Sunday, April 28, 2013

Consomme - or I now pronounce myself a cook.


I made my usual batch of chicken stock yesterday.

Thanks to the constant skimming, it came out relatively clear. For some masochistic reason, I decided I wanted to try to make it into consomme. I had read that one cannot honestly call oneself a cook until one has successfully made consomme. That's all it took.

I had to go to the store to get lean ground meat for this and needed to pick up some cheesecloth for the final clarification.  Cristy asked me, where is THAT? In the cheesecloth aisle? I shouldn't have laughed. The angels of irony or maybe it was karma, got me. I couldn't find it. I asked an employee who looked at me as if I had just spoken in Martian. Our conversation went something like this:

Hi! Do you know if you carry cheesecloth and where I might find it?
What is it?
A loosely woven cotton cloth.
Does it have cheese in it?
What do you want it for?
Straining stock, I made 15 quarts of chicken stock yesterday.
Why did you do that?
Because I didn't have anything else to do.
She called the manager.
Other employees spread out across the aisles on a store wide search for cheesecloth.
We finally found it and they all asked me again, what I was going to do with it. I wanted to be witty, on the spot clever like I was making a dress or something, but I had nothing. I was drained already.

I knew the technique but I consulted the web for the correct proportions of ingredients for my amount of stock. So I mixed ground turkey (couldn't find chicken and was not about to add the extra step of grinding to this process) a carton of eggbeaters (about 10 egg whites--see, I didn't even want to break the eggs and separate them) and mire poix (carrots, celery and shallots).

I mixed all of that into a gloppy, sick looking mess. I held my breath and put it into the clean stock pot, then poured in my stock -- about 11 quarts of reasonably clear, delicious chicken stock that had taken 6-7 hours to make on Saturday.  I turned on the heat and immediately went into a panic. What have I done? I've ruined my beautiful stock!! It looked like ... well, I won't go into details but it looked really disgusting. I was supposed to stir constantly while bringing it up to temperature, which means I stood on a step stool for about an hour stirring this messy, sick looking pot of ick. It takes a while for 10-11 quarts of cold stock to come up to a simmer. The number of new inventive phrases I found for demeaning myself was pretty impressive, if I do say so myself.

Ok, so I knew that theoretically, the glop was supposed to sort of congeal and capture the tiny impurities that will make a broth cloudy. It's called a raft. At this point, however, it didn't look good, I had no raft, only a murky sea.

To the web! Answers! Videos!

Sometimes less information is better. I found a video of a culinary class, yes he actually wore a toque (tall white hat) and the very first thing he said was "This is probably the coolest thing you'll ever do once." Oh boy. He gave a lecture and wrote on a white board and issued many stern warnings about how delicate the process was and if you looked at the raft wrong it would break apart and presumably your life would end at that very moment. What he didn't say was how to get the raft out of the pot, or the stock out from under the raft.

There was no turning back now, though, so I searched again. Eventually I came upon a video done by a young chef  named Roble who clearly knew what he was doing but was way more relaxed and laid back than toque-head. This chef wore a backwards baseball cap.  In other words, he didn't scare the crap out of me and I felt reassured in the knowledge that if my raft broke apart, I most likely would not die at that very moment.  So, brimming with my new found confidence I marched into the kitchen, climbed up on the stool and what do you think I found? A raft! A life-raft!  Doesn't this look delightful?

I let the stuff simmer for about an hour, but taking the toque-head warnings to heart, I did not punch holes in the raft... it just seems counter intuitive doesn't it? Who wants holes in their raft? When the time came to get the good stuff out, I took a spatula and cut through this inch-plus layer of  souffle looking stuff  (it was very much like a gross omelet) and I removed enough to fit my ladle in. Then I proceeded to ladle out 10 quarts of stock, straining each ladle-ful through a cheesecloth lined strainer.

And there you have it! Consomme. I am now a cook.  And I agree with toque-head, once is enough.

See you soon.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

North Carolina

The fine state of North Carolina is where most of my remaining family lives these days. This trip was a joyful one, despite the rain that pounded us all the way there. We drove to Charlotte on Friday and stayed in the Hilton at City Center. We arrived at supper time and not wanting to wander around in the rain and wind, we chose The Mimosa Grill . One of the cool things about Charlotte City Center is that you can walk about 4 blocks without ever going outside through a series of atria and skywalks and through various buildings.  The Mimosa Grill is part of Harper's Restaurant Group, so while it isn't a real indie restaurant, it is very very good. I had salad with lemon vinaigrette that was so fantastic I pleaded for the recipe. (I keep checking my email.) The lemon was not overpowering and it had to be a Meyer lemon, it was so clean and fresh and delicious. My main was a flank steak with boursin cheese melted on top. It had been perfectly marinated and grilled, tender, full of flavor, just wonderful. No dessert. If you're ever in Charlotte looking for a friendly, flavorful meal, check out the Mimosa Grill. The service was perfect, too!

Saturday was a picture perfect spring day, it was breezy, sunny, slightly cool and a perfect day for a wedding. By the time we headed to Lexington, I was fully regretting my haphazard packing (if you could even call it that) I needed my Visine badly!! Spring is lovely but man all that plant sex kills my eyes and nose and lungs. Thankfully I brought my inhalers. But. I. Forgot. my. camera!!!!!! :(

We gathered at the Lake House seeing old friends, family, meeting new friends (Hi Rose!) and enjoying the day. Liz had decorated with white flowers all over the house, it was just lovely.  As the time drew near Byron and Will gathered on the dock and friends and family were spread out across 2 porches and various walkways by the water. Their house is a full 18" from the water. Then the DJ (aka Alan) cued the music for the bride's procession. Also Sprach Zarathustra Op. 30 (probably better known as the theme song to the movie 2001: A Space Odyssey). Liz, I don't care what you say, it is not a South Carolina Gamecock song. :P  There they were facing one another, dressed alike in blue jeans and white starched shirts, saying their vows. No swarmageddon (cicadas coming out of the ground) no, rings dropped into the lake, only one vow misstep (by the preacher-he is a true Man of God and unfortunately combined unconditional and faithful) and the deed was done. They are now husband and wife. I wish for them many perfectly beautiful sunny days together.

See you soon.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Hi Folks, I have a post in the works, but I've been to lazy to edit the photos yet... Hey, at least I'm honest! In the meantime, here is a post from a really world class blog about some people in Atlanta whom I don't know personally but have been following for quite some time. I was never quick enough to get into one of the supper clubs, but surely wish I had been. Please read and send some positive thoughts Ryan and Jen's way.

Meet Staplehouse

See you soon

Friday, January 25, 2013

Another Lovely Leisurely Lunch

Hello again! Yesterday I thoroughly enjoyed another leisurely lunch with my dear friend Cristy (pictured on the left in my profile).  No Bistro this time, just me and my kitchen aka the safest place on earth. Unless you count knife injuries, but that's another story. My kitchen is safe in the sense of warmth and comfort and freedom from judgment, at least to me it is, and since I spend more time in there than most people, it works for me. We had several treasures to review together and plans to make about ramping up the snail's pace of renewing the extra bedroom space so we decided it was best she come here.

The menu started out as a simple spinach salad with some lovely little extras: hard boiled eggs, bacon, blue cheese, toasted almonds, a pear and some sliced baby bellas aka crimini. The dressing was a warm bacon vinaigrette using a bit of bacon fat, some extra virgin olive oil, Orange Muscat Champagne Vinegar, Balsamic vinegar and a touch of salt and pepper. Easy enough!

Salad ingredients:

Toss them all together and drizzle with dressing on serving plate.

I think it was Wednesday night I watched an episode of one of Ina Garten's shows and in it she prepared a dish with roasted asparagus, crisped prosciutto, hollandaise and a fried egg on top. I had to try it! So as a sort of last minute item, this was added to the menu as well. I'm so glad!! It was out of this world!

Place the asparagus on a baking sheet and drizzle with extra virgin olive oil, season with salt and pepper. Roast them in a preheated 400 oven for about ten minutes. For the last 4 minutes of cooking, slide the other baking sheet holding the prosciutto slices, in the oven to crisp up.

Meanwhile make the Hollandaise sauce:

Whizz up the egg yolks in a blender **** They must be at room temperature**** it takes several hours to accomplish this, so you should take the eggs out way before you do anything else. Ina said she sometimes leaves them on the countertop overnight. (As usual my chronology is screwed.) Anyway, whizz the egg yolks about 15 seconds, add the lemon juice salt and pepper (pictured above is Magic Unicorn Salt) and lastly, melt the butter (see chronology above) and slowly drizzle the hot butter into the whizzing blender through the hole in the top. When finished, the sauce should have a very rich, creamy consistency and look something like this:
The amount this recipe makes is really enough for 4 asparagus servings, but you couldn't do less than this in the blender. In fact, I probably should have done it by hand, because 2 egg yolks just don't provide enough volume for the blades to properly mix. In any case, it tasted rich and buttery with a slight lemon tang, sort of like... Hollandaise sauce! Imagine that!

Last step in the prep is to gently (low medium  heat) fry an egg to top the dish. To assemble, place the asparagus on the plate, spoon some hollandaise on top, crumble the crispy prosciutto and top with your just done egg. I added a few chive bits for jazz.
This is a GREAT low carb lunch enough to fill you up for the entire day. Cristy and I ate and talked and laughed and reviewed photos of my trip to celebrate my Uncle's 85th birthday. It was lovely. Then, to laugh off our memories of our shameful behavior in the early 70s we watched Nadia G's Bitchin Kitchen Rehab recipes episode! It was great fun and we're so glad we don't behave that way any more.

Both of these recipes are very easy. Don't be afraid of hollandaise, it has an unearned bad rep. Thanks Cristy, for stopping by to see me! I had so much fun! Thanks for all who read this and may be inspired to try it.

See you soon.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

The Salt of the Earth

A lot has been said about salt, besides the one about Lot's wife being turned into a pillar of salt. Paraphrase: You are the Salt of the earth, if you lose your saltiness, what then have you become?  An old wives' tale speaks of throwing spilled salt over your left shoulder to ward off bad luck. Thomas Keller says that the most important lesson for any chef (or home cook for that matter) is how to properly salt your food in cooking. Many chefs say that the best ingredients for enhancing flavor in a dish are salt and vinegar. Personally, I'd add fat to that list but that would be very non-PC. Except here. Thanks, Charlie!

My dear friend Audrey and I had a lunch in France yesterday. Well, ok, we weren't actually in France, but we took our time in a friendly Bistro talking, sharing stories for about 4 hours. That is the way to really appreciate a meal with friends. They had great music playing, great artwork and a nice aquarium to get lost in.

Audrey and I were having our belated Christmas/Birthday lunch. Her Birthday is in the same week as Christmas, so I used to wrap her Birthday presents in Pink and Blue so that they would be Separate From Christmas Gifts!  This year her present was in lavendar, thanks to Cristy, and her Christmas gifts were not even wrapped -- I don't do the retail Christmas anymore. I bought a hand carved Nativity in Bethlehem when I visited Israel back in the early 90s and that's the only decoration I bring forth.

Anyhoo, back to salt... I have at least 6 different salts in my cupboard, Fleur de Sel, Regular non-french sea salt, hickory smoked salt, you get the idea. Audrey is so fantastic! She gave me a box of salts!! I was opening each one, saying OMG! They have cute names but great ingredients I can't wait to try.

Santa Salt
Pure Ocean Salt, Rosemary, Pink Peppercorns
Suggested uses: Vegetables, Pasta, Eggs, Popcorn, Beef, Poultry, Seafood, Butter, Olive Oil, Shortbread, Salads

Rosemary Salt

Pure Ocean Salt, Rosemary
Suggested Uses: Spring Vegetables, Tomatoes, Eggs, Pasta, Fish, Pork, Lamb, Beef Poultry, Vanilla Ice Cream (if only) Shortbread, Grilled Corn, Popcorn

Magic Unicorn Salt  (great name and great ingredients)

Pure Ocean Salt, Celery Seed, Rosemary, Granulated Garlic, Smoked Paprika, Lemon Juice Powder
Suggested Uses: Anything. It's Magic.

Friends Forever (my favorite name and it smelled wonderful)

Pure Ocean Salt, Granulated Honey  -- there are no carbs listed so it must not have any!!  =)
Suggested Uses: Popcorn, Sweet Potataoes, Lemon Chicken, Spinach Salad, Carrots, Ice Cream, Fancy Drinks

Just like compound butters, you can make your own salt combinations with spices and herbs. Why not give it a try?

See you soon.

Friday, January 11, 2013

Balancing Act

First , with great joy, enthusiasm and surprise, I must tell you something. I located a "Food Photography" setting on my camera! I hope I'll be able to find it again!  What will they think of next?  Ha - it only took me a  year to find it; imagine what other wonders await my discovery.

One of the premises of this new way of eating is that the ratio of fat to protein should be more or less equal. In some cases, such as fish and lean meats, this can be a challenge. Tonight I am preparing Beef Tenderloins which are quite lean and as a result, sometimes lacking in the flavor department since fat = flavor. The same thing is true of other cuts such as sirloin, although sirloin certainly has more flavor than tenderloin.

To try to balance it out, I am making a compound butter to be used as a garnish on the steak which will increase the fat content and add a ton of flavor. Compound butters can be used on anything really: meats, fish, eggs, even vegetables. You can flavor the butter with anything you like, herbs, aromatics (garlic, shallots) cheese, spices, citrus zest, the possibilities are endless. I like the combination of beef and blue cheese so that's what I'm doing, with a touch of fresh parsley for brightness. As always, buy the best ingredients you can afford. All butters are not created equal! Maytag is my favorite domestic Blue, and yes, it's the same family who makes the appliances. My store was out of it so I just picked another medium blue, not too much bite.

You can use the food processor for this, or soften the butter at room temperature and mix it by hand. I opted for the processor. Before you begin, wash and chop some parsley.  I used 1 stick butter, about 2.5 ounces blue cheese, 1/3 c chopped flat leaf parsley and about a teaspoon of freshly grated pepper.
Mix it up! 

When done, spread the mixture into a log shape on plastic wrap and roll it up in a tube. This will keep in the fridge for a week or so. Cut the desired amount and allow to come to room temperature before using.

When your steak or fish or whatever target is ready, plop a generous Tablespoon of the butter on top and let it melt as the meat rests.  If you've never tried this, I highly recommend it. It can add a whole new profile to an old favorite and maybe dress up a dish that has become so familiar, you don't want to eat it anymore.

Nutritional Info for the butter is approximate because I'm sure different types of Bleu or Blue cheese vary. But here goes: Total 71 g Fat, 13g Protein, 2 g Carb 1 G Fiber and that is for 10 generous servings of a heaping Tblsp. each.  Per serving: 7.1g Fat, 1.3g Protein, .1 Net carb.

I served the steaks with Aparagus spears which had been roasted in the oven at 400 for about 10 min, they were pretty thick.

See you soon!

Monday, January 7, 2013

A New Year, another chance

It's been a while! If anyone is still here, and thanks to those who sent messages of encouragement, I am making some changes in my life that will ultimately result in a happier healthier me. My weight had gotten completely out of control and the age hammer kept beating down any attempts I made at reversing this through the usual routines.  Late last year I came across a Facebook page compiled by a writer whom I follow in other areas of interest such as science, technology and the like. This page is a book called 13 Weeks where Charlie Martin is attempting doing the things that are making a big difference in his health. If you are interested in the science of metabolism and weight loss, I encourage you to check it out and "like" it on Facebook. There is far more to it than I'll talk about here--I know you guys want Food porn! The basic idea is that a calorie is NOT just a calorie and that refined carbs and sugar are the enemy. One thing I will note is that the elimination of gluten has completely eradicated my need for acid reflux meds. I have suffered from GERD for over 20 years and it's gone now just by that one simple step.  Anyway, the page, his PJ articles and the author himself have been a great source of information and inspiration for me in the past couple of months. I started in November and it's gone fairly well, but as some of you know I was knocked over by bronchitis for a couple of weeks and the steroids and what not sure mess with your body functions, hopefully balancing out on the positive side. Today, I've decided that I'll survive. YAY me!

The meal shown here is one I made last spring and I thought it would be interesting to show the original and suggest some slight alterations that would better conform to a low carb way of eating.

On the menu:
Pork Tenderloin with Apricot-Mustard glaze. (You'll need S&P and fresh thyme)
Rice Pilaf
**I'm sure we had a salad or something** (rolls eyes and whistles)
Puff Pastry with Creme Patissierie, fresh strawberries and drizzle of dark chocolate

I'll try to be as authentically chronological as I can be with the exception of the dessert, which well, let's face it-- isn't in my life in that form, but it's still pretty and you might like to make it, n'est ce pas?

Pilaf Prep:
Make rice. I use(d) Jasmine rice in this. Toast some almonds on a sheet tray in the oven at 250 until you can start to smell them and they turn golden. Set them aside. Other ingredients included chopped onions, garlic, and shallots but the photos were so blurry, even I could see they were blurry, that's pretty bad. But the main star on this stage is.... our fun guy friend Mr. Mushroom.

This was one of those mixed wild mushroom packages that have a few oysters, some cremini, and redundant big portabellas, white button and if you're lucky some shitake. Chop em up!
Heat a skillet with butter over medium and sweat the onions and shallots until translucent, about 5 minutes. Add the chopped garlic and cook for no more than a minute. Remove the aromatics and set aside, in the same pan heat some more butter, 2 T, add the mushrooms and cook over high heat. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and they will release their juices, keeping the heat on high, keep stirring or flipping, depending on your skill level until the juices have been reabsorbed into the mushrooms; they may have a little brown crusty edge, and that's some tasty stuff! Now mix it all together!
Add the cooked rice, toasted almonds, and sauteed aromatics to the pan.

Please nominate me for the worst food photographer on the web. I so dearly want to top a list of something!

To make this less carby.. you could substitute quinoa for the rice, it has slightly fewer net carbs plus a bit of protein. But that would still be higher than the less than  30 net carbs I'm doing. Realistically, I think you could use a mushroom-almond-onion side dish and maybe throw in a few bits of cooked bacon for good measure.

The Pork:
Buy a pork tenderloin (duh). I got the prepackaged one in this case but it's always better if you can find/afford it from a butcher. If you buy the prepackaged, get it "Plain" not marinated in anything, please for the love of all things good, don't buy pre-marinated meat. Thank you. The ends of the tenderloins are tapered so I usually truss them under with butcher's twine to try to even out the thickness... not shown in the photo below.

Let the tenderloins air dry in the fridge if you have time. If not, pat them dry with paper towels and liberally sprinkle with salt pepper and roughly chopped thyme leaves that have been heartlessly stripped off their nuturing little stems by your bare hands! Concerned about aging? Take it out on Thyme, because you can't do anything about time. I digress... This is what they look like:

As you can see my camera skills were no better last spring than last we met. It's on the list of things to do.

Heat a large ovenproof skillet (preferably cast iron) and when hot, add oil with a high smoke point, grapeseed or canola. Place the two tenderloins in the pan and sear all around until nice and golden brown. It gets a little tricky with the thyme, balancing out the searing of meat and not burning the thyme. This should take a bit less than 10 minutes total.  When seared, put the pan into a preheated 400 degree oven and roast until the meat thermometer reads 135 (it only takes about 15 minutes so don't go clean out your sock drawer or anything)  and take the pan out to rest. After about 5 minutes, remove the meat to a platter, cover and continue to rest while you make the glaze.

Glaze prep:

This is equal amounts of Apricot Preserves and grainy deli mustard. You can use whatever you like. The idea is the tang of the mustard a sweet finish of the fruit. Take the pan in which you cooked the pork and deglaze it (while hot) with a little chicken stock, about 1/4 cup scrape up the bits of fond (brown bits) until dissolved in the stock. Add the mustard and apricot and stir around until reduced to a sauce consistency.

I can't have a post without a glare shot now could I?  See the little bits of thyme, and the pork maillard bits, with the tangy sweet mixture? It is really very, very good.

Slice your tenderloin into about 1/2 in medallions and spoon the glaze over, plate the pilaf.

This meat was more done than I like it to be but it was still tender and juicy and very flavorful.

To make this less carby I'd substitute a little balsamic reduction (10g carbs per Tbsp) or a nice vinegar I've been experimenting with from Trader Joe's. Orange Muscat Champagne Vinegar. It's really versatile and adds a touch of sweetness without a lot of sugar.

OK on to dessert....

Take frozen puff pastry shells and prepare according to directions.
Make a creme patissiere (I don't know how to type in French on this keyboard) which is a fancy way to say pastry cream. I'm sure I have posted it somewhere in this mess of a blog but it really isn't hard and can be done a day ahead. The only carby bad guy in the recipe is 1/2 c sugar for 2 1/2 c pastry cream. So the cream may come back into my life as some sort of custardy reincarnation. But I am announcing now... that pastry and I have filed for a divorce; it's final by now I'm sure.  It's heartbreaking, I know, all those memories of Pi day pies... But trust me, it's better this way.

Plating the dish involves opening the shell, plopping some pastry cream in, spreading the washed, sliced strawberries  and drizzling with a dark chocolate ganache. I chose the least appealing photo I had on purpose. Because honestly, knowing what that pastry would do to me, makes me not want it anymore.

Anyway, Cheers! to all who read this far. I appreciate you all, welcome suggestions, and will do my best to keep you entertained in a healthier way this year.

--See you soon!

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Post postponed

After spending half a day at the Doctor's office, I'm  not up for a post today, probably next week. I'll be talking about low carb recipes and how one can posssibly live without pasta. I know. I know. Anyway, once I can breathe again, I will put something up here.

See you soon!

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Hi People!
Is anyone still here? I am, believe it or not, and have decided I may start this thing up again. Best wishes to all in the New Year of 2013!
See you soon