And now, dessert

I stopped making pâte à choux a while ago because I hate working with pastry bags (and cleaning them afterwards), and so watching her make these éclairs so simply just knocked me over. I have not idea why I didn’t think of this.

One hint that Mary left out: when cooking the choux paste, it is done when the bottom of the pan gets a film of the paste cooked onto it. It’s just starch, nothing to worry about, but it indicates that you’ve cooked the rawness out of the flour. Turn off the heat and that’s when you would start to beat in the eggs. And yes, you can do that part in a mixer or using an egg beater.

But wait! There’s more:

You can make a savory version of this adding some cheese to the paste (literally it is a cheesepuff)—and skip the pastry cream and chocolate. Or you could gild the lily and put some smoked salmon and cream cheese inside the finished puff for a more substantial nibble.

It makes a great hors d’ouevre for a cocktial party, and it really is not hard to make. From start to finish, the savory version shouldn’t take you more than 30 minutes, and probably less.

Thanksgiving Prep

While I wait for my stuff to arrive from California, I’m contemplating Thanksgiving in a new home. It just sort of begs for something special to mark the occasion.

I’m not a fan of turkey, which I know means that the terrorists have won, but I do know how to make an excellent one following the advice from Julia Child, where you deconstruct the bird. It seems a little weird at first, but put your bird in an experts hands and you will find easy success.

I mention this several days ahead of Thanksgiving because if you do decide to go the deconstructed route, you have one great advantage over all the amateurs: you can make turkey stock NOW and have excellent gravy for the big night. Here’s how:

  1. Gather the bones and trimmings from when you deconstruct the turkey. You should have the neck, the back, wing tips and other misc. bits. (I always remove the wishbone now to make carving later easier.). Roast them, skin and all until deeply brown. All that color is flavor and it will make your turkey stock more delicious.
  2. Take all the roasted bones and put them into a big stock pot and cover them with water. Deglaze the roasting pan. If you like to cook with wine, now is the time to do it. Heat the roasting pan and pour in enough liquid to give about ¼ inch of depth. Scrape all the browned bits up from the pan — that’s where the flavor is, and pour this liquid into the stock pot with the bones and the water.
  3. Add some onions, carrots, celery and so forth. Bring the pot to a simmer and let it cook without boiling. It sounds sort of crazy, but if you let it boil, your stock will become cloudy and the fat will emulsify with the water. Just let it perk along and try to not let it boil. I usually let it go overnight. Taste it whenever you think about it. It is done when you think it is well flavored.
  4. Strain the beast. Line a colander with several layers of cheese cloth, and put a large container underneath to catch the stock. If the stock has bits of meat or vegetables floating in it, then strain it again with some more fresh cheesecloth. By now it should be sparkling.
  5. Chill the stock. Bring the stock down to room temperature and then put it in the fridge. The fat will float to the top (taking any other impurities with it) and congeal, making it really easy to remove and discard.

That’s really it. You are essentially done and you now have restaurant-quality stock that is ready to be used for your gravy while your turkey rests before carving. All you need to do now is to make a roux with some flour and the fat from the turkey roasting pan and then then it with your excellent stock.

Of course, here’s the best advice from my teacher Tante Marie: Just put the f***ing turkey in the oven.

Bon Appetit!

I believe several Scissorheads have professed their undying love to Mary (full disclosure: I know her, have taken classes from her, adore her) following her epic video Just put the F****in’ turkey in the oven, and so here is her recipe for Chocolate Turtles.

These things are fantastic, crunchy pecans, gooey caramel, decadent chocolate, and if you are a good shopper, you can make scads of these things at very little cost. I’ve yet to meet anyone who doesn’t love them. The big deal is the pecan: find the best, freshest pecans you can. Right now is an excellent time to buy them. The harvest is in, the shelves got cleared out for Pecan Pie at Thanksgiving.

Here’s the thing to note: if you do not have a candy thermometer–buy one–or really study the color and behavior of the caramel in the video. You really can tell the stage of the candy by color. It talks to you, too: there is a sound it makes when it goes from one stage to another. Use all of your senses. (Except touch, and even then there are some Chefs who do touch the stuff. Don’t be one of them.)

Take the pan off the heat a little earlier than she says if you are using Enamel/cast iron or cast iron only. Cast iron (with enamel) will continue to cook long after you remove it and achieve the right color. Darker will not wreck it by any means, but it freaks people out. It still cleans up with hot water as she demonstrates.

If you make them, let us know your experience. I checked out the Big Candy Chain store and they sell turtles for a buck each (one pecan!) — you can do this.

Tengrain’s Little Cooking School: soft dinner rolls

A while ago our friend and un-indicted co-conspirator GRS was looking for a recipe for making a soft bread for his daughter (who, like most daughters totally owns her daddy), and I tried and failed to come up with a bread that would suit his needs.

Today I stand before you triumphant, if not immodest.

This is an adaptation from one of those artisian-breads-in-5-minutes-a-day thingies. The secret to those things, by the way, is to make so much dough on the weekend that you pull off only what you need during that 5 minutes each day the rest of the week. More on that later, in the Bonus.

I stumbled upon this bread dough when trying to work through a baking problem for a friend of mine who runs a small diner in town. He does some lobster rolls during the summer and he was unhappy with the standard issue hot dog bun you can find at the market. Anyway, after much plodding along we developed a pretty fool-proof bun recipe than I think not only works for his lobster roll, I think it will work for GRS’ little girl.

The secret here, not surprisingly, is the potato flour and the dried milk. These yield very soft breads. Experienced cake bakers will often add a small measure of potato flour to their batter to make an even more tender cake crumb. The other secret is to not overwork the dough. You don’t want a high gluten product in the end, you want something Wonder bread soft. Err on the side of under-mixing it. You just have to trust me on this.

As always, I measure by weight, but I know most people don’t. Still, if you have a scale please use it.

Ingredients:

  • 4 cups (17 ounces) unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 
2 tablespoons (1 ounce) sugar (or more if you like a sweeter product)
  • 
2 teaspoons salt
  • 
1/4 cup (2 ounces, 1/2 stick) unsalted butter, diced into bits. Keep it cold
  • 
6 tablespoons (2 1/4 ounces) potato flour (or 1/2 cup (1 ounce) dried mashed potato flakes if you cannot find the ‘tater flour)
  • 
6 tablespoons (2 ounces) non-fat dry milk
  • 
1 1/2 cups (12 ounces) water
  • 
1 teaspoon instant yeast

Make it:

  1. Combine all of the ingredients into your mixer and mix until it makes a shaggy blob.
  2. Let the dough rest for about 15 minutes so that the flour absorbs all the moisture.
  3. Resume kneading the dough for about 5 minutes or until it looks smooth, elastic, and kind of sticky.
  4. Place the dough in a lightly oiled bowl, cover and put in the fridge to rise overnight. The next day you will shape and bake off the rolls.

If you are making hot dog, hamburger buns, dinner rolls:

  • Hotdog buns are about 3 oz. of dough and shape it like a play dough tube about the size of the hot dog.
  • Hamburger buns are about 4 oz of dough that you shape into a ball and then flatten.
  • Dinner rolls are about 2 oz of dough rolled into a ball.

I roll these things out on a silpat mat or on a baking parchment, which I then cover with a piece of plastic wrap that I have sprayed with oil and let it rise, until about double in height. I slip the parchment/silpat onto a baking sheet when risen and remove the plastic wrap.

Slide into a 375° over for about 10 – 12 minutes for buns/rolls. Because of the sugar, the tops will brown nicely, but are not crunchy. Think Thanksgiving dinner rolls, sort of like that.

This recipe makes about 36 oz. of dough, which is enough for 12 hotdog buns or 8 hamburger buns. I think this will make at least 2 regular sized loaves of bread. I would put them in a well-buttered pan and check on them at the 20-minute mark and then every 5 – 7 minutes thereafter until I thought that they were done.

BONUS:

You knew this was coming, right?

The 5-minutes a day thing: Because of the low amount of yeast-to-flour ratio in this recipe, the yeast will continue to feed on the flour for quite a long time before dying or making that bad sour smell. This means you can pull of some dough and bake this daily and have fresh rolls with dinner nightly. My last two batches of this were good for 6 days. It is becoming a habit here at the hut.

The Oregon Spruce Goose Cocktail

OK, it is not spruce, but a fir-tree based drink, but let me elaborate.

Some of you may remember that I periodically wander up to the Pacific Northwest, and that last year I was in Portland Oregon, and you may even recall that I spent a hazy afternoon at Clear Creek Distillery.

I know, hard to imagine given that I am *temperance* personified.

Anyway, one of the best things I tasted during that trip was an eau-de-vie of fir tree (the little green tips, harvested by hand from organically grown trees in a remote, privately owned woods) distilled by Clear Creek into an eau-de-vie. It is the sort of thing that you immediately say, “Wow! But what do I do with it?”

And I am here today to tell you that you make a very specific cocktail from it. This is not a cheap drink, there are no substitutions offered, and you must stick strictly to the proportions. I will not tell you how I know this; I will tell you that I am enjoying a celery-green cocktail on St. Patricks Day that uses a Scottish gin, French Vermouth, and Oregon eau-de-vie that I am sure will surprise even the most discerning Scissorhead.

Ingredients:

  • 1 1/2 oz. Hendricks Gin
  • 3/4 oz. Lillet
  • 1/4 oz Clear Creek Fir Eau-de-vie
  • dash lavender bitters
  • Orange peel for garnish

Make it:

  1. Put the gin, Lillet, and eau-de-vie in a cocktail mixing glass that is 3/4 full of ice, cracked if you can manage that. Shake in the bitters.
  2. Stir vigorously with the straight end of a bar spoon. 30 seconds will be fine, but no less.
  3. Strain into a stemmed cocktail glass that is well-chilled. I recommend in the freezer for at least 10 minutes, longer if possible.
  4. With a lit candle between you and the cocktail glass, twist the orange peel to caramelize the essential oil from the peel as it sprays into the top of the cocktail. Move the candle out of the way, rub the rim of the cocktail glass with the peel, and drop into the glass.
  5. Sip and enjoy the Oregon woods.

Comments:

  • I thought about using orange bitters, but it seemed sort of obvious.
  • I recommend Hendricks Gin for this cocktail because it has a strong floral element, I think some of it is lavender. Anyway, it is lovely stuff and plays really well with the Fir eau-de-vie.
  • Lillet is a very floral and not-too-dry French White Vermouth. I highly recommend it anytime you want a softer cocktail.
  • There is nothing–Nothing–NOTHING I know of to substitute for the Fir eau-de-vie, and at $50 for a tiny bottle, it is the priciest thing I think I’ve ever had in my bar. It has mystified me for nearly a year: I keep sipping a teaspoon of it at a time trying to figure out what to do with it. This cocktail is the first time I’ve found success.

My birthday cake!

My Mother used to drive to SF to Union Square to buy one of these cakes for my birthday when I was growing up. There is nothing better. Nothing. I’ve been looking for this recipe for much of my adult life, I’m going to have to give it a try. Oh, and unlike what Mary says, the cake is better in layers with the crunchy stuff in between. It is worth the effort to do it.

(And for those of you keeping score at home, Mary is my cooking school teacher, and yeah, I had a birthday already this year. I’m the oldest I’ve ever been!)

New Year’s Day

Sorry for the absence, taking care of some chores today. As per my tradition I take a walk and scatter wild flower seeds in the empty lots and other wild places around my neighborhood; some years I’m just feeding the birds, other years a thousand poppies bloom. Anyway, it’s a nice day for a walk, and as my Dad always said, leave the campground better than you found it.

Making Schweddy Balls

OK, I’ve been busy. Tonight is the big annual cookie party in the neighborhood. The idea is that everyone shows up with a tray of home-made cookies, and then everyone leaves with a tray of assorted home-made cookies. It seems to be some sort of old Italian tradition, and it is really kind of nice.

Anyway, today I made my famous Schweddy Balls:

OK, actually they are Rum Balls. The thing about rum (or bourbon balls) is that the dough has to be able to absorb the moisture from the booze, and the chocolate needs to be strong enough flavored to not be overwhelmed by the rum. And so as you can guess there is a secret to it, but surprisingly it is not about technique, well not much anyway.

Here’s the secret: You start by making a batch of your best brownies from scratch. Please don’t use a mix, you need real semi-sweet chocolate. And here’s the technique part: make them in a very, well-buttered large sheet pan (in the trade these are called half-sheets) so they cook quickly and come out very thin. You want to do this for two reasons: 1) they cook really fast, maybe 10 minutes and 2) they turn out more cake-like than brownie-like. This is important because the cake-like brownie can absorb liquid, where the thick traditional brownie cannot.

Now comes the fun part: after the thin brownies have cooled (at least 10 minutes for me), you want to rip them up into tiny bits and put them into the bowl of your stand mixer; I used two forks and just shred them into crumbs. Once you have the whole sheet pan in crumbs in the bowl of your mixer, use the paddle and start pouring in rum. Dark Rum, the best you can afford.

The hard part is knowing how much rum to add, so pour slowly and when the whole mass starts to form a ball, stop. I find that it is usually between 1/4 cup and 1/2 cup, depending on the weather.

Now break off pieces of the rummy dough and roll them around in the palms of your hands to make, well, balls. You want to make dense, single-bite balls. Put them on a sheet pan and into your fridge for a couple of hours to firm up. If you want, you can roll them around in sprinkles BEFORE you put them in the ice box, but if you did not roll them in sprinkles right after forming them, you can now roll your balls in powdered sugar or cocoa powder if you believe in gilding the lily.

Always let people know that there is booze in these things. You don’t want to cause a relapse if your guests have addiction issues.

Anyway, enjoy my Schweddy Balls this Holiday Season.