Archive | June, 2009

The Great Search Term Round Up: Volume 3

30 Jun
In Which we find ourselves at the end of another month, ready to help answer your burning pastry questions.

In Which we find ourselves at the end of another month, ready to help answer your burning pastry questions.

Goodbye, June.  Hello, search terms that have amused me, befuddled me or made me really think.  For your enjoyment today, I present The Best search terms.  As per usual, if they are not phrased in question form, I will do that myself.  I do so enjoy a good Q&A Session.

What can I put in macaroni salad? Pretty much whatever you want.  Take your favorite veggie salad mix (or tuna or chicken salad, for that matter) use a bunch of extra dressing and fold it all in with still-warm elbows, shells or Interesting Shapes such as fusilli (Jerry) or farfalle.

Why did my flan curdle? Because your mixture boiled in the oven.  This is a Very Bad Thing for flan.  Flan should be smooth and slice cleanly.  It should Not feel like wet tweed in the mouth.  Use a water bath, and bake it low and slow at no more than 275F.  If you have a convection oven, cover the Flan Pan so it doesn’t brown.  Yes, it will take Forever to bake, but your reward will be perfect flan.

Could you give me a recipe for a bacon, egg and cheese biscuit? Dear, sweet Searcher on the Hinternet, take a biscuit, cut it open, put bacon (cooked), egg (also cooked) and cheese (skip the cooking part for the cheese) on the biscuit.  Put lid on biscuit.  Eat biscuit.  Love, PMAT Jenni.

Can you put dill pickles in macaroni salad? Despite my answer to question 1, dill pickles Do Not Like to be included in macaroni salad.  Don’t even try it.  They will be Sullen and Sad and will eye you Darkly.*

How can I sweeten sour cream? Put some sweetener in it.  Seriously–if you want something to be sweet, you need to use some sugar, brown sugar, honey, maple syrup, agave nectar or What Have You to make it so.  Here’s how you do it.  Put sweetener in sour cream.  Stir and stir.

How much sugar do people buy? It depends on how much they use.  Folks who build sugar sculptures need A Very Lot of sugar.  Folks who never eat sugar prolly don’t buy any.  If you’re looking for statistics, I did find one that stated that in 1999, Americans ate 158 pounds a year.  That’s an average, so while some folks bought/ate way less than that, others bought/ate way more.  I’m a Fan of sugar, but this seems a bit much.

Can you make pasta sauce with Cool Whip? Dear Lord in Heaven, deliver me from these Cool Whip questions, especially the ones who want to branch out and use Cool Whip creatively.  Shudder.  To answer the question, yes, I suppose you could, but no one should ever, ever, ever actually do it.  Just say no.

How do you know when caramel is done? Good question.  Once sugar begins to color, it’s technically a caramel, but the darker it gets, the less sweet and more complex the flavor.  So, you have to decide what your sweet spot on the Caramel Spectrum is.  I like to hang out down towards the far end, where the smokers and kids wearing flannel shirts gather.  Some folks might be happier on the Glee Club end of the spectrum.  If I’m making caramel for kids, I stop at a medium amber color.  For adults, I take it just past the smoke point.  To use with meats, I take it to a true mahogany.  At that point, you have to be careful, because once you get to mahogany, you’re pretty close to black, and black isn’t caramel.  It’s pure carbon.  No matter how dark/light you like it, the sugar will continue to cook once you take it off the heat.  To lock in your color, so to speak, either throw in a wee handful of ice and stir it in–carefully; it will splutter–or dunk the pan in an ice water bath to arrest the cooking.

How do I make a 13th birthday cake with marzipan? Make a cake.  Spread a thin layer of jam (or other yummy glue) on the outside.  Smooth a sheet of marzipan over the cake.  Write Happy 13th Birthday Insert-Name-Here with your choice of colored icing.  You can purchase marzipan, or you can make your own.  As long as you start with commercially produced almond paste, you should be fine.

Here’s another that I simply cannot phrase in the form of a question:  Little voices told me to.  I’m not sure what this person was looking for or how they wound up here, but I will say that, from now on, it will be my excuse for everything Eccentric that I do.  The Beloved will ask, “Dearest?  Why, oh why did you find it necessary to dye the cat green?”  And I will answer, “Little voices told me to.”  Yup, that’s my plan.

And that concludes today’s round up.  Stay tuned tomorrow for your regularly scheduled pastry programming.

*Oh, for the love of Mike, if you want dill pickles in your macaroni salad, put them in there.  Consider chopping them up first.

Sunday Sippers: Introducing the Bergamo(t)jito

28 Jun
How's that for a lovely Sunday Beverage?

How's that for a lovely Sunday Beverage?

Well, it is a lovely 800 degree day here in The Triangle.  As much as I enjoy making a nice Sunday Supper, today just seemed more conducive to a sipper–a frosty cold refreshing Adult Beverage.  One made from the Bounty in our yard.  Remember a couple of days ago I posted about those crazy mint flowers?  Well, many folks, including my long-lost-then-found-again-through-facebook college friend Cindy said, “Hey, those dudes look a lot like bergamot.”  All I could think of was Earl Grey tea, and they didn’t really have all that going on, so I went out into the Hinternet and found out that bergamot the herb (from the Mint Family) is named after bergamot the bitter orange because it has sort of an orange-y perfume.  I think that’s kind of a stretch, but they are minty and wonderful and Attractive, so I am just going with it.

So, here’s the beverage:  The Bergamo(t)jito, or just the Bergamojito.  The parenthetical T might be a bit much.  Sorry.

Bergamojito (serves one)

  • 16 (or so) bergamot or mint leaves
  • several Attractive bergamot flowerettes
  • about 1 1/2 tsp coarse sugar (I used demerara)
  • a smallish wedge of a well-scrubbed lime
  • 1 1/2 shots white rum
  • a Very Ton of ice
  • enough club soda to fill the glass

Bergamojito ingredients

See, the coarse sugar helps muddle things up really nicely.

See, the coarse sugar helps muddle things up really nicely.

Put the leaves, flowerettes, sugar and lime in the bottom of a nice tall glass.  Mash them together really well.  I don’t own a muddler, so I just used the back of a spoon and mashed away.  You could use simple syrup to sweeten this, but the coarse demerara crystals do a Fine Job of bruising the mint and coaxing the oils out of the lime skins.

Leave a tall iced tea spoon in the glass, and throw in a handful of ice, a few more flowerettes and more ice to fill the glass.

Pour in the rum and then jiggle the spoon up and down while you pour in some club soda to top things off.  This makes things all nice and mixed.

Then, sit out on the porch with your Beloved and Enjoy.  Oh, don’t forget to actually make your Beloved a beverage.  I made two, so I was happy to share with my Beloved.

So, how did it taste?  Very herbal and a bit peppery and lime-y and barely sweet and Extremely Refreshing.  I highly recommend that you make one immediately.

Lightning Guacamole

26 Jun
I like mine fairly smooth, but leave yours as chunky as you like.

I like mine fairly smooth, but leave yours as chunky as you like.

This is a fast one today.  We are having a drop in for our neighbors so we can Meet People here in our new neighborhood, so I must clean and What Not.  I’m mostly done, but still, The Beloved will be home soon and I don’t want to be caught Dilly Dallying in any way.  As part of the Snackage, I’m making a really fast guacamole.  Throw everything in a bowl, mash with a potato masher until Sufficiently Mashed, chill and Put in Face.

I know it’s not technically a pastry thing, but it is food, and I have made spicy avocado ice cream before, so there you go.

Lightning Guacamole
Mash together:

  • ripe but not brown and gross Haas avocados
  • kosher salt and black pepper, to taste
  • a Very Ton of lime juice (adds all sorts of zing and keeps it from getting brown and sad for two or three days)
  • cumin
  • finely chopped onion
  • splashes of hot sauce or some finely minced hot pepper
  • minced cilantro
Action shot of My Left Hand squozzling a lime.

Action shot of My Left Hand squozzling a lime.

If you have trouble dealing with avocados, slice them in half the long way, around their big old seed, twist them open like an Oreo, whack the seed with your chef knife, cutting right into him without cutting off your hand. Twist the knife a bit to Dislodge the seed and pinch it from the back of the knife so it sails off of the blade.  Then use and avocado-sized spoon to scoop out the halves.  No waste.  Yay.

If you have trouble dealing with avocados, slice them in half the long way, around their big old seed, twist them open like an Oreo, whack the seed with your chef knife, cutting right into him without cutting off your hand. Twist the knife a bit to Dislodge the seed and pinch it from the back of the knife so it sails off of the blade. Then use an avocado-sized spoon to scoop out the halves. No waste. Yay.

No, there are no measurements.  Start with a judicious amount of each and add more of what you think it needs.  For 4 avocados, I prolly use the juice of 1 1/2 or 2 limes, a heavy pinch of salt and several grinds of pepper, about 1 tsp cumin, maybe 1/4 cup chopped onion, maybe 1 minced serrano or jalapeno or about 3 splashes of Very Hot Sauce.  The Beloved’s cousin made it, and it is fairly Lethal in a good way.

And there you have it.  Enjoy your weekend, friends.

Yes, you can add tomatoes, but everything turns hopelessly soggy and gray after awhile, so it’s your call.  And, yes, you can add all sorts of other stuff.  I don’t, because I like the lime/avocado Duo to shine.

Oh look, there are the onions--I forgot to show you those.

Oh look, there are the onions--I forgot to show you those.

PS If you have leftovers, and you really shouldn’t because this stuff is Good For You, press plastic wrap right down on the surface of the guac, pressing as many air pockets out as possible. Refrigerated, this will keep fairly well for a day or three without turning a Very Scary Brown color. If it does discolor (oxidize) a bit at the surface, scrape off the brown portion and eat the creamy green goodness underneath.

PPS  This is quite yummy when used as a sammich spread in place of mayonnaise.  Try it sometime.

Anniversaries and Alzheimer’s

25 Jun
Auntie Ev and Uncle Ray just a few months ago at their home in Pinehurst.  The truest kind of family.

Auntie Ev and Uncle Ray just a few months ago at their home in Pinehurst. The truest kind of family.

Wedding anniversaries are a time to look back to remember the good times and be thankful that you made it through the not so good times.  As years mount upon years, a happy couple can feel quietly proud of their union and completely sure of his/her spouse.  Often, the “big” anniversaries–those whose years end in 5 or 0–are celebrated by friends and family, as if somehow it is a greater accomplishment to have made it to one of those years when they only amount to 20% of the anniversaries.  And I guess, somehow, it is a bigger deal.  As humans, we love to measure time, and decade and century marks–not to mention millennial marks–are somehow celebrated more earnestly than others.  Maybe those round numbers make us more aware of our mortality; maybe celebrating those milestones makes us less fearful of the passage of time and more in control.  I’m not sure what the answer is.

Today is Auntie Ev and Uncle Ray’s 65th wedding anniversary.  Ev and Ray have been family of my heart, if not my blood, since before I was born.  Auntie Ev and her two sisters, Eileen (‘Leenie) and Madeline babysat my father when he was a child.  Ray met Evelyn through her younger brother, Colin, when the two were roommates during basic training for the roles they played in World War II.  Through Evelyn and her sisters, Ray came into my father’s family’s life.  And a new family was born.  I wish I could describe to you how amazing the pair of them are.  The stories that we all share.  The common memories.  The laughter.  The time the unattached gravy boat flew off of the saucer and into the floral centerpiece.  The Christmas in which everyone broke something–at 7 or 8, I broke the hide-a-bed.  My dad broke a Cadillac.  Janet broke a coffee urn by overlooking a Do Not Immerse label.   The time my brother and I got lost in the woods behind their house; how we were “rescued,” scared and bleeding from a bramble attack.  The stories from before I was born of my dad’s father spending his last few months with Ev and Ray.  The names of other members of our family of the heart–Uncle Ben, Uncle Alex, Auntie Margaret, Bessie, Spennie–some of whom I never met; some of whom I barely remember, but all of whom are special, marked by their status as Family.

Today, Auntie Ev is slipping away.  Not in body–she still looks wonderful, and if you ask her, she’ll say that she’s just fine.  But this amazingly strong woman is being pulled down and away from us by the dark whirlpool that is Alzheimer’s.  Rather than lament this fact, let me celebrate her as the force that she was, and continues to be, in our family.  In 1948, she agreed to move to Jackson, MS with Ray and their infant son, Ken.  Her family all thought they were crazy to go.  Not to take anything away from Mississippi in the 21st century, but in those days, leaving New York City to live in the South was literally like going to live in another country.  Deep down inside, she perhaps thought it a little crazy, too, but she supported Ray and his career, and so they went.

Every year for Christmas, Auntie Ev used to make plum puddings and about 15 kinds of cookies.  I can remember making the perilous trek down into their dark basement in Plainfield, New Jersey.  I was terrified of what Lurked down there–it was just anyone’s guess–but the lure of cookies was strong, and I let myself be led by the hum of the deep freeze, which promised nothing but delight.  Ev and Ray spearheaded Good Friday concerts at their church, and Ev made dozens of lemon pound cakes to be sold as part of the fundraiser for the local hospital.  By the time they moved from New Jersey to North Carolina, the Good Friday concert was raising tens of thousands of dollars for the hospital.  That hospital is now closed.  I’m not sure that there is a connection there; I am just mentioning it.

Evelyn raised Ken, an amazing son (who, after all, didn’t suffer any adverse effects from his stint in MS), and has kept both him and (more importantly) Ray in line, the household in order and the family together.  When Ken was away at college, Ev and Ray decided to foster a young blind man, Michael.  See how they just adopt people?  Without Ev and Ray, I doubt that Michael would have had a guide dog or gone to a great college or gotten a great job that normally would have gone to a sighted person, especially back in the seventies.  But Auntie Ev didn’t care about normal.  She cared about what was right.  We all may call her Auntie Ev, but I know that my parents consider her a mother figure, and I certainly have always felt much closer to her and Ray then I ever did to my biological grandparents.  Relatives of the heart, the ones who find us, by chance or by design, are the truest kind of family.

As our godparents, Uncle Ray delivered the eulogy when my brother died in 1998.  He was uncertain that he could get through it, and before he went up in front of the congregation, Auntie Ev whispered to him “Be strong for our Greg,” and Uncle Ray was.  Our family is stronger today because Auntie Ev modeled strength and encouraged strength in all of us.

Five years ago, for their 60th wedding anniversary celebration in Pinehurst, NC, we all gathered–new friends and old–to pay tribute to a long and lasting union.  Auntie Ev was completely with us and present in the moment, and I had the distinct honor of making their celebration cake.  Speeches were made; jokes were told.  We laughed and remembered and planned for their next milestone:  the 75th anniversary.  All four Lainson “kids” attended the 60th.  “How amazing!” we all thought.  All four Lainson kids are still around for 65th, but I doubt that at this point Auntie Ev distinguishes today from any other day.  I will call later today.  Auntie Ev will say that she is fine, and she will thank me for the anniversary wishes, but I doubt she’ll know who I am.  In a strange way, that will be okay, because it is what it is, and we try to enjoy every moment.  I know who she is, who she was, and what she has meant–and continues to mean–to Uncle Ray, to her brother and sisters, to my parents, and to The Beloved and me.

Ev and Ray's anniversary cake--lemon cake with raspberry filling covered with marzipan and then white chocolate ganache.  Gumpaste roses, daisies, tulips and pansies.

Ev and Ray's 60th Anniversary cake--lemon cake with raspberry filling covered with marzipan and then white chocolate ganache. Gumpaste roses, daisies, tulips and pansies.

So, today, I celebrate Ev and Ray’s enduring love.  Theirs is truly the model for our marriage.  And, it’s a damn fine model.

Look At This!

24 Jun
How lovely is this guy?!

How lovely is this guy?!

So, check him out!  Any ideas?  Can you even Begin to guess what this guy is?  Maybe you already know and are just skimming along, waiting for me to cut to the chase.  If so, just give me a minute.  I will give you Hints.  It’s the flower of a culinary herb.  It is often associated with sweet items, although lamb is also a classic pairing.  The leaves are often used in teas.  And you can’t make a mojito without it.  Got it?  It’s…………..Mint!  How cool do his little flowers look?

Here’s how I discovered these guys.  I did Absolutely Nothing, and then they just happened.  When we moved into The Beautiful House, we inherited many herbs planted in many places around the property–cilantro, lavender, rosemary, thyme, oregano, etc.  And mint.  Planted in two or three places.  Mint is Crafty and will grow just about anywhere, jumping into beds (!) with other little guys who are just minding their own business.  Mint is a Gigolo.  What I mean to say is, we had A Very Lot of mint.  Some of it was growing in the front next to the stone steps, and it was getting all Leggy and yellow-ish and Unattractive.  So, I cut it way back.  Some of the guys who weren’t tall and leggy enough to fall to my blade continued growing.  They got tall and taller, and then the newer leaves started coming in all purple and then little bract-like structures began to form.  They were purple, too.  And then:  crazy flowers happened!

Yes, I know.  Plants flower, and it’s not really a big deal, but I’d never seen mint flower, and I guess I just never really thought about it.  And they’re so pretty!  So, what did I do with them, you ask?  I ate one, of course.  And I made The Beloved eat one, too.  And guess what?!  They taste like mint!  Not all green and minty like the leaves, but a very subtle, peppery minty.  The flowers themselves didn’t taste like much on my tongue, but they released their Minty Essence so that my mouth tasted like clean, not-at-all-sweet mint.  Yay!  Plus, they are Lovely.

Of course, this opens up a whole world of possibilities for minty flowery snacks and beverages.  Here’s my list, so far:

  1. Steep them in ice cream base for subtley minty ice cream.  If they don’t turn Odd Colors, leave them in when you churn it.
  2. Use as a straight-up garnish on any Item containing mint–sweet or savory.  I think they’d be lovely tossed with some sweet peas.  What do you think?
  3. Muddle them into beverages, both kid-friendly and Frosty Adult Beverages.
  4. Dry the flowers, crumble them and roll them into tart dough or maybe shortbread dough.  Butter mint, anyone?
  5. Add them to a refreshing granita mix before freezing.
  6. Steep them in cold water, maybe with some cucumber slices.  Serve over ice.

When I actually do one or more of these Items, I will let you know how it goes.  I just had to share how pretty and tasty and how Full of Possibility these little flowers are.  That is all; we now return you to your regular programming.

Of Quiche and Crème Fraîche

23 Jun
In Which I am a Helper and answer readers' questions.

In Which I am a Helper and answer readers' questions.

Well, hi there, and Happy Tuesday.  You guys are Awesome; I threw open the floor to questions, and you came through!  Now, I will do my best to be all Expert-y and stuff and answer said questions.

First, from An_Other_Jenn:  “…do you have a favorite quiche recipe? My husband has never had one, but he’s a fan of eggs & cheese & savory things blended together, so I thought I’d make one for him. What are your thoughts on home-made vs. store-bought crusts?”

Ahem.  First of all, Props to the Husband for not buying into the whole Real Men Don’t Eat Quiche thing.  Quiche is a wonderful thing.  For those of you who might be a wee bit intimidated by Quiche, just think of it as a bunch of Items in a partially baked crust covered with rich custard and then baked.  It is cheesy, eggy goodness.  Since quiche is a custard, you could consider baking it in a low oven with a water bath, but I wouldn’t recommend it for two reasons.  1) Part of the yumminess of quiche is the browned goodness on top, and you need higher heat to make that happen, and b) the crust acts as an insulator, so you shouldn’t have issues with curdling, regardless.

Since quiche is really more of a technique than a recipe, I don’t really have a favorite, although there are some classic combinations such as the bacon-y, Swiss Cheese-y goodness of Quiche Lorraine.  I do, however, have a favorite custard mix and technique for putting it together.  I cannot take credit for this; it comes from Thomas Keller, the culinary master behind The French Laundry and Bouchon.

This custard makes enough to fill one 9″ quiche.  It doubles or even triples or quadruples very well, so if you’re feeling Crazy, go for it.

Look--it's Thoma Keller's Quiche Lorraine!  Isn't it lovely?

Look--it's Thomas Keller's Quiche Lorraine! Isn't it lovely?

Thomas Keller’s Amazing Savory Custard Filling for Quiche

  • 2 cups milk
  • 2 cups heavy cream (you can sub. 1 quart of half and half, if you want)
  • 6 large eggs
  • 1 TBSP kosher salt (see all that salt?  Use it all–do not skimp on the salt)
  • 1/4 tsp white pepper (freshly ground is best)
  • just a few gratings of fresh nutmeg

Scald dairy, then cool for 10-15 minutes.

Use half of everything and blend in your blender on low then on high for about 30 seconds.

Pour that half in your partially baked quiche shell, add your fillings, then repeat blending with the other half of the custard ingredients.  Pour over fillings.

At the restaurant I used to work at, I was In Charge of Quiche Crusts.  We served quiche on Saturday at lunch, and we always hoped that we wouldn’t sell out so that we could eat some.  It is Very Very Good.  Here’s how I dealt with the crust:

Make some pâte brisée.  Roll it into a circle-esque shape big enough to line and go up the sides and hang over the edge of a 9″ springform pan.  This means you need a Big Big Circle, probably about 16″-17″.  Press the dough into the bottom and up the sides of the pan.  Use a piece of dough to help push the crust into the corners.  Fold the dough over the edges of the pan all around.  Some parts will hang down more than other parts.  Don’t worry about it–this dough flap is an anchor to keep your dough from sliding down the vertical surface of the pan.  That Thomas Keller is Smart.

Once your dough is All In, make sure there are no cracks.  Cracks equal Leaking equal Did-You-Know-That-Glue-Is-Made-From-Protein?  Patch them with some extra dough.  Freeze the shell for about half an hour, then line the tart shell with some crumpled-then-uncrumpled parchment paper or an extra large coffee filter and fill with some dried beans or pie weights.  Bake at 375F until the edges are browned–about 35 minutes or so.

Remove the pie weights and parchment and check for cracks again.  Patch as necessary, and continue baking for another 20 minutes or so, or until the bottom is light golden.  If the outside edges are getting too brown, don’t worry–you’ll be cutting those off anyway.

Then, add 1/2 blended custard, filling stuff and the other 1/2 of the custard.  Bake at 375F for about 1 hour and 15 minutes, or until the top of the custard is deep golden brown and it doesn’t jiggle.  Cool for 30 minutes or so, then get rid of the outer part of the dough by scraping along the top of the pan with a bench scraper.  Run a knife around the inside of the springform, let cool some more, then remove the sides of the pan.  Slice and serve and smile.

Oh, and store-bought crust?  I guess it’s okay in a pinch, but if you have the time, make your own.  Here’s what’s in store bought crust (from our friends at Wegman’s):

Enriched Bleached Flour (Wheat Flour, Niacin, Iron, Thiamin Mononitrate [Vitamin B1], Riboflavin [Vitamin B2], Folic Acid), Wheat Starch, Lard and Hydrogenated Lard with BHT Added to Protect Flavor, Water, Sugar, Contains 2% or Less of Each of The Following: Salt, Xanthan Gum, Colored With (Yellow 5, Red 40), Citric Acid and Sodium Propionate and Potassium Sorbate Added to Retard Spoilage, Soy Flour

I”m just saying that you might not want Red 40 in your crust, is all.

And now, on to the crème fraîche.  Here’s the question from Tangled Noodle:  “I made a crème fraîche for my most recent post but as I noted, I didn’t use any recommended ingredients (ultrapasteurized whipping cream rather than not-UP heavy cream, and NF yogurt instead of buttermilk). I though it came out perfectly fine but it was more of a ‘pourable’ texture rather than sour cream consistency. Assuming I make it with appropriate elements next time, what kind of texture should I look for? And how do you make crème fraîche?”

Happily for Tangled Noodle, much like I was In Charge of quiche crusts, I was also In Charge of making crème fraîche.  I made 8-12 quarts every week or so.  Sometimes it would be a little thinnish; sometimes it would be as thick as mascarpone.  It depended on the temperature in the kitchen and how long we left it out on the counter.

If it’s cool in the kitchen, you might have to leave it out for as many as 72 hours.  I don’t think that the use of yogurt and ultra-pasteurized cream hurts anything–you’re just trying to introduce tasty cultures and make them flourish in your cream.

See--someone on Flickr has made some lovely creme fraiche!

See--someone on Flickr has made some lovely creme fraiche!

Here’s how I made it.  Honestly–step by step.

For every cup of cream, you’ll need 2 TBSP buttermilk.  For each pint, you need 1/4 cup.  For each quart, you need 1/2 cup.  Et cetera.

  1. Pour heavy cream into a large container.
  2. Add buttermilk and whisk together very well.
  3. Cover, and leave in a warm place–we often just put it on top of the ovens on a half hotel pan.  The pan acted as a diffuser to keep the cream from overheating.
  4. Check every day until it’s thick.  I checked by jiggling the container.  If it didn’t make waves and Slosh About, it was thick enough.
  5. Refrigerate.

I didn’t heat the cream up before hand–I just let the Warm happen naturally.  Putting it in the oven with the light on might be a happy place for it to live, if you can spare the oven for a couple of days.

The biggest pain about making crème fraîche at home is having to wait up to two or three days to use it.  At the restaurant, we almost never ran out, but I doubt that at home you’ll be using so much crème fraîche that you’ll have to go into constant production.  So, either plan Way Ahead (and isn’t that funny, my telling you to do such a thing?!) or just know that your crème fraîche will be tangy but might not be thick.  Also, you can whip cold crème fraîche, whether it is thick or thin.  Whisk and whisk.  It will thin out some, and you will be sad, but carry on.  Eventually, it will whip up just like whipped cream.

And there you have it.  Oh, guess what?  If you have some crème fraîche lying about, or if you get excited and make a bunch, you can use it in place of the heavy cream in your quiche.  Hooray!

Sunday Suppers (Monday Edition): Sausage and Veal Rigatoni

22 Jun
Cream cheese, balsamic and nutmeg?  Why not?!

Cream cheese, balsamic and nutmeg? Why not?!

Well, our quick trip to Orlando was successful.  But, we are Very,Very Sleepy.  There was lots of driving and visiting and eating and Being Hot.  But, I promised you a Monday Edition Sunday Supper, so here it is.

This is another variation on my recent pasta craze.  I had a pound of local sausage and some ground veal.  And rigatoni.  Instant dinner.  Well, not instant, necessarily, but the whole deal only took about an hour and fifteen minutes.  You could probably cut down on the time a bit by using a pressure cooker or by not simmering the sauce as long as I did.

I didn’t really do anything much differently than I usually do, but the fat for the finishing this time was cream cheese.  I do love me some cream cheese.  I read in a cookbook that cream cheese is a Miracle Fabric.  I’m not sure about the fabric portion, but it is pretty miraculous.  It’s equally at home in sweet and in savory preparations.  Pour some pepper jelly over a block of cream cheese, and you’ve got an easy snack to take to the Superbowl Party.  Here’s a favorite:  pineapple jam (if you can find it), horseradish and loads of black pepper.  It sound kinda gross, but it is Awesome.

But, I digress.  Ahem, so cream cheese was my fat.  Because I like it.  There was a bit more stirring and mooshing about to get it to melt because I of course forgot to take it out of the fridge even though it was My Plan to do so.  Sorry.  You’ll remember, though.

So, what else did I do a little differently?  Oh!  I know–I used some freshly grated nutmeg in the sauce.  Why?  Because I like it.  Because it’s good with cream cheese.  Because it is often in sausage and I wanted to up its presence so it wouldn’t have to keep jumping up to be recognized.  I’m now imagining little nutmeg in back of big old fennel and black pepper, trying in vain to see the parade.  I told you I was sleepy.

I also used a very lot of balsamic vinegar.  Again, because I like it and it plays so well with tomatoes.  Plus, if you’re worried about Sodium and stuff, you can cut back some on the salt if you use enough vinegar.  Yay.

Sausage and Veal Rigatoni with Cream Cheese and Super Nutmeg Power

  • 1 pound sweet or hot bulk sausage
  • 1 pound ground beef, veal–whatever
  • 2 medium onions, chopped
  • 2 fresh bay leaves (dry is fine, but I planted a bay tiny-tree a few weeks ago, so that’s what I used)
  • 2 TBSP (or so) of extra virgin olive oil
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • salt and pepper, to taste
  • 1/2 tsp Italian seasoning
  • 1/4 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
  • pepper flake, to taste
  • 8 oz. red wine
  • 2 TBSP tomato paste
  • 2 28 oz cans whole or diced tomatoes
  • about 1/4 cup balsamic vinegar

To finish

  • 2-3 oz. cream cheese
  • 1/3 cup pasta water
  • 1/3 cup grated Parm

Of course, I started with a brick of frozen sausage.

Frozen block of sausage

Frozen block of sausage. Because I'm me.

That’s probably another part of why it took over an hour.  You will remember to thaw out your sausage, because you are Better Planners than I.  Anyway, I thawed/browned the sausage in the big saute pan.

Then, I tossed in the onion, garlic, pepper flake, salt and pepper and Italian Seasoning along with the rest of the meat.  There was a lot of food in the pan, so some steaming happened.

Sizzling along and smelling Quite Good.

Sizzling along and smelling Quite Good.

You could do this in batches to make sure you get some nice browning.  I didn’t, because I was trying to make up for some of that Frozen Sausage Time.

Skim off most of the sausage fat.  I left maybe two tablespoons, for body and flavor.  I added the tomato paste and stirred it around, letting it cook for a minute or two to start caramelizing.

This was my glass of wine.  I did not share it with The Beloved or with the pasta sauce.

This was my glass of wine. I did not share it with The Beloved or with the pasta sauce.

Add the wine and balsamic and simmer to reduce by about 3/4.  Add the tomatoes.  Simmer and simmer.  Taste and correct seasonings.  At this point, I added some more balsamic, a bit more salt and some pepper.

This is right after I added the tomatoes....

This is right after I added the tomatoes....

...and this is after about 20 minutes.  Looking pretty good.

...and this is after about 20 minutes. Looking pretty good.

Cook the pasta and finish it The Way I Showed You, using the cream cheese as the fat and stirring in some Parmesan at the very end.

I served this with a splash of extra virgin olive oil, some more black pepper and a bit more cheese.

This makes a Right Ton of Sauce, so I only used about half to finish a whole pound of rigatoni.  The rest, I used with some of that Yellow Box Barilla spaghetti and finished it with a splash of half and half.  Round Two was almost as tasty as Round One.  The cream cheese was a Very Good Idea.  Give it a try sometime.

Tomorrow is all about quiche and crust and creme fraiche, thanks to Loyal Readers.  The floor is still open for more questions.  Tomorrow, All will be Revealed.

From Zero to Three in No Time Flat, or Hello, Kitties!

19 Jun
Kittens:  more challenging than house plants.  But they'll never need braces or want a car or need money for college.

Kittens: more challenging than house plants. But they'll never need braces or want a car or need money for college.

As many of you know, The Beloved and I have been going along swimmingly, unencumbered by anything more pressing than watering a house plant for lo, these many years.  We’ve liked it that way Quite Well.  And then, once we decided to move away from the hot, bad place Florida, we decided that we would get a dog.  Dogs are keen, right?  So, anyway, having just recently moved into The Beautiful House, we’ve been talking about it pretty seriously.  And then, lightning struck in a Most Unexpected Fashion.  Last Thursday, while The Beloved was mowing the Front Forty, our across the street neighbor asked him if we would mind keeping three kittens for the weekend.  The whole story is Long and Involved, but the kittens had ended up at her house after one of her friends rescued them from the side of a river.  Our neighbor was going camping for five days and needed somewhere for the wee ones to stay.  We said sure.

We figured that The Universe had come calling, and we weren’t going to not open the door and say “howdy.”  We tried not to get too attached, because we were unsure as to their Status regarding Terrible Feline Illnesses.  A billion dollars later, the kitties were deemed Healthy.  So, we are keeping them.  Yay!  Before we knew whether or not they were deathly ill, we were calling them Bold Kitty, Stealth Kitty and Other Kitty, but now that they have a clean Bill of Health, we have given them actual names.  Bold Kitty is now Wally, Stealth Kitty is now Camille, and other Kitty is named Ruthie.  Yay, again!

Like any new parents, we went out and purchased Accoutrements such as the Rabid Chinchilla on a Stick and the Tower of Kitty Joy.  These were not the names actually on the product labels, but they should have been.  So, here are some pictures of our New Additions.

The Tower of Kitty Joy in all its Splendor

The Tower of Kitty Joy in all its Splendor

Wally is the one with the white on his Self.  Camille is aloof.

Wally is the one with the white on his Self. Camille is aloof.

This is Ruthie.  Her name came to her first.  She is very much a Ruthie.

This is Ruthie. Her name came to her first. She is very much a Ruthie.

Because our timing is Impeccable, we are going away for the weekend, and the kitties will have to stay with the neighbor.  That means that, aside from missing the new Members of the Family, I won’t be posting a Sunday Supper until Monday.  I have one for you, though–it’s a Rigatoni Thing I made up.  I think you’ll like it.

I will now throw the floor open for questions.  About kitties or about desserts and such.  I draw the line at kitties in desserts, so don’t even ask.  Otherwise, ask away, and Answer I Shall next week.  Hope everyone has a lovely weekend.

PS The Beloved is now thinking a dog would be Lovely as well as the kitties.  Thoughts?

Top Chef Masters: New Hope for Hesitant Cooks

18 Jun

When I first heard about Top Chef Masters, Bravo’s new series based on the format of their fabulous Top Chef reality series, I was thrilled.  TCM was billed, perhaps not in these words, as Battle of the Masters.  And, as in all battles, there are losers and there are winners.  And, in Realityland, there can be only one winner.  Twenty-four professional chefs with some Seeeerious Credibility compete, which means that 23 of them…..Lose.  I thought to myself, what a fantastic way for home cooks to gain some confidence.  Even chefs who have been at the top of their game for years, ones with international reputations and cookbooks and restaurants in Los Angeles or Chicago or New York or San Francisco will occasionally Mess Up.  And it will be caught on film Forever.  This doesn’t excite me in a Train Wrecky sort of way, though.  I understand that my culinary heroes are people, too.  What does excite me is the subtle message that TCM subliminally transmits to us.  The message that even Culinary Icons have their Bad Days.  And if those guys can have a bad day and still run Extremely Successful Culinary Empires, why should home cooks, myself included, be intimidated by trying something new or cooking for friends?

I have watched the two episodes that have aired so far, and I am Loving It.  Here’s what I’ve seen so far:

  1. The chefs are always respectful of each other.  I’ve not seen any bickering, whining, backstabbing or general immaturity from any of the eight chefs I’ve seen compete.  They are happy to see each other and view the competition as a healthy challenge–an opportunity to cook against respected colleages.
  2. Chef Tim Love from Fort Worth, TX accidentally put all of his groceries from Whole Paycheck Foods in the freezer instead of the fridge.  Overnight.
  3. Chef Tim used Cool Whip in a strawberry shake.  I rewound the old DVR so I could make sure that the Tub I saw him scooping from was what I thought it was.  It was.  Sigh.
  4. Culinary giant Hubert Keller rinsed his pasta in a shower.
  5. Chef Michael Schlow from Boston, MA served underbaked cake slapped on a plate with some broken peanut butter candies for his Quickfire Challenge.
  6. Elizabeth Faulkner, the amazing force of nature behind Citizen Cake in San Francisco, served a puree that the judges thought tasted like baby food.
  7. Chef Wylie Dufresne, whose NYC WD-50 is a Mecca for Molecular Gastronomy fans, over-reduced his Dr. Pepper sauce, and it solidified on the plate.
  8. While the chefs sometimes became upset with themselves, they never were outwardly angry at or disrespectful to  their colleagues.
  9. If Chef Suzanne Tracht were any more mellow while preparing Amazing Food, she would be asleep.
  10. Several of the chefs in Episode 1 commented that being critiqued by Girl Scouts was a harsh and humbling experience.  Chef Schlow said it was good to be served a dose of humility.
  11. Girl Scouts are harsh critics.  Very, Very Harsh.  So far for me, the Girl Scout Grilling has been the highlight.
  12. All the chefs, maybe especially poor frozen groceries Chef Love, were flexible in their thinking and creative.  Still, some of the judges judged some dishes to be under- or overseasoned or under- or overcooked.
  13. Time management is an issue for even the best chefs.
  14. Chefs have no idea how to operate a microwave.  Chef Keller actually said that all he used his for is to dry his newspaper.  None of them knew how to turn it on or set the power levels or anything.  Awesome.
  15. While some chefs let the F-Bombs drop left and right, and some ran around like crazy people, when it was time to present to the judges, they were calm, cool and in control. During judging, they always thanked the judges for their critiques; no talking back, no excuses.

So, that’s it.  I’m not sure if knowing all of this makes you feel any better, but it makes me feel better.  Of the eight chefs who’ve competed, two won their “heats” and will be back for the showdown of the final six, and six chefs lost.  They were told to go and pack their knives.  Again, awesome.

Next time I forget to thaw out my chicken stock before cooking, I’ll at least be able to say that at least all of my ingredients weren’t frozen.

Slab O’ Chocolate? Don’t Mind If I Do.

17 Jun
For illustrative purposes, I give you The Chocolate Terrine.  This one is not my masterpiece, but it is a masterpiece nonetheless.

For illustrative purposes, I give you The Chocolate Terrine. This one is not my masterpiece, but it is a masterpiece nonetheless.

Sometimes you just want a big, fat, in-your-face chocolate dessert.  And somehow, making one of Them and eating it doesn’t feel quite as obnoxious as sitting on the couch eating fudge sauce by the spoonful.  Although it kind of is.  But don’t think about that.  Think about all the chocolate-y goodness and how your friends and family will Oooh and Aaah and think that you are Gifted.  Think about the adulation you will receive from your co-workers.  You.  Are a Chocolate Rock Star.

And this, friends, is where the terrine comes in.  Terrine is the name of the pan you use and it is the name of the dish itself.  Very nice.  Like tagine, except not.   This is made to be sliced Thinly, but you are the Rock Star, so you can slice it how you want.  If you don’t have a terrine, make this in a small-ish loaf pan or any other rectangular-type pan you have lying around.

There are uncooked eggs in this recipe, so don’t make this if a) you are 18 months old.  Of course, if you are 18 months old, kudos on being able to read, but go eat a carrot or a Zwieback or something.  Come back when you’re older and are allowed to use the stove.  Also, don’t make this if b) your immune system is compromised.  If it is, I hope you get better soon so you can make and eat this.  Lastly, you might not want to make this if you’re c) a billion.  But, on the other hand, you’ve made it this far, so it’s your call.  Of course, if it will make you feel Safer and Better, you can use pasteurized eggs.

Live On The Edge Chocolate Terrine

  • 12 oz. excellent quality chopped dark chocolate (I like a nice 64%)
  • 8 oz. unsalted butter
  • heavy pinch of salt
  • 1 oz. nut butter–hazelnut, cashew, almond, peanut, whatever (provides a certain Je Ne Sais Quoi)
  • 8 egg yolks
  • 4 egg whites
  • 2 teaspoons sugar (I know)
  • 4.5 oz heavy cream into which you have steeped 2 TBSP cracked coffee beans overnight.  So, unlike me, plan ahead
  • 5.3 oz 10x sugar (1 1/3 cups)
  • 1/3 cup cocoa powder (I haven’t done this conversion yet)

Thoroughly whisk together the 10x and cocoa powder, then sift it to get out any wee lumps.

Melt the chocolate, butter and nut butter together in a double boiler.  Stir and stir and add the salt.

Whisk in the egg yolks.  Whisk the whites and the 2 teaspoons of sugar to medium-ish peaks and fold in.

Whisk the cream to medium-ish peaks and fold in.

Fold in the cocoa/10x mixture.

Pour into prepared mold and chill at least 4 hours or overnight.

So, here’s how you prepare the mold.  This is how I do it, anyway:

Spray the inside of the mold with pan spray.  Then, line the mold with long strips of plastic wrap.  This part is a pain in the Self because plastic wrap likes to stick to itself and be Obnoxious.  So, here’s what you do.  Lay out two or three strips so that the long sides overlap by half the width of the wrap.  In other words, place two pieces side by side so the long sides are touching.  Put a third piece down centered on where the other two meet.  Does that even make sense?  Anyway, since we’re not working with typing paper, there will be Wrinkles and Cursing.  Just do your best and try to keep the wrinkles to a minimum.  The cursing is up to you.

Take your craft project and fit it into the mold as smoothly as possible.  It doesn’t like to go into the corners, so fit it in like you would pie crust:  lifting and pushing into place.  Once it’s as smooth as possible, or once you’re at the point where you’re ready to throw the whole Shebang against the wall, stop.  Then, when you’ve made your chocolate filling, pour it into the mold, smooth the top and fold the excess wrap over the goo.  Chill.  You chill, too–go get an Adult Beverage (this is another reason 18 month olds shouldn’t make this).

Later, unwrap the package and put the container upside down on a cooling rack or grid–a grid is better, actually.  Pull on the sides of the plastic wrap and lift up the mold.  Eventually, he will come Unstuck.  Peel off the plastic wrap and pour on a thin layer of just-barely-warm ganache.

Terrine Glaze

  • 8 oz heavy cream
  • 8 oz finely chopped dark chocolate (use the same kind that you used in the terrine)
  • 2 TBSP butter
  • pinch o’ salt

Put the chocolate in a bowl.  Bring the heavy cream and salt just to a boil.  Remove from heat, count to ten (just to let it settle down and make sure it’s not too hot) and pour over the chocolate.  Let sit for about three minutes, and then slowly whisk to form a glossy, dark emulsion.  Hello, ganache.  Whisk in the butter.  Cool to just warm, or you’ll melt your guy.  No fun.

After you glaze your guy, put him back in the fridge so the ganache firms up some.  Then, slice and serve with some berry sauce and/or berries and/or some lightly sweetened whipped cream or crème fraîche.

Decrease butter to 5 oz and increase nut butter to 4 oz for a much more assertive nuttiness.  If you do this, I’d leave out the coffee infusion part, unless I’m using hazelnut butter.

Enjoy your slab o’ chocolate.  And if you do decide to sit on the couch and eat fudge sauce by the spoon anyway, while you’re at it, grab a spoon for me, please.

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