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Archive for January, 2009

Time was that a fella needed to eat on weekends when he was working a job in a television studio.  Glamorous as that sounds, being a cameraman for a six o’clock and eleven o’clock local news station three days a week with a retired English teacher as your only companion is not the world’s greatest job.  In fact, there is a seriously good chance that it’s the worst job ever.

Point is, a fella needs to eat between seven o’clock and the eight-thirty bumpers.  In Lancaster, PA, you have a few options.  You can go to the grocery store and buy an apple, some cider, a roll of questionable quality, and a hunk of cheddar.  You can bring something sketchy from home that had a good to GREAT chance of being spat in by roommates, or you can go fast food.

Sadly, fast food was the only option within walking distance that was cheap enough to let me afford rent.  Was it burgers?  Was it subs?  Was it chicken?  No.  No, it was Taco Bell.

I would go and order a supreme gordita meal and an apple cinnamon empanada, sit at a table by myself, and read a comic, or a book, or something sad and pathetic, all the while wishing my career path would take a drastic turn.

1 grind it up

Fact of the matter was, the best part of that moment, that time in the Taco Bell, sadly, was the taco sauce, those little mylar packets that you open with your teeth and squirt all over your pseudo-Mexican food.  It comes in Mild (sissy), Medium (perfect for me) and Hot (Hannah).  It had some tang and some heat and was just generally something that made the “food” palatable.  I always wondered how someone would make it.

Five years later, and uncountable packets of taco sauce consumed, I gave it a shot.

2 boil it up

I looked up how to make taco sauce on the internet and there were a whole bunch of things on how to make Taco Bell’s Taco Sauce, but I wasn’t convinced that I really should be making something with Garlic Salt, Onion Powder or The Blood Of Immigrant Children, so I decided with those general ideas and an immersion blender, I would concoct my own.

Feel free to make adjustments and create your own version.  I would recommend even adding a couple splashes of apple cider vinegar at the end for a touch of tang.

5 hot sauce suppertime

Matthias’ Taco Sauce

(yield: 12-15 oz)

  • 1 15oz can diced organic tomatoes (I like Muir Glen)
  • 1 medium onion diced (or half a large one)
  • 2 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 1 tsp freshly ground coriander
  • 1 tsp cumin seeds, ground
  • 1 Tbsp chili powder
  • 1/2 tsp cayenne (or more if you like it hot)
  • Sprinkle of dried oregano
  • Salt to taste
  • Canola Oil

Dice up your onions and throw them in a saucepan with a glug or two of canola oil and a pinch of salt.  Cook over medium heat for about 15 -20 minutes, until they are soft and starting to brown a little.  In a mortar and pestle, finely grind the cumin and coriander. Toss in your garlic and let that cook for a couple minutes (remember, you don’t want that to brown; it’ll get bitter).  Add a couple dashes of oregano and stir it into the garlic/onion mixture, along with your cumin and coriander.

When you’re satisfied that this is all set, pour in your tomatoes.  Add the chili powder and cayenne.  Stir.  It’s going to dry up a little, but that’s ok.  Turn the heat to medium low and let it simmer uncovered for another 10-15 minutes.  When the flavors have all combined, take an immersion blender (or just ladle it into a regular blender, be sure to leave a small gap between the vessel and the the lid, lest you should risk explosion) and zizz it all up until you have a smooth, deep crimson paste.

It will last a little while.  Don’t worry if you don’t use it all at once.

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In the broken heart of New Orleans, there stands a public house that goes by the name, The Pirate Alley Cafe.  There are sandwiches and drinks and colorful characters that exist, just off the beaten path, two blocks from Bourbon Street and directly next to the landmark Presbyterian Church.  It was here, several years ago, that I was first introduced to Absinthe, or rather a pastiche of the elixir, known colloquially as “Absente.”

A poster, a parody of a 19th Century painting advertising the absinthe-like drink, caught my eye, and I, along with my companions stopped in for a drink of the mythical muse of the artists.  My love affair with the green fairy began with a bang and a whiz and the assumption that I was hallucinating, when in fact there were no hallucinogens in the faux-absinthe.  There are no hallucinogens in real absinthe.  But that’s a tale for another time.

I’ve tried several kinds of Absinthe in my day.  Absente.  La Fée.  And a brand that hadn’t been branded yet.  It was an absinthe that a friend of a friend, a distiller, was making at behest of his boss.  It was a powerful beverage.  It was terribly herby and had so many essential oils in it that it made our paper cups that we so classily were drinking from by the time I had finished one serving, I was actually speaking to myself on 23rd Street all the way back to my apartment in Astoria.  This is actually a good thing: if you’re talking to yourself, people tend to leave you alone on the train.  It also works if you smell bad.

This absinthe has since been refined. It is called St. George Absinthe.

Sazerac Ingredients

Hannah and I bought a bottle of it, at great expense, though it is taking us a very long time to get through it.  Why would this be?  So we don’t have to buy another bottle of it?  Because we aren’t big drinkers?  Because it’s not great?

Absinthe

Nope.  Well, maybe so we don’t have to buy another bottle.  But mostly, it’s because of the Sazerac.

The Sazerac is a terribly romantic drink, named for a cafe in New Orleans in the 1850s.  You have one sip and can imagine Poe in his Baltimore haunts drinking until his brain thought up the “Cask of the Amontillado” or “The Gold-Bug”.  It has the sort of properties that will let you sit down on a Sunday afternoon, have one (or two, if you’re feeling particularly like you’d like to be numb.  It is pretty potent), and do the New York Times Crossword.  This may, as we later discovered, be the precise reason why we could not complete it this week.  Perhaps that is neither here nor there.

The Green Fairy is but an element to this very strong drink and it’s barely there.  If you want to drink Absinthe of it’s own merits, by all means, but this is neither the time nor the place for it.  This is the place to talk about the herb undertones swirling through the bittersweet whiskey; to talk about how that first swallow burns, even though you’ve given it a few good sniffs before imbibing; to talk about how the licorice mixes ever so subtly with the lemon essence, which mixes ever so gently with the bitters and the sugar and the whiskey.  It is the place to talk about a complex drink that is terribly simple to make and even easier to drink.  It is the place to tell you how to make it:

Final Sazerac

The Saint George Sazerac

Yield: 1 glass

•    1 sugar cube
•    6-7 dashes of Angostura Bitters
•    1 tbsp water
•    2 shots, St. George Whiskey
•    splash St. George Absinthe
•    Lemon peel for garnish
•    Equipment:  A muddler (the end of a wooden spoon will suffice) and an extra glass.

Place your spare glass into the freezer to start on a good chill.  While that glass is chilling, you can start on the drink.

In your unfrozen glass, place your sugar cube, bitters and water.  Bash that all up with the end of your wooden spoon until the sugar has either dissolved completely, or mostly dissolved.  Pour in the whiskey.  Stir to blend.

Once your other glass has gotten a nice layer of frost on it, pull it from the freezer.  Pour the splash of Absinthe into the bottom and swirl, coating the sides of the glass.  I would now say pitch the remaining absinthe, but that seems terribly wasteful so I’m going to tell you to find a Hannah and give it to her.  It’s not even a shot, so it’s no big deal.  Pour in your Sazerac from the other glass.  Spritz with the lemon peel and garnish.

Be merry.

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When we lived in Astoria there was a bakery called Saint Honoré, named for the patron saint of bakers, nestled inauspiciously right before the butcher shop on Ditmars Avenue, and frequented by customers who do not take sainthood lightly. It was a bare bones sort of place, not packed with rickety tables and chairs with uneven legs, but rather just two counters and a refrigerator with a glass door, partially blocking the kitchen from the cashier. There were no labels on the rows upon rows of tidy buttery cookies, patisserie, and impeccably towered cakes. And the proprietor and his sole staff member seemed to miraculously predict what it was that you would be inclined to order.

We used to walk often up and down the tree-lined streets of our beloved neighborhood, past the brick duplexes and their yards filled with statuary or small gardens with septagenarians shouting in Greek and smoking cigars, to the hill of Astoria Park sprawling generously to the East River looking across its grime from under the Triborough Bridge onto the endless ascent of Manhattan. Often these strolls would lead us back up Ditmars Avenue and on our way home the call of the creamy éclair (for me) or chocolate cigars (for Matthias) from Saint Honoré could not be muffled. And so, we indulged. Guiltlessly and with complete abandon, nothing could detract from the pleasure of their soft pastries filled with vanilla cream, at once so light and yet so very rich intermingled with the velvety chocolate smear those éclair seemed to wear like a beautiful scarf, effortless, and elemental.

squeezing out

We now live through days where strolls are not an option for safety reasons, no local business is remotely enticing, and our food arrives to our stomachs as a cumbersome burden lugged from Manhattan via an interminable stint on the L train. We yearn for those idyllic days in Astoria and the tastes, smells, and sights that made them so precious, but we are also armed with the tenacity to persevere and bring glimmers of joy to our Brooklyn home. And so, I learned to make pâte à choux, pastry cream, and chocolate sauce. These three became cream puffs, and we became happy once more.

open puff

They were all that we had hoped for. The pastry was neatly structured on its exterior, its small golden brown spirals rising to encase the hollow, webbed, eggy interiors soon to be injected with luscious, cool vanilla pastry cream. These cream-filled parcels were then adorned with a simple chocolate sauce drizzle, left to harden ever so slightly, and greet each bite in turn with lightness, richness, and depth. Or, as I like to think, they arrived at our lips as a little treasure from our cherished Saint. Honoré.

final puff 2

Cream Puffs with Vanilla Pastry Cream and Chocolate Sauce

Yield: 16 cream puffs

Adapted from Gourmet, March 2008, and Bon Appétit, February 1998

We recommend that you make the pastry cream first and get it in the refrigerator to chill while you are working on the pastry, this will seem to decrease the amount of time you have to wait to grace your lips with the finished product.

When the pâte à choux has cooled, inject the puffs with the cream using a pastry bag or a plastic bag fitted with a piping tip in its corner. Alternatively, you could use a serrated knife to slice open the puffs (keep the top and bottom still attached) and spoon in approximately 1 1/2 tablespoons of pastry cream into each puff, replacing its ‘cap’ when it is full.

When the puffs are now cream puffs, begin the chocolate sauce. Drizzle with a teaspoon over each and let stand at room temperature for 15 minutes.

For pastry cream:

  • 1 1/2 cups half and half
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 large egg yolk
  • 2 tablespoons all purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Bring half and half (we used 3/4 cup milk and 3/4 cup heavy cream) to a simmer in heavy medium saucepan.

Whisk sugar, eggs, egg yolk and flour in medium bowl to blend.

Gradually whisk hot half and half into the medium bowl, in a steady stream constantly whisking so as not to scramble the eggs. Transfer back to the saucepan and whisk over medium heat until mixture thickens and comes to boil, about 5 minutes.

Boil 1 minute. Pour into a clean medium bowl. Stir in vanilla. Press plastic wrap or parchment paper onto the surface of pastry cream so that it will not form a film when chilled.

Cover; chill until cold, about 4 hours. (Can be made 1 day ahead. Keep chilled. Makes 2 cups)

For pâte à choux:

  • 6 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into pieces
  • 3/4 cup water
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 3/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 3 large eggs

Preheat oven to 425°F with rack in middle. Butter a large baking sheet.

Bring butter, water, and salt to a boil in a small heavy saucepan, stirring until butter is melted. Reduce heat to medium, then add flour all at once and cook, beating with a wooden spoon, until mixture pulls away from side of pan and forms a ball, about 30-60 seconds. Transfer mixture to a bowl and cool slightly, 2 to 3 minutes.

Add eggs 1 at a time, beating well with an electric mixer after each addition.

Transfer warm mixture to pastry bag (or a plastic bag fitted with a piping tip in the corner) and pipe 16-18 mounds (about 1 1/4 inches wide and 1 inch high) 1 inch apart on baking sheet.

Bake until puffed and golden brown, 20 to 25 minutes total. Prick each profiterole once with a skewer, then return to oven to dry, propping oven door slightly ajar, 3 minutes. Cool on sheet on a rack.

For chocolate sauce:

  • 4 ounces semi-sweet chocolate (preferably organic fair trade)
  • 2 tablespoons softened butter
  • 1-2 teaspoons heavy cream

Melt chocolate, butter, and cream in a small saucepan stirring until liquid and combined. You may use a double boiler, but it comes together so quickly that I confess not to have bothered with the extra dishes.


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