Tag Archives: Beth

An unholy communion

28 Jun

This was supposed to be a story about food. With a recipe. Maybe even two of them.

I swear.

It was all planned out. For the traditional hard rolls that you see in the foreground, I’d hit up Beth Queen of Bakers for a homemade version; for those white-topped crumb buns crammed in with the rest of the pastries, Cousin Josephine was to be my accomplice. They are the best bakers that I know and I’ve never known either to back away from a challenge. (Except for that time when nobody would agree to help me make mortadella, but that’s another story, and I’ve gotten over it. Almost.)

I love hard rolls and crumb buns, have since I was a boy. But neither is available in the place where I now live. This makes me crazy. Seriously. What’s so difficult? I shouldn’t have to call in the New York cavalry to get a job like this one done.

However, and as often happens, the truth got in the way of a good plan. I never did shoot Beth that exploratory email asking if she’d consider whipping up a batch of hard rolls, nor did I harass Jo about the crumb buns when we saw each other at Cousin John’s birthday party a couple weeks back.

You see, the truth about this “food” photograph doesn’t reside on top of the table with the baked goods and the juice glasses and the coffee cups. It’s buried underneath all of that. And it haunts me to this day.

I really do wish that I’d never laid eyes on this old photo.

As you might have guessed, the round-faced knucklehead on the left is me; the other is Cousin Vito. We’re dressed like this because we’ve just sufferred through our First Holy Communion and are about to dig into the post-event celebratory breakfast. In the Catholic Church this sacrament occurs at around the second grade, which would put Vito and me at seven or eight years old. First Communion is The Big Show for Catholics, the rite of passage equivalent to the Jews’ bar and bat mitzvah, only without the lox, bagels and mazel tovs. You can see that our parents had to spring for some fancy new duds on this occassion, as neither my cousin nor I were known to sport all-white suits and matching, well, everything else around the Brooklyn streets on which we were reared.

It’s the suit that haunts me in this photograph, not the baked goods. More precisely, the part of the suit that is underneath the table and away from view. One of the pant legs is torn open at the knee, the other at the upper calf. The seat is ripped. And around half of all the fabric isn’t white any longer; it’s street-asphalt black. If memory serves one of the elbows on my suit jacket is also compromised, though not enough to ruin the visual in this photo commemorating the holy event.

All this damage was done in mere moments, once Vito and I and our fellow second gradesmen had emerged from the church after the ceremony was completed. Apparently, milling about the slate-lined entryway to St. Rita’s and reflecting on my first taste of the son of God appealed less than finding a ball and running into the schoolyard. I don’t recall how many times my nice white suit met with the hot black asphalt, but it should have been apparent to a newly sacramented Christian that even one time was far too many.

Especially after what had happened before the ceremony. That was even worse.

On my way walking to the church, you see, I broke a radio antenna off of a parked car—and got caught. I didn’t meant to break it; it just happened. But Joe Stella’s father was looking out of his third-floor window at the exact moment that his antenna toppled to the curb alongside his Buick. He screamed at me to stay right where I was and when he got down to his car he picked up the antenna and started whipping it around like he was going to hit me with it.

“You’re not going anywhere until you pay for this antenna,” Mr. Stella shouted. “I’m taking you to your father right now.”

Our apartment was half a block away and so me, Joe’s father and the recently unattached antenna were home in a flash. Mom and dad were on their way out the door, on their way to the church where I was supposed to already be.

“You owe me money,” Mr Stella shouted. “This son of yours broke this antenna right off of my car for no good reason and I want to get paid for it right now.”

My poor parents. I’d already ruined the entire day. And it hadn’t even started yet.

Dad and Mr. Stella moved down the street to settle my debt. I had to stay with mom, who was crying the whole time. The three of us walked to the church together but nobody said a word. After the ceremony, when mom and dad got a load of what I’d done to my new suit in the schoolyard, I’m surprised they didn’t ditch me and go home by themselves.

I would have if I were them. Why waste a perfectly good spread of fabulous baked goods on a no-account numbnut who clearly does not deserve them?

An argument I surely will not be making to Beth and Cousin Josephine next time I’m looking to score myself some nice hard rolls and crumb buns.

Beth’s famous pie crust

1 May

It’s as good as it looks, yeah.

Nobody — and I mean nobody — makes a pie crust like Beth, Queen of Bakers. Nobody that I’ve met, anyway. And I’ve met a few. There’s a reason why people are always asking for her recipe. I’d ask for it myself if I didn’t have my friend Beth around to make it for me every once in a while.

Just look at this thing! Is it the most gorgeous pie that you have ever laid eyes on or what? Inside there is ground pork and beef and lamb and lots of spices. A wonderful filling, to be sure, made expertly by my closest associate. But let’s not kid ourselves. In the matter of pies, be they savory or sweet or anywhere in between, Crust Rules! We don’t call our Bethie “Queen” for nothing.

So swell a pal is she that, whenever I am in the vicinity on pie-baking days, Beth makes sure to prepare plenty of extra dough for use in other things. My favorite extra has to be her empanadas, the tastiest, flakiest ones on this Earth. Every year she and her no-good companion Tom spend a week visiting. Lots of cooking goes on at the house, contributing to a dizzying variety of leftovers. Perfect fillings for perfect half-moon-shaped pastries. Beth freezes them for me, to enjoy after she has gone. I love this woman.

I emailed Beth a couple days back to tell her that I might be down for a visit soon. When the subject of food came up, as it so often does, I asked if she would mind sharing her recipe here. She said that would be okay.

Lucky for you.

Beth’s Famous Pie Crust
Yields one 9-inch crust

1 ¼ cup all purpose flour (I prefer King Arthur)
¼ tsp salt
¼ tsp baking powder
1 tbsp buttermilk powder (optional, but I prefer using it)
6 tbsp unsalted butter, cut into small pieces and chilled in the freezer to make it super cold
4 tbsp rendered leaf lard, cut into small pieces and chilled (also in the freezer)
3-5 tbsp cold water with 1 tsp chilled cider vinegar added (Note: mix and chill a little extra in case you need more; chill these in the freezer also)

In a large bowl combine until evenly distributed: flour, salt, baking powder, and buttermilk powder (if using).

With a pastry cutter, cut in half of the shortening into the flour mix; then cut in the other half. The dough should look like clumpy sand. From this point on, it’s very important to handle the dough gently to avoid winding up with a tough crust.

Add the chilled water/vinegar one tbsp. at a time, mixing very gently with a fork.

When mixture will hold together into a ball (but is not wet) it is done.

Gather it into a ball, wrap in plastic wrap and flatten into a disk.

Chill before rolling out and preparing the pie of your choice.

When pie is finished, make sure to give a little taste to my friend Meatball. He loves the stuff.

The four days of gluttony

3 Jan

Every year my friends Tom and Beth spend four or five days here in Maine to celebrate the new year. It is a nonstop food-and-drinkfest, of course, and it’s rare that a meal isn’t memorable or, at the least, photographed. Judging from some of the reactions to the foods we ate this year (check the Facebook page) I thought a recap might be enjoyable, and so here goes. (Note: this isn’t everything we consumed, but you get the idea.)

The dish above is just something I threw together for the night my friends arrived. It’s a long bus trip from New York and so a simple meal and an early bedtime usually is how things go the first night. The pappardelle are homemade and handcut; the sauce is an oxtail ragu that I’d frozen and saved because I knew Tom and Beth would like it.

Roasted veal breast served over polenta, courtesy of my associate.

One of the best seafood chowders you’re apt to run across, also from my associate’s hand.

As were these sauteed (in olive oil and butter) jumbo shrimp.

The whole suckling pig that we roasted in the wood oven was the highlight of the visit, for sure. However, as many find the sight upsetting, here is a detail of one of the pieces that landed on my plate.

Beth and Tom collaborated on an awesome pumpkin pie. There are crumbled bacon bits in the crust and a slice of candied bacon served along with the whipped cream.

My friend Ish dropped by one night with a mess of whole sardines, and proceeded to toss them into the wood oven.

The standout on New Year’s Eve was this tourtiere, a combined effort by Beth and my associate. I’m speechless.

The last of the great Bordeaux that were hangin’ in my cellar. Sorry to see them go but a real nice match with the meat pie.

As promised, Tom unwrapped a 3-year-old fruit cake. The boy makes a fine one, for sure.

New Year’s brunch was homemade cotechino over lentls. (I’m working on a separate post about this which should be up on the blog in a few days.)

That night, the last of this year’s visit, called for a super simple meal, and so homemade tortellini en brodo did the trick.

See you next year. I hope.

The best homemade pizza

18 Mar
It’s a beautiful thing, right?

A homemade pizza, baked in a standard gas oven. I don’t know about you, but this is the first such specimen I have ever seen that looks quite like this.

The dough recipe is from Jim Lahey’s book, “My Pizza: The Easy No-Knead Way to Make Spectacular Pizza at Home.” Lahey is revered in his circle for good reason. His Sullivan Street Bakery in Manhattan produces some of the finest breads you will ever lay hands on.

And so when Mister Meatball‘s in-house pizzaioli Tom and Beth spied Lahey’s recipe in the March 2012 issue of Bon Appetit, it didn’t take long for them to get to work.

Poor me.

The full recipe is below, but here’s how it starts: with a dough that rises for around 18 hours.
Lahey’s recipe makes a lot of pizza, six of them actually.
And so the batch needs to be carefully divided and handled.
Look at those beautiful bubbles. I’ve never seen a homemade pizza dough act quite this way before.
What can I say? My head’s still spinning.

Tom and Beth insist that they will never again use another recipe. And that’s good enough for me.

Makes 6 10″ to 12″ pizzas

7 1/2 cups all-purpose flour (1000 grams) plus more for shaping dough
4 teaspoons fine sea salt
1/2 teaspoon active dry yeast

Whisk flour, salt, and yeast in a medium bowl. While stirring with a wooden spoon, gradually add 3 cups water; stir until well incorporated. Mix dough gently with your hands to bring it together and form into a rough ball.

Transfer to a large clean bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and let dough rise at room temperature (about 72°) in a draft-free area until surface is covered with tiny bubbles and dough has more than doubled in size, about 18 hours (time will vary depending on the temperature in the room).

Transfer dough to a floured work surface. Gently shape into a rough rectangle. Divide into 6 equal portions. Working with 1 portion at a time, gather 4 corners to center to create 4 folds. Turn seam side down and mold gently into a ball. Dust dough with flour; set aside on work surface or a floured baking sheet. Repeat with remaining portions.

Let dough rest, covered with plastic wrap or a damp kitchen towel, until soft and pliable, about 1 hour. DO AHEAD: Can be made 3 days ahead. Wrap each dough ball separately in plastic wrap and chill. Unwrap and let rest at room temperature on a lightly floured work surface, covered with plastic wrap, for 2-3 hours before shaping.

To Make the Pizzas
During the last hour of dough’s resting, prepare oven: If using a pizza stone, arrange a rack in upper third of oven and place stone on rack; preheat oven to its hottest setting, 500°-550°, for 1 hour. If using a baking sheet, arrange a rack in middle of oven and preheat to its hottest setting, 500°-550°. (You do not need to preheat the baking sheet.)

Working with 1 dough ball at a time, dust dough generously with flour and place on a floured work surface. Gently shape dough into a 10″-12″ disk.

If Using Pizza Stone
When ready to bake, increase oven heat to broil. Sprinkle a pizza peel or rimless (or inverted rimmed) baking sheet lightly with flour. Place dough disk on prepared peel and top with desired toppings.

Using small, quick back-and-forth movements, slide pizza from peel onto hot pizza stone. Broil pizza, rotating halfway, until bottom of crust is crisp and top is blistered, 5-7 minutes.

Using peel, transfer to a work surface to slice. Repeat, allowing pizza stone to reheat under broiler for 5 minutes between pizzas.

If Using a Baking Sheet
Arrange dough disk on baking sheet; top with desired toppings. Bake pizza until bottom of crust is crisp and top is blistered, about 10 minutes. Transfer to a work surface to slice. Repeat with remaining pizzas.


Candied orange peel

16 Jan
The holidays do strange things to me. One morning between Christmas and New Year’s I decided that I must — MUST — whip up a batch of orange biscotti before house guests Tom and Beth arose. It was 5 a.m. and the worthless slugs don’t stir much before nine, so timing would not be a problem.
The problem was the candied orange peel that I needed in order to make the biscotti. There wasn’t any. Somehow it had disappeared from the cupboard. I’m not accusing anybody here, okay. I’m just saying.
Rather than do the sensible thing and bake something else instead I became obsessed with replenishing the (purloined?) supply of orange peel. Immediately. Later that day, after it became apparent that there was no candied orange peel to be had locally, I decided (without discussion or debate) to put the house guests to work and make some.
No, I had never candied an orange peel before. (Do I look like a confectioner to you? Well, do I?) Neither had anybody else in our group. A quick consult with Mister Google netted a variety of approaches to the task, this one appearing to be the simplest. Since I had a few extra hands around to do the painstaking knife work on the oranges, I doubled the recipe so as to secure an ample supply.
Hey, I fed these people for six days. They can cut a few oranges for me, am I right?
The first thing to do is peel the orange and cut the rind into manageable pieces that you can work with. Then, using a sharp knife, cut away as much of the pith as you can.
You could leave more pith on the rind than this, or clean it even further. Either way is fine.
Slice the rind into 1/2-inch pieces.
We used 8 large organic oranges and so we filled a pot with 8 1/2 cups of water and 5 cups of sugar. Stir that together and bring to a boil over medium heat, then add the rind and turn the heat down to low. We allowed this to simmer for around 3 hours (without any stirring, per the instructions).
When the liquid has reduced to the point where it’s just covering the rind, turn off the heat and allow to cool.
Once cool remove the rind with a slotted spoon and place in a colander to drain.
We saved the liquid, which is basically an orange-flavored syrup.
Tom used some of the syrup to make cocktails one night, but I didn’t try any of them. He hates the idea that I don’t drink cocktails and thinks I’m a Luddite for sticking with straight whiskey, wine or beer. For the record, I don’t care much what he thinks.
After the rind has cooled toss a bunch of sugar in a bowl and then, in small batches, roll the rind around until well coated.
At this point all they need to do is dry. We went the oven-dried route, lining them on parchment and baking at a low temperature (no more than 200 degrees F) for an hour or so. But you can also just leave them out on a counter to dry overnight.
Once dry all that’s left to do is rub off some of the excess sugar. How much you remove is up to you; the more sugar left on the sweeter the rind will be.
On the left is the rind with plenty of sugar left on it; the rind on the right has been pretty well cleaned up.
Candied orange peel will keep for some time stored in an airtight container. However, since we made so much of the stuff, I wrapped it up tight and tossed it in the freezer (behind the tripe and the pigskin and the sweetbreads) for safe keeping.
I would appreciate your keeping the whereabout of my orange peel supply to yourself, by the way. I think it best if certain (unnamed) persons do not know its location.