Our Kitchen, Filled With Treats

Our kitchen, filled with treats.

Our kitchen, filled with treats.


Here’s a panoramic view of our newly-reconstructed kitchen. It’s awesome! It’s kind of hard to tell when it’s wee small (click to biggerize it), but there’s about ten different kinds of yummy holiday goodies piled up in there.

Yeah, life is good.

1

Making Truffles

The insides and the outsides

The insides and the outsides

There is a thread in my life, a theme that plays out time and again. It is a small part of who I am, a constituent in the definition of ‘Jerry’. This bit of Jerryness is manifest often, and was apparent on the Night of Truffles. Simply put, there is a gap (sometimes quite large) between my image of what I want to achieve and my ability to achieve it.

Take drawing, for instance. On the occasions I have set drawing implement to paper, my mind has produced vast scapes of color and light, form and structure, of a depth that could stir the most jaded soul. What comes out on the paper is, well, not that.

Topping off the Truffles

Topping off the Truffles

And so we come to the task for the evening: painting melted chocolate into the molds, so that it can be filled with different chocolate stuff and then covered with chocolate. It is important to avoid thin spots in the chocolate, lest the structural integrity of the truffle be undermined. Too thick, and the ratio of crunchy outside to smooth inside is lost. The walls of chocolate must reach the top of the mold in even thickness.

Of course, getting the chocolate thickness exactly right isn’t really that big of a deal. It’s not that hard. Yet, as I stood there using a kitchen knife to distribute the chocolate, there was always the platonic ideal of the truffle, haunting me, rendering my sorry efforts inadequate. As a result, the light of my life produced about two truffle shells for every one I made.

That's a keeper!

That's a keeper!

Then came the measuring of the inside goop into the shells. “This is really easy,” the beacon who guides my heart said. “You just have to fill them almost to the top, but leave enough space so the chocolate on top can seal up with the sides.” Yes, but exactly how much wiggle room does that leave me? I was a little better with this task, and occasionally even recognized that the tiny amounts of filling I was adding and removing couldn’t possibly make the slightest difference. In my gut roiled the fear of producing a truffle that cracked or leaked or was otherwise unsightly. When you consider how yummy the thing was going to be no matter what happened, it might seem like a lot of worry over very little. Still, the Ideal Truffle loomed, superimposed by my imagination over each still-incomplete confection.

Not All the Truffles

Not All the Truffles

The next phase of production was best done by two people: the chocolate-topper and the sprinkler. I was elected sprinkler and happily so. My sweetie laid the molten chocolate over the tops of the truffles, then handed them off to me, and I sprinkled peppermint and toffee fragments into the still-soft chocolate. I managed to make this more difficult than necessary (each truffle had to have a good distribution of fragment sizes, and the peppermint looked better with red stripes showing), but not debilitatingly so. (Crushing the hard candy had it’s own uncertainties. Fragments too large? Too much dust?)

Eighty-eight truffles later, it was time to start again.

Ultimately, all the worry was for naught; the truffles came out quite lovely, and tasty like crazy. A few even approached the Ideal Truffle.

Pfeffernüsse!

It’s been a week since we made these lovely balls of yum, so I’m just going to let the pictures tell the story.

Rolling out the blobs

Rolling out the blobs

My main job: rolling the rough blobs of dough into little spheres and laying them out on the cooking-stones.

 

The kitchen smelled great!

The kitchen smelled great!

Looking lovely in the oven.

 

Keeping the assembly line moving

Keeping the assembly line moving

They bake quickly, so it’s important to keep the stones moving from station to station in a constant rotation. 44 Pfeffernüses per sheet.

 

Some (but not all) of the cookies.

Some (but not all) of the cookies.

We made rather a lot of them. It was a couple of days later when my sweetie applied the powdered sugar coating.

The best part: naturally we had to eat the ones that broke apart during powdered sugar application. It’s all about quality control, you know.

Chocolate-Covered Date Balls

Rolling the balls in the confectioner's sugar

Rolling the balls in the confectioner’s sugar


The theory seems pretty simple: chop dates and nuts into little pieces, add some brandy, chill the resulting muck. Later, form the goo into little spheres, roll them in powdered sugar, and coat them with chocolate. Voila! A yummy treat to share and enjoy.

Only, not so fast, there, Sparky. All those steps take time, especially if you don’t have a food processor. Our wonderfully-powerful blender just wasn’t up for date-chopping. Not at all. That left the head chef of the household to do the chopping the old-fashoined way, which is also the slow way.

Coating them with chocolate

Coating them with chocolate

My participation began the following night, and true to the theme of “give Jerry the jobs you would assign the ten-year-old”, I was put to work forming the mixture into little balls. After figuring out that when the ball seemed a little too small it was actually the right size my job got easier. Meanwhile my sweetie, the “adult” of our little operation, set to melting the dark chocolate.

slowly working through the batch

slowly working through the batch

Logistics were a bit tricky; in our little kitchen there is not room near the stove to work, so the chocolate had to be reheated periodically. (That also meant that the chocolate coating was a little thicker than it was supposed to be, but I’m counting that as a good thing.)

I rolled, my sweetie dipped, and slowly but surely we made our way through the double-batch of stuff. Chocolate-coating is a delicate process that takes time, and you have to pay attention to what you are dong the whole time. It becomes a mentally draining task.

Not all the balls came out perfect; sometimes, despite my sweetie’s best efforts, the sphere would break apart during dipping. Often the cause was a too-large chunk of pecan — obviously there couldn’t possibly have been any issues with the way the balls were rolled.

Some came out more aesthetically pleasing than others...

Some came out more aesthetically pleasing than others…

By the time we finished, the other project slated for the evening, cooking the pfeffernüsse, was regrettably postponed.

When we were finally finished, there were five date balls that did not pass Quality Assurance and regrettably were not pretty enough for holiday giving. The head chef and I relaxed and sampled a couple of the cast-offs. My sweetie took a bite and turned to me, her eyes round. I took a bite. “Holy crap!” I said. “These are good!”

2

Fruitcake Night!

Coook, my little pretties!

Coook, my little pretties!

The other night my sweetie and I sat down to plan which delectable treats we would be making this year. When she said “we” she really meant it; when fruitcake night rolled ’round I was given my tasks and I went at them with gusto.

My culinary skills do not match those of the light of my life, and the jobs I was given reflected that. No judgement required. I was a measurer and combiner of ingredients, the quantities dictated by the chef. There were several ingredient substitutions along the way. The head of the Operation Fruitcake prefers to use dried fruit rather than the candied fruits found in most fruitcakes. Then there’s the chocolate chips…

There were a couple of setbacks; fruitcake apparently calls for grape juice, and we had none. Not to be deterred, the woman in charge, showing the creative flair in the kitchen that I utterly lack, remembered juice boxes we had bought to drink on road trips. Not quite the same, but who knows? It might be a new secret recipe.

Some assembly required

Some assembly required


While I mixed the dry ingredients the chef concentrated on the wet bowl. (I was given the opportunity to break the eggs, but I declined. For all I talk about cooking eggs, this skill remains elusive for me.) Finally we worked together to combine wet and dry, and had approximately twelve pounds of sweet cakey goo. Mmm… goo.

Putting the goo into the cake pans required more finesse than I would have guessed, but finally we had ten little fruitcakes ready to go into the oven. Time required: fifty minutes. Time it usually takes my sweetie without my help: about an hour and fifteen minutes. Yes, my help was actually helpful, if only a bit.

Naturally, as the participant performing the tasks that one might delegate to a ten-year-old, it fell on me to lick the spoon. Sometimes this cooking business can be rough, but as a team player I had no choice.

And pretty cakes all in a row...

And pretty cakes all in a row…


A few hours later the cakes were finally done (long time at low heat is the way of the fruitcake), and we pulled out our lovely loaves. The finishing touch, the brandy, was lovingly applied by the chef, and the fruitcakes were done.

The following night the resident culinary genius made a batch of her signature white chocolate fruitcake, but alas she had to do so without my mixing-things skills. Somehow I don’t think the quality of the cakes suffered as a result. The cherry booze we got to anoint the white fruitcakes wasn’t very cherry-ful, so we added some Grand Marnier to fruit it up a bit. It’s this sort of improvisation that turns out great for my sweetie. I’m looking forward to tasting how it turned out this time.

A Sign of the Season

I was sitting at my desk, working away, when my sweetie got back from the store. Being the heckuva guy I am, I offered to help carry supplies up to the apartment. I hauled a box up the stairs that contained, among other things, nine pounds of semi-sweet chocolate, ten pounds of sugar, twenty pounds of flour, and various dried fruit (including 4.5 pounds of raisins). Also included on this shopping trip was a few pounds of butter and some other yummy supplies.

Soon all this will be cookies!

Soon all this will be cookies!


Yep, there’s going to be some baking going on!

Chocolate Blob

That Girl likes to cook, and even more than she likes to cook she likes to bake (as I type this she is making banana bread). So last night after our evening feast (no exaggeration) as we were pondering what to do with the evening while my stomach handled the Big Slab O’ Meat, veggies, potatoes, and buttered garlic shrimp (I must point out that this meal was perfectly typical — I think That Girl’s plan is to fatten me up so I don’t fit through her door), she said, “You know, I have an urge to make something sweet.”

She gets these impulses from time to time, the need to express herself through food that has never been invented before. It seems to me that this is more than just a general idea that “this would be fun,” it is an actual need, much like I sometimes feel a deep need to write. Trust me, I have no intention of discouraging her culinary compulsions. “What are you going to make?” I asked. “I don’t know,” she replied, “but it will have chocolate dripped on top.” That was all I really needed to know.

Chocolate blobChocolate Blob, the next day. Refrigeration has stolen some of its glistening gooey luster, but it’s still mighty tasty!

A while later I was sitting at the kitchen table, reading, while That Girl bustled about the kitchen with confidence, mixing ingredients and soon after popping the results into the oven. Even at this point, she still wasn’t sure how the thing was going to come out; she had just whipped something up with chocolate and orange. While it baked she prepared the chocolate goo to spread on top.

As it baked we watched the cake-like product rise, and That Girl dubbed it “Chocolate Blob”. Soon it was ready. We sat down on the living room floor to watch cartoons and eat blob.

My conclusion: YUM! Praise blob! Blob is good!

That Girl’s appraisal: Not bad, but it will be better next time.

I look forward to helping with the research.

Eggs Over Easy

Note to visitors: I am passionate about my eggs. It’s funny how many people wind up here from searches in Google and Yahoo, looking for the Answer. Read on; the key to the perfect over-easy egg is only paragraphs away. This episode was written to entertain, but clearly there is a pent-up need in the world for advice on getting those eggs just right, and by gum I’m happy to give my opinion about anything. For that reason I have now written another episode: Eggs Over Easy – The Definitive Step-By-Step Guide. I would recommend you read here first, then go over to the step-by-step page. If you find this information helpful or entertaining, please leave a comment; I’d love to hear from you. Then you can invite me over for breakfast. Mmmmmm… breakfast.

I’m not a gourmet by any stretch of the imagination, nor does Iron Chef have to worry about being unseated by me. But I do like my eggs. Thus it is not an unusual morning when I venture out to find someone to cook some for me. Now that I no longer have a kitchen, this happens with even greater regularity. Alas, my fried chicken ova* are almost never cooked right. Oh, I eat them, and I still enjoy them, but there’s that little part of me that says, “doesn’t anyone know how to cook an egg anymore?”

I’m here to put things right. You don’t have to thank me; it’s what I do.

There are four generally recognized ways to fry an egg:
Sunny-Side Up: The egg is never flipped. The yolk is a bright yellow hemisphere sitting in the middle of the pristine white. The yolk is liquid, and some of the white around the yolk may have a jelly-like consistency.
Over Easy: The egg is flipped briefly. The yolk does not stand out as strikingly, but is still liquid. The white is no longer liquid.
Over Meduim: The white is cooked to a firmer texture, and the yolk is solid around the edges, and oozy in the middle.
Over Hard: The white is firm, the yolk is a lighter color and flakey.

Then there are those who intentionally break the yolk before the flip. We won’t talk about those people here.

Each degree of cooking is associated with a preferred texture for the white and for the yolk. Which brings me to my point. People who order their eggs over easy don’t want runny whites. If they wanted that, they would order sunny-side up. Runny yolk but solid white is why over easy was invented in the first place. It is by far the trickiest egg-frying style – it requires touch and artistry to cook one part of the egg without cooking the other. But it seems most places I go don’t even make the effort to try.

When in egg-cooking school, students must be reminded with great clarity and consistency: Don’t flip the eggs too soon. If one waits until the egg is ready to serve sunny-side, then flips it for just a few moments to sear the last of the white, it comes out perfect every time. Alas, impatient cooks do not wait for that perfect moment. They flip the egg prematurely and there’s no way that much white is going to get cooked post-flip without adversely affecting the yolk. The time to get most of the white firmed up is while the white is acting as an insulating layer between the pan and the yolk.

I have considered explaining to my waiter exactly how I want my eggs. I thought of saying “Sunny-Side Over” to convey my meaning, but I have never tried. Even if the waiter nodded and took notes, by the time it reached the cook I would probably end up with Sunny Side Rubber, so afraid would he be to flip the eggs too soon. That or it would just piss him off. No, we can but hope that future generations will take this to heart, and look with pride at the eggs sitting on the plate, seemingly in defiance of thermodynamics, the yolks jiggling, the whites not.

So mamas, tell your children, when you first hand them the spatula and the carton of eggs, as they stare wide-eyed at the pan in front of them, butter or bacon drippings faintly sizzling in the shimmering heat, that they must be patient. They must wait for the right moment to flip.

—-

* this used to say “fried chicken embryos”, but I got tired of people unfamiliar with the Coneheads explaining Greek to me.

1