Stumbling Epicures

Champion Croissant
September 7, 2006, 2:48 pm
Filed under: Bread & Pastry, French Cuisine

How to Bake Croissant without Losing Your Mind

The crispy, shattering crust of a skillfully made croissant is the stuff of childhood memories in France. Unfortunately, in America, croissants are the stuff of partially hydrogenated soybean and/or cottonseed oils, sodium benzoate, and high fructose corn syrup. It’s no wonder that the French can barely contain their hatred for fast food USA.

Of course, the croissant is not even French to begin with, but is actually Viennese and my first understanding of the croissant was as an Austrian treat. My mother visited Austria with a few friends of hers after graduating college and had swooned over breakfast at her hostel where the owners baked croissant each morning to serve alongside jam and coffee. As a woman who cooked most all of my childhood dinners herself and from scratch, I knew she couldn’t be talking about the ham and cheese, steam-injected item on the value menu. It wasn’t until I myself was out of college though that I mustered the courage to attempt making my own homemade croissant.

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Dopo Mangiare – “After Eating” Pt. 2 – Limoncello
September 7, 2006, 2:46 pm
Filed under: Italian Cuisine, Wine & Spirits

When You have Lemons, Make Limoncello

Sweet and tart, limoncello is an Italian lemon flavored liqueur produced in the south of Italy, on the Amalfi Coast. If you ever have the pleasure of visiting this idyllic locale, be sure to get the passenger’s seat in the car or the right side of the bus and hold on for dear life. These coasts, just south of Naples, offer some of the most spectacular vistas in Italy if not some of the most perilous driving. On my most recent visit, while careening through the cliff top roads at Italian speeds, our bus suffered a minor accident. While we emerged basically unscathed, our nerves needed a strong drink upon our arrival and seeing how limoncello is native to this region, it was the medicine of choice. Although this beverage is popular throughout Italy, it is, like many Italian specialties, produced in a relatively small part of country; in this case, the Amalfi Coast.

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Dopo Mangiare – “After Eating” Pt. 1 – Grappa
September 7, 2006, 2:44 pm
Filed under: Italian Cuisine, Wine & Spirits

Digestivo – Italian for “Alka-Seltzer”

Digestivo, the Italian version of the French digestif, is a strong liqueur taken after a meal with the intension of aiding in digestion and settling the stomach. Just like a French eau de vie or Scandinavian aquavit, Italian digestivos are distilled liqueurs. The most popular types of digestivo in Italy are grappa, amaro and limoncello. What’s the point of a digestive you ask? Well, after several antipasti (appetizers usually consisting of salumi – Italian for any type of cured and sliced meats), a primo piatto (first course usually pasta, rice dish or soup), secondo piatto (second course usually a meat dish), a contorno (side dish of vegetables) and dolce (dessert), your stomach needs something to deal with all that food, not to mention the half or even full bottle of wine you consumed. If you ask any Italian, they will claim the digestivo they drink after helps them digest what could be a marathon meal, especially if it’s a Sunday family gathering. Many Italians also drink espresso in this manner, but it’s not really its expressed purpose.

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Fancy Shmancy
September 7, 2006, 2:40 pm
Filed under: American Cuisine

I had an occasion this past weekend to cook to impress, with the added bonus that someone else not nearly as price sensitive as I was paying for it. This is, of course, one of those rare circumstances where you get to answer the question, “if you could cook anything you wanted to, what would you do?” So I designed a seafood menu with a little pasta that I had wanted to try on others for a party of five. I did four courses, with one of those being a dessert and it’s a pretty long post, so I’m going to split it in two and post the second half at some point in the future.

Seared Scallops on Roast Corn Coulis


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Pasta Fresca – A Stumbler’s Guide
September 7, 2006, 2:24 pm
Filed under: Italian Cuisine

I am entirely convinced that there is something magical about water, eggs, flour, and salt. From these four little ingredients what wonders emerge! It is only fitting that one of my favorite foods, pasta, is made from them. However, as most cooks know, recipes with few ingredients can be deceiving in their difficulty. In fact, I’m not sure I can imagine a simpler food with a more difficult recipe than bread. If you’ve never made bread, you might ask, “what kind of idiot can’t handle yeast, water, flour and salt?” But I tell you I could build a house with all the wheat bricks I’ve pulled from my oven. So it’s only natural that the concept of making pasta from scratch strikes great fear into me. After all, pasta is nothing more than flour and eggs, right? Could anything be more frightening?

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Welcome to the Stumbling Epicures!

Corks from favorite bottles...

The life of a stumbling epicure is fraught with ordeal. Namely, we have little money, poor facilities, and are largely inexperienced amateur hacks in all cases of connoisseurship. Well, perhaps it’s not quite that awful a situation, in fact we do know a thing or two about a thing or two, but we’ve got a long way to go. So here you are, at the epicenter of our never-ending culinary boot camp where we hope to document for your viewing pleasure all the events in our gastronomic lives from fallen soufflé to triumphant crown roast of spring lamb. At least, hopefully the cost of ingredients to success ratio is close to that.

This summer Franz is in Berlin, Joey is in Italy, and Ben is in New York City. Check back soon for more updates as strawberries arrived at the NYC Greenmarkets last week and we’ll have lots more to post.