Saturday, May 5, 2007
We had an open house this morning, inviting neighbors to see our new kitchen and to have coffee and doughnuts. This is our January Saturday morning tradition, but we had one out of season because everyone in the neighborhood knew we were having work done, and asked us periodically if it was ever going to be finished. (My next posting will be a comparison of the old and new kitchens).
Jim bought a few dozen doughnuts from a neighborhood bakery, and I got up early and made scones and coffee cake.
The Orange-Currant scone recipe is from The Zuni Cafe Cookbook. I've tried it once before and I found the dough too stiff to work with. This time I added a little more cream, and the dough was fine--it fact it was so easy to roll out that I got carried away and rolled them out way too thin. Instead of nice, plump scones, I had scones that looked like they'd been flattened--Road Kill Scones.
Because it was a celebration, we had mimosas in addition to our regular pots of coffee and tea. Maybe because of the champagne, nobody seemed to mind the state of the scones. I don't know why I keep trying to master these Zuni scones, when Rose's recipe for scones is the best I've ever had. Just stubbornness, I guess. The cookbook author says her customers love them, so I want to love them too.
I wanted to bake one other breakfast treat, but since time was getting short, I decided to bake the mini coffee cakes from The Best Quick Recipe. These ended up looking like little derbies.
I wish I could say that I deliberately made these derby-shaped coffee cakes in honor of Kentucky Derby Day, but that would be a lie. These are easy to whip up--half of the sour cream coffee cake batter in 12 muffin cups, a layer of streusel, the rest of the batter on top.
Jim invited his sister Betty over for dinner and to see the kitchen (as long as it was clean anyway), so as soon as our first guests left, I started cooking dinner. The weather has been cool, rainy, and windy, so comfort food sounded better than something spring-like. I made an excellent red-wine pot roast with porcini from epicurious. I followed the recipe exactly, except that I used a three-pound chuck roast instead of four pounds of meet. Three pounds still gave us a whole refrigerator full of leftovers. Then we had mashed potatoes, with the rest of the sour cream from the coffee cakes, and pan-roasted asparagus.
I had just found my kitchen blow torch when I was putting things back in the kitchen, and it reminded me how much fun it is to make creme brulee. I made a basic recipe from Mark Bittman's cookbook, How to Cook Everything. I screwed these up because I was in a hurry, and I'd made them before, so I didn't bother to read the recipe carefully--just scalded the cream, whisked the egg yolks and sugar together, and added the cream. Then I realized that I was supposed to save half the sugar to make the brulee. You know what? There is no way to get sugar that's already been mixed into an egg-and-cream mixture out of the mixture. I tasted it. Very, very, sweet. I toyed with the idea of adding another six egg yolks and another 2 and a half cups of cream and making enough creme brulee to feed everyone on my block, but I rejected the idea, and decided I just wouldn't put much sugar on top. So I put the little pots in a water bath, added the pan to the oven (where the pot roast was simmering away), and went to change my clothes. On the way up the stairs, I remembered I'd never added the vanilla because I'd been so occupied in fretting about the sugar. I came back downstairs, added 1/8 teaspoon to each of the brulees, stirred it up, and left the kitchen. Quite miraculously, I didn't burn my hand.
Actually, everything turned out fine. The brulees were a little sweet, but not compared to, say, a Hostess Twinkie. Betty claimed they were wonderful, but she eats mostly Lean Cuisine, so I don't trust her compliments.
A side benefit: the oven was on most of the day, making my kitchen warmer than it's been in weeks. Coincidentally or not, my starter was more active than it's been since I began. I don't think it's quite ready to support a loaf of bread, but it's close. Thanks for all the hints: whether it was stirring it more vigorously, adding rye flour, warming the kitchen, or whispering sweet nothings to the starter, it responded to something. I'm hoping for sourdough bread next weekend.