Thursday, August 17, 2006

You say Potato, I say Potawto..

Note: I'd love to have a photo here, of my daughter with flour all over her adorable little face. But I can't, because Blogger, for some reason, can't upload photos today. No reason given. Mabye the photo gods haven't had their coffee yet. Strongly considering ditching this free blog for a better one. Stay tuned.

Christina Bess, a kitchen Goddess I worship, once told me that there are two kinds of people. Pie people and bread people. I am, according to her, a pie person. I went through a phase years ago of making apple pies from scratch at Thanksgiving time. These, to my delight, seemed to turn out deliciously, and won the accolades of everyone who dared a mouthful. Alas, peeling and cutting a bag of apples and making pie pastry by hand takes patience and focus I no longer seem to have, so I haven’t made a signature pie in a long time.
But apparently I still have the baking stuff. For someone who’s a bad home cook, I can bake surprisingly well. Not like Audrey Smith, of course, but I can make edible Christmas ginger snaps and passable Toll House cookies. It’s also a little known fact that I make a mean zuchinni bread.
So the other day my daughter was looking through her “World Cooking” book and asked if we could make scones. I’d made these once before, using the recipe from Mark Bittman’s marvelous “How to Cook Everything” book, and presented them, along with tea and a dozen chipped and mismatched tea cups, for snack to her Brownie Girl Scout troop. They were a huge success. And not too hard, as I recall.
Funny thing about scones. We here in the states pronounce them “Scones,” with a long O, and joke about the hoity-toity British, who pronounce them “Scawnes.” Actually, though, in Britain, where accent dictates who you are and where you sit on the economic and social pecking order, only Sloanes, or the wretched upper classes, pronounce “scones” with a long O. “Only ponces say Scones,” sniffed Annie’s Dad, Luke, a Brit from North London. Non-ponces (middle class and below) pronounce it “scawnes.”
Well. Who knew? I tried to say “scawnes,” for a long while, but in the end, it just sounded too, well, poncey for me, so I reverted to my Yank diction.
At any rate, darlings, making the bloody little things is dead easy.

From Mark Bittman’s “How to Cook Everything”

2 cups all purpose flour (plus some more as needed when it’s time to knead the dough)
1 scant teaspoon salt
4 teaspoons baking powder
2 tablespoons sugar
5 tablespoons cold butter
3 eggs
¾ cup heavy cream
1/3 cup raisins, cranberries or blueberries
1 tablespoon water

Preheat oven to 450
Mix the dry ingredients together, reserving 1 tablespoon of sugar
Cut the butter into bits and work them with your fingers into the dry ingredients until you have an ever-so-slightly moist mix.
Beat two of the eggs with the cream. Using a few swift strokes, blend this into this mix. Use only a few strokes to beat your raisins or whatever into the mix.
Turn the now sticky mixture into a ball and place it onto a floured surface to knead, no more than ten times
Press the dough into a ¾ -inch thick rectangle and use a glass or a biscuit cutter to cut into rounds
Place the rounds onto an ungreased baking sheet. Reshape the leftover dough and cut again. You’ll get about 10 scones.
Beat the remaining egg with the 1 tablespoon of water and brush the top of each unbaked scone with this mixture. Sprinkle each with a little sugar from your extra tablespoon.
Bake 7 to 10 minutes or until the scones are a golden brown.

It couldn’t be easier. But of course, you must pay a little more attention to details than I do if you want perfect success. My scones came out OK, but a little dry. When I went back over the recipe, I discovered a few mistakes I made:

I preheated the oven to 350, not 450.
I read the part about withholding one tablespoon of sugar, and withheld one tablespoon of butter instead. So of course my dough was going to be dryer than it should have been.
My daughter was helping me knead, and got carried away, because let’s face it, kneading is fun. Like playing with Play-Dough. I think over-kneading changed the consistency of my dough.
Feh. How typical of me. Christina wouldn't have made such trifling mistakes.
In the end, the scones were OK. Good enough for the kids, anyway. But it was another humbling moment for me, reinforcing my knowledge that a little concentration goes a long way in the kitchen.

Sunday, August 13, 2006

Tortilla y ya!

I did it. I nailed the tortilla. Or at least I made a version of it that both tasted great to me and impressed a flamenco guitarist who grew up on the real thing.
Here's how I did it:
Four small to medium Yukon potatoes, washed but not skinned. Cut in half, then again, then sliced from there.
One medium onion, sliced
two garlic cloves, diced
a cup of oil. Olive oil is fine, but corn oil is more flavorful it seems.
Six eggs, lightly whisked.
A dollop of milk.
A bit of chopped parsley. A tablespoon at most.

Heat most of the oil into a NONSTICK SKILLET. If you don't have a non-stick skillet, your tortilla won't turn out. I don't know how women in Spain did it before this invention, but thank God I live in the plastic age.
Add the garlic and onions - saute for a bit, then add the potatoes. Stir once or twice to cover the potatoes in oil, then don't touch again. Cover
Ccook for about 20 minutes. Don't brown. But a little brown is always ok.
Drain the potatoes. I remove them with a slotted spoon.
Whisk your eggs with a dollop of milk. Add salt and pepper to taste.
Add the remaining oil to the skillet and return the potato/onion mixture. Pour the eggs over this and stir once or twice to cover the potatoes. Don't forget to add your parsley.
Cover. Watch.
As it cooks, shake the pan a little every now and then to make sure the tortilla isn't sticking to the bottom.
When the eggs are almost cooked, (mostly solid except for a small pool of runniness on top) take a plate, put it on top of the pan and FLIP that tortilla. Slide it back into the skillet and cook on the other side. Five minutes or so.
Return to the plate.
Let cool for ten minutes.
Pour your glass of wine, break out your crusty bread, and make merry.
Buen Provecho. Or however you spell it.

I like to watch

I don't know why I'm the last person on the planet to realize this, but you can learn a lot about cooking by watching somebody else who knows what they're doing. I can credit finally nailing a tortilla directly to the hour I spent a few months ago watching closely as Javier made his version. Tonight my friend and neighbor Tamlin invited me down to her house to try a couple of new recipes she'd dug up on the Internet, and in watching her I learned a few choice tricks about how to prepare a dish. Linguine with clam sauce, for example. A common dish, perhaps, but not one I'd ever deign to try on my own. When the pasta was done she didn't drain it, as I would have done, but rather used tongs to pull it out of the water before plopping it directly into the cooking clam sauce. "You use the water from the pasta to help dilute the sauce," she told me. Oh. Who knew? Likewise, I never knew you could make a marinade in a gallon Ziploc bag. But she did, and threw six half artichokes into the back, shook it up and let it sit for half an hour to marinade. I always thought you had to marinade in the refrigerator, and for hours, in a separate dish.
Small realizations, perhaps, but valuable in the long run. I suppose that's why cooking shows are so popular. Maybe I should get cable.