Not a unitasker

So far, I’ve used my 8″ cake lifter for things like this more than actual cake lifting. You can’t find a nice big bench scraper under that name, but it turns out this is one anyway. Very handy.

I used it in the production of glazed carrots after I unexpectedly found the other day a half-meatloaf still in the freezer. After finishing it, I want more, so I’ll probably make another couple of loaves soon.

New digs

We moved our offices into a new building a couple towns away this week, and I ended up with a substantially larger office – “All the more to decorate” thought I, rubbing my hands. A gallery of my new digs is below. I haven’t decided yet how to fill out one wall, but the other walls are pretty much as I want them. I still see trees and greenery out my window (two windows, actually), thank goodness, and there are wild turkeys at the new place, too.

In the process, I finally got around to having my William Phillips “Clipper at the Gate” limited print framed at this little shop, and it came out pretty spiffy, with the frame and matting matched to the bluish silver of the aircraft, the deep blue of the water, and the red of the Golden Gate Bridge (actually called International orange) and the wing stripes. The aircraft is the Boeing B-314 flying boat, in this case the Pan American Airways California Clipper, NC-18602, which made regular runs between San Francisco and Hawaii – a nineteen-hour leg – before continuing to farther destinations.

Only twelve B-314s were produced by Boeing, all for Pan Am, but it was – and still is – considered the acme of flying boat technology. The initial six had a range of 3,500 miles with fuel capacity of 4,200 gallons and the second group of six could travel 5,200 miles with 5,400 gallons, both variants far exceeding the range of other aircraft of the day. Travel on the clippers was strictly deluxe, with ticket prices comparable to Concorde’s and meals catered by top-notch hotels.

The B-314 model on my desk, in the same 1:200 scale as the B-17 and B-747, is also of NC-18602. The “Fly to South Sea Isles” poster is a high quality limited edition reproduction of a 1930s Pan Am poster that was made about twenty years ago [some weeks after writing this, I found my Hansa Editions print was actually produced thirty years ago]. An original copy of the 1938 George Lawler poster – not the original painting, just a poster – recently sold for US$20,000 at auction, where the listing read:

One of the most iconic and desirable of all the early Pan Am flying boat posters, this image of the Boeing 314 Flying Clipper landing in a tropical lagoon captured, and continues to capture, the imagination of travelers. The location shown on the poster is an imaginary composite of several renowned bays throughout the South Pacific. It has been speculated that the view is Tahiti, Pago Pago and/or Diamond Head, however, the physical characteristics depicted do not coincide with the actual geography of any of these islands. Lawler most likely worked from photographs to derive a fantasy collage of a location infused with realistic details from various islands. It is rare to find this poster with text. We have found only two other examples at auction.

The tail end of the gallery shows in detail some of the photos and items on display. I had 16×20 prints made of the three high resolution Apollo photographs – done beautifully by Shutterfly and Snapfish, I’ll add. Of the three drawings of mine on the wall, just one, the woman holding a newborn Bengal kitten, is my original pencil drawing – the other two are from high resolution scans I made before presenting the original drawings to their subjects.

Click on any image to enter the gallery, and from there you can view a 1920-wide version of any photo by clicking this at the lower right (you may need to scroll down to see it):

 

“Adam and Eve off the raft, sweep the kitchen!”

I was thinking this morning of stepping out to try a diner that’s down the road and quickly questioned that idea as possibly a bit rash: “But why?” They seem to have mixed reviews, so there’s a good possibility that I make better versions of their breakfast fare, and I’ll wager their eggs weren’t laid approximately Wednesday like mine. Plus, a month ago, I finally got around to buying a few of the true diner plates I was eyeing some years back – and I’m talking about real diner plates, 13″ ovals weighing 2½ pounds each – so now I even have the proper ambience. To wit:

Click for a larger version – but maybe you should eat something first

The title – or something like that, anyway – is diner lingo for corned beef hash (sweep the kitchen) with poached eggs (Adam and Eve) on the hash, not the toast (raft).

Cookbooks, honestly

Jasper White, in his introduction to Cooking from New England (1989):

“I typed this book, but I did not write it. I doubt if anyone has ever really written a cookbook. I believe that the creative process in cooking is a matter of transforming small parts of a much greater body of folk knowledge into new variations, however slight the differences.”

Song of the South

Flying Biscuit with sawmill gravy and poached eggs; click for a larger version

FLYING BISCUITS

Excerpt from The Flying Biscuit Cafe Cookbook [my comments in brackets]

With some hesitation, I am revealing our greatest secret: the biscuit recipe. The hesitation comes from the fact that people will realize when they read this recipe that there really is no great secret — just a lot of patience and technique. [Well, not really…the recipe takes just six or eight minutes to prepare and twenty minutes to bake.] We make an average of 700 of these fluffy pups on a weekday at the Biscuit and 1,200 on a weekend day. Many different people have made the biscuits since the restaurant has been open. Our biscuiteers arrive before the break of dawn to produce these tender little morsels. If by chance you happen to drive by early some morning, you may catch a glimpse of them through the window, hunched over a table, flour everywhere. If you look even closer you might see the sparkle of the biscuit cutter and a little white ball of dough flying through the air and landing on a sheet pan, ready to be baked for our loving patrons.

INGREDIENTS

  • 3 cups all-purpose flour (a soft winter wheat flour, such as White Lily, works best) [White Lily is found mainly in the Southern U.S.; an all-purpose flour with a decent protein percentage is fine to use]
  • 1 tablespoon plus 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 2 tablespoons plus 1 1/2 teaspoons [caster] sugar [I usually cut this back to 1 1/2 tablespoons]
  • 6 tablespoons [3 oz.] unsalted butter, at room temperature (it should be the consistency of shortening)
  • 2/3 cup heavy cream [double cream]
  • 2/3 cup half-and-half [aka light single cream in the UK, or just go wild and use single cream, which is about 18% butterfat compared to about 12% for U.S. half-and-half. For a triple recipe, one pint each of double cream and light single cream. And one big-ass bowl, of course.]
  • 2 tablespoons half-and-half for brushing on top of biscuits
  • 1 tablespoon [caster] sugar for sprinkling on top of biscuits

DIRECTIONS

Preheat oven to 375 F [190 C]. Line a sheet pan [or insulated baking sheet] with parchment paper.

Place flour, baking powder, salt, and sugar in a large mixing bowl. Cut softened butter into 1/2 tablespoon-sized bits and add to the flour. Using your fingertips or a pastry cutter, work the butter into the flour mixture until it resembles coarse meal. [I use fingers. This takes just two or three minutes.]

Make a well in the center of the flour and pour in all of the heavy cream and the half and half. Stir the dry ingredients into the cream and mix with a wooden spoon until dough just begins to come together into a ball.

Turn dough onto a lightly floured surface and knead 2 or 3 times to form a cohesive mass. Do not overwork the dough [always important to prevent things like biscuits, pancakes, brownies, &c. from having a specific density higher than lead’s]. Using a rolling pin, roll the dough to a 1-inch thickness. The correct thickness is the key to obtaining a stately biscuit. Dip a 2 1/2-inch biscuit cutter in flour, then cut the dough. [I use a 3″ cutter and get 7 or 8 biscuits.] Repeat until all the dough has been cut. Scraps can be gathered together and rerolled one more time. [She says this because two or more regatherings and rerollings can result in overworked dough, but I find that as long as you do it gently enough, you can do two rounds after the first cutting instead of just one. The last round will get you one or two more biscuits from the scraps. They might turn out a bit misshapen, but they still taste good.]

Place the biscuits on the prepared sheet pan, leaving about 1/4 inch between them. [Why so close? Well, first, these biscuits expand almost exclusively vertically. Second, they retain more moisture when they’re baked closer together, so this measure helps keep the biscuits fluffy instead of crumbly.] Brush the tops of the biscuits with 1 tablespoon of half and half and sprinkle with 1 tablespoon of sugar. [That’s 1 tablespoon distributed between all the biscuits, by the way. The half-and-half here is to make the tops a little browner than they might otherwise turn out and to make the sugar stick. I usually don’t bother with the extra sugar on top, though. It really isn’t necessary because they’ve already got sugar inside.]

Bake for 20 minutes at 375 F [190 C]. Biscuits will be lightly browned on the top and flaky in the center when done. [And still almost the original colour on the sides.]

Makes 8 to 12 biscuits, depending on the size of the cutter.

SAWMILL GRAVY
By Alton Brown

INGREDIENTS

  • 1 pound bulk breakfast sausage
  • 1/4 cup flour
  • 2 cups milk
  • Salt and pepper

DIRECTIONS

Cook sausage in a cast iron skillet. When done, remove sausage from pan and pour off all but 2 tablespoons of fat. Whisk flour into the fat and cook over low heat for 5 minutes. Remove pan from heat and whisk in milk a little at a time. Return to medium-high heat and stir occasionally while the gravy comes to a simmer and thickens. (Be sure to scrape up any brown bits that might be stuck to the bottom of the pan, that’s where the flavor is.) Check seasoning [I use lots of freshly ground pepper], add crumbled sausage and serve over toast or biscuits.

Cave Prep

I’m having arthroscopic knee surgery on Tuesday to clean up a large lateral meniscus tear – I tripped over a power cord sixteen months ago and landed hard on my right knee – and don’t much fancy microwaved and canned stuff during recovery. It sounds like I’ll have limited mobility, likely unable for a while to stand in the kitchen for hours, so I was busy yesterday and today, making:

  • Four quarts of French onion pot roast beef stew with a chuck eye roast
  • Quart-and-a-half of four-hour pasta sauce
  • Two Comfort Diner meatloaves; one’s in the freezer
  • Approximately one boatload of mashed potatoes
  • Couple pounds of glazed carrots
  • Homemade mayonnaise – specifically for meatloaf sandwiches – using the very cool, very fast immersion-blender-in-a-jar method
  • New York Times chocolate chip cookies with Maldon sea salt and toasted pecans

Of course, I’m already unable to stand for extended periods without pain, so I kind of screwed up the knee in the last 48 hours, but the above will be worth all the wincing and shouts of “Ow!” to no one in particular today. Those plus my best friend keeping me company through Thursday plus the Percocet ought to see me through just fine.

Garlic bread the French way

I’m making lasagne tonight and of course need garlic bread, so I decided to do it in a different way this time, featuring a version of the butter-braised and supremely mellow garlic that starts out Julia Child’s recipe for purée de pommes de terre à l’ail (garlic mashed potatoes). I don’t much like the taste of raw garlic that too often comes through in others’ garlic bread, and this is a fine way to tone down that harshness.

Directions

Braise the peeled cloves of two whole heads of garlic (yes!) in a small pan with a stick (8 tablespoons, 110g) of unsalted butter. Keep it on lowest heat so it’s barely bubbling – you don’t want to color either the butter or the garlic, so keep an eye on it. Braise until the garlic is quite soft and squishable, 20-30 minutes. I squished some of these with the back of a spoon to check them after half an hour.

Note: After baking and tasting the bread, I determined that you could get away with one head of garlic just fine, using the same amount of butter. The bread was good, but the garlic could be taken down a notch or three with no ill effect.

Mash:

Pass through a fine sieve – I found I had missed four bits of skin – and mix in some fresh unsalted butter while it’s still warm. I eyeballed it and decided that about a half-stick more would be enough for the entire Italian loaf I had.

Mix in a handful of fresh chopped parsley and a pinch of salt, then allow to cool for a little while for easier spreading:

Slice an Italian loaf 3/4 of the way through so the loaf stays together, then spread the garlic mixture between the slices, being more generous than a cardiologist would because you’re not making this every day. Wrap tightly in foil and store in the fridge until ready to bake.

I’ll post the results later, but the next step is to bake, still wrapped in the foil, at 400F (200C) for 15-20 minutes until the bread inside is hot and beginning to crisp. Open the foil up and bake an additional few minutes uncovered to brown the edges nicely.

Network quality control

On Sunday, I made a double recipe, five quarts, of Julia Child’s French onion soup – The Way to Cook variation – in preparation for my hybrid French onion pot roast beef stew on Christmas. This variation of hers is my favourite. The cognac and vermouth insinuate themselves delightfully into the soup during the three-hour slow simmer, producing intricately complex flavours in the result.

Unfortunately, last week, this news arrived regarding my food processor’s blade assembly:

Conair has received 69 reports of consumers finding broken pieces of the blade in processed food, including 30 reports of mouth lacerations or tooth injuries.

So, I signed up for a new blade and proceeded to thinly slice nineteen onions without mechanical aid. I briefly considered using the mandoline, but using that thing for the better part of an hour seemed like it might well be the start of an eventually disappointing recipe for a trip to A&E, never convenient when you’re about to caramelise twenty cups of onions for an hour or so. ’Round about onion seventeen, I did poke my thumb with the tip of the knife, the first time in some years I’ve cut myself (“Say…why is this onion running red?” I idly wondered), but the Victorinox is nice and sharp, so it was at least a clean cut.

Of course, the soup cannot just lazily sit in the fridge waiting for Saturday night. Quality testing protocols must be followed here at the Finley Quality Network, and that’s where I come in. I also happen to be the sole employee, but that’s neither here nor there – we (I) have standards to maintain regardless of piffling staffing levels. Plus I needed dinner.

Click for a mouth-wateringly HD version

As may be obvious from the photograph, yes, it passed with flying colours. If this has piqued your interest, here’s a printable image I put together of the three related recipes from The Way to Cook: the soup, the French bread croûtes, and the gratinée variant.

On Amazon, I found the defective processor blade, used on about twenty models over a nineteen-year period, is still being offered for sale. As if that wasn’t bad enough, my eyebrows like to shoot off the top of my head when I then, out of curiosity, looked at the oldest reviews and found one in 2012 clearly describing a metal fatigue problem in the blade. I don’t wish to cast aspersions or, more specifically, get sued, but I certainly hope Conair hasn’t been sitting on any similar information they might have been privy to.