Thursday, May 15, 2008

Our Shortlived (But Delicious) Dairy Adventure

On our trips to Daniel's mother's house, I often have to drag him away from her refrigerator as he likes to scavenge for foods she hasn't eaten or doesn't want. In his last raid, he found a whole quart of heavy whipping cream that was going to expire in two days!
Now, while heavy cream probably falls into the definitely not allowed category of our diet, there was something we could make from it that is allowed in very small amounts... butter!
We use olive oil to cook basically everything, from chicken to noodles and sauces, as a non-stick agent for our pans and grill. But any good cook/chef knows you just need butter sometimes. Margarine - yuck! It's all about the butter. We use butter when making roux and adding to sauces... not too much, just a little!

So... in trying to figure out what to do with this quart of whipping cream, I had a vague memory of making butter when I was little, probably in second or third grade. I remembered the teacher putting the whipping cream into a jar and letting each of her thirty students shake it for a minute each. It took a while and we all sang and chatted while each of us took turns shaking the jar, and eventually, we had a clump of fresh butter bouncing around in the jar that our teacher took out and spread on crackers for us to try.
Another butter memory: My grandmother, who was born at the turn of the century (in the 1900's) used to tell me about making butter from cream. Churning butter was hard work, especially when you were working with much larger amounts. She talked about it transforming from warm cream to fresh yellow butter and buttermilk, (which I had a huge aversion to when I was younger.)
Which reminds me. Something I hadn't remembered until I began researching butter-making was the buttermilk my Grandmother relentlessly tried to get me to like. I didn't remember the buttermilk from the school experiment memory, and I had long forgotten that it was a by-product of the butter making process.
I had already began whipping the butter with my immersion blender, I had already salted it, and I had even spread some of the whipped cream on a piece of fresh and delicious rye bread that Daniel's grandmother had given us. Daniel was curious so we flipped on the computer to research butter-making.
We read through a few sites to learn we had only made salty whipped cream! Be it only salty whipped cream, it was still good... But, I wanted butter that I could save and cook with, so I stuck the blender in again and began whipping the mixture some more. To my amazement I wasn't far from the stage of separation where the clumps of yellowish milk fat begin to float to the top of the buttermilk.
At my scream of "It's butter!" Daniel came to the kitchen and I poured the buttermilk into a separate glass. I tasted it. It was amazing! I read that buttermilk is often slightly fermented when sold commercially and I have always hated it - every time I'd agree to try some I'd taste a bit then spit it out. But this buttermilk was good, it was like drinking sweet coffee creamer that isn't as thick (I know, that may sound gross to some of you but it's really delicious!)
It was creamy and sweet. It tasted ten times better than I ever imagined or remembered. If you make butter you have to try it. I consequently made some good cream sauce for some pasta with it... It has all the buttery flavor and goodness of whole cream without all the calories... only 100 cals per cup - comparable to 1% milk - but thicker and it is non fat!
I took the butter and washed it, put it into some plastic wrap and formed it into a squarish clump to harden in the fridge. It was amazing when I took it out to try it in some recipes the rest of the week.
I whipped up a little something with the butter and it's buttermilk that I hope you will try. After messing around with the recipe a bit, and using up the buttermilk, I tried using sour cream, which is just as good. I rummaged around and found some Fordhook lima beans (butter beans)... I remember eating them simply with melted butter when I was little (I know... I was a weird kid, okay?) Frequently underrated by the likes of people who had horrible childhood nightmares about them, lima beans are soft, buttery, and go really well with dairy-based sauces.
My thought process went through cream to butter and lemon and dill, tarragon, and sweet basil. All good with each other in their own different ways, and they made a wonderful herb combination for my limas and cream sauce. I had fun playing with the recipe and I think I am going to enter in Ruth's Presto Pasta Nights again.

Butter Beans and Noodles in Tarragon-Lemon Cream
Print Recipe Only
  • 2-4 oz fettuccine pasta, cooked

  • 1 cup IQF Fordhook lima beans (IQF are the next best frozen thing to fresh)
  • 1 Tablespoon butter
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1 teaspoon olive oil

  • 2 heaping Tablespoons sour cream (or 1/4 cup buttermilk)
  • 1 lemon, plus 1 teaspoon zest.
  • 1 teaspoon tarragon
  • 1/2 teaspoon dill

  • cracked black pepper
Begin by sauteing your garlic in some olive oil. Add beans and butter after a minute or so. Stir until butter is melted. Squeeze juice from lemon over the beans. Grate zest into pan, and add tarragon, dill, and a few pinches of black pepper. Toss to coat beans and cook for another minute. Spoon in sour cream (or pour in buttermilk) and pour drained noodles on top. Toss to coat, stir to ensure evenness if needed. Sprinkle with pepper and serve.

How many recipes might you use where you need a bit of heavy cream and now you have a whole quart you don't know what to do with? Make butter. It's satisfying being able to make your own ingredients from scratch (and I mean from scratch). Ciao!
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Friday, May 9, 2008

Meeting Mario Batali

When I discovered the Food Network channel, I was scared of the kitchen but still a food lover. I watched because I loved watching food! I began with shows like Rachael Ray's 30 Minute Meals. While she isn't exactly a gourmet chef (I know you are all thinking "How dare I mention her name and the word "chef" in the same sentence") she has some quick and easy ideas that I was turned onto as a novice in the kitchen. As I got more practice and became more aware of the food I was putting into my mouth, I progressed into different shows and onto different, and more professional chefs. Recipes that Emeril or Wolfgang Puck made were no longer simply food entertainment, I realized I may actually be able to DO some of them! Mario Batali was one of my favorites. His recipes were elegant, yet he used simple, fresh ingredients that I felt I could actually tackle. When Food Network switched Molto Mario to the Fine Living Network, I switched over too (thankfully right during the increasingly-annoying 30 Minute Meals show).

When I heard about a Mario Batali booksigning on the Food Network Fans site I emailed Daniel right away and told him I was going! Of course he wanted to go with me... he scheduled himself for a long lunch and that was that! Mario's book Italian Grill is filled with wonderfully simple Italian recipes that are great for grilling or going with grilled food. The book is divided into sections including Antipasti, with recipes such as Radicchio in Pancetta with Pears and Balsamic Vinegar, and Grilled Polenta. The Pizza & Flatbreads section is filled with rustic breads and dough recipes you can use on the grill with or without a piastra (a slab of granite placed on the grill). Other sections include Fish & Shellfish, Poultry, Meat, and Vegetables. He also included an Ingredients and Techniques section that is very helpful if you aren't familiar with the lesser known Italian terms and ingredients. Each recipe has a little tip or a comment by him at the bottom of the page that gives it his personal touch. It's very Batali. After reading through the whole book and gazing at the pictures with food-lust in my eyes, I couldn't wait to have Mario Batali's signature in it.

Since Daniel got a long lunch we wanted to be there early. The booksigning was to be held at Sur La Table in Kierland Commons, a very sophisticated residence/shopping center that located across the way from the Weston Kierland Resort in Scottsdale, Arizona. We got there 30 minutes before the event's official start time, there were about 20 people in line already. The line filled up quickly though, and couples (including Daniel and I) were taking turns going over to the fountain area to see if he had arrived for the Question & Answer section yet. He arrived about a half hour late... who knows why. But I expect that from anyone as busy as he must be.

He was sporting his signature shorts, fleece vest, and, of course, his orange Crocs. He was articulate and expressive about his book, explaining a bit about it and telling us his inspirations for the recipes.

After the explanation and a short Q&A he came over for the book signing. The line had filled considerably by then and was being herded through the shop doors. He was already in the back of the store, with cameras and security crowded round.

As we made our way through the shop I had to fight several urges to buy the shiny cookware and gourmet gadgets. We made our way around to the table Batali was at and here... my very first celebrity meeting happened! I hardly knew it was happening before it was over, it's pathetic really, how surreal it was for me. He took our book and began signing, asking us "How's it going guys?" He noticed the camera in my hands and asked if we wanted a picture with him. Daniel went right over and an assistant reached for my camera. I handed it to her as I hesitated getting THAT close to someone as esteemed (in my eyes) as Mario Batali. He smiled at me and invited me with a wave, "Come on over, I won't bite!" So Daniel and I each took a side and before I knew it the flash went off and Daniel was shaking his hand saying thanks. We walked away, eager to look at the book and see his prized signature. (And make it back to Daniel's work in time!)

I've heard so many rumors and bad things about Mario Batali, but the truth is, I think he is one of Food Network/Fine Living's best. The Food Network has pursued their amateur audience so much that they have lost their great key chefs like Puck, Lagasse, and of course Batali. I'm not saying that filling the needs of their viewers is a bad thing, but beginners and amateurs like me can still learn things from these great chefs.

I will, of course, continue to learn from and watch Mario Batali. Meeting him has only made me like him more, and my enthusiasm for his cooking has grown. When we make one of his recipes our readers will be the first to know. I'm sure we won't be disappointed.Stumble Upon Toolbar
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Thursday, May 1, 2008

Daniel's Reviews - Hacienda Alemana

In reminiscing about our honeymoon, Corinne and I wanted to share a restaurant we found. We were in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, and we had taken a taxi from our cruise ship way out of the normal tourist areas to the back roads of Puerto Vallarta in order to take a dune buggy tour through the jungle. While we were waiting for the tour to start we took a walk. Just a block down the road we came across a restaurant called Hacienda Alemana. I did a double take - a German restaurant in Mexico? Of course we went right in and had a beer.

Being a German restaurant they actually had good beer! For four days I had been drinking Becks on the ship and Pacifico on land (pretty good... but not my style) so I was in heaven when I saw they had Mönschoff Schwarzbier. My beliefs are that a good beer is one that is so dark you can not see through it. The Mönschoff definitely fit that description. The restaurant says they have biergarten and while it is outside, as a normal biergarten would be, it reminded me more of a Spanish style courtyard… either way it was a beautiful dining area. After a couple beers we left to go on the dune buggy tour, after which we worked up quite an appetite (and thirst of course!) and decided to try out dinner at the Hacienda Alemana. (The only downside was that they don’t take plastic so we had to walk around to find an ATM. We found one a block down the street at a drug store. It was kind of funny because back in that area of Puerto Vallarta I saw very few tourists, but apparently they were all in the drugstore waiting to use the ATM too!)

When we got back to the restaurant we ordered a couple more beers and checked out the menu. They have a very good menu that is in English, German, and Spanish. Corinne chose the Späetzle (noodles) and I had the Schnitzel with Mushroom sauce, which was basically unbreaded Jägerschnitzel. The presentation of the dishes was beautiful and the taste was amazing. I have had many schnitzels at many restaurants in the states but none compared to this one. The veal was perfectly cooked and incredibly tender and the mushroom sauce was creamy and well balanced. I especially liked the red cabbage that came with our meal. It was sweet and flavored with a hint of clove.

After the meal, the owner, Mike, came and talked to us for a little while. He told us that he came from Bonn, Germany twelve years ago and opened up this restaurant. After a little small talk we went back to our meal, or more correctly, our drinks. I ordered a Calvados, which is sort of like an apple-brandy. Not many places carry it in the U.S. so I was again very pleased with the restaurant. Corinne ordered one of the specialty coffees. With all the excitement neither one of us is sure which one it was but we are thinking it was the Café Italiano. The server brought out a table and poured the alcohol into a metal serving dish, lit it on fire, and proceeded to pull the flaming liquid through the air from one dish to the next. After four or five times he poured it into what appeared to be a wine glass half full of coffee and ice cream that was placed in front of Corinne. The blue flame from the burning alcohol gave a beautiful glow to the coffee for a moment before it was extinguished.

As Corinne enjoyed her coffee and I enjoyed my Calvados we knew we had found a 1st class restaurant. A diamond in the rough you could say. But that wasn’t the end of it yet, when the server brought our bill he presented me with a shot of honey tequila and for Corinne he placed a small glass of champagne with a strawberry slice floating on top. We found this to be a very nice addition to the meal and spoke volumes about the level of service that Mike provides to his guests. The final touch was when Mike walked us outside the restaurant and flagged us a cab. You just don’t find that kind of old world hospitality and service anywhere these days. Needless to say, next time we are in Puerto Vallarta (which will be near the end of this year) we have a whole day planned around going to Hacienda Alemana.

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