Welcome to my kitchen

A while ago, I realized I was serious enough about bread baking to stop diddling around with the 3-packs of yeast from the grocery store, or even the small jars for a small fortune. So I pulled up my big girl pants, and ordered "A Pound Of Yeast". It's in my freezer, and I use it regularly, and I guess that makes me "A Baker". Even though I always said "I can't bake". So, join me on my journey, and let's see what that pound of yeast makes, and where we go next....

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

What We Won’t Make For Ourselves (but should)

If, as I, you are usually cooking for just yourself, or one other person, there are a lot of dishes that are “Too Much Trouble To Make”.  Or…”Too Fussy For *Just* Me”.  Or…”Too Fancy For Everyday”.

You know those dishes, we all do.  We look longingly at the recipes for gazpachos and paellas and soufflés and such and think “next time I have people over, I’m doing this !”  Or, maybe someday I’ll throw a party and make that !

But we never get around to those dishes, or those occasions.  We throw the party, and people clamor for our lasagna, green salad and garlic bread.  We have those people over, and they want our hot dogs stuffed with salsa and wrapped in cornbread.  We hold off on that crown roast of pork or truffled pasta for a “special occasion” and when that occasion hits (new job, new house, new significant other, new baby, fuzzy *or* human), we go out for drinks and dinner.

And so the dishes that are “Too Much Trouble To Make”, or “Too Fussy For Just Me”, or “Too Fancy For Everyday” fall by the wayside.  And they shouldn’t.

I’m here to tell you that most of them (well OK, the crown roast of pork probably isn’t really such a winning option for one person), but MOST of them, are not only ultimately doable for one, but totally doable most nights, and can turn the average OK day into something special.

Actually something VERY special.

The “Too Much Trouble To Make” meals we’re going to talk about now are a cheese soufflé (the header picture) and homemade cream of tomato soup.  Yep.  In just about the same amount of time it takes you to open that red and white can of condensed tomato “glop”, dilute it and heat it up, you can put something wonderful on your singular, solo plate that will put a smile on your face, a warmth in your tummy and a satisfied contentment in your soul.  Because there is nothing….NOTHING…better than taking care of yourself, and treating yourself as the valued someone that you are.

Let’s talk about the cheese soufflé first.  Full disclosure….this was only the second soufflé I’ve ever made.  I, too, fell victim to the “It’s Too Much Trouble For Just Me” myth.  Plus, I was just, well, scared of them.  I mean, they have this “rep” as being bad-@ss culinary critters.  You open the oven door while they’re cooking; they fall.  You slam the front door while they’re cooking; they fall.  You let the dogs run around playing with the squeeeeky Blue Ephelant while the soufflé is cooking; they fall.  You THINK about the soufflé while its cooking; it falls.

Lies !  All of them, lies.  Falsehoods, myths, fables, untruths.  All of them.  They’re actually pretty sturdy and forgiving.  At least the two of them I’ve made.  Granted, by no means does that make me an expert.  But this last one, that you’ll see in the pictures, actually got pulled from the oven a bit too early, and was still wet on the inside when I broke into it.  I knew I didn’t want to eat it that way, so I tossed it back in the oven for another 5 or 10 minutes.  I actually thought “well, what the HECK have I got to lose ?  I can’t eat this the way it is….”  Guess what ?  It POOOOOFED even more, and cooked all the way through, and tasted delightful.

So, get over your fears, and make yourself a cheese soufflé the next time you need a quick, easy (yes, easy) dinner.

So, here’s what you need:

That’s eggs, milk, paprika, Parmesan cheese (fine grate), butter, a bit of flour, paprika and more cheese.  What’s wrong with anything that needs loads of cheese?  Preheat your oven to 425°F.

Butter a soufflé mold

(or, a small, deep casserole about 4 inches in diameter.  This one was probably a bit too deep, but still works).  Maybe someday I’ll buy myself a real soufflé mold.  In the interim, this one works.  Then coat the bottom and sides with the fine-grated Parmesan.

Melt some butter in a small saucepan over a very gentle heat.  Separate the eggs.  You need two whites and one yolk.

Feed the other yolk to your happily Circling Vulture Dogs.  They LIKE eggs…..YUM.

When the butter’s melted, add in a bit of flour and whisk around until it’s smooth.  Don’t let the flour brown.

Then stir in the milk, and whisk until the white sauce thickens.  Add in the paprika (and some salt and pepper)

then remove from heat and beat in the egg yolk.  Set that aside for a bit while you whip the egg whites.

Remember to use a tall, narrow vessel for whipping the whites with the high-velocity electric whisk.  Don’t be like me and stand there watching the show as the egg white spews out of the shallow, wide bowl all over you, the cabinets and the Ever Circling Vulture Dogs…..

You’re lookin’ for soft peaks on the whites.

Mix half of the coarsely shredded cheese (you could use Swiss, Gruyere, Emmentaler or a sharp Cheddar blend, as I did) into the white sauce base.

Then plop some of the whipped whites on top, and gently fold them in.  Repeat with the rest of the cheese and the rest of the whites

again, gently folding the whites into the base.  Pour into your prepared dish and bake, on the middle rack, until the top is lightly browned and the soufflé has pooooofed and risen.  Should be about 18 minutes.

This was the first attempt….not enough time in the oven, as I discovered.  I think the skanky baking sheet I used under the dish to help in transport insulated the bottom a wee bit too much.

No harm, no foul as they used to say.  It didn’t deflate even after I’d poked a fork into it to discover the runny center.

And the money shot

a nice crust, a nice creamy interior and a lovely flavor with a glass of cheap white wine and a little salad.

And really, not very much fuss at all !  Certainly, an amount of fuss I’m worth on a routine basis.

Onwards to comfort in a bowl; homemade cream of tomato soup.

This is especially relevant now that tomato season is upon us.  I’ve only ever made this with “good” (thank you Ina), canned tomatoes, but imagine it would be transcendent with fresh ones.  On the list for this summer for sure.

And again, this seriously comes together in the time it would take you to open that condensed glob and heat it up.  Does it compare…not even.  This is MUCH better.

The players:

Canned tomatoes, cream, a small carrot, some basil leaves, some butter and some onion.  Salt and pepper of course, but they’re so standard, I don’t bother to gather them unless they’re a standout.

Slice up the onion and chop the carrot.  The soup will be pureed at the end, so neatness does not count.  I had the dregs of both a brown and a red onion in the fridge, so they both got the call.  The carrot adds a nice background sweetness.

Sauté them briefly in some butter,

just until they get soft.  You don’t want any color on them.  Season them up with some salt and pepper.

Shred up the basil

and add it to the pot along with the undrained can of tomatoes.  Let that simmer until the tomatoes start to fall apart.  That’ll take about 10 minutes.

Add in some cream, and stir it around to get it warmed up a bit.  Don’t let it boil.

Then, get out your trusty boat motor (you could also do this in a blender or a food processor, but we’ve already discussed the limitations of my cursed Cuisinart….)

and blitz the heck out of the mixture.  If you’re using a stand-alone blender, please be careful blending hot liquid.  It’s a bomb waiting to explode all over your kitchen....

Same with the food processor actually.  Be careful.

But with the blitz stick, it’s easily contained in the pot.

Get the mixture nice and smooth, then heat gently over low heat until nice and warm.  Pour into a bowl, garnish with croutons (and a drizzle of really fruity olive oil would be nice), and find a grilled cheese sandwich to dip into it.  Again, remind yourself you are TOTALLY worth the effort to make cream of tomato soup from scratch !

Because, there is NOTHING that is “too much trouble” just for YOU !

Here’s the real recipes.  Make these for yourself.  Soon.  When you need a treat….

Cheese Soufflé For One
(adapted from Judith Jones’ The Pleasure of Cooking For One)
1 soufflé

1/2 teaspoon soft butter and 1 tablespoon finely grated Parmesan cheese for the mold
2 teaspoons butter
1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
1/3 cup milk
Large pinch of salt and pepper to taste
Small pinch of paprika
1 egg yolk
2 egg whites
1/3 tightly packed cup grated, flavorful cheese (Swiss, aged Cheddar, Gruyere, Emmental or a blend)

Rub the softened butter around the bottom and sides of a 2&3/4-inch high by 4-inch diameter soufflé dish or small casserole.  Sprinkle the Parmesan all over, and rotate to coat the sides and bottom evenly.  Preheat the oven to 425°F.  Melt the 2 teaspoons butter in a small saucepan, and whisk in the flour.  Let cook over low heat for a moment, don’t let it color.  Whisk in the milk, stirring vigorously, and simmer over low heat for about a minute, whisking constantly until the sauce thickens.  Season to taste with salt and pepper, and add in the paprika.

Remove the base sauce from the heat, and whisk in the egg yolk.  Put the whites into a clean bowl, and beat until they form soft peaks.  Add a dollop of the whites to the base, along with about half of the grated cheese.  Fold that in gently, followed by the rest of the cheese and the rest of the beaten whites.  Pour the soufflé into the prepared mold and place on a rack in the middle of the oven.  Turn the heat down to 375°F, and bake for 18 minutes, or until the top is lightly browned and the soufflé has risen.

Enjoy with a small, crispy salad, dressed with a light vinaigrette and a glass of chilled white wine.  Indulge in a cheese soufflé a’la solo !

Not-From-The-Red-And-White-Can Cream of Tomato Soup
(adapted from Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything)
2 servings (doubles EASILY, since the recipe was originally written for 4)

1 tablespoon butter
1/2 large onion, sliced
1/2 carrot (or one small one), peeled and diced
Salt and pepper to taste
1&1/2 cups cored, peeled, seeded and chopped tomatoes (or one, 14.5 ounce can “good” canned tomatoes, with juice, not drained)
1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves, or 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme leaves, or 1 tablespoon minced fresh basil leaves
1/2 cup heavy cream or half-and-half (go for the cream baby, it’s for YOU, and you’re worth it)
Minced fresh parsley or basil for garnish
Croutons for garnish
Fruity extra-virgin olive oil for garnish

Put the butter in a deep saucepan and heat over medium.  When the butter melts and sizzles, add the onion and the carrot.  Season with salt and pepper and cook, stirring, until the onion begins to soften, about 5 minutes.  You don’t want it to color.

Add the tomatoes and your herb of choice and cook until the tomatoes start to break up, about 10 minutes.  Add the cream, and stir it around to let it get nice and warm.  Don’t let it boil.

Pour the mixture into the jar of a blender or the bowl of a food processor and, CAREFULLY blend until smooth.  Or, use an immersion blender and blend in the pot until smooth.

If using a blender or processor, return the soup to the pot, and gently rewarm over low heat.  Do not let the soup boil.  Taste and correct seasoning if needed.

Pour into warmed soup bowls and garnish as desired.  A grilled cheese sandwich for dunking is almost de rigueur, but nice, crusty buttered bread will suffice in a pinch.

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