Recipe #1 from the new book: challah. I don’t make a lot of bread. Well, this might be my third time ever, so in that respect this was pretty damn good. It spread a little too much in the middle. Probably because I didn’t braid it right enough.
This was a weird, long, crazy, emotional week. Mainly because my boss at the university retired this week.You know a lot of people aren’t huge fans of their bosses, and in the past I probably would have been in the same boat. I have had several good ones, but I’ve also experienced the worst of the worst. The top of boss that makes hell reign on earth, breathes fire, and eats small children. But this was different. He was the best boss I’ve ever had, and maybe because he never really felt like a boss. More like someone who was there to help me do my job and support me when I needed it. But he also brought a level of humor to the office that could not rivaled.
At the beginning of the week I went on a cookbook binge. That’s right I bought four new books, which is insane when any single one of them would probably take me three months to go through. So buying four makes absolutely no sense, but for some reason I decided I needed all of them. Actually, I managed to convince myself to put back two, so I’m calling that a partial win.
The first recipe I tried, and well the only one I’ve tried so far, is an apricot crumble tart situation out of My Paris Kitchen by David Leibovitz. Of course, the first thing I make is a dessert. Well, if this tart is any indication of how the rest of the recipes will turn out, then I think we might be in business.
So the tart really had three components: the crumble topping, the apricot filling, and the crust. The crust was good. It was a little hard. I’m not sure why that is. The flavor was good, and it softened up a little later on. But it was a little hard. The crumble topping was good and the apricot filling was standard. Granted fillings for these type of things aren’t that difficult or complicated. I actually really liked the fact that the filling only required two tablespoons of sugar. I’m weird in that I don’t like my desserts to be really sweet. Really I like a mild sweet. On the other hand, I’m pretty sure my apricots were too sour. I may need to try this again with better apricots. Overall, I would make this again. To be honest, I’ll probably make it again tomorrow. We’re going to the market, so maybe I can scavenge up some fresh apricots.
Next up is a Mediterranean salad from that WS cookbook. I’m not super sure what distinguishes this from your standard nicoise salad. I’m sure it’s something, but I just don’t know. Probably because I’ve never made a nicoise before. Also, I left out the anchovies. Slimy, salty little fish. I have a difficult relationship with them.
Also, good standard easy recipe. Though I’m the slowest cook on the planet. No, really. I think it took me an hour to put together this salad, which makes absolutely no sense. There was almost no actual cooking involved with the exception of the green beans and boiling the eggs.
One note… I had a hard time finding nicoise or any other tiny olives. I finally found some at whole foods and they still had pits. That didn’t bother me so much, but I probably should have pitted them before dropping them in the salad. As I later discovered my husband dropping them down the disposal because he refused to eat around the pits. Yea…
So going back to my boss’ retirement week. He has this thing where his entire diet is dominated by bananas and cookies. And I should mention he eats SO many cookies. I’ve seen him eat four in a sitting. It’s actually quite impressive. So for his retirement week I made oatmeal raisin. I happen to have learned that his was his favorite. However, I absolutely abhor oatmeal raisin cookies. The little raisins masquerading as chocolate chips and fooling you at the last minute, and the fact that I can’t even eat oatmeal without my stomach having a meltdown. The last remaining remnants of my Peace Corps life are the lists of foods I am no longer capable of eating.
The first batch I made from a recipe on AllRecipes. I swear it had almost a billion 5 star reviews. It may have realistically had almost 2,000 reviews and it was at a 4.5 star. Should be good right? For some reason mine were terrible. Not just slightly funny, but not even edible. They browned too much, they spread too much, and worst of all they didn’t even cook all the way through. Should I have used my baking intuition and been like “I should chill the dough before putting it into the oven,” or “this recipe seems light on the baking soda.” Probably. But I didn’t. And it was a disaster.
The second batch was amazing. And I hate these cookies, so that says something. It was one I found on Tastespotting that had adapted a recipe from America’s Test Kitchen. You know that recipe book that my roommate swears by, but I just haven’t seemed to gotten into. Well, baking powder instead of soda and nutmeg instead of cinnamon. I also called an audible and soaked the raisins in rum beforehand and accidentally doubled the nutmeg, because apparently I can’t read.
They were incredible. Until you hit that first raisin. Ick. And I only permitted myself to eat a quarter of a cookie, because oatmeal.
Ah.. but one of the big events of the week was our office outing to the Nationals game. One of the boss’s biggest pastimes is baseball. He LOVES the Nats. So it only seemed fitting for us all to go out to a game together in the worst seats in the stadium. We were actually two rows down from the worst seats, but hey they view of the field was still really good. You could still see everything really clearly. There was no giant post in front of you and the game was just as exciting. I got a hot dog and three beers, because that’s how we roll. We then had an office party the next night for the entire school of medicine. Between the two nights he was so happy. It was really nice to see him really enjoy his last two days as a GWU Dean. It’s a nice reminder that there are still really good, caring, empathetic people out there.
This was the last day of my vacation before it’s back to work tomorrow, so I intended to make good use of it.
I started off with yoga (of course). I’m trying to make this a routine. That is if you define routine by once every three weeks.
Then I went to Old Town to eat lunch with a friend at Vermillion. This is the second time I’ve been here. The first time I came was with the husband for brunch.
I must say that Old Town has some pretty nice places and this one is becoming one of my favorite.
Rumor has it that the Obamas also like to eat here. That might just be a rumor I made up, but I swear I read that somewhere. Anyway the point is I think I have good taste.
So I started off with this drink called Spring in Bolivia. Fancy, right? Bolivia is a pretty happening place. It was this sparkling beautiful springy yellow color with a strip of lemon peel in the flute. It was bright, refreshing, not too sweet and just tart enough from the lemon. If a drink could be well balanced this would be it.
The main course was rainbow trout, lemony potatoes and spinach. I think it was spinach. I have no idea. It was a dark green leafy thing that had a similar taste and texture to spinach. It will therefore be spinach. The skin on the fish was crispy, the potatoes were much more lemony than expected, but in a good way. It was perfect and it was light, which is something that I’ve been craving with the warmer weather.
However, the best thing I’ve had here, and I’ve had them twice now has to be the hushpuppies. Seriously. Almost nothing is better than deep-fried wads of dough. And these may be the fluffiest balls around. If you’re into that kind of thing.
Also a little factoid: Hushpuppies used to be called Red Horse Bread and originated in South Carolina in the late 1800s. So these things have been around for while, and have spread across the country. Hushpuppy history: http://www.seriouseats.com/2015/06/real-history-myths-hushpuppies.html
If you’re ever in Old Town Alexandria you need to stop by and try these things.
I hate cooking meat. It’s slimy. It smells funny. It requires special attention, like don’t cross contaminate. You never have this problem with broccoli and bell peppers.
But, alas, I was feeling adventurous today and apparently a little spendy, too. So I came across a veal recipe in the aforementioned Wizlliams-Sonoma Cooking at Home book. I’ve never made veal before. I also usually avoid beef whenever possible. I usually avoid cooking any meat whenever possible. Except bacon. Love bacon.
So it was a super easy recipe. I would totally make this again, except for maybe the veal part. I mean that doesn’t make much sense, but veal is kind of expensive. But it also defeats the purpose of making veal piccata minus the veal. But seriously you just dredge it in flour and pan fry in butter and olive oil for 2-3 minutes on each side. If I wasn’t such a slow cook, this may have only taken 15-20 minutes to make in total. Super fast dinner. But I’m slow. Like glacial. I really need to work on my speed. But a quick semi-fancy meal is a win.
We all seem to have at least one fail-safe standard go to cookbook. Right now I’ve been operating out of Williams-Sonoma’s Cooking at Home cookbook. I’ve made a handful of recipes out of it so far and they’ve all been quite good. Also, with my personal experiences with Williams-Sonoma recipes they seem pretty difficult to really fuck up. I mean I’ve completely bombed so many of the recipes and they still somehow turned out incredibly delicious.
Anyway, my roommate uses America’s Test Kitchen as her standard, and to be fair this is probably a much better go-to when you want something decent, easy, and need a step-by-step guide. America’s Test Kitchen definitely holds your hand a little bit better through tougher things. They also have a lot more common recipes like meatloaf, lasagna, other pasta dishes. A lot of standard dishes. The Williams-Sonoma cookbook doesn’t really have a lot of good standard recipes. I guess they assume you can already make some of those. So it’s not a great reference if you want to learn a basic lasagna. Also, it does have references on the proper way to clean/cut vegetables, and the correct temperatures to cook meats like the America’s Test Kitchen. But it still seems like it is expecting you to come in with some base line knowledge.
Basically, in our house when we are looking for a good recipe for a French recipe we have levels. America’s Test Kitchen if we really don’t know what we’re doing, then Williams-Sonoma if we kind of have an idea what we are doing. Then there’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking, which I love, but sometimes it isn’t quite as straightforward as the other two. Last but not least is the Laduree book if I’m in the mood to be like “Fuck it. I don’t really want to eat what I’m about to make.” Because I know there’s only an 8% chance that I will actually be able to produce the recipe.
Today I made Garlic Parmesan Brussel Sprouts and Veal Piccata. Both were out of the Williams Sonoma Cooking at Home Book. Both were great, and actually really easy to make.
The Brussel Sprouts were trimmed and halved. Then you add olive oil and butter to a pan with six cloves of garlic. After the garlic is heated you add the brussel sprouts and cook covered for 8 minutes. After they’re cooked transfer to a bowl and add parmesan. Simple and straightforward.
So here’s the rub. I actually forgot one of the main ingredients. The recipe actually calls for you to add chicken stock when you add the brussel sprouts to the pan, and well I completely forgot to add it. I didn’t even notice until I had put them in the bowl and added the cheese that there was a cup of chicken stock sitting on the counter. How do you completely forget an ingredient?
Well, this is probably a perfect example of my life as a cook. I don’t read the directions, I forget half of the ingredients (because I don’t read the recipe), and then I just kind of wing it. I must say that the brussel sprouts were still delicious. But I’m sure they would have been that much better if I could read.
This is the second time I’ve written about brussel sprouts. Really I don’t make them that often. This is seriously like the second time this year. But I’ve written two posts about them, so it seems like I have some kind of infatuation with them, which I do, but it probably shouldn’t seem that way.
So I’ve been struggling lately with career goals. Like long term and short term career goals. I’m sure everyone struggles with this to some degree. The usual where is my life headed, what do I need to do next.
The question is that is anyone ever happy in the place they are, or are we always trying to accomplish something else, something more. Buddhism suggests we should be happy in the moment, but does having aspirations mean you’re currently unhappy where you are? I don’t think so. I’m happy with my current job. I like the work. It’s a lot of work, but I like it. I like the office and the people that I work with. I’m not in a hurry to leave or find something new. On the other hand, I know that this is just a job. I was hoping I could somehow turn it into a career, and it is a career job. Many people use this as a career job. It’s just not for me in the long run.
There are other things that I love more. I’ve been deliberating on cultural anthropology, linguistics, international affairs, international development, economics, international law. My latest plan was to go to law school and become an international lawyer. I love the idea of that. But I’m coming to realize that I like the idea of going to law school, but not so much the idea of actually being a lawyer. I know that probably sounds crazy. The market is flooded with lawyers. It would be hard to get a job, and I’m not so thrilled about taking on any more student debt than I already have. It’s probably a sad occurrence when one of the main determining factors about going back to school is cost, and not whether or not you could actually do it.
Anyway, throughout my deliberations about my future next-steps people are almost continuously asking me things like “why don’t you look into catering?”, “why don’t you start a bakery?”, “Why aren’t you taking pastry/cooking lessons?”, “Why are you focusing on law, and not on food?”. But I keep shutting these down. Cooking is a hobby. I’m not bad at it, but I still have a lot of learning to do. I can’t clean an artichoke to save my life.
Honestly, I’m not sure why I’m so against having a food/foodie related career, other than I’m not exactly sure what I would be doing and where my focus would be. I think it’s all about ego. There’s some kind of prestige that comes with having a law degree and being a high-powered international lawyer. It’s all about pride, and I’m not sure I could have the same pride about being a baker/chef/blogger/food writer. But maybe that’s not true, and maybe I should start listening to other people who seem to know me better than I sometimes know myself.
I’m writing this under the realization that I haven’t studied for the LSAT in over two weeks, and I just got back from Whole Foods with two pounds of veal and have been researching cooking courses in Bordeaux.
My passion is food and everything about food. I love the idea of traveling to other places and trying local cuisines and some how bringing those flavors back home. One of my favorite books is My Life in France, because an entire book about French food seems like a good idea.
Maybe I should finally just accept that I want to cook, and try to find a way to make that happen as a career in whichever path I choose.
Now that I’m coming to terms with it, the next chore is trying to figure out how to proceed. Where do I go from here? How should I start? The future is looking bright and yummy, but I need to figure this thing out.