baby cheesus

 

i was looking for a birthday gift for my brother-who-has-every-freaking-kitchen-thing-known-to-mankind, a khun knife-owning, cameron stovetop smoker-using food freak, and came across this book. mark bitterman is also one of the curators of my  new favorite website THE MEADOW. they deal mainly in salt, bitters, chocolate and flowers. what else does one need in life? so i got him the book and a himalayan salt block. and i had to have one of each myself. and a set of salts. and some xoxolatl de david chocolate caramels and the requisite pineau de charantes flour de sel caramels. yessssss.

 

meadow sel gris,  maine apple smoked, fiore de sal di cervia, marlborough flaky, kona deep sea, kauai guava smoked

also the paneer-making extravaganza has rekindled my interest in the baby cheesus. there was a small rampage of lipase and rennet buying, cheese cloth and flour sack towel sourcing and book research. hard cheese takes a looooong time to realize. yay.

 

curds and whey

“it’s really good but it took three days to make,” opines frank from his post on the sofa blogging on HIS website. he has something like 1000 hits and 47 whole followers on twitter. i have six. one of whom is frank.

i explain that the whole dealie here is that i am making food that takes time to achieve in an effort to a) prove that good things are worth waiting for and b) distract myself from the hideous waiting game that seems to be the life of the hollywood producer. we had excellent indian food in a mini-mall in temple city with malcolm last week, so i was inspired to make paneer.

paneer is the fresh white cheese that comes prepared with spinach (saag paneer) or green peas (mattar paneer) among other veg. it is shockingly easy to make and while one is at it one can make chena which is a finer-grained version of paneer used to make sweets, specifically rasgulas, rasmalai and chum chums: essentially cheese dumplings soaked in cardamom and rose-flavored syrup or half and half. yum… syrup. i’ve eaten half of them.

take a gallon of whole milk and bring it close to the boil. add about 1/2 cup of fresh lemon juice, stir and turn off the heat. in 15 minutes or so the milk curds will separate from the whey. strain it into a strainer lined with several layers of cheesecloth. save the whey. or don’t. i have two liters of whey sitting here. i thought i was being housewifely but who can handle that much whey? i’m giving it to the roses. hang the cheesecloth wrapped curds over a bowl for a couple of hours or overnight. i took about 1/3 out to make chena and pressed the rest into a disk and weighted it down between two cutting boards overnight. et voila: paneer. really only two days prep. frank decides it looks like tofu and begins to take umbrage but i explain that it is cheese and therefore acceptable for human consumption.

i’m thinking dal mahkini and saag paneer with rice pilaf for brunch tomorrow and korean bbq on monday. i wanted to do a clams and chorizo thing this weekend but there is so much $@#$%!^* food in the fridge (and in the pantry and on the shelves and on every available surface in the kitchen) that the clams will have to wait.

saag paneer

cubed paneer

spinach – a lot

onions

garlic/ginger puree

ghee

garam masala

cayenne

cumin seeds – fried in ghee or toasted

salt/pepper

heavy cream

lemon juice

steam the spinach if only to get it down to a manageable volume. brown the paneer in ghee and set aside. it will probably stick, but will loosen up after it sits for a few. sauté the onions, garlic and ginger in ghee. add cayenne and garam masala, salt it and cook it down. when it looks correct add the paneer and the spinach. i use kitchen shears to cut the spinach up right in the pan. some like it pureed but i wanted to try for more texture. mix and fry and taste for seasoning. add salt and pepper. add heavy cream and cook it down some more. add toasted or fried cumin seeds and amalgamate. the cream will thicken, the flavors will take a second to meld. finish with a dash of lemon juice. i think it’s better the next day.

 

 

double double toil and trouble… fire burn and kimchi bubble

SCENE I. a conference room. In the middle, a boiling cauldron.

thunder. enter the three agents

First Agent

thrice the mini wookie hath yowl’d.

Second Agent

thrice and once the client hath whined.

Third Agent

producer cries, “no time, no time!”

First Agent

round about the cauldron go;

in the development notes we throw.

writer, that under cold stone

days and nights has one hundred and seventy-five….

swelter’d venom sleeping got,

boil thou first i’ the charmed pot.

ALL

double, double toil and trouble;

fire burn, and kimchi bubble.*

the kimchi is bubbling away nicely. i put in the fridge yesterday after six days in the pantry. i’ve also put up my second batch of half-sour pickles – the first batch had a mysterious soapy smell so i chucked them. do not mess around with the yeasts and the molds i’ve been told. the second batch looks gorgeous. i was much more specific and sanitary about the brine this time – i boiled it. and used about a cup of coarse sea salt to the gallon. they smell great – should be half sour by monday.

i decided to do bread and butter chips with the remaining cucumbers which i had left soaking in a saltwater bath overnight.  i love a sweet and spicy pickle. (i love a sweet and spicy anything.) i used the thai kom kom ripple knife to create the chips and the kyocera to slice half an onion very thinly. salted them and pressed in the picre for about a day and a half, releasing a lot of water.

what excites me most is the brine. on wednesday i hit super king and found a middle eastern spice packet called “pickling spice.” no ingredients on the label, but it looked amazing. i spotted bay leaf, coriander, mustard seeds, allspice, cinnamon, and dried red peppers. perfect for a sweet pickle (and completely inappropriate for a dill, btw.) i had a severe vinegar deficit in the house: half a bottle of bragg’s apple cider vinegar was it. strained that into a pot and boiled it (successfully murdering the nice yeasty mother in the process) added about 1/3 of the spice packet and sugar until it tasted right. i had seen a recipe that called for turmeric but having none i opted for some fairway hot curry thinking “well curry has turmeric in it so….” unreal. i will always add curry to my bread and butter brine – the flavor profile is perfect: coriander, turmeric, cumin, cinnamon, cayenne, paprika, garlic and pepper. and you get that nice golden turmeric-inspired color.

 

*with apologies to wm. shakespeare. nb – how many people go through life thinking the line is “bubble, bubble toil and trouble?”

prague powder #1

corned beef

 

this is the tiny little brisket that i snagged from a woman who was buying up all of the briskets at the market the other day. since i’m on a pickling jag why not “pickle” meat? the ingredients are remarkably similar to the half-sour pickles but with added sodium nitrite to give the meat its traditional pink when braised (not grey) hue and to prevent clostridium botulinium. it is a preservative and lends that particular “cured” taste to meat, sausages and patés/terrines. known as rose salt, pink salt and most interestingly, “prague powder #1”. it is usually tinted pink to distinguish it from regular table salt. i got mine at surfas. there is a way to braise meat without nitrites and keep it pink. it involves VERY slowly bringing the meat up to a VERY low braising temperature which gives certain enzymes an opportunity to develop which keeps the meat tender and its pigments intact. i think. must check mcgee on this. hold please.

yup – mcgee p. 149 discusses cooking methods that will keep well-done meat pink. i love mcgee. i have read it cover-to-cover. twice.

there is a jamaican version of corned beef called “bully beef” that my grandmother used to make. i cannot find a specific recipe for it. it was a spicy brined beef that was pressed after cooking into a neat oblong and then sliced and eaten between slices of hard-dough (hardo) bread: a tremendously dense, heavy white pullman loaf.  just the thought of hardo bread and coco buns sends me into a glutinous frenzy. i’m sure that just touching hardo bread would kill frank.

 

kimchi-making time

facebook cracks me up. i spent all morning “live posting” on the face – sharing my kimchi-making fun with my 170 friends. how much more fun would it have been to have simply invited the 4 or 5 who were paying attention to come over and hang out while i did my thing?

so starting at about 10:30 i dove into the kimchi situation. yesterday was all about prep: washing and salting. i did salt for quite a bit longer than most of the recipes i checked out suggested, leaving the three elements (radish, cucumber and napa cabbage) to salt overnight. i rinsed each once before i went to bed but they were still plenty salty and giving water this morning.

i decided to make three different kimchis: pogi baechu – a “white” kimchi with only jalapeños for spice; oi-sobagi – cucumbers stuffed with daikon and scallions in a red chili paste; and chonggak – young radishes and their greens in a fish-sauce-based red chili paste.

the most interesting element is a “paste” made from glutinous rice and water (or brine in some cases.) this is what binds the spice mixture and make it stick nicely to the veg. i used the hand blender in lieu of mincing because i was feeling shortcut-y.

now they ferment. the cucumbers for the least amount of time, the radish for the most (i’m guessing.) then it will be banchan time!

 

half sour

we went to the valley this afternoon to look at a mercedes  that frank has had his eye on. as advertised it looked like an extremely rare grey market 5-speed AMG 500. we are on a mercedes kick here, looking a way to upgrade beatrice so she doesn’t wheeze at 70mph.

the hilarious thing is there is this character – von müller – who has been after beatrice for months. but he doesn’t want to pay. he keeps coming back and lowballing me and i keep upping the price. fuck you – if you want the car pay me what she is worth and stop whining about california coupes, no soft top blah blah blah. beatrice is a matching number, unrestored, never been hit, chocolate brown 1968 280sl. and you keep coming back. so i know the car is worth something substantial – and most likely for a client in germany. so von müller calls malcolm after a few months of silence with a 1970 maserati indy, 4-speed v8, silver, silver on blue. cute car – lift back – the sort of sexy 70s italian v8 that frank and i like (we like the mexico even better but….) he wants to trade it for beatrice. maseratis are pretty exotic and all, but it is worth about 15K at the low end. and i want more for beatrice, my first classic car (sniff.) today i learned that a very similar 280sl, california coupe, in excellent unrestored condition just sold at the beverly hills car club for 31K. that represents (depending upon the mark-up) about $25K to the owner. and frank has just told me that he sees them on german ebay all the time for upwards of 30K euros. so von müller can kiss my ass.

the valley mercedes was not as advertised and frank was sour about it. i am sour that people have been offering 16K for beatrice and a comparable car just sold for almost twice that. so it is somehow appropriate that i have decided to turn my korean supermarket cucumbers into nyc deli-style half-sour pickles.

in the past when i’ve done fermented pickles they have turned out pretty soft. i am reluctant to use alum (potassium aluminum sulfate) to maintain the crispness but i hear that the tannins in grape leaves will keep your pickles crispy. while thinking i might need to delay the whole process until i go to super king, i have an epiphany: the neighbors on the corner have grape vines spilling over their walls and onto the street. i’m sure they wouldn’t mind if snipped a few. i decide to take chewbacca. big mistake. i forgot that in addition to grapes and roses the corner neighbors also have cujo – a giant some-sort-of-dog who can jump as high as their fence. so as i am trying to discreetly snip a few grape leaves chewie is going ape-shit. i mean, beyond. doing back flips and barking his head off. thanks for the support beast.

cur

cur

 

i know i went on about not fermenting in the summer, but it’s not too hot yet and the gartopf has a nice cool spot in the pantry.

gartopf pickling crock

pilfered grape leaves

i lined the bottom of the crock with grape leaves and put in the cucumbers. added mustard seeds, white pepper, black pepper, bay leaf, coriander seeds, a few smashed cloves of garlic and the ubiquitous habanero.

in the crock

i added a solution of sea salt and water and weighted the whole scenario down with the special gartopf weights. it is very important that the cucumbers remain submerged in the brine.

weights

a nice waiting project. i’ll check them daily and skim off any molds or scum that appear. They should be half-sour in about 4 days and fully sour in a week or so.

pickled

frank and i have a fetish for all things pickled – leading us to believe all the more that we are somehow related. i have been pickling and making fermented foods since the raw period: sauerkraut, tsukemono, kimchee. and pickles are the perfect way to learn to wait – and to understand that something fabulous is developing so the waiting is worth it (filmmaking comparison of the day.)

recently, when malcolm’s wife joyce mentioned the pickled eggs  that sit on the bars of yorkshire pubs, we got all excited about pickling eggs. after i was disabused of the notion that the eggs are pickled in their shells (due to a kindergarten experiment i remember vividly where we were charged to see if we could make an egg bounce) i of course went immediately to the exotic: saffron, ginger, garlic pickled eggs! fairway pickling spice plus habenero pickled eggs! after the usual alarming internet researcg (pickled eggs are rife with the potential for botulism! just ask the denizens of any yorkshire pub. whatever.) so i boiled up two different brines with white vinegar salt, sugar and the above-mentioned aromatics. then i boiled some eggs. shocked them (crucial) and threw them in the fridge in their respective brines.

how to boil an egg

i love an undercooked egg. 3 minute soft boiled – just so the whites aren’t icky, 5 minute hardboiled – with a nice gelatinous yolk, etc.) for pickling i would say a 7 minute egg is ideal. the white is firm and the yolk has a slightly translucent center. it is not hard and light yellow whatsoever. the main trick is to start the eggs in cold water, bring close to the boil – do not bring to a rolling boil – and start your timing from there. there are lots of ways to boil an egg. look them up.  the kicker is the shock. as the eggs cook prepare an ice bath. if you shock the eggs promptly the peeling will be easy. the ice maker on the kitchen aid is verkahkt so i use a picnic ice pack:

a week later the eggs were the consistency of superballs and ridiculously tart. the saffron ones were quite yellow and interesting smelling…. so after playing bouncy with them for a while, frank suggested we just stick hardboiled eggs in the remaining juice from a jar of clausen pickles. the horror. commercial pickle juice? with preservatives? WITHOUT SAFFRON??? never. a few weeks later i secretly snuck one hardboiled egg in the remaining juice from a jar of clausen pickles. amazing. soft, delicious. like a protein-rich, non-crunchy, clausen pickle. so this is now the preferred method of pickling an egg. i’m absolutely sure this is exactly what they do in the yorkshire pubs. not what heston blumenthal might do – but good enough for jazz. as i write this frank opines (“sarcastically” – which he just demanded that i add) “see i’m not completely useless.” oh bubbeleh. mwah.

after a session with my pranic healer yesterday and charged with meditating more (more like ever), doing 6:3 breathing regularly and taking a salt bath daily, i went by the korean supermarket on beverly to get a couple of ten-pound bags of sea salt. who knew – IT’S KIMCHEE-MAKING SEASON. i thought cabbage kimchee is made in november and that unfermented radish-y water-based kimchees were more a summer thing. fermenting works better during the cooler months when it can go slowly. when the weather is warm the process is accelerated and the flavors not as complex. but the korean ladies were going bats for young napa, young radish and big spring onions and cucumbers which were all on mega-special with purchase limits – so something was up. i also almost had an altercation with a woman over a well-marbled brisket but that’s a different story. she won.

always a sucker for a sale, a pickle and something that takes weeks to realize, i went for it.

 

 

 

 

 

this morning i threw it all in the sink. the beets are from this week’s csa haul. we got beets, baby garlic, black russian kale, rainbow chard (gratin time) 1 yellow bell pepper, a head of cabbage, 1 guava (wtf am i going to do with one guava?) half a dozen eggs, an avocado, 3 oranges and some cilantro. nota bene we go halfsies with the boys across the street in case this seems sparse. let’s see what surfaces over the weekend.

sandwiches and cupcakes

if only people in hollywood would work for sandwiches and cupcakes more often. or ever. seems more like a new york thing to me.

new york. so i was deputized to go pick up dinner from lucifer’s pizza. they do a gluten-free crust that is not entirely unacceptable: thin, crisp, slightly greasy. and they do one with lamb olives and feta that i like (i know, the original ray is spinning in his grave) and despite the fact that lucifer’s features two pizzas that involve pineapple, which would otherwise obviate their existence, frank likes one called el diablo which, even for a west indian (ish) girl like i, is too damn spicy. i’m crabby because they won’t deliver as we are .4 miles out of their delivery range. whatever. so i take gunther over to hillhurst and pull into the valet parking lot between the pizzeria and vinoteca (see frico.) and the valet dude is like “three fifty.” well i’m just picking up from lucifer’s could i leave the car here for two minutes, charming smile etc etc and so forth. “three fitty.” fuck ok.

so i flip a bitch and go back out to hillhurst. ooh – a space in front of lucifer’s… twenty feet behind me. my first idiot move was to try to back up down hillhurst. no dice. traffic refuses to stand still for me. the gall. truly irritated now, i flip another bitch to get on the right side of hillhurst. i come in hot and CRUNCH. i tear the bumper off some poor schmucks civic. f.u.c.k. so the guy and all of his boys are out front having pizza and they are gesticulating and carrying on like mimes. i put the flashers on and get out. yeah i pulled some bumper off. and scratched the quarter panel. bloody hell. so the first thing i say is “i am so sorry – let me get my pizza and i will be right back – i truly apologize – just a sec.” (well i was going through all of this because of pizza, i might as well get it before they closed!) i get back and everyone is taking pictures of the guy’s car as if lindsay lohan were sprawled underneath it. i go inside and get a piece of paper and a pen and go into producer mode – names numbers – would you email me those photos please, i will definitely take care of it – i am really TERRIBLY sorry. (i am.)  and i get all of his info and then the guy says “wow – i thought you would have just driven off, this is so cool of you.”

WHAT? really? just driven off? it never crossed my mind (really it didn’t.) could i have just driven off??? first, his paparazzo buddies would have chased me down the street and then gone inside lucifer’s and said “that bitch just trashed our boy’s car! was she picking up? what’s her number, what’s her address 2.4 miles away?” i wonder if they would have given it to them. so i say “i’m from new york, i would never have just driven off.” this is the difference between la and new york in a nutshell.

all this time i never even looked to see what i had done to gunther. it didn’t dawn on me until i pulled into the driveway at home. not cute. must fix or he will be well on his way to hooptie-dom.

 

so what does this have to do with working for bubkes? i think new yorkers have … a code. we do what we say we’re going to do and do it pronto-ish. very un-la.

we don’t eat sandwiches anymore but i have perfected a gluten-free lemon cupcake. message to casting director x: i will make these for you every day if you can get jude law for the movie.

gluten-free lemon cupcakes

lemon cake is among the things that frank says he will not countenance. pineapple, raisins, and olives are also among the items that are apparently indigestible and revolting to him. all four of these items are some of my favorite foods. but my lemon cupcakes, he likes.

the big trick i have discovered about gluten-free baking is tapioca flour/starch. it is far superior to xanthan gum (to me) for creating elasticity in a gluten-less baked good. and elasticity means the thing actually rises and doesn’t sit there like a lump. so i created my own flour blend that’s 1/3 king arthur gluten-free flour, 1/3 tapioca flour and 1/3 coconut flour. you have to mix this up in advance so you can accurately measure. mix them in advance. do not do a third a third a third right into your mixing bowl. just don’t.

as with vegan/vegetarian food, gluten-free cake benefits from copious amounts of fat. butter and eggs. gluten-free, dairy-free and eggless is just a hideous concept to me. i’m sure it can be done but not on my watch. this is essentially a pound cake recipe and traditionally pound cake entailed a pound of flour, a pound of butter, a pound of sugar and a pound of eggs. a 1:1:1:1 ratio of four ingredients.

3 cups flour blend as above

1 tsp baking powder

1/2 tsp xanthan gum (just in case)

3 cups white sugar

4 sticks of butter

7 egg yolks

zest of 4 lemons

1 cup of lemon juice

preheat oven to 350. the trick to most cakes is beating enough air into your base ingredients (butter, sugar, eggs) so that things rise nicely. traditional pound cake had no leavening agent as i recall. house slaves most likely beat the ingredients for martha washington’s famous pound cake because mixing four pounds of ingredients is no joke. and the washingtons did have slaves. (nota bene denzel.) in all fairness he and his wife emancipated many of their slaves and washington was one of the few founding fathers who did so. but i have the big kitchenaid so i’m good.

cream the hell out of the butter and sugar until really light and fluffy. add the egg yolks one by one and the lemon juice. put the zest in with the flour and other dry ingredients. add the flour gradually and on a low speed – tapioca starch doesn’t respond well to wild beating. when all of the flour is incorporated, let it sit for 15 minutes while you prepare your cupcake pan with cupcake cups. with a 1/3 cup or so measuring cup scoop out the batter and fill the cups evenly. you might have to smooth the tops with a wet knife or finger because this is a very thick gloppy batter. bake until the toothpick comes out dry – about 45 mins. if they brown too quickly, cover with foil.

they are very nice plain but  you can do a little lemon glaze if you feel like it. full-on buttercream gilds the lily in my view. i’ve also done this batter in a bundt pan which is v traditional and looks great with streaks of glaze flowing through the ridges.

lemon glaze

1 tsp lemon juice

lemon zest

as much powdered sugar as it takes to get the glaze as thick as you want it.