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.