Saturday, April 17, 2010

Happy Birthday to Me! (and Rick Schroeder and Thomas Jefferson)

I attempted to post this on my birthday, the 13th, but was foiled first by iPhoto, then by our internet connection, finally by travel plans. So, without further ado, it's Jen's birthday menu: pizza, artichokes with bagna cauda, and ice cream.
I started with the ice cream a of couple days before My Big Day because, of course, you have to chill the mixture overnight, then again after you make the ice cream because it's like soft serve out of the ice cream maker and I just like it a little harder.

I chose "burnt cream" ice cream, and had to make a caramel for that. I knew that once it started to caramelize, I wasn't supposed to touch it. I'm not sure what happens if you do touch it, but I wasn't planning on finding out. The instructions say to go ahead and stir it until it melts. I figured out, after I had stirred it several times, that that is not such a good idea. The whole thing clumped and then I had to let it get far too brown in order to get all the sugar to melt.

AND, the whole process of melting probably took 30 or 40 minutes. Too long. Step two took even longer. You are supposed to add warm milk to the caramel while stirring. The instructions give a couple scenarios resulting from this mixing: foaming, bubbling, hissing, clumping. Mine did all of the above. The clumping was the worst part because I had a solid block of caramel on the bottom of the pan that took an hour to "melt" into the milk. In the end, it's a good ice cream with a very creamy texture. In the future, however, I will simply buy Ben and Jerry's Creme Brulee when I have the hankering. How do they do those chunks? I suppose I could pour caramel onto a silpat, let it harden, then break it up. Yes, that's the ticket. It was nice to have homemade dessert on my birthday, though. I was going to pair the ice cream with chocolate souffles, but couldn't for lack of time. Ice cream was certainly enough.
I thought I was going to be much more melancholy about the fact that I was making dinner and cleaning and packing on my birthday. I was kind of freaking out on the 12th. I didn't really make a big deal out of 30 - and I recall Josh being surprised by this - but 35 carries more psychological weight, for whatever reason. I found myself thinking down a path that was very Western, goal-oriented, and linear. I guess those adjectives are all pejorative because, really, if the follow-up to that is "and it made me feel bad," then, well, I need to find another way of looking at things.

Did someone say something about pizza earlier? I think I remember that.
I made the dough and proceeded to top it with pesto, roasted red peppers, roasted garlic, sun-dried tomatoes, sauteed mushrooms, and spicy sausage ... oh, and cheese, naturally. I highly recommend this combination.

I hand stretch my dough (as opposed to using a rolling pin) and don't make it enough to be good at it. It's never quite round, I always need to patch a couple of holes, and I usually have one really thick end, or arc, since it's a circle. I used my pizza stone for this, thinking that that is best, as opposed to the sheet pan I have been using, but I definitely don't do this often enough either. What I need to have the knack for in order to properly utilize the stone is transporting my packed pie from the cutting board to the oven on a peel. I just don't have the wrist flick and bravado to pull it off quite yet. So I build the pizza as fast as I can directly on the stone, pulling it out of the oven to do so. I can then use the peel to transport the cooked pie to the cutting board to slice. Kind of clunky, but it works.
Finally, the artichokes. So, I'm from California and we Californians love our artichokes. I always liked them, but they fell out of favor with my palate about mid-1998. I guess what I didn't like were my dipping options: garlic butter or mayonnaise. And I certainly was not going to eat them straight up.

Enter the bagna cauda.

A specialty of Piedmont, Italy, it means "hot bath." And what a tasty bath your vegetables will get with this sauce. Quite easy and quite delicious. It makes the artichoke experience nearly sublime. But it's not for the feint of heart.

Bagna Cauda:
3 heads of garlic, cloves separated and UNpeeled
3T butter
one 2oz. tin anchovies, drained and chopped
1/2 cup e.v. olive oil

Put the cloves in a medium saucepan and cover with water by one inch. Bring to a boil, then turn heat to low, cover, and simmer until the cloves are soft, about 25 minutes. Drain. When cool enough to handle, squeeze the cloves out and mash to a smooth paste. Melt the butter in a small saucepan, over medium heat. Add the chopped anchovies and cook, while mashing into the butter, for one minute. Add the garlic and the oil, stir to sort of combine (it won't emulsify) and let simmer for 10 minutes to let the flavors meld. Serve with artichokes or other veggies. Or, hey, use it as a pizza sauce!

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