Sunday, July 20, 2008

greetings from the north

As I type this, I'm in one of the strangest places I've ever been, on my way to what will likely be the strangest business trip I ever go on. I am far enough north that the sun doesn't set, far enough north that the airports look like the yellow submarine,

far enough north that I can make friends with a musk ox,

far enough north that large chunks of ice float in the ocean forming patterns I've never seen before,

and far enough north that if I go outside and don't move or speak, I find myself faced with a silence so overwhelming it's uncomfortable. Tomorrow morning I will wake up bright and early -- "bright" being a relative term, in this case -- to board a small prop plane that will take me from Resolute Bay (where I am now) to Devon Island, where I will spend the next 10 days living in a tent.

I am a little freaked out.

So, you ask, what does one eat while camping out in the arctic? Well, actually, I have no idea. I'm hoping the answer is not caribou jerky and whale blubber, because, ew. (Not "ew" to try, really, but "ew" to subsist on for 10 days...)

I think the real answer is, while camping out in the arctic, one eats whatever is placed in front of her. Someone else will be doing all the cooking and is it ridiculous that I'm a little sad to be missing peach season?

I might be able to post again during the trip, because this camping site will be set up in that strange way where the internet is easily accessible but a pillow is a luxury. Wish me luck...

Sunday, July 13, 2008

How Not to Cook a Steak

I've been procrastinating writing this post for the past hour or so, because it's both disappointing and kind of embarrassing.

Over at Smitten Kitchen, Deb asked what what her readers' kitchen fears are so she can help her readers conquer them. Something about the topic must have struck a nerve, because she received over 300 comments. And I became very interested in them, for some reason, and read every single one. The "fears" seem to fall into clusters, and one thing that surprised me was the number of people scared of cooking meat. I generally feel comfortable with meat, although large hunks like pot roast might cause a bit of trepidation -- I've never tried to cook for a lot of people at once, so there has been no need for such large meaty things. But I'm fairly confident that if the occasion required a pot roast, I could make a pretty good one.

Anyway, all this thinking about meat, combined with a grill-free July 4th last weekend, gave me a huge craving for steak. I don't eat much red meat these days -- it's so expensive, and after reading The Omnivore's Dilemma recently, I decided my next steak should be a grass-fed one, and then the cost becomes even more prohibitive. But my craving got the best of me and I decided to splurge on an almost-1-pound grass-fed porterhouse from Hawthorne Valley Farm at the green market yesterday.

I got home and suddenly it hit me - I had no clue how to cook this steak! (I probably should have figured this out earlier.) Reading through Deb's comments from people afraid of cooking meat, I thought, at least that's one fear I've conquered. I've grilled steaks to perfection before, definitely not scared of them. Except that I live in a small 6th floor apartment in Manhattan without roof access and grilling is not an option here. So I started googling frantically to find the best way to cook a steak indoors, and I came across these directions by Leah of Love and Butter. "Perfect," I said to myself, "she even talks about cooking 1-pound grass-fed porterhouse steaks in a flat skillet! I can do this!"

I let my steak come to room temperature, preheated the oven to 450, and rubbed both sides of the steak with olive oil, salt, and pepper.

(Doesn't it just look perfect? Look at that rich red color!)

Leah then suggests searing the first side of the steak for 6-7 minutes and the second side for 2-3 minutes. Since my steak was on the thinner side, about 1", I seared it 4 minutes on the first side and only 1 minute on the second side.

Then I popped the whole skillet into the oven for 4 minutes (again, she suggests 6-7 minutes for a thicker steak, so I thought 4 would be good for my thinner one). A preliminary cut revealed that the steak might have cooked a little longer than necessary for my perfect medium rare goal, but I didn't want to pass judgment until it had a chance to rest. So five minutes later, I finally cut into it to see how I had done.

In case you can't tell from the picture, the steak was... not even close to medium rare. I think it ranged from medium-well to full on well done. I cut it into slices anyway and ate about half of the steak for dinner with some roasted fingerling potatoes and a salad.

Half an hour later, the potatoes and salad were all gone, and the steak was mostly still there on my plate. The tenderloin half of the porterhouse fared better than top loin half, as it was still sort of tender and easy to eat (even though it was so overcooked). The top loin required so much chewing, even when cut into teeny tiny pieces, that I just gave up part-way through and tossed it. I was planning on using the rest of the steak in a salad tomorrow night, but I'm not sure my jaw will be up to it.

So... I'm a little upset. I basically ruined an expensive piece of meat, wasting time and money on something barely edible. Maybe I should have been afraid of it in the first place. Sigh. I will probably try again at some point, once my deflated steak ego returns to its normal size, and next time if I have a thin steak I'll skip the oven completely and just sear it a little longer on each side. I have a hunch this steak would have been perfect if only I had left it on the stove.

In case anyone is reading this who has experience with grass-fed steaks, any advice for next time? Should the cooking procedure be different in any way from that of supermarket corn-fed steaks? I know the fat content tends to be lower; does that make the meat chewier to begin with? Is there a way to tenderize the meat, or is completely unnecessary to tenderize it if you can actually cook it to medium rare?

Here's to hoping I won't have to write another "how not to xyz" post for a while...

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Cherry Picking / Recipe: Balsamic Black Cherry Gelato

When I was a little kid, my family made a tradition out of going fruit-picking. We'd drive 45 minutes upstate, watching the suburbs give way to farm land, until we started to see rows and rows of evenly-spaced trees. We picked peaches in July and apples in September and even tried berries a few times, but I think everyone preferred the shade provided by larger fruit trees to all the crouching in the hot sun that berry picking involved. While I do love peaches and apples and berries (and almost any fruit, really), my favorite was always cherries.

Maybe it's because cherry season started right around my birthday; maybe it's because cherry trees were the easiest to climb; maybe it's because you can eat a million cherries while you pick them (as opposed to larger fruits, where you really do have to pace yourself a bit). Whatever the reason, I just loved that day when we would all don matching red shirts (to hide cherry juice stains, of course) and drive up north. Last weekend, we decide to revive the tradition. It had been at least 10 years since we last went fruit picking and I'm not going to lie, I was THRILLED.

But I think me and my sister have gotten just a bit faster at picking cherries since the last time. When we dragged our fruit-filled buckets to the weighing station, we realized that the 5 of us (me, my parents, my sister, and one of her friends) had picked 25 POUNDS of cherries. We had about 20 pounds of deep red Bing cherries and 5 pounds of yellow-pink Ranier cherries. Far more cherries than any of us expected or knew what to do with.

That night, we made a cherry cobbler for dessert. (8 cups of cherries down.) In the morning, I made a sauce of cherries sauteed with a little butter and sugar to go over my dad's challah French toast. (2-3 more cups down.) We put a bowl of cherries out on the counter for snacking and kept refilling it. (Few more cups...) And then in the evening, we made gelato, and it was SO good. Four more cups down! Only... 23874235 remaining. But once we split the remaining cherries up 5 ways, the leftover amount seemed reasonable. I've been snacking on mine all week and just finished them today, and I only had to throw out a few bad ones on the way. You can't really get fruit any fresher (or cheaper) than when you pick it yourself, so at least our cherry excess lasted longer than supermarket cherries probably would have.

I had never made ice cream of any sort before, at least not in recent memory, so I really enjoyed seeing this come together. We made a few changes to the original recipe, which are reflected in the version below.

Balsamic Black Cherry Gelato
makes 1 quart; adapted from a recipe from The Ontario Tender Fruit Producers

4 egg yolks
2/3-1 cup granulated sugar [adjust the amount based on how sweet your cherries are]
2 cups milk [we used 1% but it's probably even better and richer with whole milk]
4 cups sweet black cherries
2 tbs good quality aged balsamic vinegar
1 tsp vanilla

large bowl
wooden spoon
blender or food processor
ice cream maker

In bowl, whisk together yolks with sugar until thickened and pale. Set aside.

In medium saucepan over medium heat, bring milk to simmer, stirring often. Whisk about 1/2 cup (125 mL) of milk into egg mixture and then transfer back to the saucepan. Cook over low heat and stir constantly with a wooden spoon until mixture is thick enough to coat the back of the spoon, about 8 minutes. Pour back into bowl and let cool.

In the meantime, pit the cherries and remove their stems. Purée 3 cups of them and their juices in a food processor or blender until smooth. Stir cherry purée, cherries, balsamic and vanilla into milk mixture. Cover and refrigerate overnight and up to 1 day. [Or put in the freezer for an hour, if you are in a rush/impatient. Just make sure you take it out before it freezes!]

Transfer to an ice cream maker and freeze according to manufacturer's instructions. Alternatively, freeze mixer in a large stainless steel bowl. After 4 hours, transfer to food processor and blend again. Freeze completely.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Introduction, after the fact...

Hi! I'm Joanna, and this is my food blog, Scalloped Edge.

You probably figured that out already.

I kind of dove right in and started posting recipes without revealing any information about who I am or why I'm doing this, so here goes. I'm 25, living in Manhattan, working full-time as a mechanical engineer. I live with one of my best friends, but we cook and eat very differently and usually completely separately from each other. So most of the time, when I cook, it's just for myself. I don't spend much time on fancy presentations or on making my food look attractive at all, really, because nobody else sees it... but now that I'm taking pictures and blogging about it, I'll try to put in a little more effort. ;) I am currently taking pictures with a 4-year-old camera that's partly broken in a kitchen that has truly awful lighting, and I realize most of my photos kind of suck... I'm just trying to make do with what I have for now.

While I always liked helping my parents in the kitchen -- shaping meatballs and matzah balls was the BEST -- I never really learned to cook without their guidance and supervision until I moved across the country for college. I lived in a dorm for two years where we had to fend for ourselves on weekends, and I quickly became an expert in preparing such delicacies as Easy Mac, Pasta-Roni, Campbell's Soup, and Top Ramen. When I felt like being fancy I would boil pasta and add sauce from a jar. (Fancy because it required two separate ingredients, unlike the other convenience foods that came with their own seasoning packet included. Fancy indeed.)

But that was 6 years ago, and I've come a long way since then, or at least I like to think so. I'm spoiled rotten by food accessibility where I live -- I'm within walking distance of the Union Square Greenmarket, I live a block away from an actual supermarket (not the little bodegas that are on every corner in NYC), and if I walk a few more blocks I can get great fresh pasta, mozzarella, any other kind of cheese imaginable, coffee, raw meat, cured meat, fish, cheap organic bulk goods... you get the idea.

These days, I generally try to cook simple meals using seasonal ingredients. Sometimes I follow recipes and other times I improvise; I don't own a single cookbook, so when I do use recipes they usually come from food blogs or Epicurious. And I fully plan on buying a cookbook or 10, as soon as I can make up my mind about where to start!

I'm not sure if I'll keep doing this, but for now I'm trying to list the kitchen equipment required for each recipe I post because I have a tiny sink and a tiny dish drain and no dishwasher and no one to clean up after me in exchange for my cooking for them. In other words, keeping the number of dishes down to a minimum is a big priority for me.

Most importantly, I love food and I love preparing food and I love eating food. I'm by no means an expert, but I'm learning, and I guess I just want to document the process and join the big happy food blog family!