Sunday, December 7, 2008

two cooks

"I was at Harvard Law... By the end of the first semester, I had twenty-seven study partners, eight exercise books full of recipes, and a D average. So I dropped out."

When Ana Pascal tells Harold Crick how she became a baker in the film Stranger Than Fiction, I can definitely sympathize. Granted, I'm not at Harvard, I'm not holding any study sessions, and my average isn't quite that awful, but I've definitely spent the better part of this semester's reading period cooking and thinking and writing about food.

Reading period is supposed to be the time when you start to let the little details of day-to-day life slide. This is the time when law students stop doing their laundry, stop brushing their hair, and subsist on caffeine and whatever they can scrounge from the back of the fridge while they attempt to cram all the information they need into their poor little sleep-deprived, overworked, overstressed brains.

I, for one, am supposed to be devoting my time to untangling the intricacies of the Chevron doctrine and committing large portions of the Uniform Probate Code to memory. "Supposed to be" being the operative words.

Which is, of course, why my laundry is done, my hair is still brushed, and I went to have my usual Saturday cooking lesson with Michelle this weekend.

Michelle, as I may or may not have mentioned before, is married to Jake, my ex from freshman year of college. It probably sounds like the setup for a bad sitcom, but Michelle and I get along brilliantly.

The cooking lessons came about because Jake, though an excellent cook, has a cooking style that is very different to Michelle's. Cooks can roughly be divided into two groups: those who follow recipes to the letter, and those who think that recipes are a good start. Jake is definitely one of the former. Michelle is more of the latter. The two styles don't always mesh, so when Michelle mentioned that she wanted to learn more about cooking, I volunteered to teach her.

This week, we tackled berry scones and, using Thanksgiving leftovers, turkey pot pie. (At a glance, the two may not have much in common, but the biscuit crust on pot pie isn't all that different to scones.) After stuffing ourselves silly on the scones and pie, we settled in the living room. Jake turned on the television, but when it became clear that there wasn't anything particularly exciting on, I picked up a cookbook from Jake's collection to leaf through.

The book I ended up choosing was Dinner For Eight, which is the cookbook his mother wrote, and I spent a contented half-hour reading recipes I'd probably never make (like Peruvian-style pork and peanut stew) and recipes that I might use as inspiration (like braised short ribs in porcini-prune sauce), which are the two categories that I tend to sort recipes into. (If you haven't guessed yet, I am one of those cooks who thinks that a recipe is a good start.)

Jake gave up on television just as I got to a recipe for walnut lace cookies. I said something to the effect of how delicious they sounded. Jake remarked that they were easy to make, and that he probably had all the ingredients in the kitchen right at that moment.

Which is how we ended up in the kitchen for a second round of baking. I let Jake lead, because it ensured that we'd actually follow the recipe, and I need to follow a recipe through from start to finish occasionally, just so that I don't completely forget how to do it.

Lace cookies, which are a little like tuiles, are made by boiling up a sugar-butter syrup, then stirring in flour and any other additions you may have to form a sticky batter. You drop spoonfuls of this batter on cookie sheets, then bake until they're thin golden discs of buttery, burnt sugary deliciousness. They're wonderfully brittle - there's nothing quite as satisfying as taking a huge bite out of a lace cookie and feeling it shatter. (Not an exercise you want to attempt without a plate, though.)

As Jake promised, they were easy to make. So easy, in fact, that I'll probably whip up a batch of these myself sometime in the next few days, sometime after I've gone a few rounds with the Chevron doctrine and read through the Uniform Probate Code more thoroughly.

Whether or not I will actually follow the recipe remains to be seen.

Walnut Lace Cookies

From Dinner For Eight, by Denise Landis.

(Makes around three dozen.)

1 stick butter
1/2 cup light corn syrup
2/3 cup packed brown sugar
1 cup flour
1 cup chopped walnuts

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line a baking sheet with a nonstick liner or parchment paper and set aside.

2. In a medium saucepan over low heat, melt the butter. Add the corn syrup and brown sugar. Bring the mixture to a boil, then remove from the heat and add flour and walnuts. Stir until well mixed.

3. Place rounded teaspoons of the mixture on the baking sheet about 3 inches apart; the batter will spread quite a bit during baking. Bake until the batter has spread and is full of air bubbles and light golden brown, about 8 minutes. Be careful not to overbake. Remove from the oven and allow to cool completely before removing from the baking sheet.

Optional extra: Roll the edges in melted chocolate.


bostontparties said...

Maybe you should be a food writer, though. I know at least five who've gotten book deals, and your writing is at least as good as theirs is.

adele said...

bostontparties - I guess I can always dream. I'm flattered that you think I'm publishable!

Googie Baba said...

I am not cooking, which would be more productive then what I have been doing with the reading period. I slept in until 12:00 today.

adele said...

Sleep is good. Sleep is crucial. There comes a certain point when it is smarter to sleep than it is to study.

Cakelaw said...

These are beautiful cookies!

adele said...

Cakelaw - Thank you!

Katy said...

I made lace cookies this summer and keep wanting to revisit them! I want to make them into bowls or cones, but mine were too delicate.

And reading period -- ah, the memories. I definitely wore my old high school sweatpants just about every day for two weeks. I remember one time after finals, I put jeans and a sweater, and my fiance goes, "wow, you look great!" It was almost embarrassing how low I'd gotten his standards at that point. :-)

But the good news is -- Christmas break!

adele said...

Katy - I remember those cookies! Oatmeal, right? They looked tasty.

Some of the stories I hear from other students about reading period remind me more of finals in college when I was taking studio art classes. Those were the days when coffee wasn't a beverage, but its own food group.