Monday, May 12, 2008

Today was a culinary adventure.

It started with a necessary trip to Meijer to deposit a check. I'm not going to lie, I have a secret love of Meijer, similar to how everyone slows down to look at a car accident. You just can't help it. Theres such an amazing amount of crap in there, stuff that I generally forget exist in my sheltered Trader Joe's world. Anyhow, I needed popping corn and have been a search for plums for about a week now (apparently it is not plum season anywhere in the western hemisphere). So, in my trolling of the produce tables, a certain sign caught my eye- Quince. Now, I've never seen a quince, and I hadn't a clue they existed until I was reading a Australian cooking magazine my mom found somewhere (because she's like that, she just finds cooking magazines from other continents) and a recipe in it called for quince paste. And now I'm standing in Meijer, of all places, holding my very first quince. I had to buy them, of course, even though I had nary a clue what to do with them.

Epicurious has some good ideas, however, the most attractive of them calls for $40 a bottle apple brandy. hrrumph.
So, then I got the idea that I would like to make fish soup. I've never had fish soup, and certainly have never made it. This idea was put in my head by the movie we started watching at my parents last night; Marcel Pagnol's Fanny Trilogy. Its a French movie from 1931 that Alice Waters credits with inspiring her to name her daughter Fanny and her restaurant Chez Panisse. (See, the movie takes place is Marseilles; Fanny and her mother sell seafood-- there is talk of fish soup. obviously.) The movie is incredibly dry; my dad excused himself an hour in to the movie to go "remove his eyes with a melon baller". It definitely is dry verging on boring, but I found that sort of comforting in a way, like hearing your favorite story read to you. Theres no real need to pay attention, but you do, anyhow.
Oh geez this post is a rambler. I hope you don't mind.
So fish soup. The place to start, whenever you want to make something right-- not the fresh, new, updated version with avocado spears and and arugula-- but the dish, as it was intended, as the archetypal grandmother made it with an apron on and her hair in a loose gray bun, the place you go is The Joy of Cooking. if you don't own The Joy of Cooking, you really really must. It contains a recipe for everything. I can't recall a single instance in my whole life that I went to The Joy of Cooking and was disappointed.
Back to the soup. To do this, you need fish stock. To make fish stock, you need fish trimmings. where does one find fish trimmings?
So I called my mother. She was stirring risotto, and banging pans around one handed in order to talk to me. The answer, obviously, was the seafood market, which, she also informed me, had closed twenty minutes ago. The fish soup was out. I told her about my quinces. She told me that we once had a Quince tree, at an old house, that produced bushels and bushels of fruit-- that she had not idea what to do with because they're so bitter and tannic when raw. Which was perfect, really, as I had painted them to be rare, and exotic (they were stocked with the pineapples and coconuts for petes sake) and therefore exciting, when really, they were in my own backyard-- and a nuisance, at that.

At this point it's getting late- and I'm getting hungry. The fridge is sort of a mess, so I decide that its time for refrigerator soup. I discover ginger scallion stir-fry sauce that has likely been sitting there for a month, and thus should be used soon, and a starting-to-turn bunch of beautiful arugula ( I can't resist inserting here that this bunch was organic, and I paid $1.69 for it at Meijer-- however, if you were to walk around to the other side of the produce table, you would find, with the little plastic snap cases of fresh herbs, a little plastic snap case of arugula for a $1.99. I don't know if there's a difference between herb arugula and bunch arugula, but I find it entertaining none the less). At any rate, I decide that the stir fry sauce might make a nice broth, and indeed, it did.

I feel like this is the sort of meal that would make the 1950's food industry proud--"homemade" with all store-bought ingredients. Regardless, it was delicious.

Monday Night Refrigerator Soup

4-6 cups of water ( or chicken broth if you wanna do this up right; I'm horrible at remembering to buy and use chicken broth, so I just use Trader Joe's concentrate packets)
2 packets Tj's Chicken broth concentrate
1/4-1/3 cup Tj's Ginger scallion stir fry sauce

handful of potsickers/gyoza/dumplings
coarsely chopped arugula

Bring the water to a boil. Add the broth concentrate (if you need) and stir-fry sauce. Continue to boil and stir, so that the pastes dissolve adequately. Add the potstickers, and boil covered for a couple minutes. When the potstickers are about cooked, add the arugula. And voila, very tasty soup.
As a note, I might add a little fresh ginger or garlic next time, it was lacking the strong kick I was looking for.

Next there were cookies. Not just any cookies. Light, fluffy, Ms. Edna Lewis inspired cookies-- raved about with care and delicacy by the best food blog in town, Orangette. If you don't already know about orangette, you should stop reading this and go read orangette; shes far more eloquent and dreamy, and just well, wonderful all around.
So, this a direct copy paste from Ms. Molly, in case you don't want to click over there to find the recipe. I highly suggest you do, however, as her story about them is far more exciting than mine.
Also, after reading a series of ranting responses to another one of orangette's posts, I decided to mix the dough by hand, with a wooden spoon nonetheless. It was supremely enjoyable, sore wrist and all.

Buttermilk cookies from Gourmet via Orangette, inspired by Ms. Edna Lewis.

For the cookies
1 ½ cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1 tsp. grated lemon zest
¼ tsp. baking soda
¼ tsp. salt
6 Tbsp. (3 oz.) unsalted butter, at room temperature
¾ cup granulated sugar
1 large egg
½ tsp. vanilla extract
1/3 cup well-shaken buttermilk

For the glaze:
¾ cup confectioners sugar, sifted
1 ½ Tbsp. well-shaken buttermilk
¼ tsp. vanilla extract

Line 2 large baking sheets with parchment paper or silicone liners. Preheat the oven to 350°F.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, zest, baking soda, and salt.

In the bowl of a stand mixer (or a large mixing bowl, if you’re going to use a handheld mixer), beat the butter briefly, until creamy. Add the sugar, and beat until pale and fluffy. Add the egg, and beat well to mix. Add the vanilla, and beat briefly again. Mix in the flour mixture and the buttermilk in batches at low speed, beginning and ending with the flour. Scrape down the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula as needed. The finished dough should be smooth and pale yellow.

Drop the dough by level tablespoons onto the prepared baking sheets, leaving about 1 ½ inches between each cookie. (If you have a very small ice cream scoop, one with a capacity of about 1 tablespoon, it’s perfect for this job.) Bake, 1 sheet at a time, until the cookies are puffed and their edges are golden, about 11 to 15 minutes per batch. Cool the cookies on the baking sheet for 1 minute; then transfer them to a wire rack.

To prepare the glaze, whisk together the sifted confectioners sugar, buttermilk, and vanilla. The mixture should be very smooth, with no lumps of sugar visible. Brush or spoon the glaze onto the warm cookies. (I wound up with leftover glaze, so don’t be surprised if you don’t use it all.) Allow cookies to sit on the rack until they are fully cooled and the glaze is set.

Note: These cookies are most tender and delicate on the day they’re made, but they’re not bad after a day or so. They just get more dense and chewy - a little different, that’s all. And for longer storage, they can be stashed in the freezer in an airtight container.

Also, the lighting in my house is always terrible and I've finally cleaned the pictures off my camera-- so if you go rifling back through old posts you just may find new pictures.

Also, Cj has informed me that the pizza in the food court of the Chicago airport tastes like the pizza they served in Belleville high school-- aka poopy. Avoid at all costs.


Maggie said...

What did you decide to do with the quince? My father in law has a tree and I make huge batches of jam and jelly. Then I bake and poach some but I'm running out of ideas to use up the quantity I get.

Allison said...

Oh, I'm embarrassed to say that they rotted in that bowl on top of the microwave because for as much as I liked looking at them, I gave up on 'em pretty quick. I'd love to give your recipes a try this summer!