Thursday, August 27, 2009

Can I Bake a Cherry Pie?

Sister in Law of Food invited me to a BBQ and asked me to bring along a dessert. I have never made a cherry pie before, but I had about two pounds of lovely fresh cherries and it seemed like a classically good summertime treat.

I broke out several cookbooks to search for a simple answer to my question, "Can I bake a cherry pie?" My choice was easy, I picked Amy Sedaris's
I Like You: Hospitality Under the Influence , a highly entertaining and surprisingly effective cookbook by the star of Strangers with Candy.

"Antonia's Cherry Pie" was the name of the recipe, and making the pastry dough was a snap in my kitchen aid. The filling was quite simple as well, except for the pitting of the fresh cherries. Starting with a paring knife, I struggled roughly pitting a few, by cutting them in half and removing the stone as cleanly as I could. It took a lot of time to do this and I figured there must be an easier way. I ended up watching many youtube videos on the subject and came upon this little gem.

I used a new paperclip, washed for safety, and found this method highly superior to the knife. It still took about half an hour to pit the two pounds of cherries, but if you don't own a cherry pitter like the Leifheit Cherry Stoner, the paperclip will work fine. One tip, if you have them, try a few different sizes of paperclips on your cherry until you get the one that's comfortable to work with, but that won't split the cherry.

I used youtube to learn more about crimping and latticing the crust. Unfortunately, I saw the crimping video after I laid out the bottom crust. I had not left enough dough around the edges for good crimping, but I adjusted as much as I could with what was there. It was not so pretty a pie, but in the end, I was thrilled with how it came out.

When I tasted it, I realized, this was the first fresh cherry pie I had ever tasted. All of the cherry pies I have ever eaten, at restaurants, from the grocery store, from the freezer... they all use canned or frozen cherries. Fresh Bing Cherries so far surpass frozen or canned cherries, it is like eating a completely different food. Furthermore, I noticed as I ate the pie, the more whole and complete the cherry was, the better it tasted. The whole cherries would pop in the mouth releasing the juices in a delicious rush. The buttery lattice crust with raw sugar sprinkling was the perfect accompaniment to the darker sweetness of the fresh cherries. All of the hard work pitting the cherries as cleanly as possible turned out to be well worth it.

So to answer the question, I can bake a cherry pie, as long as I have a paperclip handy.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Bunny Bento Boxes

Today is the last day in the school year at daycare for my twin daughters. This past year they have been bunnies and are soon to become dolphins. In commemoration of my daughters' last day of Bunnyhood, I made this special bento lunch.

The bunny boxes include:
Turkey and Cheese Wraps
Chicken Bologna

I also included a side of Mandarin Orange cups to round it out.
I wish them a magical bunny day.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

How sharp do knives need to be?

Since last week's post about Japanese knife sharpening techniques, I've been thinking about how sharp knives need to be, and tonight it all clicked. Sharp knives, aside from being safer and more efficient to use than dull knives, make food more attractive and contribute to the texture of the final product. But how sharp is sharp enough?

I remember with my old sharpening technique, a friend who sometimes worked as a professional cook was watching me cleanly slice a ripe tomato with my chef's knife, and said, "that's a sharp knife!" and it seemed so at the time.

When I started using a Japanese waterstone instead of the oilstone, I realized that I could dice a ripe tomato neatly, stacking two or three slices, cutting them first like french fries, and then dicing them crosswise. I could dice a tomato before, but not as quickly, cleanly, and effortlessly.

Tonight I was making leftovers. I had some tomato sauce from chicken cacciatore I'd made last week, and some grilled leg of lamb, so I thought I'd cut up the lamb and make a ragout to serve over pasta. I also had some very ripe tomatoes from the farmer's market to add to the pot. Tomatoes should be peeled before going into a sauce, or the peels become like little slips of paper, and the usual way to this is by blanching them briefly in boiling water, but for two or three tomatoes, it adds a lot of extra time to boil a pot of water. With my newly refined sharpening technique, I thought I'd see if I could peel them with a knife, and I did it with very little waste using the Henckels Four-Star 8" chef's knife that I've had for around 20 years, and it took less time to peel three tomatoes than it would have taken to boil two quarts of water. Then I could take these peeled ripe tomatoes, which are even softer than unpeeled ripe tomatoes, and dice them quickly, cleanly and effortlessly.

I used to think my knives were sharp enough, but now I'm doing things that with my old technique just wouldn't have crossed my mind.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Ohe San: Japanese Knife Sharpening

For years I sharpened my knives on an oil stone--one side coarse, one side medium--holding the knife at as close to a 22.5 degree angle to the surface of the stone as I could visualize, moving it from heel to tip always in the direction of the blade to avoid feathering the edge, and it worked pretty well. My knives were pretty sharp, and people who saw me using them or joined me to cook in the kitchen generally thought my knives were pretty sharp. But lately, there has been a lot of interest in the culinary world in Japanese knives, and you have to admit that Japanese sushi chefs are masters of fine precise cutting and elegant garnishing, which require very sharp knives. Japanese knives are generally made of harder steel than European knives, so they are more brittle, but they can hold a sharper edge at a finer sharpening angle. They are also usually beveled only on one side, like a chisel.

I've been thinking one day of investing in a few Japanese knives, but first I wanted to work on some Japanese knife sharpening techniques and see if I could make the knives I already have sharper. I visited Manhattan's fantastic Japanese knife shop, Korin, in Tribeca to obtain a two-sided Japanese waterstone, 1000/6000 grit. This is much finer than my old oilstone, but it cuts cleanly and quickly. Japanese knife sharpeners usually work from the tip to the heel, always applying pressure on the forward stroke with the fingers on the section of the knife contacting the stone, building a burr all along the unbeveled edge, and then removing the burr and finishing the backside of the knife. I tried this approach, still always moving the knife in the direction of the blade, which meant switching hands to sharpen both sides of the knife. This is a bit awkward, but I've been getting better results than the way I'd been doing it before. Sometimes I can get a blade razor sharp this way--not just metaphorically, but really sharp enough to shave with--but not consistently. Sometimes razor sharp is too sharp, because the edge can chip when the knife is used for heavier tasks, but it's good to know how to make that kind of edge.

Today I met Mr. Ohe, from the Kikuichi knife company in Sakai, Japan, at a demonstration organized by The Brooklyn Kitchen. Representatives from Kukuichi discussed the history of the company and Japanese knife making, and Mr. Ohe demonstrated knife sharpening and hand engraving. A prizewinning sushi chef was on hand to demonstrate what these knives can do, and knives were available for sale at a discount with free engraving by Mr. Ohe, shown above.

What I found most interesting was that Mr. Ohe did not observe the principle I've always followed of always moving the knife on the stone in the direction of the edge. Here he is, forming the bevel by pushing the knife away from his body on a coarse waterstone, toward the spine of the knife rather than toward the cutting edge--
The best part of a workshop like this is that we could pass around the knife as he was building up the burr on the flat side and feel how pronounced it was--much more so than the burr that I was forming using my technique. The burr is difficult to show in a photograph, but you can feel it with your fingers--carefully to avoid being cut. When the burr formed all along the edge, he removed it and finished the back side of the knife--about one stroke on the flat side (which is actually slightly curved to keep food from sticking to the knife) for every nine strokes on the beveled side of a single beveled Japanese knife. He used a relatively small amount of water when forming the burr on the first side, and then a lot of water when finishing the back side. For Western style double-beveled knives, he recommended an equal number of strokes on each side. He did not switch hands, so on the first side he was pushing the knife away from the sharp edge, and on the second side he was pushing the knife toward the sharp edge, so that any feathering that would result from sharpening the first side would be cleaned up when sharpening the second side. To give the knife a polished edge, he followed this procedure first with a coarse stone if needed, then with a medium stone (1000 grit) and finally with a fine stone (5000 grit)--
Note that he always maintains the same 45-degree angle of the knife to the direction of travel of the stone (not the bevel angle, which should be around 22 degrees for Western knives and around 15-17 degrees for harder Japanese knives). I asked if this was appropriate for a European chef's knife, because the curve changes from the tip to the heel, and he said (through a translator) that he always worked with the blade at this same angle to sharpen the largest possible section of the blade at once.

I went home and soaked my waterstone and tried this technique with two knives that I'm never quite satisfied with--a Wusthof paring knife and a Sabatier boning knife. Maybe it is because they are small and flexible that they aren't as easy to sharpen as a thicker chef's knife, or maybe it's because I use the chef's knives more often, so I'm more practiced at sharpening them. Now those little knives are razor sharp. I think I've got a new sharpening technique.

I'll work with this a bit more, and then I'll sign up for a workshop at Korin, where I bought my waterstone. Then maybe I'll be ready for a Japanese knife.

UPDATE: I've written a follow-up to this post in the next blog entry.

UPDATE: After doing this for some time, I've come to the conclusion that with a European knife that has a bolster, it is necessary to adjust the angle of the blade with respect to the direction of travel, otherwise there will always be a section on one side of the knife that is unsharpened, and looking at other videos of Japanese style sharpening, it does seem that people who know what they are doing don't always maintain the 45-degree angle, particularly if the blade is curved.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Car Wash Tacos

The other day, I got my husband's car washed. It was a "pay it forward" type of situation as my car had been suprise-washed by my Father in Law just the other day. He's so nice, right? So I decided to do the same for Husband of Food.

Anyway, I was doing this over my lunch hour, so I decided to snag a couple of tacos at the car wash cafe.

I walked into the small lunchroom, overheated from the grill, and made my order at the Playa Vista Deli. I hunkered down at the window overlooking the cars being washed and I ate my lunch. Yeah, I know, I wasn't expecting much either, but holy guacamole, Batman, these were great tacos! The cook put great care into these $2.25 a piece treats and like a fine chef, inquired about my experience after I finished my meal. Did I mention that I was at a car wash? The tacos came on two soft tortillas with flavorful chicken, cabbage, cheese, and fresh avocado on top. I got the hot sauce on the side, which I liked because it tasted great, but on the side I could control the heat to my personal perfection.

If you need to wash your car on your lunch hour, you can do it at a place with some great tacos.

(The car wash was pretty good, too)

Playa Vista Deli (Attached to the Playa Vista Car Wash)

6920 S. Centinela Ave.
Culver City, CA 90230

Found on the Family of Food Map

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