Don’t Be A Creep, Make A Crêpe

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Two very strange things happened the night before I left for San Francisco: (1) I decided to make crepes; and (2) After making crepes–with lemon juice and sugar (a standard treatment, as far as I could discern)–I sat down with Craig, who was watching “Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby” and, I kid you not, the characters on the screen started talking about crepes (including “Crepes Suzette” with lemon juice and powdered sugar). Don’t believe me? You can watch the scene (illegally, I guess) on YouTube. Now you know I’m not a liar!

Isn’t that weird? How often do you cook something, sit down to watch a movie and have the characters in the movie talk about what you just made? It’s like eating venison while your kids watch Bambi. It’s freaky.

Freakiness aside, though, it’s time you made crepes. Have you never made a crepe? You are a fool! Crepes are a cinch, especially if you have a non-stick skillet. I used the Joy of Cooking recipe and it took no time (except the 30 minutes the batter rests). It’s a simple, fun dessert and once you start making crepes you’ll never stop. (Though you may stop spelling them “Crêpes” because you’ll get tired of that accented e.) Here’s what you do…

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A Say, Say, Savory Onion, Cheese and Bacon Tart

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If it’s fair to mock Diane Keaton for ordering pastrami on white bread with mayo in “Annie Hall,” then it’s fair to mock me for not knowing much about savory tarts and quiche-like items. In my Jewish upbringing both in New York and Boca Raton, Florida I never encountered a savory tart or a quiche. Naturally, I’m sure I’ll get a flood of responses: “I’m Jewish and I ate quiche every day!” “My name is Shlomo Quichey and I resent everything you stand for.” Fair enough. I’m just saying from my experience, at many Jewish people’s homes, Bar Mitzvahs and buffet tables there wasn’t a savory tart or quiche in site. Satisfied?

My point is that savory tarts and quiches are unfamiliar to me. They are difficult for me to wrap my brain around: who would want to eat something that looks like a pie that isn’t sweet? It isn’t human. It isn’t right.

But it just so happened that at the end of last week I found, in my refrigerator, bacon, eggs and cheddar cheese. I entered those ingredients into Epicurious and came up with this, a fabulously well-reviewed bacon, egg and cheese tart. I had all of the ingredients. My interest was piqued. And as I said, this was fabulously well-reviewed. People wrote things like: “I was suicidal and this tart saved my life”; “This tart is better than my child. I sent my child to camp so I could spend more time with this tart.”

So for the specific tart-making directions, follow the recipe link. Here’s a vague overview.

First, you make and bake the tart crust:

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I had some trouble, but I overcame.

Then you fry up some bacon:

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In the bacon fat, you cook up onions (that’s a genius move). Then you add the onions to the tart:

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Now to the onions, you add the bacon, cheese (I had cheddar, the recipe requires the other kind), and a cream mixture with nutmeg and other flavors.

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You bake for a while and it comes out looking like this:

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I must say, the result was truly excellent. The bacony, carmelized onions are transcendent, and the consistency of everything else–the egg/cream mixture, the tart dough–is sheer perfection. This is a savory tart for the savory tart doubter.

As you can see in the top pic, I served it with an arugula, yellow cherry tomato salad simply dressed with olive oil, champagne vinegar, salt and pepper. ‘Twas a winning dinner served with a crisp white wine. Was also a winning lunch served the next day without wine because I’m not a drunkard. As for how this new affection for savory tarts affects my religious affiliations, all I have to say is that Mel Gibson is my Co-Pilot! Now we’re all in trouble.

Ooh La La, Fancy French Toast

What to do with the leftover peasant bread you bought for the Eggs in Purgatory I championed in a video last week? After all, you had the bread sliced at the store and fresh bread like that goes stale pretty quick. Let’s see there’s eggs in the fridge, vanilla, milk… hmmm… why, could we make french toast? Why, yes we can!

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Using this recipe from Epicurious it couldn’t have been easier. And now for a Flickr slide show to explain the rest (I stole this idea from Sam of Becks & Posh: thanks Sam!) Click a picture to read a clever little quip and then curse yourself for wasting your time. Enjoy!

The Best Part of Waking Up Is Soft Scrambled Eggs and Homemade Biscuits with Apple Butter. (Folgers sucks.)

On Saturday morning I did a remarkable thing: I made a feast for breakfast. Well, not quite a feast. A mini-feast. A feast in the sense that it took more effort than, say, popping an Eggo waffle in the toaster or making the breakfast I usually eat: air. This was my breakfast plate after it was assembled and though it’s lacking some fruit and some home fried potatoes I’m perfectly content with what’s there.

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What is there? On the left you will see a homemade biscuit topped with homemade apple butter. The apple butter came to us from Heidi Swanson and the biscuits came to us from Cook’s Illustrated. (Both those links will take you to my version of the recipes.) Making biscuits in the morning takes minimal effort, the only hitch might be if you don’t have buttermilk. You can turn regular milk into buttermilk with vinegar or lemon but having the real deal makes a difference. Why not buy some next time you’re in the store and treat yourself to biscuits in the morning? Why do you hate yourself so much?

But I’m not so interested in the biscuits and apple butter, though they were wonderful. I want to wax poetical, for a moment, on the eggs. Study those eggs in the above photo. Don’t they look otherworldly? That’s because I prepared them in the gourmet style, the one that great chefs suggest in fancy cookbooks though it wasn’t a fancy cookbook that led me to this technique, it was someone’s food blog. Whose? I don’t remember but it’s someone who reads this site because I found it after they left a comment. Do you know who you are? Show yourself in the comments and I will commend you with medals and plaques and ribbons and sashes!

The technique is so simple that I can’t imagine anyone messing it up, it simply requires patience. And it is soooooooo soooooooo worth it. Every “o” in the previous sentence magnifies the “worth it” by ten so you should take me seriously. By cooking them slow like this they take on a custardy richness that’s difficult to believe considering that the same substance on a high heat would taste like burnt rubber.

Here’s how you do it:

Melt 2 Tbs of butter in a non-stick pan on MEDIUM heat. Crack three eggs into a bowl [*six, if making for two people], break them up with a fork, and then pour them into the non-stick pan. At this point, lower the heat to very low and begin stirring. Keep stirring. Stir, stir, stir and do it for 30 minutes. Ok, you can take breaks. Ok, you can occasionally turn up the heat. But take your time. It looks like this while you do it:

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I confess that I did turn up the heat a bit prematurely but only a small notch. This small notch, though, made the difference in getting it done faster. Next time I’ll be more patient. Either way, these scrambled eggs were the best I’ve ever had and I made them! That’s saying a lot. Give it a shot and start your day in style. And please, for the love of God, don’t use Pam for this method. And use real eggs not egg beaters from a carton. (These last two sentences were NOT intended for my mother.)

Pancake Perfection on a Sunday Morning

When it comes to whipping up something fast for breakfast, I very rarely have the impulse to make pancakes. Eggs are as extravagant as I get: I drop a clump of butter in the skillet, crack the eggs on the counter and three minutes later I’m in gooey eggy heaven. Yes eggs or maybe oatmeal. Certainly not pancakes. Pancakes would take forever, wouldn’t they? Especially pancakes as photogenic as these?

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You know looking at that picture there, that may be the single most impressive photograph of something I’ve made in the history of this website. Maybe it’s the natural light. But in terms of wanting to lick the screen, I’m swooning over those dark brown crispy circles framing the tender, cakey pancake beneath. Don’t you want to know how I did it? Would you believe it only took 10 minutes? Then click below!

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Pump Up The Jam (Strawberry, That Is)

Enter this post at your own risk: I made jam like a madman yesterday. A madman you say? Yes I do. Why a madman? Because I broke many jam making rules. The biggest rule? The rule comes to us from Christine Ferber who is a jam genius: her jam book “Mes Confitures” was recommended to me by Clotilde and all the jams in it look delicious. Here’s Chrissy’s rule: “Ideally, the fruit should be prepared a few hours after picking–the next day at the latest (and, if so, the fruit must be kept cool)–because it loses quality quickly.”

The next day you say? Oh Christine. How you’d howl if you saw what I did yesterday. See these strawberries?

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They were five days old! I bought them for Stella’s party and there were lots and lots of them and they never got et. So yesterday, when I spied them in the fridge, I said: “Something must be done!” I tasted one and it tasted fine. “Screw the French jam master!” I said ruefully. “I’m making jam!”

This month’s Martha Stewart Living (yes, occassionally I buy Martha Stewart living) has a recipe for strawberry preserves. I combined that recipe with some tips and quantities from “Mes Confitures” and I was on my way.

If you are going to do this, go to the Container Store and buy jars. That’s the only place I’ve found thusfar that sells jars. I’m sure that’s nuts–there’s plenty of places to buy jars. But that’s the one I know. I bought four jars, but only used one and a half.

When you’re ready to make the jam, rinse and clean your jars with soap and water and a sponge. Dry thoroughly and put on a baking sheet. I lined the sheet with parchament because I knew later, when I was ladeling hot jam into the jars, I’d want paper down to catch what I spilled. (And I did spill.)

Turn the oven up to 220, let it preheat. When you have five minutes left on your jam cooking, put the jars in the oven to sterilize them. This is Christine’s technique and it’s really easy. It’s either that or throw some penicillin in the pot.

Now for the jam making. Watch how easy. You need: 2 lbs strawberries, 1 Tbs plus 1/2 tsp fresh lemon juice, and 1 cup sugar.*

*That 1 cup is from Martha Stewart. But in Christine’s book for the same quantity of strawberries she recommends two cups. So I compromised and used 1.5 cups. I think you should negotiate this number based on how sweet your strawberries are.

Here we go:

1. Put strawberries and lemon juice in a large saucepan. Cook, stirring occassionally, over low heat until juices are released, about 40 minutes. Stir in sugar.

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2. Bring to a boil over medium heat. Cook, stirring occassionally, until mixture registers 210* on a candy thermometer, about 15 minutes. Let cool completely; skim foam from surface with a spoon. Preserves can be refrigerated in an air tight container, up to 2 months.

*Step 2 is all Martha. Christine says to get the temp up to 221 on a candy thermometer. Since Martha’s making preserves and Christine’s making jam, I decided to go the jam route and get it up to 221. I took a tip from Clotilde and put a plate in the freezer before I started so when the temp got close to 221 (it actually never quite got there) I could “check the set” on the cold plate. You just spoon some of the boiling liquid on to the plate and feel its consistency. If it’s runny you know the jam’ll be runny. It’s really quite simple. Here’s my boiling apparatus:

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Instead of following Martha’s instructions to let it cool, I immediately ladeled the hot mixture (after checking the set) into the sterilized jars. You put the lids on and store them upside down (not sure why) until they come to room temperature.

Despite all these rules, the jam came out great. So don’t be intimidated by rules or standards or lofty jam expectations. Put summer in a bottle and make some jam. Your winter self will thank you.

Dramatic Late Night Chocolate Chip Muffins

Look at these dramatic muffins:

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Do you get it? I made drama masks with them. Happy face, sad face. You people are so uncultured, it sickens me.

I’ve been craving chocolate chip muffins lately. I don’t know why. Maybe I’m pregnant? No, if I was pregnant I’d want chocolate chip muffins and pickles.

There’s just something sexy to me about the idea of a hot chocolate chip muffin coming out of the oven late at night. So I just made them using Nigella Lawson’s feast cookbook. They were crazy easy. Do you want the recipe? It’s so easy.

Preheat the oven to 400 and fill a muffin tin with 12 paper cups.

In a bowl put all these dry ingredients together:

1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour

2 tsps baking powder

1/2 tsp baking soda

2 Tbs best-quality unsweetened cocoa (Ok, I was an idiot and used Jacques Torres’s hot chocolate powder–that didn’t work so well)

3/4 cup semisweet chocolate chips (plus more for sprinkling later)

3/4 cup superfine sugar (I used regular sugar and it was fine)

Then add these wet ingredients:

1 large egg

1 cup milk

1/3 cup plus 2 tsps vegetable oil

1 tsp vanilla extract

That’s it! You stir but not too much. Nigella tells us this: “Remember that a lumpy batter makes the best muffins.” See?

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Pour into the muffin cups and bake for 20 minutes. That’s it! Deliciousness in no time!

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Ok, small confession–these weren’t 100% delicious, but I think that’s because (as mentioned above) I used hot chocolate powder instead of cocoa. I know, I know–that’s retarded–but it seemed like a fine idea at the time. Maybe it’s a testament to how good these muffins are that even though that aspect of it didn’t taste good, they still did taste really really good. They’re light, fluffy and scream to be eaten hot out of the oven. Treat your inner muffin-lover today.

Annals of Eating: Not So Regular Bran Muffins for the Irregular

Bran muffins serve one purpose and one purpose only. So does bran cereal, for that matter. People don’t eat bran because it tastes good, people eat it because it makes them poop.

In case you haven’t been told, pooping is the natural consequence of eating. What goes in must come out, so they say. I am sorry to write about this on my food blog, but it’s a topic that needed to be broached. We all poop: deal with it.

When I say “we all poop: deal with it” I do not mean to imply that we all poop to the same degree. Some of us poop at a 45 degree angle. Haha, that was poop humor.

What I’m trying to say is that some of us poop more frequently than others. Julia Child, for example, poops three times a day. Go Julia!

My own personal poop situation falls into the category of “too much information for my gentle blog-reading audience.” Suffice it to say that I felt the duty (haha, duty) to make, tonight, Nancy Silverton’s recipe for Bran Muffins.

Nancy’s recipe appealed to me because #1, my diet requires bran at the moment and #2 (haha, #2), she has all these quirky elements like grated orange zest and pulverized raisin mash.

Let’s get on with it Nancy, do-do that voodoo that you do so well. Hehe, dodo.

[If this blog were my job, I’d be fired right around now.]

Now then it is late (2:30!) and I have not the time to take you through the entire recipe with ingredients, etc. If you’d like that I suppose I could type it up at some point. But for now, enjoy my pretty pictures.

We take 2 cups of unprocessed bran

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and toast it for 6 minutes in a 350 degree oven:

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Next we take 1.5 cups of raisins and add 1 cup of water to a sauce pan:

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Simmer on low heat until water is absorbed:

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Then pulverize:

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To the toasted bran we’ve added buttermilk and water, and now we add the raisin mixture and grated orange zest:

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Soon we add flour and brown sugar and eggs and egg whites and baking soda and baking powder and–phew!–stir it all up, pour into the muffin tin, and bake at 350 for 25 minutes.

Here’s the result:

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Ok looks a little, lumpy but I tore a top off and it was delicious:

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Really, the secret’s in the raisin mush: keeps the muffins moist. Unfortunately, I couldn’t get the muffins out of the muffin tin without tearing the tops off: so I’ll wrap in plastic wrap and call it a night.

Let me conclude by apologizing for the “distastefulness” of this post. For those of you that were offended, please know that this post does not represent the fine work that we do here at The Amateur Gourmet. Usually, we are much more classy, much more tactful. And for those of you who were NOT offended by this post, perhaps you might enjoy photographs of the “end result,” if you know what I mean? That’s available if you click below.

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