Thursday, January 7, 2010

Thinking, Remembering and Working on my weekly menu's....

Like most "foodies" I grew up listening to Julia Child. I love her books and use them frequently to jog my memory and recall great dishes and give me ideas for stuff to make. I haven't seen the movie but I will download it one of these days and watch it online..... but I do follow her PBS shows and make a point to enjoy them since they have so many great ideas. While looking for some of her info I ran into lots of postings complaining about "how could she be so popular since her recipes are way too complicated..." and while it might seem like this to those who really have a hard time in the kitchen, if you look past all the words, the "basic" recipe is quite simple and contains key techniques which people should become familiar with which will help with every type of food. Kind of like a primer to follow....

I've always felt that learning to cook the "French way" is a good idea, not only because you will be guaranteed truly yummy food but because the lessons learned will be important to learn and you can then go from there. I believe everyone, now more so than ever, should either take a course somewhere or get someone they know teach them these basics. I was taught by a maternal Aunt who had studied at Le Cordon Bleu in Paris and took me under her wing. I spent many a wonderful afternoon making crepes or souffle's, practicing my French all the while and enjoying the results later on. I'm not saying that this is to become a foodie or a Chef or anything like that but just to "know". It will serve you well, believe me, at school or home, forever. I also don't mean you have to learn how to make souffle's either (they're easy actually), I just mean the basics like making stock, soups, cook a chicken, pot roast or vegetables. You'll actually save time and money.

Anyway, I'll get off my soap box now and get on with it or I'll never get out the door. Here, in Vegas, I go to 5 or 6 different markets so you can see how it could take a while but it really does make sense to me, not only $ wise but quality wise too. I buy quality ingredients at the best prices this way, taking advantage of seasonal items and sales. I also use coupons and special offers. I visit 2-3 Mexican markets (you never see Anglos in there which is too bad) but there is no other place that offers so much for so little as far as fruits, vegetables and sometimes special cuts of meat and poultry. The Chinese-Indonesian market is a favorite (there are 2 I go to, one smack in Chinatown and the other closer to Koreatown) which are unparalleled as far as imported items go and oriental ingredients. Fish and seafood too. Then there are the warehouse outlets like Costco, but I only buy staples there. After that a "regular American market" called Smith's which is part of Kroger, which has the most amazing quality meat anywhere. Twice a week we pour over the circulars I get in the mail, compare and lay out the week's list, then off we go on the hunt.

It seems amazing to me, comparing to last year's budget, that I am actually spending less money for groceries here in Vegas than I did in either Merida or Puebla. One thing I can say is that we all miss the fruit from Mexico. It's sweet and naturally ripened and just wonderful. We used to have a big plate of fruit every morning, while here we tend to stay away from fruit since it's never quite ripe and winds up pretty bland and just can't stand the comparison. One thing I can say is that the street food in Mexico is truly awesome, varied and fantastic! But then I can say this about street food in other parts of the world as well too. We always make it a point to search out this whenever we travel and is always a pleasure for us. (No, we've never gotten sick)

Before I started my list I looked around the kitchen and pantry to see what was left over from all the holiday foods I made (I cooked and baked like crazy!.... way too much for which I am paying for even as I speak, but...) and have decided to use it all up before embarking on our new diets and such. So, with this in mind (how about this for a great excuse..) and baking being one of my favorite pastimes to the delight of my friends and family, I realized I had the ingredients to one of my favorites of all time: "Gateau St. Honore"..... Wow, what a great project for this afternoon......

I started doing my homework, like always, and found some interesting background information on this fabulous cake that I thought you'd enjoy: Saint Honoratus of Amiens was a bishop of the town of Amiens, located in the North of France. He is believed to have died on May 16th, 600 A.D. While it doesn’t appear that Saint Honoratus was into making panna cottas and baking pavlovas, those that followed him did build a church in his name. In 1400, the bakers of Paris created a guild based in the church named after Saint Honoratus. Every May 16th, a feast was held in his honour and to this day, May 16th remains Saint Honoré Day. But perhaps even more than the day, Saint Honoré is known for the cake named for him: Gâteau St. Honoré. (And no, I won't wait until May 16th to make this, but maybe make it again to celebrate the date? You bet!

Ok, you're going to say "there she goes again making stuff no one else will dare undertake..", but the truth is that it looks complicated and hard but it's really not (like a lot of French food), it's all show, really and quite fun. Sure, it will be labor intensive but it's a great project for a morning or afternoon and gives you fantastic results you won't believe and will make everyone stand and take notice (not to mention the delight it is to eat this thing too!...YUM!).... It's actually just making pate a choux pastry (sounds fancy but really easy), lovely vanilla pastry cream (which you could substitute something else if you want but you should try it at least once so you can compare) and caramel, which is actually just cooked & melted sugar. You make it all first and then assemble it.

Gateau St. Honore and Pastry Tower: Classic French Dessert......
1 cup water
6 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 teaspoon sugar
1/4 teaspoon fine salt
1 cup all-purpose flour
4 large eggs
1 egg yolk
1 cup diced strawberries or whole raspberries

In a medium saucepan, combine the water, butter, sugar, and salt. Bring to a boil over medium heat. Remove the pan from the heat and sift the flour directly into the pan. Stir the mixture into a paste with a wooden spoon. Return the pan to a medium heat. Stir the mixture until it pulls away from the sides of the pan and is slightly shiny, about 3 minutes. Transfer the paste to a medium bowl, and beat with a wooden spoon until slightly cooled, about 2 to 3 minutes. Add the eggs, one at a time, incorporating each one thoroughly before adding the next. Before adding the last egg, beat it in a small bowl. Adding it by tablespoons to the mixture, just until the batter is smooth and tight. If the batter starts to get loose, do not add all of the last egg.

Place a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat to 400 degrees F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Fill a large pastry bag, fitted with an open tip, with the cream puff mixture. Pipe twelve 2 1/2-inch circular mounds, about 2 inches apart, onto the prepared pan. (Alternately, use a large spoon to form the dough into the mounds.) Dab the tops of each puff with a fingertip dipped in water to smooth the tops. Beat the egg yolk with a tablespoon of water and brush the surface of the puffs with the beaten yolk.

Bake in the middle of the oven for 15 minutes. Reduce the oven temperature to 350 degrees F; continue baking until golden brown and the puffs are light, airy, and crisp, about 30 to 35 minutes more. Cool on a rack.

Assemble the cream puffs. Cut the puffs in half with a serrated knife, and set the tops aside. (If the puffs are very moist inside, scoop out the excess dough and re-crisp them in a 350 degree F. oven for about 5 minutes. Cool completely before continuing.) Put a heaping tablespoon of the fruit in the bottom half of the cream puffs.(or leave fruit out) Pipe or spoon about 1/3 cup of the whipped cream on top. Replace the puff tops. Refrigerate for up to 3 hours or serve immediately.

You pipe out many balls of pate a choux, in different sizes to account for the layers. Bake. Larger ones on the bottom slowly decreasing in size until you reach the top. You lay them all on the table once they've cooled and fill. To assemble you make the caramel and use this as your "glue". You touch a ball to the caramel and put it in place and continue until you're done. If you need a guide for this sometimes a foam cone can be used too. Once the tower is made, you use a broom or fork to "pull" the caramel into threads and wrap it around the whole thing. Be fast or the caramel will harden, just whip it around without too much care. It will make it sparkle too.
NOTE: Just be sure to eat it soon, especially if there is any humidity in the air since this will affect the crispness of the choux. Actually it should be refrigerated. It's amazing!

I've also given some different fillings so you can either have a selection or decide which you like best. The pate a choux will also make Cream Puffs and Eclairs, so just pipe different shapes and you can use it this way. You can also pipe large concentric circles and make like a cake base, cut it in half, fill, place the top over it and finish too. Like a large cream puff. Add fruit or nuts....
flavor the cream filling with liquors or get creative..... truly wonderful and very flexible.

1 1/4 cup milk
1/2 vanilla bean, split lengthwise
3 large egg yolks
1/4 cup granulated white sugar
1/8 cup all-purpose flour
Scant 3 tablespoons cornstarch
3/4 tablespoon liqueur (Grand Marnier, Brandy, Kirsch)

For light pastry cream add 1/2 cup heavy cream, softly whipped (optional)

Coffee pastry cream
Add: 1/2 - 1 Tablespoon instant espresso or instant coffee powder into hot milk.

Raspberry pastry cream
Add: 1/4 cup (or to taste)raspberry puree to pastry cream

2 cups cold heavy cream
2 tablespoons confectioner's sugar
4 ounces semi-sweet chocolate, chopped

Beat the cream in a medium bowl with an electric mixer or a whisk, until it begins to hold a loose peak. Sift the sugar into the cream. Continue beating until the cream holds a firm but still soft peak. Set aside. Put the chocolate in a clean, medium, microwaveable bowl. Melt the chocolate in the microwave, at half power, at 30 second intervals, until softened and warm. Whisk until smooth and liquid. (Alternatively melt the chocolate in a double boiler.)Fold about 1/2 cup of the whipped cream into the warm chocolate to lighten it. Add the lightened chocolate mixture back to the remaining whipped cream, folding until completely blended. Store in an airtight container until ready to use. It's best used the same day it is prepared.
I hope you will try this so you too can see that it's easier than you think. Don't forget that the more you try things, the easier they will become. Enjoy!

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