Thursday, December 31, 2009
During that visit I made it a personal mission to pack a few pounds onto her thighs. At every meal I found a way to use more butter, more cream, more fat. I wasn't sure I would be successful, but the Wednesday following New Year's I received a phone call from my mother-in-law announcing the addition of 7 pounds to the scale. I was elated, thrilled and filled with joy. More so because of the time spent together and memories made. Never could I imagine that those memories would be some of the last I had with her. But, damn, they were good.
Another New Year's Eve is upon us and it's bittersweet. Thankful and grateful for the time we shared with my mother-in-law, I wish it was as simple as turning back the clock. But since that's not possible, I can close my eyes and recall the smile on her face when we crossed the threshold of their Tennessee mountain home. I can recall the joy of her sharing a toast and herring at midnight. I can recall that our visit was one of the best times we ever had.
So tonight, as I shuffle through the kitchen cooking and cleaning, and cooking some more, she's on my mind - knowing that everything I've made for tonight she would love. Frankly, I could have sauteed dirt with pond water and she would have loved it. But, thankfully for our guests tonight, it's a little more substantial than that.
Tonight I'm making many new things. In fact, none made before. We're having Bruschetta on pan fried French Bread; Bacon and Bleu Cheese Stuffed Mushrooms; Crab Dip; Baby Yukon Gold Potatoes sauteed in Garlic Mushroom Butter; and Hazelnut Bread Pudding Praline Sauce. And to add insult to injury, Spicy Caramel Popcorn. (Even a little snack bag left in our guest room for our overnight guests.) No formal dinner or stuffy menu, just delicious food. And although I made meringues last night, I just can't find the right way to make them work on the menu. So, au revoir meringues.
As we ring in the New Year, I'll quietly remember my mother-in-law and the smile on her face. The same one she always had.
Wednesday, December 30, 2009
The concoction of my 2nd favorite cook, Ina Garten, Meringues Chantilly are but the vehicle to carry something else that's delicious. Exactly what, I don't yet know. But for now, they'll be on the menu for New Year's Eve. I'm not quite convinced I'll adorn the meringues with roasted berries, but perhaps Creme Anglaise or Pralin (caramelized almonds). Although my history with caramel isn't a raging success, I'm feeling brave and boisterous.
I prepared the baking sheets as directed, using a 3 3/4" circle. I enlisted a trick by sprinkling a few drops of water onto the sheets to keep the parchment from moving around.
Meanwhile, I began beating the egg whites in my stand mixer with the whisk attachment. However, I had one BIG problem brewing. I thought I'd be frugal and use some remaining carton Egg Whites. Recalling from memory that 1/4 cup of Egg Beaters equals approximately one egg, I poured a cup of the egg whites. Turns out, one cup of egg whites equals approximately 5 1/3 egg whites (versus the 4 called for in the recipe). Rather than working the math to adjust the remaining ingredients, I dumped and started over. After all, there's no shame in failure. There is, however, failure if you don't jump back on that wooden spoon and go for it.
Even before the long, slow baking, they look beautiful.
My recipe didn't quite yield the 8 meringues the recipe indicated. Instead, I wound up with 7, with one being purposely formed for my little, 2-year old chef in training.
Now, still to ponder the proper adornment for these beauties.
Following the required cooking and resting-with-the-oven-door-closed time, the meringues turned out good.
I'm still considering what to put in the meringues, but leaning towards Crème Anglaise and Hazelnut Pralin.
Chapter Two: Sauces
The Mayonnaise Family
Mayonnaise, page 86
There were no particular motivators steering me towards making mayonnaise. It is, no less, a relatively simple sauce. However, what we Americans consume out of a jar or plastic container contains unpronounceable stabilizers and preservatives. But real, fresh mayonnaise will make you utter words and phrases not easily found in the dictionary.
Assembling the mayonnaise is easy. Egg yolks, lemon juice, mustard (wet or dry powder), salt and oil. I managed to break one of the yolks but even with an uneasy start, I quickly rebounded and got to whisking.
I followed the recipe to the letter, including the warming of the mixing bowl in hot water prior to adding the yolks. After whisking in, one teaspoon at a time, the oil (I chose a combination of 2 parts olive oil and 1 part vegetable oil) I began adding in a slow stream, thanks to the help of Mr. Tyson. It would seem it would be a long and laborious whisk, so I opted to transfer the bowl to my stand mixer. However, after streaming in several tablespoons of oil, I realized it wasn’t the best option. So, back to whisking by hand. And now, I can still feel the trembling of my right arm after the rigorous workout sure to bring pain in the morning.
And when I poured in the last addition of oil, I saw this.
Beautiful, shiny and full of flavor. It made for the perfect sauce / accompaniment to a cucumber sandwich on Kroger wheat bread. No salt, no pepper. Just bread (bland that it was) with cucumber and Julia's mayonnaise. Bliss.
With the leftover whites I plan to make meringues for New Years Eve. I'll fill them with something, but not sure what... yet.
The idea I'm speaking of is Julie Powell's; the author of "The Julie / Julia Project" which laid the foundation of the Julie & Julia movie (which I'll shamefully admit I've watched at least 3 or 4 times since Christmas Day). Julie Powell cooked her way through Julia Child's famed cookbook, "Mastering the Art of French Cooking". This same cookbook has experienced a long-standing love in my family for many years. And I'm older than Julie Powell, so there.
I've been studying Julia Child's masterpiece for several days, reading it like a book. Cookbooks contain a plethora of information and Julia's is no exception. She diligently worked to bring the simplicity of French cooking to American cooks, and at the same time, helped to teach the simplicity of the most divine of cuisine - French. There's nothing stuffy or complicated about French cuisine, but rather taking an ingredient and exploring the almost endless possibilities. For example, eggs.
And with that I'm trying my hand at mayonnaise today. I'm committed to following the recipe word for word, after reading word for word multiple times. Eggs happen to be one of those ingredients that lay the foundation for so many food gems, like mayonnaise, Hollandaise, and gateaus (cakes). And since I'm only using the egg yolks for the mayonnaise, I'll use the whites to make meringues. It's a clear, dry day here today so it should be ideal.
Typically I try to photograph the process of recipes. But there's tremendous pressure selfishly applied to capture the greatest essence and state of a recipe. We'll just have to see about that.
There's certainly one thing I've discovered over the course of reading "Mastering the Art of French Cooking". I can't find recipes for the Crock Pot, or cupcakes, or frozen meatballs. And that's precisely what I love most about this cookbook. No fancy ingredients (with the exception of sweetbreads and foie gras), and simple technique. I can't wait.
And with that, off I go to the kitchen to make mayonnaise. And later, cupcakes.
Sunday, December 13, 2009
I tried my hands at Chocolate Espresso Shortbread and, at first bite, felt a surge of joy come over my taste buds. I wanted to slap someone. They were incredibly easy to make and even better, loved the idea of rolling the dough inside a large Ziploc bag. Ingenious!
And there's another new recipe I tried to add to my holiday treats. Ina Garten's Fleur de Sel caramels. What resulted was a pot of goo resembling hot motor oil. At later glance, said motor oil was like a matte, coarse substance coating the bottom of the saucepan. I was afraid; very afraid. But Mr. Tyson brought his technical skills into the kitchen to rid said pan of the yuckiness. In this recipe there is an important lesson learned. When marrying the cream and butter mixture to the sugar mixture, put down the wooden spoon. I soon realized the constant stirring disrupts the increase in heat and actually prevents heating. I never made it past 205 degrees; far from the 248 required in the recipe. But despite this disaster, I will attempt this one again.
I also tried a play on peppermint cookies using a packaged sugar cookie dough combined with crushed peppermint candies. They were flat and boring. But at least one bite helped to freshen my breath. Blah.
And then there was the household favorite. Peanut Butter Chocolate Fudge Treats (as in, Rice Krispie treats) married with a layer of peanut butter fudge topped with a layer of chocolate fudge. Who on earth ever devised this completely unnecessary, calorie-filled, hip-exploding, bum-to-be-jiggling treat should be hurt. And badly. These treats were sinful and delicious and sinful all over again.
Within the last 24 hours, I've used 2 pounds of butter. I hope someone quickly reveals that butter cures all of the world's ailments, from gout to gangrene. Life would be really good.
Sunday, November 22, 2009
I have a basket that holds all of the "little" things like food coloring, gel coloring, and sprinkles. But once I pryed this out of the pantry I stood in another state of disbelief.
I found things like Red Hots used for something that I can't possibly recall.
And candy melts in various colors and chocolate chips.
The sight of this chaos was almost too overwhelming.
There are sprinkles... loads of sprinkles. Halloween; red, white and blue; pastel and Easter sprinkles and sugar.
And what the? Football sprinkles?
Sunday, November 15, 2009
I've been inspired by other food bloggers and their creative cake creations - whether cake balls, cake pops or whimsical cake treats. But at the end of the day, it's about the taste of the cake pop. While very creative and adorable, there are two things I'm not quite fond of about the pops I've seen. One, virtually all of the cake pop recipes I've seen involve a boxed cake mix. (Personally, I don't mind cake mixes but there's a far different flavor and texture involved when using scratch cake.) But since I used a cake mix as a portion of the cake recipe for the shaped cake, there is a boxed cake mix in the cake pops.
And two, another ingredient I don't prefer is canned frosting. I could spend days upon days citing the countless things wrong with canned frosting (unless you're my husband who believes a spoon and a can of frosting are a culinary match). There's nothing worse than canned icing.
After combining the cake scraps and some additional buttercream, I combined the two together. After rolling the cake balls and refrigerating for about 30 minutes, I melted the candy coating mixed with just a dab of shortening to lightly thin the melted coating. (After making numerous batches of cake pops, the tiny amount of shortening is a must.) Then inserted a candy stick into the cake ball to create the pop. I devised a drying mechanism using a block of styrofoam to allow the pops to dry.
I happen to love cake pops!
Can you tell?
In fact, we all love cake pops.
When it's all said and done, the opinion of my toughest critics (both Daddy and Baby) is what means the most.
Alas, a passing grade!
Before starting the cake, I really needed some new sheet pans. Thankfully there's a restaurant supply store nearby and despite wanting to give them my credit card and act like a rich woman at Tiffany & Co., I restrained myself and left with only two of these commercial half sheet pans. I'd trade shoe shopping for shopping in a restaurant supply store anyday. (Shocking. Yes.)
After making the cake, stacking the layers (with an evil buttercream to fill the layers) I carved the cake into the shape of a crest. Next was an outer crumb coat.
I could have done a better job on smoothing the buttercream crumb coat.
But overnight in the fridge, working a 2-pound ball of blue fondant, rolling and rolling, smoothing and cutting with an Xacto knife later, I stepped back to see this.
I'm pretty close to 100% completely satisfied with the end result. The lines could be more smooth and certainly cleaner but it was a first-time project. And as a mother who considers herself a teacher, I have to teach satisfaction with the quality of work when you give it your all.
And I did take a final task tip from the Cake Boss. After watching the show for several months I've noticed there's one thing they always use to "finish" a fondant covered cake - steam. Since I don't have a commercial steamer or even a hand-held steamer I resorted to the only household appliance I have capabale of producing steam - our iron. And it worked!
And for those who wonder about the shape of cake, it is the logo of my company. I made the cake to commemorate the completion of our annual business plan.
Sunday, November 8, 2009
What I stopped to look at was a Christmas gift I received several years ago from my in laws. It was a gift, when I opened, that brought tears to my eyes and a warmth to my heart. Even my dear, late mother-in-law cried as I read the words.
This was one woman who loved her baby boy. Often I look back and realize she was a tough sell as it relates to measuring up to the woman best suited for her son.
She abundantly loved her son.
She was passionate about her convictions.
And she loved me.
It is one of the most touching and personal gifts I have ever received.
I still miss her. Terribly.
Saturday, October 31, 2009
And here she is.
There's something certainly mystical and magical about this cookbook. Perhaps it's the recipes contained within the slightly aged pages. Perhaps it's the hand-written notes made by my father, with his near perfect penmanship, about cooking time, quantities and wine pairings. Like a '79 Chateau Lafite.
It seems my father found his niche in cooking from Julia's cookbook.
But perhaps the most magical element of this cookbook is this.
I'm ready to curl up on the couch and sift through the pages of this, the holy grail of cookbooks, to find some new favorites. Too bad I can't curl up with that '79 Chateau Lefite.
Saturday, October 3, 2009
And now that I've made myself starved and hungry, I must confess a new-found weakness. But it is a weakness I pledge to abandon almost as quickly as I embraced it. At least I think so. (Especially since I indulged earlier today and can profess my strength in resistance.)
This weakness began several weeks ago at what I believed would be an innocent play date with the 18-month old son of friends. As they approached our front door, I noticed a large box carefully cradled in the hands of a dear woman, who I know under most circumstances would be carrying her son. But no. She was consumed with the cautious and tedious transport of delicacies. In her cradled arms was a box of Gigi's Cupcakes.
After carefully opening the box and viewing the 12 beautiful treats inside, then came the most difficult crossroads of my friendship with this dear woman – exactly which cupcake to consume first. There weren't words or gestures or movement. There was simply a moan of heavenly pleasure at the sinking of teeth into the fresh buttercream and dense cake. Resistance was futile and a complete waste of calories burned.
And yesterday on my way home from work, my car seemed to steer itself to Gigi's. I couldn't resist getting out of the car; there was some unidentifiable force pulling me off my bum and into Gigi's.
But today, all I can say is DARN YOU, GIGI! Darn you for being responsible for the width of my bum and thighs. Darn you for being so good. Darn you! Darn you over and over and over again. Darn you… until I see you again.
Only weeks have passed since Maryanne left this earth to join her Savior. But in those weeks I've been constantly reminded of the grace and peace she brought to so many people, and ultimately, came right back to her.
I had a dream earlier this week. In my dream I was sad that I couldn't see her. And then, all of a sudden, there she was; across a room and coming towards me. I was overwhelmed with happiness that I could see her. But in my dream, I couldn't talk to her. And how bizarre that in reality - especially in the finality of death - we can still talk to our loved ones, but not see them in the flesh.
I miss her humor.
I miss how she inspired me.
I miss her laughter.
I miss her cooking.
I miss her, terribly.
Tuesday, September 1, 2009
But often I must take things into my own hands. Things like the disinfecting of the Crate & Barrell butcher block cutting board we received as a wedding gift. After almost 12 years it's in need of constant cleaning and disinfecting.
To clean, I sprinkle one side liberally with kosher salt, about one tablespoon.
Then I cut a lemon in half and squeeze a small amount of the juice over the cutting board. You want just enough juice to combine with the salt and make a paste while keeping the lemon firm.
Place the cut side down on the board and scrub, scrub, scrub.
Repeat on the other side of the board and rinse well with water. Allow to dry completely before storing.
And speaking of cleaning, it's sad when I do something like this to the Tyson Kitchen.
But that mess means I made the taste buds of others sing with joy by giving them chocolate buttermilk cupcakes with caramel creme frosting and Martha Stewart's mint-filled brownie cupcakes. I can resist all of those, but for some reason, I just can't say no to these.
Sunday, August 30, 2009
When I walked into the kitchen this afternoon several vine ripened tomatoes and a bag of Chicago hard rolls were staring back at me. I originally intended the tomatoes for fresh salsa. But this afternoon I decided to roast the tomatoes and make herbed croutons out of the rolls.
I diced up all 6 rolls into bite-sized pieces.
Then I added fresh thyme and fresh basil.
And after drizzling with a generous amount of olive oil (about a 1/4 cup total) I baked the croutons at 450 for 7 minutes.
As for the tomatoes, I suspect they'll meet a splash or two of balsamic vinegar before being poured over a layer of the herbed croutons. Yummy.
Saturday, August 29, 2009
To make éclair shells, you must begin with Pâte à Choux. It's a very simple process but requires the patience in stirring for the minute required (and also requires a strong arm!). Thankfully throughout my research and cooking experience, I have never seen a recipe different than this recipe which happens to be the same as Julia's. I like this consistency because trial and error to find the best recipe is not always fun and exciting.
Thankfully, these little darlings were perfectly petite and portioned. And it took a few tries to determine the best piping size for the best éclair shell. And I love that each one is unique and different from the next. Nothing remotely close to perfection here.
Pâte à Choux makes such a unique pastry case; sturdy on the outside but tender on the inside, with its interior easily giving way to whatever filling you choose to introduce. They're so delicate, you can even see the sunshine peering in through the windows to fill the éclair shells.
For these éclairs, I made a slightly sweet but very rich caramel pastry creme of caramel sauce, heavy cream and mascarpone cheese. Sublime and heavenly. Simply luscious. And fattening. Really, really fattening.
What I'm currently debating is how to dress the éclairs - caramel, chocolate, nothing? (If I actually had readers I could pose the question to more than the viral void.) So, I'm left wondering... how to dress? And I must wonder quickly since they're bound to go fast in this house.
This morning I began what I believe will be the laborious process of making caramel éclairs. (I've debated whether to make éclairs or crème puffs, but the only difference is the size – an éclair is long and thin while a puff is round and slightly taller.)
Part 1 is making the caramel sauce. Begin by combining sugar and water in a medium saucepan. Over low heat, allow the sugar to melt completely. Once melted, increase the heat to medium-high and allow the sugar syrup to boil.
Continue to boil until it becomes golden in color; about 8 minutes. Remove from heat and pour in 1 cup of heavy cream. (The mixture will bubble loudly.) Whisk to thoroughly combine the caramel and heavy cream. Add in a ½ teaspoon of good vanilla extract. Strain into a glass container and allow to cool to room temperature before moving to the refrigerator to completely cool.
But despite my culinary doubts and angst thinking I'd just wasted 1 ½ cups of sugar and 8 ounces of heavy whipping cream, my doubts were quickly cast aside when my taste buds met the beautiful combination of water, sugar, cream and vanilla. Good gracious. My hips just can't take it.
Up next: crème puffs
Monday, August 24, 2009
What happens when you combine caramel sauce, with a mixture of mascarpone cream and whipped cream? You get something so devilishly good that my mouth is already watering and my thighs are preparing for combustion.
This concoction has got me thinking about making Caramel Crème Puffs drizzled with a chocolate caramel sauce. This means I'll combine Julia's delicate Pâte à Choux with a light caramel crème followed by a caramel sauce (somehow combined with chocolate). And just to add insult to injury, some toasted chopped almonds would be a nice contrast.
Making Julia's Pâte à Choux will bring me to Recipe #2. And yes, I've yet to take on croissants. But it's more about finding 12 hours to tend to the dough.
Sunday, August 23, 2009
After several days of research and recipe reviews I concocted a recipe for cannoli cream-filled cupcakes, marrying several different ingredients and methods. Filled with classic cannoli ingredients like ricotta cheese, cinnamon and chocolate I was hopeful these would scratch my cannoli itch. And boy, did they ever.
Cannoli Cream Cupcakes
makes 18 cupcakes
3/4 cup butter (1 1/2 sticks) at room temperature
1 3/4 cups sugar
3 eggs at room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon almond extract
3 cups cake flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup low fat buttermilk
Preheat oven to 350. Line 2 cupcake pans with a total of 18 cupcake liners. Set aside.
Using a stand mixer with a paddle attachment, cream together the butter and sugar until pale (about 5 minutes). Add the eggs, one a time, beating well after each addition. Add the vanilla extract and almond extract.
Measure the cake flour by spooning into a dry 1 cup measuring cup and level the cake flour with a knife. Combine the 3 cups of cake flour with the baking powder, baking soda and salt. Whisk flour mixture with a wire whisk.
Add the flour mixture and 3/4 cup buttermilk alternately to the butter and sugar mixture, mixing well after each addition, and beginning and ending with the flour. Use a standard size ice cream scoop to fill prepared cupcake liners. Bake cupcakes for 16 - 18 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean. Cool cupcakes for 5 minutes in the pan, then transfer to a cooling rack and allow to cool completely.
Fluffy, and so pretty.
15 oz. ricotta cheese (thoroughly drain in a wire strainer for at least 8 hours, or overnight*)
1/2 cup confectioner's sugar
1/8 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1/8 teaspoon almond extract
*This is a step you MUST not skip.
Combine strained ricotta cheese and remaining ingredients until well blended. Set aside.
3 tablespoons butter at room temperature
3 tablespoons half and half (or milk)
1 3/4 cups confectioners sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 cups heavy whipping cream
Using a hand-held mixer, beat together butter, half and half, confectioners sugar and vanilla until well combined and smooth. Using a stand mixer with a whisk attachment, beat whipping cream until soft peaks form. Fold sugar mixture into whipped cream, careful not to over mix.
To fill the cupcakes, fill piping bag with cannoli cream.
Using a decorating tip (recommended Wilton Bismark Tip 230) hold filled bag perpendicular to cupcake inserting dip 1-inch deep into the center of the cupcake. Squeeze a small amount of cannoli cream into the cupcake. Set aside until all cupcakes are filled.
To frost the cupcakes, fill a clean piping bag with frosting. Using a decorating tip (recommended Wilton Star Tip 1M) frost each cupcake beginning on the outer edge, piping inward towards the center of the cupcake.
If desired after frosting the cupcakes, lightly dust with shaved bittersweet or semisweet chocolate shavings.
And when you take a bite, nestled inside the moist and slightly sweet cupcake is the cannoli cream filling.
Sunday, August 16, 2009
The day started with several aromatics, like carrots, to make Ina Garten's Chicken Stew with Biscuits.
And parsley. Beautiful parsley.
A naked lemon.
Fully zested to make Ina Garten's Lemon Cake.
Poor lemons. They got reamed.
And fell down.
All to make this really good!
Next, I'm taking several Cannoli Cream Cake recipes and modifying for cannoli cream-filled cupcakes, laced with a few drops of marsala wine. Meanwhile, I'm still attempting to conjure up the courage to make Julia's Croissants. Not sure if it's really courage that I need, but rather time. A whole 12-hour block of uninterrupted time. Maybe while the rest of the house is sleeping?