|Pavlova with Balsamic Berries|
Feeling a little less Culinarily Challenged?
Feel like trying out your culinary mettle on something a bit more difficult?
Then welcome back.
Time for the tough stuff.
In this installment of Lowered Eggspectations, I'll be showing you how to make soufflés, omelets, clafoutis, and pavlovas.
A clafouti (pronounced "klah-foo-tee") is a dessert. According to Julia Child's Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Volume 1, a clafouti is basically "a pancake batter poured over fruit in a fireproof dish, then baked in the oven" (page 655). For the purposes of this blog, I have chosen the simplest recipe, generously provided by a dear friend, to show you how to make them. This is one of those desserts that looks fancy, but actually isn't, by virtue of how easy it is to make. While traditional clafoutis call for black cherries, I used mixed berries and they turned out just fine. Please note that if you don't like egg-ey desserts, this isn't the one for you.
Here's how you do it.
From the store
Powdered or Icing Sugar - you can find this in the baking section of the grocery section of the grocery store - since you'll only need 4 Tablespoons, grab the smallest bag you can find.
1 Mixing bowl
4 to 6 Ramekins, depending on their size - (See For the Culinarily Challenged - Choose Your Weapons under "If Ya Wanna Get Fancy")
1 Whisk or Fork
1 Baking Dish
1 Kitchen Timer
From the Freezer
1 Cup Frozen Berries OR From the Fridge, Fresh Berries, rinsed
From the Fridge
1 teaspoon of Butter
From the Pantry
5 Teaspoons of flour
Vanilla extract - about a teaspoon - you can also use your favorite liqueur - I used Creme de Cassis, a blackcurrant liqueur, and it worked fine
If you're using frozen fruit, put them a bowl or measuring cup on the counter to thaw while you get the other ingredients ready.
Preheat your oven to 350 F (180 Celsius) and grease your ramekins with butter. Put them in the baking dish (this will keep them from sliding around when you pull them from the oven).
Crack your eggs into a bowl, add the flour, 3 Tablespoons of the powdered sugar and vanilla and beat the heck out of them with a whisk or fork.
Put the fruit in the ramekins and pour in your egg mixture.
Bake them in the oven for 25 minutes or until the edges are browned and the top looks solidified. Since this is a custard thing, the toothpick test won't necessarily work. You can, however, give em a tap with a fork to see if the tops are solid.
Put the last tablespoon of powdered sugar on top to make it look pretty - you can do this by gently shaking the measuring spoon full of powdered sugar, face up, over the clafoutis -- and, if you wish, some whipped cream, and serve!
Serves 4 to 6
I thought an omelet was basically scrambled egg mix made into an crepe or thin pancake with or without a filling added to it. And I was right... but only in part. Just as there are many ways to skin a cat, apologies to any cat lovers out there, Jacques Pepin's book New Complete Techniques, an excellent reference/cookbook recommended by both Chef Martin and myself, indicates that there is more than one way to make an omelet, and none are wrong. My way, while not indicated in his book, is a perfectly acceptable version.
Since omelets can have a wide variety of fillings, I will present my recipe for a mushroom omelet. Don't like mushrooms? No problem! Try using chopped up cold cuts, either as is or fried for a minute or two in oil, leftover stew with the liquid removed with your trusty slotted spoon, or a vegetable mix fried for a few minutes in oil or butter, or even a spoonful of salsa! Like with scrambled eggs, fritatas and quiches, the possibilities for omelets are endless.
Making an omelet takes more than a little skill and practice, and even experienced home cooks like myself screw them up every once in a while, but don't get discouraged! Just as Julia Child showed her viewers how to fix mistakes in the kitchen, I plan to do the same with you. Too bad I don't have her charm.
Now let's get started.
From the Store
1 Package of Regular Mushrooms (the little white ones that sell for about a buck fifty and usually come in a blue tub wrapped in plastic wrap)
Dried Thyme - (it's an herb) (optional) - you'll only need a pinch of this IF you decide to use it, but, while it does add some flavor, it really isn't essential to this dish
1 Slotted Spoon
1 Frying Pan
1 Regular Bowl and 1 Mixing Bowl OR 2 Mixing Bowls (you can get another one in the dollar store for a buck or two)
1 Cutting Board
Measuring Spoons (optional)
From the Fridge
1 or 2 Pieces aka Cloves of Garlic
1 Tablespoon of Butter
From the Pantry
1 Tablespoon of Canola oil
Salt and Pepper
White Cooking Wine (optional) - this will add great flavor to the mushrooms, but if you have reservations - and I DON'T mean the kind for a restaurant - about using alcohol in your cooking, don't use it, but bear in mind that most, if not all of the actual alcohol in the wine steams away as the mushrooms cook, leaving only the wine's flavor behind
Using your trusty cutting board and knife, cut the garlic into tiny pieces, making sure to discard the tough woody bit at the end of every clove. Next comes the mushrooms.
Slice your mushrooms. The thickness of the slices of said mushrooms don't matter too much, but the thicker the slices, the longer they will take to cook. Don't worry if the amount of sliced mushrooms looks like too much for your pan. They shrink a lot as they cook.
Heat your butter and some Canola oil (say half a tablespoon each) in a frying pan on medium high heat. When the fat is sliding easily around the pan and the butter has melted, dump in your garlic and cook, moving it around with the spatula until it starts to smell good.
Dump in your mushrooms, season 'em with a little salt and pepper, and if using, a pinch of dried thyme. You measure a pinch by taking some of an ingredient between your thumb and forefinger and whatever you can hold between those two fingers should be enough.
Move the mushrooms around in the pan a little, so they get coated with your fat, being careful not to let too many of them spill over the side. Now's the time to add your wine, say about three tablespoons, or a light splash of it.
Move the mushrooms around in the pan until they've shrunk and turned from white to brown.
Carefully, without burning yourself, taste one.
If it's tender enough for you and you like the taste (food is all about taste and texture), turn off the heat and pour the contents of the pan into one of your bowls. If the flavor seems off, adjust the salt and pepper until it's more to your taste.
Now we can work on the eggs.
First, clean your frying pan. I know I haven't talked much about cleanup at this point, but that's mostly because while essential to cooking, I, like many home cooks, hate doing it. In order to clean your frying pan, scrub it with a sponge, ideally one that comes with a tougher or "scouring" side, and soap and water. I know some people like to use steel wool for stuck on food, but DO NOT use steel wool if you're dealing with a non-stick pan. It will destroy the non stick surface. Rinse your pan with water, dry it with a tea towel (meaning a clean dish towel), and you're ready to go again!
Crack three eggs into your other bowl. If there are shells or shell pieces, now is the time to take them out using a spoon or clean hands. Do not cook and eat the shells with your eggs, for while loaded with calcium, they are also loaded with bacteria! Beat the eggs with a fork, add some salt and pepper, and you're ready!
Grease your frying pan with the remaining butter and canola oil and heat on medium heat.
You may need to repeat this process, depending on the size of your pan. When the outer edges have lightened in colour and look cooked but the top and middle of the eggs are still slightly runny, dump as many of your cooked mushrooms as you can into the center of the eggs.
CAREFULLY slide the spatula under the eggs on one side and fold it them in on themselves, covering the mushrooms as much as you can. You may need to tilt the pan to do this. Don't worry if the omelet has a few holes in it, it will taste good just the same, and you can always cover the holes with a garnish or decoration later.
Slide the omelet onto a plate by tilting the pan over your plate, and then, if you plan to share, cut it in half, and put the other half on a second plate.
Now is the time to cover up any mistakes. You can do this by artfully arranging any extra cooked mushroom on top, and then putting a nice salad on the side. See the image below.
Serves 2 people or 1 VERY hungry person for breakfast, lunch, or dinner.
Soufflé in French is literally past tense for "blow" (if your minds went there, get 'em out of the gutter right now!). A soufflé happens when you separate the white from the yolk of raw eggs, beat the crap out of the whites until they're full of tiny air bubbles, beat the yolks in a separate bowl and flavor them, and then carefully add them back into the whites. Shove 'em in the oven, and poof! You have something fancy you can serve to guests.
Soufflés have to be served right out of the oven, as they often deflate within the first 15 minutes. While tricky, they don't take very long to prepare, and make an excellent first course or dessert course at a dinner party. They can be flavored many ways, from sweet to savory, but for the purposes of this entry, I will show you how to make a basic cheese soufflé. I got the recipe from a website called Allrecipes.com, which says that it came from the Egg Farmers of Ontario. I like this website because while not always instructional, the recipes in it are posted and reviewed by its users. I tweaked the recipe a little for my taste and because in the end, the measurements seemed a bit off. What you see below is my tweaked and embellished version.
Now let's start our soufflés.
From the store
Some blue cheese (one piece, pre packaged is fine) - IF you don't like blue cheese, use cheddar or another cheese -- soft goat cheese would be awesome too
4 Ramekins (See For the Culinarily Challenged - Choose Your Weapons under "If Ya Wanna Get Fancy")
1 Baking Pan
2 Mixing Bowls
1 Small Pot
1 Wooden Spoon
1 Rubber Spatula
Measuring Cups or 1 Measuring Cup
1 Fork (optional)
From the Fridge
4 Tablespoons butter
1/4 Cup All Purpose Flour
1 Cup Milk
From the pantry
Salt and Pepper
2 or 3 Tablespoons Plain Breadcrumbs
Let the eggs sit on the counter for 5 or 10 minutes. This will make it easier to separate them, and, later, to whip up your whites.
While the eggs are resting, take 1 tablespoon of butter and rub the insides of the ramekins with it. When there's a good layer of grease on them, put a tablespoon of breadcrumbs in one ramekin and move it around to coat the inside. Repeat with the others. This will allow the soufflés to "climb" up the insides of the ramekins as they bake. Put the ramekins in your baking pan face up.
You can now get to work on your egg whites.
To separate your eggs, crack the egg on the side of the mixing bowl, and then quickly turn it upright, holding it over the bowl. Carefully pull the top half of the shell away from the bottom, allowing the white to fall out of the egg into the bowl. Holding the empty half of the shell in your other hand, carefully tip the yolk into it over the same bowl, allowing whatever white was underneath the yolk, to fall into the bowl. See the image below.
You can then put the yolk into your second mixing bowl and discard the shell. Got some yolk in the whites? No problem! Simply take it out with a spoon, and put with the rest of your yolks.
Repeat the process with the other eggs.
Now is the time to beat your egg whites. To do this, all you need to do is put your whisk into to the whites, tilt it sideways, and move your hand back and forth until the eggs go from clear to white, and stiff peaks form. See the images below. If your hand and wrist get tired before the peaks form, try switching hands as doing this does not take that much dexterity. Once your eggs whites are ready, set them aside, but away from your stove.
Now we can work on the flavoring for the soufflé.
In your pot over medium heat, melt the remaining 3 Tablespoons of butter, and then add the flour. Stir the contents with a wooden spoon, until the flour has absorbed the butter, and there are no more lumps. You can then pour in the milk, and dump in your cheese of choice.
Stir the mixture until the cheese has melted and season it with a little pepper and salt.
Preheat your oven to 325 F (160 C), and start working on the flavoring of the soufflé.
This is a basic cheese sauce and can be used as is on pasta for an easy mac and cheese, on you can add some of it to your soufflé. To do so, clean your whisk OR just use a fork. Beat your egg yolks, and then put a spoonful of the cheese sauce into the yolks and quickly beat them so the egg yolks get "used" to having the hot cheese in them. This process is called tempering. You can now pour half the cheese mixture into your egg yolks and quickly beat the heck out of them with your whisk or fork. The finished product should be a golden yellow sauce. See the image below.
Whatever's left in your pot can be put in a container and put in the fridge for another time. It should keep for 3 to 4 days.
Now is the time to assemble your soufflés.
Pour your cheese and egg yolk mixture into your beaten egg whites, and holding your rubber spatula at an angle in the bowl, slowly rotate it three or four times until the egg yolk mixture is slightly mixed in or incorporated - this process is called "Folding". Please note that it doesn't matter if you can still see the egg whites when you're done. It will be fine.
Spoon the contents of your bowl into your ramekins, leaving a little space for the souffles to grow. Put the baking pan with the ramekins in the oven and bake for 25 minutes or until they're puffed and golden brown. See the image below. Serve immediately with spoons.
Serves 4 as an appetizer.
I have to admit I had the devil of a time finding a proper definition of a pavlova (pronounced "pahv - lov - ah"), mostly because according to various online sources, no one can agree, between the Australians and New Zealanders, who came up with it. It's named after a ballet dancer and is a dessert consisting of egg whites, beaten until stiff (as you would for a soufflé) with a stabiliser (cream of tartar), and then had a sweetener added to it - the finished egg white product is called meringue (pronounced "mer- ang") - and then baked, and topped with a fruit concoction and whipped cream.
Having never made a pavlova before, I decided to test my culinary mettle once again and see if I was good enough at it to teach you.
Not to brag, but I'd say I pass.
I found the recipe for the pavlova you see in Canadian Chef and Cookbook author, Michael Smith's book, Chef Michael Smith's Kitchen: 100 of My Favorite Recipes. His recipe calls for kiwis, orange oil, and a sort of marmalade topping with strawberries, but since I didn't have any kiwis or orange oil, I opted to use as toppings what I usually have on hand, and rest assured, it turned out just fine. The recipe for the meringue part copies Smith's almost to the letter
Here's how you do it
From the Store
Parchment Paper - You can find this in the baking section of the grocery store or in the dollar store for about a buck or two
1/8 Teaspoon Cream of Tartar - This is an item that can be found in tiny boxes in the baking section of the grocery store. Here is a photo so you'll know what to look for.
1 Metal Baking or Cookie Sheet
1 Wooden Spoon or Rubber Spatula
1 Kitchen Timer
From the fridge
4 Egg Whites - Separate your eggs into a mixing bowl as you would for a soufflé, and if you wish, put the yolks in a container and save them in the fridge for another use such a scrambled eggs or omelets. You'll only need the bowl with the whites for this recipe.
2 Cups Fresh berries OR From the Freezer, Frozen Berries
2 Cups Whipping Cream (1 Small Carton)
From the Pantry
1 Cup of Jam (ideally marmalade) OR 3/4 of a cup of Balsamic vinegar + 3 Tablespoons Jam and 1 Tablespoon Sugar - If you're budget conscious, use the jam only
1 and 1/4 Cup of Powdered or Icing Sugar, divided
1 Tablespoon of White Vinegar
1 Tablespoon Vanilla extract
1 Tablespoon of Cornstarch
1/4 Teaspoon of Salt
1 Teaspoon Canola oil
Preheat your oven to 250 F (120 Celsius).
Take your parchment paper, and using a pen or pencil, trace a circle 20 cm or 8 or 9 inches in diameter (you can do this by taking a bowl, pie plate, or round baking dish of about the same size, flipping it over, and then tracing the edge). See the image below. Flip the paper over, and put it in the baking sheet. Parchment paper is very thin, so the line should show through.
Now we can work on the egg whites.
Using the whisk, beat the egg whites, cream of tartar, and salt until soft peaks form. Now add 1 cup of icing sugar, a spoonful at a time, and beat the heck out of it until it forms "smooth shiny peaks". Beat in the cornstarch, vinegar, and vanilla. Rub your wooden spoon or rubber spatula with oil, and use it to spread the egg white mixture or meringue into the circle on the parchment paper on the baking sheet, spreading it to the edge of the circle, thus "forming a thick, even disc".
Bake for 1 hour or until the outside is crispy, and the inside is soft and chewy. It may brown a bit, but that's ok. It will taste delicious regardless.
While the meringue is baking, start working on the toppings.
Put your berries and either the jam OR the vinegar, sugar, and jam in a pot over medium heat and bring to a boil. Cook until the contents of the pot are less liquidy and have thickened slightly. Put it aside to cool.
Clean the bowl and whisk you used for the meringue using soap and water and dry them with a dish towel. Dump in your whipping cream and icing sugar, and beat the heck out of it until thick but not separated.
You can then cover it and put it in the fridge until you're ready to assemble the pavlova.
Take the meringue out of the oven using the oven mitts, let it cool for a few minutes, and then carefully peel off the parchment paper. This is very hard to do without breaking it, but don't worry! You can cover up any mistakes with your toppings.
Put the baked meringue, or the pieces of it in perfect order, on a serving plate, and let it cool some more, say the duration of the main course. Top with your berry mixture, and a thick layer of your whipped cream and you're ready to go!
The amount of people this serves depends on your crowd. If you're dealing with calorie counters, it might serve 10 or 15. If you're dealing with people with a sweet tooth, it could serve half that amount of people.
Sick of eggs?
Me too! That being said, next week I'll be tackling another basic, but extremely versatile ingredient, this time in one shot, so stay tuned!
Samantha R. Gold
Questions? Comments? Requests?
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