1. Kevin's total dominance on Top Chef reinforces I've been saying all along...never underestimate the power or pork fat.
2. This Halloween is going to be the best yet. I'm going as Poison Ivy from the Batman comic books/movies/animated series. Mr. Luz is going as Lady Gaga at the MTV Video Music Awards, and I'm making a double batch of BBQ pulled pork. All is right with the world.
The Daring Baker's challenge this month, French Macarons, caused me to question myself, given the semantics of our fancy lil' baking/blogger group. "Daring"--okay, that one's fairly obvious. Are you daring? Do you want to be daring? I'm in the latter group. It's the second part I'm having a problem with. "Baker." This month's challenge made it all to clear that daring as I may be, I am no baker.
Normally I can fudge it, but these fussy little sugar bombs require about 20 minutes of real work, and (in my non-baker experience) about 5 hours of waiting, cussing, and general crabbiness. Along with patience, I also lack: a kitchen larger than a bathroom; more than one cookie sheet, an oven that cooks at the temperature you set it at. None of this matters when I'm cooking, but it makes all the difference when you're making cookies that are more temperamental than my sister, BaCon Bit, in her teenage years. I'm no baker and these cookies spent 5 hours and 20 minutes reminding me of that fact on one dark and stormy Sunday.
That said, they are freaking adorable. And they are crispy, and chewy, and versatile enough to make in all of your favorite flavor combinations. I chose to do a simple lemon cookie (adding lemon zest I'd dried in the oven to the almond flour when I ground it with my Salvation Army food processor) and a goat cheese buttercream (that I made in my Salvation Army Kitchenaid stand mixer). I'd make batches and batches to share if I could get more than 10 cookies off of the "non-stick" silicon mat I bought for this challenge--which cost as much as the SalVay food processor--without them completely disintegrating. Alas, I am no baker.
An adaptation of Claudia Fleming’s Macaron Recipe
2 ¼ cups (225 g, 8 oz.) Icing/Confectioner's/Powdered Sugar
2 cups (190 g, 6.7 oz.) Almond Flour (ground in your food processor to make your cookies silky)
2 Tbs. (25 g , .88 oz.) Granulated Sugar (I added 1/2 Tbs. since I heard it stabilizes the egg whites)
5 Egg Whites at room temperature (Google "aging egg whites" and use those if possible)
1. Preheat the oven to 200°F (93°C). Combine the confectioners’ sugar and almond flour in a medium bowl. If grinding your own nuts, combine nuts and a cup of confectioners’ sugar in the bowl of a food processor and grind until nuts are very fine and powdery.
2. Beat the egg whites in the clean dry bowl of a stand mixer until they hold soft peaks. Slowly add the granulated sugar and beat until the mixture holds stiff peaks.
3. Sift a third of the almond flour mixture into the meringue and fold gently to combine. (40-50 strokes total!! Make your first two or three strokes "fast" but not "hard" to combine the flour). If you are planning on adding zest or other flavorings to the batter, now is the time. Sift in the remaining almond flour in two batches. Be gentle! Don’t overfold, but fully incorporate your ingredients.
4. Spoon the mixture into a pastry bag fitted with a plain half-inch tip. (HATE the pastry bag!!) You can also use a Ziploc bag with a corner cut off. It’s easiest to fill your bag if you stand it up in a tall glass and fold the top down before spooning in the batter.
5. Pipe one-inch-sized (2.5 cm) mounds of batter onto baking sheets lined with nonstick liners or parchment paper. (Pipe as if you were doing a "dollop." Just put the tip close to the cookie sheet and pipe a sphere, don't make a circle and then "fill it in" or your cookies will be all air.)
6. Bake the macaroon for 5 minutes. Remove the pan from the oven and raise the temperature to 375°F (190°C). (This is to dry your macarons so they puff up to create the highly coveted "feet". I have a crappy oven so I just dried them on the counter for 40 min before baking.) Once the oven is up to temperature, put the pans back in the oven and bake for an additional 7 to 8 minutes, or lightly colored.
And if you ask nicely, they'll throw in 3 pieces of crispy, crunchy bacon that you can eat right away (tempting) OR you can sink them in your gallon of bloody mary so it becomes little slabs of chewy-spicy-tomato-porky-insanity.
NOTE: I grew up in the Midwest where I was a waitress/college student. I spent the past 3 years dealing with law-school-stress and bar-exam-stress in New Orleans, and now I'm a lawyer. In sum, I can drink. This pitcher o' love put me under. Luckily, I enjoyed mine during the H Street Festival, where dancing in the streets was encouraged. Good luck with yours and don't say I didn't warn you.
I cooked for friends in law school partly because we were reduced to such a sad existence. My cooking looked amazing when compared to the vending machine options at Weinmann Hall. And when you're terribly miserable, anything given in the spirit of generosity--even an overcooked hamburger--is like a gift from the heavens. People often returned the favor with wine and cookie donations, but no one appreciates my cooking like our good friend, Mr. Jacoby.
During law school, Mr. Jacoby loaded me up with baked goods that he made from fresh and exotic ingredients. I still dream about a loaf of blueberry bread that he brough me--it probably had at least 3 sticks of butter in it, it was so rich! MMmsnorglemmmm. Mr. Jacoby is in Texas now, a mere 1000-something miles from D.C. Even so, he managed to deliver some tasty baked goods recently in the form of Zingerman's Pepper Bacon Farmhouse bread! Zingerman's has a Deli and Bakehouse in Ann Arbor, MI and its full-service bar restaurant, The Roadhouse, has been recognized by the James Beard Foundation. They do a booming "mail order" business, which is how I came to experience the glory that is Zingerman's thanks to Mr. Jacoby. (On my Christmas list, their "Guide to Better Bacon"..it has a bacon fat mayonnaise recipe!) And in my opinion, they make the best bread in the country. What's so special about it?
The crust is rich and crackling, the inside is dense and chewy. And the black pepper applewood smoked bacon flavor? Aacckkk((09danl;iwer*!!!!! I maybe had it for dinner one night covered in goat cheese. It was so smoky, and salty, and spicy. I mean, its meat bread. How can you go wrong? (FYI, we also had another loaf jam-packed with huge raisins and walnuts, but I ate it before I could take any pictures.) And so, Mr. Jacoby, I'd like to take this opportunity to thank you, for being a wonderful friend and my culinary co-counsel, and especially for sending me meat bread. You are my favorite.
And if you're anything like me, this beer cheese soup recipe will easily satisfy your craving for great comfort/football food. You can serve it with sandwiches and chips at your next NFL-related get together because, duh, it's beer and cheese. It also works as a light dinner with some crusty bread or microwavable soft pretzels and a side salad. The malty beer adds some sweetness and depth to the sharp, tangy cheese, and leeks and carrots are just awesome in general.
And unlike alot of other flavorful soups, this one doesn't have to simmer for hours, so go ahead and make a batch between trips to the store to replenish the Halloween candy that keeps mysteriously disappearing.
Beer Cheese Yummy Recipe
2 Medium Leeks (well rinsed, white and pale green parts only) chopped
3 Medium Carrots, chopped
2 Celery Ribs, chopped
2 tsp. chopped Garlic
2 Bay Leaves
1/2 stick (1/4 cup) Unsalted Butter
1/3 cup Flour
2 cups Whole Milk
2 cups Chicken Broth
2 bottles Sam Adams Red Ale or other malty ale
1 Tbs. Worcestershire sauce
1 tsp. Dijon mustard
Black pepper, cayenne pepper, salt to taste
12 oz. extra-sharp Cheddar
Soft Pretzels (optional)
Reduce heat to low and sprinkle flour over vegetables, then cook, stirring often, for 3 minutes. Add milk, broth, and beer whisking continuously, then simmer, whisking occasionally, 5 minutes but do NOT boil. Stir in Worcestershire sauce, mustard, salt, and pepper.
Remove bay leaf, and carefully blend with either a handheld blender or a counter-top blender until the vegetables are in small pieces and the soup is mostly smooth. Add cheese by handfuls, stirring constantly, and cook until melted, 3 to 4 minutes. Serve hot garnished with sliced green leeks or warm soft pretzels.
Bon appetite's fantasy menu celebrates the fresh but sophisticated approach that Italian chefs are taking to invigorate rustic old-world flavors for today's more adventurous diners, and lists St. Louis' Acero Restaurant among the best. If national recognition isn't enough to convince you to try Acero's new old-world cuisine, consider their $25 four course tasting menu and the fact that their talented Executive Chef, Adam Gnau, is also great eye candy. (I'm pretty sure Mama and Papa BaCon would bring me to Acero every time I come home, in hopes that Chef Gnau and I would find true love over a plate of Tuscan Anchovies, if they didn't love Mr. Luz so much.)
Acero is part of the Jim Fiala family of restaurants (see also Liluma and The Crossing) and Fiala keeps Acero's food simple yet stunning with the best ingredients and thoughtful flavor combinations. With every bite, I couldn't help but think "This is exactly how this food, each element of this dish, is supposed to taste." Chefs Fiala and Gnau manage to tease the most flavor out of each component of each dish with just a little heat, oils, acids, and seasoning, and the overall effect as enjoyable as it is surprising.
My antipasti of chicken liver mousse on crostini was rich, and buttery, and the crostini was brioche-like in taste and texture--sweet, and dense. I also tried the bruschetta with caramelized onion, blue cheese, and honey and was surprised by how balanced the dish was given all of the sweeter elements. The blue cheese was perfectly acidic, and the onions were more piquant and creamy than sweet.
I ordered one of the specials for my primi, a ricotta and parmesan gnudi with a simple tomato sauce and guanciale, or cured pork cheek. One of my favorite foods of all time is the swiss chard malfatti at Al Di La in Brooklyn, NY, also a gnudi dish, and I'm always on the hunt for something to satisfy my herb and cheese craving when I can't get to NY. Acero's gnudi did not disappoint. The guanciale added a salty savoriness to an otherwise sweet and delicate dish. It's safe to say that I've found my Midwest malfatti. I also tried Acero's Egg Raviolo--a large, thin ravioli filled with herbs, spinach, and soft cheeses, and topped with a farm fresh egg yolk. The pure opaque richness of the soft-boiled egg yolk essentially served as a sauce for the light, sweet pasta and delicately herbed cheeses. If Acero's Egg Raviolo was my last meal on earth (hopefully paired with a dry aged steak and a SuperTuscan of Glenn Bardgett's choosing), I could certainly die happy.
Between courses, Chef Gnau brought us a few fun and interesting dishes as a little lagniappe to our already amazing meal. (Perhaps he was attempting to wooing me with briny and fried things, Mama BaCon?) First, we had white anchovies with heirloom tomatoes, basil, and lemon. I have recently fallen in love with all things anchovy, I'm addicted to their mild sweet, salty funkiness, and this little taste was a nice combination of anchovy with some bright, fresh Summer flavors.
Next came what Chef Gnau jokingly described as meat doughnuts (Wooohoooo!) The simple presentation of thinly shaved prosciutto, deep fried bread beignets, a ripe and golden olive oil, and biting red lava salt was seriously heavenly and appealed to all of the senses at once.
Like all of Jim Fiala's restaurants, Acero is unassuming and friendly despite its superstar status and the utterly confident talent and innovation that characterizes its kitchen. As if I were in an old friend's kitchen after a long and successful dinner party, I finished my meal at Acero with a glass of port, their simple dessert of vanilla gelato covered with a shot of espresso, and happy, drowsy conversation that drifted off as we each got lost in our thoughts, remembering our favorite parts of our meal. And no, Chef Gnau didn't send out his personal phone number with my tawny port, but there's always next time.