Sunday, August 30, 2009

One Pot Sunday Lunch

I love the idea of a languorous Sunday Lunch. When I lived in England, many Brits took Sunday Lunch at the Pub...where they could have the lovely roast and 2 veg. I gathered it was the equivalent of our Sunday Brunch..except the Brits get to eat Prime Rib, roasted potatoes, Yorkshire pudding and pud, and we don't.
Sunday Brunch is not my favorite.
We pay exorbinate prices for a buffet of precooked food in steamer trays. Then, while trying to get our money's worth, slog back to our tables with our plates overflowing with mediocre fare and find ourselves eating alone. I always find that no matter if all parties at the table "get in line" together, invariably, we arrive back at the table in sort of a tag team effect...someone always missing from the table; mostly due to the omelette bar, or make your own waffle table. Listen, I'm not opposed to overeating, obviously. But I am opposed to overeating because I am trying to find something delicious to eat; and by the time I do, I have already had 14 courses of powdered eggs, steamed pancakes, krab (yes with a K) salad, and various other discouragements, and am full. Too full. I mostly only go to Brunch because of the promise of Eggs Benedict.

I love Eggs Benedict. I find this interesting because I will only eat scrambled eggs if they are very, very dry. It makes me cringe to hear about creamy scrambled gross.
Eggs Benedict is made with a poached egg, canadian bacon, english muffin and hollandaise sauce. It's a real United Nations meal. Here's the thing. To me, eggs benedict is the only reason to go to a buffet. It's hardly ever on a menu, and when it is, it is rarely great. I had one of the worst eggs benedict breakfasts ever at a restaurant in South Pasadena. The hollandaise was split and curdled (quite an accomplishment), and the eggs were overcooked...actually fully cooked. When I complained, the waitress brought be out another portion of the sauce to prove that it is how they make it...that was their "version" of Hollandaise. I held my tongue and went home hungry.
Hollandaise is a tricky sauce, I agree. Especially if you have to make a vat of it. Which is why it is best made a la minute (again with the french!). It means to make it as you need it. Not only is it a tricky sauce, it is a delicious sauce...and I mean Delicious with a capital D. I love it. It is especially good over asparagus, but you could pair it with seafood or other steamed vegetables. I like it with everything and am always looking for ways to use it.
I foraged through the fridge and came up with 2 beautiful artichokes that I had purchased at the market several days ago. I squelched a bit with joy...or maybe I said yipee, or maybe I didn't do anything...not sure. But I was happy inside, that I do know. I also still have some amazing heirloom tomatoes sitting on my counter, a cucumber and some freshly dried oregano. When I say freshly dried, what I mean is that I hadn't watered my oregano plant in days and now have "sundried" oregano. I grabbed the nub of baguette that had staled overnight and had all the fixings for a good summer lunch.
Steamed Artichokes with Hollandaise
First get the artichokes ready. Cut the stem so the artichoke can stand upright. Using a sharp knife, lop off the top of the artichoke. Depending on the size of the artichoke, you can cut down an inch or more. You want a clean flat top. Take kitchen shears and cut the points off the remaining leaves. Open the artichoke up. By gently pushing out the leaves, you will see that they will separate while remaining intact. You want to get to the center choke and scoop it out.
You can wait until after steaming, which will make it easier, but I like to clean the artichoke completely before steaming. Place artichoke(s) in a steamer tray in a pot of water and cook until done. You know they are cooked when the leaves will separate easily.
Remove from the pot of water and set aside and cover with foil.

Set aside about 1/4 cup of the hot artichoke water and then add enough additional water to the pot to fill about 3". You will use this pot as your double-boiler. Turn heat to high and get the water to a boil.
In a microwavable bowl (one that is big enough to then sit on the pot and not touch the water), melt 1/2 cup unsalted butter. Remove from microwave and quickly whisk in 3 large egg yolks, juice from 1/2 lemon and a pinch of salt. Place bowl over boiling water and immediately reduce the heat to lowest setting. Continue to vigorously whisk this mixture non-stop until it begins to thicken. Add 2 Tbs of the reserved artichoke water (if you forget or don't use this with artichokes, just use hot water) and whisk until it thickens to a creamy sauce. Add a dash of tabasco and taste for salt...and it's done. The whole process of making Hollandaise should take no more than 10 minutes...outside of the water boiling. It is quick and simple.

Serve along side the artichoke as a dip.
Panzanella Salad
Cut up the bread into large crouton size. Place in oven to crisp..or's up to you. I do because I always like to have croutons on hand. If the bread is already stale, you can skip the step. While the bread is toasting, coarsely chop the tomatoes and cucumber. Place in a bowl with a pinch or two of salt, some oregano, dried or fresh or sundried as in my case. Add a bit, just a touch, of olive oil and just when ready to serve add the bread. The bread should be in the salad, as part of it, not as a topping. It should be in equal parts to the other ingredients.
Serve together for filling yet light lunch.

Sort of makes me yearn for a nice, rich, chocolately cake as a prize for my vegetarian meal. I'll keep you posted!

Friday, August 28, 2009

Julie and Julia and Julia and Me

Its been a long time since I have been inspired by a movie. I love the movies, my husband and I have date-day on tuesdays and we go to the picture show. So, I pretty much see em' all. Good, bad, really good, really bad...I go for the popcorn and stay for the movie.
In one of my past lives I worked in the "industry". I write that with quotes, because that is pretty much how I say it too. I wasn't lighting the world on fire...but I sure had fun. Got to travel a bit and meet some interesting people. I went for the celebrity sightings and stayed for the craft-service table.
So, when I tell you I was inspired by a movie, I am saying this as an avid movie watcher and jaded know-it-all.
Before I get into why I loved Julie and Julia so much...let me say this. Give Amy Adams a break. I thought she played the sorry-sack quite well, thank you. Of course, everyone wants to see Meryl Streep playing a really interesting, easily recognizable, likeable character. Juila Child's life was interesting and it was in seems quite enviable. Who wants to compete with that? It would be like comparing the life story of David Sedaris with let's say the cashier at your bank who wrote a winning essay in 5th grade on the bicentennial. Botton line...some people are more interesting than others.
I thought both chapters in this movie were equally wonderful. Let's face it, the food in Julie's chapter was exceptionally appealing.
Here's what else I loved...I loved the Love in the movie. Paul for Julia, Julia for Paul, Eric for Julie, Julie for herself.
I saw the movie for the first time at a screening with my friendApril; a friend from my past-life pavillion and a fellow food enthusiast. Before the movie there was a lovely spread of beautiful but mediocre food, by catering giant Wolfgang Puck. My favorite part of the pre-vent was meeting Jeffrey from the NEXT FOOD NETWORK STAR and not telling him he should have won. I pride myself in my brutally honest omissions.
So, i'm emotional just as a participant in life...either I am extremely empathetic or on the verge of a breakdown.
...I tell you about my emotions because Julie and Julia made me cry...more than once...okay maybe tear up is a more accurate assesment. But it did. And then it made me hungry. And then it made me envious, and then it made me hungry again...and then it made me wonder how Julie's small apartment could look so fabulous and tidy while my quite large apartment always looks like a yard sale...
...and then I was hungry again.
I have lots of nieces and nephews who love to be in the kitchen and I really wanted them to see Julie and Julia...I thought they would love it and it would inspire them as it had me.
One lazy afternoon, I took 3 of the girls to see the movie and they loved it. And I still loved it, and I teared up in the same places as I had before...and I came out of those double-doors seriously hungry. Because this is America and we are still free to do what we please, the girls and I went immediately to the grocery store and began planning our late, very French lunch. I had some amazing tomatoes from my road trip to Chino Farm at home, so we decided to make the famed bruschetta from the movie. That's a hard there...just so you know.

The gallblatter bruschetta.. is fried in oil like a donut. After spending way too much time in the meat section...we settled on poulet alouette et chevre. Okay seriously, I don't speak French...but this might actually be how you would say what we made. We finished it off with mousse au chocolat. A current obsession of my niece Julia.
We had a great time in the kitchen that and laughing and learning new skills. Personally I have never fried the bread for bruschetta, I always grill or toast it in the broiler. Frying it makes for a lovely crunch, a great color and a real treat, but it's still really good if you toast or grill the bread...once toasted, rub a garlic clove across the top, drizzle with a bit of really good olive oil and top with chopped tomatoes, garlic and fresh basil. I like to drizzle a bit of aged or reduced balsamic on top.
The Poulet Alouette et Chevre is really simple. Take 4 boneless, skinless, tasteless chicken breasts and pound them until they are about 1/8" thick. Season with salt and pepper and set aside. Take 1/3 brick cream cheese, 4oz chevre and a pot of garlic and herb alouette and cream together. Separate into 4 portions and place each down the center of each breast. Fold chicken over cheese mixture and secure with toothpick if necessary. Dip each chicken parcel in lightly beaten egg and then coat in bread crumbs. Brown seam side up in olive oil on stovetop, then turn and place pan in 350 oven to finish cooking.

I made my first chocolate mousse when I was about 8 or 9 years old. I don't know how I found myself alone in the kitchen, but I was and I decided that I wanted to make chocolate mousse which resulted in a horrible accident where I spilled boiling water down my front while trying to pour a large pot of it into the sink. I knew I would be in trouble for cooking without my mom so I cleaned up and kept mum. My parents only found out about it because my mom noticed burn welts down my stomach when I was in the bath that evening. I don't remember if I was punished (probably not), but I do remember that I didn't fully understand the severity of what I had done, and all I could talk about was how delicious the mousse was.
I guess it could have been worse, I could have been stealing or doing drugs.

For the Mousse au Chocolat, separate 3 eggs and whip the whites until frothy. Add a pinch of salt and then really whip until they are stiff but not dry. Set aside while you prepare the chocolate cream. Take 1 cup heavy whipping cream and heat until a simmer. Meanwhile whisk the egg yolks with a tsp of vanilla. Temper the eggs with the hot cream and then place back on the stove. On very low heat stir constantly until the mixture thickens just enough to coat the back of the spoon and when you swipe your finger through you create a "track". Take off the heat and add 8 oz very good bittersweet chocolate pieces. Lightly whisk until the chocolate is melted and incorporated into the cream. Cool to room temperature, then gently fold in the egg whites. Go slowly and carefully, you do not want to deflate the whites. Pour into individual servings and place in refrigerator to set.
Once you make this and realize how simple, fast and delicious it is, it may just become your obsession too!


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