Say Yes to the Dress / Brown Butter Bruleed Donut Holes

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This week’s recipe: Brown Butter Bruleed Donut Holes

My sisters and I were not allowed to watch television growing up. We also had two working parents who were often not home until late, and our babysitter could not give less of a crap if we watched TV or not, so we would rush home from school and put on Saved by the Bell, Full House, and Family Matters, remote always in hand in case our parents came home early and we had to make a quick getaway. I think that the point of the no TV rule was less about keeping us away from TV and more about making sure that we read, which we all still do, so in that regard, it was a success. But if it was at all about keeping us away from TV, it backfired spectacularly! We are all TV junkies to a greater or lesser extent, although I have no shame about that fact: TV is objectively better now than it was in the 90s, when we were growing up, and for the most part, the shows that my sisters and I love–West Wing, Parks and Recreation, Gilmore Girls, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, and the like–are high-quality. But there is one show that we love that is…questionable. Naturally, it’s reality TV, the genre that is a repository for what’s worst and trashiest about television. But nevertheless, I will defend Say Yes to the Dress until my dying day!

Okay, that’s a little dramatic. But Say Yes to the Dress is, I believe, a different breed of reality show, and definitely better than what one would expect from the ironically named The Learning Channel. There are four main iterations of the show:

Say Yes to the Dress is the one from whence they all spring. It takes place at Kleinfeld’s, an upscale bridal salon in Manhattan. Women come from all over the country and even the world to meet with the bridal consultants and try on extremely expensive dresses. Many of them bring large entourages of friends and family members, many of whom have their own loudly expressed opinions, but in the end, the bride always gets her way. If an appointment starts to go south, the consultant calls in Randy, the fashion director. Randy is very gay and extremely good at his job. He is a national treasure. Another prominent SYTTD character is Pnina Tornai, the in-house designer, whose aesthetic can best be summed up as “slutty pirate.”

Fun fact about Kleinfeld’s: there is a bridal consultant named Rochel Leah there specifically for Orthodox Jewish and other modest brides who will need sleeves built onto their dresses. Rochel Leah has only been featured on one episode of Say Yes to the Dress, which makes sense, since modest brides probably do not want their arms and shoulders broadcast on TV.

Say Yes to the Dress Atlanta is basically the same as the original flavor, except it takes place in Atlanta and therefore all of the brides are in their teens or early 20s and they all have perfect hair. (It is one of the great mysteries of life that the American South, a notoriously muggy and humid region, produces women with such perfect hair.) There is also a high probability that the brides are or were at one point in a pageant. The salon is run by a woman named Lori, who is warm and folksy but can also be firm and no-nonsense when the need arises. SYTTD Atlanta has its own very gay man, Monte, who wants to be Randy. No one can be Randy but Randy.

Say Yes to the Dress Bridesmaids also takes place in the Atlanta salon. It is amazing because, much as I love regular Say Yes to the Dress, there is not a lot of inherent drama in watching women try on wedding dresses, whereas the bridal party is a reliable viper pit of long-simmering grudges, hurt feelings, and power plays. There’s always a bridesmaid who feels like the bride’s chosen dress won’t look good on her body type; the bridesmaid who was clearly only asked to be in the bridal party because she’s an old friend even though she and the bride don’t seem to like each other anymore; the resentful maid-of-honor sister, and so on. You can imagine the conflicts that ensue! Fun fun fun for viewers! SYTTD Bridesmaids also has its own very gay man, Brandon, who also wants to be Randy but even gayer/a millennial/kind of bitchy. Again, no one can be Randy but Randy.

Say Yes to the Dress Big Bliss is the exact same thing as Say Yes to the Dress, but with plus-sized brides. Considering that there are often plus-sized brides on regular SYTTD, I don’t really understand the point of Big Bliss.

All of these iterations follow the same formula. There are three appointments per episode, including one where the dress has already been bought and altered. Each episode begins with the salon owners talking to the consultants about the day ahead. Miraculously, the theme of their talk—bossy moms, let’s say, or brides with negative body image—is always reflected in the day’s appointments. Also, they are usually wearing different clothes and hairstyles during the meeting than during the rest of the episode. It’s weird! Anyway, then the consultants are sent out to deal with the brides/bridesmaids and their annoying, judgmental friends and family members. The brides usually have a vision for what their dress will look like, of course. Some of them also have stupid themes for their weddings, such as “Sex and the City” or “bling,” which make you wonder why someone is willing to marry them at all. The consultants sit with the brides in the dressing room to discuss their wedding and ask about their fiancé. The standard spiel is, “Derek is my rock. He makes me laugh more than anyone. We met at a bar/at a party/at a baseball game/in middle school [Atlanta only] and I knew immediately that he was the one.” Seriously. Every single bride says something along those lines, it’s like they’re reading from a script. Anyway, the consultant goes to pick out some dresses, puts the bride in one using a series of frightening-looking clips, and then they go out to get the entourage’s opinion.

They don’t put you on the show unless your appointment generates an appropriate amount of conflict (or if you or your fiancé are famous). You can typically count on the family to be insane. In one of my all-time favorite episodes, a woman’s sister/maid-of-honor somehow got it into her head that she should also wear a veil at the wedding. Naturally, the bride and the consultants put the kibosh on this idea, but that didn’t stop the sister from wandering off to the salon’s bridal section in the middle of her bridesmaid’s dress appointment to go try on veils. Family pathology aside, I would say that there are three main sources of drama: how much skin to show, budget, and weight. Budget, by the way, is relative—if you’re not willing to spend at least $2,000, Kleinfeld’s is not for you. But there are also brides who have tried on over a hundred dresses with no success, brides with unlimited budgets who are buying one dress for their ceremony and one for their reception, brides who are in the military and need to get married quickly before they get deployed, and brides who, for cultural or style reasons, don’t want a white dress. (Those ones never made sense to me—why not just go to a department store, which is going to have a much larger selection of red or black or pink dresses for a lot less money?) Truly, the wedding dress shopping experience is as varied and diverse as the human condition.

Does it sound like I’m mocking? Never! My love for SYTTD is pure, despite its silliness and flaws. Nothing about the production is subtle—not the cheesy narration, the breathless “cliffhangers” before each commercial break, the heavy-handed musical cues that tell you exactly what’s going to happen and which emotions you should be feeling. But I love it anyway. The bridal consultants are so kindhearted and patient and accommodating, even to brides and families that I would smack into next wedding season. They really want the bride to feel beautiful and to get everything she wants for her special day. The toxicity of the “her special day” narrative, the pressure for perfection, and the wedding-industrial complex generally is a topic for another post, of course. But considering what a cesspool most of reality TV is, it’s refreshing to watch a show that has kindness and generosity of spirit at its core (plus a healthy dose of consumerism—this is still America we’re talking about).

So anyway, here are some donut holes. These have been on my “to make” list forever, and since we were celebrating my eldest sister’s birthday, I thought this would be a good excuse to make them. “Ah, this recipe says it yields 20 donut holes,” I thought naively, “that will be a perfect small, celebratory dessert.” It ended up being more like 40-50, and poor Mark had to take one for the team by eating about half of them. But they were so delicious it almost didn’t matter. Plus, it was a chance to break out Ye Olde Blow Torch, which I haven’t used in over five years. I was worried about whether it would still function—can butane go bad?—but it came through nicely and I only set the parchment paper on fire twice, so all in all I’d say it was a success.

Brown Butter Bruleed Donut Holes

From Joy the Baker

Ingredients

1 (1/4-oz) package active dry yeast (2 1/2 teaspoons)
2 tablespoons warm water (105–115°F)
pinch of sugar
3 1/4 to 3 3/4 cups all-purpose flour plus additional for sprinkling and rolling out dough
3 tablespoons sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1 cup whole milk, at room temperature
1/4 cup + 1 tablespoon unsalted butter, melted until browned and cooled slightly
3 large egg yolks
About 10 cups vegetable oil for deep frying
2-4 cups granulated sugar for rolling and torching

Instructions

  1. Stir together yeast, warm water, and pinch of sugar in a small bowl until yeast is dissolved. Let stand until foamy, about 5 minutes. (If yeast doesn’t foam, discard and start over with new yeast.)
  2. In the bowl of an electric stand mixer with a dough hook attachment, combine flour (3 1/4 cups), milk, butter, yolks, sugar, salt, cinnamon, and yeast mixture. I like to stir the mixture by hand, with a spatula, to loosely incorporate before transferring to the stand mixer to beat with the dough hook.
  3. Beat at low speed on the mixer with the dough hook until a soft dough forms, about 3 minutes. Add a bit more flour if the dough seems too wet. It will tend to stick to the sides of the bowl a bit, but add flour it it seems overly wet and soft. Increase speed to medium and beat 5 minutes more.
  4. Scrape dough down side of bowl (all around) into center, then sprinkle lightly with flour (to keep a crust from forming). Cover bowl with plastic wrap and a clean kitchen towel (not terry cloth) and let dough rise in a draft-free place at warm room temperature until doubled in bulk, 1 1/2 to 2 hours. (Alternatively, let dough rise in bowl in refrigerator 8 to 12 hours and make fresh doughnuts in the morning.)
  5. Turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface and roll out with a lightly floured rolling pin into a roughly 12-inch round (1/2 inch thick). Cut out as many rounds as possible with 1 1/2-inch cutter and transfer doughnuts to a lightly floured large baking sheet. Cover doughnuts with a clean kitchen towel and let rise in a draft-free place at warm room temperature until slightly puffed, about 30 minutes (45 minutes if dough was cold when cutting out doughnuts). Do not reroll scraps. They tend to get tough.
  6. While the doughnut rounds rise, prepare your frying ingredients. Begin to heat your oil in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Spread sugar on a rimmed baking sheet for after the doughnuts have been fried.
  7. Heat 2 1/2 inches oil in a deep 4-quart heavy pot until it registers 350°F on thermometer. A thermometer is key for this recipe. You need to know just how hot your oil is before the doughnuts fry. Fry doughnuts, 3 at a time, turning occasionally with a wire or mesh skimmer or a slotted spoon, until puffed and golden brown, about 2 minutes per batch (1 minute per side). Transfer the freshly fried, hot doughnuts to the sugar and immediately toss to coat. Coating the doughnuts in sugar works best just out of the fryer so the sugar can stick to the hot oil. Remove from the sugar and allow to rest on a cooling rack before torching.
  8. Return oil to 350°F between batches.
  9. Once the doughnuts are all fried and generously coated in granulated sugar, using a kitchen torch to brûlée the tops of the doughnuts. Allow to cool and set before serving.
  10. Doughnuts are best enjoy the day they’re fried.
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Moana / Thai Soba Noodle Bowl

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This week’s recipe: Thai Soba Noodle Bowl

I don’t go to the movies often. This is partly because my boyfriend Mark and I have Netflix, Hulu Plus, and HBO, plus a binder full of bitchin’ DVDs, but it’s mostly because the last movie that I saw ran me $43 for two tickets. Mind you, this was at the AMC theater at 84th and Broadway, which is widely considered to be the best theater in the city because of its big, comfy red recliner seats, and which therefore charges a few dollars more per ticket than average (plus the service fee from Fandango). But 84th Street theater or no 84th Street theater, the fact remains that there are many places in New York City where live performances cost less than a movie ticket. Still, Mark and I really wanted to see Moana in theaters, so I dutifully ponied up the $43.

And I’m glad I did! I had expected an excellent movie, considering the quality of Disney’s output lately and the involvement of Lin Manuel Miranda, who can do no wrong. It was funny and touching and beautifully animated and the music is catchy as hell (Mark and I have been bursting out “Consider the COCONUT!” at random intervals since we saw it), but my favorite part of it was Moana herself. She is a teenage Polynesian “not-princess”—although her father is the village chief, she defiantly insists that she isn’t a princess—who has always felt a connection with the ocean, despite her father’s insistence that she stay on their island. When an ecological disaster brought on by an ancient curse threatens her home, she takes to the sea to break the curse. Tt’s more complicated than that but whatever, go read the Wikipedia summary if you want more information about the plot. But now it’s time for

A LENGTHY DIGRESSION:

Now it’s common knowledge that early Disney princesses were not much in the way of feminist role models, and due in large part to their lack of personality and agency, the movies that they anchored don’t really hold up on viewing today. Cinderella? More like Snorerella! Sleeping Beauty? More like Snoring Beauty! Snow White? More like Snore White! (But for real, Snow White is the worst. I understand that it’s a classic of the animation genre, but not only does its title character have an incredibly annoying voice, it’s barely even her movie—the whole film would be about ten minutes long if the seven dwarves weren’t in it.)  Of course, this is 2017, when as everyone knows, misogyny no longer exists, and we expect more of our Disney princesses. Here are my thoughts on the current lineup as per the official Disney Princesses media franchise:

-Snow White/Cinderella/Sleeping Beauty: I believe my feelings have been made abundantly clear
-Ariel: This one is controversial. I believe that she has an admirably strong sense of self and should get credit for saving the Prince’s life instead of the other way around, as is usual. I have heard a theory that makes a lot of sense to me, which is that the whole thing is a metaphor for being trans; i.e. that Ariel has always felt that she was born to be someone else, and even though it will require a lot of painful sacrifices to become that person, up to and including the loss of her home and family, those sacrifices are worth it to her. But I definitely get why giving up your voice to be with a guy is, to use one of my least favorite words, problematic.
-Belle: Like all bookish brunettes, I love Belle. Her story is also controversial because of the Stockholm Syndrome aspect, but I see it less as “Stockholm Syndrome” and more as “making the best of a bad situation.” The common line is that the story encourages girls to think that they can change the personalities of abusive men through love, but Belle doesn’t start to fall in love with the Beast until he begins to change his personality of his own accord (with some helpful encouragement from his sentient household objects). In fact, she kind of hates him at first, but if she’s going to be his prisoner, why hold onto that hate forever instead of giving him a second chance? She recognizes that the Beast has suffered his own significant trauma, and so can cut him a little slack that he got angry when she locked herself in her room instead of coming to dinner, or when she went to the one place in his castle that he told her was off-limits. Can’t we? And can you tell that I’ve spent a lot of time defending this movie to skeptics and haters?
-Jasmine: for whatever reason, I’ve never liked her, even though she’s voiced by Lea Salonga. She just seemed kind of bratty and self-centered. Also, her hair is wider than her waist. What’s up with that.
-Pocahontas: She’s okay, I give her about a B. She’s fierce and independent, which is cool, and she’s a total babe, but then you realize that in real life she was 11 when she met John Smith, and that he and the rest of the settlers were the start of a brutal, genocidal program of colonization , and that she died of syphilis at 21 (events not portrayed in Pocahontas 2: Journey to a New World), and then it’s like…wow, bummer. At least she has a funny raccoon friend!
-Mulan: The absolute best. She is not technically a princess but she has a hotter love interest than any of those lame-os. Also voiced by Lea Salonga!
-Tiana: I have to admit that I’ve only seen The Princess and the Frog once, on a plane, so I don’t feel very qualified to make a definitive judgment on Tiana. I liked that she was a smart, savvy, ambitious small businesswoman. That is a quality you don’t often get to see in Disney princesses! That movie also has a great villain, which is immaterial to Princess Tiana but I felt should be noted.
-Rapunzel: This is a lady who knows her way around a frying pan. A Disney princess who wants much more than this provincial life/to be part of that world/to see what’s around the river bend isn’t that original but Rapunzel’s spunk and adventurous spirit are charming nonetheless. This is another movie with a great villain, who gets a level of complexity and depth rarely seen in wicked stepmothers. However, Tangled gets some points off for its not-so-subtle implication that blond hair is special and magical and brown hair is…not.
-Merida: Honestly, I barely remember this movie. Great hair.

But here’s the truth about Disney princesses. It may be too early to call this, but I would say that by far the most culturally and commercially successful Disney princess of the last fifty years has been Elsa from Frozen. (That is why she is not included in the official “Disney Princesses” lineup—her merchandising potential is strong enough on its own.) If Disney’s customers wanted their princesses to exhibit positive qualities like kindness, intelligence, perseverance, and selflessness, they would have been drawn to Anna, who on top of all that is also the sister with the romantic storyline, while Elsa is practically the villain. So my conclusion is: really, what the viewers want is blond hair, pretty dresses, and power ballads. ‘Twas ever thus.

END OF DIGRESSION

So right, Moana. She wants much more than this provincial life/to be part of that world/to see what’s around the river bend (or in her case, to know how far she’ll go), but she also feels real responsibility and affection towards her family, her people, and her traditions. She knows what she wants but she isn’t perversely willful or sullen; her motivations are understandable and grounded in the reality of her situation. She’s endlessly resourceful, and I think it shows how low the bar has been set that I was like, “Wow, how refreshing! A movie about a teenager that didn’t end in her wedding!” But most of all, she is authentically strong.

What does it mean to be strong? Too often a “strong” female character has to be infallible, or whatever the male writers’ version of infallible is. Hotness is, of course, at the top of the list, combined with the ability to do violence to others with complete sangfroid. One of my least-favorite tropes in action movies is a very slender woman, often dressed in a binding outfit and stiletto boots, who can beat up much larger, more muscular men without making a rip in her skintight leather pants. There are areas where women typically have the advantage—agility, flexibility, pain thresholds, not to mention things like emotional intelligence—but in these movies, to be strong means to be like a “man.” It means to be able to physically dominate, to be tough and stoical, to not care about “girly” stuff (until, inevitably, the strong female character falls in love with the male protagonist and appears in makeup and a slinky dress and it turns out SHE WAS SECRETLY FEMININE AND BEAUTIFUL THE WHOLE TIME).

I’m hardly the first to make these observations but that’s what made it so heartening to me that Moana really was a strong female character. She is both physically strong—it helps that unlike certain Elsas, she has the physique of a normal teenage girl—and emotionally strong—although she is sometimes tempted to give up, she draws on her resilience and self-knowledge to get through trials and challenges. She reminds me of Chihiro, the main character from Spirited Away, who like Moana is courageous even when she’s afraid, adaptable to new situations, kind and respectful to everyone she comes across, and able to look past exteriors to see what’s really important. There are so many young girls in my life that I love: all of the girls from synagogue I’ve had in my kids’ service or babysat, some of whom are three years old and some of whom are applying to college; my sweet and smart former bat mitzvah tutoring students; my Little Sister, who is unfailingly polite and curious and who, at twelve years old, still calls sex “the S-E-X word”; my old mentee from college who has blossomed into the most incredible young woman I’ve ever met; and most of all my two-year-old niece, who I had hoped would grow up with only memories of a female president, but who instead will become aware of the world for the first time in Donald Trump’s America. Moana and Chihiro are the role models I want for all of those girls.

So anyway, here’s a Thai soba noodle bowl. I made it on a freezing cold night and it was wonderfully hot in all senses of the word—I only used a tiny bit of jalapeno but they’re powerful little bastards. I also left out the mushrooms because I hate mushrooms but I’m sure they’d add a nice flavor if you’re into that sort of thing. It was a little hard to eat with a spoon but once I got forks involved, the situation improved markedly (although I had to thoroughly wipe down the table from all of the noodle-splatter). With the peanut butter, lime, coconut, and lemongrass, it will bring a little taste of Thailand right to your noodle-splattered table!

Thai Soba Noodle Bowl

Adapted from Sprouted Kitchen

THAI SOBA NOODLE BOWL // Serves 4

Adapted from Food and Wine via Harold Dieterle of Kin Shop, New York

1 14 oz. pkg. Extra Firm Tofu

2 Tbsp. Tamari or Low Sodium Soy Sauce

2 tsp. Sesame or Olive Oil

2 Thai Chiles or half of one VERY Small Habanero, seeded and chopped

3 Stalks Fresh Lemongrass, inner bulbs, finely chopped

4 Cloves Garlic

1 Large Shallot

1/4 Cup Peeled and Chopped Fresh Ginger

1 Tbsp. Coconut Oil

2 1/2 Cups Coconut Milk (about a can and a half)

1 heaping Tbsp. Muscavado or Brown Sugar

1 Tbsp. Tamari or Low Sodium Soy Sauce

3 Tbsp. Natural Smooth Peanut Butter

Zest of Two Limes

Juice of One Lime

Salt and Pepper

2 Cups Roughly Chopped Mushrooms (I didn’t use these cause I hate mushrooms)

Around 9oz. Soba Noodles

 

Wrap the tofu in a few paper towels and set it on a plate to drain with another plate on top. Leave it for an hour or up to six. Preheat the oven to 400′. Cut the tofu into 2” cubes, spread them on a baking sheet, drizzle with the tamari and oil and bake for about 25 minutes until the edges are browned.

In a blender or food processor, combine the chiles, lemongrass*, garlic, ginger, shallot and 1/4 cup water and puree until smooth.

In a large saucepan, heat the coconut oil. Add the lemongrass puree and cook over medium high heat, stirring, until fragrant. About two minutes. Whisk in the coconut milk, muscavado, tamari, peanut butter, lime zest and a cup of water. Simmer over low heat for about 15 minutes.

While the broth simmers, cook your soba noodles.

To the broth, ddd the sliced mushrooms (ewww no don’t), stir in the lime juice, taste for salt and pepper and let it sit another 5 minutes. Divide the noodles and tofu between your bowls and ladle the broth on top.