Book Club – Nov 12th, 2009

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This is a guest post by Jed Shireman

On Thursday, Mackenzie Cowell, Andrew Shalit, and I were united by one amazing and educational culinary experience: dinner at the home of the ever curious and insightful Jeff Potter. It was an evening of yummy food, little known facts, and generous portions of geeky puns. If the night was just a taste of the knowledge and humor found in Jeff’s soon to be published book, Cooking for Geeks, then I will be one happy boy when I finally get my hands on it.

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Within minutes of entering his home, Jeff poured me some wine and emptied two containers of milk into a pan on his stove. This was the first step in making homemade mozzarella cheese. Since I’ve never attempted to make cheese before, I began rattling off questions like that kid in Jerry McGuire. Jeff answered my questions as he went to work measuring the various components that would transform the milk. I was amazed at how quickly cheese can be made, and after twenty minutes I was pulling apart clumps of the finished mozzarella. Eating a large ball of delicious cheese isn’t normally the first course I expect when at a dinner party, but who would complain? I know I didn’t.

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Second on the menu was brisket. Being the enthusiastic carnivore that I am, I spotted the meat immediately upon stepping into the kitchen. It rested in a vacuum-sealed bag sitting in a pot of heating water on the counter. Prior to this evening, I thought the word brisket referred to a technique for preparing meat. Luckily, Jeff was able to teach me, using a diagram that divided a cow into its various sectors of deliciousness, that brisket simply refers to the section of a cow from where the meat came. Jeff pulled out the bag-o-meat and explained that the brisket had been slowly cooking over the last 24 hours in tomato sauce. He sliced us some pieces, sautéed some mushrooms and carrots, and soon we were happily munching down a delicious second course. Of course, it wasn’t all play. Jeff has cooked two different types of carrots, and we were quizzed on which we liked better and why.

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The last course, but certainly not least, was a lemon meringue pie, which quickly formed before our eyes at the hands of Jeff. He was testing out different pie crust recipes and how different proportions of the ingredients affected the pastry. This week’s was Martha Stewarts’s. To my delight, lemon meringue pie doesn’t have a crust top, so there was plenty of extra dough for me to sample. And sample I did. Next, Jeff placed the crust on the pie pan, and then piled black beans onto it so that the crust would bake into shape while in the oven. It’s a clever trick which I will definitely use at home. Jeff whipped up the rest of the pie quickly (literally for the meringue) and then baked it just long enough for the white meringue to turn brown and solidify. The sweet lemon flavor of the pie was a dream, but unfortunately it also led to me having a nightmare that night. A valuable lesson learned: no sweets before bedtime!

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