Wednesday, February 27, 2013

When Life Gives You (Meyer) Lemons... make Meyer Lemon Cake!

There's an oft-used, New-Agey belief out there that holds that if one can imagine something happening, then indeed, that thought will come to fruition.  The "So Mote It Be" principle, I guess we can call it - the minute a picture or idea etc. comes into our brains is the minute it begins to become real.

Well, it happened to me this weekend.  With these.

I first read about Meyer lemons in Alice Waters' The Art of Simple Food, oh, sometime last summer.  Then, I came across mention of them in other food reading and recipes.  A lemon-mandarin orange hybrid and sweeter, smaller than regular lemons, they seemed like an exotic California staple that I'd never come across here in the Midwest.

Until Sunday, when I was doing groceries at the local Walmart (I know, I know).  Right there, in the produce aisle...with a celestial beam of light shining upon it, was this:

Heck yes, I snapped it up like nobody's business (did I just actually use that phrase? what exactly does it mean?).  And with yesterday's snow day, there seemed like no better time to experiment with them.  One of the first hits that popped up when I typed 'Meyer lemon recipe' into the Google was  Chez Panisse is Alice Waters' restaurant.

Serendipity?  I think so.

Further cyberspace travels bring me to a blog called Onions and Chocolate, where, as you can read, is the recipe for the cake.  There's a lot of folding in this recipe, which I find nowadays, I don't mind.  In the end, I got this:

A moist, dense lemony cake with a pound-cake like texture.  I also did a powdered sugar-lemon juice glaze, which was okay...but I think I'd try something different next time (a lemon anglaise, maybe?).  And, I might add more citrus next time (orange), or go with a strawberry coulis instead of the glaze.

See, here's the thing.  Recipes are all over the place now...but I will forever be tweaking and turning and twisting.  It's kind of fun.

But, back to lemons.  When my son and I taste-tested the Meyers versus regular lemons, there is definitely a difference...but I don't know if I'd say sweeter.  I think I'll have to try them again!

And again, likely.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

For You!

I'm torn.  It's 8:40 p.m. here.  I know that I have roughly one hour of wakefulness left before I collapse onto my pillow for the night.

My new term of classes start tomorrow.  My backpack is ready to go.  So is my leftover-lunch.  So is my breakfast smoothie.  All important emails has been sent.  I'm caught up on Facebook news.

Hm.  How does one spend their last hour of energy before beginning the roller coaster ride of a new term?

By watching Downton Abbey, Season 1 again...natch.  Now that there's no more DA until next January, I must watch the old episodes again for that fix.  And that, up until about twn minutes ago, was exactly what I'd planned on doing.

Until I popped in here for moment to check on things.  And by things, I mean my "Stats".  And actually, by that, I mean my "Audience".  And I was shocked to see that in the last 24 hours, there have been more looks here at Be Food from France than from the US.

And well, let me tell you...the sense of responsibility sat right there heavy on my chest for a minute.  That I've entertained (accidental or otherwise) French readers here!  That others besides my close friends read this blog!


Downton can wait.

Due to the change in term schedules, I got a day off from school.  After I got my dental bridge put it (which was freaking traumatic, let me tell you), I made these foods for the evening's dinner.

- Strawberry Shortcake...using Bisquick mix to make the biscuits.  I might have made them from scratch, but I was distracted by the fact that due to the novocaine, my face felt like it was sliding off my head most of the morning.  I recovered enough later to slice up the strawberries in a coherent manner...and I got the brilliant idea to zest in some lemon and add some simple ginger syrup...and wow, did that make a difference!

- Twisted Tater Tot Casserole (recipe found here, but I added some kale too).  This is what happens when you ask your kids what they want to eat for dinner...they respond with 'Walking Tacos' or 'Tater Tot Casserole'.  I'm working on that.  

- Gingered Baby Carrots (courtesy of Claire Robinson at Food Network's 5 Ingredient Fix).  I even did the parchment steaming circle.  They turned out amazing, and I want to try it again sometime, using ground ginger instead of crystallized (because, really, who could actually fine dice that stuff?)

Oh man, I've just checked the clock.  It's 9:02.  I can feel my body starting to check out.  I better make this last bit quick.

A new slew of classes start tomorrow for me.  Here's the lineup:

Stocks, Soups, and Sauces
Shellfish, Meat, and Poultry
Dining Service
Principles of Cooking
Math for Liberal Arts
Elementary Spanish I

Looks pretty interesting, right?  I certainly am excited.  However, that excitement is dampened by the fact that a monster snowstorm is due to crash in on my party sometime tomorrow afternoon.  But I have no worries.  There's a whole chicken, thawed, in my fridge and baby red potatoes that I'll have some fun regardless of the weather!

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Sunday, A Day of Rest...Yeah, Right!

For most of humankind, Sundays are a day of resting and recharging before the chaotic week ahead.  To me, Sundays are like standing at the edge of a diving board, where we, full of trepidation, wait to leap into the great blue beyond.  Will our Monday be a horrible bellyflop or will we execute the perfect jackknife?

Erm.  I just didn't get that carried away with my swimming pool metaphor, did I?

Anyway, yes.  Back to Sunday.  The concept of rest is different for everyone.  To some, rest means sleeping in, watching TV, and engaging in completely mindless activities.  To others, Sundays are a day of family focus and worshipping of the Lord.  And yet to even more, Sundays are a day of housework and chores and errands.

To me, Sundays are for playing.  In the kitchen!  To work on three or four recipes over the course of a Sunday is recharging to me.  To pretend I'm Julia Child, Auguste Escoffier or some other culinary non-FoodNetwork personality!

Today, first thing this morning, I pretended I was Alice Waters as I put together a frittata (discussed in her book The Art of Simple Food).  Frittatas are great to make at the end of the week, when you've got random scraps of leftover ingredients left in the fridge.  For me, I had two soft-looking tomatoes, a half-bag of wilted power greens, an onion, and a container of feta cheese.  And this is what happened when I sauteed the vegetables in my cast-iron skillet before pouring in six eggs I'd whisked with a little oil and salt.

Gotta frittata?

After letting the egg mixture cook about 5ish minutes on the stovetop (to set up), I chucked the whole pan in the oven at 350 degrees for about eight minutes.  Had I used more eggs, the frittata slices would be thicker, but hey, when it's a Sunday and you haven't done groceries, you use what you got!

If you keep cooking it on the stovetop, you'll get some kind of omelet configuration...which is not bad at all, but if you want to slice it like this, you've got to throw it in the oven.

After that satisfying breakfast, I tackled gluten-free peanut butter blossoms, seen here:

I just found out, like, this morning, that PB blossoms are one of my husband's favorite cookies.  Huh.  So, after searching around in Pinterest, I came across a recipe for gluten-free courtesy Melanie at Nutritious Eats.  Peanut butter, eggs, brown sugar, vanilla, and chocolate kisses.  I mean, could they be any easier?

Not really.  A half-hour later, I was taking them out of the oven to cool.  Another fifteen minutes later, everybody in my house was crowding around them like vultures.  The verdict?  A definite must-keep.  Taste-wise, there's not much difference between this one and a flour version.  However, the cakey, fluffy texture is lost in this version (no flour, you know), replaced by a more dense mouthfeel.

We didn't mind the sacrifice...although I know some will.

Then, after that, I tackled a Lemon Vinaigrette, recipe found here.  I didn't have shallot, so I used minced garlic.  The taste is light and lemony, but I'll get the full effect later when I dress my arugula salad later with it.

And later on today, I'll do a quinoa pilaf for lunch before cranking out an Irish soda bread for a Downton Abbey season finale party I'm attending tonight.

I heart Sundays!  I heart my kitchen!  I heart my family for trying all my crazy concoctions!  And I heart you readers for being here!

Friday, February 15, 2013

My Valentine's Gift? Confidence!

What better gift for close family than a fancy, home-cooked meal?  That's what I thought too!

But, make no mistake, I was nervous.  This dinner would mark my first attempt (solo) at doing prime rib.  And I knew, as well as my parents (who would be in attendance), prime rib is supposed to look a certain way!

How'd I do?

I was so very lucky to work with an exceptional chef at the winery I'm employed at this past weekend, and when she put together her prime rib, I watched, absorbed, learned, and retained.  And I was extremely gratified to be able to do this without having to refer to a recipe.

1. Let rib roast sit out for 30 minutes prior to preparation.
2. Rub roast down with oil, salt and pepper (this is strangely satisfying).
3. Roast for 15 minutes at 500 degrees.
4. Turn oven down and roast at 325 (15 minutes for every pound of meat).
5. Remove from oven at the end of cooking time and let rest for 20-30 minutes.
6. Slice, drool, and enjoy!

Fortunately, I had a whole afternoon to devote to this lovely piece of meat.  I was also able to do up some Parmesan roasted red potatoes and green beans.  And craft a lovely mixed green salad with homemade balsamic vinaigrette dressing.  And a chocolate pots de creme for dessert.

I have definitely noticed an upswing in my confidence in the kitchen.  I mean, I've just tackled, successfully, my first big expensive meat preparation.  No place to go but up, yes?

Monday, February 11, 2013

A Burst Bubble (Sort Of...)

My first class of the day starts at 7 a.m.  I have a half-hour drive to school.  I leave my house around 6:15 a.m.  I wake up at 5:30 a.m., shower, get dressed, complete my morning toilette, and get my school materials together.

Guess what I don't usually have time for?  A sit-down breakfast.  Enter this essential item right here:

I won't ever skip breakfast.  I just won't do it.  There are some things I believe to be sacred.  But, because of time constraints, I'm obligated to take my breakfast on the road.  In a sippy glass.

It's not a SlimFast shake.  It's not water.  It's not orange juice.  It's not chocolate milk.

It's a homemade veggie-fruit smoothie.  And I love them.  By the time I arrive to school, my glass is empty, and I'm totally full.  And, I've had a good whopping serving of my fruit and veg for the day.  However, with every good thing, it needs to be evaluated from time to time.  You know, just to make sure it still IS a good thing.

Or, in this case, you may have to tweak some things.  You see, I've been feeling pretty smug, drinking these smoothies during the week when everyone else is eating muffins or cereal or whathaveyou.  By throwing in two large handfuls of spinach, a cup or two of frozen fruit, some water, a banana or orange...I thought I'd been getting my day off to a great start.

Until I started looking at the nutritional facts behind the smoothie.  This here combo below is a usual mixture for me (most often, though, there'd be more fruit):

2 cups of spinach, 1 cup of blueberries, 1 orange, and 1 teaspoon of agave nectar for sweetening...

205 cal
1 g fat
46 g carbs
10 g fiber
34 g sugar
4 g protein

I reckon I ought not to add the agave, since it tacks on an additional 20 cals, 5 g of carbs and sugar.  But those numbers seem high or what?  That's a lot of grams of sugar!  However, there are some things to keep in mind:

Fruit is low on the glycemic index, meaning it doesn't raise blood sugar like starches and refined grains might.  Fructose is a naturally occurring sugar, and the body processes it more efficiently than the refined stuff.

But, you know, everything in moderation, right?  I've toyed with the above recipe, added some items (milk or yogurt or other fruits), but I never usually stray from the 2 cups of spinach.  I think now, though, might be the right time to experiment with adding more vegetables as well.  I think my Ninja can handle it.

Yeah, you know, it's not the most appealing-looking thing I've ever had...but my experience has been that things that look great often are not that good for me.  But here, under its brownish foamy surface lies a myriad of amazingness.  And, everything is fresh...not processed or preserved (besides frozen).

Stay with me as my smoothie know-how evolves.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Conquer De Mayo!

About four weeks ago, my Garde Manger class learned how to make mayonnaise.  By hand.  It seemed really simple.  Egg yolks, oil, serious agitation...and voila!  Mayonnaise.

Then, the instructor let us have a crack at it.  Everyone was able to make a nice, creamy mayonnaise on their first try.

Except yours truly.

My first batch thickened a little before turning this horrific shade of alien green.  Maybe it was the olive oil, maybe it was a chemical reaction with the metal bowl.  Who knows?  It never set up.

Then, on tries #2 and #3, I added the oil too quickly at the beginning.  My mayo did not set up, no matter how much I whisked it.

On attempt #4, the emulsification process got off to a great start, before I accidentally dripped too much oil in.  It then broke (curdled).

By that time, class was nearly over.  My wrists were sore, and I was seriously disheartened.  After I'd had lunch, some of my energy, vigor, and desire to conquer the damn mayonnaise returned, and I tried to make the condiment two more times...failing both times...before giving it up completely.

Fast-forward to a bunch of weeks later.  As a final project, our instructor is having us set up a mini-buffet in the cafeteria where we can showcase our charcuterie work.  Another student and I decide to do BLT canapes...which will give me the chance to finally conquer the demon of making mayonnaise by hand.

That was yesterday.  I failed five out of six tries, and the one success was only because I had help from the instructor.  But, I was finally able to ascertain my problem.  While I'm normally very good at multitasking, I simply could not do it in this case.  Trying to vigorously whisk a bowl of eggs, while adding oil droplets, while keeping the bowl from spinning off the table was just more than I could do.  I even tried using a stand mixer, which did provide a thick liquidy mayo, but not exactly the consistency I was looking for.

With a few hours at my disposal yesterday between classes, I did some research on Youtube.  There, I came across a guy using his immersion blender to make mayo.  Genius!  That would solve one problem for me, the constant agitation.  But, how to ensure I could add the oil very gradually?  An eyedropper or a small turkey baster, of course.

Boy howdy, I couldn't wait to get home.

I started off with the blade attachment...but it wasn't providing the spin I needed for emulsification.  So, I switched to the whisk...and bingo!  I didn't even do the eyedropper thing, because I found I was fairly able to concentrate on adding oil more since my agitation woes had been assuaged.  Pretty soon, I was getting this:

Mayonnaise....beautiful mayo.  Seasoned with a touch of spicy brown mustard.

I was ecstatic!  And you know how it is in this advanced day and age, I posted it right to my Facebook page.  (However, I did not Tweet it, nor did I Pin it.)

Okay, so I cheated a little with the stick blender.  However, it is the wise woman that knows her weaknesses and how to compensate for them.  And I will now share my wisdoms with you:

1. Agitation is key.  The oil and egg particles HAVE to emulsify.  If you've got strong wrists, go for manual.  Otherwise, an immersion blender or mixer works great.

2. If you think you've added to much oil, and the mixture is not thickening up, add another egg.  It's for a proportional science-y reason that I won't explain here.

3. Keep stirring.  When you think you may have a sudden onset of carpal tunnel syndrome, you're nearly there.

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Chinese Five-Spice...Four Ways

About three weeks ago, I made a Spiced Brisket with Shallots and Tangerines, and the recipe called for a seasoning I'd never used before (seen, yes...used, no) - Chinese Five Spice.  The ingredient label lists the five spices as Cinnamon, Anise, Fennel, Black Pepper, and Cloves - all of which I like on their own...and also, you know, I'm trying to open the horizons a bit I throw the bottle into my cart and stroll on.

(I realize I've just made it sound like I deliberated over whether to purchase the spice or not...the recipe called for it, there was no questioning it, the spice was going into my shopping cart whether I wanted it or not!)

And you all know how it is when you buy an unique 2 oz. bottle of use two teaspoons for the recipe you bought it for, and then it sits, lonely, in your pantry.  So every now and then, because you feel sorry for it, you open it and smell it.  It smells amazing, and you are taken back to memories of you-don't-really-know-what.  And you want to use that sad little spice so bad...but the ideas are just not there.

Until this week.  On four separate occasions.  Unfortunately I forgot to take pictures, so my descriptions below will just have to suffice.

Use #1: The Spiced Brisket (the actual recipe at the link included).  The juice-sauce was amazing, but the brisket was dry.  Not because of the recipe, but because the person in charge let the meat cook too long.  The recipe will be tried again.  Oh yes, it will.

Use #2: Chinese Five-Spice Cookies.  The almond flavor wins out in these cookies, but I barely tasted the 1/4 tsp of CFS at all.  Still, these nibbles were a lovely, crisp, shortbread-ish delight, and next time, I will reduce the almond extract to 1 tsp and amp the CFS to 1/2 tsp (maybe even more).  Here's the lesson I've learned...taste everything, and at all times.  If I'd tasted the batter before baking, I'd have caught this and corrected the seasoning.

Use #3: Liven up a cheap, bland cup of coffee.  Normally, I like to buy the fancy, flavored, ground coffees and have a cup with just a little cream.  But, I do also have some Folger's plain jane in my stores, and there is no better way to buck Folger's up than with a sprinkle guessed it...CFS in with the coffee grounds.  Makes it a little more exotic.  Almost like you're in India or Singapore or Myanmar...someplace safe for Americans to visit, anyway.

Use #4: Healthy Crockpot Apple Crisp.  Honestly, the author tries to make it healthy by substituting apple butter in, but there are still 4 1/2 tablespoons of butter elsewhere.  Now, don't get me wrong, I'm not railing against butter...heck, I love the animal fat myself...but let's just all be clear about what we're getting into here, okay?  The recipe calls for 2 tbsp of apple pie spice, which I did have once, but no guess what I substituted?  YES - Chinese Five Spice.  And it was delicious!  However, because it's a more potent spice, it's best to cut the CFS back to maybe 1 tbsp.  My youngest son complained of it being too "black licorice" (but like that stopped him from eating his whole serving), and even I (yes, I) felt it was a little too spicy.  But like that stopped me from licking my empty bowl!

The great news here is that I still have three-fourths of a bottle left.  That means I've got several more chances to experiment with it.  Glorious!