Archive | April, 2009

Moving Day!

29 Apr
Dirty Harry taunts you into action.  Are you ready for it?

Dirty Harry taunts you into action. Are you ready for it?

Friends, this is it.  At least for the next few days, anyway.  Thanks to the Goddess Patricia, I’ll be back out in the Hinternet by Friday, but I have to do pesky things like Pointing Out where the furniture goes.  I might even have to carry a box or two.  There is the slim yet alarming possibility that I may actually Break a Sweat.  Oh, dear.

Well, wish us luck, and I’ll be back in a few days.  Just so you are aware, I might force you to look at pictures of the new house.

Before I go, I read a Thing the other day about a lady who presents complicated recipes on Twitter. In one tweet.  That means she has to stay within the 140 character limit. Oh, I just found the Thing.  You can read all about her here.  She’s @cookbook on Twitter.

Inspired by old Maureen, I gave it a shot with crème brulée the other day, but here are a couple more, just for fun.  Yes, I realize this isn’t Twitter.  I’m just practicing.

wht.choc/cr chz buttercream: melt/cool 9oz. wht choc. Whip 12oz. cr chz, 6 oz butter, salt and lemon juice, tt, w/wht. choc–123 characters

Mex wedding cookies: cr: 1lb butter/1c.10x. Add 2Tvan,1tsalt,2c.toasted,grnd nuts. Mix in 5c sifted AP. chill, ball,325F, toss in 10x/cinn–138 characters

Coconut sorbet: whisk coconut milk, lemon simple syrup, H2O, coco rum, salt and lime juice, tt.  Egg test. Chill, spin–118 characters

Lb cake: 3oz mlk,10.5ozeggs, 12gvan, 10.5oz cakeflr, 10.5ozsugar, 5gpdr, 5gsalt, 13.5oz.butter, 3Tzest,  3Tpoppyseeds. Creaming Method. 350F–140 characters

Pretty cool, huh?  Talk about a template!  Before you think there’s not enough information in these wee Tweciplettes (I just made that up.  I’m not proud), look again more closely.  In such a short format, the explanation of the procedures suffers, because the author/tweeter/Twecipletter wants you to have all of the ingredient information.  Procedures are skeletal at best, forcing you out of your recipe comfort zone and into relying on what you already know about procedures and techniques.  Do you know enough? Love it?  Hate it?  Challenged by it?  What do you think?   Feeling lucky, punk? Oh, sorry about that last one.

Anyway, it’s something to think about.  Hope everyone has a Most Excellent rest of the week and weekend.  Looking forward to being settled and back at it pretty soon.

The Great Search Term Round Up, Episode 1(a)

28 Apr
You've got questions; I've got answers.  Maybe not the answers you're looking for, but answers, nonetheless.

You've got questions; I've got answers. Maybe not the answers you're looking for, but answers, nonetheless.

I think I’ll make this a monthly feature–telling you guys about the search terms that people have used to find me.  And why bother doing this?  Well, for one, some of the searches make me laugh.  Aside from getting my own Chuckles On, though, I also figure that folks using those terms didn’t always find exactly what they were looking for.  So, I’ll address some of the terms as if folks asked questions.  Allow me the Liberty to “phrase in the form of a question.”  Maybe you’ll learn something that you didn’t know.  Maybe you’ll giggle a little.  And maybe the Searchers out there will be able to find out the answers to their questions.

Is there an easy homemade whipped cream substitute that doesn’t contain cream? Lots of folks ask this, or variations of this–you’d be surprised.  A while ago, I told you about sweetened, whipped tofu.  Here’s a recipe that attempts a stab at Cool Whip consistency.  Shudder.  But, if that’s your thing, at least this stuff doesn’t contain HFCS and hydrogenated oils.  It’s not non-dairy, because it contains powdered milk.  And it’s not vegetarian, because it contains gelatin.  But, here it is:

  • 1 tsp plain gelatin
  • 1/4 cup cold milk
  • 3/4 cup cold water
  • pinch of salt
  • 1 cup dry milk powder
  • sugar, to taste
  • lemon juice, to taste

Sprinkle gelatin over the milk, stir, and let sit until you’ve got a solid block of milk.  Melt over low-ish heat and then cool.

All your ingredients should be ice cold, except the gelatin mixture, which should be cool.  Whip water, gelatin milk, milk powder and pinch of salt to soft peaks.  Add sugar, a bit at a time, until you like the sweetness.  Continue beating, and add the lemon juice, to taste.

Can I whip sour cream? Not by itself–there’s not enough fat in it for that.  You can, however, whip cream to medium peaks and then whip in sour cream–up to a 1:1 ratio cream to sour cream.

How can I make my pie crust sides shrink? Wellll, okay. Knead your pie dough.  Knead it hard.  Make sure it has plenty of water in it.  Then, stretch it to fit into your pan.  If you follow these directions, you will not only have shrunken sides, you’ll have a cracker in the bottom of your pan.  Congratulations.*

Do you have any ideas for good pastry-themed tattoos? I’ve always thought that a jaunty chef’s hat/whisk combo on ones’ left shoulder is fetching.  You might also consider the rolling pin tramp stamp on the small of your back.  For you guys out there, “I bleed lemon curd,” might be a good, macho slogan to have tattooed around your neck.  How about one of those upper arm chain deals made of little bars of chocolate?  Or cinnamon rolls?  You might also consider the initials JT.  Not because you’re Bringing Sexy Back, but because you’re a fan of Jacques Torres.

Why can’t pregnant women whip cream? I have no idea.  Maybe it’s your new, lower center of gravity.  Try standing on a chair.  You’re welcome.

Is it better to bake puff pastry in a convection or conventional oven? Excellent question.  Not to take anything away from the pregnant woman, you understand.  At any rate, if you’re baking small-ish puff pastry shapes, such as for vol au vents, you’re going to want to go with the conventional oven.  If you have a convection oven, turn off the fan.  Why?  The air whipping around inside the oven can blow your delicate layers about like leaves in a hurricane, and you’ll end up with puff pastry Slinkies.  It has happened to me.  While impressive looking, they are difficult to Fill with Yumminess, so I don’t recommend it.  If you’re baking larger sheets of puff, you should be fine using a convection oven.  Generally speaking, bake at a slightly lower temperature in convection than in a conventional oven.

Is it okay for a pastry chef not to be able to draw? Please read this.

Does melted butter get hard again? This is really a great question. I guess the pregnant lady is going to get a complex.  Sorry, pregnant lady.  Anyway, butter is basically an emulsion of fat and water with some milk solids and maybe some salt.  When butter melts, the emulsion breaks, the water either evaporates (if it’s at a high enough temperature) and the solids sink.  When re-refrigerated, the fat hardens up, but the solids don’t re-incorporate, and the water is still gone.  At this point, if you remelt this butter and pour off the fat, you’ll have clarified butter, or ghee.

One time, I had to make a chocolate stout cake for Saturday lunch service.  We had run out of butter the day before (oops!) and more wasn’t coming in until about 11am.  Sigh.  I ended up using clarified butter.  It worked, but the cake was extremely tender–to the point of breaking in a couple of places.  The flavor was great, but the absence of the milk solids threw off the balance, so the cake ended up having too much fat.  I thought there wasn’t any such thing as Too Much Fat, but I was Wrong.  Moral of the story:  use previously melted butter in cooking, not baking.

Can you make simple syrup without cooking it? Although I’ve not done this, the answer is yes.  What you can do is add the sugar, a little at a time, to the water.  Then, shake-shake-shake the container–or stir-stir-stir–until the sugar has dissolved.  Then, add a little more sugar, and repeat the process.  Making simple syrup this way takes a bit longer, but what you’ll end up with is a sugar solution that is c0mpletely comprised of sucrose and water.  When you boil sugar and water, the sugar starts breaking down somewhat, and you end up with a sucrose/glucose/fructose/water solution.

Simple syrup made the non-heated way will be somewhat thicker than a heated simple syrup.  I’m not sure that there is any perceptible difference in flavor, but if you try The Long Version, let me know.

*In which the Author is Being Facetious.  Please Do Not follow those directions.  Thank you.

Raisin Hell

27 Apr
Meet one of the most polarizing dried fruits in the History of the World.

Meet one of the most polarizing dried fruits in the History of the World.

Personally, I am a fan of the raisin.  I kinda dig their wrinkly little skins.  I love their sweet chewiness.  I enjoy biting into one in the middle of a big old oatmeal cookie–a fruity surprise.  My friend, Nadine, loathes raisins.  Shriveled grapes, she calls them.  Yeah, I suppose they are shriveled grapes, but shriveled in a good way.  Even Joon, from Benny & Joon calls raisins “humiliated grapes.”  And, while I am a fan of the film and think that betting on a poker game with items like a Salad Shooter and Pocket Fisherman makes for a Great Scene, I think that calling raisins Humiliated Grapes is taking things a bit too far.  Schizophrenia is no excuse for Being Mean to Raisins.*

There is no meh when it comes to raisins.  They do seem to be one of those Polarizing Food Items.  You have anchovy lovers and haters, Brussels sprouts lovers and haters, and raisin lovers and haters.   I guess I can see where the anti-anchovy and anti-Brussels sprouts factions are coming from, but I just don’t get the whole “I hate raisins” thing.    They are fruit.  Hooray!  They are 60% sugar.  Double hooray!  They contain antioxidants.  Hooray! I’m not seeing the Down Side of any of those characteristics.  If any of you guys out there are staunchly anti-raisin or can at least understand it, please enlighten me.

Fun Things to Do with Raisins

  1. Plump them up in alcohol.  The raisins appreciate it, and so will you.  Then, you can put them in your oatmeal cookies and have the Best Oatmeal Cookies Ever.
  2. Plump them up in fruit juice.  If you’re not a fan of alcohol, or you’re twelve or something, fruit juice works nicely, too.  Ditto, number 1.
  3. Dip them in tempered milk chocolate.
  4. Dip them in tempered dark chocolate.
  5. Mix them with some salted nuts and dip everyone in chocolate.
  6. Cook them down with some apples, alcohol, pinch of salt, spices of your choice, some vinegar and some caramelized onions for a chutney.  No, I don’t have a recipe–I just made up this idea right this very second.
  7. Cook them down with some alcohol (or juice) and a pinch of salt and maybe a splash of vinegar.  When they’re very soft, throw them in the blender or food processor and make raisin jam.  It is Excellent on a cheese plate.
  8. Throw a handful of raisins in with your apples the next time you make an apple pie.
  9. Throw some in with the next pot roast you make and tailor your spices towards a Morrocan flavor profile (cumin, ginger, coriander, cinnamon, clove, etc).  I don’t think Americans think enough about putting fruits with meats, but raisins work well in savory as well as sweet dishes.
  10. Cook rice in coconut milk and stock.  Throw in a handful of raisins and maybe some toasted nuts towards the end of cooking.  Yum.  Mix in some custard and call it rice pudding, or serve it as is–as a sweet/savory side.
  11. Throw some raisins on a salad.
  12. Bake a raisin pie.
  13. Cook them with some ground lamb and some herbs and spices and make little meat turnovers using some puff pastry or pie dough.
  14. Bake them into peanut butter cookies.  If the combination is good enough for “ants on a log,” it’s good enough for a cookie.
  15. Stuff them in your face while watching television.

So, that’s pretty much what I have to say about raisins.  I’m not sure if I changed anyone’s mind, but I hope I’ve been able to broaden you raisin lovers’ horizons a little.  Any more ideas for Interesting Raisin Usage?  Let me know in the comments.

*If you want to see the Salad Shooter Scene, this is for you.  Nadine got me this movie as a birthday present years ago.  I wonder if she and Joon were trying to gang up on me.  Anyway, enjoy.

Sunday Suppers: How to Finish Pasta

26 Apr
And what, pray tell, inspires The Beloved to clean his plate quickly?  I'll show you.

And what, pray tell, inspires The Beloved to clean his plate quickly? I'll show you.

And by that, I don’t mean “how to clean your plate.”  I mean how to finish off the cooking process so the pasta and the sauce meld into one unified dish, as opposed to being a naked plate of pasta with some sauce spooned on top.  I get Very Sad when I see pasta Disrespected in such a manner.  I think I’ve probably mentioned this technique before, but this time I took pictures for you.  You’re welcome.

The whole dish began when Steve, landlord and Realtor extraordinnaire told me that the “bush” by the corner of the deck was bay.  Well, heck, had I known that, I would’ve been making tomato sauce almost every day.  Alas.  So, I had a lot of catching up to do.

Anyway, please enjoy the following Pictorial Essay.  But first, the players in my sauce.  Feel free to improvise to your heart’s content.  Remember, this is a template, not Culinary Law:

Well, I’ll Be Damned; That’s Bay! Pasta Sauce

  • 2 fresh bay leaves (dried is fine)
  • 1 1/2 medium onions, chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic. minced
  • olive oil
  • red pepper flake, to taste
  • kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
  • Italian seasoning (fresh or dried and smushed in your palm), to taste
  • 1 TBSP tomato paste
  • 1/3 bottle red wine (I used some less-than-stellar Sangiovese)
  • 1 pound hot Italian sausage (I had some organic, local stuff that we’d gotten at the Farmer’s Market.  You’ll see)
  • 2 large cans plum tomatoes
  • 2 tsp sugar (mine needed it; yours might not)
  • red wine vinegar to brighten flavors, to taste

To Finish:

  • About 1/2 cup pasta cooking water
  • about 3 TBSP heavy cream (you can also use butter or olive oil–or any tasty fat, really)
  • some freshly grated (or green can if that’s all you have) hard Italian cheese, such as Pecorino or Parmesan

So, what do you always do first when making some sort of Italian-inspired pasta sauce?  That’s right–you make your soffrito.  Sweat/sauté your aromatics.  In this case, I threw the onion, garlic, oil, salt, pepper, pepper flake and bay in the heated pan.

You could add peppers to this and/or celery.  It's more about the technique and the type of veggies you use than it is the specific list of ingredients.

You could add peppers to this and/or celery. It's more about the technique and the type of veggies you use than it is the specific list of ingredients.

After things start getting nicely softened and start to color, spoon in your tomato paste and stir it around a bit.  All this is done over medium-ish heat, by the way.  (Before you laugh at the next picture, remember that I am not a planner.  It was all I could do to stop after each step and take a picture.  Did you really expect me to remember to thaw the sausage, too)?

So, what I did was let it soften/melt/start cooking on both sides.  Then, I slit the casing and pulled all of the meat out.  Then, I washed my hands really, really well.

So, what I did was let it soften/melt/start cooking on both sides. Then, I slit the casing and pulled all of the meat out. Then, I washed my hands really, really well.

Next up, once the meat (if you decide to use meat) is all browned and lovely, skim off as much of the fat as you think prudent and then add the wine.

At this point, the meat was over in an unattractive shaggy heap on a plate.  Don't worry, I put it back in later.  If you don't start with a frozen schnecken of sausage, you won't have this problem.

At this point, the meat was over in an unattractive shaggy heap on a plate. Don't worry, I put it back in later. If you don't start with a frozen schnecken of sausage, you won't have this problem.

Next up, toss in the tomatoes.  If using fresh, less than amazing tomatoes, you might want to roast them for about 30 minutes first, to concentrate the flavor.  I like my sauce chunky, so I just mash up the tomatoes with a wooden spoon.  If you like a smoother sauce, hit it with a stick blender, or don’t start with whole tomatoes.

See, the meat's right back where it belongs.  Looking pretty good, I think.

See, the meat's right back where it belongs. Looking pretty good, I think.

Simmer for as long as it takes to get to the consistency you want.  Do this over low heat so you don’t end up burning the sauce.  Oh, here’s where I also added the sugar and vinegar.  I also corrected the rest of the seasonings.

And there you have it.

And there you have it.

Here’s the point where many of you will just cook some noodles and then ladle the sauce on top.  I would’ve done the same had it not been my Good Fortune to see Frank Pellegrino from Rao’s in NYC on a cooking show about ten years ago or so.  He showed me (and everyone else watching, I guess) how to finish a sauce.  I listened and Followed Directions.  Dude was right, so pay attention to the next steps.

The idea is to create a starch-bound emulsion right in the pan.  It sounds like Crazy Magic, but it’s really quite easy.  For your emulsion, you need fat–in the form of olive oil, heavy cream, butter, duck fat, bacon grease or any other tasty fat.  You don’t need much–maybe just a tablespoon or so for an entire Vat of pasta and sauce, so don’t freak out.  Next, you need the water part of the emulsion.  You’ll get this from the water that is already in your sauce, plus some extra pasta water that you’ve dipped out of the pasta pot before draining.  The starch you need is in the cooking water, plus, you’ll get even more from the pasta in the pot.  You make the emulsion by stirring.  Easy.

Just dip in a measuring cup and grab about 1/2 cup of the water.

Just dip in a measuring cup and grab about 1/2 cup of the water.

See?  Here's my pasta water, cloudy with starch.

See? Here's my pasta water, cloudy with starch.

After draining the pasta, add the pasta water, several ladles of sauce and your fat.  I'm using cream and a little olive oil.

After draining the pasta, add the pasta water, several ladles of sauce and your fat. I'm using cream and a little olive oil.

See, it's ony a tablespoon or so of cream.  Right now, the pot contains pasta, reserved cooking water, cream, a little olive oil and sauce.

See, it's ony a tablespoon or so of cream. Right now, the pot contains pasta, reserved cooking water, cream, a little olive oil and sauce.

I don’t have a picture of the next part because I only have two hands.  Over high heat, stir everything together really well.  Things will be boiling and sputtering, but keep stirring–I use tongs–until the sauce has reduced to its original consistency (before you thinned it out with the pasta water).  The color will lighten somewhat, and your now-emulsified sauce will coat all the noodles.  This should only take a minute or two on high heat.  Make sure you start with al dente pasta, or it will be mushy when you’ve finished this part.  And that’s no fun.

At the end, stir in some grated cheese.  Then, it’s your choice to serve with more cheese sprinkled on top or not.

I added an extra ladle of sauce on top.  Notice how the sauce that was finished in the pot with the pasta is lighter in color and is coats the noodles.  No naked noodles here, folks.

I added an extra ladle of sauce on top. Notice how the sauce that was finished in the pot with the pasta is lighter in color and coats the noodles. No naked noodles here, folks.

And this one, I added some grated cheese on top.  I finished both plates with freshly ground black pepper and a wee drizzle of olive oil.  Hey, it's good for my heart, right?

And this one, I added some grated cheese on top. I finished both plates with freshly ground black pepper and a wee drizzle of olive oil. Hey, it's good for my heart, right?

See how thick the sauce is?  That’s because of the emulsion–just like how mayonnaise is thicker than either oil or egg yolk.  You know how sometimes water leaks out of your pasta and then you’ve got really runny, watery sauce under all the noodles?  Yeah, well those days are over.

Notes:

  1. This works with whole wheat and regular semolina pasta.  It works really well with pasta made from brown rice, since there’s a lot of starch in rice.
  2. I used green can cheese ’cause that’s all I had.  Give me a break, we’re moving soon.
  3. You can add mushrooms to this and almost any kind of vegetable–your ingredient list doesn’t have to look like mine.
  4. Here’s your template:

–sweat/sauté aromatics with flavorings/spices/dried herbs
–add tomato paste (or not)
–brown meat (and/or mushrooms) with the soffrito (if you’re using meat); skim fat
–add wine/stock to deglaze pan
–add tomatoes (and other veggies) and simmer to reduce/thicken
–add fresh herbs and correct all seasonings.
–finish over high heat by adding fat and pasta water to pasta and sauce
–gild the lily with some grated cheese

And there you have it.

It Came to Me in a Dream

24 Apr
At which point does this cease to be craft and become art?  Or must you learn a craft to express the art?

At which point does this cease to be craft and become art? Or must you learn a craft to express the art?

The Hinternet is a Large and Wonderful place.  I can be going along and going along doing my thing, and a couple of Items will Strike me and make me Ponder.  Usually, I find these items in disparate places.  But they come together in kind of a Hinternet Harmonic Convergence.  And then, the Magic 8 Ball tells me, “All signs point to….”  And then I get inspired, and I sit down and I begin to blather.  Here I go again.  Welcome to my world.

I was over on Twitter yesterday, and @iheartcuppycake asked tweeted, “Just got email: How do you come up with your cupcake ideas? I can’t believe how much I am struggling to answer this.”  I shot back to her this Gem:  “Sometimes it’s hard to explain in concrete terms the intangible. In this case, the intangible=creativity. :)”  And then she tweeted, “So true. Maybe I’ll just quote what you said ;)”  Well, friends, this little twitter exchange got me thinking.  Is there a real difference between people who can create cool flavor combinations or present a dish with a unique twist and those who wonder how the first group does it?

And then, my friend Will from over at Recipe Play emailed yesterday, asking if I’d ever made a Certain Type of Dough into pizza crust.  I shan’t reveal said dough, because I’m sure Will will (ha) as usual, amaze us with the creativity of his final dish, and far be it from me to steal a friend’s Thunder.  Anyway, we emailed back and forth a couple of times about ideas, and this is the last thing he said.  Not ever, of course.  He’s fine, in case you were worried.  Anyway, he said, “Hmmm, this is my favorite part; adding various elements to the beakers and adding electricity!”  Mwah, ha, ha!  Dr. Frankenstein lives.  He lives!  Ahem.

So, the point of this Particular Section is:  Will is excited by the challenge.  He’s looking forward to experimenting with flavor combinations and presenting old favorites in new and innovative ways.  He’s excited about cooking as a Creative Process.

A Very Long Time Ago, we talked about creativity in the kitchen here and here.  I think the consensus was that the confidence to tap into your creativity comes with solid knowledge of The Foundations:  Ingredient Function.  Techniques.  Methods.  But then, how do we define creativity?  Really define it? I just looked up creativity in Ye Newe Dictionary and was rewarded with, “the quality of being creative.”  Fine.  So then, I looked up creative, and got this:  “marked by the ability or power to create.”  Nothing is ever easy.  Of course, I grumpily looked up create:  “ to bring into existence.”  The example was “God created the heavens and the Earth.”  Probably a little grand for our discussion.  This definition seems to best suit:  “to produce through imaginative skill (create a painting).”  We’ll come back to this in a minute.

Is the ability to come up with an edible idea an effect of creativity, or an effect of someone refining one’s craft?  And while we’re at it, is there even a difference between craft and art?  Folks have been spinning fibers into thread and then weaving the thread into cloth for a Very Long Time.  Is the final product an art–completely informed by creativity–or a craft–informed by being adept at certain techniques and procedures?  You decide:
kente-cloth
tapestrySomeone comes up with a margarita cupcake with Tequila-Grand Marnier butter cream and lime curd filling.  Is that an art or a craft?  Will decides to use up his leftover corned beef by turning it into a patty melt.  Art?  or Craft?

At the end of the day, I think it’s both.  Even the great Masters had teachers.  Did someone teach Vermeer how to capture Light on a canvas?  Maybe not.  But someone taught him how to mix paints and stretch a canvas and hold a brush.  Did Thomas Keller learn at a mentor’s knee that it would be a Good Idea to put tapioca and oysters together?  I doubt it.  But someone taught him how to make a stock and poach a lobster.

Remember our definition of creativity from a couple of paragraphs ago?  I think it goes something like this, “the quality of being able to produce (something) through imaginative skill.”  As far as I’m concerned, this definition takes care of Art and Craft.  And, if you can think of something and Make It So through your skill, you are Creative.

So, how does @iheartcuppycake explain how she creates cool flavor combinations?  How does anyone?  Simple answer–they just think them up.  Maybe they dream them.  Maybe they’re just floating along on their Stream of Consciousness and something Strikes them and they begin to think.  A lot of times, I’ll start with a Favorite Thing.  Let me give my Mango Lassi example.  I absolutely love them.  They are the best.  Tangy yogurt and mango puree–I cannot drink one slowly.  I will not allow myself to make them at home, or I would weigh Eight Hundred Yogurty Pounds.  Anyway, when I was trying to come up with a cool dessert idea back in culinary school, I started with the mango lassi.  I pulled the yogurt out and turned that into a panna cotta.  I spun the mango portion into a minted mango sorbet.  And I made orange-cardomom tuiles as garnish.  The dessert was Very Tasty, and I for-real dreamed it. Will’s question from yesterday started with a dream he had, too.

Another time, I started with the idea of rainbow sherbet, one of my childhood favorites–raspberry, lemon and lime sherbets, all swirled together.  I turned that into layered raspberry and lemon semifreddo topped with a thin glaze of lime curd.

I think this is maybe the way a lot of people start their Creative Food Process.  They base it on a memory, or a picture, or a favorite drink, and then they see What They Can Do.  If you like a mojito, you could probably think of a way to get rum, lime and mint into a cake or a cupcake or a sorbet or even a tagine.  I bet you can think of an interesting way of re-imagining a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.  Does the bread really have to be bread?  Does it really have to be peanut butter?  What about the jelly?

If creativity is really as simple (not easy) as being able to Think Up a Thing and then Make It Happen, almost everyone qualifies as creative in one arena or another.  As far as creativity applies to the culinary arena, the making it happen part is comprised of techniques and methods and skills, oh my.  And once you’ve gotten that down, the thinking (or dreaming) things up part comes pretty easily.

And Since We’ve Been Talking About Custards….

23 Apr
Hello, gorgeous.

Hello, gorgeous. Enjoy your Special Day.

…today is National Cherry Cheesecake Day.  I don’t know who comes up with these holidays, but I am All for it.  But, wait a minute, Jen.  You said custards; I heard you.  What does cherry cheesecake have to do with custards?

Friends, cherry cheesecake is a custard.  Not the cherry part.  The cheesecake part.  A custard is thickened by the Power of Eggs.  And there are eggs in cheesecake.  And dairy.  Yup, custards hide in all sorts of places.  Scrambled eggs is just another term for “very curdled custard.”  And then, there’s quiche and fritattas and baked macaroni and cheese and pumpkin pie.  Custards are sneaky and must be Ferreted Out.

Anyway, back to our cheesecake.  As far as I’m concerned, there are three categories of cheesecake, two of which are custards:  baked-with-starch, baked-no-starch, and no-bake.  The no-bake kind is the odd man out here, since it doesn’t contain eggs.  For a nice and light no-bake cheesecake, go check out Drew‘s site.

That leaves us with the starch versus no-starch custard versions of cheesecake.  The starch is generally there to bind up some of the water and help keep things from curdling.  Starch is why you can boil a pudding mixture but not an ice cream base.  Anyway, cheesecakes that contain starch tend to be a bit heavier than the no-starch varieties.  The no-starch kind are smooth like flan, whereas the starch kind can sometimes sidle up to crumbly.  When you fork through a cheesecake, if your fork passes through leaving a smooth “cut” behind, the cake probably was made without starch.  If the “cut” is kind of shaggy looking, the cheesecake probably has starch in it.  Some people have Strong Ideas about which kind is better.  I don’t think of one as Better than the other; I just see them as Different from each other.  I like them both.

Starch-thickened cheesecakes often are baked in a crust in a moderate oven–maybe around 325-350F.  The crust acts as a bit of an insulator for the custard, serving as a kind of Cookie Bath as opposed to a water bath.

New York Style Cheesecake
32 ounces (4 – 8 ounces packages) cream cheese, room temperature
1 cup (200 grams) granulated white sugar
heavy pinch of salt
3 tablespoons (35 grams) all purpose flour
5 large eggs, room temperature
1/3 cup (80 ml) heavy whipping cream
1 tablespoon lemon zest
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Topping (Optional for some.  Necessary for me)
1 cup (240 ml) sour cream
pinch of salt
2 tablespoons (30 grams) granulated white sugar
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

First, you need your cookie bath, so make a graham cracker crust and smash it in the bottom and up the sides of a greased 9″ springform pan.

Now, the whole deal with the dreaded Cracking of the Cheesecake can be avoided by not whipping any air into the cheese cake mixture.  After all, a Cheesy Mixture with a lot of air whipped into it is called a soufflé for a reason.  It Rises Up and then settles and Cracks most unattractively.  So, the cardinal rule of cheesecake making is Mix on Low.  If you’re in a hurry, make something else.  A hurried day is not Cheesecake Day.

Make sure your cream cheese is at room temperature.  It should be Dead Soft.  On low speed, mix it all by itself until it is completely smooth.  Then, add the sugar, flour and the salt and keep mixing on low until the sugar is mostly dissolved and the mixture isn’t grainy.  Only then can you consider Adding Eggs.  If you don’t get every little lump out of your cheese Right Now before the eggs come into the picture, you will never get them out.  I swear, it’s like trying to fish a wee piece of eggshell out of a cracked egg.  Those little lumps become slippery when the mixture is thinned out a bit.  You’ll sit there and actually See the beater hit a lump, and you’ll think, “Yay–that’s gotten it!”  But that little lump will surface unscathed.  And you might curse.  Not to belabor a point, of course, but make sure your mixture is Completely Smooth.  And do it on Low Speed.  Right then; moving on.

Add the eggs, one at a time–gee, this sounds Suspiciously like The Creaming Method.  So far, except for the ingredients, it’s exactly like it.  The only difference right now is that you’re doing everything on low speed.  This is the Slo-Mo Creaming Method.  Anyway, scrape the bowl Often and only add the next egg when his friend that has gone before him is completely mixed in.

Mix in the cream, zest and vanilla until smooth.  You can also substitute some sour cream or crème fraîche for some of the cream, depending on how Tangy you want your cake to be.  Really, it’s okay.  Now, taste it and make sure you have enough salt.  This is a pretty neutral cake, so play up the flavor by making sure you’ve added enough salt.  Not a tablespoon or anything, but just make sure there’s Enough in it.

Pour/scrape the batter into the pan and smooth the top.  If this completely fills your pan, and it probably will, don’t worry.  If you have done everything on low speed, it shouldn’t rise at all.  Or maybe just the wee-est bit.

Put the pan in the center of a 375F oven for fifteen minutes.  Then, turn down the heat to 300F and bake until the center is just a little jiggly like Jell-o, maybe another hour or so.  It might take longer, so Keep an Eye on it.  If you bake until it’s completely set, it’ll be over-baked by the time the carryover cooking has Had Its Way with it.

Take your lovely cheesecake out of the oven and mix up your topping.  Spread this on top of the still warm cake and put him back in the oven for 15 minutes.  Now, take him back out of the oven (yes, there is a lot of In and Out with this guy), run a thin knife around the inside of the pan and then let him cool at room temperature.  Then, cover him with plastic wrap and refrigerate him overnight.

Goat Cheese Cheesecake (no starch)
Since this guy doesn’t contain any starch, he’s baked in a water bath at 275F.  If you have the time, you could even put the heat lower.  The more slowly you bake a no-starch cheesecake, the smoother and creamier he will be.

15 oz. goat cheese
10 oz. cream cheese
1 cup sugar
salt, to taste
1 cup crème fraîche
1/2 cup heavy cream
2 eggs
2 yolks
2 TBSP lemon juice
1 TBSP lemon zest

Put this guy together just like you did the New York Cheesecake.  If you’re not a fan of goat cheese, use all cream cheese.  If you don’t have crème fraîche, use sour cream.  Or use all heavy cream.

This guy doesn’t need a crust. Wrap your springform pan with two layers of foil,  put a piece of parchment in the bottom and pour in your filling.  Put the pan in a larger pan and add hot water until it comes halfway up the side of your cake.  Bake him at 275F until just set–this will take awhile.  Start with about an hour and then check on him until he is still just a bit woogle-y in the center.  Remove from the oven and from the water bath.  Run a knife around the outside of the pan and let him cool at room temperature.  Then, refrigerate overnight.

Oh, yeah.  It’s Cherry Cheesecake Day.  Sorry.

Cherry Topping
4 oz. Port
20 oz. sweet cherries, pitted (duh), fresh or frozen is fine
1/2 cup sugar
pinch of salt
lemon juice (to balance sweetness)
equal parts cornstarch and water
splash o’ vanilla

Combine the Port, cherries, sugar and salt in a sauce pan.  Bring to a boil and boil for about five minutes, until the mixture is syrupy.

Add lemon juice, a little at a time, until you’re happy with the balance–maybe 1-2 TBSP altogether.

Mix cornstarch and water together and stir about 1 TBSP into the cherries.  Boil for a few seconds or so until thickened and clear.  If you want it thicker, add a bit more.  It will thicken upon cooling, so don’t get carried away.  When you’re happy with the Thickness, taste it to make sure the raw starch flavor has cooked out.  Remove from heat and stir in a bit of vanilla.  Cool and then refrigerate.

Don’t think of that topping as a recipe.  Look at it like this:

Ingredient List
liquid
fruit
salt
sweetener
acid
thickener

Procedure
Boil liquid, fruit, sugar and salt.  Balance with acid.  Thicken.  Cool.  Eat.

Feel free to add some spices or some citrus zest.  Go play.

And that’s pretty much it.  Remember, if your cheesecake contains starch, it can take a higher temperature, but make a crust for him, just for insurance.  If the ingredient list does not contain starch, your cheesecake will be more delicate.  Bake him in a water bath at a lower temperature.  Enjoy National Cheesecake Day.  I’m celebrating by doing more packing.  Imagine that.

In Which Poor Brave Patricia is Forced to Work for The Devil

22 Apr
Is it?  Could it be?  Is it really Glinda, the Good Witch of the North?!  No, even better!

Is it? Could it be? Is it really Glinda, the Good Witch of the North?! No, even better!

Do you guys remember the horror with Time Warner Cable last week?  Remember José and how he’s dead to me?  Remember the angst? the woe? the gnashing of teeth? the making of chocolate pudding?  Relive the horror, or live it for the first time here.

And now, in the immortal words of Paul Harvey, here is the rest of the story.  I tweeted to any Triangle folks (Raleigh area people) to give me a good alternative to TWC for tv and Hinternet service.  Well, @LeeRingerNews14, who is the local TWC channel’s weather dude tweeted and asked what was up.  I directed him to the Post of Woe and Anguish, and he said that someone would be contacting me shortly.

So guess what?  Somebody did contact me. (Huge Thank Yous go to @LeeRingerNews14)! First, I thought I was going to get to be on one of those David v. Goliath segments wherein the Little Person has tried and tried to get Satisfaction from The Devil TWC and then the Consumer Affairs Reporter (CAR, ha!) swoops in and writes a Nasty Note on the Little Person’s behalf and then The Devil sees the error of his ways and the birds sing and there are rainbows and then dancing.  But then, my friend Steve, who is Very Wise, asked why in the Hell the TWC channel would do a segment about this Particular Issue.  A poor strategic move on their part.  So, I was brought back to earth (since I was already choreographing the dance dans ma tête).  Thanks, Steve.

So, this is who I hear from:  ::blaring of trumpets:: Patricia! Patricia is a goddess who, through no fault of her own, I’m sure, is forced to work for The Devil.  Patricia is Reasonable.  She is Understanding.  Patricia Cares about me.  This is how I know that she is being held against her will.  Probably José has a key to the Executive Washroom, but they keep Patricia in a cell.  Because they are Afraid of her Power.  And what is her unique power?  Excellent Customer Service.   They roll her out at Opportune Moments, like when a Cheeky Blogger says less-than-positive things about The Company.  I figure that they chain her to her seat and wrap some Kryptonite around her to keep her weak, but even so, she Works Wonders at the Behest of TWC.

Here’s what she did:  first, she commiserated with me and agreed that José is Very Bad.  I appreciated that; I like to have my gut feelings validated by goddesses.  Then, she told me that I could have my Hinternets, still through Earthlink, set up and running on May 1!!! Remember May 1?  It’s the day I asked the Nice Person to please schedule our installation.  I told Goddess Patricia that Nice Person told me that she couldn’t schedule an installation until the other account was closed.  And guess what Patricia said?  “She’s right.  She can’t.  But I can.” Wow.  So Patricia reached down into the TWC computer system and Bent it to her Will, so that now we will have The Hinternets when we need and want them.  She is going to call me on the 30th just to double check.

Of course, I told Patricia that she is a goddess, and I got the feeling that she wanted to say, “Thank god that someone can see this!  Please rescue me; I want to go back to Olympus!”  Instead, probably because they bedazzled her shirt with Kryptonite jewels, she just smiled (I could tell) and said, “Thank you.”  And then, I said, you are like Sunshine, and I will write for you a lemon pudding post.  Again, she said, “Thank you.”

And so, Goddess Patricia, this pudding cake is for you.  May it give you the strength to Bend your Bars and escape.

Goddess Patricia’s Lemon Pudding Cake
First, you make a lemon curd.  Then, you add a little flour and milk.  And then, you fold in some meringue.  Then you bake it.  That’s it.

  • 2/3 cup sugar
  • 1 TBSP zest
  • 3 whole eggs
  • 4 yolks
  • heavy pinch of salt
  • 1/2 cup lemon juice
  • 1/4 cup lime juice (secret sunshiny ingredient)
  • 4TBSP butter
  • 2 T AP flour
  • 1/2 cup whole milk
  • 3 egg whites
  • 5 TBSP granulated sugar
  • pinch of cream of tartar

Whisk together sugar, zest, eggs, yolks and salt.

Heat Lemon and lime juice and temper into egg mixture.  Pour everything back into the pot and whisk over medium heat until thickened.*

Remove from heat, strain and whisk in butter.  Sift the AP flour over the curd and whisk in, along with the milk.

Whip the whites, sugar and pinch of cream of tartar to medium-stiff peaks.  Fold into the curd mixture.

Spoon into buttered and sugared ramekins.  Fill the ramekins almost to the top.

Bake in a water bath at 325F for 20-30 minutes, until golden brown and risen and firm-ish to the touch.  A little less than firm is fine–it is pudding cake, after all.

*A good way to tell when your curd is thick enough is that your eggy/citrusy mixture will be all foamy while you’re whisking.  When it is thick enough, almost all of the foam will have gone away.  This is a pastry magic trick, and I will probably be imprisoned for telling you this.  It’s the least I can do, since Pamela is locked up and forced to wear Kryptonite slippers.

“Why Not a Vegetable Sorbet?” I Ask You. And, of Course, You Love the Idea. Right?

21 Apr
Serve it as a salad component or as a garnish for a protein.  Either way, tomato sorbet is surprising and refreshing.

Serve it as a salad component or as a garnish for a protein. Either way, tomato sorbet is surprising and refreshing.

Friends, the weather is getting warmer and the vegetables are Happening.  Very exciting.  I’m not sure if you’ve been able to read between the lines and discern that I am not a Huge Vegetable Fan, but it’s true.  Sad to say, I have only really gotten into enjoying veggies in the last (covers mouth and mumbles) days years.  At any rate, my challenge is to figure out ways to trick myself into eating a lot of vegetables.  Soup is a great way, and now I can start expanding out into gazpacho, which is really nothing but veggies all blended together–super healthy, fresh V8.

Anyway, back at the first restaurant I worked in, the chef asked me to come up with a tomato sorbet to use as a garnish for some sort of Fish Deal he was doing.  So, I said sure–after all, I had already conquered the horseradish sorbet, so it was all downhill from there.  What I came up with is a spicy/citrusy tomato sorbet.  As a matter of fact, if you don’t actually want to turn it into sorbet, you can leave out the simple syrup, leave it kind of chunky and call it spicy gazpacho.  Or, you can blend it to within an inch of its life and strain it to make either a sorbet or granita.  It’s your choice–call it soup or call it sorbet.  Either way, it really is Quite Tasty.

At Least It’s Not Horseradish Sorbet Tomato Sorbet

  • 10 largish ripe tomatoes, peeled and seeded
  • juice of one lime
  • juice of one lemon
  • salt, to taste
  • 2 small red onions
  • 2 seeded jalapenos
  • 1 seeded red bell pepper
  • 1 tsp cayenne, or to taste
  • 3 TBSP white balsamic vinegar
  • 3 TBSP red wine vinegar
  • simple syrup (1:1 sugar to water)

Toss everyone except the simple syrup into a blender and blend forever.  You’ll probably have to do this in batches.

Strain tomato mixture and add simple syrup until the egg test works.  Although I generally went a little less sweet on this.  The top of the egg would barely show up over the surface.  Churn in your ice cream freezer.  Because this has a bit less sugar in it than the “ideal” sorbet, I’d serve it pretty close to immediately.  You can put it in the freezer, but you’ll want to take it out to soften some before scooping.  You can also add a little vodka to the mix to help keep it from getting too icy when completely frozen.

If you don’t have an ice cream maker, just freeze this in a pan and then scrape it for a refreshing granita.  Or, you can make the ghetto version of an ice cream maker–zip bag of tomato mix inside another zip bag containing ice and salt.  Mash around for 20-25 minutes or so.  I learned this from Marc over at [No Recipes]Here’s the post it came from.  If you’re interested in hearing about an almost completely foraged gourmet meal, do check it out.  Great reading.

Play with the ingredients–add cucumber if you want.  Add more citrus.  Take out the “spicy,” or make it more spicy.  Here’s the template:

  • Put vegetables and some liquid in a blender
  • Season to taste
  • Strain out
  • Add some simple syrup
  • Freeze

And that’s about the size of things around here today.  I must go do some more packing.  Sigh.

A Techniques Primer: Custards and Puddings

20 Apr
Thank you, eggies, for your thickening power.

Thank you, eggies, for your thickening power.

A reader, Pam, “delurked” yesterday to ask for clarification about putting together a custard.  When to use butter; when not to use butter.  She also said (tongue in cheek, I hope) that she was afraid that I would tap my foot disapprovingly and ask her why she hadn’t been paying attention all along.  Well, fear not, Pam.  I have decided that I am just not that person.  A few months ago, before I started this wee blog and before I started truly understanding the level of hesitancy out there when it comes to cooking, I made the conscious decision not to be the food snob who rolls their eyes at folks who think foie gras sounds “icky,” or to smugly smirk when someone tells me that their favorite restaurant is Chili’s.  I have given myself the job of demystifying recipes, not denigrating those who try to follow them.

In my current kitchen view, a recipe is a list of ingredients that has been stapled to a description of the technique/techniques for combining said ingredients.  So, to avoid confusion, I thought I’d give you a bit of a technique primer.

Puddings and Custards

Custards are thickened with the power of eggs. Some use yolks, some use whole eggs, some use a mixture of yolks and eggs.  Regardless, unless it contains eggs, it’s not technically a custard.  Since eggs are so versatile, there are lots of ways to cook them.  On their own, scrambled, poached, coddled, fried, baked, hard cooked all come to mind.  But when used as one ingredient in a custard, the way the eggs set up determines the style of the custard.  If you stir and cook a custard to its maximum thickness on the stove top, it’s called a stirred custard.  If you pour the custard into a mold of some sort and then bake it, it’s called a baked or “still” custard.  And, in the US, if the custard contains starch, we call it pudding.  In France, a starch based custard is pastry cream or crème pâtissière.  Still custards are generally the most firm, followed by starch-thickened custards and stirred custards.

The first thing you need to figure out is if the custard has starch in it.  Any ingredients like flour, corn starch, arrowroot, etc are starches and lend their thickening power to the custard.  If the ingredient list does contain starch, understand that you will have to fully cook the custard on the stove.  This means that you must bring it to a boil and stir it like a crazy person for about 30 seconds. This is because most starches aren’t completely activated–swollen up and gelatinized–until they reach boiling temperature.  If your recipe calls for starch, make sure you bring it to a boil.  If you’ve ever made pudding that tastes kind of chalky, it’s because you didn’t get it hot enough.

If the ingredient list doesn’t contain starch, the next step is to see decide if the custard is a stirred custard or a baked/still custard.  If you’re making crème brûlée, you’ll be baking the custard in the oven, so it’s a still custard.  If you’re making egg nog or Creme Anglaise or ice cream base, the custard will be fully cooked on the stove top, so it’s a stirred custard.  The procedure for each will be almost identical, but you won’t continue to cook a base for a still custard after you temper in the eggs.

Custards with starch (American-style pudding)

  • Whisk together dairy and half the sugar in a sauce pan.
  • Whisk together the eggs/yolks with the rest of the sugar, salt and dry ingredients, including the starch. If the ingredient list doesn’t contain salt, ignore it and add some anyway.  Some recipes won’t contain eggs.  That’s fine, but you can always add in a yolk or two for richness.
  • Bring dairy mixture up to just below a boil.
  • Add hot dairy, a bit at a time, to the egg mixture, whisking madly.  This brings the temperature of the eggs up gradually and prevents you from scrambling your eggs.
  • Pour everything back into the pot.  Over medium heat, whisk madly until the mixture comes to a boil.  Boil for about 30 seconds.
  • Strain mixture through a fine mesh strainer.  If the recipe calls for butter, chopped chocolate and/or an extract or liqueur, add it/them now and whisk in until smooth.

Custards without starch (this goes for curds, too–curds are just citrus based custard, as opposed to dairy-based)

  • Whisk together dairy and half the sugar in a sauce pan.
  • Whisk together eggs/yolks with the rest of the sugar and the salt.  If your ingredient list doesn’t contain salt, add it anyway.
  • Bring dairy (or citrus) mixture up to just below a boil.
  • Add hot dairy/citrus, a bit at a time, to the egg mixture.  Gee, doesn’t all of this sound oddly familiar?
  • At this point, if you’re making a still custard, as for crème brûlée or flan, just strain the mixture, pan it up and bake in a water bath at about 275F.  If you’re making a stirred custard, keep going:
  • Pour the egg mixture back into the pot.  Over medium-lowish heat, stir the custard/curd until the mixture thickens and coats the back of a spoon.  This happens at around 160F.  At this point, you’ll want to cool the custard quickly so it won’t curdle.   You can strain it into a metal bowl set in an ice bath and whisk, or you can hold out a portion of the dairy to add back in at the end of cooking.  Your choice, but strain the mixture either way.
  • If you’re making curd, whisk in the butter after straining.

Double Boiler method
You can make a custard or curd in a double boiler.  If you want to use the double boiler method, add everything except the butter to the top pan/metal bowl.  Keep water at a gentle simmer, and whisk constantly until the custard/curd has thickened.  Strain and stir/whisk in butter.  I wouldn’t bother using a double boiler with a starch-thickened custard, though.  The starch helps prevent curdling, so you should be fine cooking over direct heat.  The double boiler method is good for custards that you want to thicken but not boil.

Okay, pop quiz.  I give you an ingredient list, you give me the method you’d use to put it together.

Exhibit A (Anglaise)
1 cup heavy cream
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
4 egg yolks
1/3 cup white sugar
pinch of salt

Exhibit B (Chocolate Pudding)
3/4 cup (150 grams) granulated white sugar
3 tablespoons (30 grams) cornstarch
1/3 cup (30 grams) Dutch-processed cocoa powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 1/2 cups (600 ml) whole milk
1/2 cup (120 ml) heavy whipping cream
4 large egg yolks
4 ounces (120 grams) semisweet chocolate, finely chopped
1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1 tablespoon (14 grams) unsalted butter, room temperature (cut into small pieces)

Exhibit C (Flan)
2 cups heavy cream
1 cinnamon stick
1 vanilla bean, split and scraped
3 large eggs
2 large egg yolks
Pinch salt

Exhibit D
Okay, this one isn’t an exhibit, really,  It’s a question:  Which of the three recipes might you want to use a double boiler for?  Why?

You all did very well today.  Don’t forget to pick up your custard-genius certificate on your way out.

Sunday Suppers: Vegetable Beef Soup

19 Apr
Chicken soup gets all of the press, but vegetable beef soup is good for the soul, too.

Chicken soup gets all of the press, but vegetable beef soup is good for the soul, too.

I seem to be on a soup kick, but in my defense, soup is good food.  Besides, we went to Auntie Ev and Uncle Ray’s house again to visit with them and Auntie ‘Leenie.  See, we took soup last time, too. They are big soup fans, and I’d really rather they enjoy our soup than Panera soup.

I learned a new thing, although I should have known it anyway.  Stock works out quite well in the oven. We went to the NC Farmer’s Market in Raleigh last weekend and bought some soup bones from a locally grown, happy grass-fed cow.  We didn’t actually buy the bones from the cow, we bought them from the nice lady who killed the cow (or at least works with the people who killed the cow).  I remembered at 3pm on Thursday that we were supposed to be taking soup on Saturday morning, so I threw the browned the bones with some tomato paste and then threw them in my big old pot along with onion, celery, thyme, peppercorns, garlic and cold water.  I brought it up to a simmer on the stove and let it go for about 5 hours, skimming off any goo that rose to the surface.  I realized I would get the best stock if I let it go for several more hours, so I just covered the pot with foil and threw it in a 200F oven overnight.  Worked like a charm.  I ended up with beautifully rich stock that hadn’t reduced at all.  All I had to do was skim off all the fat, and I was good to go.

Last Minute Vegetable Beef Soup with Millet

  • olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • red pepper flake, to taste
  • salt and pepper, to taste
  • Italian seasoning, to taste
  • 3 quarts beef stock, preferably homemade (But no one will arrest you if you use store bought.  I don’t think)
  • sirloin, cut into small cubes and browned with just some salt and pepper.  I think I had about 8-10 oz, so that’s how much I used.
  • about 1/3 cup tomato sauce (mine was homemade w/Italian herbs and stuff.  I just felt the soup needed something).
  • one bag o’ frozen vegetables–mine had green beans, corn, carrot and peas, I think
  • one bag o’ frozen pepper strips–yes, you can use fresh, ditto for any veggies
  • 1 baking potato, cut into cute little cubes
  • large handful millet (you could use whatever you want:  wee pasta stars, barley, rice–I just wanted a whole grain component.  You could also just leave it out entirely).
  • red wine vinegar (to brighten the flavors since I was trying to use less salt)
  • lime juice (ditto)

Sweat onions, pepper flake and Italian seasoning in oil.  Add salt and pepper, to taste.

Add stock and tomato sauce.  Simmer for awhile.  Taste and adjust seasonings.

Add browned beef cubes.  Add veggies and simmer for awhile.  Taste and adjust seasonings.

Throw in the millet and cook until it’s tender (this took about 15 minutes).

Use vinegar and/or citrus juice to brighten the flavors.

Notes:

  • As always, this is just a recipe template:
  • sweat aromatics
  • add stock
  • add veggies and meat
  • season and serve
  • Voila: soup’s on.
  • You could make a fantastic fajita soup by upping the lime juice, using strips of beef, peppers and onions and seasoning with chili powder and some Mexican oregano.  Grate some pepper jack over each bowlful, and you’re in business.
  • Now I wish I had done that.  Oh well.  Auntie Ev, Uncle Ray and Auntie ‘Leenie probably wouldn’t have liked it.  I’ll try it when it’s just The Beloved and Me.
  • Auntie Leenie’s birthday was April 13.  She’s 89.  She’s the baby of the family.  Happy Birthday, Auntie ‘Leenie.

And that’s about the size of things.  As moving gets closer, posts might be more hit and miss.  We’ll see, though.  I do like to post and What Not.  If any of you guys have any ideas for topics, let me know in the comments section, and I’ll see what I can do.

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