The Gleeful Gourmand: January 2013

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Snow Day Snack

We had a wee bit of snow hit Richmond last Friday. Not enough to really build a snowman or go sledding, but enough to cancel school. This is the South after all, and here in Richmond frozen precipitation, even in the smallest amounts, makes us all freak out. We freak out in joy and get the hot chocolate on standby, or we freak out, freak out; which means we run to the store and stock up on bread and milk even though we have plenty of bread and we're lactose intolerant. We also go from being pretty good drivers to the worst drivers in the world.

I'm not trying to be cute. This is the way it's always been. Myself, I freak out in joy because I just love snow. I don't mind shoveling it, I don't mind driving in it, and gosh darn it, it's so pretty. It's also the world's best toy. I have so many wonderful memories from my childhood of my mom letting my brother and I loose with our sleds after a big snow. We lived on a golf course, and the hole before ours had a significantly steep hill that all the neighborhood kids would sled down. There really wasn't a better feeling than working hard at playing in the frozen stuff, fingers and toes going completely numb after an hour or two, making your way back home, and having a cup of hot chocolate or a warm bowl of soup.
Delia gets acquainted with the snow.

The kind of freedom and wonder I felt as a kid during a particularly big storm, standing on top of that hill at dusk as the world became bathed in a soft dark blue and the snow started falling again eludes me all too easily now as an adult, especially if we have a winter where we don't get a significant snow. I like to reclaim it when I can, especially at night when it's snowing. The particular brand of silence that envelopes you on nights like that when all you hear is the soft whispers of snowflakes is a silence this mama of three craves.

I wanted my kids to experience the same kind of joy, so as soon as they're old enough to toddle in it, we bundle them up and throw them outside. Even when there's not much snow to speak of and it's melting away. This year, we had, thanks to my mom, a great double sled for the girls that is best for just pulling them around. They had never been in snow before, so it was fun and thrilling to watch them experience it for the first time. There were a lot of tears as snow slid down into the cuffs on the coats, or they toppled over face planting in the white stuff and realized they couldn't get back up. But overall, for that hour and a half, our family had a lot of fun.
Using every inch of snow we could before it melted.

Whenever there's a snow day, it's also day for treats. Liam got his hot chocolate, but I wanted to do something different for Buck and I. I had recently seen Ina Garten make Popcorn with Truffle Butter as an appetizer, and I started salivating quicker than she could say, "Now how easy is that?" It just so happened that I also saw a tub of truffle butter in the speciality dairy case in Whole Foods one week later. It was meant to be, even at $10 a pop. Clearly a once-in-a-while treat.

But that afternoon as the snow melted away, and I melted the truffle butter down to drizzle over the freshly popped corn, I had my doubts. The smell was awful. Really awful. So awful that one whiff and my stomach lurched to the right and then to the left, and I thought I might heave. What in the world? I love truffles! I've eaten many dishes with truffles, and always enjoyed them, so what was the deal? Had they always smelled this bad? I had never cooked with them before and I worried that if they smelled that bad, it might not be great to eat it. I have a particularly strong sense of smell, so I also wondered if that was all it was: my nose working in overtime. But then Liam came in and proclaimed, "It smells so gross in this kitchen!"

No matter, I was determined to see it through. I dutifully added my Kosher salt and butter to the popcorn and tossed it all together. The pungent aroma subsided a bit, and I hesitantly took a bite. It wasn't great. My stomach flipped again, but I took another bite, this time closing off my nasal passages and just focusing on the taste. Heaven. Sheer heaven. Buck and I dove in, and bite after bite was better than the next. Salty, warm, rich, and earthy all at once with an awesome crunch from the popcorn. Even Liam dug in and had a few handfuls. It proved to me that something can smell awful, but taste divine. Could my long-standing hatred of salmon be reversed with this new-found knowledge?

Like the snow, it was gone too soon.

1 package plain popcorn (unsalted, no butter)
1 2-oz tub truffle butter, melted
Kosher salt to taste

Pop popcorn. Sprinkle with salt and melted butter. Hold nose. Eat. Enjoy.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Confessional Breakfast

Once again we've come to the time in our program where I confess something about the things I do, or in this case, don't do in the kitchen. I often remark to my husband that I feel like a fraud as a food writer because it feels like there's so many things I haven't even attempted at the helm of my own stove. I've long held that in order to really write effectively about food, you have to truly love food and know food. On one hand, I do feel like I know what I'm talking about, but on the other I'm willing to admit that there's a lot of basic things that have escaped my attention so far, like:

1) Never trussing a chicken and roasting it. That's right, I've never roasted a chicken, one of the most basic things any home cook should know how to do. My husband, on the other hand, knows how to truss. And he learned it from Men's Journal. Head scratching, isn't it? I have no excuse.

2) Never making my own pie crust. I've admitted it on here before, and I'll admit it again, I'm scared to even try. I've worked with doughs of all types, in many situations, and yet I can't seem to move ahead with this one. And I love making pies. But every time I start feeling badly about myself in this category, I inevitably read a reputable food source that says, "It's okay to use the refrigerated pie dough!" And I put it off once again, "See? You can't be all that bad, they said it was okay!"

3) Never poaching eggs. I lacked the know-how and also, I thought, the equipment. I love eggs in almost all forms, so you would have thought by now I would have gotten around to it. But, sadly, no.

So as New Year's Day dawned gloomy and grey, and the effects from the party the night before were wearing off, I set out to make my first food act of 2013 to poach some eggs. Actually, my first official food act of 2013 was putting Eggo Waffles in the toaster for my kids, but that's neither here nor there.

One of my most favorite breakfast foods has always been Eggs Benedict. To say I love this dish is an understatement. It's more like a love affair. The saltiness of the bacon. The crispness from the English Muffin. The thick, tangy, luscious hollandaise draping seductively over those perfectly poached creamy eggs.

I was laid up for a couple of days with a nasty cold after the holidays, and I watched The Pioneer Woman make her version of Classic Eggs Benny. She made it look so very easy. Hollandaise in a blender! Sold. Poaching eggs like it was as simple as flipping your hair! I was convinced. It was time for me to check another fraudulent box off my list. I was going to make my favorite dish, and by God, I was going to poach me some eggs.
There's an egg in there, but it aint pretty.

I tried it The Pioneer Woman's way first, from what I remembered watching. Her recipe on the Food Network's website left a lot to be desired on the hows and whys of poaching, but I surmised that this was because most home cooks already knew how to poach eggs. I simmered a pan of water, added a dash of White Distilled Vinegar (it helps coagulate the whites of the egg) and I created a vortex of swirling water with my spoon into which I dropped an already cracked egg from a bowl. Disaster. The whites went everywhere, spinning out of control, and the boiling water reached a feverish pitch, and I started sweating. After giving it the recommended 2 1/2 minutes, I removed it with a slotted spoon and put it on a plate. Needless to say, it did not resemble a poached egg. Actually, come to think of it, it looked like a gross version of an over-easy egg.

But I was not to be daunted. I quickly looked up how to poach and egg, and realized my critical mistake: I needed to crack the egg into a very small bowl like a ramekin, so that the egg would stay together better when I went to slip it gently into the water. I tried again, and this time it worked like a charm. The swirling vortex really did wonders to make the whites fold in on themselves, covering the yolk gently with their movement. I also assisted the motion gently with my spoon.

Four eggs and one enormous mess later, I had my Eggs Benedict assembled, and I was feeling pretty darned good about myself. The Hollandaise in the blender was fine, but was not as good as restaurant quality. Next time I'm going to make it from scratch the old-fashioned way, whisking until my arm falls off. I was also disappointed in the Canadian Bacon, which was kind of rubbery and lacking in flavor. Next time, I'm going to get fresh country ham, instead. But overall, it tasted really good, and being able to say that I could now poach an egg - without cups or gadgets felt really good.
My first attempt at Eggs Benedict.

Here is the Pioneer Woman's recipe for Eggs Benedict, courtesy of the Food Network: Eggs Benedict.
Is there anything you're determined to make for the first time in 2013?