Chef G. R. or Florence Nightingale?

30 07 2008

That’s interesting…Chef Gordon Ramsey and I have the same first and last initials! Now back to why I came here tonight!

Today I had a choice…work on my Whisk soup, or be the driver and nurse to my beloved, who had the misfortune of being scheduled for a colonic screen test this morning.  He spent yesterday drinking the better part of a gallon of “Polyjuice Potion” as he termed it.  It all went down, but it didn’t all stay put. He groused, but not even what we anticipated, and the procedure was over before we knew it. The biggest problem? Neither of us slept worth a darn last night, had to be on the highway before 7 a.m. to get to the procedure (not done where we live), and then the drowsy one got to drive the snoozy one home. LOL!!  We got home and went to bed…slept the afternoon away.  I thought I’d have a quiet afternoon to myself. I wasn’t planning to be out like a light beside him!  Oh well…you win a few, you lose a few, you draw a few more.  I’ll get on it in the morning.  I’m truly anxious to see how this comes out!


Zucchini, zucchini…

27 07 2008

I know, I know…what does zucchini have to do with this incredibly moist chocolate cake? Other than being the main ingredient, not much. No, I’m not kidding, and no it doesn’t taste like zucchini.

The first time I had an actual “crop” of zucchini, I began to understand why my co-workers have always had “extra” for me. LOL! Oh my, yes! As I was trying to find a variety of things to do with my bounty, a friend offered me a recipe for a Chocolate Zucchini Cake. The only problem is that it doesn’t use up quite enough zucchini, but it’s a fabulous cake. And it’s perfectly easy to make. You need two bowls…it’s not even worth breaking out the mixer. It stirs up quite easily by hand. Yes, you can use it as a ruse to get summer squash into reluctant youngsters. I have. It worked. You’ve waited long enough? Okay…

Chocolate Zucchini Cake

1/2 cup softened butter or margarine
1/2 cup oil
1-3/4 cup sugar
2 eggs
1 tsp. vanilla
1/2 cup buttermilk
2 cups finely grated zucchini
1 tsp. baking soda
2-1/2 cup flour
4 – 6 Tbsp. cocoa powder
1/2 tsp. cinnamon (opt.)
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. baking powder

Mix ingredients in order given, down to zucchini; set aside.
Sift dry ingredients together.
Add dry ingredients to egg mixture alternately with buttermilk.
Stir in zucchini by hand.

Pour into greased 9 x 13 pan.


3/4 cup chocolate chips
3/4 cup brown sugar
3/4 cup walnuts, chopped

Mix together and sprinkle on top of cake batter.

Bake at 350º 40 to 45 minutes, or until done.

I’ve since found another recipe for a chocolate zucchini cake. Watch for a repeat performance with the 2nd recipe. It has a few slightly different ingredients, so it would taste quite a bit differently. No problem. Hubster “hates” trying new recipes! LOL!

Veloute Agnes Sorel

23 07 2008

This week we had another in a series of soups. I’ve finally caught on that the theory we’re learning right now is the components of master soups. Our first soup was a simple broth lightened with cream. The next soup was lightened with cream, and thickened with pureed potato; a potage. This week, we have a veloute (veh-loo-TAY), a broth thickened with egg or a blond roux. The recipe we used called for cream to be mixed with egg yolk, tempered, and stirred back into the broth. Cook over medium heat until the soup thickens, but be very careful not to let it come to a boil because the soup will curdle. And it will curdle, I assure you.

The first step was to create the very mild stock…white stock…one that does not include roasted bones, and will be pale and delicate in flavor. The recipe we used basically poached the chicken gently with some flavor enhancements…carrot, bouquet garni and an onion. The broth was strained through a damp towel to remove any particles, and the result was a rather bland stock that was lightly colored, but smelled heavenly.

At that point, company arrived, and I shelved the soup until the following day.

The rest of the soup was pretty easy to assemble…julienne sliced chicken breast, mushrooms, and tongue. Tongue? As in thith-thin-i-y-outh? I don’t think so. Ham was offered as a substitute, we went there instead. Ok, be fair here…If mussels are a challenge, do you know how nigh unto impossible it would be to just go “pick up” some tongue…?? Egad…I shudder to think. I could probably get it, by special order. And easier than mussels, but there was a ham in the refrigerator already… As for the mushrooms, I also selected Crimini…without realizing that we were working toward pale colored creaminess…oh well.

With all the little characters assembled, julienne all stacked in their rows; I stirred up my egg yolk and added the cream, and blended that nicely. Then I started drizzling in hot broth, until I’d incorporated about a cup into the cream. I added the creamy mixture back to the saucepan of soup, and began stirring and waiting for the soup to thicken.

Presto! Change-o! Uh-oh. Even with me stirring diligently, the soup got too hot too fast and curdled. A few choice words were spoken. Nothing brings one of these back from the point of no return. I resorted to thickening the soup with cornstarch so we could eat it. It tasted fine, it had just lost its perfect smoothness and creaminess.

At this point, let me say I’ve done quite a bit of research since this dismal showing. I hate blowing a recipe. At any rate, most of the veloute recipes I’ve come across thicken their soups and sauces with the blond roux…as will I in the future. I’ll save the eggs for pudding. *Ü*

In the long run, I didn’t care for this soup as much. I didn’t care for the texture of the chicken breast or the ham. I understood why tongue was an added element…it would be one way to get rid of the darn piece of meat! Let’s play “Hide the Tongue”!! If you slice it julienne, and mix it with chicken breast you can say… “Oh! You like tongue! You had it in that soup…and it tasted just like chicken!!” I’m getting a clue here! These French cooks are clever! They find ways to get you to eat all kinds of offal stuff! Ok, I’ll stop. I don’t want to be PUNished.

I’m heading back to the cutting board to see which other soups are considered veloutes. Ahhh….here’s an “Evil Mushroom Veloute” and…it’s thickened with the roux as well. Hmmmm…What the heck. We know a curdled soup eats just fine.  We’ll give this one a go both ways!

That’s obviously the intent…so I’ll play with hot broth, eggs and cream until I get it! Next up…Langostine bisque…which in my case will be presented as shrimp bisque. See you next week…until then, cook up some happiness!

In the Good Ol’ Summertime…

22 07 2008

When I think of Summer, I think of orchards heavy with fruit…vines sagging under the weight of tomatoes, and jars upon jars of jewel-like jellies and jams, and the piquant aroma of vinegar…making pickles!  I’m a northern California girl.  A lot of fruit is grown here.  Peaches, apricots, plums (Sunsweet has a few plants in the area for their dried plum products), pluots (an apricot-plum cross that I’ve fallen in love with) and nuts (walnuts, almonds, pistachios) and olives all grow here this time of year.  There are produce stands along any stretch of highway you choose with fresh vegetables, fruits and nuts.

I try to put up (another term for canning) all of the diced and stewed tomatoes we’ll need each year, as well as salsa and jam. Jam is easy…there are just the two of us. 1 batch of anything is MORE than we’ll use in a year!  It’s hard to put up too many jars of fruit. Let’s face it…peaches and ice cream can be dessert any winter night to bring back the warmth of the summer sun.  So far, I’m doing pretty good, but I just can’t seem to make enough pickles.

Two years ago, a couple of different folks gave me recipes for THE best dill pickles, bar none.  Ok.  I dutifully planted a bunch of pickling cucumbers (yes, they differ from the ones you put on your salad), and dill, and envisioned a couple dozen jars of dill spears on the shelf in the end.  I made up two batches of each, secretly hoping the easier of the two recipes would work out perfectly.  In the end, it was the second recipe we liked…which didn’t take a lot of work, but really is one of the best dill pickles I’ve eaten.

Last year, I had a hard time finding seed.  There just wasn’t a lot available around town, or I was late thinking of it, or some darn thing.  So…no pickles were made at all.  I haunted the roadside stands and such, but to no avail.  We were stuck…pickleless.

This year, I started crusading early…we have to have seeds!!  We have to plant!  This year is also the first year Hubster is retired.  He pretty much wants to do things his way, and on his schedule.  Thus, there’s a certain degree of frustration for each of us. I’m hounding…he’s trying.  And so…when I saw pickling cukes at the Farmers’ Market last week, I couldn’t help myself…  I know there are some growing in my garden, and I’ll have cucumbers sooner or later, but it’s that later part that’s the driving force right now.  I have to go back to work in 2 weeks.  I want to do this NOW!!

And so…a few pounds of cukes later, I was a happy gal. I picked up some fresh dill on the way home, and we got to pickling!  One nice thing about pickling, is you can keep the brine made up and whip it all together in a few minutes.  It takes longer to get the jars sterilized than it does to actually make the pickles!  Here’s my first load for the year…6 jars…not nearly enough! I can see I’ll be shopping the Farmers’ Market until I have my own to pick!

Where, oh, where has my mussel soup gone?

15 07 2008

Well…it hasn’t gone anywhere. It just hasn’t happened yet. It will…but in this gastronimical-desert, finding mussels is a challenge. We have ONE major grocery store, another “bargain” grocery, several Mom& Pop shops, a couple high-end meat (we spell that BEEF here in Redneckville, unless of course, we spell it DEER) counters, and that’s it.  Yes, I live where Venison is “deer meat,” so anything like mussels isn’t a big seller.  I can’t even hit up the local dinner house. Heck-fire, it took them 20 years to put CLAMS on their menu. Mussels /muscles/ are whatcha need fer liftin’!!

Which is not to say that mussels couldn’t be found…I did find them. I found 3 little tiny packages of plastic wrapped mussels in the seafood section…one was just over 4 oz., another was just under 4 oz. and the third was half a pound. It was that half-pounder that caused all the ruckus.

Buying shellfish is a little tricky at the best of times.  If the critters are in the big mesh bags, there’s no telling how many are still alive, or how long they’ve been in that bag. Still, a good market pays attention. So, when you pick up a styrofoam tray of cockles, mussels or clams, all of them should close tightly (if they’re open at all) when you prod them. If they close slowly, they’re in sad condition, but, they’re still viable.  So, when I picked up the package and all the mussels were “panting” and none of them closed…this was a PRIME example of what NOT to buy. And then we got a tell-tale whiff…blech. I called the counter attendant to get rid of them…and to see if there were any others to be had. Nope. All of their product was out on display.

And so…Billy Bi remains elusive. I’ll keep trying.  The weather here will eventually chill out some, and good mussels will be available. With luck, we won’t have wild-fires threatening half the county, nor evacuees camped out in our living room because there’s no room in ANY inn.  Ahhhh….the days of Summer!

Class 15: Julienne Darblay

14 07 2008

After needing to take a week off for fires and evacuees, I’m back in the kitchen with the soup, Julienne Darblay. This is a creamy potato and leek soup, with julienned vegetables.  I wasn’t too sure what to expect. I’ve made vichyssoise before, and this was similar.

I started with my julienne veggies…carrot, turnip and leek. I don’t care for cooked turnip in the least, so this was a bit of a test for me. I hoped my palate had grown up enough to accept the flavor. I figured this would be the most time consuming task as well. And it was.
Once I got the veggies cut, then I started working on the broth.  I put the leek slices into a bowl of water to rinse away any traces of sand, even though I felt I’d gotten them well rinsed.  I was surprised to see a little sand in the bottom of the bowl, so I was glad I took this extra step!
Next was cooking the leeks in a bit of butter, just until they were nice and tender, but not at all browned. I worked over a medium low gas flame  While the leeks were cooking, I bundled up my bouquet garni…WOW! What a flavor packed little bundle!! Fortunately, I have fresh thyme and parsley growing, so they were garden fresh into the packet. What an aroma!

While the broth was simmering (I practiced my dicing skills during the potato prep…since it would all be pureed in the end, mistakes didn’t matter!), I cooked the julienned veggies; a minute here, two there…voila!  All done! 

I don’t like trying to blend hot liquid in my blender…and I didn’t want to haul out the food processor, so I put my immersion blender to work. Oh happy day!! That made a huge difference in working with the hot stuff! I poured off a lot of the cooking liquid and pureed just the potato and leek, then added the cooking broth back in. It only took a minute and it was as smooth as it could be.   I tempered the cream with a little of the hot soup, and then I stirred that into the hot soup and we were ready to go. While our sandwiches toasted, I placed the julienned vegetables into the serving bowls and ladled the hot soup over the veggies.

We both liked this soup, and found it a nice base that we could play off of.  It has nice body without being too heavy. I found myself thinking that I may have to grow MORE thyme and maybe even leeks in the future!

Now…about the mussel soup…I honestly tried.  I found fresh mussels on Sunday, but they were far from fresh.  I even called the counter attendant out to take the foul objects away before their odor got into everything.  They only had about 1 pound, and the package they took away was fully 8 oz.  So…no mussels yet.  We’ll try again.  Two items in one week isn’t too bad, if I can just find what I need! *Ü*  Cream of Chicken soup is on deck next!

Whisk Wednesday: Class 13

2 07 2008

Class 13 focuses on another emulsion sauce…mayonnaise. An extremely simple recipe requiring minimal ingredients, it mostly requires elbow grease or shoulder power for the whisking. Our mayonnaise will be used to bind together the ingredients in our Salade Messidor…or Summer Harvest Salad.

I’ve decided one thing I don’t particularly care for in French cooking is the methodical cutting of vegetables. I’m a little looser than that…to a degree, and prefer a more rustic preparation. Still…much like being a voice in a choir, I’m not the director, I’m learning. And learn I shall, if it annoys the stuffin’ outta me! That having been said, I truly understand the reasoning. Uniform sized pieces ensure uniform cooking and texture. Disclaimers aside, I dutifully cut my green beans into 1 inch long pieces, and my celery into 1/4 inch by 1 inch pieces, and diced my tomato in 1/4 inch dice, after peeling and seeding said tomatoes. I don’t know why the cauliflower needed a acid bath (vinegar in water), but…it required and received one. I think I cooked my green beans a little too hot, or a little too long. They weren’t crisp, but more on the tender side. When all my little pieces were ready, I did the mis en place for the mayonnaise.

Mayonnaise…usually taken from a jar. Hubster is very partial to his mayonnaise, so this was a bit of a challenge for us. It’s Best Foods/Hellman’s or it’s not. I wasn’t too sure how this was going to go over. I was careful to select a neutral tasting oil, but caved a little to a olive-canola blend. Neutral in flavor, it worked out fine. I cut the recipes in half as much as I could….there are only two of us here after all! When everything was together, the whisking commenced. This is my 2nd emulsion sauce this week, so my arm is in good shape. The sauce was yellow-gold for the longest time, and soft. About the time I ran out of oil, the sauce started standing up nice and thick. Woo-hoo! But taste? Like oil. Blech. This is where the vinegar and seasonings come in. After a few whisks of vinegar, behold! The classic creamy white mayonnaise appears! Oh happy day! A few more whisks, a little of this and that, and behold! Mayonnaise it is!


I folded the veggies together with the mayonnaise…not expecting much of anything. With no seasonings, I was afraid this was going to be very bland…and unexciting. Not true! The different veggies all had a nice cool texture and crunch from the cauliflower, and dressed with the simple mayonnaise, it was great.

Since I had conquered the technique on the artichokes in the previous lesson, I cut these artichokes in half lengthwise and steamed them under pressure until they were done. I cleaned away the choke and inner leaves, leaving a hollow for the salade. The salade mounded nicely in the artichoke, and then flowed out onto the plate. A touch of fresh chives (I love my garden!) and we were ready to eat. Ok…pictures first!

Salade Messidor

We ate the salad along with the artichoke leaves…and it was all pretty wonderful. Just the thing for a hot summer night. Hubster suggested the addition of salad shrimp…ooooh…I think that’s worth doing this again for! Maybe instead of quite so much vinegar, I could whisk in a bit of lemon juice instead. And top the salad with fresh dill rather than chives…

Thanks so much to Shari from Whisk Wednesday… I love this group! I say that now…but I look at next week, and I cringe…just a little… Mussel soup?? I’m not terribly fond of mussels, and they aren’t very easy to get here…I’m sure something will work out! LOL! Until we whisk again!

Note from Thursday evening…
We had salad left from Wednesday, and had a long, long day Thursday…the kind that beg for something light for supper because it is so late, so we had the remaining Salade Messidor combined with salad shrimp mixed with a little lemon juice and dill weed.  Score!  I thought it was quite good to start with, but the addition of lemon and shrimp was wonderful.  And it made “fixing” supper easy!