Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Love, Lust and French Toast

The story of French toast is lurid tale of a canoe, wretched coffee, a hot shower and  . . . of course . . . French Toast.

It all began on a beautiful September day when a group camp out was planned on an island in the shadow of an ancient castle.  There was a man with a boat and a woman with a paddle.  They both wanted to get to the island but without each other it was not possible.  With a twist of fate and the help of a mutual friend this man and woman met and were able to make their way to the island.  They did not know it at the time, but in the midst of the short journey from shore to shore providence touched the man and the woman.   When they reached the island people exclaimed that the two must be brother and sister or husband and wife . . . such was the nature of their playful banter.   The amazing day on the water concluded magically.  With his strong arms the man held the woman against him.  “What a perfect day,” he said.  The woman agreed and snuggled against him.  “It would be even better if the moon would appear,” and just as he stated this a bright round moon emerged from behind the clouds, shimmering upon the water.  “The only thing that could possibly make this any better is if there were fireworks.” And so it was . . . from across the water erupted fiery sprays of every hue, glistening like gems in the sky.  The group of intrepid outdoor enthusiasts adjourned to their tents and sleeping bags.  And then there were more fireworks and a lot of noisy . . . uhm . . . raccoons . . . yeah, raccoons, that’s it!   The next morning, the happy campers awoke to a torrent of rain.  Not wanting the magic to end, the woman asked the man if he would like a hot shower, a steaming cup of coffee, and sweet French toast.  He happily agreed and they made their way across the water in the torrent.  To her home they went.  When they arrived she offered him a fluffy towel and pointed him to the bathroom.  While he washed away the chill of the drenching rain she brewed a pot of coffee . . . the second worst cup of coffee he’d ever had in his life, he would later proclaim.  Not wanting to offend, he hesitantly sipped the foul beverage while the air filled with the wonderful smells of vanilla, cinnamon, butter and syrup. “God, I hope her cooking is better than this coffee,” he thought to himself, all the while sipping at the brew.  She served up the warm and toasty, syrupy bread and with the first bite his fate was sealed.  He was forever linked to the woman of the strategically ripped shorts, red thong and butterfly tattoo . . . a destiny fulfilled two years later  on that very same island where first they had met.

Henceforth the last Sunday of each month was known as French Toast Sunday which is to be celebrated with a heaping helping of French toast, crispy bacon, much improved coffee and fireworks.

True Story.

Here’s how to make your own pile of Cher’s personal love potion:

French Toast

  • White Bread Or Cinnamon Bread
  • 4 Eggs
  • A Dash Of Cream
  • A Dash Of Vanilla Extract
  • A Sprinkle of Cinnamon
  • A Sprinkle Of Love Dust (Sugar May Be Substituted)
  • Unsalted Butter
  • REAL Maple Syrup

Crack open the eggs.

Add the milk, cinnamon, sugar and then a dash of vanilla. You can adjust this as you like to taste!

Beat with a whisk (or fork) until nice and frothy.

Heat up your skillet with a decent amount of butter.  Adjust the heat to Medium to Medium high.

Dip a slice of bread in the egg mix, both sides and let it drip off for a second.

Place in skillet and fry till browned on one side and carefully flip it, it is easy to check it.

Slide the spatula under the edge, lift and look, if the edge is browned it is ready to flip! Fry on other side till browned again.

Toss on a plate while you make more, serve with whatever topping you prefer and enjoy!

Serve with a pat butter and a side of syrup.  Crispy bacon and YUMMY coffee on the side.

All of the eggs I used in this recipe were courtesy of my good friends Stephanie and Phil.  
If you live in or near Connecticut and want farm fresh eggs, contact Stephanie for pricing and availability.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Little Puffs of Love

Cream puffs . . . cute little pastries stuffed with a sweet creamy filling dust with a coating of light fluffy sugar . . . how could something so wonderful be bad?


Catherine de Medici, Queen of France from 1547 to 1559, was patroness of art and lover of fine foods.  It’s rumored that she had a weakness for lovely, delicate pastries so her chef invented this tasty treat for her . . . rumor not fact.  The origins of cream puffs is not known; however, similar types of pastries can be traced back to the Middle Ages.

Cream puffs begin with a baked puffed shell of choux pastry. Choux pastry(1) requires more effort than typical dough but the result is undeniably worthwhile.
What you need:
For the Choux Pastry:
  • 1/2 cup all purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon granulated white sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 cup unsalted butter
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 2 large eggs, lightly beaten
  • Egg Wash Glaze:
  • 1 large egg
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
For the Whipped Cream Filling:
  • 1 cup heavy whipping cream
  • 1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1 tablespoon granulated white sugar
For the Garnish:
  • Powdered (Confectioners or icing) sugar

To make the Choux Pastry:
Preheat oven to 400 degrees F and place rack in center of oven. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

In a bowl sift together the flour, sugar and salt. Set aside.

Place the butter and water in a heavy saucepan over medium heat and bring to a boil. Remove from heat and, with a wooden spoon or spatula, quickly add the flour mixture.

Return to heat and stir constantly until the dough comes away from the sides of the pan and forms a thick smooth ball (about a minute or two). 

Transfer the dough to your electric mixer, or with a hand mixer, and beat on low speed a minute or two to release the steam from the dough. Once the dough is lukewarm start adding the lightly beaten eggs and continue to mix until you have a smooth thick paste. 

Spoon or pipe 12 mounds of dough onto the baking sheet, spacing them a couple of inches apart.  

Beat together the egg and salt for the glaze. With a pastry brush, gently brush the glaze on the tops of the dough.

Bake for 15 minutes and then reduce the oven temperature to 350 degrees F. Bake for a further 30 to 40 minutes or until the shells are a nice amber color and when split, are dry inside. Turn the oven off and, with the oven door slightly ajar, let the shells dry out for a further 10 - 15 minutes. Remove from oven and let cool on a wire rack.

To make the whipped cream filling: 
In a large mixing bowl place the whipping cream, vanilla extract, and sugar and stir to combine. Cover and chill the bowl and whisk in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes. When chilled, whip the mixture until soft peaks form.

To Assemble the little puffs of love: 
Split the pastry shells in half and fill (or pipe) with whipped cream. Place the top half of the pastry shell on the whipped cream and dust with powdered sugar.
Makes 12 cream puffs.

In order to keep the shells crisp, fill with the cream shortly before serving. If you don't mind the shells becoming a little soft you can assemble the cream puffs a few hours before serving. Just make sure you cover and place in the refrigerator.

(1) Choux in French means cabbages  . . . with some imagination you could visualize the puffs as looking like tiny cabbages . . . maybe a more accurate description would be chou de bruxelles (Brussel Sprouts)  ;-)~

All of the eggs I used in this recipe were courtesy of my good friends Stephanie and Phil.  
If you live in or near Connecticut and want farm fresh eggs, contact Stephanie for pricing and availability.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Take a Look . . . at Kitchenaid Stand Mixers

Anyone who is a regular reader of my blog knows my opinion of the Kitchenaid stand mixer.  I love it!  I use it for almost every cooking adventure I undertake.

I started out with the Kitchenaid Classic 250-Watt 4-1/2-Quart Stand Mixer, which I received as a gift about 10 years ago.  It is still one of the best gifts I’ve ever gotten.  At that time, I liked to cook but I wouldn’t classify myself as a “power user”.  I used it often to mix all manner of things . . . cookies, mashed potatoes, etc – you know typical everyday cooking stuff.  And it was fantastic for those run of the mill chores. 

My husband, who is the number one benefactor of my gastronomic creations, bought me attachments for the mixer.  The slicing, shredding attachment worked great – nice for grating cheese and slicing hard veggies and shredding stuff.  However, making pasta was beyond the ability of the Classic motor’s capacity – it nearly overheated within minutes.  Ice packs weren’t entirely effective at keeping the motor cool – yeah, I actually tried it.

As my culinary skills and quests expanded . . . the Classic mixer, although awesome, was no longer able to keep up with my growing needs.

Shortly after this discovery I received the KitchenAid Professional 600 Series 6-Quart Stand Mixer  as a present from . . . can you guess who?   OH MY GOODNESS!  A seriously remarkable tool . . . powerful, versatile and a fantastic conversationalist . . . okay it doesn’t talk but it can do almost anything else.  I have used it to make butter, bread, pasta, cakes.  With the proper attachments . . . it slices, shreds, juices, stuffs, mixes, kneads, and stirs.  It’s powerful enough to handle every challenge I’ve chucked at it.  It’s large enough to handle the biggest recipes I’ve thrown into the bowl . . . 4 loaves of bread, dozens of cookies.  I’d be hard pressed to find a meal or other cooking project that doesn’t benefit from the use of the mixer. 

My opinion, for what it’s worth (my friend), is that every kitchen needs a Kitchenaid Stand Mixer.  Now, don’t go thinking I have room in my kitchen for all the latest and greatest appliances . . . although I really don’t have the counter space real estate for the mixer to have a permanent home . . . it does, nonetheless.  I use it THAT often.  I would ditch the microwave oven before I’d ever consider packing away my Kitchenaid. 

I don't have the grain mill, pasta roller or ice cream maker attachments yet . . . hint hint.  Just sayin'.  :-)~

You know what would be really cool?  A heating element for the mixer for making stuff like hollandaise and chocolate and gravy and whatnot.  Someone needs to get working on that.


Cher LOVES her Kitchenaid Stand Mixers

The following videos show me making butter, jam, zucchini bread and applesauce with my mixer . . .

Friday, November 26, 2010

Firewater Friday . . . Grapes of Wrath

Before I knowed it, I was sayin' out loud, 'The hell with it! There ain't no sin and there ain't no virtue. There's just stuff people do. It's all part of the same thing.' . . . . I says, 'What's this call, this sperit?' An' I says, 'It's love. I love people so much I'm fit to bust, sometimes.' . . . . I figgered, 'Why do we got to hang it on God or Jesus? Maybe,' I figgered, 'maybe it's all men an' all women we love; maybe that's the Holy Sperit-the human sperit-the whole shebang. Maybe all men got one big soul ever'body's a part of.' Now I sat there thinkin' it, an' all of a suddent-I knew it. I knew it so deep down that it was true, and I still know it.

They's a time of change, an' when that comes, dyin' is a piece of all dyin', and bearin' is a piece of all bearin', an' bearin' an' dyin' is two pieces of the same thing. An' then things ain't so lonely anymore. An' then a hurt don't hurt so bad.

How can you frighten a man whose hunger is not only in his own cramped stomach but in the wretched bellies of his children? You can't scare him--he has known a fear beyond every other.

Whenever they's a fight so hungry people can eat, I'll be there. Whenever they's a cop beatin' up a guy, I'll be there . . . . I'll be in the way guys yell when they're mad an'-I'll be in the way kids laugh when they're hungry an' they know supper's ready. An' when our folks eat the stuff they raise an' live in the houses they build-why, I'll be there.

Men is supposed to think things out.

The Grapes of Wrath  . . . is a novel published in 1939 and written by John Steinbeck, who was awarded the Pulitzer Prize in 1940 and the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1962. Set during the Great Depression, the novel focuses on a poor family of sharecroppers, the Joads, driven from their Oklahoma home by drought, economic hardship, and changes in the agriculture industry. In a nearly hopeless situation, partly because they were trapped in the Dust Bowl, they set out for California along with thousands of other "Okies" in search of land, jobs and dignity. When preparing to write the novel, Steinbeck wrote: "I want to put a tag of shame on the greedy bastards who are responsible for this [the Great Depression and its effects]." The book won Steinbeck a large following amongst ordinary people and the working class, partly due to the book's sympathy to the worker's movement and its accessible style.

Grapes of Wrath Cocktail

 1 shot vodka
1/3 Cup grape juice
1/3 Cup Cranberry Juice
1 Shot Blackberry Brandy
1 Splash Lemon Juice
1 Splash Lime Juice

Mix all ingredients in a shaker and pour over ice.

Not So Wrathful Grapes

1 Part Grape Juice
2 Parts Blueberry Vodka
1 Part Lemon Lime Soda

 Mix . . . enjoy.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Happy Thanksgiving - Stop Motion Video

Happy Thanksgiving!!! Let's talk turkey . . .

Gobble me this.  Gobble me that. 

What is it about the gobblicious Thanksgiving meal that makes you want to siesta after the fiesta?

We all know that turkey contains the culprit . . . the nasty little amino acid known as tryptophan.  Its evil I tells ya!  Guilty as charged?  Or innocent until proven guilty?

Here are the facts . . . tryptophan is an essential part of many plant and animal proteins.  It is something we consume in our everyday diet.   It DOES help our brain to produce serotonin, which does make us relaxed and in large doses will make you sleepy. It’s true that turkey contains tryptophan but there are other foods in our normal everyday grazing that contain far more . . . fish, cheese and eggs have three to four times the amount of tryptophan as compared to turkey . . . AND, there is no where near enough tryptophan found in turkey to make you drowsy. Take this into consideration  . . . tryptophan doesn’t effect our grey matter unless it’s taken on an empty stomach devoid of protein. Just to clarify . . . turkey = protein. 

If I was on a jury of essential amino acid peers I would have to have to declare the verdict that tryptophan is innocent of all somnolent charges as they relate to turkey dinner.
 Well, someone has to be guilty.  Because there is no denying that after you eat your Thanksgiving dinner you want to stretch out on your back while cradling your distended belly and pass out.

Let’s analyze this further . . . besides the turkey, what else is on the typical dinner table at Thanksgiving?

Mashed Potatoes
Candied Sweet Potatoes
Rolls / Bread
Cranberry sauce
All those nom-dilly-icious dishes, even in moderate quantities, require your body to do oodles of work to digest.  Which sucks the blood from your brain to flood your digestive tract to give it fuel for the laborious task breaking down all that rich, tasty goodness.  I think it’s safe to say that most people don’t consume moderate quantities of any food on this feasty holiday.

Turkey is looking like its pretty much the most innocent component of this whole meal!  There are loads of carbohydrates and sugars and fats on that list . . . did you happen to down a coupla glasses of wine or beer with your meal, as well?  What does that do ya fer? 

Here’s a clue . . . based on the known sugar/insulin effects that are induced by simple sugars and simple carbohydrates – i.e. stuffing, potatoes, bread, etc. – I think it was Mrs. White in the kitchen with an egg beater . . .

That being said . . . if you happen to be the chef who prepared all that deliciousness then you most decidedly deserve that nap . . . that’s a lot of cookin’!  The rest of you bums get off yer duffs and get them there dishes done!

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Billy Michael & Fred Ball playing live at Seecamp in Milford CT - by Cher

We are the cranberries!

How homey and refreshing would it be to serve up fresh, preservative free cranberry sauce that you made yourself for your holiday meal?  Guess what?  It’s is SO darn easy to make, you might be surprised.   How does 15 minutes from berry to sauce sound?

Cranberries are chocked full of Vitamin C & Fiber.  You can use any type of sugar  from refined to natural to artificial.  Or if you’re serving someone who is diabetic or if you like your cranberry sauce tart, you don’t have to use any sugar at all.

Fortunately, since cranberries store and travel well the bagged berries you get from the grocery store are nearly as good as fresh picked.  Look for firm berries with a dark color.

If you are canning, this is a good time to get the jars ready, so you won't be rushed later. The dishwasher is fine for the jars; or you can wash the containers in hot, soapy water and rinse, then sanitize the jars by boiling them 10 minutes, and keep the jars in hot water until they are used. Keep the jars hot to prevent them from breaking when you fill them with the hot cranberry sauce.

Put the lids into a pan of hot, but not quite boiling water (that's what the manufacturer's recommend) for 5 minutes, and use the magnetic "lid lifter wand" to pull them out.

You need two 12-ounce packages of cranberries.  Wash them by swirling them around in a large bowl of cold water. 

Lift them out with your hands and feel for any smooshy berries.  Discard the soft ones. 

In a large pot, bring 2 inches of water (or cranberry or apple juice) to the boiling point and pour the cranberries in.  
Cook them for about 10 minutes; stirring once or twice (the berries will pop as they cook).  

Once half the berries are popped and the sauce feels mushy, it's done!  It should take 10 to 15 minutes of cooking over medium-high heat.

Turn off the heat. Add sugar to taste.  Start out with 1 cup of sugar or honey or Splenda, as you prefer. Taste and add more if it is still too tart.  If you don't plan to can sweetener then you're done!  Just serve your fresh cranberry sauce warm or cold!
Cranberries are naturally high in pectin, which aids in thickening.  To boost the thickening power, bloom some unflavored gelatin and combine with the sauce. 

If you’re canning the sauce, it hot until you’re ready to fill the jars you will put into the canner

Fill the jars to within a 1/2 inch of the top, wipe any spilled cranberry sauce of the top, seat the lid and tighten the ring around them.  Put them in the canner and keep them cover with at least 1 inch of water and boiling.  If you are at sea level (up to 1,000 ft) boil pint jars for 15 minutes and quart jars for 20 min. If you are at an altitude of 1,000 feet or more, increase the cooking time by two minutes per 1,000 feet.
Remove and cool the jars - Done

Lift the jars out of the water and let them cool without touching or bumping them in a draft-free place overnight.  Check that the jars are sealed by pressing in the center, gently, with your finger. If it pops up and down (often making a popping sound), it is not sealed. If you put the jar in the refrigerator right away, you can still use it.

If you find that the end product is not as gelled or as thick as you'd like it to be, simply bring it to a boil in a saucepan, turn down the heat, and stir occasionally until it gets to a consistency you like.   Let it set up in the refrigerator before serving.

If you are canning,  this recipe has a shelf life of 12 months to 18 months, and requires no special attention.  Which means you can make enough sauce to get you through this and next year’s holidays!