The Gleeful Gourmand: May 2012

Friday, May 25, 2012

A Refreshing Summertime Treat

Around Christmastime I posted about the Peppermint Meringues I had made that were so delicious. The recipe was from Bon Appétit, and to date, it was the recipe that the most people had contacted me to tell me they made and loved.


I was interested in making more meringue desserts, but the classics like a Pavlova (a fluffy meringue piled high with fresh whipped cream and berries). Then, about a month ago, I was in the supermarket checking out when I spotted a picture on the cover of Martha Stewart Living. It was the Peppermint Meringues, except these were striped with orange and yellow. Lemon and orange meringues! How clever! Why hadn't I thought of that? About a month later I finally got around to finding the recipe online, which you can read here


There is something about the recipe that seems overly complicated to me, much like all of Martha's recipes. First of all, what's the big difference between simmering the egg whites, and other ingredients until the sugar dissolves, versus Bon Appétit's version where you simply whip the ingredients together in increments over the same amount of time? Plus, not having vanilla seed on hand (which is not as easy to procure as one might imagine), and also not owning a pastry bag, or a "small paint brush" that hadn't already been used in toddler art projects was going to be a challenge. This recipe also wants you to use gel food coloring, which I tried, and is devilishly hard to use, especially when mixing colors to get something like orange. They then want you to "paint it" on the sides of the pastry bag to make the swirls.


The Ziploc Bag. It's not professional, but it'll do.
Which sounds easier to you? Mixing regular food coloring and dotting it over the surface of the meringues before putting it in the bag, or struggling with gel food coloring and painting the bag just so to make perfect stripes?


However, I loved the addition of the orange zest, and was very curious to know if it would really taste like orange, and if the zest would change the texture of the meringue. So what I did was this: I took my tried-and-true easy Bon Appétit recipe, and right where you would normally add in peppermint extract, I put in 1 teaspoon of orange zest.


They turned out perfectly. They were so refreshing, and light, and the orange flavor was present but not in an overpowering sort of way. I made them for a very impromptu Kentucky Derby party we threw for some neighborhood friends, and by the end of the race, they were all gone (which kind of posed a problem because the race is only 2 minutes long, and the party stretched way on into the evening). Later, I also tried out the same recipe with 1 teaspoon of fresh lemon zest and lemon food coloring, and those came out just as well. Plus, if you're like me and don't own a pastry bag you can use a Ziploc bag to pipe the meringues. True, they don't look professional, but they still look pretty.


So here it is, my version of Orange and Lemon Meringues. They make excellent summertime desserts, especially on buffets, and also wonderful treats for teachers, neighbors, and Moms who babysit for you when you need them most (thanks, Mom!). 




Ingredients

  • 3 large egg whites, room temperature
  • 1/8 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup powdered sugar
  • 1 teaspoon finely grated orange or lemon zest
  • 12 drops food coloring (red and yellow mixed for orange - instructions on box, or yellow)

Preparation

  • Preheat overn to 200°. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Using an electric mixer, beat egg whites and salt on medium-high speed until white and foamy, about 1 minute. With mixer running, gradually add suger in 3 additions beating for 2 minutes between each addition. Beat until firm peaks form, about 2 minutes longer. Add powdered sugar and orange or lemon zest; beat to blend, about 1 minute.
  • Dot coloring over surface of meringue; do not stir (the coloring will form swirls when piped). Spoon meringue into a pastry bag fitted with a 1/2" tip. (alternatively, spoon into a plastic freezer bag, then cut 1/2" off 1 corner.) Twist top; pipe 1" rounds onto prepared sheet, spacing 1" apart.
  • Bake meringues until dry, about 2 1/2 hours. Let cool completely, about 1 hour (meringues will crisp as they cool). 



Tuesday, May 15, 2012

The Fight Over Foie Gras

Once upon a time my husband was walking back to his office from lunch on a beautiful day beside a lake. He happened to spot a goose by the edge of the water, and for reasons unknown, he started honking at it for fun. Apparently there is a long-standing tradition in his family for making animal noises at the animals themselves. He cheerfully went on his way, until he suddenly heard a whump, whump, whump. And before he knew it the goose he had honked at was on top of his head, beating its wings and basically pummeling him. The goose landed before him and reared up, beating its wings mightily. So my husband ran, past the numerous other office park employees, no doubt gawking at him through the windows as he stumbled away, being thrashed by one pissed-off goose.

And that is why my husband loves foie gras.

(Joking aside, he is against the unethical treatment of animals, and believes fervently that if an animal is to be killed for food, all of that animal should be used)

Foie Gras. Delicious and debatable.


Until this week, I didn't know that the furor over foie gras had grown to the point that California is now imposing a ban on the delicacy, slated for July 1. The rhetoric has actually gotten violent and creepy as some activists have taken it upon themselves to send threatening e-mails to chefs, and in some cases to stalk the chefs and their families. One even crossed the line by taking pictures of a chef's children and sent them to the chef with a threatening note. Most of the protests over foie gras are not that extreme - most simply picket outside the offending restaurant. You can read a good recap of what's happening on this front here.

I've been reading a lot on the subject in the last two days, and there's a lot of information to digest. There are a lot of disturbing images, and a lot of disturbing information about the treatment of the geese that are used to make foie gras. How is foie gras made? By overfeeding geese by a process called gavage, which is the method of sticking a metal tube down its gullet and force-feeding it until the goose's liver fattens and swells to a proportion that takes up most of its body. If that sounds disgusting and disturbing just to produce a delicacy, then, I agree. But I also agree that the way a lot of farms treat chickens, cows, and pigs are unethical.

However. I'm a ominvore, and I do my very best to make sure I know where my meat comes from, and how it's treated. I don't always get it right, but it's important to me, and it's important to my family. I also love the taste of foie gras. It's creamy, silky texture, and it's sweet and savory taste, especially when seared or grilled is irresistible. Regrettably, my stomach cannot easily digest foie gras. I have an incredibly sensitive stomach, and it starts with lactose intolerance and ends with the fact that I can't eat french fries without feeling sick. But sometimes I pretend that it doesn't matter and succumb to something like fried chicken. Foie gras in very small doses is a treat.

But in a restaurant, it's hard to tell exactly what kind of farm the goose came from. Which brings me to this incredibly fascinating article I read last night about La Belle Farms. It's very long, but meticulous in its reporting, and well-written. A chef who has spent most of her career working with foie gras wanted to find out how a farm might make the process of gavage ethical, and well, gentle. It's an in-depth look at not only this particular farm, but also the entire issue. If you read it all the way through, you'll end up with more knowledge about geese than you ever thought possible.

After reading the article, I came to the conclusion that it is a tricky debate in which I can see both sides of the argument. I believe that if these activists spent as much time and energy threatening chefs an picketing on actually trying to make all geese farms ethical and upstanding like La Belle Farms, there might not be a debate. I agree with the chef's final statement: "If you are against the confinement, slaughter, and eating of all animals, then that's a different argument to be had at a different time. But to single out foie as the worst of the worst is misguided at best, and downright manipulative at worst. Just as there are good eggs and bad eggs, good beef and bad beef, good chicken and bad chicken, so there is good foie and bad foie."


Did you know there are only 3 farms in America that produce foie gras? What if they all became like La Belle Farms? Would it make a difference? Please sound off in the comments, I'm very interested to hear your opinions.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

All Dogs Go To Heaven


It’s been another tough week here at The Gleeful Gourmand. I found out last Sunday morning that my wonderful Grandfather, Papa John, had passed away at the age of 94. A few short hours later I found myself at the Emergency Vet Hospital holding our beloved dog Bailey in my arms as she was put to sleep.

To say that it was an emotionally wrought day is an understatement. I cannot bring myself to write anything about my Grandfather – it’s been a full year almost to the week since my Grandmother died, and despite many attempts, I still can’t bring myself to write about her.  Every time I begin, I stop, not because I don’t know the words to say or how to say them, but because it’s too painful. I know it would be the same for my Grandfather. Suffice to say, I loved him very much and will always miss him.

Bailey, on the other hand, is easy to write about. For those who don’t know me personally, Bailey was a miniature longhaired dachshund, and she was 18 years old. Yes, I know that’s a shocking number, even for a small dog (they tend to live longer than big dogs). Bailey came into my husband Buck’s life as a puppy. He still remembers the day in Southern California when he went down to the pet store, looked in the window and saw the tiniest dog he had ever seen frisk over to the window, roll over onto her back, pee, and wag her tail for all she was worth. She stole his heart from that moment on.

Goodbye, Bailey, goodbye.
Bailey didn’t come into my life until much later, when she was already becoming a senior citizen. Eight years ago I found myself falling in love with a man who had a small dog who had no intention of letting the new girl in his life usurp her rightful place as Queen. It didn’t help that I had never had any pets growing up, thanks to my Mom’s severe allergy to pet dander. I loved dogs, but didn’t know the first thing about owning one. I think Bailey sensed that too, and while I found her adorable and lovable, she found me to be a threat. She exerted her dominance by getting amorous with my leg every chance she got. I still laugh every time I think of her little paws gripping my leg as if to say, “I’m in charge here, missy!”

Eventually I learned from Buck how to exert my dominance, and my relationship with Bailey changed. When we got married, and Buck started going to a real office every day (he was previously working out of our home), Bailey and I decided that she was, in fact, my dog, not his. She became my child in every sense. I groomed her, I fed her, I took her outside (but not on walks because she wouldn’t condescend for going on walks after a certain age), played with her, and napped with her.

We loved to take naps together. Whenever I would lie down on the couch, she would immediately get up from wherever she was in the house, and come and stand by until I picked her up and put her on my lap. Sometimes she spent the entire nap on my lap, and other times she would wedge herself between my leg and the cushions. When I became pregnant with Liam, she would still lie on my lap, but she would also twist her head around and lay it on my stomach. I’m convinced that she could hear him. She was listening.

Bailey was very social, loving any and all attention she received, and she was incredible with children. She let them all pull on her ears and harass her to no end, even as she got older still. In fact, the sweetest memory I have of Bailey, and one I will never forget for the rest of my life is one that involves a child. This was when Liam was brand new and I had to get up in the middle of the night to feed him. At that time Bailey hadn’t started having trouble with stairs, so she still slept in her dog bed at the end of our bed. Whenever she heard me get up to feed him, she would get up from her bed and come into the nursery with me. As I sat down to feed him, she would turn around and sit with her back to us, looking out of the door. She was standing sentry.

Liam and Bailey a couple of years ago.
Losing her was incredibly difficult, even though we knew that it was coming for a long time. She had been suffering from seizures for about two years, and they had been gaining in frequency. Between Saturday and Sunday morning she had six. The doctors at the Emergency Vet gave us all the options, but it was clear that most of the options just involved delaying what was inevitable. I’m so thankful that I was able to go and hold her in her favorite pink blanket as she died. I wasn’t able to say all the things I wanted to say to her because I was crying too hard, but I hope in her own way that she knew.

The aftermath this week has been hard. I come into the family room and see her empty bed. I keep looking over at this empty space, expecting her to be there, even though I know she’s gone. I expect to hear her little sighs and groans as she gives up the expensive bed we bought for her to lay on the ground. I expect to see her wandering around, looking for patches of sunlight to lie in. And I know tonight, when I settle down to sleep, I’ll expect to hear her dog collar clink against her ceramic bowl as she goes to get a drink of water. She always did love to snack late at night.

There is an empty place that I can only stare at now where she used to be, where she ought to be, but isn’t. I know I will look for her everywhere in the coming weeks, without even realizing that I’m doing it. I know that I’ll look down at my feet when I’m cooking in the kitchen, watching my step because she loved nothing more than to stand right between our feet when we cooked. I know that in the back of my mind I’ll be waiting to hear her bark at the front door telling me she’s ready to come in from going to the bathroom.

I know that eventually these little phantom reminders will slip away, but our memories of her never will. She truly was the best dog anyone could own. She was my very first pet. She was our little girl.