On The Road Again. Kinda.

After two seriously hectic weeks I closed up shop on my apartment in Maryland and decamped to Pennsylvania for the summer. Time to work on my tan. And my resume. And my interviewing skills. And, oh yeah, that independent study class I should be a quarter of the way through by now, so I should get on that. Manana. (That word would make more sense if I knew how to put the tilde over the “n.”)

I’ve been so busy processing and reflecting on the semester which just transpired that I haven’t had a chance to look to the immediate food future but in my present digs I am now a short drive from Philly and a fairly easy day-trip train ride from Manhattan. The food future looks bright!

So, what is on my Summer 2013 Good Eats Bucket List? I have some ideas, but nothing conclusive yet. I’ll throw some NYC stuff out there to start the idea ball rolling, and rely on my Philly peeps to give me the inside track on good eats in their neck of the woods:

1.) Baohaus. I’ve wanted to check this place out ever since Rolling Stone magazine called chef Eddie Huang “The Bad Boy of Pork Buns.”

2.) Definitely some ramen in Manhattan. I have to see if anything can beat Totto Ramen. Remember how I was so happy there that I practically marched in place?

3.) A friend and I have been talking about going to Prune for a while now — ever since we both read Gabrielle Hamilton’s autobiographical book, Blood, Bones and Butter. Maybe we’ll make that happen.

4.) A visit to Shake Shack and Zabar’s for obvious reasons (nostalgia, in case it’s not so obvious).

5.) I’m curious about Milk Bar,even though baking-wise it’s really not my jam, and I’d like to go back to Momofuku Noodle (both of David Chang’s mini-empire) because it was so tasty delicious.

6.) A deli. Katz? Carnegie? Some other deli gem?  I have no idea, but I want to feel the fever of pastrami on rye.

I’d look for a pizza place, but my aunt has long maintained that DeLorenzo’s in New Jersey has the best tomato pies hands-down, and this claim has been corroborated by other avid fans, so maybe it does. Note that their customer base is so intense that even though their website lists two locations which no longer exist, DeLorenzo’s is still packed full like sardines at every turn. They are doing something Jersey folks like.

Basically, if it noodles, slurps, or gets dipped in sauce, I’m in. If it’s crowded with locals, only seats 30 people, and I can’t really read the menu, I’m in. If it’s fresh, authentic, and basically pretty cheap, I’m in.

And suggestions are most welcome!

Take this poll to chime in on my #1 Summer 2013 Good Eats destination:

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Oh, Finals, You Kill Me

Coconut Rum Mousse with Roasted Pineapple, Apricot Sauce, and Coconut Macaroon Barquettes

Coconut Rum Mousse with Roasted Pineapple, Apricot Sauce, and Coconut Macaroon Barquettes

With my new mantra (“Don’t tank!”) firmly in mind, I headed into my next two final exams: Advanced Pastry, and Chocolates and Showpieces. The projects for both classes had been in design for several weeks, but the run-throughs I’d done at home weren’t going smoothly.

The Advanced Pastry practical had been particularly rocky. I knew the flavor scheme I’d put together was solid, but I had tinkered with my main recipe (of course!) to the point where I wasn’t sure it would still hold together and it continued to have some kinks that needed to be worked out. I also changed all the surrounding elements numerous times, which is crazy-making. The pineapple garnish alone I tried five different ways before settling on roasting it. Five different ways. For a tiny garnish. Painstaking.

Trying different bases and other combinations

Trying different bases and other combinations

For Chocolates, I was doing a sugar showpiece to present molded chocolates filled with spiced rum buttercream. Casting sugar is super cool (see “Rolling the Dice With Sugar”) but it is rather unpredictable — and isn’t lack of predictability always a blast in a final exam? (Rhetorical.)

We had only spent a class or two on molded chocolates at the beginning of the semester so my actual hands-on time was limited to one try — and chocolate can be a harsh mistress. To that effect, the trial run crashed and burned, which is always a bit unnerving. Hmpf. It seems none of my lists and copious amounts of notes helped me out when the chocolate chips were down.

I re-did my game plan for the final since I was determined to turn out twelve perfectly formed, glossy, gorgeous molded chocolates come hell or high water.  And it worked. The chocolates turned out beautifully.

And, the sugar showpiece wasn’t bad, considering. The core pieces, by necessity, were made in Week 1, so they had lost a lot of their luster from sitting and had developed a kind of dull bloom. You can try to shine these up with careful application of a torch, but this is risky since it basically heats the sugar to melting again to get it to re-set with shine. The risk is that warming the piece up in this way will deform it. Which it did, when I tried it. Because you know I tried it. Even after the buttercream life lesson in my last post I still couldn’t keep from messing with the pieces to try to “fix them” (make them a little shinier).

There were various other bumps in the sugar showpiece road — particularly the pulled sugar elements, for which my design was far too ambitious. I guess I thought I could pull off lovely, delicate, multi-colored flowers with nothing between my tender hands and that beyond-boiling sugar but a pair of disposable latex gloves — after having tried pulling sugar just two or three times prior.  That was deluded of me. I can barely fold a piece of paper into an envelope without practice let alone construct tropical flower petals from hot sugar. I pulled a vaguely tropical looking water flower and watched all but a few of the petals shatter on assembly.  C’est la vie.

But, all is well that ends well. The Coconut Rum Mousse with Apricot Sauce, Roasted Pineapple, and Coconut Macaroon Barquettes came in on time, the mousse didn’t collapse on its way to presentation, and it all went over well with my chef (at last! Various other incarnations of this dessert got panned repeatedly by various chefs along the way — all of which kept me working away at a combination that would hit all the right technical notes while still satisfying my vision of a fresh, light, fruit-centric summertime plated dessert).

It was an extremely gratifying moment for me when Chef told me he didn’t have a single piece of critical feedback for me. I consider that a parting gift from him since I am sure the dessert wasn’t perfect. In any case, staying on top in that class had been my biggest challenge of the semester and that score is definitely how I wanted to ride out into the Advanced Pastry sunset.

Sugar Showpiece, finished product

Sugar Showpiece, finished product

And the sugar showpiece? It also pulled out a score I was happy with. I took one last look at it, wistfully, as I slid it into the garbage can on my way out of the door. I wasn’t even going to try loading it into my car. There is no way it would have made it home without shattering, and shattered sugar shards in my trunk is the last thing I wanted to deal with. But the chocolates? They came home with me.