Tuesday, February 8, 2011

...in which I talk about food for a long time...

The view from the kitchen door this morning.

Listening to Ella Fitzgerald's "Fine And Mellow", cup of coffee. I've been on the couch reading in the sun for a while this morning. It is a sunny, but very cold day here today. For the most part, the ice is off the trees, although I noticed this morning that the tops of almost every tree glinted in the sun, and shook in the breeze. In my reverie, I jumped (and so did the dogs) when a large chunk of ice fell off the cottonwood and hit the tin roof of the barn we were standing beside. It's still not entirely safe outside: falling ice, freezing skin... It's much  better to enjoy this rare sunny day inside. Last week, during the power outages and our removal into town, Rich did most of the cooking. We're lucky: we both enjoy cooking and we think we're pretty good at it. And while I love being fed, I just couldn't imagine my life without cooking. On Saturday, I made Beef Goulash. I didn't have caraway seeds, and am not sure if the dish would have benefited from their addition, but it was almost just what I recall from my days of living in Vienna, Austria. All those bowls of Goulasch at the Beisl restaurant by school. Served with a cucumber salad, fresh rye bread and a glass of wine, I knew this was simple country fare, and yet it was so perfect... The goulash I made Saturday night was simple enough to make. One pot (how did I cook before my Dutch Oven?) lots of simmering. And 5 tablespoons of paprika. Even reading that in the cookbook made me excited... Ate it with bread I made last week and a glass or two of wine. Delicious!

One of my purest joys involves cookbooks. When I get a new one, I sit down and read it from start to finish. And when I want to cook something, I gather up a few of them and start comparing recipes. Sometimes it's to compare techniques, sometimes just to get a path for improvisation. Yesterday, it was to reconcile two things I didn't have: enough time and all of the ingredients. Rich and I have been wanting to make Beef Bourgingon for a while. We made it once before, together, after watching "Julie & Julia" at the Tamarac Square Theater, drinking wine. And it was perfect. Delicious-tasting. But mostly the memory: driving down Hampden in Denver, talking ourselves out of going out to dinner and instead to go home and cook. I ran into the house, grabbed a Julia Child cookbook, and we drove to the store, buying ingredients, then coming home and cooking the meal together. We both knew that I was going to make Beef Bourgingon last night and Rich went to the store on his way home to buy the things we were missing: pearl onions and some Pinot Noir. Rich came home with the wine, and chocolate chips. We have been talking a lot about cookies, and the other day I made some molasses cookies because we were out of chocolate chips. The molasses cookies are good, and match this cold weather perfectly, but I think someone really wants some chocolate chip cookies! Rich had even called me to ask if it would be better to get fresh pearl onions or frozen. I suggested frozen since I recall reading it's easier than peeling all of those little suckers. I guess he put down the fresh onions, walked past the baking aisle on the way to the freezer section, picked up the chips, counted to make sure he had the right number of items, and came home. But not a big deal. I figured we could cut up a half an onion into large chunks, and that would approximate pearl onions. (Turns out I was right!) Rich had more grading to do, so asked if we could eat around 7:30 or so. Perfect. So I went upstairs and did my taxes and then went downstairs at 6 to start dinner by making a cup of coffee and reading cookbooks. In the three different Julia Child recipes I have for this dish, the average time is 3 hours. Yikes. It was about the same in Cook's Illustrated. So I picked up Mark Bittman's How To Cook Everything and he had a recipe that only took an hour. Perfect. We ate at 8:45. But that was okay. And the meal was tasty. The sauce flavorful. I thought the meat was a little tough, but liked the texture of the crisp bacon and the silky mushrooms. And the large onion chunks did provide a burst of sweet onion flavor. With a salad and garlic bread Rich made, it was a satisfying dinner.

A bowl of creme fraiche, perhaps.
Here to the right, you see a bowl of white. It's homemade creme fraiche. Hopefully. Again, after comparing many cookbooks, I settled on a recipe (Thank you again, Bittman!) and made my own buttermilk, and added it to the cup of heavy cream, and covered it, and left it sitting on the counter overnight. It thicker than it was yesterday, but still not as thick as it should be. I'll let it sit all day, and hopefully tonight it will be thick. It does taste nice: sweet and slightly tart. Once made, I plan on freezing some canned peaches and then eating them with large dollops of creme fraiche on top...

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