Monday, January 31, 2011

Roux

A roux is simply a mixture of fat and flour, and there's nothing terribly difficult or scary about it. However, roux is used as the basis for numerous sauces and in other dishes, too, so it's well worth while learning how to make a roux.

The first time you make a roux, you will start off with a little fat in a pan where you have just cooked something. Measure the fat off into a measuring spoon or cup, depending on how much you have. Pour it back into the pan and look at how much of the pan it covers, to give you an idea for future reference. Now take some flour, and slowly add a little flour at a time, stirring as you go and making sure that the mixture is completely smooth before adding any more flour. You will eventually end up with something that looks a little like thick, grainy yogurt. If you continue to cook this, it will darken and develop more flavour. If you want a pale roux, cook it in a double boiler. For gumbo, where roux is an essential ingredient, you will want it very dark (but not burnt).

 What good is a roux? Knowing how to make a roux is one of the essential basics in most European cooking, as it is used to make sauces. Roux is also good for thickening soups and stews, and is one of the essential steps in making souffl├ęs. By practicing to make roux, you will be able to use roux to build a wide variety of dishes, so it's worth practicing to know how to make one well.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Pates or Terrines

 The first time I tried to make a pate, I was terrified. I was sure it was going to use expensive ingredients, and I would mess it up! So I shakily took out my Fannie Farmer Cookbook, because I had bought a pork butt on sale and didn't know what to do with it. A pork butt is about 1/3 fat, which is what you'll need for a good meat pate or terrine.

The first thing to know is that a pate and a terrine are exactly the same thing--the only difference being that a terrine is in larger chunks. (Pate is simply the French word for "paste," so I remember that pates have to be ground to a fine paste.)

Now that we know what pates and terrines are (that is, stuff ground up together), we can start thinking about how to make them. There needs to be some sort of protein to bind everything together: milk, fat, meat, eggs, cooked beans or other legumes. Everything else is up to you! Grind everything together, coarsely or finely, and pack it into a greased loaf pan. Bake for at least 20 minutes at 350 degrees. For meats, bake until when you prick it with a fork, the juices run clear. Let cool, unmold, slice and serve.

You can dress up those pates and terrines to make them more attractive. Consider putting a half avocado in the middle of the loaf pan and packing the rest of the pate around it. Add whole, or chopped bite-sized, pieces of something (nuts, for example). Roll the finished pate or terrine in chopped fresh herbs or sprinkle them over the top, or wrap a meat pate or terrine in bacon before serving. Instead of a plain loaf pan, use a fancy metal mold. Serve your pate or terrine on a bed of something.

How do you determine what goes together? That's easy -- taste! Use the ingredients you already know from another dish. (After all, a lot of Tex-Mex food is the same ingredients, just different presentations!) Or take a look at your refrigerator and pantry and think about what each item tastes like, and what would the other items taste like with it? You may find some real winners!

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Why Face First?

My friends know that I love to eat and I have a real enthusiasm for food and flavour. I don't mind making messes in the kitchen, as anyone who knows me will attest, and often at dinner will put my face dangerously close to my plate to savour the delicious smells . . . and so now you know where the "face-first" comes from, because food ought to be so great that you're ready to just dive in!

Thanks to Linda Buzzell who blogs about food at the Huffington Post, and Correen over at Foodloversweb for provoking me to begin blogging about food. I'll do my best to post Mondays, given the constraints of my schedule and my two other blogs.

Welcome!

I started cooking when I was ten years old. As the daughter of an industrial chemist, I was always interested in how cooking worked, and thanks to a commenter on another site, and some encouragement from the fine folks at foodloversweb.com, I decided today to start this food blog. What I will be publishing is patterns in cooking as I find them. What that means for my readers is to free them from the tyranny of recipe books, and to learn to create your own recipes.
Here's the first . . . although it's a little cold now, in a few months you'll be thanking me. This is a real crowd-pleaser at potlucks and dinner parties, and can be dressed up or down. Even better, it can be made ahead. Way ahead.

Sorbet

Blend anything to a smooth texture, add liquid to make a paste if necessary. Correct to please your taste, then either use the freezer method (put in a dish, put in the freezer, and stir every 10 minutes until frozen), or put in an ice cream freezer. Scoop and serve.
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"Wait!" I hear you saying. "Ingredients? Liquid? Measurements?" Don't bother. Use your imagination. Coffee, chocolate, avocado, vichyssoise. After all, frozen alcoholic drinks are a sorbet. To experiment with savory sorbets, start with your favourite cold soups. What about guacamole and other dips? Just imagine how good they will taste frozen when the weather is hot, and consider serving them at your next summer grilling party.

For imaginative serving ideas, consider making savory sorbets into a lettuce wrap, or even better for either sweet or savory dishes, rolling them in fresh chopped herb leaves (for vichyssoise, how about rolling in chopped bacon or chives, or both?).  Mold them with cookie cutters or butter or gelatin molds, slice and serve, or come up with something even more ingenious. Leave your ideas below!