Shrimp Beignets, Take One by Anne

shrimp.beignets "Looks good--what are these?" I asked, as usual, at Student Lunch a few weeks ago.  Of course they looked good--they were deep fried.  Anyway, turns out they were "tempura" vegetables with a beignet batter.   They were light, crisp, faintly sweet, and insanely compelling to eat.  I was sitting across the table from Chris, a 2nd quarter student, who had his plate piled high with them.  "Aren't these awesome?" I said to him--though with my mouth full, it was more like, "Ammt veev awffm?" 

"I made 'em!" he said.  Chris cooks at Barking Frog in Woodinville, and making beignet batter is one of his regular tasks.  Since it was near the end of school, he whipped this out, one of his default recipes.  Personally, I'm looking at it as a secret weapon.  I continued to rave about them, but he was pretty humble.  He complained that they had too much baking soda in them.  I can only imagine what they taste like when they are perfect. 

Anyway, they've been on my mind, so I looked up "Barking Frog Beignets" to see what they actually use the batter for.  Apparently they serve crab beignets, with an herbed crab concoction hidden inside.  Sounds dreamy! 

Today I picked up some shrimp at the store and decided to take the plunge for dinner tonight.   I'll call this round a pleasant first stab at seafood beignets--definitely no award-winner.  My batter was simple, with flour, salt, sugar, baking soda, and sparkling water.  In other words, not a beignet.  From what I have read in the last hour, this is definitely not a traditional beignet recipe.  Sometimes you've just gotta slap it up there and see what happens.  I will say, though, that my family gobbled them up. 

In case you haven't already sneaked off to Wikipedia,  I'll sum up: beignets are basically french doughnuts.  It's a term that refers to fried dough or batter. It can be made with yeasty batter or a basic Pâte à choux (butter, eggs, flour, and water).  Definitely not the recipe I was using.

Looks like I'll be heading over to Barking Frog soon to taste savory beignets again.  Or asking Chris for some beignet words of wisdom.  Or both.  If you've got a good beignet recipe at your house, I'd love to hear about it.

Culinary School First Quarter Impressions by Anne

shallots Culinary school has been like a blistering teenage crush.  I'm driving home either yelling "Stupid! Stupid! Stupid!" for something I did, or singing joyfully to a cheesy song at the top of my lungs.  There's lots of angst.  Learning sure can be uncomfortable.  And there's lots of longing: thinking, writing, and reading about food can be an exercise in melancholy.  When will I get a chance to try cooking all the delicacies from Chef Gregg's lectures?  When will I fly across the country or the world to try that restaurant? 

I even got that longing on one of the first days when Chef Gregg asked us to go around the room and say our favorite comfort food.  A room full of strangers revealed what satisfied their souls the most.  Suddenly, we knew each other better--and were yearning for ice cream, or a bowl of noodles, or a Greek salad.

Actually, culinary school is also like a reality TV show.  Our class has distinct representatives from different walks of life and ages.   Each person seems ripe for a one- or two-word nickname, based on our backgrounds and idiosyncracies.   Guess who I am: Mom.  Do I love that? Not really.  But I get it. 

Our differences do make for some interesting interactions.   Some people have "found" each other and formed alliances, and others can't bear each other.  There was a serious "No you didn't!" moment with two women who came close to taking it outside over something tiny--because they apparently dislike each other so much. 

With the amount of gossip that mills through the school, you just know that the near-catfight story got told over and over for weeks.  Seems like people are constantly talking about each other.  Nothing is private.  We're all completely nosy.  "What's that?  What are you eating? Can I taste it?  What did you get on the  sanitation quiz?  What did they say?  Are they coming?  Did they pass?"  Everyone's into each other's business. 

To add to the reality TV vibe, there's the turmoil caused by attrition.  The loss of some of our classmates due to life changes, or, more painfully, flunking, really hurts.  We had become like a wacky family, and now people are getting voted off the island.   We started with 28 and have lost nine people since.  This is typical in the program, I hear.  We'll end up with about half the number of students as when we started, apparently.  Since we lost seven of the people on the last day of fall quarter, there's no telling what it will be like next quarter with the remaining 19.

I do know that second quarter will be a hit-the-ground-running situation.  We're in charge of making lunch for all the culinary students, so the theme of the quarter is "quantity cooking."  Really, it will be "quantity cooking for a tough crowd."  As everyone is developing their palates, they're quick to criticize what they eat.  Myself, I liked the food fine, but I was always critiquing it. 

I remember three distinct times that I was really excited by the food I ate at Student Lunch.  Two of the times I went to find out who was responsible so that I could give them my compliments. Next quarter I will aspire to do that well (even if nobody comes to find me and rave about the food).

We'll rotate through stations each week (such as entree, starch/veg, butchery, sushi, breakfast, etc.).  We will sometimes be assigned dishes and other times need to supply our own recipes.  So, during this winter break I've been collecting recipes that are easily prepared for large groups.  Hello, Swedish Meatballs

There's the temptation to get creative, but being fussy is not the nature of quantity cooking.  My friend and I were lamenting this, being foodies, but there's going to be lots to learn about techniques behind creating food in large quantities while still making it taste great.  Anyway, I'm looking forward to this challenge.  My inner Italian grandma is pleased as punch.  Mangia, mangia!  Let's go make big vats of sauce!

All in all these first three months have been intense, tiring, and fascinating. Even at its most exhausting, though, I didn't want to be anywhere else.   I wish I could get paid to go to culinary school.  That's how I feel right now, anyway, after one quarter, right at the end of our restful winter vacation.  However, after many years of being a student and a teacher, I've never looked forward to going back to school as much as I am looking forward to it now.  That's gotta say something.

Befriending Herbs & Spices by Anne

IMG_8962The most fun assignment, ever, has me immersing my nose in the scent of basil tonight.  We're assigned about 40 herbs and spices to observe, smell, and taste.  Then we describe, in table format, each of these attributes for each herb and spice.  Having heard about this assignment before starting the culinary program, I knew I'd be looking forward to it.  However, I was unprepared for the intensity each herb and spice would present as I became more intimately acquainted with them.  Want to try it?  Go to your cupboard and put a large of pinch of basil in a small bowl.  Stick your nose in there.  What do you smell?  What words come to mind?  Are you surprised at all?  I was.  I don't even want to ruin it for you right now by planting ideas in your head, so if you feel like telling me what you smell (and taste!), please do!  I'd love to compare notes with you.  I felt like I knew basil so well, and yet I felt tonight like I was really smelling it for the first time, knowing that I would need to describe it.  And who takes a pinch of dried herbs and puts it in her mouth to eat, straight?  It's just a different experience.

We were given several weeks to do this assignment, and I'm glad, because more than three or four of these experiences at one time can be overwhelming to the nose and palate.   

 The other day I decided to observe allspice during the same session as cloves, since the scent of allspice was reminding me so much of cloves.  Check that out!  If you have them both in your cupboard, wouldn't it be fun to smell (and taste) the differences between the two, side by side?

I also did oregano and marjoram together, since they're related yet so different.  Also, did you know that mace comes from the shell of nutmeg (and hence tastes a lot like it)? I did not know that before this assignment.

All in all, I feel like the assignment caused me to feel closer with each herb and spice in the chart, as if they were once acquaintances and now they're good friends.  We've been through something together, and I've taken time to really get to know them a little better.  Now I feel more inclined to include each of these in my dishes, just like you're more likely to trust your friend to help you rather than someone you just met.   Hey, fennel, can you help me out with some heavy lifting on this dish's flavor?  I know you're good at it.  Thanks, buddy.

The Whole Tomato by Anne

tomatoes.stockThe less food I waste, the better I feel -- it's more economical, and it is better for The World At Large.  Saving energy by buying less.  It's so difficult, though!  It takes strength of will, organization, and some ingenuity to keep yourself from buying too much.  Whole corporations are built to strategize how to get us consumers to purchase more food.  Those tricks sure work on me.   What a weird problem we have in this country--so many of us have so much food we don't know what to do with ourselves, or it. I'm by no means an expert conserver-of-foods, but it gets better the more I work at it.  Someday I will be the proud owner of a fridge with no science projects lurking in the crisper.  At the moment, though, I've still got things like the tired lime wedges, some mopey moldy strawberries, and the leftover oatmeal that "could" become fodder for future pancakes.

So, here we are, at the end of fresh tomatoes for the year.  On one of the last warm days of fall, I celebrated with a round of gazpacho.  The heirloom tomatoes from Billy's Gardens at the farmers' market were way redder and readier than my own garden's, so I bought a bunch of seconds and got to it.   As I blanched and peeled the tomatoes, though, I started thinking about the tomato tops and skins.  They were beautiful and gemlike, in their various colors. Sure, they would go into compost, but what if I could do something with them?

This time, I put them into a vegetable stock to see what would happen. I used chopped carrots, celery, onion (including the toughest-yet-edible outer shell of a red onion), thyme sprigs, and yes, the tomato tops and skins.  The tomato flavor definitely dominated the stock, probably because there were so many of them, but maybe sometimes that's okay, depending on the stock's purpose.  I could use the stock in a tomato based soup, for example, or maybe in a pasta dish or risotto that had lots of related flavors. 

At any rate, it felt good to use the whole thing, and the leftover cooked parts will compost all the quicker. 

Last week in school our teacher taught us about making proper stocks, using the best part of fine ingredients.  He said, "If you want to make garbage stock, then make stock with scraps."  That really made me think.  It's a good point, especially for a restaurant.  Meanwhile, back here at the house, I'll go with the modified philosophy of, If I would eat it anyway (and I usually do eat tomato skins), then it's good enough for a home stock. 

Next I'm going to try to make tomato-skin powder.  Apparently you take your just-peeled tomato skins and either put them in a food dehydrator or a low-heat oven until they are dry and crumbly.  Then grind them up with a spice or coffee grinder.  I've never had this powder before, but it sounds like it would look and taste wonderful.  Tell you later if there's anything to report on that.

tomatoes.green.to.red

Unprocessed October Guest Post by Anne

cherry tomato duo You may have read one of my recent posts talking about joining up for an "Unprocessed October," organized by the intrepid Andrew Wilder over at Eating Rules.  I've committed to a month of unprocessed foods and have written a guest post on his site for today.  Check it out!  If you were wondering, here is Andrew's working definition of "unprocessed.

 Also, he told me yesterday that this project has made the LA Times and the NY Times!  Very exciting!

Would you like to take the challenge?

Culinary School, Week I by Anne

IMG_8577 It sure feels surreal to step on the speedy river raft of a Life Dream.  When you fantasize about something for so many years--decades, even--it's weird to start experiencing the real-life details that accompany the dream.  Fluorescent lights.  Combination locks.  Attendance.

The first week of culinary school was a heaping platter of details.  We survived a four-day onslaught of information about the school's program and individual instructor expectations.  Being in a cohort-style group, the 26 of us managed not to get lost by more or less shuffling around together from place to place. 

Seattle Culinary Academy's program itself is brilliantly organized, and it runs like a well-oiled machine.  The whole system must have taken years to perfect.   I wish I could draw you a diagram of how it all works--it's that cool.  Anyway, as first-quarter students, we'll rotate through many experiences during these next weeks, both in our own kitchen and those of the more advanced students. 

Some days I'll be in our 1st quarter kitchen doing prep for SCA student lunches, other days I'll be in the galley washing pots, and others I'll bus tables in the school's two restaurants (for which the more advanced students cook).  On other rotation days, I'll visit the advanced students' kitchens, and they'll give me something innocuous to do while I observe them in action, making me both useful and able to absorb what's to come. 

The teachers themselves seem amazing, too.  I'll likely be telling more about them as the weeks and quarters pass.  Chef Gregg Shiosaki, the one who teaches us the bulk of our first quarter theory and practicum, comes from a well-rounded professional background and obviously holds high standards for himself and us.  I reckon this is the kind of chef you want teaching the new lot--a teacher that people want to work hard for.  On the first or second day he told us that we should walk with purpose and pride when we are in the kitchen.  When we cook, we hold ourselves accountable, and we present what we have prepared with pride, not carelessness. 

Here's something I liked from his knife demonstration yesterday.  It's about onion slices versus julienned onions (example pictured above).   During the demonstration Chef Gregg was showing us sliced and julienned onions. To explain the different cuts, I'll pretend the onion's a globe, with north and south poles.  If half an onion lies north/south on a cutting board, flat side down, then onion slices are cut through the "lines of latitude," east to west, basically making half onion rings.  Julienned onions are cut north to south, like lines of longitude, or time zones.  Julienned onions require angled cutting near the cutting board to create consistent shapes.  In the picture above, the slices are on the left and the juliennes are on the right. 

So, why do we care about the difference between slices and julienne cuts for onions?  When you cut slices, you have cut against the grain of the onion, which makes them easier to break down easily in soups, and also makes them easier to eat in salads; julienned onions, since they are sliced along the fiber lines,  would be more stringy and less easy to eat raw in salad.  Sometimes you want your onions to retain their form in certain cooked dishes, though, such as a stir fry.  So juliennes are better for that. 

On some level I must have known all of this and how the onion fibers affect different cut types.  It's common sense, right?  Chef Gregg reminds us to use our common sense quite a bit.  Still, though, this small fact has filled me with geeky glee today.  It's the sort of "Ah ha!" that I've been hoping will fill my next 7 quarters.

What to Do with Leftover Pork Chops by Anne

bbq pork sandwich For me, this new month of October is so full of awesomeness that I don't even know what to do with myself.  First of all, tomorrow is my first day of culinary school.  I am giddy with excitement and might be up late tonight.  After years of teaching school, I forgot what it's like to be on the student end of the business, having no idea of what is in store for me.  It's a wild feeling, like sitting on a surfboard anticipating a really gorgeous and gnarly wave.

The other excitement in October is the Opportunity To Be A Better Person. With Unprocessed October we get to eat healthier, greener, and probably cheaper.  I've made a good menu.   And by good, I also mean that I took seasonality into account, along with keeping everything as local as possible. 

Wow.  I am (and probably you are) wondering: when school starts, am I going to be able to be this intentional anymore?  That's one of the great things about Seattle Culinary Academy, though.  Their mission includes sustainable practices.  These people walk their talk.  So hopefully, it will be a breeze to walk right alongside them and feed the family well in the meantime!  This is what I'm hoping for, and I'll definitely keep you posted.  Green, healthy, frugal, busy?  What has to give? Does anything?

One sustainable practice, of course, is to avoid wasting food.  Here's where the leftover pork chops come in.  On Friday I tried a new recipe for spice-crusted pork chops that had an intriguing-sounding combination of spices.  I will not share this recipe with you, because it was, in a word, gross.  Did the recipe writer even taste this dish? Ever?   It reminded me of a potluck, where you put too many different flavors on your plate, and, while chatting and plate-balancing, you accidentally take a bite of several people's contributions at once.  Hmm.  I detect notes of kitchen sink.

Meanwhile, though, I had a couple pounds of good pork that had been cooked and crusted within this gross-kitchen-sink combo.  What to do? 

Sunday night I tackled the problem with pork fried rice.  I trimmed the outer layer off the pork, sliced it thinly, and sauteed it on high heat with onions, garlic, ginger, soy sauce, mixed veggies and a batch of cooked rice.  At the end, I added a couple of beaten eggs and stirred them in, frying everything some more.  The secret to good fried rice is to not stir too much.  The crusty bits are mighty fine, especially after you add the egg. 

After dinner I realized that I had not used all the pork.  "Are you kidding me?" I asked the tupperware dish.  Tupperware does not kid.  Having used all my big containers to freeze items for Unprocessed October, I had split the large pork chops in two small, unfunny containers. 

So, tonight I trimmed the pork outsides again, rinsed them off, and really shredded them up.  I threw the bits in a slow cooker and added my mom's barbeque sauce.  With a few hours of cooking, a Tall Grass Bakery baguette, and salad greens from our garden, suddenly we were living large and not eating gross leftovers. 

So.  What to do with leftover porkchops?  In a nutshell, cover the previous flavors with strong elements like soy sauce and barbeque sauce.  Feel grateful and don't waste stuff.

Plan a Healthy Menu for Your Busy Life by Anne

Put fluffy greens to one side in your make-ahead salads

 

I hear it’s wise to start a new, hectic stage of life—such as going back to school—by paring down other parts of your life and doing less.  Wise, shmize. Culinary school starts in a week, so hey! Time to start another new project.  Why not accept a fellow food blogger’s challenge for October, during which I eat no processed foods?  Sure!   Check out Andrew’s site to see more about his inspiring idea and his working definition of unprocessed foods.

Anyway, having thrown wisdom to the wind with the busy life and the projects, I believe eating healthy is possible during busy times, especially with a good plan.  Although I’m not a natural planner, through trial and error I’ve developed a good menu-planning method.  If you’re also considering an “Unprocessed October” or any health-centered focus, but you feel too busy to fit it in, check out the following tactic for having your life and eating right, too. 

How to Make a Menu Plan

Step  1: Make an idea bank

This tool, though it took a little time to create, is essential to successful and fast menu planning for me.  Without it, I stare into space blankly and doodle in the margins.  It’s a lot like Potluck Amnesia and it’s not pretty.  An idea bank is key.

In your idea bank, list all of your “keepers”: tried-and true-recipes and meals that people in your household enjoy.  Include a range from really easy to more challenging meals.  If it’s a recipe you don’t have memorized, write the location (and page number, if needed) of the recipe to save time later.  You can plan to make other dishes besides your keepers, but remembering what you know in the first place saves you oodles of time.

Categorize: I separate the dishes by main protein source: fish, beans, beef, etc. because I want to make sure that there is at least one “vegetarian” and one or two “fish” days per week in our carnivorous household.   I also have a category with non-specific protein, called General Ideas.  This category includes pizza, sandwiches, Indian curries, etc., to remind myself to include those, too.  Finally, I have a category called Side Dishes, which also comes in handy.    

Step 2: Pre-prepare your calendar

Do this for a week or month and consider your real life.  Using Google Calendar is really helpful, if it's up your (family's) alley.  We've liked it.

Weird days: Fill in dates that would affect your mealtime(s), such visitors, meetings, etc. and make sure your meal reflects these unusual days. 

Find the open days: Mentally identify less-busy days for more involved dishes, for grocery shopping, or to do some make-ahead prep.  For example, if you’re trying to incorporate more salad into your meals, on a Sunday you can chop a bunch of carrots, or wash and crisp your greens so they’ll be ready to go for the next couple of days (I’m not above a bag-o-greens, though). 

Also on those less-busy days, plan to make double recipes and freeze one for a busier night a few weeks later.

Step 3: Plan your meals in a logical order

...with ingredient efficiency in mind.  For example, Monday, roasted chicken.  Tuesday, chicken enchiladas (using leftover chicken from night before.  I’ll make those enchiladas after dinner on Monday, because that’s an easier night for me).  

As you start to fill in days, include “leftover nights.”  Menus look so appealing with different meals every night, but in reality this can’t work if you don’t plan for buffer/reality nights when you have to catch up with your leftovers.  Wasting food is depressing, expensive, and generally bad for your karma.  I have been there too many times. It hurts.

Group a couple meals in a row that you won’t mind eating together as leftovers.  You can get creative with it: We’ll have dahl (Indian lentil soup) on a Friday, then fish tacos on a Saturday.  Though completely different cuisines, they have a distinct common flavor—cumin.  So Sunday on leftover night I’ll make a batch of roasted cauliflower with cumin to go with the leftovers.

If the idea of leftovers gets too boring for you, such as a dauntingly large pot of stew, you can freeze what you didn’t eat and put it back in your menu plan(!) for 2 or 3 weeks in the future so it doesn’t get lost in the freezer and become an ice-crystal science project to clean later.  Google calendar is great for future-frozen-meal-remembering.

Step 5: Put the plan into action

As you start living out the reality of your menu, you may encounter the whole life-getting-in-the-way-of-your-plans thing.  Just skip that meal day(s) and put it somewhere else in your calendar.   I always make digital calendars so I can shuffle, shift, and adjust with the tides of life activity.

Will a sort-of watertight menu plan help us eat unprocessed food this October?  I'm hoping it will.  If something doesn't work, I'll change it.  I'll keep you posted about the triumphs, flops, and adjustments.  Either way, by the end of it I'll have something that "works" because that will be what happened. I’ll probably use the after-the-fact menu as a launching pad for next year’s Unprocessed October.   Talk about a healthy time saver.

IFBC Part III - What Would Penny Think of this Pic? by Anne

Penny De Los Santos, a phenomenal photographer for magazines such as Saveur and National Geographic, sent me into engrossed contemplation about my photography these past couple of weeks since the International Food Bloggers Conference. And I’m not alone.  Dana Treat

Her presentation on food photography moved us to tears, shouts of laughter, and a standing ovation at IFBC. When I sat there, inundated with her stunning images and her passionate wisdom, I felt helpless with a heart swelling out of its shell—enough to break that shell. The tips and gems of her philosophy about photography were simple, perfect, and true, and they hit me at just the right time. It was food for the soul.

I would like to share another batch of pictures from the conference, imagining what Penny might think or say.

First, I loved her reminder about a picture telling a story. Surely I have heard this tip before, but Penny’s pictures illustrated this storytelling in a deep way, further helping me to get inside this idea. Even if my story is simple, it helps to involve the viewer in what she’s seeing. For this reason, although I made several compositions of the gemlike beer glasses below, my favorite is the one that has a hand in it. I am really in love with that hand.

zbeer

Penny also suggested that photographers give food some space—some room to read what is happening. Here, I did it:

Theo Chocolates

Here, I didn’t:

Grapefruit

In this picture above I made a shot of something that you, the viewer, may or may not even understand, but I couldn’t help myself. This grapefruit peel, striped with light and riddled with texture, called to me. I don’t know how I could have given it space while still being inside the pitcher, unless it was in a series of photos showing the final Sherry cocktail, the “Fino Sling,” being poured here:

Making a Fino Sling

I think it turns out that I love hands. And stuff being poured.

Anyway, Penny says to find the light, and then make a picture. I'm all over that.  I found some light in that pitcher of grapefruit peels, and if I hadn’t been ravenously hungry after a long afternoon of panel discussions, I might have taken more time with this picture story.

In her presentation, Penny also encouraged us to stretch ourselves by concentrating on different compositions. You know you are in a rut if you keep taking the same kinds of pictures over and over again, at the same angle, at the same distance.  

She also encouraged us to give ourselves assignments and take at least one picture (such as a “journal” picture) every day. I love this—it’s so true that the more we produce, the more we grow. I like how she told us to trust our instincts. To listen. To make pictures (not take them). And to be open. This one is really hitting me right now. Being open. Speaking of an artist being open, check this guy out.

Flamenco Guitarist for Secret Sherry Society Cocktail Party

Is he open? Is he serene or is he distant?  From my perspective I felt like a giant wall thicker than those bricks between me and him when I took this picture. What do you see? When I first saw him, he seemed to be ignoring all of us, his audience, when he played.  Maybe it was a soulful thing. For some reason, I find this picture compelling in its closed-off quality. He’s a handsome dude, but it just adds to the discomfort. What do you think?

Look at this guy, now.

Mike Dash, owner of Rolling Fire Pizza

He’s also looking off into the distance, doing his creating thing, like the guitarist. But he looks more serene and open to me. He has spaciousness in his demeanor, but the other guy doesn’t. Was it the shot I took? Was it their own spirits at that moment or even all the time? Hard to say because photos are so elusive. They are simultaneously a single moment and forever. Beautiful photographs me feel happy and lonely all at once for this reason.

It just occurred to me that I find (m)aking pictures of people and food to be weirdly similar. Once I get into working on a shot with, say, an apple, it doesn’t take long before that piece of fruit becomes like a person for me—complete with a personality and a presence and a history. The big difference is time: many foods—but not all foods—are more patient than people. So I have time with an apple, to find its side that says the most about its soul. We don’t always get that chance with a person on the street. All the more reason why I admire Penny’s work. She really seems to be plugged into the world with gusto, and you can tell by her pictures.

Anyway, I feel so grateful to Penny de los Santos for bringing me into a new place of openness with myself and others as I create pictures right now. It seems like I’m getting back to making pictures of people again, after a fairly long hiatus from portraits, and I think this change will actually help my food photography. And I think it means that my heart is growing and my eyes are opening. After her talk I even had the courage to find a candid laughing moment of Penny in all her vibrant power. 

Penny de los Santos

Thank you, Penny.

IFBC Part II -- Twitter: A Foodie Greek Chorus by Anne

dinner Turns out, the unscheduled panel speaker for IFBC was a whole bunch of people speaking as one, from smartphones and laptops, via the group social media tool, Twitter.  The humans sitting in the audience became an amoebic brain full of distinct voices but also unified by intelligence, b.s. detectors, and humor.   Having taught for many years, I’m interested in group dynamics over the course of a school year. Each group develops its own memorable personality.  Apparently, using Twitter fast-forwards this effect at, say, a food bloggers' conference. 

If you do not use Twitter, imagine sitting in a high school class in which everyone is passing notes to each other, and you can see all of these notes yourself, and contribute, too.   Instead of slackers waiting for summer, though, the note-passers (the “tweeters”) are grown, smart, motivated people who share your own passion for something--in this case, food.   The tweets are full of insight, jotted notes of what was said aloud, and also lots of funny comments that will surely get you sent to the principal’s office if you don’t control your chortling in the first row.

Early on at the conference, the Search engine optimization session seemed to cause people to get squirrelly.  I know this because my laptop screen started scrolling Twitter feed faster than I could read it.  You might be thinking that it’s hard enough to listen to the speakers without having to read commentary about it simultaneously.   Yep.  So, how can I explain the value of this Greek chorus that was going on in the bottom half of my line of vision all weekend?

That bottom half of my line of vision was part of the weekend’s magic for me, a relatively new Twitter user.  It was like simultaneously watching a dance and a rough, interpretive sketch of the movements, right below it. 

flower.pitcher

This loose sketch, by the way, was also useful for those who weren’t able to be at the conference.  They were grateful to feel like they were there, if only partially.

If I missed an important point that a speaker brought up, there was nearly always someone to tweet that particular comment—more than once or twice, depending on how compelling it was.  If people started to get bored, overwhelmed, or tense, there was often humor to lighten the moment.   It was like having a second brain the size of a room--one that was at times much smarter than me. I was blown away by the relentless brightness of comments, onscreen and also aloud at the microphone.  

Further into the conference, we had a session called “Writing with the Five Senses,” with Kathleen Flinn, author of The Sharper Your Knife, The Less You Cry.  We wrote about lemons, using each of the five senses individually (This was more challenging than I would have expected, for some reason.  My sense of taste has sounds and my sense of touch has flavors).

amoody.lemons

My fellow participants shared aloud some gorgeous, evocative descriptions of these lemons.  Kathleen wasn’t afraid to point out places where the descriptions bordered on erotic, even beyond the navels, protrusions, juices, and nipples.  Because so many people in the room were already in mind-meld mode, the sexual tension in the room was palpable.  Reminder: we were writing about lemons. 

I felt awkward about this feeling until my friend commented (aloud, not onscreen) to me afterwards that he noticed this room-wide feeling as well.  We, as a 250 person group, had somehow become One over the course of a few hours.

When my husband first told me about Twitter awhile back, I was passionately unimpressed.  Why would I care to log on to catch up on my buddy's nachos after his soccer game?  However, in certain cases, such as this conference, I feel like Twitter is an aid in bonding, learning, and definitely giggling.  Hey, three of my favorite things.  Besides lemons and other juicy things.

a.berries

Cheers to the International Food Bloggers Conference by Anne

1pouring wine Have you felt unbearably at a loss while staring at a blank thank-you card, even though--and especially when--your heart is stretched taut with gratitude?  It’s taken several tries to even get rolling with this blog post, because I have so much to say and share.   

Oh yes, and by the way, I just returned from a pivotal weekend at the International Food Blogger’s Conference, held right here in Seattle.  I went last year, too, when I had just launched Bring to Boil, and last year was a crucial learning experience, full of helpful tools to get rolling with the blog.   

But this time, I’m altered.  Altered, but it’s an awkward, unfinished state, especially today—my thoughts are like raw, naked corncobs that have been shucked quickly, with white strands of silk just sticking out everywhere and getting tangled in my fingers.  It’s annoying and sticky. I’m gonna go ahead and write while my hands are still tangled, so please excuse any typos.

So, beginning at the beginning, Friday evening's welcome party included an interview with Morgan Spurlock, the documentary filmmaker who made Super Size Me, the film that showed first-hand how unhealthy and fattening MacDonald's can really be.  I didn’t know what to expect.  Why did they have him come? He’s a filmmaker, not a blogger. 

I immediately stopped caring once he got started, though, because he’s hilarious. I relaxed into enjoying his casual interview, led by Warren Etheredge, that at moments felt more like a drinking game than cerebral challenge.  

Then, when I wasn’t looking, we were talking about changing the world.  The conversation turned to Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution, and how to help our country become well-fed and healthy, rather than ironically riddled with both obesity and malnourishment.  Suddenly, the tables—and videocamera—were turned back on us, the food blogging audience.  How can we make things better?  Morgan spoke of “street blogging—“  sure, sit in your house and write, but write your article and throw an event!  Call the news! Wake people up!    

My friend Diana, whom I met last year at this conference, spoke up to share how she’s doing her part.  She quit her job some months ago when she realized that the mission of her blog, to help people learn how to cook cheaply, nutritiously, and deliciously, was not completely effective on its own as just a blog. So she found government funding and now teaches free cooking classes to low income families who might not otherwise afford them. 

Do you have chills? I do. 

diana

Diana is a kind, vibrant woman with a smile the size of sunshine, and a frequent flower in her hair.  She works hard to keep a positive outlook on life, moment to moment, and each time I see her, she radiates this warmth to you as well.  She’s a true inspiration to me and thoughts of her--and Morgan Spurlock's challenging quesions--kept me up on Friday night, lying in bed and wondering what my role in changing the world might be.   Check out Diana’s blog.  She even has the approximate cost per serving on her recipes.

I'll stop for now.  Part II of IFBC -- complete with some food porn -- to come.

Bastille's Marinated Octopus with Chickpeas and Rooftop Arugula

Making Cheese, Part II -- Milk Tasting by Anne

IMG_7533 In our cheesemaking class last week we had a milk tasting, which was surprisingly eye-opening.  The contrast between cow’s milk in four different states--raw, pasteurized, pasteurized/homogenized, and ultrapasturized—really showed up when we tasted them one after the other. 

The raw milk, in its original form from a Jersey cow, was our first taste and seriously intense in flavor.  Everything was there in the glass.  The pasture was in there.  The wind was in there.  I was a baby calf drinking it.  And yet, I found the flavor a little wild for my sheltered palate’s comfort zone, because I’m used to pasteurized milk.  Imagine the benefits of that flavor complexity for cheesemaking, though!

Next we tasted pasturized milk, which is raw milk that has been heated to kill bacteria, which can make it safer by killing potentially harmful bacteria, but it also kills some of the extra flavors and potentially beneficial bacteria, too.  Drinking milk that is not pasteurized, in its raw form, is controversial.   Anyway, that’s a whole different topic.  As far as flavor goes, this milk, which was pasteurized by the instructor on the stovetop, tasted less “interesting” than the raw milk but was still creamy and lush.  Pasturized/not homogenized milk is sometimes called "cream line" milk because after sitting awhile, the cream rises to the top and needs to be re-shaken if you want to incorporate it back in.

Further altering milk’s flavor is homogenization, which is the act of breaking up and dispersing (through a tiny tube) fat globules throughout the milk.    I don’t know if it was the power of suggestion, but our third taste, the homogenized milk, didn’t taste quite as good to me as the pasteurized-only milk.  I went home later and compared my cream-line (i.e., not homogenized) pasteurized milk and my husband’s organic pasteurized/homogenized milk, and I preferred mine.  I asked my husband to try the two in a blind taste test, and he could identify which one was not homogenized and said that it tasted richer.  

By the way, I just now went to the fridge to double check if I could taste the difference, and I can.  I just drank (only) 1% fat cream-line milk versus some full-fat homogenized milk.  Before I poured the cream-line, I shook it up, as always, to re-integrate the cream/fat  into the milk.  Surprisingly, the two milks, despite the difference in fat content, tasted equally rich.  The cream-line tasted like pure, perfect, childhood milk.  Sitting in a tree with a plate of cookies.  Somehow the homogenized milk tasted…corporate.  What am I saying? I don’t know.  There was a different aftertaste and it reminded me of office buildings. 

Meanwhile, back at the class, our fourth glass to taste was ultrapasturized milk.  Ultrapasturization uses even higher heat than pasteurization and kills all organisms in milk.  It was the clear loser in flavor, a sad-clown letdown compared to the others.  Sure, you can store it for months.  You can also store watered-down Elmer’s glue for months.    You can’t make cheese with glue or with ultrapasturized milk. 

In terms of cheesemaking, raw milk seems to be a winner.  Because it still contains so much beneficial bacteria, less needs to be added to make good cheese.  In U.S. stores, cheese made from raw milk must be aged for 60 days or longer before it is sold, to be fully rid of potential harmful bacteria.   If you make cheese with pasteurized milk, you’ll need to have a bacterial starter for most cheese recipes.  If you use homogenized milk, your curd is softer (less firm) and you might need to adjust a recipe for this as well by adding calcium chloride. 

Myself, I’ll probably be making cheese with pasteurized milk (not homogenized) and plan to add more bacterial starter.  If I ever get a good, affordable source of raw milk—as in, healthy, grass-fed cows—I’ll do that.  But for now, look out, pasteurized milk.  I’m going to cheddar you.  Soon.

Making Cheese, Part I by Anne

IMG_7501 A couple of days ago I made mozzarella cheese for the first time as a homework assignment for a cheesemaking class.  It was a thrilling and satisfying experience to make my own cheese (pictured, above on the right, dipped in herbs and olive oil).  At this point my brain holds about a pamphlet's worth of knowledge in the vast Library of Cheese in the sky.  Can you get a doctorate in cheese?  Here are a few of my favorite concepts and tidbits from this teeny store of cheesemaking knowledge.

Oh, but first, a quick synopsis on cheese, which you know if you’ve ever seen a cheese-making show on PBS.  Cheese is essentially coagulated milk solids. People accomplish this coagulation by using acid, bacteria, and/or rennet, which separates the milk’s solids from the liquid whey (these solids are treated, shaped, or aged in thousands of different ways, depending on the type of cheese).  This coagulated solid is called “curd.”  The whey is a by-product with many potential uses, though sometimes it is thrown out.

  • After the culture/acid/rennet is added to the milk, and the curd first separates from the whey, that curd has a dreamy, creamy texture to touch.  Like perfectly soft flan meets a baby’s cheek.  “Curd” is a horrible name for something so luxuriously silky and supple.  It’s a joy to pour off the whey; it’s an excuse to get your hands on that tender heft of softness.
  • Whey makes a great fertilizer for the garden, especially for acid-loving plants and squash plants.  I poured it on my blueberry bushes the other night.
  • Cheddaring is a verb.  To “cheddar” your curd means to cut it up and stack up pieces of it to help it expel whey using its own weight.  Curd that has been cheddared becomes tough, like chicken breast.  I’m not sure yet how cheesemakers get rid of that toughness.  Does aging soften it?  Talk to you later about that.
  • The holes in Swiss cheese come from a bacteria culture added to the milk that produces carbon dioxide gas bubbles.  This is the case to a lesser extent with cheeses with tiny holes, like Havarti.
  • The higher the acidity in a cheese’s cultures, the lower the moisture and stronger the flavor.  Why?  It’s not just that acidic cultures are so flavorful.  Acidity speeds the removal of the liquid whey from the solid curd.  Less moisture means more concentrated flavors.  This seems like common sense, but I never put it together before--that a relatively moist and bendy Gouda or Swiss is so much milder in flavor than dry, crumbly, pungent parmesan.  Or, say, provolone versus sharp cheddar.  Cheeses that age longer also lose more moisture and allow more time for cultures to develop, which equates to even more flavor.
  • Okay, but what about blue cheeses?   They’re intensely flavored but not dry.  They have their own unique bacteria, penicillium roqueforti, which introduces the flavor force of that is The Blue.   
  • It seems like summer’s a great time to make cheese.  Your local farmers are trying to get rid of extra milk because that’s when cows are making more and people are drinking less.  And then you have all that extra whey to go out and fertilize your squashes.

Easy Polenta Squares Using Piggyback Cookery by Anne

butternut squash polenta squares Can you get "slow food" out of quick steps?  Turns out, yes.  Three nights in a row we ate really well, even though I was feeling deeply lazy. The only thing keeping me from ordering pizza delivery on Saturday was that something was about to go bad in the fridge. 

Monday's polenta squares started as Saturday chicken guilt.   

Saturday

The "use or freeze by" date was upon us.  I cleaned and rubbed the waning chicken with lots of rosemary, thyme, sea salt, and peppercorns.  It went into the mini-rotisserie (or a low-heat oven would have been fine) for an hour and a half.  Nestled on top of some fresh greens, that chicken was mighty fine, considering the amount of hands-on cooking time was about 10 minutes. 

After dinner we threw the bones in a pot with chunks of onion, carrot, celery, parsley, and bay leaf, with enough water to cover.  I brought the pot to boil while cleaning up the kitchen, and let the pot simmer until it was time to go to bed. 

When we strained the stock into a bowl, we tasted it.  It was a rockstar quality stock, though a mite salty.  I knew it would become a science project if I didn't use it up quickly, because I would be too lazy to find the right dish to freeze it in. 

Sunday

I was late getting home.  The quickest stock-using solution I could think of was to peel a butternut squash, shred it in the cuisinart, and boil it with the stock, along with some nutmeg, honey, and white pepper.  The cooking was quick--about 10 minutes--because the squash was in small shreds. Rinsing the cuisinart during boiling time and using it to puree the soup added almost no time to the whole deal.  We had butternut squash soup, along with bacon sandwiches (bacon prepared on a cookie sheet in the oven).  Dinner took about 15 minutes to make. 

After dinner, we had lots of leftover soup, which I was sure would become next week's compost if we didn't morph it into something new, ASAP.   So it became two other things:  the base for a lunchy lentil soup (Easy! Boil rinsed lentils in the soup with some extra water for a little over half an hour),  and the liquid for cooking polenta.  

While Michael gave Rosalie a bath I made the polenta, washing dishes in between polenta stirrings.  When it was ready, I spread the polenta in a flat layer on a greased jelly roll pan, covered it with wax paper, then slid it into the fridge.  I was feeling super smug at that point.  Most of the work was done now!

The next night, a tired Monday night, all I had to do was cut the smooth, flat polenta into squares, dip it in egg and bread crumbs, and fry the squares in olive oil with slices of onion.  I served the squares with tomato sauce, the fried onions, and Parmigiano-Reggiano.   These little squares were crispy on the outside and full of butternutty, corny richness on the inside.  We ate so well and so happily.  I felt truly recharged by this accidentally thoughtful meal.

Is there a cookbook out there that shows how you can do this on a regular basis?  Using part of one night's meal to make the next night's meal  is not just efficient; it's bringing love and luxury into your day.  It's the gift of time that you somehow stole, the pleasure of slow food by staggering or layering your meals.  You get something slow out of something quick!  Magic.

Double Chocolate Indulgence by Anne

IMG_6575 Would I call this a chocolate cookie?  It’s airy and crisp on the tender surface, deeply cake-soft inside, and it's dotted with wicked, molten chocolate hotspots throughout.   Having only one is not an option.  Cookie?  It’s more of a dark seduction. This is the kind of recipe to splurge on the finest chocolate, because you might be making excuses and cancelling plans to get alone with these devils.  Don’t say you weren’t warned:  Double Chocolate Indulgence is trouble.

I thank Kristen Schumacher for this mess I’m in now.  She’s the one who modified this recipe from one given to her while she was at Seattle Culinary Academy.   If she weren’t such a gifted flavormaker,  I wouldn’t be here, slapping myself on the hand to keep from eating them all before the bake sale they’re intended for.   Fortunately, it’s a dough that you make ahead, freeze into log shapes, then slice-and-bake when you want them.  But they’re singing their siren song from inside the freezer and it’s a terrible temptation to resist.   

If you don’t want to be stuck alone with a whole batch of these, or if you want to sample treats from a whole lot of great cooks, come to the Seattle Food Blogger Bake Sale this Saturday.  All money goes to Share our Strength, a national organization committed to ending childhood hunger.    The sale is at the Metropolitan Market at the Uptown location – 100 Mercer Street.  It runs from 10 a.m. ‘til noon this Saturday, April 17. 

If you can’t wait until Saturday and would like to have your illicit chocolate experience immediately, here’s Kristen’s recipe.  Have fun!  Don’t do anything I wouldn’t do.

Double Chocolate Indulgence

Printed with Permission from Kristen Schumacher of Heirloom Chef

  • 6oz bittersweet chocolate
  • 1 lb semi-sweet chocolate
  • 3 oz unsalted butter
  • 5 eggs
  • 14 oz granulated sugar
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 3 oz cake flour
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 lb chocolate chips
  • Powdered sugar, for rolling

Directions: 

  1. Place bittersweet and semi-sweet in bowl with butter, and melt in double boiler (or metal bowl inside a similar-sized pot). Scrape sides as it melts- you do not want any chocolate to burn. Cool slightly.
  2. Whip eggs and granulated sugar until fluffy. Add vanilla. Temper the egg mixture into the chocolate by slowly pouring the chocolate into the egg as you stir vigorously. 
  3. Combine flour, baking powder, salt, chocolate chips. Add to the chocolate and egg mixture and stir until combined. Cool the dough until it is firm enough to be handled.
  4. Divide dough into 4-6 portions. Pour dough onto long pieces of parchment. Using the parchment for assistance, roll dough into ropes. Enclose the ropes and refrigerate or freeze until firm (I freeze them).
  5. Once ready to bake, roll ropes in powdered sugar to get the shape you want.  Cut each cookie about ½ inch thick. Bake cookies, double panned at 350˚ for 11-15 minutes. These cook fast. They should be soft in the center and set on the edges, and they will firm up as they cool. Do not overbake!

Makes about 5 dozen cookies

Thrive by Anne

thrive I've already mentioned the wickedly delicious, vegan,raw restaurant Thrive on 100 Days of Salad, but I just can't get enough of their food, so here I am, writing about it again.   I keep thinking about the next time I'm heading back to try another item on the menu.   I first discovered Thrive last Saturday and returned the next day, and the next.  I have yet to try something off their menu that I don't love. 

They have opportunities to volunteer there, and I'm definitely signing up.  Did you know you can learn how to be a master Coconut Hacker as a volunteer there?  Ah, too much good stuff.  I told the owner, Monika, how much I loved the place, and she wanted to know what it was that I liked.     Then the lunch rush tumbled in, so I went home and wrote a fan letter, like the restaurant stalker that I apparently am.  Here's what I wrote. 

why i love thrive

mission: Thrive’s mission is thrilling--and timely.  Our city is thirsty for juicy health and more connection with each other!  Thank you, thank you, thank you, for making a difference.  Most importantly about the mission, you walk the talk, and you also have set up a system to help achieve Thrive’s goals. 

people: The staff’s faces, interactions, and work all showed their “caring intentions and thoughtfulness” when preparing each meal, as described on your About page.  Their care translates directly to some mighty luscious flavors and a real feeling of belonging for each customer.  Even when the lunch hour started to get busy, everyone seemed unflappable, kind and focused. 

space: Open kitchen plan; south-facing windows; airy feel in the room’s setup; great furniture; accessible location in the city; relevant, quality products for sale.

details: the simple, beautiful dishes and the generous, heavy flatware.  Black  blouses for staff—the food looks so lovely presented against the black background, in generous hands!  Each time a new dish or drink comes out, people’s heads would turn and they would ask, “What is THAT?”

customer involvement: Inviting the  customer to participate (volunteer work, customer bussing, ordering up front) eases costs, which appears to assist in the reasonable prices of the food.  This modern yet ancient approach feels so right, especially since it’s meant to feed a great need in our community.   And it gives customers a sense of ownership and connection that brings their hearts into the dining experience—something that’s found less in restaurants and more at a loved ones’ kitchen table.

current, vibrant identity: The whole picture is effective and cohesive: the graphics, the look of the literature, the space’s décor, and the organization of the website.  It makes great sense to use Facebook and Twitter for a place like Thrive.  It seems meaningful, with more potential for interaction than many restaurants, who seem to slap on some social media options because that’s what you’re supposed to do.  I also liked the LCD panel in the store with changing pictures of customers/community.

seamless service:  Meals are delivered quickly and in a friendly way. Efficient POS system. Very professional while still friendly!  Efficient and gracious food service.  

programs: So many excellent ideas- trying raw food for a week, meeting together for juice cleanses, volunteer opportunities (for credit?), classes.   It has the feeling like you are just getting started with the possibilities!

thank you for helping us thrive!

thrive2

Pistachio Portraits by Anne

pistachio.rosemary.loop On Wednesday I took a food photography class taught by Helen of Tartelette, which was hosted by Viv of Seattle Bon Vivant.  It was a lovely time.  I cast a handful of pistachios as the special guest star of my camera, with a supporting role played by a sprig of rosemary plucked from my front yard that morning.  It's deeply gratifying having time set aside like that, with no other reason to be there than to observe and capture images of a beautiful food subject.   I feel lucky to have had that time.

pistachio.hammered.metal.perfect

The longer I sat with the pistachios, the more in love with them I became.  As you can see, I was close enough to kiss them.  Their subtle color nuances astonish me.  Since Wednesday I continue to think about those pistachios--they even followed me along into a salad I made tonight.  I love how their colors interact with changes in their environment.   In tonight's salad I was blown away by how bright green they became when they were wet with orange juice.  Something tells me there's another pistachio photo shoot in my near future.   Here are a couple more pictures from Wednesday. 

Rustic Pistachios

pistachio urban close

.

100 Days of Salad by Anne

radishesAt the moment I'm eating salad every day.  This is not an exercise in restriction; it's a commitment to self-indulgence and celebration of one of my favorite menu items.  When asked what my favorite foods are, I have often said, "Salad...and cheese, of course."  These salads I've been making are delicious, usually casual and easy, and they fill my heart and stomach with joy.  Inspired after the food styling workshop, I started taking pictures of these joy-giving salads, so I started a new sister blog, called 100 days of salad , to share ideas.  I hope you'll share your own ideas there as well!  100 days of anything is pretty long, even if it is your favorite thing.

Bring to Boil is still continuing on. It's like when Buffy the Vampire Slayer spun off to the concurrent but separate show, Angel.  The two blogs will likely refer to each other, since the same person is cooking for both.  One blog's going to be about daily salads, and this blog will continue to be about Everything Else (possibly even more salads?).

Food Styling Workshop by Anne

biscotti As the food stylist Delores Custer says, "When you like a food photograph, who do you usually give credit to? The photographer."  And where are the credits for the food stylist?  "In the gutter."  I thought she was making some kind of bitter joke, but actually, the gutter is the place in the magazine that's so close to the binding that we hardly see it.  I just went and checked the gutter of a few magazines and saw no credit for the stylists.  From here on out, though, I'm keeping a lookout and giving due props for pictures I like.

A food stylist is responsible for making food both visually appealing and mouth-watering.  These two qualities don't necessarily go hand-in-hand.  Have you ever seen a food photograph that is gorgeous and artful but not necessarily something you would want to eat?   Maybe that shot was intended to "sell" something else besides the food (such as a lifestyle shot).  Or maybe the person is a great photographer but has little experience with styling and shooting food.  I could go on about this for a long time. It's a fascinating and subjective part of food photography--making it mouth-watering.  Delores would show us two beautiful food shots that were presented differently and asked us which we would rather eat.  The response was, literally, 50-50. 

Even though "mouth-watering" is subjective, food stylists do have some great tools that they bring with them on shoots to help optimize a food's beauty and delectability.  Some common tools include a small atomizer to create subtle moisture on produce, a paintbrush and vegetable oil to create sheen, and tweezers to carefully move tiny items around, such as a wilted piece of lettuce.

Delores pointed out that a food blogger has to be the art director, food stylist, prop stylist, and photographer for food shots.   Good point!   I have a hard time imagining these jobs being separated out for four people. I wonder what that is like. Those people would have to be real team players.

Perhaps this is one of the reasons Delores split us up into pairs to style food for our photographs.  This was challenging and completely hilarious.  Viv and I paired up.  Viv is a gracious, gregarious, generous soul who didn't mind that I was completely spazzing out with the vegetables.  At one point someone stopped by our table to see what we were up to, and it looked like a salad spinner sneezed on our table.  Whatever we were working on seemed to be buried under three kinds of lettuce.  We laughed more than we styled.  After much flailing with the salad concept (the "art director's" job), our various chopped and sliced veggies evolved into something kind of elegant-looking. This final arrangement took about 3 minutes after half an hour of the aforementioned spazzing and flailing. 

endive salad

As another part of the assignment we also took some pictures of biscotti (as seen above and below), but in comparision to the salad assignment, this seemed more natural and effortless. 

I learned a lot working with Viv.  Much of this seemed to occur to me after the fact.  Her natural elegant flair was really great to be near, and I will be able to take that with me to future sessions behind the camera.  I'll bet that lots of people learned much from their partners in that class.  It was a really good idea.  And--I'm not surprised to learn--Delores used to teach 5th and 6th grade!  Go, teachers!

biscotti square

Pink Ladies and Other Candidates by Anne

reclining pink ladies

I've been experimenting this week to maximize the deliciousness in a menu I'm cooking for somone's 40th birthday party on Friday.  I love this menu so much!  It's meant to be munchies, but for people who like interesting flavors.  Fun, fun, fun!

Apple slices with salted caramel dip will be one of the sweets.  I chose this item because I've been fixated on caramelizing sugar lately, ever since that flan.  More on flan some other time--that's a whole separate post.  Meanwhile, about these apples & caramel.

You might have heard that caramel pairs nicely with sour apples, to offset the sweetness of the caramel.  Well, does this really apply to salted caramel, the kind that is made from scratch with grey sea salt?  The kind that is full of depth, mystery, and even the remotest hint of bitterness?  After trying it with the lovely Pink Lady, I'm feeling doubt about the combo.  I tried this with a Jazz apple, which is one of my favorite apples, but it didn't quite do it for me.  I actually paired the Jazz apples with flan, and it tasted lovely, but I think it's because the caramel in the flan is mellowed by the custard. 

Right about now I'm wishing I worked for America's Test Kitchen.  I am a collaborator by nature and thinking into a vacuum like this feels a bit...slow.  I'll bet the people who work for Cook's Illustrated drive to work thinking, "Well, I sure love my job."  They get to do all of this experimenting and they have a bunch of co-workers to talk with about it! How cool would that be? 

My mom just arrived five minutes ago--she's visiting fora couple of days--and she asked if I have tried Fuji with this yet.  Well, no.  So I'll give that a whirl next.  What do you think?  What would you pair with a dark and rich salted caramel?