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Category Archives: Recipe

From Boston to Baguettes

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Paris Cooking ClassI never imagined it would be this cool in Paris in the summer. There’s a crispness in the air that seems better-suited for autumn, but it sure is a welcomed reprieve from the heat and humidity in Texas. After dumping my belongings at the apartment in the Marais, I went for a walk to Ile St. Louis. There are a number of great cafés, and I figured it would be a good place to line my stomach before my baking class nearby. Soup à l’oignon gratinée and a glass of rosé. It’s becoming my welcome répas each time I visit.

My class started promptly at 2:30pm, and three-quarters of us managed to arrive nice and early. That led to a prompt start, with two ladies straggling in while we were elbow-deep in flour and poolish. We were as lost then as you likely are now regarding the word, but we mimicked what Chef Eric was doing nevertheless. More on poolish in a bit.

I paired up with a really nice girl named Kate, who ironically used to live in Houston. Her husband’s job (he’s a geologist to the oil industry) moved them from the land of humidity and queso to Paris, so here’s hoping Brady and I might follow in their footsteps. Between bouts of kneading our dough correctly and sometimes not, we swapped stories about Houston, restaurants we both like there, etc… It was kind of like taking the class with a friend.

But back to the boulangerie. The first thing that struck me regarding baguettes is the simplicity of the ingredients. There was a quiz on our recipe sheet that indicated there were just four, which immediately made me think of “Reinheitsgebot,” the German beer purity law. These Europeans take their food and beverage very seriously, so much so that they have enacted laws like these that protect the traditionality of certain products. The French law called the “baguette de traditional française” was signed into law on September 13, 1993. There are also specifics regarding the length, width, height and weight for anything being sold as a “baguette.”

So, what goes into a these bread swords you see sticking out of fashionable purses around Paris? Nothing more than bread flour, salt, water and yeast. Oh, and elbow grease, but that’s an unspoken addition. It really wasn’t all that difficult to create the baguettes, but you do need counter space and a willingness to demolish a tidy kitchen. Baking is messy. There are no two ways about it.

Something else that you will need is a kitchen scale. Like Chef Diane from my macaron class in November (who I saw Baguettes Paris Cooking Classbriefly today), Chef Eric also drove home the point that weighing your ingredients is the way to go. Note to self: purchase a kitchen scale. You’ll need it to create the poolish, a starter that’s made three to 18 hours ahead of time to jumpstart the fermentation process. It’s nothing more than bread flour, water and fresh yeast, but this step makes a marked improvement in the bread’s flavor.

Perhaps most important of all, though, is the double proofing process where you allow the dough to rise after kneading it, and then again after it’s formed into a baguette shape. The baguettes will double in size during this process, so if it’s twice as big as when you started, you’re on the right track. It’s also important to score the baguettes with a razor or small tool, which allows steam to escape. Most bakers have a unique score for their baguettes that is likened to an artist’s signature on a painting.

I’m not a baker. I repeat: I’m not a baker. I don’t like to measure, I don’t have an egregious sweet tooth, and I certainly don’t have the patience or gadgetry that’s required of most baking projects. But that doesn’t mean I can’t appreciate the craft, especially something like freshly baked French bread. It’s one of the best parts about roving the streets of Paris.

A major takeaway from this class was that we cooked in normal, convection ovens. The kind you would find in any home. A critical aspect of the baking process is steam, which can be achieved by tossing a few ice cubes into the bottom of the oven or by using a spray bottle intermittently. Outstanding tips that I likely would not have otherwise thought about!

That’s all for now. Another great culinary experience in the books! If you’re ever in Paris (or any of the places I’ve traveled with Culinary Hopscotch) and want recommendations of cooking classes or other culinary adventures, please let me know.   

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Boeuf à la Bourguignonne

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Boeuf à la Bourguignonne

Valentine’s Day dinner was an overwhelming success. After getting the mister to sit down and watch “Julie and Julia” the other night, which he admitted was better than he thought it would be, I decided to make him Julia Child’s famous Boeuf à la Bourguignonne. I worked from her cookbook, “Mastering the Art of French Cooking Vol. 1,” and while it was an involved process, the finished product was amazing. I didn’t even crowd the mushrooms, and he ate them, which was probably the biggest victory of all.

I’ve been told it’s even better the next day, which just so happens to be right now. Yay leftovers!

 

Eat Your Meat(loaf)

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No, not that meatloaf. Eat your meat(loaf)

One of the challenges of cooking is getting picky eaters to delight in the same things you do. There’s tricks that moms use to sneak vegetables into their kids’ diets, but the bait-and-switch tactic isn’t so easy when you’re dealing with a grown man.

At some point during Thanksgiving weekend, I mentioned that I wanted to make a meatloaf. That idea was met with a sour face, to put it nicely. He blamed it on his childhood, so of course, all I could imagine was seeing a meatloaf chasing him down the hallway of his childhood home while he ran away screaming in his Brooks Brothers pajamas. I don’t think it was quite that dramatic, but in a way, I can agree with him. I never was all that happy to see it show-up on dining tables at my friends’ houses, but I like my mom’s meatloaf.

So, what’s her trick? For one, many people overwork the meat, turning it into an iron-clad football. And then to top it off (quite literally), they slather ketchup on top like it’s a cardboard McDonald’s hamburger. Ick. Yuck. To me, meatloaf is one of the most simple comfort foods. All you need is high-quality ground beef, cracker crumbs, diced onion, a little milk, and an egg. How do people manage to ruin something that’s so easy?

When I explained this to the mister, he seemed less threatened by the aforementioned childhood loaf. Maybe it’s just that he trusts my abilities in the kitchen, but he said he’s willing to give it a try. To up the ante, I’ve decide to complicate my own meatloaf recipe this next time around. I’m adding a little bit of ground pork sausage, swapping in a red onion for a little spice and visual appeal, and I’m going to stud my meatloaf with tater tots. I’ll finish it off with a little egg-wash to help it achieve the crunchy crust that I know his temperamental palette will enjoy, and should there be any left the next day, I’ve already told him that we’ll slice it up and reheat it on the BBQ.

I don’t know if it will be a wham-bam-thank-you-ma’am meal, but if it’s a total flop, I know a dog who would be more than happy to help.

Cooking at Casa de Colores

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Due to technical difficulties, I cannot get the photos off my camera. I will update the post with my actual pictures as soon as I can. In the meantime, this is the grinder at the tortilleria where we sampled the amazing Nixtomal corn tortillas!

After spending a week in Cabo at perhaps the most ridiculous house I’ve ever stepped foot in, I had an epiphany: working after a week of vacation reminds me that I’d rather be on vacation. I think I’ve been holding onto this post in my head as a way of prolonging the week we spent doing nothing. Well, almost nothing. Between Coronitas and dips in the pool, I managed to sneak in a cooking class. And boy…I’m glad I did.

If you ask an American what Mexican food is, you’ll get a different answer depending on the geographic location of the person you’re interviewing. In middle America, Tex-Mex is all the rage, but a Californian would hang you for trying to pass off  anything as Mexican that wasn’t fresh tacos or a bulging burrito. And then there’s actual Mexican food that doesn’t resemble either of these things.

My Cabo cooking class was titled “Mexican Comfort Foods.” Not having a ton of experience in the genre, short of what I filled up on at Gay and Larry’s growing up (RIP), I wasn’t really sure what I was in for. I met Donna in the parking lot of a large grocery store near downtown, and truth be told, I wasn’t sure who I was looking for, how many people were going to be in our class, or what we’d be doing that day. One of my favorite parts about taking all of these different classes around the world is that no two have proved to be the same yet. And this was no different.

Once we assembled our group, Donna had me jump into her car and she whisked us over to an authentic tortilleria for lunch. Lunch? I thought I was going to a cooking class. Smart not to argue, we pulled up to the al fresco restaurant and sampled some of the freshest tortillas this side of Oaxaca. The “Tortilla Goddesses,” as Donna so dubiously named them, barely speak English and turn out hot corn tortillas straight from the comal. They start by making their own Nixtomal, a mixture of corn, limestone and filtered water that’s passed through a grinder. That’s their masa, and this technique has been going on for thousands of years thanks to the Aztecs. There I was, literally eating history. My God, history tastes good.

From there, we headed back to Casa de Colores, or “House of Colors” in Spanish, where Donna lives. Her charming abode is perched on a lookout in Cabo and you can see all the way to the ocean. It’s also aptly named–the terracotta exterior is trimmed with colors borrowed from the rainbow, and in Mexico, this aesthetic just works. She conducts the cooking classes from the upstairs part of her house in a well-equipped kitchen that is perfect for groups of about six people. That day, there were five of us and Donna.

When we arrived, she served us a delicious Agua de Mandarinas “fresh water” to wet our whistle and get us ready for a serious dose of Mexican comfort classics. We started with a discussion of the comal, a word she uttered at the tortilleria that left all of us scratching our heads. Whether industrial sized or plate-sized, a comal is a staple in a Mexican kitchen. Put simply, it’s a disk of steel that you cook on with dry heat. We immediately put the comal to work with roma tomatoes, a white onion, serrano chilies, and garlic. We were making a cooked salsa!

After we blistered the ingredients on the comal, we transferred them to a blender and pulsed it all together. The juice from the tomatoes served as the liquid, and what we tasted was smokey and fresh. To deepen the flavor further and thicken it up, we “fried the salsa” for 10-15 minutes in a Tbsp of oil on the stove top. It really did the trick, enriching the flavor and deepening the impact.

That was our fresh salsa, but we also had a discussion and worked with dried chilies. I think one of the most common misconceptions is that Mexican ingredients like the ones we used are hard to find. Guilty of the same assumption, I was wondering where I was going to find dried guajillo chilies in Portland. So you can imagine my surprise when I flipped open the Penzey’s Spice catalog that came in the mail to find they sell them there…right up the street. I also happened to spot Nopales (cactus paddles) in our regular old Safeway yesterday too. So, there you have it…even in rainy Portland, we’re cookin’ Mexican!

Back to the guajillos. These deep red peppers are fairly mild but have a great flavor, and are very popular in Mexican sauces. Donna pulled out a few dried ones, we smelled them and felt their texture, and then we chopped them up. We reconstituted them with boiling water from the stove, and let them sit for a bit to come back to life. This “Devil Salsa” that we were putting together was a cinch. We pureed the chilies in a blender with their water, and then passed them through a sieve to strain out the tough parts of the skin that no self-respecting human would want to chew on. From there, we simmered the sauce for a bit and that was that. We would turn our salsa into a masa dumpling soup, use it later on our chile rellenos, and Donna also mentioned that we could use it to make “Camarones Diavola,” or devil shrimp served over rice. Another option: add chicken stock and turn it into a tortilla soup. “Devil Salsa:” the gift that keeps on giving!

Another enlightening part of this class was the chile relleno. I remember my Grandma Elsie always ordering this dish, but I never really knew what it was. With my childish, undeveloped palette, I never asked to try it, but suspected that it was a deep-fried chili pepper stuffed with cheese. I was sort of right. The only difference in the traditional Mexican version is that it’s coated with a fluffy egg mixture that creates an omelette around the chili when it’s fried in the hot oil. A lot of restaurants will take short cuts and bread and deep-fry a chili to pass off as a relleno. It’s a cheap knockoff though, kind of like plastic shoes that cut your feet.

If you’re headed to Cabo, take a break from the chi-chi’s and guys selling your name on a grain of rice. Make some time to venture out of the mayhem and sample some authentic Mexican cuisine.  At Casa de Colores, you’ll learn about a tortilla environment, discuss moles, and talk a lot about Mexico’s culinary culture that stretches from border to border. And you’ll also start to realize that although Mexico borders Texas, it scoffs at anything Velveeta or Rotel related.

Casa de Colores…A Tasty Corner of Cabo

Email Donna at brisasjones@yahoo.com for a schedule of classes

On the Menu this Week

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On the MenuMajor delay on getting the post up this week. Apologies! I wasn’t able to post from my iPad, and I’ve been traveling this week. Engage effective problem solving skills, or in this case, post tardy and beg for forgiveness. Since I left the kitchen behind this week and a hungry man caring for the critter kingdom, I’m listing recipes that are easy enough for the non-cook to execute. Have a great rest of your (short) week!

Monday:

Angel Hair Pasta with Light Red Sauce and Bulk Sausage Meatballs, Caesar Salad & Garlic Bread

Tuesday: 

Pan-Fried Steaks, Scalloped Potatoes, & Green Salad

Wednesday:

Frito Taco Salads, Beans, Rice & Mexican Caesar Salad

Thursday:

Dinner Out

Friday:

Cinnamon-Crunch Chicken, Lemon-Steamed Spinach & Polenta

Bon Appetit!

On the Menu this Week

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On the MenuIt is officially fall. The leaves are changing, and I picked up a handful of gorgeous red ones this morning to make an art project out of. I love this time of year. The holidays are on the horizon, we’re forced to bundle up when we go outside, and I can finally delve into some heartier recipes, especially since we both have mini colds. Have a great week, and sorry for the one-day delay!

Monday:

Chicken Vegetable Soup & Latkes

Tuesday: 

BLT Pasta Casserole & Caesar Salad

Wednesday:

Foster the People Concert

Thursday:

Beef and Garlic Italian Stir Fry, Jasmine Rice & Green Salad

Friday:

Daube de Boeuf with Crusty Bread and Caesar Salad

Bon Appetit!

On the Menu this Week

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On the MenuBusy, busy, busy is the theme this week! From one set of guests this past weekend to another coming into town tomorrow, there isn’t a lot of time to think about mega meals with laundry lists of ingredients. Have a great week!

Monday:

French Onion Soup with Tri-Cheese Toast & Fork ‘N Knife Caesars

Tuesday: 

Fried Tacos, Refried Beans, Mexican Rice, & All the Trimmings

Wednesday:

BBQ Beef Sandwiches with Orange-Jalepeno Coleslaw & Pepper and Scallion Potato Salad

Thursday:

Robert Earl Keen Concert

Friday:

Balsamic-Glazed Pork Chops with Argula-Basil Rice Pilaf & Green Salad

Bon Appetit!