheet and bake until heated through, 12 to 15 minutes.