27 September, 2009

Sugar, sugar

I've given myself a pep talk. Time to quit talking about wanting to learn to cook someday. Time to simply pull out the pans and the books and start doing it, by trial and error. About a year ago the thought occurred to me to cook each month's cover recipe from Gourmet magazine (No, I did not know about "Julie & Julia"...This is not my quest for a book deal!). I put the idea on the shelf for a while, but recently decided it would actually be a very good challenge to undertake. A way to learn by doing. I begin with October's Red Wine Caramel Apples (and I must admit that when the magazine arrived in the mail I was rather relieved to have something that looked easy for the first go...No sushi or lobster or mangosteen ice cream). I've always loved both caramel and caramel apples. As a child of about seven, before I'd even had a caramel apple, I was rather intrigued by them because of an exchange in the claymation version of "Wind in the Willows." One little field mouse gets his toffee apple stuck to the back of Mr Badger's coat. I wonder now why it looked so appealing after having been pulled off a wool jacket, covered with fuzz, but who can understand what a child decides to fixate on? Anyway, from the moment I watched that movie I craved the caramel apple experience (minus badgers).

I am 22 and have never made caramel before today. Not something I felt particularly interested in botching. Nothing is so luscious as good caramel.....and nothing is quite so tragic as a burnt attempt at caramel. Before I began I read David Lebovitz's tips on making caramel and armed myself with a bowl of ice water and an oven mitt. No chemistry goggles to be found, unfortunately.

Gourmet made a simple addition to a simple list of ingredients: red wine. I had Cabernet Sauvignon on hand, so that's what I used, but perhaps I should've researched what other cooks have tried. No matter, in it went, and it smelled like Christmas as it merrily bubbled.

The wine took longer to reduce than I expected -- closer to 20 minutes. I then began the caramel. This process also took longer than I expected, but I didn't want to try to rush it and end up burning it with too high a temperature. I am trying to be less timid in the kitchen (who was it that said food can sense fear?), but neither do I want to be overly-confident when dealing with science I don't understand! So I watched carefully and swirled the pan every so often to make sure that the caramel colored evenly. At first it seemed that the sugar would never dissolve and boil, but I got quite excited when it very suddenly began bubbling and taking on an amber hue. It's really a beautiful transformation.

Then, in went the wine and cream. It doesn't translate very well in the photo, but it was such a gorgeous, deep red! I almost let it burn, I was so fascinated by examining the color.

Once the caramel cooled to 200 degrees I dipped the apples in it. I think I achieved a decent consistency, though I'm not exactly sure since I'd never made it before. It's not grainy, at least! I feel quite pleased to be able to say that I've successfully made caramel. No fire alarms were involved.


Thus ended my first foray into confectionery, as well as the first installment of my monthly dose of culinary self-education. I have no clue what to expect for November...."Tofurkey Three Ways"?

17 September, 2009

These days tumble and blaze. I conceive a new dream every hour, lift each one to the sky with naive hands, and stand perplexed while they crash as quickly as they were born. Do they die because I voice them too soon? Do I thrust them too high? I ought to learn my lessons; when I was a child Icarus warned me of the wax in the wings.