PMAT Live! Episode 7: Pâte à Who? Pâte à Choux! as Part of a Multi-Media U-PMAT Class of the Same Name

20 Oct
Arnold Schwarzenegger as The Terminator

That's what it does. That's all it does.

Have you guys seen that spot remover machine Thing that you just put down on a stain on your carpet, push a button and walk away?  It’s magical.  No, I don’t have one, but I’ve seen it on Television, and I’m sure that all the claims are true.  It’s called a SpotBot, and that’s exactly what it is.  It’s kind of a robot-ish Item that removes spots.  It’s what it does.  It’s All It Does!!!!  Sorry, Terminator moment.

You just put him down on top of a stain, flip the On Switch and wander off to eat Bon Bons or whatever while the little dude fulfills his raison d’etre.  For Six Minutes, it squirts solution, scrubs and then sucks up the dirty water.  ‘Cause that’s what it does.  You don’t have to keep scampering over between every bon bon to check that it’s doing its Designated Task.  It just does it, because that’s what it’s designed to do.  I bet SpotBot is great friends with The Cyberdyne Systems Model 101 Series 800 Terminator.  They just get each other, you know?

I’d like to propose another entrant into the Made To Do One Thing Very Well Without Any Monitoring By You category:  pâte à choux. Pâte à Who?  Pâte à Choux.  I won’t repeat that, because I don’t want you to smack your monitor, but that term is French for choux paste.  And that’s part-French for cabbage paste.  Now it all becomes clear, right?

Wait a minute, ain’t them cabbages vegetables?

Oh, good remembering!cream puff shells

Bless the French.  They do like a Descriptive Turn of Phrase.  The choux paste, when baked, puffs up and looks a bit like heads of cabbage.  If you cock your head to one side.  And squint.  Regardless of whether it looks like cabbages or cotton balls, the fact remains, the stuff Does puff up.  Because that’s what it does.  That’s All It Does!!!!

If you, as The Thumb, use the right proportion of water to flour and beat in some eggs to get the Proper Consistency, you can then know that your paste will become all Cabbage-Like in the oven.  Because, say it with me, “That’s what it does.”  And you can go eat some bon bons.  Or clean your carpet.

I now give you (one of) the SpotBot(s) of the pastry world:  pâte à choux.


A couple of Items before I let you go:

  1. Per 4 oz flour, you will need 4 oz butter, 8 oz water and 8 oz egg (about 4 large).  If you find that the consistency of the dough is still a little too Stodgy after the 4th egg, add in another yolk or half of a white.
  2. pate a choux can be sweet or savory.  For sweet ones, keep the salt down to about 1/4 teaspoon per cup of flour and the sugar up at about 1 Tablespoons per cup of flour.  For savory, use 1/2 teaspoon salt per cup of flour and just a heavy pinch of sugar.
  3. Don’t be afraid to add herbs and/or spices to your dough.
  4. You don’t have to bake pâte à choux.  Poach them to make light and yummy dumplings.  Deep fry them to make churro-type deals (roll them in powdered sugar or cinnamon sugar or Whatever).  Oooh, I bet you could even coat a wee candy bar bite in pâte à choux and then deep fry them!  State fair, here I come!
  5. Add grated cheese to the mix and then bake it with more cheese on top to make gougeres, swanky little cheese puff dudes.
  6. You can fill your sweet or savory puffs with anything you like.  Heck, you can squirt Cheez Whiz up there, if you want, but that’s sort of going from the Sublime to the Ridiculous.  But who am I to judge?
  7. If your filling is too chunky to squirt (ew), slice off the top 1/3 of your puff, scoop in your filling, and set the top back on at a Jaunty Angle.
  8. You can pipe pâte à choux in any shape you want, freeze them, and then bake them off later.
  9. You can also freeze baked puffs, then crisp them up in the oven for a couple of minutes at 350F before using.

And I think that’s pretty much it.  Oh, don’t forget your Certificate of Pate a Choux Prowess!  You’ve earned it!

Sunday Suppers: A Sincere Thank You and a Big Bowl of Chicken Pot Pie

10 Oct

homemade chicken pot pieSo, most of you know that I participated in Project Food Blog this year.  I made it to Round Three, at which point the bus stopped and let me off on the side of the road.  I had to walk home, and I just made it back this morning.  I’m exhausted.  I am consoling myself with the thought that, if I had stayed on through a few more rounds, my walk home would be that much longer.

I just want to give all of you who left kind comments and gave me advice about taking pictures and voted and supported me a great big Thank You!  I have met many, many wonderful folks through this challenge, some of whom were let off the bus with me, and others who waved at us through the back window as the bus pulled away.  One of them even slapped a hastily scrawled sign up that read, “Wish You Were Still Here.”  I wish all of you who are still on the ride the best of luck; it has been a real honor to count myself among all the talented competitors.

Having just returned home, slightly dusty from the road, I decided that I would make myself a wonderful, homey, unpretentious, warming and comforting chicken pot pie.  Yes, it really does require that many adjectives.  I also want to share it with everyone involved with Project Food Blog, especially those who worked feverishly to deliver some really excellent photo-tutorials for Challenge #4. I think all of them need a nice big bowl of comfort right now, too.

Oh, and as another huge Thank You to all my Twitter buddies who shared the way they make Cool Collages, I have made several to insert into this post.  Yay!

pie dough for chicken pot pieUse your favorite all-butter pie dough recipe (or you could also use lard), but add freshly ground black pepper, a little extra salt and some poultry seasoning to the dry ingredients.  Add in your cold, cubed butter, and then toss and pinch/rub the fat into the flour until it’s the texture of coarse corn meal.  Don’t worry–the dough Nazis will not show up to check.  Just make sure the dough is fairly mealy.

Add a little ice water and toss to combine.  Do the squeeze test.  If the still-dry-looking dough holds together when you squeeze, you’re done.  If not, add a bit more ice water and test again.  Most likely, it will still look dry even when it does hold together.  But just stop.  Don’t add more water, or you’ll just develop more gluten and end up with a sticky Hard To Roll Nightmare of a dough. Err on the side of caution, and drink the leftover ice water, since.  I know I will, what with all the Road Dust in my throat.rolling out pastry for chicken pot pie

Once your dough passes the Squeeze Test, sort of smoosh it all down into an Evenish Layer in the bottom of your bowl.  Then, cleave it in twain.  You can use a sword, if you have one; I used my bench knife.  That’s right, just Back Off.

Get out two sheets of parchment paper, and shape each half of your pastry into aPuckish Shape that mirrors your baking dish.  Mine dish was rectangular, so my puck was Square-ish.  If you prefer a Circular Vessel, make your puck round.  Roll out between the parchment to a thickness of about 1/8″.  For those of you who are Metric folks, that’s prolly about 3-ishmm.  Check that your dough is large enough to cover your Vessel by turning said vessel upside down on top of the dough and Making Sure.  Once you’re Sure, throw the dough in the freezer while you make the Pie Guts.

dice onions, carrots, celery and shallotThe Guts
2 parts diced onion
1 part diced carrot
1 part diced celery
.5 part minced shallot
4 Tablespoons (ish) butter and/or olive oil
4 Tablespoons (ish) flour
salt, pepper and poultry seasoning, to taste

homemade chicken stock (or low-sodium store-bought)
diced potatoes (I like starchy ones–helps to thicken the sauce)
lots of diced or shredded cooked chicken (I prefer thighs)
mixed vegetables (I go for the comforting Veg-All for this–we’re talking comfort, not haute cuisine)
heavy cream or half and half to finish

Dice your mirepoix; mince the shallot and sweat in butter/oil in a big old pot over medium heat until limp, translucent and just starting to color.  Add the flour and stir around for a couple of minutes.  Keep it moving so it doesn’t stick or burn.building the sauce for chicken pot pieOnce your Poix has Mired, add in a bit of stock and bring to a boil.  Add more stock (enough so you’ll have plenty to fill your cooking vessel).  Once you have all the stock in, check to see if you like your Sauce Viscosity.  If it’s too thin, you can dribble in some cornstarch/flour and water slurry.  Just make sure it comes to a boil to cook off the raw starch taste.  Once you love your sauce, toss in your vegetables–whatever kinds you like).  I tossed in my Veg-All and wee potato dices.  If Camille wants to help, be very firm and Do Not Let Her.CamilleShe can be pretty persistent, but stand firm.
dicing potatoes for chicken pot pieStir in the cooked chicken, and season your Guts with salt, pepper and poultry seasoning until you Love It.  Finish with a healthy splash of cream or half and half for More Dairy Comfort.

In a perfect world, you will cool your Guts to room temperature and then put the pastry lid on.  In my world, I just go with it, fully expecting some of the butter in the crust to melt but just Not caring.  Because I am in need of Comfort.  I did tell you about the bus ride, right?baking chicken pot pieAnyway, just peel off the parchment paper and place your dough on top of your Vessel.  Trim to fit, and then bake at 375F until deeply golden brown and bubbling and yummy.  During this time, take a nice hot shower or bath and put on your favorite jammies.  Have your Beloved make you some tea.

Plate (well, Bowl), and enjoy.

This one is for all you PFB2010 Challenge #4 Folks. Relax and enjoy. Best of luck to all of you!

 

 

 

Happy, Happy Birthday, Uncle Ray!

8 Oct

lemon and raspberry birthday cakeOn October 6, 1916, Raymond Jacques Leavee was born in Hell’s Kitchen. His dad left the family when Raymond was still in single digits, and his strong-willed mother raised him alone. Fortunately, Ray was an enterprising young man, and he found ways to make money to help his mom. He wrote greeting card rhymes for American Greetings for a nickel a line.

When he was sixteen, he skipped school and rode his bicycle down to a retail store that had advertised a position for an errand boy.  This was during The Great Depression, and he found himself in a ridiculously long line of grown men, all vying to pick up sandwiches.  As fate would have it, the owner of the company took an interest in Raymond and made him wait in his office until he had interviewed all the men in line.  To make a long story short, Ray got the job but had to promise to stay in school.  He ended up going to night school to get his diploma and then went on to college and eventually Harvard Business School.

He had a long and very successful career with Macy’s, and, at thirty-something, ended up being the youngest Vice President of sales that they’d ever hired.

During his military training in World War II, he befriended a young man, Colin, whose family lived very close to Ray’s mother.  During one Leave, he went to visit this young man’s family and ended up meeting and marrying Colin’s older sister, Evelyn.  Evelyn and her sisters used to babysit my father when he was a little kid, and that’s how our families all came together.  We could not be closer if we were related by blood.  Ray and Evelyn are my aunt and uncle, and that’s all there is to it.  Ray’s son, Ken, is my cousin, no matter what the Family Tree says.

We lost Auntie Ev to Alzheimer’s a few months ago.  After 65 years of marriage, it has been quite an adjustment (to say the least) for Uncle Ray.  I am happy to report that he is doing quite well. The Beloved and I go down to visit him frequently, as do my parents, and he has an amazing network of friends from the neighborhood and church who check in daily.  Ken calls several times a day, visits when he can and is an all-around Good Son.

Ken and Candace

My cousin Ken and his keen wife Candace

Uncle Ray turned 94 on Wednesday, and we all went to Pinehurst to help him celebrate.  Ken was in charge of the main course, spaghetti with meatballs (Uncle Ray’s favorite), mom was in charge of the salad (yum), and I handled dessert.  Uncle Ray had requested a cake with lemon and raspberry, so I really wanted to deliver. lemon and raspberry birthday cakeI made Rose’s All-Occasion Downy Butter Cake, but I added lemon zest and split the extract 50/50 lemon and vanilla.  I didn’t want to stop there, though.  I wanted to give the cake a bit of an herbal note to enhance the lemon, so I went with about 3/4 teaspoon of Herbes de Provence.  It was an Excellent Choice, if I do say so myself.  I highly recommend it. lemon raspberry birthday cakeFor the filling, I went with a pure raspberry jam.  With seeds.  Without high fructose corn syrup.  If you’re feeling kicky, you can make your own jam.

But, as good as the cake and the yummy jam was, the icing was The Best.  I went with a classic pâte à bombe based buttercream, based on another of Rose’s formulas.

Uncle Ray’s Lemon Buttercream

  • 1 cup demerara sugar (you can use plain old white sugar, but I think the demerara adds a deeper and more interesting flavor)
  • 2 oz freshly squeezed and strained lemon juice (that’s 2 ounces after straining)
  • 2 oz water
  • 6 large egg yolks
  • scant 1/2 teaspoon salt, or to taste
  • zest from 1 1/2 lemons
  • 1/2 teaspoon lemon extract
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 pound (4 sticks) unsalted butter, at about 65F-68F

Place the yolks, salt and zest in your mixer bowl.  With the whip attachment, whip on high speed until thick and lightened in color.  This isn’t rocket science.  Just let it whip while you’re getting the sugar ready.

Put the sugar, lemon juice and water in a sauce pan and heat over medium high heat, stirring, until all the sugar has dissolved.  Bring to a boil, put the lid on, turn down the heat to medium-low, and let boil for a couple of minutes to get rid of any sugar crystals.  Make sure you’re using a large pot, because this stuff will bubble up quite a bit.

Turn the heat back up to medium (just so you maintain a boil) and cook the sugar until it reaches 240F.

With the mixer on medium, slowly pour the sugar down the side of the mixer bowl in a thin stream.  Increase the speed to high and whip until completely cool.

Whip in the butter, an ounce at a time, until it’s all in.  Whip in one ounce before you add the next, and so on, to maintain a lovely emulsion.

And that’s pretty much it.  I torted each layer so I had four thin-ish layers, spread a pretty thick layer of raspberry jam between the layers and then frosted the whole thing with the buttercream.  The flowers are from our yard.

This cake was Ah-Maze-Ing, if I do say so myself.  Exceptionally buttery and lemony with a fresh, green note from the Herbes de Provence.  The raspberry provided a lovely contrast, both visually and…taste-urally.  And the buttercream tasted just like lemons, but without the chalkiness of an American-style buttercream.  Seriously, if you want to Swoon with Pleasure and you are a Fan of Butter, you owe it to yourself to make cooked sugar buttercream.Uncle Ray Meets CakeI was so pleased with the way this cake turned out.  Uncle Ray was thrilled, and I’m hoping he’s eating leftovers for breakfast even as I type this.

Ninety-four.  He’s an amazing man, and I am honored to call him Uncle.  Happy Birthday, Uncle Ray.Dad and Uncle RayMom and KenAuntie 'Leenie

Birthday Cake

We didn't have any birthday candles, so we just borrowed a beeswax taper from off the kitchen table. We are a Very Resourceful Family.

Dear Mattel, Ambien Is No Excuse–You People Are Just Wrong. Love, Jenni

7 Oct

So, The Beloved and I spent the day in Pinehurst yesterday, helping Uncle Ray celebrate his 94th birthday.  I made a cake.  See:

birthday cake decorated with fresh flowers

More on this luscious little guy later...

But that’s not what I’m here to talk about.  I’m here to share with you a horror of Immeasurable Proportion perpetrated on an unsuspecting and trusting public by The Burning Hand of Satan Himself (BHS), Mattel. Let me share with you.  Make sure you have an Adult Beverage and that you are Seated.  I shall wait…………………………………………………………………………………….  Ready?  Okay.

We got home at about 9:00 last evening.  The Beloved went over to check on the animals we’re watching for Susan and Chuck:  Loud Howard and the Chick-ettes.  I fed our guys.  We met back up at about 9:30, broke to deal with email and What Not, got a shower around 10:30, and then The Beloved decided that he wanted to watch an episode of Good Eats.  We cued up the DVR and watched a scintillating episode about Paella.  So far, this all sounds pretty normal, pretty un-write-about-able, right?  Well, I’m not finished yet.  The BHS looms ahead.

We brushed our teeth and were in bed by just-before-midnight.  Now, often we save magazines and catalogs to Peruse before bedtime.  Yes, we are that Wild.  At any rate, last night’s offerings included a Penzeys catalog, a King Arthur catalog and a very innocent-seeming mini wish book type Item from the BJ’s Warehouse Store.  Yes, it’s apparently time for the Wee Ones to start earmarking their Orders for Santa or Hanukkah-man or whoever brings presents to your place in December.  Except for those guys who don’t even get to celebrate birthdays.  Rip off.  Sorry guys.

Anyhow, I passed over the two food-related catalogs in favor of toys.  I am drawn to Wish Books.  I think it’s because my brother and I used to fight over the Sears One when it came–he always turned down the corners of pages with sleeping bags and bikes and stuff.  I turned down corners of pages with doll heads with make up and art sets with 50 bajillion oil pastels. I was sleepily thumbing through BJ’s slim Volume of Offerings while The Beloved was Seeing to his Evening Ablutions.  He ablutes a Very Lot.  I saw a keen looking building set thingy with gears and stuff that contained Glow In the Dark Stickers.  I turned down the corner of that page. I like stickers.  I also saw some Fisher Price items, a bunch of dress-up clothes, and a bunch of Wii stuff.  Then, I turned the page, and this is what I saw.  Here’s the Exact Page:Toys

There’s a girl doing the Home Alone Face Cradle, a Rapunzel doll atop Rapunzel Horsie, a baby with an Unfortunate Headband, a fake dog that Poos, a few dolls that are designed to cling onto tweens who have outgrown dolls.  I can almost smell the Desperation.  And then, what’s that we see below the Rapunzels?  Why, it’s a Barbie.  How Cute!  Oh, she’s Video Girl Barbie!  Maybe she comes with a DVD of Barbie music videos.  You know, for sing along fun. But wait!  What’s that sentence on the box?  “I am a real working Video Camera!”  Let that one sink in.  It’s a Barbie–beloved toy of pre-pubescent girls, and a few boys, everywhere.  And her necklace is actually a Lens!  There’s a diminutive screen on her back, under her stylish hoodie, so you can see what what Barbie sees.  And, there’s a USB port right where a real life Barbie would proudly sport a Tramp Stamp.  I think she might even comes with a one-year-membership to Kidlet Pr0n Dot Com.

Do you hear that maniacal laughter?  That’s Creepy St. Peddy, patron saint of Pedophiles everywhere.  Yes, somehow, the BHS reached down and tickled someone’s brain at Mattel, causing them to bolt upright in bed with a Eureka Moment:

“I’ve got it!  Let’s make a doll with a video camera IN HER NECK!  Woo hoo; we’ll be rich, rich, rich!!”

They probably originally considered clothing the doll in a trench coat, giving it a toupee and a fake mustache as well as a Bag O’ Candy and a van.  Then, they realized that Barbie would probably sell better.  After all, making a Pedophile Aid actually look like the stereotypical pedophile might Unsettle the Tots.

Not to beat a dead horse–a very disturbing, ugly dead horse–but let me just propose some possible Disastrous Scenarios:

Scenario 1: Hey, Marcie? Yes, Uncle Pete?  Why don’t you take Barbie into the dressing room so she can help you pick out clothes! Keen idea, Uncle Pete!

Scenario 2Dear Mr. & Mrs. Smith, For some reason, little Billy is bringing a Barbie Doll to school.  While I do not want to pigeonhole him with strict gender role identifiers, I find it disturbing that he often makes Barbie look up the girls’ skirts.  Just wanted to bring this to your attention.  Sincerely, Little Billy’s Teacher

Scenario 3Honey? Yes, Mommy?  How ’bout you not take Barbie into the tub with you when Ernie is babysitting. Oh, okay…

It’s like Mattel, guided by the Burning Hand of Satan, decided to design a product targeted directly at, not young girls, but pedophiles.  Maybe that Mattel designer was on Ambien or something, but I just can’t see that there is any way that this toy can be construed as anything but a pedophile’s Dream Come True.

What do you think?  Am I overreacting, or has Mattel really lost its collective mind?

A Cornucopia of Comfort Food

3 Oct

dinner party menu items

Dinner party menu items

Voting is now open for Challenge #3.  If you’d like to attend my party, please RSVP here.

Thank you, sincerely, to everyone who voted for my Challenge #2 post in Project Food Blog!  I so appreciate the support, and I now invite you to come to a dinner party held in your honor–it’s all about comfort-with-a-twist.  Voting for Challenge #3 in Project Food Blog–Luxury Dinner Party–begins Monday, October 4.  I’ll have a link here as well as over on my Project Food Blog page.  Enjoy!

When you ask a great chef what he or she would like to eat at his/her last meal, you might expect some pretty rarefied responses.  Maybe one of those dishes that you find at very pretentious restaurants whose title takes up five lines of the menu?  Perhaps they’d go for the daring:  live octopus? Fugu?  Mayhap the disturbing:  balutCasu Marzu?  Heck, they’re dying anyway, right?

homemade caramel corn

Here it is!

Many of the actual responses might surprise you:  A perfectly roasted chicken.  A hamburger topped with a fried egg.  A hot dog.  A slice of lemon tart.  In the end, we all crave comfort.

Baked rigatoni

Hello, lovely baked rigatoni.

So, for this dinner party, I knew I wanted to go the comfort route.  Not because this was going to be anybody’s last meal, but because I love the people for whom I was cooking, and I wanted them to be familiar with all the dishes while adding just a bit of a twist to many of them.  I also knew that three of my guests would be under thirteen, and one hasn’t yet reached the “Must Be This Tall to Ride” mark at the fair.  I wanted my young guests to try everything, and I knew they’d be more  likely to try foods with names they’d at least heard.

Bread Pretzels

Thank God for pretzels.

My theme–comfort–was nailed down, but which comfort foods?  Being less-than-uptight when it comes to parties, I decided to throw a few darts into the Hinternet and see what I’d hit.  I hit the mother lode, Reasons-for-Celebrating Central:  an encyclopedic listing of every food observance known to man, from Soup Day to Nuts Week.

Caramel Apples

Gorgeous.

Of course, I checked out October-as-a-whole, the first week in October and the day of the party, October 1.  There was an exhaustive listing, and these were the ones I chose for the menu:

Month-long Observances

  • National Apple Month
  • National Caramel Month
  • National Chili Month
  • National Cookie Month
  • National Dessert Month
  • National Pasta Month
  • National Pickled Peppers Month
  • National Popcorn Poppin’ Month
  • National Pork Month
  • National Pretzel Month
  • Vegetarian Awareness Month

Week-long Observances

  • National Chili Week

October 1st Observances

  • World Vegetarian Day
  • Pudding Season Begins
  • Homemade Cookies
    Day

    Glazed citrus shortbread cookies

    Howdy, citrus shortbread

Here’s the final menu:Dinner Party Menu

And since nothing goes better with dinner than a movie, we also celebrated Richard Harris’s October-1st birthday by watching him portray Albus Dumbledore in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. But not inside.  Oh, no, we watched it on Thomas and Roberta’s big old outdoor movie screen!  Plus, we ate over at their place, too; we just carted all the dishes over when I was finished with my marathon cooking session.

Richard Harris as Albus Dumbledore

We miss you, Richard Harris.

And there you have it.  A dinner party perfect for adults and kids alike, one without fancy-schmancy table settings or a high price tag.  One that was all about comfort: for ourselves and especially for our guests.


You, too, can throw the same type of party.  Know your guests and their food comfort levels.  Cook for everyone’s tastes.  Get creative with your celebration–after all, just because it’s none of your guests’ birthdays doesn’t mean you can’t throw a birthday party.   Every day is somebody’s birthday.

PS Dinner Party Recipes/Methods

  • caramel corn
  • bread pretzels
  • I didn’t use a recipe for the pasta–I just made a Béchamel sauce and folded al dente pasta, browned Italian sausage and wee cubes of fontina cheese into it.  Bake and done.
  • For the chili, I threw all of my vegetables, including some dried black beans, into a pot with water seasoned with chili-type spices, salt and pepper.  I simmered it all together until the beans were cooked through.  Added a little cocoa powder for a bass note and some corn flour for thickening.  Very easy, very tasty.
  • Trifle–layer together cubed pound cake liberally doused with sherry and raspberry jam.  Pour over homemade vanilla pudding (I made 3 cups worth), making sure it oogies all down in between the cubes of pound cake.  Let that set up in the fridge, and then dollop on as much whipped cream as you want.
  • Dip the apples in boiling water for a few seconds, then shock in ice water.  Rub off the wax with a paper towel.  Make actual caramel for your caramel apples.  I doubled the recipe, doubled the salt and  flavored mine with maple and vanilla extracts.  Then, I either rolled my enrobed apples in mini chocolate chips or sprinkled them with coarse sea salt.

PPS  One of Albus Dumbledore’s favorite foods is raspberry jam.  Hence the raspberry jam in the trifle.

PPPS If you would love to attend a Dinner-and-a-Movie-Comfort-Food-Fest, please consider sending me your RSVP by voting for my entry.  Voting opens Monday, October 4.  Thank you!

You Know What? I Just Realized That I Haven’t Had a Good Tantrum in Awhile. Indulge Me, Won’t You?

29 Sep

So I was talking to my friend Gary the other day, and the topic was chocolate.  More specifically, how to tell good chocolate from meh chocolate.  He told me about this site, Chocomize, that allows you to customize your chocolate.  Sounds cool, right?  But there’s customization, and then there’s Customization.  If I were running the Chocomize gig, I’d offer chocolates with different percentages of cocoa butter, small batch artisan chocolate, and varietal chocolate from different countries.  Then, I’d offer tons of ways to customize: from mint to flake salt, spices to honeys, caramel to citrus.  Maybe there’d even be some “stuffed” options, like flavored ganaches or caramel.  Or jam.  It would be Awesome, but I would either have to a) charge a billion dollars or b) go out of business Very Quickly.

Here’s their launch clip from YouTube.The Evil Geniuses at Chocomize offer a product that seems customizable, but it’s an ill-LOSE-ion.  I mean, you can choose from fruits, nuts, seeds, spices, candies, etc, but you’ve only got three chocolate choices.  Three!  It’s really more about the customizable extras than truly customized chocolate.  And they don’t even list the ingredients, although they do say it’s Belgian.  I guess we’re just supposed to believe that all Belgian chocolate is of the highest quality.  Maybe it is, but then list your ingredients.  Does the chocolate contain real vanilla, or vanillin?  Is the fat 100% cocoa butter, or did they sneakily substitute some palm oil or something else?  These are Important Questions to ask, because it means the difference between the aforementioned good chocolate and meh chocolate.  Cocoa butter is Magic and melts at body temperature, giving you that wonderful, slow, even melt right when you put it in your mouth.  Chocolate that contains other fats just sits on your tongue like a wee (or not so wee) piece of brown wax.

Anyway, once you have made your Chocolate Selection, you have a choice of adding up to five Items to your chocolate.  But guess what?  They’re just pressed onto the bottom of the bars!  I mean, even Cold Stone Creamery has “mix ins.”  Chocomize offers Press Ons.  Like Lee Press-On Nails.

Okay, okay, I will admit that it would be much more labor intensive to mix those flavors in, but those Cold Stone people do it, plus they do it In Front Of You.  Double plus they have to Sing on Demand!I mean, that’s a Lot.  Items actually in–not on–your base selection, plus Public Humiliation for the Creamery Bees? Amaaaazing.

So, I just customized a bar, all Willy Nilly, to see how much the whole thing costs.  I chose dark chocolate of Unknown Origin, cranberries, currants, almonds, pecans and sea salt. And the grand total for this Gustatory Delight?  $7.35.  For Three Point Five ounces.  That’s $33.60–Thirty Three Dollars and Sixty Cents–per pound. Plus an additional $5.95 for a Grand Total of $39.55 per shipped pound.  Granted, it’s a flat $5.95 no matter how many bars you order, but still.  Really?  Forty bucks for Potentially Brown Wax with Lee Press On Nails?  Unacceptable.

*****************************************************************************

Okay, I took a pause to go and peruse these guys’ website again to see if I could Ferret Out the type of chocolate they’re using as the base for these bars.  I ain’t payin’ no Forty Bux for wax, right?  And buried Waaaaaayyyy down in a blog post from last year, I found this:

November 09, 2009

Where our chocolate comes from

Although our business is based in New Jersey, we import all our chocolate from Barry Callebaut in Belgium. For those of you who have never heard of Barry Callebaut, they are the largest manufacturer of high quality cocoa and chocolate in the world. Most consider them to make the finest quality chocolate, and after trying chocolate from lots of different companies, we agreed that they were the best.

Barry Callebaut gets all their cocoa beans from small farmers in Côte d’Ivoire. Check out this link: http://www.barry-callebaut.com/1718 to learn more about how they are helping cocoa farmers.

Once the cocoa beans are harvested in Côte d’Ivoire, Barry Callebaut imports them into Belgium and then processes them further into actual chocolate.

The chocolate is then sent to our factory in the United States. Once the chocolate arrives, we temper and mold the chocolate, add the ingredients of your choosing, and then package and send the bar to you in the mail.

There are many steps that occur from when the cocoa bean is first grown to when you finally receive your Chocomize bar in the mail. We make sure that you get the best quality chocolate possible but not at the risk of ignoring important social issues. We chose Barry Callebaut not just for their great tasting chocolate, but because they are also a socially conscious company like ourselves. Check out this link to read more about how they help the environment: http://www.barry-callebaut.com/1722.

Hopefully this post has made it clearer where exactly our chocolate comes from, and we look forward to sending you your delicious Chocomize bar soon!–Chocomize Blog, November 9, 2009

If I were the Chocomize Folks, I’d plaster this information all over their home page.  At the very very least, I’d link to the post from the home page.  Like this:  Wanna Know Where We Get Our Chocolate?  Click here. It’s not even in the FAQ, which tells us that the chocolate is not certified kosher, that it is gluten free and that the dark chocolate is vegan. But nowhere do they say what percent cocoa mass is in their chocolate, let alone share an ingredient list. And even though we now know that the chocolate comes from Barry Callebaut, we still don’t know what kind of chocolate it is.  For example, this lovely item is touted on the Barry Callebaut site:

Dark compounds
Barry Callebaut’s dark compounds are ready to use: no tempering needed. They offer taste sensations ideal for mimicking dark chocolate and with their technical specifications, they match even the most specific applications. In textures, we offer a choice ranging from the hard “chocolate-like” crack to a smooth and soft texture.–Barry Callebaut

Don’t be fooled by the Special French Name, some of their products are Fake Chocolate.  Even if it is real chocolate (and I think it is, because the Chocomize people have to temper it), many different brands huddle under the Barry Callebaut umbrella.  I want an ingredient list.

Perhaps (prolly) I’m being a bit hard on these guys.  After all, they’re three recent college grads with a cool idea who are making it happen.  They prolly make more money than I do.  But I’m not sure that they really understand chocolate.  Barry Callebaut is a serviceable brand of chocolate that is kind of like higher-end Hershey’s.  By that, I mean that their operation is Huge and that they supply all kinds of folks with their chocolate.  They’re a volume dealer, as it were–we used a lot of their chocolate in culinary school, for instance.  So, the unique thing about the Chocomize product isn’t the chocolate.  The unique thing is the press ons and the spices and the labeling.  (You can buy customized wedding favors or chocolate bars with your own packaging).

So, I guess what I’m trying to say is, if you’re in it for the press ons and you have money to burn, order away.  After all, it is a fun concept.  And they’re also raising some money for their preferred charities. But, if you want really excellent quality artisan chocolate, you should look elsewhere.

I’m done now.  Thanks.

How Many Cooking Verbs Can I Perform for You In the Pursuit of Lamb Biryani?**

26 Sep
lamb biryani made with brown rice

Hello, lamb biryani. You exhaust me, and yet I love you so...

***Voting Is Open*** Please click here to vote for my entry, and go to the Contestants’ Page to explore and vote for other amazing entries!

This is my post for Challenge #2 in Project Food Blog.  Thanks to all of you who voted to help me advance; I truly appreciate it! Voting opens Monday, September 27. I’ll post a voting link tomorrow in the hope that you’ll vote for me.

I tasted my first Indian food in 1990, and I fell in love.  It’s surprising to me how readily I embraced the cuisine, especially since I was raised on a diet of straight-up Amurkin food spiced up only occasionally with an Amurkinized spaghetti and meatballs or a mild chili.  So, when some friends invited me to try a new Indian place, they might as well have said, “Hey, let’s have Martian tonight.”  I went along anyway, hoping that I would survive the experience.  First up, crispy/crackly papadam served with a mint-cilantro chutney and some beautiful hot pickled onion.  I swooned.  Plump lamb samosas with tamarind sauce? I might have moaned with pleasure, just a little.  For dinner, my friends suggested the chicken tikka masala, and I simply wanted to bathe in it.  It was Quite the Evening.  Give me a moment, won’t you?

I went to the All Around the World Market and was met by a dizzying array of spice-y goodness.

I shopped.

All Around the World Market

I found saffron stored in a wee locked cabinet.

Now I know that CTM isn’t even really a traditional Indian dish.  That it was thrown together to satisfy the English need for Gravy during India’s long stint as a British Colony.   It doesn’t make it any less wonderful, though.

lamb biryani ingredients

I arranged.

But I’m not here to talk about chicken tikka masala.  I’m here to talk about the Indian dish that has its own space on menus in Indian restaurants:  Biryani.  The name intrigues me, and I find that it’s derived from a Persian word meaning (depending on who you ask) fried-before-cooking or Yummy.

It’s touted as the meal of celebration and the dish of the Rich and Special.  And while it’s definitely the former, it has its roots in a humble rice and goat meal that was cooked underground, like the original baked beans in the US.  Except way older.

Swad brand Brown Basmati Rice

I marveled.

Because I try to follow rules All the Time, I delved into the history of biryani, and I came out with a head ache.  Seriously.  While everyone agrees that there is a Layering Process, some folks say to fry the rice before cooking; other folks say no.  Many people on the Hinternets exhorted me to Always use rice as the bottom layer.  An Indian chef told me–via video–to slap some raw marinated chicken in the bottom of the pan.

Fine.  I popped an Excedrin and read on. There are two main types of biryani:  raw and cooked.  Don’t worry, though.  I’m not going to make you eat biryani tartar.  What these labels designate is how the meat is handled before being layered.  Some use raw meat.  Some use cooked meat.  The whole trick of biryani, no matter whose recipe you follow, is to make sure that the rice is cooked just so–with all the grains separate.

There should be no clumping in biryani.

It seems to be a cardinal rule.  To follow this rule, you have to undercook the rice by a certain degree and either a) have enough liquid in your raw marinated meat layer to finish cooking the rice perfectly while making sure your meat cooks all the way through or b) add a judicious amount of other liquid to ensure Rice Perfection at the end of the cooking process. “Is there a third option?”  I asked the Hinternets, and the answer was a resounding no.  Awesome.

I shifted gears for a minute and read up on rose water and kewra water.  Some biryanis Contain these Items, and I wanted to use them in my version.  Rose water is a by product of distilling rose oil for perfumes.  It smells like you just fell face first into your grandmother’s bed of Damask Roses.  Kewra water is made from the kewra, or screw pine, flower.  It is also very fragrant, but has more of an herbal edge.  Americans tend to use ingredients for their flavor.  Indians like to use ingredients both for flavor and for aroma.  And since the two are closely linked, it makes sense.  The rose water and kewra water are both there to add flowery notes to the earthy, smoky, green perfume of the biryani.

When I actually started looking at recipes, and there was so much variation among them that I chose to take the Interesting Parts of several of them and combine them into one Frankenbiryani.  Because I love you.  And because, at its heart, biryani is all about technique. And you guys know how much I love a good technique.  Teach me a recipe and I eat for a day; teach me a technique, and I eat for the rest of my life. I’m pretty sure that’s a real saying.

So, without further Ado, I present unto you my Franken Lamb Biryani.

My Lamb Biryani, Representative of Tons of Biryani Techniques*

For the Lamb

  • 2 pounds lamb, cut into small pieces.  I used chops and saved the bones for lamb stock.
  • salt and pepper, to taste
  • about 1 1/2 cups plain, full fat yogurt
  • 2″ piece of cinnamon stick
  • 2 black cardamom pods
  • 4 green cardamom pods, or about 1/2 teaspoon of cardamom seed
  • 2 Tablespoons fennel seed
  • 1 Tablespoon cumin seed
  • 1 Tablespoon coriander seed
  • 1 teaspoon turmeric
  • 1 Tablespoon Balti spice blend
  • 1 Tablespoon onion oil
  • 2 Tablespoons ghee (store bought or homemade)

    I melted my butter, brought it to a boil and strained it once the milk solids had fallen to the bottom of the pan and had started to turn golden brown and delicious.

    I clarified.

Toast all the whole spices in a dry cast iron skillet until fragrant, about 4 minutes over medium heat.

toasting coriander. black cardamom, fennel, cumin and cinnamon stick

I toasted.

Let the spices cool, and then grind them in a spice grinder or dedicated coffee grinder.

After toasting, I ground the spices

I ground.

Salt and pepper the meat and put it in a large zip top bag.

Mix the ground spices with the turmeric, Balti and yogurt and pour into the bag with the lamb.  Press out all the air and smoosh the bag around until the meat is evenly coated.  Let marinate for 1 to 1 1/2 hours in the fridge.

Heat your skillet over medium heat,  Add oil and ghee, and chuck the lamb and marinade in.

After marinating, I cooked the meat, pouring off the excess marinade and meat juices and reserving for later.

I sauteed.

Cook until the lamb has released a lot of its juices and the marinade has thinned out quite a bit.  Carefully pour off the marinade, reserving for later.

Continue to cook the meat until it is cooked all the way through.  If any marinade is leftover in the pan, pour that off and reserve.

For the Onions

  • 2 medium onions, cut in half down the equator and then sliced thin, longitudinally
  • salt, to taste
  • enough neutral vegetable oil to cover the bottom of your cast iron skillet by about 1/4″

Season the onions with salt.

Heat the pan over medium heat.  Add the oil and heat until it shimmers.

Fry the onions over medium heat until starting to turn golden.

fried onions

I fried.

Turn up to medium-high and continue to fry until deeply caramelized.

Remove the onions to some paper towels to drain.  If you have any onions that got a little too dark, pick them out.  The darkest they should be is a deep mahogany.

Reserve the onion oil.

For the Rice

  • 3 cups brown basmati rice
  • water to cover by 2″
  • a pinch of saffron threads
  • water to cover the rice by 3″
  • salt, to taste
  • about 10 black peppercorns
  • 2 Tablespoons ghee
  • 2 Tablespoons onion oil
  • 4 whole cloves
  • 4 green cardamom pods, or 1/2 teaspoon cardamom seeds
  • 1″ piece of cinnamon stick

Steep the saffron in a couple of tablespoons of very hot water for ten minutes.

I soaked the brown basmati rice in weak saffron water for 45 minutes.

I soaked.

Put the rice in a large pot.  Pour over the saffron water and enough cool water to cover the rice by 2 inches.  Let soak for 45 minutes.

Drain and rinse the rice and put back in the pan.

After soaking, I boiled the rice with saffron, ghee, reserved onion oil and salt for fifteen minutes.

I boiled.

Add the rest of the ingredients, bring to a full rolling boil for about fifteen minutes.

The rice should be soft on the outside but crunchy on the inside.  You should be able to see a thin halo of translucent cooked rice around an opaque core of uncooked rice.  Drain thoroughly.

For the Aroma Waters (my favorite part)

Sweet Aroma Water

  • 1 cup whole milk
  • about 10 saffron threads
  • 3 green cardamom pods or about 1/2 teaspoon cardamom seeds
  • a splash each of rose water and kewra water (both are optional but add a lovely aromatic quality to the dish)

Warm milk to just steaming.  Toss in the saffron threads and cardamom.

steeping saffron and cardamom in heated milk before adding rose water and kewra water.

I steeped some more.

Let steep until room temperature.

When cool, add a splash each of rose water and kewra water.

Savory Aroma Water

  • 1 cup water
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 2 black cardamom
  • 10 black peppercorns
  • 2″ piece of cinnamon stick
  • 1 teaspoon salt (or to taste)
  • 1 teaspoon fennel seed

Put all ingredients in a small sauce pan.

steeping savory aroma water

I steeped

Bring to a boil and then let simmer for 20 minutes.  Strain and cool to room temperature.

Additional Garnish

  • 1 bunch of fresh mint
  • 1 bunch of fresh cilantro

Putting It Together.  Finally.

Preheat oven to 400F.

Brush a thin layer of ghee on the bottom and up the sides of your Baking Vessel.

There's the parcooked rice, neatly layered into the bottom of the pan with a bit of each of the aroma waters.

I layered...

Put 1/3 of the par-cooked rice in Said Vessel, spreading it evenly.

Sprinkle on about 2 Tablespoons each of the aroma waters.

Next came the lamb and some of the reserved marinade.

...and layered...

Add 1/2 the lamb and drizzle over a couple of tablespoons of the reserved cooked marinade.

Then on went some fried onions and a handful each of chopped mint and cilantro.

...and layered.

Add a handful of fried onions and a heavy sprinkle of chopped mint and cilantro.

Repeat the rice-waters-meat-marinade-onion-herb layers once again, and finish up with the last 1/3 of the rice.

Sprinkle on a little more of the aroma waters, a bit of onion and chopped herbs.

I mixed about 1/2 cup of flour with a little water until I got a sticky dough.  Then, I pressed it all around the seam where the lid met the pot.

I entombed.

Seal the lid on the cooking vessel with the flour-water dough.

Bake at 400F for ten minutes, then reduce heat to 275F and bake an additional twenty minutes.

Remove Vessel from oven.  Curse the day you decided to seal the pan with dough and chip it off with a dinner knife.  Just concentrate on the seam between lid and pan.  You can soak the rest off later.  Curse again.

I used a knife to gently mix everything together so I wouldn't smoosh the rice.

I mixed.

Let the fragrant steam hit you in the face, realizing that you couldn’t smell it before because of the dough seal.  I mean, I forgot all about the cursing when the nutty-floral-earthy-smoky-meaty-herbal aroma reached my nose.  Amazing.  Simply amazing.

Gently fluff up the rice and mix the layers together with something that won’t smash your rice.  I used a knife.

Serve with another sprinkle of chopped herbs, some raita and maybe some lovely crusty naan.

I plated, garnished with a bit of chopped herbs, mixed up a quick raita and took this lovely photo.  All while talking to my friend on the phone.

I plated.

Oh yeah, I forgot.  I also Ate.  And the flavor?  Very complex yet very subtle.  No hot spiciness, just a wonderful melange of flavors, textures and aromas.  Perfection.  How about those rice grains?  Any clumps?  Nope!  Might’ve been beginners’ luck, but I’ll take it.

Bonus–A Quick Raita

  • 1 cup plain, full fat yogurt
  • a large handful of seeded and finely diced cucumber
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • a handful of chopped mint and cilantro
Just whisk all the ingredients together.  Taste and adjust seasonings.  That's it.

I whisked.

Whisk together.  Let sit in the fridge for half an hour to let the flavors blend.

*Biryani Techniques/Ingredients borrowed from India Curry, Show Me the Curry, iFood, and VahRehVah

**I lost count.  At least 20.  You’re welcome.

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