Monthly Archives: June 2011

No Way Your Grandma’s Fudge is Better Than This

I Want You to Want Me

This recipe is 70 years old.  And it comes from a friend of a friend,  specifically, my friend Donna’s friend Marion who is 85 and has been making fudge since she was 15 years old.  Donna brought a batch over one day, and I  thought, “fudge, I don’t really care for it”.   Little did I know it was the best fudge ever made on earth.

I finally (after several tupperware gifts of fudge) asked for the recipe.  Donna brought me a photocopy of Marion’s handwritten instructions with the caveat, “many people have asked, no one has succeeded in making it”.   As I went through the recipe the first time I realized why people were having so much trouble.  It was written in a “dash of this, a dollop of that” kind of way that  a WW II Codebreaker would have a hard time cracking.

After many gruelling fudge-making trials Donna and I nailed it.

Before STEP 1: Marion says the whole fudge making process takes about 12 minutes.  She will not answer the phone or be otherwise distracted during this critical time and recommends the same to other fudge-makers.  I timed it–she’s pretty dead on. Please put iPhone on vibrate.

STEP 1:

This is the chocolate fudge version. Brown Sugar, white sugar,  semi-sweet chocolate, cream and Becel margarine.

The basics of fudge.

The first time we tried this I carefully measured the Becel margarine (I contemplated using butter but do I really want to mess with a 70-year-old recipe?) using my measuring spoons.  Marion’s recipe said “4 tbsp.”   The fudge turned out OK, but not nearly as creamy as it should be.  I asked Donna to investigate.  She came back and told me that the spoon Marion uses as a “tablespoon” is huge.  I pulled out a soup spoon, “like this?” I asked.   “Bigger” Donna said.  I pulled out a serving spoon, and yep, hit the nail on the head.  So for the vanilla fudge I use 6 tbsp of Becel margarine and it works like a charm.  (4 tbsp seems OK for the chocolate as I think the chocolate adds creaminess).

Step 2:

You now bring all the ingredients to a boil in a medium-sized, heavy bottom pan.  You can stir them together as they melt.  You are waiting to heat the liquid to soft ball stage (235-245 F).

Waiting to reach soft ball stage.

Marion uses the eyeball technique to pinpoint “softball.”  You pull the mixture off the stove every once in a while and drop a globule into very cold water.  You then roll the droplet between your fingers in the water to form a soft ball  (which then flattens on your hand when removed from the water.)  It takes some practise to grasp what you’re looking for.

I nixed that technique.  If you’re not a pastry chef or a frequent baker I predict this will be the end of your fudge making.  Instead I grabbed the digital thermometer (a candy thermometer available at the grocery store is also fine) and pulled the mixture off the stove at  240 F.

Step 3:

This was the most mysterious part of Marion’s process.

Mix Master

The instructions read, “Pour mixture into your Mixmaster and beat on speed 11 for about 1 minute. Carefully watching.”  Watching for what?  Donna did not know either.  Secondly, I am pretty sure the Mixmaster only exists in Marion’s kitchen and the Julia Child kitchen at the Smithsonian (it has 11 speeds!).

After careful watching

Instead of the Mixmaster I pulled out my electric beater and used that. Considering it is a hand-me down from my mom and its highest speed is as fast as the “low” speed on a new model, I figured it would work.  I poured in the hot fudge with a tsp vanilla and started beating.  And after about a minute I saw the splattered edges of the bowl start to crystallize–like the texture of fudge. Which I believe is what you’re “carefully watching”for.   So at that point I poured the thickening mixture into a 9″ X 9″ greased dish.

Fudge settles in.

Step 4:

Allow to cool while you lick the bowl.  Slice and eat.  You win!  Your life is now the best it will ever be.

Oh boy.

Marion’s Fudge Recipe (Adapted for lesser mortals).

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Chicago + Food + More Food

Day 1 started with three meals plus cocktails, Day 2 we worked up to four meals plus cocktails/wine. Day 3 we were only able to fit in 2 meals, no cocktails.  I guess we peaked early.  I need to talk to that guy who won all those hot dog eating contests.

Day 1, Friday

The Purple Pig. Crispy pig’s ears. Crispy Kale (ok, so now I know that when kale is deep-fried it is the most delicious food on earth.)  Same with pig’s ears.  Or old gym socks.  If you fry it, I guess I’ll eat it.

Still partaking in the deep-fried portion of the menu we move on to chorizo-stuffed olives.

Razor clams.  These were actually a little rubbery when they arrived.  But in case you’ve never seen a razor clam, here they are.  In other amazing stories, we were told by our waitress at the Girl and Goat (coming up) that a customer once claimed she had accidentally eaten the shell of a razor clam.  Yet, she wasn’t bleeding from the throat.  Or a professional sword swallower –as far as anyone knew.

BBQ dinner at “Q“.  Both of the pictures are terrible, I know.  But the lighting was bad and all our hands were covered in rib sauce. I forgot to care enough.  I do feel bad now with some perspective.  But, forgive me and check out the menu.  And drool.

This is my plate of the Award-winning “competition, full-slab St. Louis ribs”.  The ribs continue beyond the water glass and onto the floor.  It was crazy.  The bread and butter pickles are house-made and the four sauces are house BBQ, spicy BBQ, mustard sauce (for the Kobe brisket–we had that too–see, how could I be expected to concentrate on picture taking) and a thinner, savory sauce for the pulled pork sandwich.

And of course we started with House Bacon Cheddar Hush Puppies.  Knowing it was a bad bad good idea.

Day 2, Saturday

Lunch Part A:

I know this kind of looks “whatever” but it was delicious!  Spicy chicken tortilla soup at the Neimann Marcus cafe (Thanks Martha!).  It was like a super-deluxe Campbell soup.  I asked for the recipe and the waiter laughed.  Which I took for a “no”.  (update, look what a Google search revealed!  RECIPE.  Will try ASAP. Ingredients include cheddar cheese spread–see-I knew there was comfy canned soup feel)

Lunch Part B:

Pastoral.  A local cheese store.  Our cheese monger is slicing off a soft piece of buttery Stichelton.  Which is Stilton made with raw milk.  AOC Stilton, is only allowed to be made with pasteurized milk.  Did you know that? Just below the cheese board is a very yellow washed-rind cheese made with Guernsey milk.  It was incredible.  And the label is somewhere in the garbage.  I guess its just sweet memories for me.

Dinner.  We stayed at the Hotel Palomar which has a restaurant in it called Sable.  So it was either Chicago Deep Dish or Sable.  Sable won.

Might have been the Sweet Corn Crème Brûlée.  All the dishes were good but this was “let me lick the plate” delicious.  Sweet corn in a baked custard that is caramelized and sprinkled with sea salt.

OR might have been the cocktail menu:

Here are three we enjoyed with loud slurps:

War of the Roses
Pimm’s, Bombay Dry Gin, St-Germain, mint, fresh lime

Drunken Angel
Yamazaki 12 year, Punt e Mes, Mathilde Pear, fresh orange juice, Regan’s orange bitters

Board of Directors
Noilly Prat Dry, honey, Green Chartreuse, lemon

Girl and the Goat, midnight snack

The Girl and the Goat, 11:45 pm, The only reservation I could get calling a month in advance

The March issue of Saveur called The Girl and the Goat, “America’s Best New Restaurant”.  If you want a proper review, then go HERE to read the  piece by Dana Bowen.   The food was amazing.  Lick the plate delicious.  Worth-eating-a-fourth-meal-at-midnight good.  Consider moving to Chicago inspiring.

We had:

kohlrabi salad . fennel . evalon . toasted almonds . blueberry . ginger dressing

grilled baby octopus . guanciale . wax beans . radish . favas. pistachio-lemon vinaigrette (IN PHOTO)

smoked goat rilette empanadas . masala . ramp yogurt

AND one scoop Shiitake gelato and streusel. Dangerous.

Day 3, Sunday

Sardines Anytime!

We visited the Chicago Art Institute.  Toulouse-Lautrec inspired me to eat more sardines.

OK, so at the bottom is the blue raspberry flavour, then cherry, then cola and post-photo I added a dollop of banana.

It was a beautiful hot day and on my way back to the hotel I saw a 7-11.   How could I resist?

And to pair with my Slurpee I stopped in at Pastoral again for a sandwich, The Quack Attack.

The Slurpee/obnoxiously artisinal sandwich combo was kind of perfect.  Good Bye Chicago!  I’ll never eat again.  (Til dinner.)

Home Sweet Home.

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Top Chef Canada- Episode 12

Connie, Rob, Dale and Dustin.  Last Chefs Standing.  They put on their civvies and are picked up in a limo and Dustin makes a funny, “should have worn my suit-street clothes!”

The limo takes them to One, Chef McEwan’s restaurant in Yorkville for breakfast.  The most uncomfortable “let’s all relax and have waffles” that I’ve ever watched. No one looks relaxed, everyone (rightly) looks like they’re trying to figure out why they’re here and how this is going to show up as part of the elimination round.  Chef M talks a lot about his favourite way to eat which is “family style” using  ingredients that are super expensive and unattainable for most families.

I guess he likes to eat, “families with a butler-style”.  I’m just kidding.  Some of those families only have a maid and nanny.

Quickfire

Gale Simmins is the guest judge. GS is a former Top Chef America judge and current host of the new Top Chef: Just Desserts series.  She introduces the challenge: each Chef will pick a knife (this is getting dull, what about pulling swords?) with the name of a Canadian film and base their dish around it.

Dale- Gingersnaps

Connie- Naked Lunch

Rob- Bon Cop/ Bad Cop

Dustin- My Big Fat Greek Wedding

Dustin decides to work some “secret love” into Greek Food and Dale reveals his idea for a “murder plate” based on the Goth girls.  I have to admit, I’m having fun though at first I thought it sounded kind of lame.

Connie turns in a plate of “addictive foods” serving peanut brittle, truffle pop corn and chips sprinkled with lime.  Thea and Gale can barely tear themselves away.

Dustin makes a Danforth-style Greek plate of grilled octopus with some shrimp (?) hidden under a tomato (hidden crustacean love).  All the other chefs are laughing their ass off.

Dale makes the coolest plate pairing blood-red salmon and Goth black squid ink risotto.

Rob does shrimp two ways–spicy (bad cop) and mellow (bon cop).

Ultimately, Gail Simmons gives the win to Dale, she loves the violence on the plate says he showed the best technique.

Elimination Challenge

The chefs must create a menu for a “family-style” dinner party for Mark McEwan and his judge friends.  From a pantry stocked by Mark McKewan.  Since Dale won the Quickfire he has a head start of 5 minutes to take whatever he wants.

As Rob says, “everyone else gets his leftovers”.

Connie is freaking out that he might take the chicken.  C’mon Con, you think Dale would ever cook chicken?  Not unless it was flown in fresh from Bresse. (Fresh Chicken of Bresse Air– Food Network development people are you listening??)

We cut to some “we have extra time in the show” shots of the chefs.  Dale and Dusty are “so happy together” in their little bunk-home that Dustin admits there may be a bit of a bro-mance brewing.

The guest judges this week are David Lee (of Nota Bene), Jacob Richler (who comes across as a guy who would sneer at his own grandmother’s chicken soup) and Amy Verner- trend spotter. (The woman is everywhere.   She trend spots everything.  I think she must duplicate herself like clever Michael Keaton does in Multiplicity.  All versions looking stylish and cool. Unlike clever Michael Keaton.)

Course 1:

Connie kills course 1 with her lipsmacking beet salad and home-made cheese.  Chef Lee and Gail Simmons are much impressed.  Dustin’s fresh made pasta is sticky and flavourless while Dale’s oysters and mignonette is considered clumsy and “totally unlike Dale’s style”.

Course 2:

Course 2 is overshadowed by Connie’s family-style disaster “the roast chicken is rare!”.  She throws it into the deep fryer while Rob looks on amused, “Connie’s a little Texas today,  Shooting some stray bullets.”  But adds in typical smart-ass style, “but who am I too judge?”

So Connie squeaks by with her chicken and potato dish.   Dale serves Diver scallops with asparagus two ways.

Robs stomps all over Dustin’s “amateur” grilled lake trout with his seared perch, gnocchi and peas. One a hit , one a miss.

Course 3:

Dale makes steak, Jacob Richler sneers–or maybe he’s just breathing.  Rob makes a mouth-watering braised lamb neck with roasted mushrooms and baby beets which is loved by all.  Connie comes back from deep-fried chicken with a gorgeous chocolate ganache tart that no one can get enough of and Dustin…serves a composed fruit plate.  What?  For you last dish before the finals? (You even managed a strawberry shortcake for Milestones dude!)

Gail Simmons sums up everyone’s shock, ““I’m totally confounded by the fruit plate. This is your last chance to wow us….I actually think it’s absurd.”

Judge’s Table:

Rob takes the win, essentially he was the only one not too have screwed up some element of the meal.  Everyone looks pretty nervous as Connie is declared safe (YESS!!! Go Connie!!!!) and it is down to Dustin and Dale.  The Bromancers.  You know that Dustin must be the one to go, but man, it must have been hard for Thea to say.  He’s still smiling and completely gracious.  (I spend 5 minutes gushing to my husband about how sweet Dustin is only to discover he really doesn’t care.)

Dale actually looks stricken. Absence makes the heart grow fonder bromancer.  Or sometimes peach schnapps have the same effect.

Next week:  A winery, a kitchen and the first Top Chef of Canada revealed.

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Duck, Duck, Duck Eggs…

Quack not Peep.

Duck Eggs, $1 each.  Three left.  East York Civic Centre Farmer’s Market.  Wrapped in half a torn carton vacated by previous egg tenants.

The Toddler Hand is Quicker than The Parental Eye.

Imagine a rather shrill shriek emitting from somewhere inside me, “Don’t touch!”.  Then in a calm, firm, Supernanny-approved tone I bent down to eye level and rephrased, “These are duck eggs. We only have three.  If you break one I will make you lay it again.”   But I smiled while I said it so it seemed friendly.

The yolk was very intense and orange. Boiled for 6 minutes so the yolk slightly firmed but was gooey in the middle.  Still good for dipping crusts of toast.  5 minutes would have been runny.

Essentially:

Brought water to boil.

Brought eggs to room temperature by holding in warm water.

Pierced end of eggs with a needle.

Added to boiling water for 6 minutes and then into ice water to stop cooking.

Cut off top.

Licked yolk and salt off fingers.


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Top Chef: Episode 10

I have a suggestion for the opening sequence.  Let’s add visual effects.  So that when we see the same boring morning shots we can capture Francois‘s toothpaste glowing like kryptonite or Dale folding socks in “bullet time” like Keanu Reeves in the Matrix.  Or just have the same stock sound effect of an alarm going off.  That’s good too.

The recap: essentially puts Connie through the meat grinder again-just like her much criticized sausage of last week.  Meaning, we want you to think she’s going home but probably not.

Quickfire

Lynn Crawford is our guest chef today.  She steps up to the plate as Thea announces that the challenge will be to make two meals for Porter Airlines.  A morning and evening snack.

A gaggle of cute stewardesses stop just short of forming a Porter Pyramid as they pose with the tiny cardboard boxes each chef must fit their mini-meal into.

Francois comments “cute girls” as his and Dale’s eyes seem to pop out.  They are like a men who have just served a life sentence seeing a woman in high heels for the first time.  What is this horrible place they call the GE kitchen?

Poor Lynn Crawford was obviously asked to shed some wisdom before the start of the challenge and maybe what she wanted to say was, “good luck squishing food into those boxes and don’t even bother trying to make it good, the airline will screw it up” but instead she had to say something generically bland , “be creative, do something different.”  Like her lipstick–very Gwen Stefani with a bit of craziness happening with the lip liner.

Dustin gets to work on a smoked trout crepe for his breakfast snack and he’s making a prosciutto sandwich for the afternoon.

Sandwich being the theme of the day.  Francois is working on egg salad (which ends up being a chopped omelette) and a tuna sandwich and Connie goes for chicken salad with pasta salad on the side.

Andrea dares to be different (oh oh, she’s following the generic advice) and says, “screw the sandwich” I’m going grilled salmon and couscous.

Judging:

Andrea and Dusty’s dishes come out on the bottom–or in airline hilarity–“didn’t fly”.  Dustin’s smoked trout crepe is too strong for a morning flight unless Porter is adding an East European route and Andrea’s salmon was dry and Chef Crawford didn’t like the chimichurri sauce.(though wouldn’t you be impressed to get chimichurri sauce on a flight to London, Ontario?)

The dishes that (wait for it) SOARED were Rob’s chicken club with a Grand Marnier chocolate fondant on the side.  Also a hit was Dales’ pepper-bacon sandwich with apples tossed in cream cheese.  But the big winner was Connie for overall “taste and visual appeal”.  Chef Crawford loved her homemade blueberry yogurt and called the granola alongside “fully loaded”.

She wins a trip for two to Chicago with the caveat that she had to make yogurt for the whole plane.

Elimination Challenge

Using the “terroir” philosophy the chefs must make three meals that represent a day in the life of the province they pull from the knife block.

Connie pulls “belle provence” and is pretty sure it’s in Quebec….

Rob lucks out and pulls Ontario (he’s from Toronto).

Dale get interior BC which is also great as he knows it well.

Andrea pulls the Praires.  Which I admit, kind of sucks.  Steak and Saskatoon Berry pie anyone?

Francois gets the Maritimes.  He is raring to go using seafood knowledge he learned in BC since he’s never been to the East Coast.

Dustin pulls Wild Rose Country.  I admit, I didn’t know that was Alberta.  I thought he would be cooking with Avon’s latest perfume.

The chefs have 5 minutes to put together a menu, 20 minutes ot shop on a $100 budget and three hours of cooking time.

Francois helps Connie by giving her the ol’ “When in Quebec eat Tortiere” schtick.

Dale is telling Andrea to go “comfort food” for the Praires. (As in, Oh God I live in the Praires. Give me some cheese cake NOW)

Cut to the “shopping” portion of our programme.

Cut to out “coming up clip” where people (Andrea) freaks out that Connie is using store-bought pastry. “I would feel like a douche bag doing that” says Andrea.

Cut back to the kitchen where the chefs run around setting up smokers and opening fridges.

Dale is pretty chill as always, ” We have three hours for three dishes–the point is to make it be difficult”

Andrea, slightly panicky,, “Three hours is not enough time to make Top Chef food.”

She then mocks Dale for being Mr. Food.  What a loser for being a chef and being on the show Top Chef and knowing a lot about food!    Dale then predicts the final four will be all the guys, “the girls are running out of ideas”.  See, I find that more annoying than the vast food knowledge part of his personality Andrea.

The kitchen is exceptionally hot.  Shockingly we don’t see anyone wiping sweat of their brow with Sponge Towels which seem to be featured at every commercial break.  Due to the heat Connie and Andrea forgo making ice cream and Andrea gives up on pie crust.  This is where Connie goes for it and just uses store bought (also acknowledging the time pressure).

Judges

Other than the usual judges and Chef Crawford  guest judge Jonathan Gushue of Langdon Hall is seated in the dining room.

First up is Dustin (Alberta) who’s dishes are beautiful to look at. And they start off well with his “steak and eggs” take on breakfast called, “well executed” and “perfectly cooked.  Lunch goes a bit down hill when his stew is not “viscous” enough and the stuffing of his chicken is too salty.  Plus the stuffed chicken leg makes Chef Gushue feel like he’s in a “banquet hall”.

Francois is next with his Maritime line-up.  His first dish is totally doused in Hollandaise sauce and looks messy.  It’s downhill from the start, “confused flavours” “soggy beat foam doesn’t let the mussels sing” “too many products” and “it’s like he’s never been to the East Coast”.  Well, yah….

Andrea is plating and comments “I’m pretty happy with everything” meaning the editors have just bestowed her with the kiss of death.  Sure enough her Bison Barley soup  (you can get bison at Loblaws?) has a film of fat on it–the comment summary is “no skill” “no Praires” and “no flavour”.  Even the crumble she made instead of the pastry is not well done.  The bulgur wheat is not broken down.  (But then you can taste the Praires- right?)

Dale fares much much better. In fact he pulls it off.  The judge are drooling over his dishes and his knowledge of inner BC. He started with breakfast of poached eggs with morel mushrooms and hollandaise, then roasted B.C. salmon and peas cooked three ways, and dinner was venison loin with bannock ( a Native style flat bread).

Connie, who knew nothing about Quebec cuisine, sure could’ve fooled the judges. She presented  a smoked trout and potato salad, a venison and veal tourtière and wild blueberry pie. The tourtière got knocked for authenticity but the flavours were great and the judges loved her pie crust (thanks Tenderflake!)

Rob’s Ontario menu, inspired by his grandmother’s cooking left him sitting in the middle. It wasn’t the flop that Francois’s meal was but it was “uninspired”.  Sorry Gram.

Judges Table

Dale and Connie (who’s run out of ideas-right Dale?) get the top two spots.  And despite Connie admitting to buying her pastry the judges seem impressed at her ability to “make a situation work” for her.  Kind of surprising but OK.  (Maybe she should have heated up a PC Tortiere too?)

Ultimately Connie takes the top spot. She’s back (to back) winning both the Quickfire and the Elimination.  YES!!!

Not surprisingly Francois and Andrea are crowned worst of the day.  The judges go hard on Andrea who gets defensive and blames the short amount of time she had and the hot kitchen– she gets a jab in again at Connie’s use of the premade pie crust.  Chef Crawford tells her that is was not the circumstance but her execution that failed her.

Francois gets beat up a bit but the judges seem almost amused at his fumbling. “He’s like a mad scientist.”

It’s clear who’s on the cutting block–So long Andrea.   You were feisty.  I liked it.

My favourite outgoing line so far, “Today I regret not ever being to the Praires.”  Andrea tackles Connie in an “I hate you-I love you” kind of hug and departs.  One woman left.

NEXT WEEK:  Food carts!  The mystery is what sponsor will we showcase?

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Oh, What A Perfect Day

It was my birthday Saturday.  Sure, I’m talking about it.  It was pretty good.  Three great events.

1. GOATS

I had the good fortune to tag along to Idyllwood Farms with Vivian Szebeny of Upper Canada Cheese

I discovered that baby goats come packed in blue storage containers. A stackable goat-herd is very practical for condos or other small dwellings.

A Gemini like me. Though my face is less furry.

BISTRO

Ici Bistro actually.  Champagne to start and Grand Marnier souffle to finish.  Also discovered from my mother that I practically was raised on veal brains (they sold them at Safeway).  Apparently a popular dinner scrambled with eggs or breaded like schnitzel.  Also we used to inflate pigs bladders and use them as balls (wait, I think that was Little House on the Praire).  Such a similar life though.

This was sablefish in a lemon beurre blanc with white asparagus and tomato coulis.

WOODY ALLEN

Well, it’s true, I love Woody Allen.  When I go to New York I have these little fantasies that I bump into him (usually in Central Park) and then I don’t know what happens after that part because I absolutely cannot be normal around famous people, not even Jim Cuddy from Blue Rodeo.  Who I stood behind once when we were crossing the street at Yonge and Bloor and even that made me feel queasy in an “OMG it’s the back of  Jim Cuddy!!!!” way.

Til next year then.

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Toast Post: Burrata

Forget babies, storks should deliver Burrata.

Out of the way triple-cream cheese, Burrata is here.  Here for a good time, not a long time (in the wise lyrics of the Trooper song.  They used to have burrata thrown on stage during concerts.).  As much as you want your Mozzarella di Bufala to be fresh, you want your Burrata to be newborn.  You want the exterior to be delicate and tender as possible while the inside is creamy, oozy heaven.  Heaven in this case being small, elastic bits of the torn mozzarella (stracciatella) mixed with rich cream.  It should be buttery, sweet and fresh in flavour.  It should make you weep.  Just a little bit.

Makes you feel a little savage. I WANT THIS NOW!

Burrata was once upon a time made with buffalo milk but now it’s made mainly cow’s milk. Originating in Southern Italy (in Puglia) the name comes from the Italian word “burro” (butter).  You might find it wrapped in green leek-like leaves called “asphodel” and the fresher/greener the leaves, the fresher the burrata.

More importantly, I have not yet made you drool to the maximum.  Here is the burrata “fork to mouth”.  My mouth.  And I never even made it to the bread.

Crazy Good. More than Pop Tarts even.

No matter what you do, if you rip this open in the car while driving or serve it at home– please–eat it at room temperature.  Warm it in a bowl of warm water (in a plastic bag or whatever wrap it came in) if you can’t wait to get to it.  Like batteries, you can hold it under your armpit to warm it up but this is best done out of site of guests or even the general public.

Most importantly, don’t share.  That’s just a crazy idea.  Your kindergarten teacher did not know about burrata when she taught you that rule.  (Though, she was right about not eating the glue even if it was glittery and bright.)

Burrata is now available at All the Best Fine Foods every Friday (flown in from Italy) until mid-September and on offer at Obika Mozzarella Bar.

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