Wednesday, January 30, 2013


I've been bereft in posting, I know. Everyone in my house is on a (dirty word ahead) diet and damned if they'll let me get within ten feet of my oven. This has caused me considerable distress, as I'm sure you can imagine.

By rights, if anyone has the right to stop me from baking it's me. If you'd like to gain a large amount of weight in a short amount of time I recommend the following course of action: have abdominal surgery immediately before the holiday season. I was more or less gutted in mid-September and subsequently banned from any kind of exercise for the next three months (Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas). It was a glorious time--a time of prolonged periods of couch-lying and eating everything in site. Not so glorious was the discovery that I had put on nine pounds since September.

I lost most of it once I was able to start moving again, but I'm still four pounds up, which means that I have been watching what I eat. I hate that. Everyone else in my house is also watching what they eat, because it's January and that's what people do in January, so I have been cruelly cut off from my first love, my oven.

Fortunately there are ways around that.

My primary problem was that there are precious few tasty gems that you can produce from a microwave. I needed an oven to continue my reignor at least something that could behave like one.

So I hunted for inspiration.

Pg. 199

On Thursday, Rowan made crème brulee for dessert. The tiny torch shook as the sugar browned and bubbled under the blue flame.


Midway through my book, while Rowan was having a variety of nervous breakdowns lined with syrup and cupcake wrappers, I realized that it would be criminal not to arm this girl with a torch. I'd never owned one myself, but it seemed like a perfect vehicle for culinary stress relief and I was immediately jealous that she had one and I didn't. I spent something like two years bemoaning my lack of a torch to my family and friends, while making pointed remarks about all of the creme brulee we could have already enjoyed.

Then I got this for Christmas:

Back when I wrote the quoted scene, I had a vision of a culinary torch as something petite and hand-held--it's specifically referred to as a 'tiny torch'. I got a man's torch. And I absolutely love it.

It arrived just in time, because it wasn't long before I was called upon to create something delicious. Brandon and I were entertaining our friends Jim and Jess after we'd had dinner at a local restaurant called Mulberry St. Our collective history with Mulberry St. is brief, but dynamic. The first time the four of us went there we didn't have things like houses or kids, and we were in the midst of a short-lived and psychotic infatuation with Tom Collins' mix. We ordered something like fourteen drinks apiece and ran up a $300 bar tab. (Tom Collins was also the magical cocktail behind the most depraved party I have ever thrown in my life--suffice to say that it started as a murder mystery party and ended with nudity and people drinking in the bathtub.)

The second time we went there I was pregnant and ordered lobster ravioli. When my dish arrived I noted with dismay that the pasta was black and white striped and my pregnant mind morphed them into giant bugs and I got sick.

But enough of that! Let's set some food on fire!

The plan was to go to dinner and then back to our house for dessert. Being in charge of dessert, but not wanting to ruin anyone's diet, I concocted the following, with a strict explanation as to why it was going to be good for us.

Bananas brulee (bananas are fruit, ever so good for you, and it's just a little bit of sugar on top...the tiniest bit!) with dark chocolate sauce (hello, antioxidants!) and fat-free frozen yogurt (for health!).

I also made decorative caramel discs, but it's not like anyone actually eats those.

When we got home from the restaurant--where I had, no shit, the best white pizza I've ever had in my entire life--I prepped my torch for blazin'.

Rowan's torch was tiny--mine is longer than my torso.

I'm not going to say I was scared of the torch, but my body language indicates that I may have been the slightest bit intimidated. It was a very big torch, and it required assembly and knob-turning--things that I was not really prepared for. After a few moments of fiddling--where, it should be noted, I did NOT blow anything up, I was ready to brulee.

If you look at my feet you'll notice that I was standing as far away as my arm span allowed.

Tiny bit of sugar...tiny, tiny bit...

Once torching was complete it was time to assemble, and this is the closest I think I've ever come to a Dessert That You Might Get at a Hotel.

Very healthy!

Seriously though, this was delicious. And all thanks to the not-so-tiny torch. The sugar was like punching through glass, but it melted in your mouth and I can see exactly why Rowan chose to construct a brulee just prior to giving a teenager a painfully awkward sex talk. (I had a joke about penetration and custard all set here, but I'm going to take the high road and just leave it alone.)

Here's what you'll need!

For the bananas:

Bananas and sugar. That's it. Slice the bananas and cover them with sugar--despite my assurance to the contrary, you really do need to use a heavy hand for this step. Torch the sugar until it caramelizes and you're done!

For the chocolate:

I made the sauce myself using this recipe from Sophisticated Gourmet. I went the agave nectar route and used *almond extract instead of vanilla and the sauce was perfect. And full of antioxidants!

*I have a thing for almond extract. If something is chocolate, no matter what it is, I add a touch of almond. It really brings out the flavor, I recommend it to everyone.

For the sugar disc:

Melt 1 cup of sugar over medium heat until it becomes golden brown (this happens pretty quickly, so you have to be on your guard). Take note: melted sugar is hot as HELL and it will rip the skin off your body, so be extremely careful. Using a spoon, drizzle the sugar onto a silicone mat, overlapping until it becomes a solid unit that can be lifted. Let it harden completely before touching. This step should be done fairly close to serving time because these get very sticky.

For the yogurt:

Go to the supermarket and buy frozen yogurt.

I hope I've inspired everyone to embrace the torch and think outside the box during those hard times when your family won't let you near the oven. If they persist in repressing you, you can always make 'em eat gruel.

Happy torching!

Friday, January 4, 2013

Boy for Sale

There were many elements that contributed to the overall wrongness of this particular endeavor, but I place the bulk of the blame on the fact that someone saw fit to air Oliver! at 11 p.m. on December 23rd--a time when many people were up late wrapping presents and tossing back Bailey's and Christmas cookies. At least I was.

I didn't mean to watch Oliver! I'd never seen it before, but being Dickens it seemed festive enough, so I had it on in the background in between yanking cookie trays out of the oven and suffering alarming blood loss at the hands of my metal tape dispenser. Oliver! is basically Annie for boys. Wayward orphan, minus the ginger 'fro, finds a new life away from an oppressive orphanage. The workhouse didn't look quite as nice as Miss Hannigan's place, but the idea was the same. The whole thing is pretty light on food, but since they made such a huge stinkin' deal about it in the opening number, I found myself intrigued by one particular dish: Gruel.

I didn't know that gruel was an actual thing; I always thought it was more of a slang term for oatmeal that had been rolled in dirt or something equally noxious. Imagine my surprise when Wikipedia informed me that gruel was not only real, but came in a multitude of varieties, which, as we know, is the spice of life. I'm nothing if not adventurous, so I decided to hunt me down a nice gruel recipe and get to cooking!

I decided to go really bare bones for the true orphan experience and selected flour gruel, which seemed the grueliest of the gruels. The recipe was frightfully vague, but it basically amounted to making a salt and flour paste and dumping it into some boiling water. I could do that.

I considered my pantry. It was at this moment that I thanked God and all his angels for my vast and fabulous collection of artisan salts, the brainchild of Julie Dworak-Brennan who is the owner/operator of A Deadly Asalt. She makes KICKASS kosher salt impregnated with all manner of herbs and spices, and I am, as you can see, a fan.

Seriously, go buy these immediately.

The first big decision I had to make centered around whether I wanted a sweet or a savory gruel. My initial choice was to go for the roasted garlic, which I use on potatoes with greap aplomb, but Brandon suggested that I go for the vanilla caramel--a dessert gruel, if you will. I have a soft spot for the vanilla caramel, as I was called in as a consultant during its testing phase, so I went with it.

To my salt, I added flour. Please take a moment to appreciate the gorgeous caramel in there (I'm not kidding,, go there now).

Now here's where things started to get dicey. According to the recipe, I was supposed to drip water on the salt and flour to make a I did that and got this:

It was extremely pasty

The next step called for me to add said paste to a cup of boiling water. As it turns out, adding flour and salt paste to boiling water doesn't do much for either of them. The water was still water, though unappealingly murky, and the paste formed a series of unappetizing blobs that refused to dissolve or thicken or do much of anything, really. I did some frenzied whipping for about a minute and everything got pretty foamy, but that was the only change. Brandon told me that I had indeed caused (GASP!) gluten to form. HIDE YOUR CHILDREN!!!

 Deadly gluten notwithstanding, I pressed on and drained my concoction to remove what the recipe called 'the film.' I saw no film, but after I drained it I had this to deal with:

I was completely at a loss as to whether or not the gruel was the diluted semen-like abomination in the bowl or the tonsil stones that were left in the strainer. It was anyone's guess. I hearkened back to Oliver! and remembered that their gruel did look a lot like soup, so in an effort not to end the evening vomiting, I decided to go with the bowl.


I knew that I would need some honest reaction shots, so I asked Brandon to take pictures of me testing out my dish. I wasn't quite sure how one should dress when chugging homemade gruel at ten-thirty on a Thursday night, but I'm pretty sure I nailed it.

It wasn't good.
It left me feeling like I may have overdressed

No amount of caramel could save this dish. In the end, the whole situation made me feel pretty sorry for 19th Century London youth, and hateful toward Charles Dickens' for being such a tool and not letting them eat tongue or bone marrow or some other type of Depression era food. The stuff they ate in A Tree Grows in Brooklyn didn't sound fabulous, but at least it was edible. I would rock some stale bread pudding and a sheeny pickle.

*Surprise gruel bonus! It coats the tongue to be sure, so I was throwing back diet Dr. Pep like it was my job after I tasted it. I'm sure it was the salt, but following my dismal snack, the Dr. Pepper tasted nothing short of incredible. Perhaps it was the ambrosia of my taste buds weeping in relief, but my chaser was a delight.

If you would like to make your own gruel, something I can't discourage enough, this is how I did it:

2 teaspoons of flour
1 teaspoon of salt
1 cup boiling water
Diet Dr. Pepper

Mix together flour and salt and then drip water on it to form a paste. Add the paste to one cup of boiling water, whisk, and drain. Serve warm, with a glass of Diet Dr. Pepper.

Gruel is fo' fools. Yo.