Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Breakfast of Champions: Homemade Granola

The title of this post refers to my favorite Kurt Vonnegut novel and my favorite meal of the day. I love Saturday and Sunday mornings because I get to sleep in and have a long, leisurely breakfast while reading the paper. I read an actual paper, not a laptop screen, iPhone app, or RSS feed. I like the tactile sensation of holding a paper in my hands. For this reason, I don't see a Kindle in my future. Besides, the daily commute to work is just long enough to check email, FaceBook, and Twitter. I don't need any other distractors while driving. I admit I am that person. I know I should be concentrating on the road but driving is boring and having a personal entertainment device (otherwise known as a smartphone) at my fingertips is too tempting.

So my personal breakfast of champions is a bowl of homemade granola with yogurt, honey and berries. I've been making my own granola for going on a couple of years now. I saw a recipe in Food & Wine, did a double take when I realized how simple it was, and vowed to never pay $8 for a 16 ounce bag of granola again. And I haven't. It probably costs less than $5 to make a batch and it usually lasts a month or two.

I also thought I'd share my favorite chocolate chip cookie recipe. A fellow Central Market Cooking School volunteer turned me on to these cookies and the blog Smitten Kitchen a while back. I made a batch last weekend and they're almost gone. Beware, these are not for calorie counters. The recipe calls for one and a quarter pound of chocolate but I usually scale it back a bit because I like some cookie with my hunks of chocolate. That, and who has ever actually made a batch of chocolate chip cookies and managed to not to eat at least part (give or take a quarter pound) of the chocolate? Not me! The recipe calls for a sprinkle of sea salt on top of each dough mound before baking. The sea salt and bittersweet chocolate are a perfect complement to one another.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Fish Fry Austin Style

My husband's fishing buddy Paul called from the gulf coast of Texas last week to brag about his catch and to let us know he would be hosting a fish fry on Friday night. Eric passed the news on and asked if I wanted to attend. I'm from Pensacola, a town on the Gulf of Mexico in Northwest Florida, so I've been to a fish fry or two in my lifetime. My grandfather (PawPaw) was an avid fisherman and considered fried mullet a great delicacy. Consequently, mullet was my introduction to fish as food and I didn't much like it. I didn't learn to like seafood (mullet pretty much turned me off anything that swam in the sea except for shrimp) until I moved away from the coast for college and discovered a) there are fish species that taste much better than mullet, b) good seafood is hard to find, and c) gulf coast residents are very fortunate to have a ready supply.

I don't like cooking fish at home because I can't stand the smell and it permeates the whole house. That being said, I was more than happy to accept an invitation to dine on fish cooked at someone else's house. Paul had caught a bunch of Cobia (or Ling, to some of you) and it is delicious anyway you prepare it - sautéed, fried, blackened. It is also delicious raw, served sashimi- or nigiri- style or wrapped in nori. By Friday afternoon the fish fry had turned into a sushi party and Paul had enlisted Eric's help. Eric does a pretty decent job preparing sushi so he offered to make the first few rounds of rolls.

Eric's sushi was great and went fast. After watching for a while, some of the onlookers took over and made some pretty decent rolls for first timers.

A couple of dozen people and at least half as many dogs had shown up for the fish fry. Paul lives in a sprawling ranch-style home in South Austin with a huge back yard so canine guests are just as welcome as the human variety. I caught a few pics of Paul's roommates' dogs. The beagle mutt and Boston Terrier reminded me of our Harry and Jack. The beagle below is nicer than Harry, though. We've taken to calling him "Harry Harry Quite Contrary" as that dog will try your patience to no end.

Eric turned the kitchen back over to me this weekend so I made Sunday dinner. I decided to make a meatloaf recipe that Jan had sent several years ago. The recipe is from D.Z. Akins, a wonderful Jewish Delicatessen in San Diego. I paired the meatloaf with a homemade cheddar and gruyere mac-n-cheese and sauteed spinach. Not exactly lamb chops with fingerling potatoes and heirloom tomatoes but not too shabby. There is a reason high-end comfort food became trendy again a few years ago. Good food will always survive fickle dining trends.

Speaking of food trends, I hadn't made any cupcakes in quite some time but I was in the mood last weekend. When I broke out Magnolia Bakery's chocolate cupcake recipe to make the cake for the baby shower a few weeks back, it reminded me that cupcakes are the perfect size and ratio of cake-to-icing. I made a batch with cream cheese icing and chocolate sprinkles. They must be good because Eric, who doesn't really have much of a sweet tooth, has been eating these cupcakes like they're going out of style.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

My Personal Chef

Inevitably, whenever anyone asks about my husband's occupation and I tell them that he's a chef, their response is always the same. Something along the lines of, "You're so lucky! He must make delicious meals for you all the time." Well no, not really. I'm usually the cook at home. When you spend 40+ hours a week in a kitchen, cooking is the last thing you want to do when you come home so I don't really expect him to. Honestly, you'd think no one had ever heard that old saying about the cobbler's shoeless children.

While it is true that Eric doesn't cook at home often, when he does, he goes all out and it's always amazing. He was in the mood to cook last weekend so we made a trip to the market to pick up supplies. Unlike those of us who use recipes as a guide for our shopping lists, Eric usually wanders through the store and picks up whatever looks good. He completely throws my grocery store route out of whack as we have to pass the vegetables to go to the meat counter first, and then double back to produce to pick up whatever he decides will best accompany his meat selection. I just deal with it even though it upsets my routine because I know the meal will be worth it. I am one of the most habit-forming, routine-following persons you will ever meet so that's a big statement for me. Seriously, I operate on auto-pilot about 80% of the time. I have also learned to suck it up over the grocery bill - I know walking in the store that shopping with Eric will cost double as he's not one to comparison shop. I'm pretty sure he doesn't even look at the prices.

Eric settled on lamb chops and decided he needed to make beef stock for a demi-glace to make a sauce for the chops. That's a mouthful- literally and figuratively. In order to make the stock to make the demi-glace to make the sauce, he ordered a cow femur from the butcher. A 5+ pound cow femur. It looked like something from the Flintstones. Yes, I am one of those people who are disconnected from the realities of our food supply and prefer the sanitized, neatly packaged meats purchased in the grocery store. Maybe I would actually enjoy butchering my own food; I wouldn't know as I've never tried. Until grocery stores stop selling pre-cut meats, I'm probably not going to find out. In deference to Michael Pollen (we all seem to have to cow-tow to him these days as he's toppled Alice Waters for America's foremost food authority), I do try to stick with Texas raised animals who are grass fed. Luckily, that isn't too hard in local markets. Austin may one day soon surpass San Francisco in militant, organic, biodynamic, locavore food fanatics. I don't count myself as one of them because I'm too lazy to ever be militant about anything.

You might have picked up on the fact that when Eric cooks, it's a big production. I call him Le Chef to tease him because he cooks like a chef, no matter the limitations of our home kitchen. And that might help explain why he's using a saw to cut up the cow femur. After I snapped a picture, I got out of the way. The end product was well worth finding tiny bone fragments in far-flung corners of the kitchen for the next couple of days.

I guess I had better stick with baking because I'm dangerous with power tools. I decided to break out an LCB recipe and practice making pate choux. I made choquettes, or choux balls with a sugar nib topping and gourgeres, a savory treat with thyme and white cheddar cheese.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Long, Lazy Weekend: Buttermilk Cake with Raspberries

I think we should work 4 nine-hour days and call it quits every week. I love three-day weekends. Happy to be gainfully employed but enjoying the Labor Day holiday, I puttered each day in the kitchen a bit but I didn't work too hard. I made Alice Medrich's banana ice cream recipe and Gourmet's easy-peasy buttermilk cake with raspberries. Nothing too strenuous...

Eric and I took advantage of the long weekend to take a short road trip. One of the nicer parts about living in Austin is that you can make a day trip to half a dozen towns that offer just enough to see so that you don't really need to spend more than a few hours. It gets rural pretty quick when you drive out of Austin so the scenery is a nice change of pace. Some people say that Austin isn't really Texas but I prefer to think it's just a more enlightened version that incorporates all the best parts. That being said, whenever Eric and I leave Austin, we do refer to the trip as going to real Texas. I've never spent more than a night in any Texas city outside of Austin or Marfa so I can't speak with authority on real Texas. We do try to venture out every few months, though. Barbeque is usually the draw and a good excuse to make a trip. We decided to make the short jaunt to Taylor, TX to try out Louis Mueller's BBQ.

Every barbeque joint in Texas claims to be the best barbeque and, at some point, could probably claim the title. Magazines and newspapers are constantly featuring stories on the best barbeque and ranking their picks. Eric and I, being from a little deeper south, prefer pork barbeque with sauce (or "wet"). We don't say so too loudly in mixed company because beef is king in Texas and some who claim to be purists feel that sauce obscures the true taste of the meat. And some will argue the point until you are beat down and submit. We've been unimpressed by a few of the more famous-named barbeque joints in and around Austin but Louis Mueller's didn't disappoint. Even if they were completely sold out of pork ribs and peach cobbler by the time we arrived at 5pm. We thought we were beating the rush but those in the know call ahead and reserve their cuts in the morning. Now we know too. The beef brisket made up for the lack of pork.

Speaking of making up, our neighbors who signed on to turn our neighborhood into a movie set threw a party for the 'hood on Sunday. They actually sent the party invite before the "major motion picture production" descended. I don't think there was any ulterior motive because they really didn't know what they were getting into. Because I refuse to show up at a party empty handed and I'm always looking for an excuse to cook and mouths to feed, I made a fig and olive tapenade with toasted pita crisps to bring over.

I'm a little ashamed to admit that, despite being an ardent reader of his blog, I've never actually made one of David Lebovitz's recipes. Although I found the tapenade recipe in his book, The Sweet Life in Paris, it is credited to Carrie Brown, owner of Jimtown Store in Healdsburg, CA. I studied his book before I left looking for clues on how to not make an ass of myself while in Paris. The book is hilarious and informative. I do think he gives Franprix an unfair bad rap, though. My little neighborhood store on Rue Choron, right off Rue des Martyrs, was very clean and the staff quite friendly, at least as far as I could tell given my limited French. Recently, I was re-reading some of the passages and laughing with renewed appreciation when I ran across the recipe. The tapenade wasn't the most appetizing-looking recipe I've ever made but feedback was positive. I'll definitely keep it in the arsenal.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Pavlova's Dogs: Pavlova with Lemon Curd and Berries

My husband, the professional, puts no stock in magazine recipes. He always casts a suspicious eye when I undertake making whatever recipe (and accompanying food-styled photo) caught my eye that month. His suspicions are accurate about 50% of the time. But I persist despite, or perhaps in spite of, his disapproval. He is forever telling me that I need to develop a cache of basic recipes that I have practiced repeatedly (to the point of being fool proof) and that can be adapted easily and quickly to suit multiple iterations. Now I ask you, what is the fun in that?

One of the reasons why I am still a home cook and haven't ventured (much) into the professional realm is that I like the experimental aspect and variety of working with new recipes. Aside from the (very) low wages of an inexperienced pastry cook, my biggest issue with working in a professional kitchen is that I get bored easily and repetition doesn't sound appealing to me. I also don't like to make recipes that I wouldn't want to eat (see various LCB posts) and I like to be the decider. Unfortunately, being a Pastry Chef generally involves years of indentured servitude in lowly prep or pastry cook positions. Too bad you can't just skip that part.

I've been thinking about making a Pavlova ever since I had Wink's lemon pavlova and was enchanted. Eric was at the coast last weekend doing a little fishing (unfortunately very little- the fish weren't biting) and I had some time on my hands. Since the coast was clear (again with the puns) and I had clipped a recipe from Gourmet a couple of months back, I decided to try out a lemon curd and (blue)berry pavlova. I ate the blackberries I had bought to mix with the blueberries with some yogurt and granola. I'm sure they would have been delicious in the pavlova but breakfast won out.

A pavlova is basically a meringue marsh-
mallow. I whipped the eggs in la machine because I am not a masochist. My upper arms are losing the hard earned tone I picked up at LCB. I thought the pavlova looked a little weird until I got it fully assembled. It "grew" quite a bit in the oven so it's a good thing I only used about three-fourths of the meringue batter. Are meringues considered a batter before baked?

My helpers (the dogs) were on hand, as usual. Jack, our Boston Pug, watches the oven even more closely than I do. He positions himself right next to the door and patiently waits, no matter how long the bake time. I didn't take a photo because he just might crack the camera lense with his sheer cuteness and I don't want him to get a big head. Okay, I forgot, but you can check out his cute factor a few posts back when he helped me make a certain mushroom tart.