This Guy

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Native son to the American Deep South - now living in Portland, OR. Lover of people, sustainability, justice, culture, writing, history, cuisine and coffee.

Monday, February 28, 2011



What a gorgeous, calorie filled word.

It should go without saying that cream is to be eaten sparingly. And unfortunately, I reckon’ even ice cream…but for the sake of what I’m about to talk about, use it as much as you want!
Not only is cream a wonderful thing, it has so many uses.

Sour cream on your burrito?
Whipped cream on a piece of pie?
Yes, yes, yes.
My goodness…what have we gotten ourselves into?

Let’s start off with crème fraiche.
“Crème fraiche” is a fancy schmancy French term meaning, “Fresh cream”. It’s similar to sour cream, sans the tangy bite. Not only is crème fraiche an impressive ingredient included in a dish, but it’s so easy to make and so versatile.

What you’ll need:
2 cups heavy cream
2 tablespoons buttermilk (cultured)

What you’ll do:
Stir them together in a mason jar (or any container with an air tight lid) and let sit at room temperature (65-70 degrees) for 24 hours, stirring every six to eight hours. Since my kitchen is generally colder than the rest of my house, I have to bring the cream/buttermilk mixture up to a tepid temperature either in the microwave or the stovetop. If you want to be 100% sure your cream is warm enough, feel free to do this step. The cultures in the buttermilk keep the cream from going bad, so don’t be afraid, dear ones.

After 24 hours, it should thicken to the likes of sour cream. At this point, you want it to go in the refrigerator for a good chill and voila! You’re ready to use your gorgeous crème fraiche! You can use it to make good, thick buttermilk dressing, dipping sauce or topping for fresh fruit.

With crème fraiche, you can take it so many ways. Add a tablespoon of lemon juice to a cup of crème fraiche and use it as a dipping sauce for veggies (or fried cauliflower – my new obsession.) You can also add a tablespoon of honey and a few pinches of sugar to make a super tasty topping to fresh fruit salad. Add a bit of salt and use it as you would sour cream.

Next, let’s talk about how easy it is to make your own fresh butter.

Well, not if we’re talking about “grandma on the front porch with her butter churn”, but if you have a stand mixer/electric mixer and 10 minutes, you’re good to go.

You’ll need a good bit of heavy cream – about six to eight cups. This will give you about a pound of butter.
Using the whisk on your mixer, start mixing at a high speed (as you would when you make your own whipped….cream!) and just keep it steady goin’. Make sure you have some sort of splatter screen up, because it does get kind of messy.

Soon, you’ll start to see it thicken and as soon as you see soft peaks, you have yourself fresh whipped cream. As you continue to mix, it’ll start to separate and you’ll be past the point of decent whipped cream, but on your way to fresh butter.
[As a side note, it isn’t cheaper to make your own butter. I’d say it’s mostly for aesthetic. If you can find great quality cream, you’ll have great quality butter. Plus, it just feels epic to make your own butter.]

After the cream starts to separate, keep the mixer going for a few more minutes. It’ll separate more and more as you mix and all of a sudden you’ll begin to see the yellow solids (aka, the glorious fat!). Under those tiny yellow bits of goodness, you’ll see your buttermilk! So that’s where buttermilk comes from! Maybe you knew that already.

Grab a deep bowl and fine mess strainer. Drain the butter and buttermilk through the strainer and press firmly on the butter solids to get as much liquid out as possible. At this point, it’s all pretty self-explanatory. You have butter and buttermilk. You can add a few teaspoons of salt to the butter if you would like, or leave it unsalted – which is preferred in most recipes. You can also add a tablespoon or so of honey and you’ll have an awesome spread for your buttermilk biscuits or whatever it is in the world you want to putter butter on or in.

Wowza, this was a long one.

But, it just goes to show how fun it is to make your own stuff. It’s good to know where things come from and what resources it takes to do so.

Thank you cows -- for providing us with so many good things.

Friday, February 11, 2011

cookbooks and hot flashes

I’m a sucker for a good cookbook.

I wrote one time that cookbooks gave me hot flashes. It’s funny, I think, and maybe a little bit true.
Okay, I don’t really get hot flashes, but I do get giddy over new cookbooks. Especially these days, because it seems folks are really coming into their own narrative. Chefs are generally awkward and compulsive jerks [even the ones smiling on TV], but sometimes, you get a glimpse into their story and it makes sense.

I can’t speak well enough of “Ad Hoc”, by Thomas Keller. From what I’ve heard, his other cookbooks are a bit intensive if you’ve never cooked professionally or even understand the ingredients. I struggle with that a lot. Technique and knowledge of ingredients is just something you have to work on constantly. Ad Hoc differs because it’s mostly home-style food…but done really, really well. And it looks so pretty! His opening bit talks about the last meal he cooked for his father, saying, “Always remember to take care of your parents…”
From cooking some serious chicken pot pie and using duck confit as an ingredient, to putting together your basic stocks and vinaigrettes, I can’t seem to put it down.

“Charcuterie” by Brian Polcyn and Michael Ruhlman is a necessary book for folks interested in curing their own meats. I’ve researched books on drying and curing meats and have always been directed back to Charcuterie. It’s where I draw my recipe for bacon – but if you want to get fancy schmancy, they give great recipes and techniques for patés, terrines, sausages and other dishes requiring forcemeat. (Forcemeat generally applies to any meat or meat by-product that is ground and “forced” into another shape. Kind of like hamburgers and hotdogs…kind of… :)

Try buying cookbooks that include recipes you’ll actually want to eat. Not everyone wants to cook classical French or cure their own pancetta. If a recipe requires an ingredient you have to order by mail, you’re probably not going to cook with it too often.
Peter Reinhart’s “Artisan Breads Everyday” is a book I’ve been going to weekly for my gluten fix. I think baking bread can be an intimidating task, but Peter Reinhart seems to be known for making it a lot less daunting. The book does a great job at explaining what dough should look and feel like without making you feel completely clueless.

I think that’s where I’ve always been stuck when it came to recipes. Lots of cookbook/recipe writers don’t explain very well what you should be seeing or smelling. Such as, “Your dough will probably look like a course, shaggy ball. This is good! If it gets too dry, add a little water. Add more flour if it’s too sticky.”

Look for good explanations and realistic recipes.
Smudge it up and don't worry about spilling crap on the pages. It's gonna happen and I think they (and you) look better for it!

Get to cooking, my foodie friends!