Thursday, July 31, 2008

Go Ahead, You Deserve It

Do the masses of home cooks and connoisseurs out there always go above and beyond to create the best dish possible? Certainly not. But I’ve come to a realization that it really feels most satisfying to do the most you can with your food. I was recently craving something fruity for dessert. I called out to Jeffrey my plans to eat fresh fruit instead regular dessert. We started to slice up this delicious mango nectarine I recently found at Safeway. He asks if I would like some whipped cream to go with it. I shake my head, thinking whipped cream will take too long and I don’t really need it, do I? Fortunately for me Jeffrey didn’t listen, quickly he convinced me it would only take a couple minutes in the KitchenAid and it would be well worth it.

He fires up the mixer as I sigh and continue on, slicing up this marvel of a nectarine, previously unknown to my tastebuds (If you’re lucky enough to get these wonderful fruits, only available mid-summer, be sure to try them). “Oooh Yummy…” I think as I taste little bits of the fruit, while nestling ripe raspberries around the nectarine slices. It was only a few short minutes and voila!...the whipped cream was done to a light, not stiff, perfection. Not only does it make your dessert look mouthwatering, but it tastes that much better.

Sure, sure...all you whipped cream lovers already know this. I’m not just talking about whipping cream and why that’s good. I’d like to use this forum to take a stand for doing what’s best in every culinary opportunity. Why not have the dab of fresh whipped cream on the fruit? We had the cream and we didn’t even have to whip it by hand. Jeffrey was able to make this statement by refusing to let my principle of “not to be a bother” stand in the way of his culinary honor. I’ve gradually begun to appreciate this and taken it as my own principle in my partnership in the kitchen with Jeffrey. Good food may take a couple extra steps, but always well-worth it. Furthermore, stretching the limits of what is easy versus what may seem “too much” keeps us fresh and on our toes. So why not just go ahead and make each dish the best you can, especially when you hand it over to someone you love?

Will you take a look at how simple and luscious this is…note that Jeffrey went the extra step to sprinkle on some powdered sugar for even more appeal. We keep it ready in a shaker so it’s an easy grab for the wow/yummy dessert factor.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Dishwasher and Proud Of It!

You may wonder how I wound up with the duties of dishwasher/jack-of-all-random-kitchen-helping-activities. Let me tell you, it’s not as unglamorous and grueling as it may sound. Think about it, I’ve got it made, I get fed the most fabulous meals all.the.time. Who wouldn’t want that? Count me in, sign me up. I waited my whole life to find someone who values good food as much, if not more, than me.

For us, cooking is our element, it makes our abode a home. And for Jeffrey, culinary adventure is the norm. I call the kitchen Jeffrey’s Test Kitchen, or JTK (which funny enough--are also his initials). As executive chef of our house, Jeffrey typically picks out menu items, and I do a sprinkling of ideas to keep him in check. We use a dry erase board to jot down the week’s dishes. I recommend this to all home chefs out there—it keeps you reminded of your culinary plans as the week progresses and work and life swirl about.

When it’s cooking time Jeffrey will get us started, and the prep begins. I take part in chopping and dicing, getting out pots and pans, implements, keeping the dog out of the trash, and of course – the dishwashing. Yes, we do have a dishwashing machine. However as we prep, various implements need to be re-used or simply cannot withstand the torturous environment thrust upon by the dishwasher; so I wash. This works out great. For me, I love to take part in cooking, but I also have some sort of wacky notion of dishwashing as a form of Zen practice. (Note to all Zen Buddhists out there, I do realize that surely anything one does in life can be a Zen practice, for me, it’s dishwashing. For my mom it’s flossing….er, yeah…you get the idea.)

So here I am, finding enlightenment with dishpan hands. Go figure. This arrangement works for both of us. Jeffrey simply hates to do dishes, he’d rather cook. This is not to say he doesn’t wash dishes and I never cook. But when the proverbial rubber hits the road (or the skillet hits the heat), we know our places' in the JTK. The results are usually delicious, hearty, eye-pleasing; and at the very least…good eats. I think I have the winning-end of the bargain, what do you think?

Sunday, July 20, 2008

You Say Potato, the French Say Apple of the Earth...or How I Came to Adore French

As we dive deeper and deeper into the culinary pool, I’m becoming really fond of the French language and its poetic schemes. Up until now, my thoughts on the French language comprised of thinking it was something I could never possibly pronounce, but it sounded neat when other people used it. Recently Jeffrey and I became perplexed upon reading a French restaurant menu, and he noticed apple turnover (Chausson Aux Pommes), and fries (Pommes Frites) used the same word, Pommes, in reference to completely different food products.

What the pommes?

We dove further into the etymology of this since we are relative virgins to the French language. The handy online English-French translator said the word for Apple is indeed “Pommes”. Ok, so what’s with the Pommes for Pommes Frites and Pommes Puree and the like? We entered in Potato into the magic translator and discovered Potato translates to “Pommes de terre”, Pommes obviously being a shorter word also used for potato. The full connection of potato and apple still wasn’t clear. That is until…

My background in a fellow romance language, Spanish, excitedly kicked in. “I know, It means apple of the earth!” I burst out. “Terre means earth, I bet you. Let’s check it out!” As excited as I was, this really was not an ingenious connection to make, so don’t even start to think I am some mastermind of Romance languages. In Spanish, “tierra” means earth…so it really isn’t so ingenious to make this connection. Nevertheless, as all this unfolded Jeffrey stared at me like I was heretofore fibbing about my lacking French capabilities (That’s what happens if you study German instead of Spanish). As our trusty translator soon proved, potato did indeed turn out to mean apple of the earth. How charming is that?

This is when my enamoring with French culminated. My mind swirled with images of the potato and how it did kind of resemble an apple…an ugly underground sort of apple. The insides are crisp and colored much like an apple. Both apple and potato will oxidize and turn nasty brown colors if you open them up and lay them out exposed. The connection was definitely palpable. This exemplifies how French is such a poetic language…and the people really do know how to truly appreciate food. Thank you, France, for these things.

I wouldn’t be going to all this length just to tell you how I adore French culture or think apple of the earth is the cutest term for potato I’ve ever heard. Well, maybe I would. But I’m not. Let’s get into a recipe. Another French thing I love is pommes frites (pom-freet), aka: French Fries. No, you may not refer to them as freedom fries. Jeffrey makes a bangup fried apple-of-the-earth, his recipe for success, inspired by French cooking techniques, is shown below.

Pommes Frites

Russet Potatoes (choose your quantity)
Frying Oil, such as peanut, canola, or safflower
Kosher Salt

Peel and slice a starchy potato, such as russet. One large potato will feed two people. Slice into long sticks, about a quarter of an inch thick. Drop potato pieces into a bowl of water so they don’t turn brown. Soak potatoes in water for at least half an hour. When ready to fry, remove potatoes from water and dry thoroughly.

Heat frying oil to 280° F in large pan or fryer. Blanch potatoes in the oil, removing them with slotted spoon or skimmer once they become limp, approximately 5 minutes. Let potatoes dry and turn up oil heat to 370° F. Cook until frites are golden and crispy. Remove to a paper towel lined surface and sprinkle with Kosher salt. Voila!

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Mrs. Whites Golden Rule Does Unto Us Just Fine, Thank You

Locating Mrs. White’s Golden Rule Café, a legendary soul food landmark, can actually be difficult to find if you’re not familiar with the tricky and recently altered streets of downtown Phoenix. However, if you’re within visual range of the place, you can’t miss it. The yellow bunker-like building is inviting with its neatly painted name and a simple “Open” sign hanging out front. Parking is ample and free.

I’m almost embarrassed to admit I’ve lived in Phoenix almost continuously since birth in the late 1970’s and I’ve only just now made my way into Mrs. White’s now going on 45-year-old café. We walked in to an affable welcome and chose a spot at a booth next to an old mail slot in the wall (yes the slot is still functional though I don’t believe the mail actually gets delivered this way). Due to the hole in the wall for the slot, I could actually see the cinderblock innards comprising the building’s structure. I glance about; the white walls have all kinds of writing in black marker on them. From autographs to menu items, there is a lot to take in. I’m in experiential overload and it’s great. Laminated menus were already on the table. We quickly dove in to examine the options.

Inside the menu is a mouthwatering list of entrees, each including your choice of two side dishes. For a listing of the complete menu, visit their Website here. The list is full of just enough options to arouse the senses but yet it is nonetheless easy to pick, depending on what your belly is in the mood for. Perhaps it is easy to choose because you know, instinctively, that you will return for more another day.

We select the Pond Raised Catfish and Smothered Pork Chops, and assorted sides. Some of our sides were so popular they’d already been 86’d for the day. We wound up with two orders of cabbage; which let me tell you, is a good thing we didn’t have to share. It is a succulent sweet thing of a dish I’d eat again and again. Our other sides were the oniony good Black Eyed Peas and Red Beans infused with a distinct paprika flavor. Of course we were also granted a hunk of the sweet homemade cornbread, which I enjoyed dipping into my other sauces as I ate.

The Catfish tasted the way catfish from back home should (my culinary partner Jeffrey, a St Louis native, attests without a doubt). The battered and fried treatment of the fillet didn’t take away from this fish’s natural savory flavor, as is often the case at corporate establishments offering catfish. The Smothered Pork Chops were every bit of good as anything labeled “smothered” ought to be. Cutting into the pork was a bit of a challenge; I had to work for it, but once eaten, was well worth it. The pork was very tender with a salty richness and slightly crunchy outer coating.

We rolled our way to the checkout counter and were greeted warmly by Larry Sr., one of Mrs. White’s sons. We gave our kudos to the chef for taking us back home and were told that’s what they’re there for. What a fabulous concept. Nothing new, no; but undeniably appealing and delicious…yes! From what we can tell, Mrs. White and family have the Golden Rule down pat.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Incredible Eggs

I should know better by now when Safeway has 18 pack eggs at buy one get one free, there will be soufflés. There will also be other fantastic French culinary phenoms such as hollandaise sauce, béarnaise sauce, and omelettes. Not a bad lot, mind you. It’s simply a pattern I’ve picked up on. Until our forays into the finer points of cuisine and culinary experimentation, I hadn’t been acquainted with the importance of the egg. It really was quite a shocker to me how prominent those single-celled wonders are in many recipes. Hence, when there’s a special on eggs, they will be utilized in many forms in Jeffrey’s kitchen craft. If I could only conjure up like-minded specials on butter…hmmm, yes, well, I’ll save that one for another time.

Returning to the soufflé discussion let it be known that Jeffrey has perfected the art of soufflé. This morning’s treat (yes, he has been known to whip up a soufflé in the morning) was a mix of finely diced mushroom, gruyere, and parmesan. Mmm. Quite yummy, and this is coming from a recovering mushroom-hater. Within minutes of waking Jeffrey announced his intention to soufflé. Is soufflé even a verb? Let’s play along like it is for the sake of this story.

Having crafted several soufflés combined with the amazing memory power only elephants rival, he quickly gets to work in the kitchen mixing up the soufflé “base” sans any recipe. The base of the soufflé is essentially a béchamel plus whatever ingredients you’re adding, so in this case Jeffrey also got to work finely chopping up mushrooms and grating cheese. Of course whipping up egg whites is also important just prior to mixing everything together (we let the stand mixer do it, but you can do it by hand if you want to be really old school). My duties as sous chef/kitchen safety monitor/dishwasher is to standby and be prepared to pitch in however I’m capable, seem fit, or deem worthy at the time. I get to work buttering up some ramekins, washing some preliminary prep dishes, and then do some general hovering around. This hovering oft wanders into the realms of “dish cleaning nag”, well-intentioned-but-uncoordinated woman-standing-in-the-way, and disaster recovery technician.

More on that later…back to this lovely soufflé. Twenty-two minutes later at 375° and these little puffers were de-eelicious! The nutty saltiness of the cheeses didn’t overpower the delicate essence of the egg. The earthy and subtle mushrooms rounded out the flavors, making this a nice savory starter to our day. Recipe details are below, pick your own fillings to fit your cravings. Soufflés make great dishes for breakfast, lunch, or dinner. Dessert soufflés work much the same, however we’ll do a separate write-up for those yummy concoctions in a future posting.

Savory Souffle
Yield 4-6 Servings

Soufflé Ingredients:
2 T Butter
3 T Flour
1 C Milk
¼ tsp of salt
4 egg yolks
5 egg whites
1/8 t Cream of Tartare

Filling (optional/change to your taste) Ingredients:
1 C gruyere cheese, grated
¼-1/2 C chopped mushrooms

A Smidge of butter to grease ramekins
4-6 tsp parmesan cheese for coating ramekins

Preparation Instructions:

Preheat oven to 375°F

Heat milk to a boil in a small sauce pot. Set aside to cool.

Grease 4 8oz ramekins with butter, coat with 1tsp grated parmesan each and set aside.

Cook butter and flour (roux) in a sauce pan for 3-5 minutes. Place cooled milk into roux mixture, simmer for 15-20 minutes to finish cooking. Remove from heat and let cool to room temperature.

Whip the egg whites with cream of tartar until soft to medium peaks are formed. This is easily accomplished by a stand mixer. The firmer the egg white texture, the puffier the soufflé – though it will deflate quickly. Thus, softer egg whites lead to a more subdued though more stable soufflé.

While whites are whipping, whisk 4 yolks into the cooled butter/flour/milk (béchamel) mixture. Add filling of choice; in our case the cheese and diced mushrooms.

Fold egg whites into filling mixture gradually. First add half of the egg whites and fold. Then add the rest in two separate even increments just until mixture is combined. Use a large spoon to scoop mixture into ramekins, filling to the indention on the ramekin. Wipe the outer edge to keep the sides clean.

Place in center of oven and cook for 20-25 minutes. Serve immediately. The soufflés are done when puffed up and golden brown on top. To test further, you can gently shake the soufflé and if it gives slightly, it’s done.