Saturday, August 25, 2012

Bread Pudding: Why Write About Something That I Hate?

The title of this post is clear: I hate, loathe, abhor bread pudding.  But I can't deny that it's useful.

The Bloomingdale Farmers Market is only three block away from my house, and has approximately 10-15 vendors.  There is one bakery stall where you can get amazingly good bread.  They are a wholesale bakery (they make the bread for lots of high-end DC restaurants).  I don't know where the bakers are from originally, but they may be from France.  I'm not good with French accents so they may also be from a previously French-colonised country.  All I can tell you is that they talk to you in French first, and I've heard them having conversations in French with other customers.  They were very polite when I said my one pathetic French sentence to them: Je ne parle pas Francais.  Sometimes I am listening when Twin talks to me.  Sometimes.

So I buy a rustic baguette every Sunday around noon and gorge myself on it, making havarti and tomato sandwiches.  And every Tuesday I look at the leftover half-baguette and feel guilty about throwing it out, but how much baguette can one person eat?  Patches loves toast and would eat the entire rest of the loaf and wind up with bunny diabetes.  So this week I decided not to be one of those Americans who throw away 40% of their food and instead make something with the stale bread.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Mango Mousse Cake: How To Fool People Into Thinking You've Done A Lot Of Work

Some recipes produce food that tastes amazing but doesn't look like something you'd ever want to put in your mouth.
This is something called "chicken bog" and while it's supposed to taste good, you won't catch me trying it.
Some recipes produce food that looks amazing but doesn't taste very good or is difficult to eat because of the presentation.  This is my personal pet peeve: I don't care how lovely it looks on the plate if I can't eat it.

Somebody made Stonehenge out of lettuce and toasted bread.  To eat this, you need to take the bread off, knock the lettuce over, slice it up, put it and the tuna tartar on the bread, and possibly slice that as well.
The magic recipe results in food that looks and tastes amazing.  The absolutely best recipes on the planet are magic recipes that are also easy to make.  When you've found one of those, never loose it.  It's the baking equivalent of a flying unicorn that draws rainbows across the sky.

Mousse cakes are almost always "magic recipes".  There may be a small amount of baking involved, but the mousse itself is made by mixing whipped cream with a flavored, stabilized base which is put in the refrigerator to chill and solidify.  That's it.

The complications in a mousse cake only come from how fancy you want to make it.  A mousse with three or four different flavors?  A mousse cake with five layers?  A mousse cake with differently colored cake layers?  All these are options that may make the cake better but certainly aren't required.

The key to making an amazing mousse cake is to use well-flavored ingredients.  If you're going to make a chocolate mousse cake, don't use low quality chocolate.  Hershey chocolate bars are wonderful for s'mores but terrible for cakes.

My personal favorite mousse cake is mango mousse cake because I love mangoes that much.  Unfortunately it can be difficult to get quality mangoes on the east coast, especially if it's not mango season.  Trader Joe's sells bags of frozen mango chunks during mango season.  If you've got enough freezer space, I recommend storing 2-4 bags of mango chunks so you can have them at hand year-round.  I don't have enough freezer space to do this, but I would if I could.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

My Mother's Hallah

Hallah (aka challah) is the traditional Jewish bread that is eaten during the Sabbath (shabat).  Hallah (חלה) means "loaf" in Hebrew.  Lechem (לחם) means "bread".  Because you are forbidden from doing any work during shabat, you must cook all of your food beforehand.

The laws of keeping kosher (kashrut) make this more complicated than most people realize; specifically, you can't mix dairy and meat together.  Food that is neither dairy nor meat is called "parve".  Parve foods include all fruits, vegetables, eggs, and fish.  (Yes, I know that fish is the meat of an animal but we're dealing with 6,000 year old dietary laws here.)  To make sure that you can eat hallah with whatever else you eat on shabbat, the recipe is usually parve.  That's why a lot of recipes and cookbooks refer to hallah as an "egg bread", because the binder in the dough is egg without any dairy.

My mother baked her own hallah throughout my childhood.  The hallah that came from the bakeries was weird, really puffy and the crust was dry and dark.  My mother would also put in honey and raisins for holidays like Rosh HaShanah (Jewish New Year).  Sometimes my father would make french toast with the leftover hallah for breakfast on Sunday.

Pumpkin Souffle

Souffles have a reputation for being incredibly difficult: they are finicky, they fall, they are fragile and collapse, etc.  This is not true.  Souffles are actually very sturdy, and they are supposed to slowly collapse as they cool down.  If a souffle deflates over the space of 10-20 minutes, then you've done something right.

Julia Child (a lady who knew what she was talking about) described souffles as a a flavoured base with beaten eggs whites.  As the souffle cooks, the air bubbles in the egg whites expand and the souffle rises.  That's why souffles collapse as they cool down.  As Julia pointed out, souffles basically consist of two ingredients: a base and beaten egg whites.  All you need to do is combine them:
"Soufflés are not difficult when you have mastered the beating of egg whites and the folding of them into the soufflé base."
Here's a great webpage about souffles with lots of useful tips at the bottom for the first-time souffle maker.

At Halloween last year, Landlord made a cute jack-o-latern.  What do you do with all of the leftover pumpkin?  I didn't want to make a pumpkin pie because it was close to Thanksgiving and I figured I'd be drowning in pumpkin pies in less than a month.  I don't remember why I decided to make a pumpkin souffle.  I had never made a souffle before but I figured if it didn't work then I wouldn't have wasted any ingredients.  I should mention that at this point I still believed that souffles were impossible to make and I didn't realise that they use so many eggs.  I had also heard the urban legend about the Julia Child show where she made a souffle and it collapsed live on television when she pulled it out of the oven.  I figured that if Julia Child couldn't get a souffle to work, then it wouldn't be a real failure if my attempt was a disaster.

The pumpkin souffle was amazing, so flavourful and light and the texture was incredible and and and...

I was a souffle convert.

An Explanation...

I originally set up this blog when I bought a house for the first time.  Words cannot describe how terrified I was (so much money!  so much work!  so much money needed to do said work!).  I decided that it was time to get organized, and that included making sure that I wasn't that friend - you know which friend I'm talking about, the one who sends you sporadic emails with 100 pictures attached to each one.  As a homeowner, I needed to be efficient and get things done with a minimum of energy and time.  The solution was obvious: make a blog to keep everybody up to date and let the people who actually cared follow it.

This home improvement blog has no home improvement updates for one simple reason: the seller was committing fraud.  No house, no home improvements.

I spent a number of months dealing with the legal system to get my money back (ask me about the tort of negligence) and, after that, I didn't want to think about or do anything related to the house, including this blog.

Time heals all wounds, etc.  Several days ago, a friend asked my why I didn't have a cooking/food blog.  I love baking and I spend far too much time reading other people's food blogs.  So why not make my own?

Chez Le Awesome does not have a chez anymore, so it's now about food.  It may include home improvement in the future.  When? I have no idea.

I do not expect this blog to become popular.  I do expect that some friends who want my recipes will pop by to print them off.  The plan is to update once a week, either with something of my own or with what is hopefully an instructive and useful post.  Right now I have lots of food albums on facebook that I'll move over here to start things off.

On a side note, I also intend to have several entries on really basic cooking skills and on vocabulary.  Many food blogs and cookbooks don't have information on the basics because they're intended for more practiced cooks which makes it basically impossible for a beginner to follow the recipes and instructions.  You can do everything that the recipe says and still end up with a mess because you don't know that the instruction to "fold the dry ingredients into the wet" means something very specific, or that "stir" and "mix" are different hand motions.  There are several really helpful cookbooks that cover these types of issues (note: make an entry on recommended cookbooks) but if you don't know about them, you can't read them.

So that's the plan.  My second job starts in one week (OMG I am an idiot sometimes).  Let's see if I can manage one update per week.