Tag Archives: great taste

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Trivet? Hot Plate?

Over the summer I was lucky enough to spend several days lounging around the pool with my great friend, Kathy. (I suppose if I were younger or hipper I’d refer to her as my BFF.) We were talking food (of course) and making plans for the cookbook we plan to pen together when the word trivet came up…and a debate ensued.

I had only known the word to be used to describe either a small raised stand used to rest hot dishes on to protect your table or countertop; or vegetables stacked on the bottom of a roasting pan used to perch meat or poultry on in lieu of a roasting rack. Roasting meats or poultry on a trivet of vegetables has a few added benefits. First, it allows you to roast foods well, even if you don’t have a fancy roasting pan with a rack. It also elevates the meat, allowing air to circulate more evenly. The vegetables will give your meat a bit more flavor and will help keep it moist. Plus you’ll get to eat the deliciously-flavored vegetables once you’re done.

Kathy’s family had always referred to the trivets on her mom’s counter as hot plates, which I thought were the dorm-room contraband my college roommate and I used to boil water for instant oatmeal or Top Ramen. Upon further investigation it turns out we’re both right (of course). You can continue to call you trivet a hot plate (even though it’s really NOT) in peace.

(Readers, I see the stats so I know you’re there even, though you’re a comment-shy bunch, but I beg  you to leave a comment to let me know where you stand on the trivet debate.)

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Soup, Stew, Bisque, Chowder

The first soups are thought to have been fashioned by primitive man (or woman) dropping hot rocks into liquids to heat them. The liquids warmed by those hot rocks have evolved into the soups, stews, bisques and chowders we enjoy today. What makes a soup a soup or a chowder a chowder? What’s the difference?

In honor of National Soup Month, here’s the skinny on all things soup!

There are two types of soup – clear soups and thick soups. Clear soups are usually used as a base for other soups. (Chicken broth or stock is used as a base for chicken noodle soup.) Cream soups and purées are considered thick soups. Cream soups are made by simmering a main ingredient, puréeing it and then finishing it with milk or cream. Cream soups are often thickened by adding potatoes, which are simmered and puréed along with the main ingredient.

For purées, vegetables are cooked in stock or broth, then puréed and served. Purées rely on the consistency of the main ingredient for thickness. They’re also typically not strained before serving.

Stews, bisques and chowders are generally classified as soups, but they don’t fit neatly into the two soup categories because they’re combinations of both. Stews usually consist of meat and vegetables simmered over a long period of time, making them perfect for cheaper, tougher cuts of meat. (The longer cooking time produces meat that is juice and tender.) Stews are thickened with flour, which is used to either lightly coat the pieces of meat before they’re browned, or with a roux, equal parts butter and flour. Stews get their flavor from the liquids they’re cooked in (think beef burgundy) and when finished, there’s usually less liquid than in a soup and larger pieces of meat and vegetables.

Bisques are typically shellfish cooked in a flavored liquid then puréed. Bisques are known for their thick, creamy texture and rich flavor.

Chowders are also characterized by a thick consistency with the addition of chunky seafood, potatoes or other vegetables.

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