Friday, September 18, 2015

Marshmallow Marshmallow

When people find out that I make marshmallows from scratch I get one of three reactions.  The first is a look of awe and wonder as if marshmallows are magically made from the poop of the pet bunnies of Keebler elves.  The second is one of odd disgust.  Why would you MAKE marshmallows, you weirdo!  The third is genuine curiosity.  HOW does that happen, marshmallows, but how?

So, here's why and how, the odd disgust I can't do anything about.  Go get some Jet Puff ya hater.  Homemade marshmallows are infinitely better than store bought.  They've been referred to as Crackmallows by some Mallow Afficianados, aka, my friends.  The how is more simple than you think and basically involves boiling sugar and adding it to gelatin and a really long time in a mixer built for endurance.  I'm not kidding.  They're not complicated but by the time the mallows are done with their 15 minute turn in my Kitchen Aid the motor is hotter than a cup of tea in Hades kitchen.  

I use Alton Brown's basic recipe for marshmallows but I've found a few things that have helped me and I'll share them with you.  But seriously, A.B. is practically perfect in every way and the ways that he's not are just none of our business.  

Just as a side note if you never master the actual art of spreading the hot marshmallow goo out into a pan so that it can set into marshmallows then the picture to the right is reason enough to learn to make marshmallows.  I mean COME ON!

Now on to some particulars.  

I've mentioned a really good stand mixer already as you're going to be putting that sucker through a culinary cross fit... not that I know what an actual cross fit session, or whatever, is like but I've seen sweat selfies so I'm pretty knowledgeable.  Why am I talking about sweat at the same time I'm talking about marshmallows??  I've already talked about magical bunny poop so whatever. 

You're also going to need a candy thermometer and a kitchen scale.  You can maybe get away without a scale but a thermometer is cheap, go get one.  And yes, that one you use when you make fried foods works just as well.  A large jelly roll sheet, that's the one that you make your cookies on.  It's a rectangle.  Parchment paper is the first of my tips that makes this a bit easier.  A heavy bottomed pan is the last piece of hardware that's necessary.  

Start by sprinkling 3 packets of gelatin over a half a cup of ice water in your mixer bowl. I would show you a picture of this but it's really just not very exciting.  Now move over to your kitchen scale and measure out your sugar, 12 ounces of it.  Isn't may scale so cute.  My beau got it for me.  He's so thoughtful and he loves my marshmallows and my dog, I'm keeping him.  Ignore the eggs.  They're not part of this whole process.  I'm just a terrible housekeeper. I forgot to put away my eggs after breakfast.  

Once you have this measured out mix it into your heavy bottomed pan with your corn syrup, your other half a cup of water, and salt.  

Lid it up and turn it on medium high and let it go for about 3 minutes.  Take the lid off and let it boil undisturbed, seriously no stirring or swirling or anything.  Leave it alone for about 7 minutes until your candy thermometer reaches 240 degrees.  Watch it closely, don't go anywhere.  This can feel like its taking forever and then suddenly it's too late. 

 Once it reaches this temperature you will start your mixer on low and carefully pour the molten contents of your pan into your mixer.  Once it's all in switch that sucker to high for 15 minutes.  While your mixing prepare a 50/50 mixture of corn starch and powdered sugar.  I make more of this than the original recipe calls for so I just go with the ratio instead of measuring.  Lay your parchment paper out in your cookie sheet and spray lightly with non stick spray then dust with your corn starch mixture.  

 Again, I'm going to have to ask you to ignore the rest of my kitchen and just focus on the pan that's prepped for the marshmallows.  Now back to our mixture that is almost ready for the vanilla, which you are going to add in the last minute of mixing.  Be careful because adding it makes it temporarily unstable and it might splatter.  Then you have a beautiful, fluffy, gooey, bowl full of sugar delight. 

Scrape it into your prepared pan.  Get as much out as you can but you're never going to get it all of it and that's just more for you to lick off the whip later.  The faster you work here the better all that goo that's stuck on the whip is going to be when you hide in a corner and keep it a secret from everyone else.  

 Here's where is gets fun.  You've got to get this spread out in your pan.  Alton advises a spatula but I just wet my hands with warm water and use those.  Once you get it all spread evenly you sprinkle it with more of your cornstarch mixture and let it sit overnight or several hours.  Whichever you have the patience for.  

 Cutting it up can be tricky.  I like to use a pizza cutter and my cornstarch mixture for when it gets sticky.  Cut them as big or small as you like and dust each side in your cornstarch mixture before storing them in an air tight container.  Sneak one into your coffee, hot cocoa, onto a stick to roast it around a camp fire.  Oh, that reminds me.  I must warn you that toasting a homemade marshmallow will send you into marshmallow nirvana and you'll be useless for at least 2 to 3 hours.  

3 packages unflavored gelatin

1 cup ice cold water, divided

12 ounces granulated sugar, approximately 1 1/2 cups

1 cup light corn syrup

1/4 teaspoon kosher salt

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/4 cup confectioners' sugar

1/4 cup cornstarch

Nonstick spray

Sunday, May 17, 2015

The Humble Chicken

I'm pretty sure that I've shared my excitement over the humble chicken through this blog already, but when you love something this much once just isn't enough.
These were huge.  One of them fed both of us and my man like large portions

No, I did NOT shave my carrot or cut stuff up
Recently (and by recently I mean months and months ago) I got a whole cut up chicken for cheap at the grocery store and stuck it in the deep freeze.  And here is where I give you some very important Yoda like wisdom; ALWAYS buy the chicken.  Oh, Yoda, sorry.  Buy the chicken always.  Chicken is the culinary equivalent of hydrogen peroxide.  Wait, no, nobody wants to think about hydrogen peroxide when they cook.  Ok, the culinary equivalent of vinegar.  Oh, shoot, that IS something culinary.  GOT IT.  It's the culinary equivalent of The Little Black Dress.  You can dress it up or down and so versatile.  You just have to change up the accessories.

I think I'm taking this analogy too far.

Anyway, a chicken is versatile

This is what I had, what do you have?
Today I'm going to show you how I took my cut up whole chicken and with stuff I already had in the pantry turned it into dinner, lunch, and flavor for days... no really.  With broth in the freezer you always have liquid flavor at your fingertips.

The first thing I did was take all the parts that don't thrill us and threw them in my crock pot.  Then I took the parts we like (in this case the HUGE breasts) and threw them on the cutting board.  I dug around for some aromatics and seasonings.

In the crock with the dark meat parts went carrot, celery, half and onion, thyme, peppercorns, bay leaf, and water to the top.   Notice there is no salt.  By leaving the salt out I can control that when I use the broth in cooking.

Ready for the oven
For the breasts I put some of the same aromatics under the skin, the bay leaf, thyme, and some fancy salt I had hanging around.  I also put several pats of butter under the skin and seasoned the top of the skin with some canola oil and more of my fancy salt.  You could just as easily use whatever fun seasoning or herbs you have lying around or just keep it simple with salt and pepper.  A slice of lemon would also be amazing.

The crock was set to low and let go overnight.  The Breasts went in a 400 degree oven until the internal temp reads 165 degrees.  About half way through the cooking I put some halved red potatoes in with the chicken, cut side down.  And then some carrots, and then some green beans.  We dined on one of the breasts for dinner with a simple pan gravy.  The other breast will be cut up and saved for chicken sandwiches and salads for lunch tomorrow for both of us.

Since the chicken cost me less than six bucks this breaks down to about 1.50 a person per meal and that doesn't include the few quarts of stock I'll have.

If you have a family of four just hold back the chicken legs from the crock and roast them with the breasts.  Your broth will be just as rich and you'll feed the whole family with left overs.

If you want to know some other ways to make use of a whole chicken check out an earlier entry.
How to be cheap or Making the most of a whole chicken

I guess eventually I'm going to have to show ya'll how to roast a whole chicken.

I threw whatever veg I had in the fridge right on the same pan

Monday, July 7, 2014

Ya Ya Liah: Sausage and tomato chowder on rice sorta

Both Gumbo and Jumbalaya require a lot more time and attention to detail than I'm willing to muster.  They also both require bib overalls and a pretty thick accent, Ah Gare-Ohn-tee.  Dangit, now I have to apologize to all of my southern and Louisianan friends.  Is Louisianan a word?  I guess it is, my spell check says so.  Truth be told my biggest crush is on Harry Connick Jr. His NoLa accent isn't as thick now but when I was a kid and he was a young man he could have turned me to butter just by saying Jumbalaya.  There was also that kid from Baton Rouge in college.  His name was Rusty St. Cyr.  I know he was pretty gorgeous but I honestly can't remember exactly what he looked like but his accent was akin to hot salted caramel running down the back of a dripping ice cream cone on the 4th of July.  Plus there's his name!  Could a name be any MORE Bat-On Rouge?  Do I still have to apologize?

I think you get the point that my knowledge of the cultures that gumbo and jumbalaya hail from have surprisingly little to do with their cuisine.  But tonight I had to manage a meal with some Hungarian sausage that had to get cooked, and then tomatoes started rolling around my brain, and then I thought I'd like to make soup but NO, I want to serve it over rice.  It started to sound not quite like jumbalaya and not quite like gumbo.  I'm not a fan of gumbo.  I like the fact that the sauce is a roux thickened sauce and that its served over rice and chock full of tasty sausages, chicken, and/or sea food, but the roux is too dark for me.  I really love jumbalaya but I am pretty good at screwing up rice that isn't cooked in my rice cooker and since Bobby Flay managed to burn his rice and not cook it through at the same time, I certainly wasn't going to be taking any risks.  A sort of very inauthentic hybrid took shape.  I had the sausage, the tomatoes, the roux, the rice, the spices, but I'd do my own thing and I'd call it "Ya Ya Liah (liar)"  Get it?!

I would like to reassert my assertion that this is really not Jumbalaya, Gumbo, Creol, Cajun, Southern, or authentic of anything resembling anything.  It's more like when you see that guy in a car a couple of lanes away in the grocery store that kind of looks like Toby McGuire until you get closer and he looks more like that kid in the Never Ending Story.  Just me?  Ok, carrying on.  

I started by chopping up an onion, dicing a couple of carrots, and dicing up some of those small colored peppers I had in the freezer then sauteing them in some olive oil.
I totally ganked this pic from the internet
Then I threw in the Cajun seasoning, red pepper flakes, garlic powder, and a little salt and pepper and letting it cook on medium low for about a minute.  I added a Tablespoon of butter, let it melt, then put in a couple tablespoons of  flour to create my roux. Then I threw in my sliced sausage.  Upon reflection I really should have cooked my sausage, taken it out, and then started my veg in the same pan.  Lesson learned.   Next it was just a matter of throwing in my diced tomatoes, chicken broth, milk, and testing for seasoning while I let it simmer and cook my rice (in my rice cooker of course).

If you start the rice after the stuff is all in the pot then the sauce should be pleasantly thick by the time the rice is finished.  Serve the Ya Ya over the rice and add some hot sauce if you'd like, and there you go.  

1 lb hungarian sausage or your favorite fresh or smoked sausage sliced thin and cut in half moons
1 medium white onion diced
2 carrots peeled and diced
3 or 4 mini colored peppers, one of each color is nice, seeded and diced
1 Tb Olive Oil
2 Tb Cajun Seasoning 
2 tsp garlic powder
1 tsp red pepper flakes (optional to taste)
1 Tb Butter
2 Tb flour
1 can diced tomatoes
2 cups chicken broth
1 cup whole milk (If you must, walk your own path, even if your path looks like white water.  Just don't expect the same creaminess)
Salt and Pepper to taste
1 cup uncooked rice

In a medium pot heat 2 Tb olive oil over medium high heat.  Add sausage and cook until browned and cooked nearly through if using fresh sausage.  

Lower heat to medium and remove sausage, set aside.  Add onion, carrots, and peppers and cook until onions are translucent, about 5 min.  Add Cajun seasoning, salt, pepper, garlic powder, and red pepper flakes.  Cook 1 more minute.  

Add 1 Tb of butter and cook until butter melts then add 2 Tb. flour.  Cook stirring incorporating the flour and then about a minute longer.  You want to cook off the floury taste but don't want to put much color on the flour, a nice pale caramel is about as dark as you want to go.  You might start getting some tasty bits sticking to the bottom of your pan. That's good!  

Bring the heat back up to medium high and deglaze (add) your can of tomatoes scrapping those tasty bits off the bottom of the pan.  Add chicken broth and sausage to the pan.  Bring to a boil stirring frequently, add milk and then lower to a simmer.  Stir occasionally scrapping the bottom to make sure nothing sticks.  

If you're using long grain white rice that isn't parboiled then start it now.  You're rice and Ya Ya will finish about the same time.  If you're using instant - please don't use instant - then let your Ya Ya simmer for about 10 minutes before you start your rice.  How long you simmer it depends on how thick you want it.  It's going to be like a nice thick soup or thin chowder but simmering longer will give you a thicker consistency.  If it gets too thick for you there is no shame in adding more broth or some water.  Just don't let that stuff stick to the bottom and burn and you can let it go for as long as you like.  

Serve over the cooked rice with a shake of Frank's and you're set to go.  

Saturday, June 21, 2014

How to be cheap or Making the Most of a Whole Chicken

A box of chicken broth costs anywhere from a few dollars to 5 bucks if you're fancy.  That means if you spend five bucks on a whole chicken and everything goes horribly wrong and all you end up with is 24 oz. of chicken flavored water, you still came out ahead.  Coming out ahead where my money and my food is concerned is basically how I have to live if I don't want to sustain myself on Ramen and the kindness of other's.  Wait, I kind of do that too.

This process will give you cooked chicken meat and about 48 oz each of chicken broth and chicken stock.

Now, what the heck is the difference between stock and broth?

Broth is basically really flavorful water.  You can add it to nearly anything to get some extra flavor instead of water.  Use it to cook your ramen, rice, spaghetti sauce, anything really.  You can also use it to make sauces and soups.

Stock is richer in texture and has a silky mouth feel.  You will notice that it cools into a gel like substance.  Ok, not gel like, actual gelatin.  It's great to use when you want a rich texture in your sauce, soup, stuffing, dressing (both salad and that thanksgiving kind).  You can also add some water to it and use it in place of broth if you are out of broth.

You're going to start with a whole chicken, and of course it's going to be the cheapest one by the pound.  If you're fussy about organic then go for it but then we can no longer call this post "How to be cheap" but maybe we can call it "How to make buying that organic chicken worth it".  You don't have to worry about buying a roaster, or a boiler, or a broiler, or whatever.

If you just want some chickeny flavored water or stock then you can stop here but that would be silly.  If you have aromatics around you're going to want to add them.  We are talking celery, onion, carrots, dried or fresh herbs such as thyme, parsley, bay leaf, and peppercorns.  As long as you don't go to one extreme or the other amounts don't really matter.  Use the cupped palm of your hand to measure.  

Finally, you're going to need a Slow Cooker.  If you don't have one you will need a large stock pot, but the good news is that it won't take as long.  If you're using a stock pot you'll want to bring it up to a boil then lower it down to a simmer for a couple/few hours.  The stock pot method will result in less but richer liquid at the end so add a bit more water than you would in the slow cooker.  You will also need to skim the foam from the top during the first 30 minutes or so in the stock pot.

I want to reiterate the title of this article: How to be Cheap.  If I were making stock to impress Alton Brown (my BFF) I would likely not try to take this chicken so far, but it's serviceable for my home kitchen.  I can always add flavor at the other end of my cooking process.  This is a two part recipe.  The first is to get your broth and your cooked chicken you can set aside and use for other dishes such as chicken salad, soups, etc.

For the Broth and Chicken:

1 4 LB Whole Chicken
2 large carrots broken into 2 or 3 pieces
2 stalks celery broken into 2 or 3 pieces
1 whole onion cut in half (skin and all)
1 tsp dried thyme or a few springs of fresh thyme
1 tsp dried parsley or a few springs of fresh parsley
1 TB whole peppercorns
1 bay leaf

Thaw your chicken if it's frozen and check the cavity for "innards".  You want to put the innards in your slow cooker but you don't want to cook whatever they're packaged in.  Sometimes they aren't packaged in anything, in which case throw that whole chicken in the slow cooker.

Add the rest of your ingredients to the slow cooker and fill with enough water to cover your chicken.  If it comes too close to the top of your cooker it's ok to put less water in, but I promise it won't overflow.

Cook on low for 6-8 hours or on high for 4-6 hours.

Carefully remove the cooked chicken from the slow cooker at the end of your cooking period and set it in a colander above the slow cooker to allow the juices to run off.  This step prevents you from having to mop up chicken juices from your counter and/or floors. If you have a dog, skip this step.  I'M KIDDING!

Remove the chicken to a large cutting board to cool.  Meanwhile place that colander over a bowl or dish large enough to hold your broth.  If you don't have something large enough you may need to use more than one. If your bowl has a pour spout, all the better.  Pour the contents of the slow cooker (minus the chicken) through the colander or a sieve if you have it, into your container.  Put what you caught in your colander back into your slow cooker.

Now let's take care of that chicken.  Being careful to separate the bones, cartilage, and gooey bits from your chicken meat, remove the meat from the chicken.  At this point I like to keep the dark meat separate from the white meat, and I like to keep the breasts as whole as I can.  Wrap your chicken in saran wrap and aluminum foil, label it, and freeze it if you don't plan to use it right away.

To make the Chicken Stock

Throw everything but the chicken flesh back into the crock pot.  And by everything I mean EVERYTHING: bones, skin, and gooey bits.  I also like to add about a cup or two of the broth back in to the slow cooker to give my stock a bit more flavor.

To the slow cooker add fresh aromatics in the same portions you did with the broth.  If you don't have anymore, don't let it stop you.  You'll just have to add more flavor when you use the stock to cook with later. Fill the slow cooker 1/2 to 3/4 full of water.  The more water you add the less concentrated your stock will be.  Cook for another 8-10 hours.  You really can't overcook it at this point though.

Once it's fully cooked you'll want to drain the stock into a container using a sieve or colander again just as you did the broth and you can discard everything else.

You can store your broth and stock in Freezer Bags or Mason Jars (they freeze well).  I would suggest labeling them with magic marker before adding the broth and stock though.  Greasy and sharpie don't mix.  You will want to freeze this if you don't plan on using it in the next few days.  I would also highly suggest freezing it in portions that are useful to you.  Once it's frozen it's hard to extract a 1/2 cup at a time.  If you tend to use stock or broth in smaller amounts I'd suggest freezing some of it using cheap ice trays.  Simply freeze it in the trays over night and then pop them into a freezer bag for easy access later.

*Thanks to my friend Helen for pictures of the ingredients and process.  And thanks for testing out the post on your own chicken.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

A weekend when everyone is Italian: Collinsville Italian Fest

I write this even as I am nearly prostrate on my futon, immobile from a gut full of really unhealthy food.  Once a year the residents of Collinsville Illinois converge on Main Street for a celebration of food, local history, the Italian culture, bad fashion, impromptu reunions, and libations.

I'm the first to admit that I love people but hate gatherings.  The Italian Fest at night is crowded, loud, and drunk.  Basically it's like an Italian Family dinner, it's bellisimo!  I usually swoop in long enough to grab some bagna cauda and swoop out.  This year I had the opportunity to head up there early on the first day and it was wonderful.

My childhood memories of The Italian Fest are mostly from the inside of the kitchen at my church.  For years my church, First Assembly of God in Collinsville, had a booth at The Fest selling "Famous Stuffed Shells".  I have vivid memories of red faced women running a well oiled shell stuffing machine.  Tables lined up with the stuffing being mixed by hand, large tin foil shiny pans coming out of hot ovens, my father loading up the sparkling pans into the church van to shuttle them to the Fest.  Running the van constantly, we could barely keep up with the demand.  It's been over a decade since The Italian Fest was graced with the booth selling the Famous Stuffed Shells.  This year there was another group selling stuffed shells, and they were good, but it's just not the same.

As an adult, I pass up almost every booth and head straight for the bagna cauda.  There are actually a couple of places you can get this pungent garlic and anchovy knock out punch, and by knock out, I mean knock out anyone that comes within a 10 foot radius of you after you've eaten it. The more prominent being the Kiwanis truck.  They serve it up with Napa cabbage leaves and hunks of Italian bread.  The proper way to indulge is to scoop up the oil concoction being sure to dive deep down to the bottom for that flavorful, garlicy, anchovy salted, soot.  Then hold it over the bread to catch any drippings before shoveling the molten hot fondue into your mouth.  The cabbage acts as a great contrast in taste, texture, and temperature.  If you've rationed it right you'll have just enough bread to sop up any remaining oil slicks of pure flavor.

After reading that last bit you have probably planted yourself firmly in one of two camps.  There are only two camps when it comes to this Italian favorite.  The first being those that seek it out like The Lost City of Atlantis.  Its fragrant call a siren drawing you to the cliffs.  The second being those that flee in the other direction at the slightest hint of the pungent smell.  No one sort of thinks that bagna cauda is just ok.  As a child we brought in every New Year at a very Italian friends house.  This was the midnight meal.  Zombies grunting and moaning bending over the pot fighting for a taste huddled in the kitchen.  Then in the furthest corner of the house cowering, the haters, grumbling their disdain.

If you'd like to see which camp you are in you can find the recipe for Bagna Cauda below.  The recipe is thanks to that long time family friend who was the host and chef every New Year's.  To be honest, and I'm sorry mom, but her's is by far the best I've ever had.

If you would like to take your chances on a slightly less risky bet the recipe for First Assembly of God's Famous Stuffed Shells is also below.  Getting my hands on this was not easy but I was finally able to land it thanks to a good friend and long time church Secretary Sandy Snider.

Jan's Bagna Cauda

1 pound butter
1 cup olive oil
1 whole head (yes head.. all the cloves inside one head of garlic) peeled and sliced
6 cans of anchovies

Combine all ingredients and let simmer on low 20-30 minutes until anchovies break down.  Keep heat on low to avoid burning the garlic.  Burnt garlic is bitter and will flavor the entire pot.

Serve with Napa cabbage, Italian bread, and various vegetable.

Famous Stuffed Shells

1 box large pasta shells
1 medium diced onion
1 LB ground beef for red sauce or 1 LB diced chicken for white sauce (honestly, I only remember hamburger no matter the sauce)
1 pkg frozen spinach thawed and drained well or one can of spinach drained well and chopped
2 eggs 
4 or 5 cloves of garlic mashed or diced
2 cups shredded cheddar cheese
1 cup shredded parmesean cheese

Cook shells in boiling water for 12 minutes with 2 TB of oil (honestly I'd oil them after I cooked them rather than before).  After boiling rinse with cold water and set aside (wow, they are breaking all the rules with this recipe).  

Prepare stuffing:
Saute onion and garlic in skillet but DO NOT BROWN.  Add spinach and eggs stirring and mixing together. Add both cheddar and parmesan cheese and stir until the cheese is stringy and melted.  Remove from heat.  Open the shells and stuff about 1 TB or more inside shell and roll the shell back up and place in deep baking dish.  Make sure all shells are covered in sauce: 

For white sauce:
1 Can cream of mushroom soup and 1 soup can of milk.  

For Red Sauce:
1 31 oz jar of Prego chunky sauce.  Dilute as desired with water.

Cover and bake 350 degrees Farenheit for 40 minutes.  


Happy Butter Day!

What makes a slave eat like a king? Butter
What breaks a fast with bacon and eggs? Butter
What makes a tongue swoon with delight and delish? Butter
What turns flour into a beurre manié? Butter
What makes gravy so creamy and rich? Butter
What makes the French so Frenchity French? Butter
What makes a birthday happier than most?

You guessed it....Butter!

      Oh the delightful wisdom on the French. Those smelly gastronomes might not have the best reputation for hospitality and portion size but they kick epicurean butt despite having their noses pointed skyward. All of the worlds most wonderful things regarding food come from France. Gene, my dear
sweet boyfriend, holds fast to the opinion that the French just take over other words to make them sound fancier "Everything is French!" Well, there is good reason. Their painstaking attention to detail in both ingredients and methodology put them way at the head of the culinary pack. I mean without Mise en Place we would all be running around like Rachel Ray, with a million things balanced on our arms, hoping that our mushrooms don't burn before we get the onions chopped. 

       They also gave us the Statue of Liberty, Béchamel Sauce, Velouté Sauce, Butter Sauces, and darn near every other kind of sauce imaginable. And as Meg Ryan so eloquently pointed out there are 452 official government cheeses of France, how can that be a bad thing (here is
where you all run to youtube to try and find the "Lactose Intolerance" scene, small price to pay I say).

       As a matter of fact you can thank the French for Bobby, Paula, Emeril, Tyler, Rachel, Guy, Alton (swoon), Barefoot, er, I mean Ina, Michael, Cat, Anne, Mario, Duff, Giada, Nigella, and all those Next Food Stars. How is that possible, you ask. The reason is simple, tall, and fell in love with France when her husband was stationed there with U.S. Information Services. Julia Child was one of the first faces that we ever saw cooking in front of us on the tv. As a girl I would open a box of cake mix set out my ingredients, a proper Miise En Place, put on my best high nasal voice and cook that box of cake mix like I was Julia herself.

       With all of my admiration of the woman I never attempted French Cuisine until after I saw
"Julie and Julia", and of course this is where I say that the movie really inspired me. Well, its corny but its true. I asked for and received "Mastering the Art of French Cooking" as a Christmas gift and have made good use of it here and there. When my birthday rolled around my mom asked me what exactly I wanted to do to celebrate.  The first thing I thought of was Julia's classic Boeuf Berrgion. In my family we never just 'make dinner' we have a theme that runs through the food, the table settings, the decor, and the gifts gosh darnit!

      The theme for my birthday dinner was Julie, Jen, and Julia. Julie being my mom by the way. The menu was straight out of Julia's book, the table settings were gorgeous black and white, and the meal cooked by ME.  

      So, here I had my opportunity to show off my cooking skills.... with a classic French dish... that I had never prepared before.... in a really small hot kitchen.... for 20 of my closest friends. I know what you are thinking. You're thinking it all went terribly awry and we had to order pizza for dinner. Admit it, that's exactly what you're thinking. You see the famous scene in the movie where Julie drops the hen and immediately has a 3 year old hissy fit on the floor of her kitchen.  Incidentally this is the one scene that reminded my loving boyfriend of me.  In reality, the exact opposite happened. We did get the kitchen and the entire house extra toasty warm, and my mom's tongs weren't nearly long enough to save me from a few grease splatters while browning the meat, but an hour before my guests were to arrive I was lazing on the couch, in my fancy dress, sipping a cool beverage. The Boeuf was in the oven, the potatoes bolied and foiled, and the peas thawing in preparation... for butter.

       Speaking of butter, I would say that it was certainly the cornerstone of the entire meal, nay, evening. It went in nearly everything I prepared, except the stew meat...that was browned in bacon fat! At the end of the night we did the math and nearly 4LBS of it was used. Caramelized onions and mushrooms.. butter, potatoes with parsley and...butter, green peas in...BUTTER. That doesn't even account for all the butter that my mom used in the desserts, I knew when to turn something over to the master, which included a lemon semi-fredo that will simultaneously stop your heart and send you to heaven.

      The evening was as near perfection as one can come. I have to admit a sense of pride knowing that I pulled off a classic French meal that everyone seemed to enjoy, and I didn't freak out once the entire day. It was incredible to be surrounded by so many people willing to eat my food, love on me, and help me celebrate a pretty blessed life. As I looked at my 94 year old grandmother enjoying her meal, and looking rather spring chicken like, I began to think off all the birthdays I have ahead of me.... despite all the butter.

So without further ado... some yummy pictures of my Happy Butter Day.

Dad's Cranky Face

Everyone knows that if you don't dry the
meat properly it won't brown. Because I was tripling the recipe I used the stack and press method.

When browning anything fat is used to sear and transfer heat quickly. You can use oil, butter, or rendered bacon fat...

Hmmmm....choices, choices. Boeuf Bergionne calls for browning the meat in rendered bacon fat.

Monday, March 4, 2013

Saturday Adventure with Julia

I'm reading a book about a girl who gets the chance to move to France, work in a French bakery, and go to a French pastry school and it's really doing a number on my appetite.  She kept going to these little cafe's and having Cafe Creme's and eating Grougerè's.  What the heck is a Grougerè?!?   I asked Google.

After having satisfied my initial curiosity I consulted my good friend Julia on how I might go about making these Grougerès, but she didn't mention them anywhere in her Mastering the Art of French cooking.  Apparently the star of my book didn't learn her French culinary facts from Julia.  Thankfully I was armed with my Google research and knew that it was basically a cheese puff, think cream puff, but without cream filling and tasting of yummy cheese instead.  A puff with a crisp exterior, a soft airy center, and deceptively light.  Julia had several versions of this pastry that starts with a basic Pâte â Choux.

Pâte â Choux is one of those mystical things that is as simple as breathing but as complex as learning to regulate your breaths during a deep sea dive.  It's basically water, butter, flour, a pinch of salt, and eggs.  You start with a slow boil of water and butter until the butter melts.

The next step sounds so easy unless you don't spend any time at all in the gym.  You dump all the flour in at once and stir with a wooden spoon until the mixture comes together and pulls away from the pan.

Initially this is done off the heat with a return to heat at the end.  It is remarkably reminiscent of glue at this point.  After all, you've just got a blob of water and flour.  If you have a strong man in the house this would be the time to employ his biceps   I didn't have a man, I don't need no stinking man!  Whew, I do this 5 days a week and I'll give Linda Hamilton a run for her money.

After phase one of your work out it's time to beat in the eggs.  One at a time is key and your choux should be warm throughout this entire phase so you can't walk away (to rest your arms) but it's got enough residual heat that you don't have to go all Flash Gordon on it.  Add one egg, off heat, beat it in, by hand, with a wooden spoon until it's fully incorporated.

Do this with each egg and keep in mind that they will take longer and longer to incorporate.

     At this point you would add your cheese if you are making cheese puffs.  If you are making sweet puffs a bit of sugar is added to the boiling water.  I added a half and half mixture of Swiss and Parmesan   I added slightly more than the cup Julia called for.  Yes, we ARE on a first name basis.

Add your mixture to a pastry bag.  Oh, you don't have a pastry bag, Mon Dieu! Oh wait, I don't either.  A sturdy zip top bag will do.  I like to put my bag inside a tall glass to make filling it easier.

After I had my bag filled I cut a pretty good sized hole in the corner of my bag because I wanted to make large puffs.  I think next time I'll make little bite sized puffs instead.

Squeeze a rounded dollop on a cookie sheet.  A 2 inch mound for large puffs and a 1 inch mound for small puffs. I didn't have parchment but I wish I did, if you have it, employ it.  I did struggle with getting the choux to detach nicely but a pair of scissors made that much easier.  I ran the blades under water first to prevent sticking.  You will have a little point at the top and you don't want this.  Take a beaten egg and use a pastry brush to both flatten this tip and coat each dollop.  I spaced my puffs about 3 inches apart as they were to double in size but most of that expansion is upward so I think I could have put them a bit closer together, not too much though.

This is where the precision of the French come in.  We are used to recipes that say bake it at this temperature for this long.  Not so, says Julia!  The puffs go into a 425 degree oven for 20 minutes at the top and bottom thirds of the oven (I had to rotate and turn my pans half way as my oven doesn't bake evenly), then knock it down to 375 degrees for 10 minutes, then slit the side and turn the oven off, prop open the door, and let them sit for 10 more minutes.

*note if you are making small puffs omit the step of lowering the oven temperature and cooking for 10 extra minutes and go straight from 425 to piercing with a knife (not a slit as they are smaller) the sides of the puff, turning off the oven, and propping door open.

I'm going to go ahead and admit to you right now that my oven and I aren't speaking today.  She really has no respect for the delicacies of French cooking.  When I find the patience to deal with her again she and I will have a long talk until we come to some kind of agreement on times and temperature.  Moral of the story, don't always trust the recipe.  Get to know your equipment and don't be afraid to experiment, if you don't get a perfect result the first time.

*additional note: My oven and I broke up.  I am now seeing a wonderful second hand but infinitely more agreeable oven.

You can eat these yummy morsels warm right from the pan and let the rest hang out on a cooling rack.  My insides were still a little wet so I made my slits a little bigger, basically cutting them through but leaving top attached to bottom, and put them back in the oven with it off and the door cracked over night.

I give myself a B- on these but I intend to practice with my finicky oven and with my choux paste a bit more with varying sizes and fillings.  I guess that means you have a Choux Part Deux post to look forward to.

The basic recipe is below but the formatting of Julia's recipes in Mastering the Art of French cooking is done in such a wonderful teaching style that I highly recommend picking it up.  You'll find hundreds of other valuable lessons therein.

For Cheese Puffs
1 cup water
3 Ounces (6 Tb or 3/4 stick) butter cut into pieces
1 tsp salt
1/8 tsp pepper
Pinch of nutmeg
3/4 Cup All Purpose Flour
4 eggs
1 cup (4 ounces) grated Swiss, or Swiss and Parmesan, cheese
beaten egg

1 1/2 -Quart, heavy-bottomed saucepan
Wooden spoon or wooden spatula
pastry bag with round tip or zip top bag
pastry brush or paint brush
2 buttered baking sheets or baking sheets covered with parchment paper

Bring water to boil with the butter and seasonings (salt and pepper) and boil slowly until the butter has melted.  Meanwhile measure out the flour.

Remove from heat and immediately pour in all the flour at once.  Beat vigorously with a wooden spatula or spoon for several seconds to blend thoroughly.  then beat over moderately high heat for 1 to 2 minutes until mixture leaves the sides of the pan and spoon, forms a mass, and begins to film the bottom of the pan.

Remove saucepan from heat and make a well in the center of the paste with your spoon.  Immediately break an egg into the center of the well.  Beat it into the paste for several seconds until it has absorbed.  Continue with the rest of the eggs, beating them in one by one.  The third and fourth eggs will be absorbed more slowly,  Beat for a moment more to be sure all is well blended and smooth.

Beat the cheese into the warm pâte à choux.  Correct seasoning.  Squeeze into circular mounds 1 inch in diameter and 1/2 inch high. Space 2 inches apart on baking sheet, paint with beaten egg and flatten the top slightly.  Bake in upper and lower thirds of preheated 425 degree oven for about 20 minutes.  The puffs are done when they have doubled in size, are golden brown, and firm and crusty to the touch.  Remove from the oven and pierce the side of each puff with a sharp knife.  Then set in the turned off oven and leave the door ajoar for 10 minutes.  Cool puffs on rack.