Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Baked

You may have already picked up on this, but I love to bake. And as part of that, I have to visit a LOT of bakeries to sample their fare. In fact, when I went to London for work last year, I managed to visit four different bakeries. A girl has to see what’s out there, right?

My favorite bakery in the world, though, is Baked in Red Hook.

I stumbled upon Baked after impulsively picking up one of their cookbooks in The Strand (good things come to people who buy books impulsively). The recipes seemed kind of spectacular and the first thing I made was a Bundt cake with shards of caramel scattered on the frosting.

It was the kind of cake that wasn’t hard to make but made people think, “Wow, that’s pretty awesome.” And it was delicious enough that I decided that I had to go to the source. It was kind of like a first-world pilgrimage, especially because I had to take two buses and a train to get to Red Hook. But it was definitely worth the trip.

I’ve been there a handful of times since then, most recently going with two friends on a very rainy Saturday afternoon. It was their first time there and we decided that the best thing to do was to order a bunch of different things and share. We got a bar cookie, a piece of cake with malt frosting and some lemon poppy seed quick bread.

Everything, of course, was delicious.

I recently read that Baked is looking for a space in Manhattan, which is either awful or wonderful. Fingers crossed it’s near my apartment! Or maybe fingers crossed that it’s far away! I honestly can’t decide.


Monday, April 14, 2014

So I Made Ramen

Remember when I was talking really big last week about making ramen from scratch after I read Ivan Ramen? Well, I made it. It took about twelve hours from start to finish and it was almost worth it.

I set the alarm for 5:00 AM on Ramen Day and headed straight to the kitchen to unpack the meat. Making ramen the Ivan Ramen way involves a lot of meat—and not the nicely trimmed pieces of chicken breast that you get from Fresh Direct. I’m talking about whole chickens chopped up into parts and slabs of fatty pork with some bristles still left on the skin. If you’re squeamish, like I am, there is a definite ick factor.

Still, I managed to hold it together and got what needed to be simmering on the stove simmering on the stove. When I sat down to breakfast, all of my large pots were bubbling a way and a tray of sofrito was cooking slowly in the oven. I was on my way to getting together the different components of ramen, which are chicken fat, pork fat, shio tare, sofrito, katsuobushi salt, chicken stock, toasted rye noodles, half-cooked eggs, menmo and dashi. 

One of the things that Ivan Ramen taught me is that there’s a fair amount of precision needed to make ramen—the chicken broth, for example, has to remain at a pretty specific temperature for a very long time—but there’s also a lot of down time. I used some of this to send my sous-chef (also known as my husband) to Fairway to buy some fresh noodles.

After several hours of relative calm, work started up again and I was making the half-cooked eggs and chopping scallions to finish everything off. And then, almost before I knew it, I had the seven components of ramen in various containers in my countertop and we were ready to eat.



We’d invited a friend over for dinner—if you’re going to make ramen from scratch, you definitely have to show it off—and as we assembled our bowls, I realized the triumph of my achievement. I had made ramen almost entirely from scratch. In a way, it almost didn’t matter how it tasted. But man, it was good.

Steps one and two: making chicken fat, pork fat and chicken broth 
 

Steps three and four: assembling the components for a good bowl of ramen!








Monday, April 7, 2014

Ramen It

Probably because I’m a masochist, I decided that it would be a good idea to make ramen from scratch. The idea popped into my head after I finished reading Ivan Ramen. I mean, who DOESN’T want to spend an entire day making the seven component ingredients of this traditional Japanese noodle dish?

One thing you should know—I’ve never actually eaten real ramen, apart from the dried noodles that everyone eats at some point in college. So why do I want to do it? Essentially, Ivan Orkin, the book’s author, made me fall in love with the idea of ramen because of his own passion for it. Plus, there is nothing I like more than a long, difficult task with a questionable outcome. In a way, it’s kind of like writing a book.

After reading the recipe through several times, I realized that the individual components of ramen aren’t difficult to make. The difficulty comes in the length of time needed to make some of the ingredients and the sheer number of ingredients needed for dashi, a fish broth that is one of seven components.

With that in mind, I decided to buy dashi and make everything else--chicken fat, pork fat, shio tare, sofrito, katsuobushi salt, chicken stock, toasted rye noodles and menmo (bamboo shoots)—from scratch. To be fair, I delegated the rye noodles to my husband. He has a pasta machine and isn’t afraid to use it.

It’s definitely going to be a process but it’s nothing that a little determination and an excel spreadsheet can’t fix. Wish me luck!



Monday, March 31, 2014

Mac-Can’t-Rons

I’m not the kind of gal who admits failure easily but I’m starting to think that making macarons—those tiny, delicious almond sandwich cookies—are beyond my skill.

It’s not like I don’t have some baking skills.  I mean, I’ve made a Busch de Noel, complete with marzipan berries, leaves and vines, for goodness’ sake! But every time I try to make macarons, I end up with flat, runny oblongs instead of the pert little puffy circles that I’m aiming for.

I’ve tried tested recipes from bakers like Michael Peterson and Nancy Baggett. I’ve tried untested recipes that I’ve found online. I always get the same result, though. It’s getting frustrating. And almond flour isn’t exactly cheap.


But I’m not quite ready to throw in the towel yet. I think I have one more attempt in me. So…does anyone have a good macaron recipe?

Monday, March 24, 2014

Starting From Scratch

I make a lot of things from scratch: combining a lot of small amounts of things into cookies, brownies, caramel popcorn, mashed potatoes, pizza, jam and a variety of things that it would be easier to buy. I also make a lot of quilts, which means that I buy very large pieces of fabric that I cut into smaller pieces and then sew back together.

I write books too. And now that I’m shopping my manuscript to agents, I need to start from scratch again. It’s exciting and terrifying, kind of like starting a new quilt or embarking on another time-consuming attempt to make an ethnic food as authentically as possible in my apartment.


With a book, I don’t have a set starting point, like pre-heat oven to 350. I’ve got ideas and notes, character names and scenes but not much else. While I can adapt a quilt pattern or an existing recipe, I find it incredibly difficult to make up my own. Writing, through, is a different story. This is the part that I love!