24 May 2008

catch-up: foodblog, sort of

the chocolate birthday cake i made last night (and brought to the beach today, with a bottle of milk i grabbed when we stopped for gas) was probably my best attempt yet. i've made it in cupcake form several times before and the cupcakes always came out a little over-moist, like they would stick to the roof of your mouth, even when i tried to overbake them. not sure why it worked so much better in a single eight-inch round, but i'm not complaining. recipe pilfered once again from the amazing orangette; my only creative input was to third the recipe, since i had neither 3 cake pans nor 3 oz of chocolate left. (also, i've been going through chocolate bars REALLY quickly ever since deciding to confront my baking demons.)

i like how quickly i can put together a baked good nowadays, at least after i've made it a couple times. it's nice to have a feel for something, to remember what a particular batter is supposed to feel like, or whether it's supposed to be dull or shiny on the whisk, flat or bubbly in the pan, how high it should rise in the oven.

more cooking notes. dinner last night was a baffling series of disasters. baffling because each component seemed like it would be simple and quick, and instead was difficult and time-consuming and a wreck. the brussels sprouts that should have "caramelized" turned a really beautiful green and them promptly burned. the tilapia kept falling apart when i turned it, and patches of it were still floury when i plated them. and the part of dinner that i was most looking forward to -- a beurre blanc, a sauce made of white wine and lemon and butter that is smooth and amazingly flavorful -- came out the absolute worst: the reduced wine and lemon juice seized up into browned clumps, probably bound to burned milk solids from the butter, and sank to the bottom of a bowlful of clear yellow oil. basically i had clarified butter dotted with flavor-chunks. fuck.

i think what happened was that the cold butter should have gone into the sauce to melt but never have gotten actually hot. the recipe's technique was to lower the heat to low before the whisking-in of cubed butter, but i probably should have removed it from the heat entirely. see, i did exactly as the recipe said, but the recipe probably didn't know that i use a shitty electric stove, which heats up and cools down a burner WAY slower than a gas flame would. so now i know. but i'm two sticks of butter (i know!) poorer for it.

all that said, i think the meal had a lot of potential and might come out perfectly if i tried again. by the last fillet i certainly had the hang of the pan-frying technique, and the brussels sprouts might just need a little tinkering -- non-virgin olive oil, or a tiny bit of sugar in the pan, to get the right kind of browning -- and maybe the only problem with the sauce was the heat issue. so i feel bad for wasting people's evening, but not too bad about the disappointment in and of itself.

the one thing i can recommend without all the caveats would be what i did with the fettuccine (or was it linguine? doesn't matter), which was simple and subtle and flavorful: bit of extra-virgin olive oil, splash of cream, grated lemon zest, ground black pepper. the end. anyone can do it, everyone should.

that's more than enough from me in one night. someone please remind me to start using my camera again. off to crash, goodnight.

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