Instant stock fine-tuning

Yesterday, the addition of fresh sage plus maybe 50% more carrots than usual to my instant turkey stock recipe helped it produce the finest turkey gravy I’ve ever had. The magic mix:

I also tried my hand at producing a sweet potato casserole, which I’d never made before, using the best ideas from a handful of recipes after reviewing a few dozen online. I measured nothing and decided on quantities by taste alone as I added each ingredient. Of course, when you combine sweet potatoes roasted at 400F/200C for 80 minutes, dark brown sugar, molasses, vanilla, cinnamon, nutmeg, toasted pecans, oats, and double cream – now available in the Jersey cow variety near me – it really can’t help but taste good, but this, too, was the best example of the dish I’ve had. My visiting best mate said, “Oh, my. This is the only way I want sweet potatoes from now on.” I’m not one to argue with impeccable taste.

If I were to add an egg or two, I think I’d then call this sweet potato pie filling

James Martin’s Croissant Butter Pudding topped off the evening quite nicely.

Almonds everywhere

Click for a larger version

Breakfast while handling the forwarded office phone and keeping out of the snow entirely today: Eggs – from Trader Joe’s because Ann the egg lady’s hens have mostly shut down production in protest of the cold – along with slow-cooked bacon and the last of the Croissants aux Amandes, sliced and toasted, that my best mate made using all-butter croissants from BJ’s Wholesale Club and brought over for Christmas. I’m not sure what recipe she used, but she experimented a fair amount with the mix of ingredients and decided that maple syrup was a step above sugar syrup. She’s right, you know.

BJ’s excellent croissants appear to be exactly – and I do mean exactly – the same as Costco’s and they both sell them for US$6 a dozen, and sometimes $5 on sale. I determined a while ago that the croissants a local upscale market sells are also identical – except their price is US$1.75 each, or $21 a dozen. There’s a good commercial bakery somewhere around here making those croissants for all three places. As soon as I discovered Costco’s were the same as that market’s, I starting buying by the dozen there and storing in the freezer.

 

What to do with all that Nor’easter bread and milk

GOES-EAST 4 Jan 2017 1512 UTC – click for a larger version

Nigella Lawson does her best in the segment below from 2006 to a) pad out the episode because they were two minutes short (I’m guessing), b) bolster the cliché of depressingly bland British food, and c) perpetuate the maddening sleb chef myth that putting a vanilla pod in dry sugar makes the whole bowl of sugar taste of vanilla – which I heard yet again last week, from Paul Ainsworth on “Saturday Morning with James Martin”. No one who has ever claimed this has actually tried doing it because it doesn’t work, full stop. Sure, the sugar bowl will smell of vanilla because – surprise! – there’s a vanilla pod in close proximity to your nose, but that’s the sole effect, I’m afraid. The sugar will taste like sugar.

The smarter way: Put some vanilla extract into a small glass bottle with a glass dropper so you can use small amounts. For reference, the half-ounce size is about 3½”/9 cm high and holds about a tablespoon. A small plastic funnel will make it easy to fill.

I doubt all those TV chefs are eager to spout that vanilla sugar nonsense – I’ll wager it’s chuckleheaded producers who cram it into the scripts most of the time.

A much tastier way to make a pile of bread and milk is over here – best made with croissants, of course, but you could substitute regular bread and it would be almost as good. Almost.

Hollandaise at will

Click for a larger version

An email recipe link from ThermoWorks this morning inspired a breakfast-for-dinner tonight of Eggs Benedict with slow-cooked bacon and hash browns. Their article includes a fast and easy method for Hollandaise sauce using an immersion blender, room temperature yolk, and heated butter. This cut-in-half version is plenty for four tablespoon-and-a-half servings on poached eggs:

In a container a little wider than the head of your immersion blender – a two-cup Pyrex measure in my case – place the following:

  • 1 egg yolk
  • 1 teaspoon water
  • 1 teaspoon lemon juice
  • Pinch of salt
  • Pinch of cayenne pepper

In a small pan, preferably with a pouring lip, melt 1 stick/4 oz./115 g butter and get it up to about 200°F/95°C. While running the immersion blender directly on the bottom of the yolk container, pour the hot melted butter into the yolk mixture in a thin stream and it will pretty quickly emulsify into Hollandaise. You may need to move the head of the blender up and down a bit to get it all to mix well, and you can finish with a small whisk if needed.

A side note on the claim in the linked article that “J. Kenji López-Alt has come up with an ingenious solution to all of these problems [of making Hollandaise]”: Utter piffle. While I don’t know if Julia Child invented the method, I do know it was in her Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Volume 1 under the title “Hollandaise Sauce Made in the Electric Blender”. The recipe employed a regular blender because immersion blenders weren’t available to the home cook in 1961.

Edited to add: I did not know the ThermoWorks blog was, like The Finley Quality Network, on WordPress, but so it seems to be. That means they got a pingback from this post of mine, and they’ve graciously adjusted their article and added a comment at the end after reading my post. I tip my hat westward.

Above that recipe, she instructs how to revive leftover Hollandaise. Many recipes you’ll find say, “Nope, can’t do that – use it or lose it.” More nonsense.

Also, I would advise against using the type of strainer they show in the article to drain the watery part of egg whites before poaching. I once tried that type with eggs that were only a couple days old – which therefore had pretty firm whites – and most of the whites went straight through. Instead, I use this perforated skimmer that happens to balance against the side of the sink perfectly. After draining, I place each egg into its own glass prep cup so they’re all ready to go in the water at the same time.

Lobsters in space

Perhaps a visitor can answer this question: Why is it that nearly every time I see whole lobsters awaiting prep on UK cooking shows, they’re uncooked but stone-cold dead? I just saw this again in the ongoing series 10 of MasterChef – The Professionals, screenshot of the daisy-pushing critters above. Because I’m so used to lobsters tootling about in my kitchen and giving me the tail-flapping, two-claw salute when I pick them up, it gives me the willies to see a passel of them lying on the work surface dead as doornails, but perhaps there’s a rational explanation that will calm me.

I could understand par-cooked, but they’re definitely raw – their colour alone tells you that. You couldn’t sell a dead, raw whole lobster here. I’m not sure if it’s against the law – it probably is – but that doesn’t matter: No one would ever buy one. My only thought is that perhaps they dispatch them moments before filming begins in order to spare sensitive viewers. That better be it – I’ve smelled lobsters that have been dead for a little while. Firing them into high Earth orbit or, better yet, the Sun, would be a better option than eating.

On the topic of how to deal with live lobsters on TV, here’s an excerpt from Bob Spitz’s Dearie: The Remarkable Life of Julia Child regarding chowder and lobster guru Jasper White’s appearance on In Julia’s Kitchen with Master Chefs in 1994:

Julia insisted that Jasper White make his pan-roasted lobster. It was his signature dish, steeped in cognac and butter, and a perennial favorite of hers, perfect for the home cook, but there were problems before filming even began. Weeks before, during a cooking demonstration on Today, Katie Couric shrieked when a chef killed a lobster. It brought media attention to the process of killing lobsters and PETA jumped on it right away. The organization’s power made [producer] Geof Drummond nervous. “He prefers we don’t kill it on television,” Julia explained to White, sitting in her garden during a break.

“That’s fine,” White said. “We can kill it before we start filming.”

Julia shook her head. “Then we’re not teaching them anything.” She got up and walked around the yard.

“Julia, there are other lobster dishes to be made. I could do lobster quenelles that start with cooked meat.”

A decision had to be made in the next couple of minutes. Finally, she said, “Fuck ’em! We’re going to teach people the right way to do it. Fuck PETA, fuck the animal-rights people!”

Together, they concocted a way to sidestep a possible outcry. As the lesson began, Julia stood gazing at White and his lobster. “So, dearie, how do we start the dish?” she asked.

“First we cut up the lobster,” he said.

Everything had to do with the expression on Julia’s face. She kept it glassy-eyed, completely impassive. For all anyone knew, she might have been watching a mother diapering a newborn, as White dispatched the crustacean. He had a Chinese cleaver the size of a scimitar and he wielded it like a cartoon character. His hands were a blur—swoosh, swoosh, swoosh! Presto: the lobster lay in pieces on the cutting board.

No one uttered so much as a sigh.

“Then we’re not teaching them anything.” My hero.

From that episode:

70-second eggs

Three minutes start-to-finish, 60 or 70 seconds in the pan – here are the soft, small-curd scrambled eggs as discussed below the crunchy eggs post and quoted below.

Click for a larger version

1. Warm a plate.
2. Set a pan on medium-high heat.
3. While it’s hotting up, whisk your eggs – I use three eggs, salt, pepper, and a tablespoon of cream. The cream lends a nice silkiness to the interior of the finished scramble. Start your toast.
4. When the pan’s hot, toss in a butter pat (a teaspoon or so), quickly swirl it around, then just when it’s melted, in with your eggs so the butter doesn’t burn.
5. Use a small whisk – with silicone-coated wires if you use a non-stick pan as I do – to keep the eggs moving constantly. This keeps the curd size small and prevents the eggs from drying out on the bottom.
6. In about 70 seconds (if I recall correctly), when they’re still quite soft and a little wet – or, a little before you see your preferred texture – get them off the heat.
7. Immediately stir in a tablespoon, more or less, of sour cream – or crème fraîche if you’ve got it – to halt the cooking and add a pleasant slight tang. Transfer to your warmed plate.

Eggs on a seesaw

“The people who told us about sunblock were the same people who told us, when I was a kid, that eggs were good. So I ate a lot of eggs. Ten years later they said they were bad. I went, ‘Well, I just ate the eggs.’ So I stopped eating eggs, and ten years later they said they were good again. Well, then I ate twice as many, and then they said they were bad. Well, now I’m really fucked! Then they said they’re good, they’re bad, they’re good…the whites are good, the yellows…make up your mind! It’s breakfast…I gotta eat!”
Lewis Black

In case you’re keeping track, eggs are now good again ’cause, for most people, it turns out that dietary cholesterol intake has little to do with cholesterol levels in the blood. Whoopsie doodle!

Thankful for turkeys and French soft cheeses

Tonight’s dinner – white and dark turkey, whole cranberry sauce, and Gournay cheese with garlic and herbs on toasted sourdough, accompanied by a glass of cider – was almost as good as last night’s. A tad bit less effort, too.

I’ll try warmed turkey, stuffing, and gravy in the next sandwich

The gravy definitely improved the problematic mash (see below)

Good results yesterday: Five wins, one tie, one loss.

  • Best turkey I’ve roasted, tying with two I’ve done in recent weeks
  • Best gravy I’ve made
  • Best cornbread, bacon, and sage stuffing – we winged it, combining recipes of Julia Child and Martha Stewart, modifying to suit us
  • The slow-roasted sweet potatoes worked nicely – we added maple syrup, cinnamon, salt, and pepper only; no need for butter
  • Best banana cream pie, made more subtle and luxurious by decreasing the sweetness slightly and adding a half-teaspoon more than the usual two teaspoons of banana extract (the real stuff)

Neutral: The peas with mint and finely shredded wilted lettuce were good, but I missed my usual butternut squash with nutmeg and white pepper and will restore it at Christmas.

Loss: I cannot recommend slow-roasted potatoes for making mashed; there was a graininess that refused to be riced away and the taste was not right. To be honest, if there had been a store open yesterday where I could get a half-dozen potatoes, I would have tossed the lot and started again. Back to the usual boiling or steaming next time for silky smooth and pure potato-flavoured mash.