Friday, January 02, 2009

Pick the GMO

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Tuesday, March 04, 2008

New Horizons

New challenges...

The past couple of months have been full of changes, challenges & hopes.

Back at the end of November I quit my job of 7 years, with no prospects of a new one... That was a big change, and my immediate reaction was to sleep and sleep and sleep. I guess that was the result of stress and distress and feeling underappreciated. It also didn't help that I had been living hand to mouth, my salary only just covering basic living expenses... It's no fun having to think twice or thrice about whether or not to have a cup of coffee at a cafe.

The challenges have been to live on no salary, and to actively job hunt. I have been sending out my resume to hundreds of potential employers, getting an interview every week or two, though Murphy's Law of interviews is that they all happen in a bunch. So some weeks I wouldn't have any interviews and others I would have 2 or 3 or even 4... And that is pretty stressful.

Now, I don't know about other people, but my interviews generally last an hour or even more. I had one that lasted 3 hours (seriously) and got invited back for a second interview to meet someone who was flying in specially from the US. I have only had 2 interviews that lasted less than an hour - and neither was for a job that I REALLY wanted... Mind you, they were second interviews, and horror of horrors, one guy asked me, point blank, ok, what is 3/8ths? Urk - I have a fear of math when I have no paper or pen, let alone a calculator, to help me. I just don't trust my brain. Do I want to work for someone who asks questions like that?

The hope, of course, is to find a great job.

And finally, I interviewed at the right place, at the right time, with the right person, and was immediately asked to schedule a second interview for the next day. And, despite riding my scooter through torrential rain, arriving soaking wet in spite of my rain gear, and going in to the interview carrying shopping bags filled with my wet, dripping, streaming, soaking wet gear, and having to sit, damp-butted, through another hour long session, they called me back to say that they wanted me to work for them.

Which is all well and good, but they still hadn't told me what my salary would be, which is typical of Israel. So when I went in to sign my contract last week, I really didn't know if I would or would not be working. And I very nearly didn't, but I stood my ground, and am getting, for the first time since I moved to Israel, a living (though not extravagant) wage.

Tomorrow is my first day of work, and I am extremely nervous. But that is to be expected.

And on top of the new job jitters, I am going to be taking part in the International Women's Day Craft/Art Sale at the Amiad Center in the Flea Market in Jaffa, which is to be held on Friday March 14th, just over a week away.

That would be really easy, if I was going to be selling my pottery, but having lived hand to mouth, I had to stop potting, and my stock has been almost all given away as presents. Instead, I am going to be cooking and baking for the next week. And I am hopeful that people will like what I do and I will have lots of impulse buyers.

I am planning on making: English Almond Chocolate Toffee, Crumiri Cookies, Individual Chocolate Chip Butter Cakes, Caramel Corn/CrackerJack, and Honeycomb Sponge Toffee. As you can see from my examples, everything is individually packaged and they will all cost the same - 10 Shekels (about $2.50), which is, I hope, basically an impulse buy kind of figure, and that people will think "I feel like a snack, "oh that looks good, "hmm, maybe that will keep the kids quiet for a while. I will maybe have a few larger cakes for sale, but I figure people don't want to carry around cakes when they are wandering around a flea market.

If you have any suggestions for me - ie, I have never, ever participated in a sale before, and I have no clue how much of each I should make - should I figure on 100 packages of each item, 50? Should I do anything special for my stand? All comments or suggestions are VERY welcome!

Saturday, March 01, 2008

A Very Kosher Dinner

Well, not really...

I treated myself to "Pork Breast" lat night, which is pretty much pork belly with a bit of rib attached. Definitely not kosher, but definitely terrific.

I followed Chez Pim's advice and made myself a personalized 5 spice mixture. Cassia bark, star anise, coriander, Szechuan pepper corns, cloves, black pepper corns & a couple of dried chilis, toasted off in a pot, gently crushed, threw in the breast, added water to almost cover, and gently braised with a closed lid for about 3 hours.

What makes mine different is that I smeared a darkly carmelized homemade quince/orange marmalade onto the skin, and with the heat it slowly melted and dripped down the sides, adding a sweet bitterness to the meat that helped to balance out the richness of it.

Once the meat was meltingly soft, I carefully removed it from the braising liquid, added a generous slug of dark soy sauce and reduced the liquid down to a sticky sauce that lightly glazed the sliced meat.

I served it on a bed of steamed rice, with a spinach & iceberg salad dressed with a sharp oil, wine vinegar & lemon dressing, with some finely chopped raw onions on the side to give a bit of bite to the pork.

Not alot of work for alot of reward!

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Ooh La La

OK, flowers are beautiful,

But the beauty of this tart is that a little
goes a very long way

Towards satisfying a craving for
something sweet and indulgent.

Besides, almonds are good for you,
And all the hype about this is true.

Almond Tart - Courtesy of David Lebovitz,
adapted from Chez Panisse Desserts by Lindsey Shere
(with some adaptations by me)

Makes one 9 or 10-inch (23-26cm) tart

For the dough

  • 1 cup (140g) flour
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt (my addition – caramel & salt are peas & carrots)
  • 1/2 cup (4 oz, 115g) chilled unsalted butter, cut into little cubes
  • 1 tablespoon ice water
    (you may need a teeny bit more depending on the moisture content of your flour)
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/8 teaspoon almond extract
    (I didn't have any so I just used the vanilla)

Mix the flour and sugar in a standing electric mixer or food processor (or by hand, using a pastry blender.)

Add the butter and mix or pulse until the mixture is sandy and the butter is in very small pieces, the size of rice or smaller. It should be pretty well-integrated with no large visible chunks.

Add the water and extracts and mix until the dough is smooth and comes together.

Press into a flat disk (I suggest you try and make this about the size of the bottom of your tart shell, it makes it easier to deal with in the long run), wrap in plastic and chill thoroughly.

To put the pastry in the pan, let the dough come to room temperature and press the dough into a tart shell using your hand.

It takes some practice but don't worry if it doesn't look perfect. Try to get the dough relatively flat on the bottom, and push it evenly up the sides with your thumbs. It doesn't need to be perfect, but you do want to make sure the sides don't collapse. If that happens, you can take it out midway during baking, and push the half-baked dough back up the sides.

Put the tart shell in the freezer and chill thoroughly.

To bake the shell, put the chilled (or frozen) shell into a preheated 375F (190C) oven.

Bake the shell for 20-30 minutes, until it is set and light golden-brown.

Remove from the oven and patch any holes with leftover dough.

NB. I used all of my dough, so I made up a teeny tiny extra batch of about 1 tablespoon and used it to after baking to patch a crack and then to extend a side that was a bit shorter than the other.

For the filling

  • 1 cup (250ml) heavy cream
  • 1 cups (200g) sugar
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt (I increased it to 1/4)
  • 1 cup (80g) sliced almonds (I used 1 1/2 cups)
  • 1/8 teaspoon almond extract (I used vanilla)
  • 2 teaspoons Grand Marnier or Amaretto
    (I had neither, so I used The Kings Ginger)

To bake the tart, heat the oven to 375F (190C). line the rack under the one you plan to use with a sheet of aluminum foil or baking paper.

Heat the cream, sugar, and salt in a big, wide heavy-duty pot (use one that's at least 4 qts/4l) until it begins to boil.

Continue to cook and when it starts to foam up, remove it from the heat and stir in the almonds, the extract, and the liquor.

Scrape the filling into the shell. If there's a bit too much filling, don't toss it; if the tart leaks, you can use it for topping off.

Make sure there are no clumps or piles of almonds and that everything is evenly distributed, then put the filled tart shell into the oven.

After the first ten minutes, check the tart.

Take a heatproof rubber spatula, holding it diagonally and with a tapping motion, break up the surface of the tart with a good series of taps (not too hard or you will break the tart shell). This keeps the top of the tart from getting that corn flaky look on top.

Continue to bake, checking every 5-8 minutes, and breaking up any dry crust that may be forming, getting less aggressive as the filling sets up. As it begins to caramelize, stop tapping it and let the tart do its thing.

Remove the tart from the oven when the filling is caramelized to the color of coffee with a light touch of cream and there are no large pockets of gooey white filling, about 30 minutes (my timing was closer to 40). Let the tart cool a few minutes on a cooling rack.

Check and see if the tart has fastened itself to the tart ring. Slide a knife (or a curved vegetable peeler, which will slide nicely in between the ridges) between the tart and the pan to loosen it so the sides don't come off when you remove the ring.

To remove the ring rest the tart on top of a solid object and gently coax the ring off. Slip a large spatula underneath it to return the tart to a cooling rack.

Once completely cool, run a long chef's knife under the tart to release it from the bottom. If it's stubborn, set the tart on top of a warm stove burner for a second or two and you should be able to pry it off.

I lined the bottom of my tart shell with baking paper and I have to say I had absolutely no problems with sticking either on the sides or at the bottom.

Of the pan...
But the same can't be said for how it sticks
To my sides or bottom!

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Never Done This Before...

This is a project that I have wanted to do
For a very long time.

Today I finally, I got up the courage,
got out my sugar thermometer,
and got my cobalt blue KitchenAid whirling.

Adapted from French Laundry Cookbook by Thomas Keller
  • 1 1/2 envelopes (21g) of unflavored gelatin
  • 1/2 cup cold water
  • 2 cups granulated sugar
  • 2/3 cups glucose
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • seeds from 1/2 vanilla bean or 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
  • Lots of confectioners' sugar for dredging

In the bowl of an electric mixer, sprinkle gelatin over 1/2 cup cold water. Soak for 10 minutes.

Combine sugar, corn syrup, and 1/4 cup water in a small saucepan. Bring to a boil and heat to 250F – hardball stage. Pour boiling syrup into gelatin with mixer going at low speed (I used the whip attachment not the paddle) Slowly increase the speed and when it is starting to get a bit foamy, then turn up to high speed (use caution and common sense, we are talking boiling sugar here). Add the salt and beat for 12 minutes. Add vanilla and incorporate into mixture.

Scrape into a 9 x 9-inch pan lined with oiled plastic wrap and spread evenly. Or you can use icing sugar dusted Silpat. (note: lightly oiled hands and spatula or bowl scraper seem to make life easier). After pouring marshmallow mixture into the pan, take another piece of oiled plastic wrap and press mixture into the pan, or dust with more icing sugar and use an offset spatula to press it gently into a flattish profile.

Let mixture sit for a few hours. Remove from pan, dredge the marshmallow slab with confectioners' sugar and cut into approximately equal sized pieces with scissors (the best tool for the job) or a chef's knife. Dredge the marshmallows in confectioners' sugar.

According to the recipe this makes 12 ENORMOUS marshmallows, but I found them way too big, so I used a 9"x12"sponge cake pan and made 80-100 smaller, less gluttonous ones

Good thing I have upstairs neighbours!
'Cause the end result was outstanding