In yesterday’s The Permanent Tourist Charleston blog, I shared memories of my magnificent father, and thoughts on cooking for Dad on his big day. The post includes a delicious recipe, and an opportunity to win a copy of The French Cook: Sauces (Gibbs Smith).
Wishing everyone a wonderful weekend!
On yesterday’s Home, Garden & Beach page, I posted about a farmer friend of mine who grows beautiful, organic food using his own ingenuity and tricks he learned from his grandmother.
It’s had over 1,000 visits so far. Here’s the link:
PS – Please note that you can join my facebook page for the same blog by typing in: The Permanent Tourist Charleston in your facebook bar. It should take you right there. I would love to see you there!
Wall Street Journal’s Gastronomy columnist Aram Bakshian, Jr. wrote a very flattering review of The French Cook: Cream Puffs and Eclairs(as well as 4 other cookbooks) in this past weekend’s (December 14 and 15) edition. What a lovely Christmas present!
Here’s an excerpt from the column:
“There’s a bit more puff to the pastries described in Holly Herrick’s “The French Cook: Cream Puffs and Eclairs” (Gibbs Smith, 127 pages, $21.99). The latest addition to its publisher’s volumes on aspects of French cooking, this is a slender tome about a fattening yet exquisitely airy and oh-so-French dessert genre: cream puffs and éclairs. The lightness comes from the choux pastry base of simmered butter, water, flour and eggs, which Julia Child described as “one of the easiest pastries to make,” once you get the hang of it. Whatever its size or shape, the choux pastry serves as a model home for hundreds of fruit, custard, crème, cheese and chocolate fillings. Many of them are included here, from quick-cooking fruit sauces like Coulis aux Framboise (raspberry sauce intensified with crème de cassis) to the multilayered flavors of Profiteroles (cream puffs) with Salted Caramel Macadamia Nut Ice Cream and Warm Caramel Sauce (a great combination of a lot of sweetness with just a touch of savoriness). Ms. Herrick, an award-winning pastry chef herself, is the ideal docent for this classic gallery of French desserts, and her recipes, for even the most complicated items, are concise and clear.”
Mr. Bakshian also rightly states at the top of his piece that “Christmas remains a bastion of culinary custom, a time to open our hearts, loosen our belts, and enjoy food rather than obsess about it.” Indeed! Wishing you and yours an especially warm, loving, beautiful and delicious Christmas and good tidings for 2014.
Here’s an excerpt from Charleston Style and Design’s latest issue and an essay I wrote about how cooking mistakes can actually be a good thing for healing laughter, learning, and even crying:
Cooking mistakes can be a good thing
Mom used to say that there is no use in crying over spilled milk. But as a chef and cookbook author who has spent countless hours in the kitchen, I can tell you there are benefits to a good cry.
I’ve witnessed a lot more grievous errors than spilled milk. I once worked frantically with a young French male apprentice under the watchful eye of decorated pastry chef Pierre Hermé. We were trying to prevent a huge vat of pastry cream from quickly becoming a messy batch of sweet scrambled eggs. We succeeded, barely, by straining the rapidly clotting batch, but not without sweat and tears. No shame in it, even for a French boy or this American girl. Lessons learned: Constantly whisk your pastry cream, and don’t let the flame get too hot…
For more, click on the link at the top of this page.
About the time my junior year in college rolled around, my boy-crazy roommates and I would indulge in one of our favorite games in our limited spare time. We called the game “baby-fooding.” It went something like this. One of us from our mostly naive and inexperienced lot would declare that she had an unexpected encounter with her current male fancy. She wanted the rest of us to analyze every nuance of that encounter. “He told me it was a pretty day and he liked my skirt,” she would declare. Great! “But, what does that MEAN? Does it mean he likes me or was he just being nice?” would begin the long list of queries. And on and on and on, until one or all of us would declare this discussion an official game of baby-fooding. The girls really had a field day when I came back from an hour-long interview with Doug Flutie and confessed I had asked him, for lack of better phrasing, if he “every got ball hungry (when playing football)?”
That confession (along with the peals of hilarious laughter it induced), like all the others in the baby-fooding sessions, got analyzed, chewed and re-chewed so many times it essentially was reduced to baby food-like mush. Mindless, meaningless mush.
Really, in the end, as most of eventually learn, things are simply what they seem, especially when it comes to 19 year-old boys and how their minds work when it comes to girls. And, so it is with cooking.
The Cook Who Thought Too Much
I started thinking about the uselessness of baby-fooding yesterday as I was researching the art and technique of making choux pastry. Although fabulous, it’s ultimately a fairly straight-forward pastry formed by combining butter and water, mixing in flour, and incorporating eggs until you have a pliable, glossy pastry that can be formed into sweet and savory delights such as cream puffs and eclairs. Or, so I thought from my training and extensive experience with the stuff.
Yet, the further I delved into the pages of cookbooks and online discussions, the more confused I became. Does one use bread flour, AP flour, or pastry flour? Does one incorporate the eggs with a wooden spoon (as I was taught at Le Cordon Bleu) or a blender to help regulate the temperature? Does one pipe or dollop the pastry? What’s the best oven-temperature? While I respect why these questions are important (to some degree), it all started to border on the edge of the ridiculous. My head began spinning with numbness, just like back in the old baby-fooding days. I decided to take a thirty minute break and watch Chopped on The Food Channel.
Bad plan, at least initially. Before I knew it, there I was again, deeply entrenched in the world of cooking over-think, and worse, one peppered with debilitating ego – a deadly combo in any kitchen. The chefs were given a basket containing walnuts, creme de menthe, golden raisins, and canned salmon. With this, they were expected to prepare a first course. My attention turned to the chef who decided to take 15 of the 30 precious minutes to prepare a walnut flour because he was certain “none of the other chefs would do (the same).”
I would give him an “A” for originality and self-challenge, except he had no plan for what he was going to do with said flour. He just wanted to make it to impress. It turns out, he made a rather banal dish with a bizarre sauce, but he went ahead and put the flour on top, because “he had made it.” Because it added nothing to the dish, it took away from it. Ultimately he got “Chopped.”
Less is More
He missed what really is the truest of true about good cooking. The best cooking doesn’t come with pretense and bravado or over-complication. It doesn’t require a thousand gadgets (or ingredients), or a doctorate. The keys to good and even great cooking are beautiful produce/food, respect for technique and ratio of ingredients, minimalistic and sensible treatment of the food, and balanced and beautiful pairing of textures and flavors. And, it always needs to be fun. In the kitchen and in life, over-thinking leads to inertia and exhaustion.
With that in mind, I’m heading back to the kitchen and the choux drawing board. I’m going to keep my head out of the game as much as possible, and let my training and tastebuds lead the way.
Happy cooking from my kitchen to yours!