How to Make a Soufflé

Photo Courtesy fabulousfoods.comMy first experience with soufflés came during my very first hours working as an extern (code name for person who knows nothing and makes even less) in the kitchen at the now defunct La Colline. I’d watched the soufflé demonstration in cooking school, but weaseled my way out of actually making one by volunteering to work on another (less scary)  of the afternoon’s required recipes. I had no interest in tackling the terrifying mix of egg whites and custard. (And what was up with all that folding?)

Well, wouldn’t you know that my first assignment in a restaurant kitchen was to make three different soufflés? For about 200 people over two dinner seatings…on NEW YEAR’S EVE!  Um, ok.

So, here’s how it went down:

Chef: Get me 10 pounds of sugar. (pointing at two large bins of white stuff)

Me:  Ok.

Chef: Mix this with this. Set it aside, then mix that with that. The waiter will ask if guests want soufflés when he takes the initial order. He’ll tell you. You mix the base, but don’t put it in the oven until … (At this point, I am so completely overwhelmed with the task before me that I swear all I can hear is the sound the adults in Charlie Brown’s world make when they talk — wonk, wonk, wonk, wonk, wonk, wonk.)

In a nutshell, I was supposed to have three different bases ready to mix soufflés to order. No big deal, except that I had to mix and bake them in a shared oven (so much for keeping the oven door closed) and time them perfectly so that they were baked, plated, garnished and ready for waiters to whisk them to the guest’s table at just the right time, after the dinner dishes were cleared, but not too soon so that after-dinner drinks could be offered and delivered, and before they fell.

This is where my irrationally confident mojo kicks in. Instead of having a total and complete nervous breakdown, I am ready to go, cool as a cucumber. I got this.

As I’m standing there armed with a million whisks and my bases and meringue ready to go, Naughty Waiter walks past and violates every sanitation law in the books by dipping his pinky into my enormous bowl of fluffy meringue (this is why I call him Naughty Waiter) for a taste.

Naughty Waiter: Wow, that is REALLY salty!

ME: What the–(pushing rage aside) wait, what?

So much for I got this. What I got was 10 pounds of salt that Chef unknowingly whipped into the egg whites. It was ten minutes to service and I had to start all over. Confidence blown. Mojo had left the building.

In the end, I pulled it off. I lost count of how many soufflés I made that evening, but they all made it to the tables on time and delicious. Not one fell prematurely. I got nauseous just thinking about soufflés for about six months after that night and I still get nervous around large quantities of sugar and salt positioned too closely together, but I can make a soufflé with my eyes closed.

I am tough (you should see me with my knife). Soufflés are not and here’s the proof — 10 Tips for Making a Perfect Soufflé, as written by yours truly for FabulousFoods.com.

http://www.fabulousfoods.com/recipes/article/877/28601

Advertisements

1 Comment

Filed under How to...

How Buying Organic Saved Me Money

Yes, that’s right. I saved money on my weekly grocery bill by buying organic produce.

I’ve been gradually making the shift to buying organic foods for my family and trying to balance that with my weekly food budget. I worried that spending more for organic produce would break the bank. I was wrong. (Please, nobody tell my husband.)

As I made my way through the aisles of Mom’s (My Organic Market) I carefully chose a selection of veggies and fruits, imagining as I chose how I’d prepare or serve them and for what meal. At the register, my total was about a third less than my regular produce bill.

I realized that because I was concerned about cost, I only selected foods I knew I would use. I didn’t just grab everything that looked good or struck my fancy. I bought what I had a plan for and in addition to saving a few bucks (and having the cute courtesy clerk carry my organic swag to my car), at the end of the week I didn’t have to endure the dump of shame – that dismal end of the week ritual where I throw away the produce that went bad before I figured out what to do with it.

While I aspire to be like my organized and industrious friends who enter the grocery store armed with a detailed shopping list generated by a weekly menu, I’m not there yet. Baby steps.

My little experiment did make me wonder how much I could save if I did sit down and create a serious weekly meal plan, but that’s a story for another day.

1 Comment

Filed under Blue Plate Special

Five More Kitchen Tools Every Cook Should Have

The long-awaited sequel to last summer’s list of five tools every kitchen should have (refresh your memory) is finally here. Now that you’ve undoubtedly rushed out to purchase all the things I recommended and now have a quality chef’s knife, cutting boards, pots and pans, tongs and assorted high heat spatulas, you’re ready to pick up five more kitchen basics that will help you out as you cook.

1. Measuring Cups & Spoons

As their name implies, measuring cups and spoons will help you measure out your liquid and dry ingredients. Measuring cups for liquids have a spout to make pouring easy. Measuring cups for dry ingredients come in sizes ranging from ¼ cup to 1 cup. Their tops are level so it’s easy to level off dry ingredients for accurate measurements. These are typically inexpensive so pick up several sets.

2. Mixing Bowls

Mixing bowls are great not just for mixing, but also for holding ingredients while you prep and for use as a garbage bowl while you cook. You can never have too many of these. Pick them up in different sizes and styles from plastic, to stainless steel or even ceramic or glass.

3. Sheet Trays

Sheet trays are not just for baking cookies. These rectangular pans have a raised edge on all four sides to keep ingredients in place. They can be used to roast vegetables, bake cakes or brownies and for baking cookies. Cookie sheets typically have a lip or raised edge on only one side to make it easy to slide your cookies from the sheet onto your cooling rack or platter.

4. Food Processor

While I’m not one to advocate using a food processor for simple tasks like chopping an onion, they do make quick work of things like chopping nuts, making bread crumbs and shredding or chopping vegetables in large quantities. Buy a food processor to fit your needs. Start small and work your way up to a larger, industrial version if you need it.

5. Mixer

Every kitchen needs a mixer. Whether it’s small and hand-held or a high-powered, countertop version, mixers come in handy for mixing batters, whipping cream and even getting rid of lumps in your mashed potatoes. If you don’t want to make a big financial commitment with a stand mixer, pick up a smaller, much less expensive hand-held mixer. If you find you’re using it frequently or that you’re tackling recipes that your handheld can’t handle, then you’ll know you’re ready for the heavier duty version.

Disclaimer

A well-stocked kitchen contains many more utensils than the ten listed here and in my previous post. This list is simply a springboard for beginning cooks who may not know where to start.

1 Comment

Filed under Blue Plate Special

Secrets of a Skinny Chef

Diet…lowfat…light – three words a French-trained chef doesn’t want to hear. I am no exception, until now. I was lucky enough to receive an advance copy of a fabulous new cookbook – Secrets of a Skinny Chef by Jennifer Iserloh, ace chef, recipe developer and generous colleague. The book is chock full of recipes Jennifer has developed to create a collection of tasty dishes that are light in fat and calories but loaded with flavor. Seriously.

I’ll admit I was nervous about my few days of eating Skinny until I tasted the Butternut Squash Soup with Coconut Milk. It was perfectly rich and creamy, as butternut squash soup should be, and the simple substitution of light coconut milk made it a healthier alternative to my heavy-cream laden version, without sacrificing any flavor. My finicky family devoured it.

Jennifer even takes on popular takeout items, eliminating the fat in Just Like Takeout Sweet & Sour Chicken, which is a perfect storm of protein, vegetables and grains. Perhaps my favorite thing about the book — besides the mouthwatering recipes – are the Skinny Secrets, tips on simple ways to incorporate healthier fare into your diet. (That’s diet meaning the foods you consume, not those futile exercises in deprivation that promise miraculous weight loss.)

Skinny Chef Jen has put together a primer on how to navigate cooking and eating in a healthier fashion with recipes and tips that are approachable, delicious and life-changing. The Skinny chef way of eating is based on making smarter food choices and enjoying the food you prepare without the guilt that often comes after a meal. And even though heavy cream and butter will always have a special place in my fridge, I’m thrilled to have found a new recipe repertoire that matches my full-fat faves in flavor.

Order Secrets of a Skinny Chef at http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1605295884?ie=UTF8&tag=skiche-20&linkCode=as2&camp=1789&creative=390957&creativeASIN=1605295884

1 Comment

Filed under Blue Plate Special

How to Break Out of Your Culinary Comfort Zone

Six ways to bring life back to your table

It happens to the best of us. Despite the stacks of dog-eared cooking magazines piled high on our coffee tables, the eclectic cookbook collections that fill our bookshelves, or even our best intentions of whipping up delicious fare for our families, dinnertime can turn into an uninspiring rotation of the same handful of reliable recipes, week after week, month after month.

As a personal chef, I make my living preparing meals for individuals and families alike, but professional experience aside; I’m still a busy working mom who’s often stymied by the age-old question – “What’s for dinner?”

When I get caught in a dinnertime dead zone, I rely on six sure-fire tips that always help get my creative cooking juices flowing.

1. Cabinet Foraging

Remember the electric pasta machine you absolutely had to have? The meat grinder you picked up on a whim? Or the sorbet maker that was so on sale it would’ve been a sin not to buy? If you’re like me, many of these items are lucky to have been used once before assuming their position in the Cabinet of Forgotten Gadgetry, where instead of inspiring your culinary endeavors, they now sit gathering dust. There’s no better way to dig yourself out of a rut and make the most of money already spent than to find the dustiest piece of equipment in your kitchen and put it to use. Odds are the new gear will force you to pull out a new recipe or revisit an old, forgotten favorite.

2. Travel the Globe

No passports or long airport security lines required! Choose a city or country that you love or that you’re curious about and scour your cookbooks or the internet for a recipe or dish that flavorfully represents that locale. Take a stroll through your grocery store’s international food aisle for further inspiration. You’ll be doing double duty as you savor new ingredients and learn about foods from far way (or close at hand) lands.

3. Buy Something You’ve Never Seen Before

Your mission, if you choose to accept it, is simple. On your next visit to the produce section, spend a few extra minutes taking in the scene, keeping your eye out for your next great ingredient. You’ll know it when you see it, because you won’t know what it is when you see. Walk right up to that mystery vegetable or other-worldly-looking fruit and pop it right into your reusable shopping bag. Most produce sections have a kiosk or recipe rack featuring info and recipes on how to use various fruits and vegetables. Armed with a free recipe and your mystery produce, your plated adventure can’t be far behind.

4. Face Your Biggest Food Fear

Just the mere mention of the word soufflé can cause fear in the hearts of many home cooks. For others, it’s roasting a whole chicken, making pie crust from scratch or deep-frying anything. I am deathly terrified at the prospect of making Turducken (a deboned turkey stuffed with a deboned duck that’s stuffed with a deboned chicken. Seriously.) However simple or complex, identify the one thing that makes you afraid to step into the kitchen, find a recipe for it and make it. That’s it. Just make it. You’ll likely conquer your food fear and add a new recipe to your repertoire to boot.

5. Take a Cooking Class

One quick internet search or browse of the phone book (remember those?) and no matter where you live, you’re likely to find several places where you can learn to chop, braise and sauté from a pro. Taking a recreational cooking class will give you an opportunity to learn a new skill or two and you’ll go home with several new recipes in hand. Besides the recipes, you’ll also have a chance to bounce your cooking questions off a trained professional. Most cooking schools offer a choice of classes that are hands-on, where you’ll actually get to cook; or demonstration, where you get to sit back and watch the instructor in action. Either way, you’ll leave with some level of familiarity with the recipes, making it more likely that you’ll give them a go at home.

6. Become a Locavore for a Day

Jumpstart your cooking and help save the environment by becoming a locavore for a day. You’ll only be eating foods that are grown or harvested within a 100-mile radius of your hometown, but not to worry, you’ll still have plenty to choose from at your local farmers’ markets and at some higher end grocery stores that make a point of offering locally grown foods. These different, fresher selections may give you a new pool of foods to choose from and fresher food can only breed fresh ideas for how to prepare them.

Keep these tips handy and you’ll be ready to face your next dinner dilemma with ease.

1 Comment

Filed under How to...

Blood Oranges

I got lucky twice in one day yesterday. I finally found time to check out the new MOM’s (My Organic Market) in my neighborhood (score) and while there I picked up my first blood oranges of the season. (Double score.)

Blood oranges are a delicious variety of orange marked by a telltale crimson flesh. Their dark color is caused by an extra pigment that regular oranges don’t have. Flavor wise, blood oranges are often slightly sweeter and if you’re lucky you’ll taste subtle undertones of raspberry or strawberry. They’re available in winter and spring, from December to April or May, and can be used like standard oranges. Their bright reddish color is striking in salads, sauces and even cocktails.

1 Comment

Filed under Small Bites

How to Clean Leeks

Leeks play dirty. I mean seriously dirty. Like their cousin the onion, leeks are made up of many, many flavorful layers and nestled between each one you’re likely to find, well, dirt. So learning how to clean leeks properly is just as important as knowing what to do with them once they’re clean.

But first things first, leeks are, as I hinted earlier, part of the onion family. They have the onion’s flavor, though not as sharp, and they get their good looks from the green onion or scallion. At first glance, leeks look like green onions on steroids as they’re much larger (and more flavorful ) than their tiny counterparts. Unlike the green onion, which except for the fuzzy root is completely edible, you’ll only want to eat the leek’s white and light green portion. Their crowning dark green leaves are too tough and woody to enjoy. My pet peeve about leeks—actually it’s my pet peeve about grocery stores—is that they typically sell leeks by the pound so you’re forced to pay for the weight of all the greenery that you’re not going to use, but I digress.

To make sure the dirt between the leek’s leaves doesn’t end up on your plate – that’ll be the mystery crunch in your dish – a simple rinse won’t do. If your recipe calls for your leeks in large pieces, cut away the root and the dark green leaves. Slice the white portion in half lengthwise and run the leaves under cold, running water, being careful to separate the layers with your fingers so the water can get to any trapped sand.

Place leeks in a bowl of cold water to separate the dirt.

If your leeks are going to be sliced or chopped, go ahead and cut them while they’re still dirty. Fill a bowl with cold water and place your sliced/chopped leeks in the bowl. Use your hand to agitate the leeks in the water. Give them a good shake to help separate the dirt from the leek. Let them sit in the water for a couple of minutes then use a slotted spoon to remove the leeks from the water. All the dirt and soil should have settled at the bottom of your bowl and your leeks should be squeaky clean.

Be sure to dry leeks thoroughly after removing them from the water.

Once they’re out of the water, be sure to dry your leeks thoroughly so they don’t become soggy or lose their crispness.

1 Comment

Filed under How to...