Thursday, December 31, 2009

New Year's Eve 2009

This time last year we had just pulled off quite the coop by surprising my mother-in-law. It was the first time we all had the chance to see her since her cancer diagnosis only 2 months earlier. She was shocked, surprised and filled with joy to see us walk in the door to celebrate what was typically a private holiday for she and my father in law. But as luck would have it, both of her children and their families stormed the door to ring in the New Year - together, as a family.

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

Meringues Chantilly

While not deep within the pages of Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Meringues Chantilly are light, heavenly clouds of creamy, sugary egg whites beaten into a frenzy.

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.


Mastering the Art of French Cooking
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.

Mastering the Art of French Cooking

Funny, I feel somewhat like a copycat. I feel like I've taken the idea of someone else's and copied it, verbatim. But, alas, I'm not a true copycat.

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

Holiday Baking

Sunday (yesterday) marked the first official day of holiday baking in the Tyson Kitchen. And even butter... I mean, better... was every recipe was new. I've got a few tried and true - like Mexican Wedding Cookies and sugar cookies [for Santa]. But this year marked a turn in the culinary course of cookies.

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.