Christmas and Corn Dodgers

Happy Christmas to one and all.  In Hawaii, a Norfolk Pine, topped or in a pot, serves nicely as a Christmas tree.  This one was interfering with the electric lines, and actually had two tops, so my daughter got one and we got the other.  The branches are widely spaced, which requires some filling in with ornaments and draping stuff  to look decent.

Did you ever watch True Grit and wonder what a Corn Dodger was?   Here is a bit of research, excerpted from America's Best Lost Recipes: 121 Kitchen-Tested Heirloom Recipes Too Good to Forget from the Editors of Cook's Country magazine (America's Test Kitchen, 2007). Copyright 2007 by the Editors of Cook's Country:
Abraham Lincoln was raised on these little oval cornmeal cakes, George Washington Carver took them to school, and John Wayne (playing Rooster Cogburn) used them for target practice in the movie True Grit.
Dating back to the 1800s, the first corn dodgers were made from "hot water corn bread," a mixture of cornmeal, pork fat, salt, and boiling water that was formed into small oblong loaves and baked. Similar recipes were given different names depending on how the dough was shaped and cooked. Corn pone have the same oblong shape as dodgers, but are pan-fried in lots of oil. Johnnycakes are flattened into small pancakes, then griddle-fried. Ashcakes are rounds of dough wrapped in cabbage leaves, then placed in the ashes of the campfire to cook. Hoecakes are formed into small pancakes, then placed on the flat side of a garden hoe (really!) and cooked over the campfire.
The original Corn Dodgers were, similar to hard tack, dense, gritty, and hard as a brick.  Which is why they were good for carrying in a saddlebag for days on end, or for pitching at a target as well.  Mine bear no resemblance to their 19th century forbears.  I just like the name.  They are light, moist, tender and as wonderful as the sweet, fresh shucked corn inside.  I wouldn't bother making them with anything else.  And, unless you're having a really rotten Christmas, you won't want to throw them at anything.

For the recipe I used Irma Ronbauer's Corn Oysters, from my old edition of Joy of Cooking.  An extremely simple, easy batter which works marvelously in that new appliance of mine, yes, the aebleskiver pan.

Corn Dodgers
Make batter immediately before using it.
Prepare 1 cup freshly scraped corn
2 well-beaten eggs
6 tablespoons flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
freshly ground pepper, dash cayenne, or as Irma suggests, 1/8 teaspoon nutmeg
3 tablespoons butter

Heat skillet or aebleskiver pan on medium low heat.  When hot add a marble sized piece of butter in each well, or a tablespoon at a time if you are using a skillet and making little cakes.  Swirl the pan a bit to coat, and when hot, sizzling and fragrant fill each well with batter.  Turn when lightly golden brown on the bottom, and brown the other side, turning again if necessary.

I served them as a side with some beef tenderloin, but they would be perfect with barbequed chicken, served  as starters, more party pupus, or for breakfast with a nice slice of ham, YES.


Party Pupus

This quaint cast iron pan, heavier than a truck-load of lead bricks (useful as a defensive weapon), is the latest addition to my growing arsenal of cooking implements.  I was determined however, that it would not be a single use item.  Today we are not featuring the standard product of the Aebleskiver pan, which are naturally, Aebleskivers.  A sort of Danish cross between popovers and pancakes.   We did the Aebleskiver breakfast thing Sunday.  And, they were fun and very tasty, though my expertise in turning and filling left something to be desired.

I have found another excellent use for this cute pan.  Now we can make Cocktail Bondas, or my own version of them anyway.  In Hawaii, as you may have heard, we call them Pupus.  Yes indeed, we do.  Visitors are always amazed we would eat such a thing, or call them that anyway.  Since this is definitely the Season for it, you should try these spicy party nibbles, or before meal starters.

Chickpea Fritters
Pupus, Appetizers, Bondas, or what have you.  This amount makes about 8 of them, so you can increase the ingredients to suit.

3/4 cup chickpea flour
1/2 cup water or less (just enough to make a thickish pancake consistency)
1 egg, separated
1 tablespoon curry leaves, finely minced
1/2 teaspoon salt
dash hot chili sauce, or a small minced chili pepper
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1/2 teaspoon turmeric
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
2 tablespoons shallot or green onion, minced finely
ghee, olive oil or your own favorite lubricant (going with the Indian inspiration, I used ghee)

Yogurt dipping sauce
1/2 cup yogurt
juice of 1/2 lemon
salt to taste

Heat the pan on medium low heat.

Finely mince the onion and curry leaves.  Mix the egg yolk with water and add chickpea flour.  Add remaining ingredients.  Whip egg white to soft peaks and fold in well.

Put a raisin sized piece of ghee into each well and heat til bubbling hot.  Fill almost to the top of each with the batter.  When they're getting a bit crispy on the edges and bubbling in the middle, carefully turn with a chopstick and cook till nicely golden brown on all sides. The tendancy will be to have them cook faster, but the heat really needs to be lower than you would think.  Be patient.   Serve with the dipping sauce, which can be mixed up very quickly while the fritters are cooking.
Much nicer with an aperitif than opening a bag of chips.  You could vary the herbs and seasonings endlessly, according to what is on hand.  If you make them early, they can be re-heated, wrapped in foil.


Stars of the Chutney World

Carambola, or Starfruit, are one of the fruits currently dropping from trees around here, tangerines, lemons, passionfruit, kumquats and grapefruit being the others.  So far we've done: Banana Starfruit wine, Starfruit Marmalade, Starfruit Lemon Mead, and Starfruit Sorbet.  Now here's Starfruit Chutney, a definite star in the sphere of preserves.  I love chutneys and pickles.  They add such a lovely extra dimension of taste to just about any sort of meal.

There was a time when I considered chutney only as an accompaniment for curry.  Last night we were having Beef Stroganoff, made with some leftover veal scallopine, and this chutney was a fine, complementary side, a zap of flavor to the creamy main event.

Sliced crossways, they're very pretty added to a salad, but for the chutney, they need to be in a finer dice.

Starfruit Chutney

4 cups Starfruits, chopped, seeded, and de-ribbed (the tough edges of the stars)
1 cup packed brown sugar
1 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup lemon juice
1/4 cup wine vinegar
3 minced, seeded, kumquats
1/4 cup raisins
1 red chili pepper, minced, and seeded
1 small onion, chopped
1 thumb finely minced ginger
1 teaspoon salt
5 or 6 Roselle Hibiscus buds (optional) good for the lovely color they add
1 small clove garlic, minced
1 teaspoon cardamom powder

Adjust, substitute the spices as you see fit.  Suggestions only here, and what I did.

Combine all the ingredients in a medium saucepan and bring to a boil.  Reduce heat to medium and cook until thick, stirring frequently.  This may take an hour or more.  Unfortunately, I didn't time mine exactly.

As you notice, it acquires a nice red color from the Roselle hibiscus, on cooking.  Let cool slightly before bottling.  Keeps a good while, refrigerated after opening.


Roman Style Macaroni and Cheese

That was Mac'n Cheese.  If you have a 13 year old grandson over for dinner, there might not be time for a before photo, or any leftovers.  There's a tiny, wee bit of thin sliced Serrano ham left on the spoon, and some little crusty nibbles around the sides, and that's about it.  Not the boxed version, this is made with a nice Bechamel, lots of cheese (a coarsely grated Fontina brings it up a notch) topped with Parmesan and buttered breadcrumbs.

My original source of inspiration, years ago, was in The Vegetarian Epicure by Anna Thomas.  And, as she assures us, "this dish bears very little resemblance to the macaroni and cheese of American convenience foods."  I have added various things to it from time to time, including sliced olives, ham, onions, herbs, but it is basically a very simple, old Roman recipe.  Simply wonderful that is.  And a classic comfort food.

Baked Macaroni and Cheese
3 cups Sauce Bechamel
2 lb. mostaccioli pasta (otherwise known as mac)
4 oz. Parmesan cheese, freshly grated
3/4 lb. Fontina cheese, coarsely grated (cheddar is fine as well)
salt and fresh-ground black pepper
1 cup buttered breadcrumbs
That is the basic recipe, to which I added last night:
1/2 cup roughly cut, thin sliced Serrano ham
1/2 minced onion and 1 minced shallot, lightly sauteed in butter til limp

Bechamel Sauce
3 tbs. butter
3 tbs. flour
2 1/2 cups hot milk
grated pepper and salt
3 good sized sprigs of thyme; 1 bay leaf

Heat the butter til bubbly, then stir in the flour, cooking a few minutes.  Turn off the heat and whisk in the milk, a little at a time, turning the heat back up when flour is well incorporated.  Continue stirring til thickened, adding the herbs, salt and pepper to taste.  Let it cook slowly for 10 to 15 minutes.

While your Bechamel is simmering, bring a pot of water to boil for the pasta, and cook it until just al dente.  Butter a nice baking dish.  Preheat your oven to 350F.  As soon as the noodles are ready, drain and put 1/3 of them into the dish.  Cover that with 1/3 of the cheeses, 1/3 of your onions if using, and 1/3 of any other additions .  Top with 1/3 of the sauce and grate on some black pepper, and salt.  Now do 2 more layers in the same way, and sprinkle the buttered breadcrumbs over the top.

Bake on a middle rack at 350 F for about 20 minutes, or til well browned and bubbly.  You might think that's a lot of trouble for Mac 'n Cheese, but let me tell you, it is scarcely related.  And, actually can be made very quickly, especially if you forgo the extras.

Just the thing for your tired troops.  Serve with a sprightly salad and a fine Pinot Grigio, or whatever.  Hard cider would go well.


"Old World Rye" for Recipes to Rival

The November challenge on Recipes to Rival, was hosted by Temperance of High on the Hog.  She chose a hearty, Old World Rye bread.  I pretty much stuck to the recipe, except for (you were waiting on that, right?) using my sourdough starter instead of powdered yeast.  I proofed a sponge with it overnight, then next morning, using the remaining ingredients, completed our recipe:

Old World Rye
A World of Breads by Dolores Casella, 1966

2 cups rye flour
1/4 cup cocoa
2 T yeast
1 1/2 cups warm water
1/2 cup molasses
2 tsp salt
2 T caraway seed
2 T butter
2 1/2 cups white flour or whole wheat flour (I used 1/2 cup whole wheat spelt here)

Combine the rye flour and cocoa. do not sift.
Dissolve the yeast in 1/2 cup warm water.
Mix molasses, 1 cup warm water, salt, and caraway seed in large mixing bowl.
Add the rye/cocoa mix, the proofed yeast, the butter and 1 cup white flour or whole wheat flour.
Beat until the dough is smooth.
Spread the remaining flour on a breadboard and kneed it into the dough
Add more flour if necessary to make a firm dough that is smooth and elastic.
Place in buttered bowl and cover. Allow to rise until double (about 2 hours).
Punch dough down, shape into a round loaf and place on a buttered cookie sheet that has been sprinkled with cornmeal.
Let rise about 50 minutes.
Bake at 375 for 35 to 40 minutes.

I've only recently started using a bread peel with my baking stone (now broken but still usable), and here's something learnt the hard way.  When letting your loaf rise the final time on the peel (is this generally done?), anyway, make sure to put lots of cornmeal under it. Otherwise, when you give it that good shake, which is supposed to slide it nicely off the peel and onto the stone, it won't go anywhere at all, whilst heat is escaping from the oven, and you're standing there wondering what to do now.  Any bakers out there with a better idea??

This bread was very flavorful, with the molasses and caraway being right out front. A bit too much molasses for my taste, to be honest.  The cocoa was not really evident, but I'm sure added to the depth of taste as well as the color.  If you've been wondering how in the world those old German bakers got their dense, dark rye bread, without adding molasses, cocoa, caramel color, coffee grounds, etc. etc., I found a very informative  post on Jugalbandi called "Devil's Fart Bread" - the true meaning of pumpernickel, just so you know. I didn't make that up. A good link to send any adolescent boys in your family.


Rosey Tea and Pumpkin Pie

Tea in a basket.  This should actually be called a Tisane.  I collected from our gardens, Red Zinger hibiscus flowers and buds, lemongrass, some kumquats and a couple of allspice leaves.  Pour boiling water over and there's your tea.  Well, not exactly.  I just used a bit of zest from one of the kumquats.  I'm going to make a Starfruit Chutney and add the remaining kumquats to that (I love the word - just something about it, reminds me of an old W.C. Fields movie, where he calls Mae West, "My little Kumquat" in his inimitable style.

My daughter, granddaughter, and her Silkie chicken joined me.  It was a ladies' tea.  With leftover pumpkin pie.  Those hibiscus flowers and buds made the lovliest rose color in the pot.
Actually, there was one piece of pie left, and two custards with whipped cream.  With the extra pumpkin pie filling I baked two souffle dishes in a bain marie (larger pan filled with water in which souffle dishes are sitting).  For the pumpkin pie this year I used what was left after my soup, defrosted, dumped into the blender with some cream cheese, eggs, cream, cloves, nutmeg, cinnamon, sugar, bourbon, and of course, the inevitable ground Wattleseeds.  They're finding their way into all sorts of dishes lately, as part of my ongoing experiment in using the suckers up.  In this instance, the flavor was there, not pronounced, but a presence bringing the usual pumpkin pie spices up a notch.  I added extra cream and cream cheese as I wanted a less dense pumpkin, more cheese cakey kind of thing, but not.  If you know what I mean.
This tea was also fine iced.  I just looooove the color.


Thanksgiving, Giving Thanks, Giving Time

These precious kids are busy working at a local collection site, to get OCC shoeboxes off to bless other kids all over the world.  Operation Christmas Child is a project of Samaritans Purse, an International Relief organization headed by Franklin Graham.  Each year shoe boxes are filled with things a child living  in a place of famine, extreme poverty, war, or other disaster hit areas, might need, or just be encouraged to receive - toys, toiletries, school supplies, clothing, even, yes, shoes.  Each box has a label indicating boy or girl, and which age range.  I've heard some amazing stories about boxes reaching a child with exactly what that little person had been needing, down to the perfect shoe size.

It's not too late to pack a box.  Find out how.  This is a splendid time to give thanks, in action as well as word.  Most of us (here in the cyberworld)  have so much to be thankful for.


Pumpkin, Chicken and Lemongrass - TGRWT #20

An organically grown, roasted pumpkin.  Isn't it lovely?
One of the most intriguing food events I've yet to come across, is called, "They Go Really Well Together", or TGRWT, and features a monthly challenge to combine two different foods, not ordinarily used together, in a recipe, and see how it works out.  I love things that stretch me in various areas, cooking included.  This month's combo is pumpkin and cooked chicken, with lemongrass as an additional option, hosted by John at Docsonz - the Blog.

This particular realm of the blogosphere seems to be inhabited primarily by chemists, doctors and chefs, so I'm definitely out of my orbit.  Zooming along irregardless with the big boys and girls.  The event was started by a Norwegian chemist, Martin Lersch, interested in molecular gastronomy, who states on his site, that it was: "to explore flavor pairings suggested by the hypothesis that if two foods have one or more key odorants in common it might very well be that they go well together and perhaps even compliment each other."

So, there you have it.  This month's pairing is actually not all that unusual - pumpkin and cooked chicken, even including the lemongrass.  You should just peruse some of the previous months for stranger ones.  I haven't gone through all of them yet, but it is one of my goals.  Anyway, this weekend, having some cooked chicken thighs left over, I took off the meat and reserved it.  Then used the bones, together with other saved chicken bones, and frozen vegetable scraps to make up a stock.  You can see where this is going.  Soup.

 Couldn't resist this picture, saved last year, the origin of which I've forgotten.
I  roasted a pumpkin, brushed with olive oil, for an hour (it was still slightly firm, so could have gone another 15 min.) and we had it with butter and blue cheese that night as a side.  The next night, all the  required ingredients were available, stock, chicken and pumpkin. The lemongrass was dug up from my garden.

As a side note, of which I'm quite proud, the seeds, separated out from the fiber, without too much trouble, dumped into a roasting pan with 2 tablespoons of butter and some seasoned BBQ salt, were stirred around,  then roasted at 400F for about a half hour, stirring several times.  I can't figure out why recipes tell you to wash them first??  I mean, what exactly is on those seeds anyway?  They've been enclosed inside a pumpkin, with a bit of pumpkin juice on them, which only adds to the flavor when caramelized with butter.  A very nice snack and too easy as well.

2 cups roasted pumpkin, cubed
2 tablespoons butter
1 tablespoon ground wattleseed (optional)
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon minced galangal ginger
2 teas. finely minced lemongrass (white part)
1 small clove garlic, minced
1/2 onion, diced
1 zucchini, sliced
juice of 2 lemons
6 cups chicken broth
Cooked chicken (I used the meat from 3 thighs)
A hearty grind of black pepper, salt to taste
Lemon basil shreds to garnish

So, the next thing, after the various elements (chemistry term) are gathered together, is to bring the stock to a boil in your soup pot, then reduce it to simmering.   I added my chicken in at this point to soften a bit more, then removed and shredded the meat before adding it back in.  Meanwhile, melt the butter in a medium pan, add the cubed (cooked) pumpkin and stir in the cumin and wattleseed powder (if desired -  I just bought some online, and am trying it out in various dishes  - an experiment). Cook til lightly caramelized, then remove and set aside. 

Heat the olive oil in your pan, then toss in the onion and zucchini, stir fry for a few minutes until the vegetables are softening, then add  the garlic, lemongrass and galangal (or regular ginger).  Cook maybe 5 minutes before putting everything into your simmering chicken stock, including the pumpkin.  Simmer 30 minutes or so to give all the flavors a chance to merge.  Add ground black pepper and additional salt to taste.  Garnish with shreds of Lemon basil.
I believe this could be called a Thai Pacific Fusion dish.  We all really enjoyed the flavor combination, pungent, yet not overpowering, umami, spicy and rich, as I did not remove the chicken fat.  There wasn't all that much.  So, take as much off your stock as you want.  I think a little adds flavor and the unctious element.
But, the next day, as a further experiment, the flavors having melded even more, I did remove fat from the top, and going with the Asian theme, stirred in about 3/4 cup coconut milk (one of those small cans) . So, ended up with fat after all.  But, the taste was just that added element up the scale of goodness. The only thing I'd possibly add would be turmeric when stir frying the vegetables, just for the color.  Not to mention health benefits.... Also, hindsight being what it is, I would definitely add more lemongrass. It combines well with the chicken and pumpkin, just needs to be more assertive.  Next time I'd add 2 or more tablespoons of the minced white lemongrass bottoms.  And, there will be a next time.


Fruit Crepes for Brunch

It's Brunch time on Monthly Mingle, an event hosted by Meeta of What's For Lunch Honey? A slight disclaimer is called for here. I'm not really a "Brunch Person" as such.  The closest we come to it is Sunday mornings.  Since we don't leave for church until 10:00,  it's the one day we both can sleep in a bit, and I can make something nice.  Actually the only day we eat breakfast together.  So,  I'll call it brunch.  At any rate, these fresh, fruit-filled crepes make a delightful breakfast or brunch. My absolute, hands down, favorite.

I use whatever fruit is fresh and seasonal.  These are filled with the last of the year's sweet and juicy white pineapple. Also particularly good are strawberries, mango or bananas lightly sauteed in butter.  I use a crepe batter recipe handed down from my mother-in-law, the only variation being a substitution for milk,  if I don't happen to have any, with a soy powder mix called "Better Than Milk", which is actually very good, and handy to have in your pantry.

The Crepes Ingredients
1 cup flour
3 eggs
1 1/2 cups milk (approximately)
1 teas. vanilla (if making sweet crepes) optional
2 oz. butter, melted

I don't think I've ever added any sugar to the batter, as it isn't really necessary.  Whip the eggs, add a bit of the milk, a half cup or so, beat, then begin shaking the flour in, while beating the whole time, to prevent lumps forming.  Add more milk and continue until the consistency is like medium heavy cream.  Then, whip in the cooled, melted butter, and vanilla if using. The batter should coat a spoon dipped into it.

Heat a small crepes skillet, add a tiny bit of butter, melt, and pour in about 1/4 cup of batter, swirling immediately to coat the bottom of the pan.  Cook until it shifts when you shake the pan, then flip.  Cook a minute or so, then remove onto a plate, and repeat the process til you have a nice stack.

Chop your fruit in nice little chunks and put in a dish.  Arrange a selection of jams, syrups and sour cream or yogurt on the table, as well as a powdered sugar sieve if preferred.  I like the look and taste of sifted confectioners sugar on top of my crepes. The juxtaposition of flavors, tangy, yet sweet pineapple, guava jam, the light, egg crepe, and rich creamy yogurt, is outstanding.

 First a smear of jam, then the fruit, and top it with sour cream or yogurt (that's how I do it).
It's nice to let everyone fill and roll their own, as desired.  If you have more than one type of fruit available, so much the better.  This recipe is good for about 3 people.  We usually have enough left that I can make savory dinner crepes (canneloni) in a day or so.

Join us for brunch, there will be lots of tasty dishes to choose from at The Mingle Brunch.


This and That

We are drowning in Hawaii with all the rain that's been pouring down.  The entire Island is inundated.  I need to go out and pick lemons, starfruit, plant some things, do weeding, but gardening is definitely not a happening thing right now.  I am glad that the internet is up, so I can catch up on my favorite sites, we're warm and dry inside and that there is no need to drive anywhere through the flooded streets.

On an unrelated to anything in particular note, my grandson picked this hibiscus (our State flower) and brought it in for me a few days ago. So beautiful it needed to be featured here.

Rain from the deck roof goes down a copper chain, into a rain barrel and from there, via buried hose, to the pond.  Overflowing today.

As for cooking, this is a perfect day for soup, or baking brownies.  Or, both.


Breadfruit Time Again

We have been foraging breadfruit for years here on the Big Island.  Then, several years ago, when we bought a house in town to convert to an office, there was a tree in back, so no more need to go out and forage.  Now, this year for the first time, our young breadfruit tree at home has fruited.  Two whole breadfruits!  Small, but tasting fine.

I love the leaves on this tree.  They have been an inspiration for many Hawaiian quilters.

The last time I posted about breadfruit, it was a Polynesian  pudding type dish.. For that, you let the fruit sit out till soft and turning crusty brown on the outside.

With this fruit I boiled it while still green (the other is destined for a pudding experiment).  You simply cover  with water, cover the pot and bring to a boil.  Turn down to simmer and cook for about an hour.  Since mine was fairly small it only took 45 minutes.  Then, let it cool, cut in half, trim away the skin and core, and cut into slices or chunks, depending on what you are going to do with it.

I tossed the slices in seasonings and fried them in some macadamia nut oil til nice and crispy on the outside.  Serve as a side with anything you'd normally serve potatoes with.  If serving with a curry, I would just add them in to absorb the  flavors, without frying first.

A lot got eaten before I remembered to take a picture at the end of the process. I think my mind was on stuffing my face rather than photography or blogging?  This one had just a hint of the ripening flavor, which I love.  When it's greener, the flavor is blander, more like potato or taro.


Yes, Butter's Better

Real actual butter.  Accept no substitutes.
This is my smug butter post.  Feeling proud of myself for always being highly suspicious of margarine.  That stuff people, in the olden days, would  squeeze food coloring into themselves (before colored margarine was legal), and which is supposed to stand in for butter.

Recently I got an email (apparently this has been in circulation since June 2003), which I'm going to pass along, just because it confirms everything I believe about the subject anyway.  My favorite kind of information.  Self confirming, and self affirming.  Besides which, it is very timely, mentioning the word "turkeys", several times.  Actually, it was a lot more fun before I had to eliminate the turkeys and a few other unproven statements, thanks to truthorfiction.com  However, there's enough material left here to totally keep me away from the can't believe it stuff.  I will be basting my turkey with butter, thank you.

Pass The Butter .. Please.

Do you know the difference between margarine and butter?

Both have the same amount of calories.

Butter is slightly higher in saturated fats at 8 grams; compared to 5 grams for margarine.

Eating margarine can increase heart disease in women by 53%, over eating the same amount of butter, according to a recent  Harvard Medical Study.

Butter has many nutritional benefits where margarine has a few and only  because they are added!

Butter tastes much better than margarine and it can enhance the flavors of other foods.

Butter  has been around for centuries where margarine has been around for less than 100 years .

And now, for Margarine..

Very High in Trans fatty acids. ( My note: All food labels must now disclose how much Trans fat a product contains and it has been eliminated from some margarine products).

Increases  total cholesterol and LDL (this is the bad cholesterol) and lowers HDL cholesterol, (the good cholesterol)

Lowers quality of breast milk.

Decreases immune response.

Decreases  insulin response.

These facts alone were enough to have me avoiding margarine for life, and anything else that is hydrogenated (this means hydrogen is added, changing the molecular structure of the  substance).

You can try this little experiment yourself:

Purchase a tub of margarine and leave it open in your garage or shaded area.  Within a couple of days you will notice a few things:

  *  no flies, not even those pesky fruit flies will go near it (that should tell you something)

  *  it does not rot or smell differently because it has no nutritional value; nothing will grow on it.  Even those teeny weeny  (a scientific term), microorganisms will not a find a home to grow.

I am recommending my grandchildren do the experiment for a science project.  Scopes has also reported on this internet forward.


French Onion Soup

This was my first ever attempt making French Onion Soup, the October challenge at Recipes to Rival.  It was a bit more time consuming and involved than I would ordinarily allow for a meal, but those savory aromas coming from the kitchen, first with simmering beef stock, and then my pot full of caramelizing onions, were a payoff, even before we got to the tasting part, three days later.  Day one making the beef stock from scratch; day two caramelizing onions, which for some reason took 8, instead of 5 hours, for me to get to the point described as a "rich, deep brown", unfortunately not in time for dinner that evening.  So, day three we ate the finished soup.  I now appreciate fully having it served up to me in a restaurant, by a smiling, sweat free waiter. 

First, in making the stock I skipped the step where you put a half onion, cut side down in a hot skillet and let it char black for 30 minutes.  Just couldn't see blackening my nice Le Creuset pot.  Instead I put it in the roasting pan after the bones were done, removing most of the fat first.  That worked very nicely.  Also, I used some of that reserved fat to coat the rest of the vegetables for roasting, in the same pan.  Not working in a commercial kitchen with lots of sous chefs helping, it's good to save on pans and washing up.

As I had mentioned, wanting to keep to the low temperature stressed in the recipe, this large (over 2 gallon) pot full of onions took me from 1:00 in the afternoon until 9 p.m. to reach the deeply caramelized state.  Next time, if there ever is one, I'd speed this process up a wee tad.  I had a question with the amount of onions called for as well.  It gives you about three times what is needed for the soup.  I'm not complaining here, friends, they'll be dandy in Pommes de Terre Boulangère, a recipe I noticed yesterday at The Wednesday Chef.  Basically, crispy fried potatoes with caramelized onions.  Luisa mentioned that she would have doubled or tripled the recipe if she'd known how good they'd be.  Well, here we are with a triple portion.  I'm going to make those potatoes  with eggs for breakfast tomorrow.

So, now on day three, all the elements are present and accounted for, combined in my big Dutch Oven pot, simmered for an hour, and then into individual, oven-proof?  soup bowls.  Topped with croutons and then cheese (I used Gruyere for the extra zap of flavor) and put them under the broiler for a few minutes.  I was a bit nervous at this step, worrying about the bowls cracking, things boiling over, and ended up not filling them as high as recommended. I think you just have to resign yourself to a mess, and go with the overflow.
Served with extra bread and a salad of arugula, fresh tomatoes and steamed green beans, it was very filling and the flavors were wonderful.  The rest (and I'm glad there is quite a bit) should be even better after melding together for another day or two.  Check out the recipe for a really delicious classic soup, hosted by Sara this month at Recipes to Rival.  For everyone's take on it, visit the blogroll.
PS - or The Morning After French Onion Soup
What can be done with some of those brilliant, sweet caramalized onions left over?  Lacking the potatoes mentioned above, I layered the onions, after they were nice and hot in the bottom of my skillet, and  to which I had added a bit more of that Sherry Vinegar, with eggs and topped it all off with thin slices of beautiful Serrano Ham.

Next on the agenda of things to do with them: French Onion Pizza - which you have to admit has almost everything the soup does: caramelized onions, cheese, bread.  Looking forward to it.


Tricked by Truffles Omelette

Our current Cook the Books selection, Peter Mayle's French Lessons, it turns out, is not really a language course, but a cultural tour of some odd French festivals, fairs and markets (a Catholic mass to auction truffles, for instance). I found it moderately interesting, though his novel, Hotel Patis was a much more entertaining read.

Mr. Mayle, by the end of his gastronomic researches, is apparently ready for a purge, and it is here, at the Eugenie-les-Bains spa, with chef Michel Guerard of cuisine minceur fame, that the food descriptions begin to sound a bit more appealing.  As the restaurant has three Michelin stars, it is no wonder. In fact, it sounds like the ideal getaway for a gastronome, or expense account  foodie.  My dream job.

Though for a dish inspired by the book as a whole, I thought of  his description of the the perfect omelette on page 35:
"It was a vibrant bright yellow, the yellow that only comes from the yolks of eggs laid by free-range hens, and the consistency had been exquisitely judged by the chef, just on the firm side of runny....  the plump, moist, soft-skinned golden envelope that slides so cleanly from the pan." 
 This might be my challenge, paired with something I've long been wanting to try - truffles.  From what I've read it seems that truffles are well matched with egg and pasta dishes.  So, maybe a souffle or an omelette?? The first step, and what proved to be more difficult than  I had imagined, was finding the truffles.  Out of season apparently, and immoderately expensive when in season.  But, I thought maybe a small jar of trouffle honey, or perhaps a very small preserved truffle?? It could be considered my early Christmas present.  I ended up ordering a tiny, wee jar of truffles (Summer variety) preserved in salt, 2 of them, about the size of marbles, truffle butter (Winter) and a small jar of truffle honey.

The initial truffle experiment was with veal chops, which were browned nicely on both sides, then finished a few minutes in the oven.  In the pan, with the crusty bits, I added some Merlot, a little Balsamic vinegar and a small amount of beef stock; reduced that down til syrupy, then swirled in, off the heat, little knobs of truffle butter.  Very flavorful, though can't say that we really tasted truffle. Still not sure exactly what that should be. The flavor must have been overpowered by my lovely pan reduction sauce.  It sounded nice though.  Merlot and Balsamic Reduction with Truffle Butter.

I  read somewhere, in the course of my  research, that the more delicately flavored Summer Truffles shouldn't be cooked, which eliminated a souffle from the running.  So, the next  attempt was an Omelette aux Truffes, which I served with Asparagus Spears in a walnut oil and Spanish Sherry vinaigrette, and a crusty loaf of French bread.  This will be my Cook the Books entry for our current event, hosted this round by Jo at Food Junkie, Not Junk Food.

Here you see the melting chevre escaping our omelette, and the black bits would be the trouffles.

I pretty much followed the directions given by one of my favorite cooking authors, Alice Waters, so as not to do my usual scrambled eggs thing.

First, I  prepared the ingredients, so there would be a casual flow, and not panicked disorder, as is quite common.  I steamed the asparagus, mixed up a vinaigrette, and then while a cast iron skillet heated on medium low for 3 to 5 minutes,  grated the two little truffles, crumbled my lovely, salted chevre and beat the eggs lightly, adding minced parsley, salt and freshly ground black pepper.

Next, I put a lump of butter in the pan and let it melt and sizzle, swirling it around.  Before it browned, the eggs were poured in.  The edges began to set almost immediately, and, as advised, (like me and everyone else hasn't done this before?) I pulled the sides in toward the center with a spatula, letting the uncooked egg  flow under on the hot exposed bottom, lifting edges, tilting the pan, etc.  When it was mostly set I placed crumbled, soft cheese across the center and cooked another moment or two.

Then, the grated truffles were sprinkled down the middle, before folding the omelet in half over itself.

Finally, the lovely, oozing creation was carefully slipped onto a serving plate, where it happily befriended our asparagus in their vinaigrette.  Alice recommends dragging a piece of butter over the top to make the omelet shine.  I thought, oh well, might as well gild this lily, and swiped some of that truffle butter across.

I didn't have an unbroken top, not sure why, but all the flavors were there and fabulously paired with the asparagus.  However, I do feel somewhat faced with a naked emperor here.  Dare I say anything?  Or, perhaps my taste buds just need screwing on tighter?  Is truffle really all it's cracked up to be?  Bob and I were in agreement, couldn't distinguish anything particularly, wonderfully different.  There was the herbal kick of parsley, the succulent soft cheese, nice buttery eggs, and maybe a hint of mushroomy nuttiness.  But, for that, we could have saved a bundle and used shitakes here, foodie fans.  Or, perhaps it was because they weren't fresh from the earth, Black Winter Truffles??  Yes, as it turns out.  With a tad more research:

Winter Black truffles are harvested in the wintertime in the forests of the Perigord and Lot regions of France. They are designated "brushed" which literally means they have been carefully cleaned and brushed, and are ready to use. Shave over pastas; aromatize chicken and meat dishes, winter soup or even scrambled eggs. They are preserved in their own brine or juice, which can be used for sauces or broths. Preserved truffles are a nice, budget-friendly way to add visual truffle appeal to dishes. However, if you are looking to add the pungent aroma and taste of truffles to your dish, we recommend that you explore our fresh truffle. Jarred or canned truffles, sold by us or any other vendor, are mere shadows of their fresh truffle selves and will not, by themselves, deliver the aroma or flavor of fresh truffles. They are great to use with truffle oil – the oil will add the flavor, the preserved truffles the truffle “look”, but preserved truffles should be used only to garnish a dish, or in conjunction to truffle butter and oil during those times when fresh truffles are out of season or when the budget doesn’t allow for the real thing. Preserved truffles out of the jar or can have almost no flavor or odor.
This from the Gourmet Food Store site.  So now we know.  Plus, what I used were Black Summer Truffles, preserved.  Even less flavor, no aroma.  I think I need a trip to France for research purposes..  Or Italy.  In truffle season.
All in all, not my favorite book, but the challenge and experimentation is always fun in a really enjoyable event, that covers two of my avocations, cooking and reading, our Cook the Books Club.

P.S. A Winner has been posted (click on the above link) and, guess what???  Yes, I did win - again. Bow, bow, humble wave, and thank you to our judge, Beth, of Beth Fish Reads, who had a difficult time, as there were so many delicious entries.  Check them all out.