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The burnt cream.

 

Alright. So Creme brulee(I won’t burden you with the accent aigu, grave or circuflex’s- you want a dessert not a lesson in Windows alt codes) is the stereotypical French dish. If you go to Disney’s international food festival at Epcot you’ll have a chance to get escargots and some brulee. While such things cheapen a simply wonderful dish it doesn’t mean it ruins it for the rest of us.

I am astonished how few people have actually had creme brulee. Everyone knows what it is, and that there is firepower involved in the production somewhere in the process. If you do know what it is, and have enjoyed it I hope you know how marvelous it is. A crunchy layer of deliciously charcoaled sugar hiding a delicate thickened cream hinted with vanilla. If you haven’t had it now is your chance. I will lay out the recipe as simply as I can. High-falutin terms won’t help here, nor will unnecessarily complex techniques. Lets burn some cream.

Ingredients are so very, very simple. Now, I cook for one so this recipe will make 3 to 4 ramekins of creme brulee, which is quite a lot for one but I am a fatty who loves his desserts. Feel free to double this if you want to feed a family of four. You need:

  • 1 pint heavy cream
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1/2 cup sugar. Put half of that aside until the end.
  • Vanilla in any form. If you want to go crazy and get a vanilla bean be my guest, but here in Wesley Chapel a single bean is an investment equal to the cost of all the other ingredients needed combined. I stuck with extract. At least get real  vanilla extract, not imitation.

Gather a medium saucepan, mixing bowl and a oven-safe dish capable of holding however many ramekins you will be using. I apparently no longer have any such dish, so I used two pie ands and a loaf pan. Don’t know what a ramekin is? Don’t fret. Any oven(and fire) safe dish will work. Any unpainted ceramic, corningware, or bakin dish will do just fine. My initial experiment with creme brulee used a muffin tin. Here is my part list minus ramekins:

That’s it.

Lets get cooking. Put the cream in your saucepan. I like to slowly bring the cream up to temp- starting on medium low for a few minutes and then up to medium/medium high, stirring occasionally. Your cream will need to come to a boil. If you use too much heat too quickly you will have a boil over pretty quickly. Low and slow my friends.

Now wait 5 minutes. Check facebook,pour over reddit, juggle chainsaws- I’ll wait. The cream will take longer to boil than your next step I promise and having some eggs and sugar chilling in a bowl on your counter is a great way to get salmonella (cantaloupe gives you listeria, what?). Welcome back, now time to separate your eggs. If you were on a cooking show you could separate the eggs just passing your egg in between the two halves of your perfectly cracked egg. Instead I crack the egg and run the mess through my fingers which allow enough room for the egg whites to pass through with some convincing leaving the yolk still gently in my hand. Have a bowl underneath ready for the whites, another small down for the shells, and the yolks go directly into your mixing bowl. Do that for all three eggs. At this time your cream should be coming to a boil. Shut off the heat and add a third of an ounce of vanilla extract, stir it in. Put a lid on it and set it aside. It needs to rest for ~15 minutes.

Whisk the eggs together for a moment, then add a small amount of that 1/4 cup sugar. Whisk gently until all the sugar disappears. Repeat until all the sugar is in the bowl, then beat the mixture like you are a meth head with Parkinson’s(fervently) for about 30 seconds. The eggs will lighten in color. Set aside momentarily. If your tap water gets quite hot skip this next part- put a small saucepan of just water on the stove on high. If you water boils you took longer than I did for this next step- you just need hot water, not scalding.

Turn your oven on to 325. Back to the eggs. If it has been 15 minutes since you took the cream off the stove you are ready to go. You are now going to temper the cream into the eggs so that you don’t end up with cream and scrambled eggs. Take a small amount of the cream (half a ladle if you are using one)  and slowly pour it into the eggs while whisking. If as a kid you were able to pat your head and rub your stomach at the same time you should have no problem doing this. If you are like me you will look…silly. Keep whisking and add a ladle of cream at a time until it is fully incorporated.

Dose the liquid into your ramekins equally. Go get your hot water off the stove, or tap and fill whatever dish you have ready for the oven 1/3rd full. Gently place the hot ramekins in the hot water(using silicon tipped tongs works wonders here) and put the whole lot in your stove for ~40-45 minutes. You are looking for the edges of the mixture to stiffen slightly while the centers are still jiggly at the end. Shaking your pan will tell you all you need to know.

45ish minutes are up. Time to chill your creme yet to be brulee’d. I made up an Alton Brown inspired rig to cool my ramekins. We are about to put 300 degree cream and ceramic in a fridge- raising the temperature significantly. I added some ice to a large tupperware and a little paper towel in hopes that I wouldn’t raise a 36 degree temp fridge to the 41+ danger zone. Let it cool like this for at least 2 hours.

You can keep the creme refrigerated for up to… a week in my experience without any ill effect. When you are ready to serve remove from it’s chilly confines and let it rest for about 30 minutes. Now comes the brulee’ing. I use a propane torch which if it were used properly is used to melt solder for plumbing copper pipes. It’s amazing how many things in a hardware store can be used to cook. Butane brulee torches are sold at your local Target if you cannot raid your garage, and are more reliable so I am told. Using the sugar you reseved earlier (I added a little vanilla extract to that to add something) generously coat your creme. Now in a well ventilated place that won’t catch on fire- such as the grate of your outside grill turn on your burner and apply direct heat. I work about 6 inches away to start and come closer and closer in concentric circles. The suger will begin to bubble, keep going. It will start turning caramel, keep going. It will start to rise and what seems like mini volcanoes of molten sugar will start appearing and erupting, stop. The sugar should be decidedly burt and gurgle down to an erratic pattern of caramel color and bubbly burns. This will take you more than one ramekin to get it down, without fail. I prefer mine on the side of nearly all burn and not so much caramel, so you may want to just experiment.

Not my best looking example- but it is so wonderfully burnt and creamy.

Now if you don’t mind I’m going to hop away from the computer and enjoy a new book, a swinging hammock and some creme brulee.

Posted: July 30th, 2012
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Chicken, roasted straddling veggies like a washed up actress.

This is going to be another simple dish, and cheap. Most importantly delicious. simple, but there are a few parts to this that will take some time to type out, lets get started.

Your ingredient list can be more complicated than this, or less. This is what I had around the house ready to cook up.

  • 1 whole chicken. I used a 4 pound bird, which successfully fed myself and two others, along with leftovers for another meal.
  • Standard mirepoix. For the less French thats a 2:1 ratio of onions to carrots and celery. I used about 1 cup of onions roughly chopped, to 1/2 cup celery and carrot cut into 1/2 inch lengths.
  • Any additional veggies you may want. I added two leeks to the mix, again roughly chopped.
  • Butter. I used about 2 tbs total- half for the chicken and the other tablespoon for the veggies to cook in.
  • Herbs. Whatever you have around will do. I used what I had in the fridge that had been there long enough it was nearly past its prime. Sage, chopped fine. Had I some rosemary, thyme, or practically anything else savory it would have made a fine addition.
  • 1 cup white wine, any variety. I used weeks old prosecco, it tasted pretty good but I wouldn’t recommend buying the Italian version of champagne and letting it go flat for this.
  • 1 tbs AP flour. Thats all purpose if you are confused. Now you have learned something new!

Alright, lets get started with the birdy. I bought mine in the standard vacu-sealed bag. If you did the same cut open the bag over the sink and release whatever juices that escape. Remove the giblets. As this was my first time dealing with a whole bird of any variety I had no idea what to expect. A couple of body parts were resting inside- I plucked them out and threw them away (I don’t have the time or patience to try making stock, finals week and all). Rinse your bird inside and out and allow to dry on a clean surface.

Wash your hands. Well. We’re not going to cross contaminate and get your work surface, veggies, knife, everything covered in possibly problematic bacteria.

Cut your vegetables as I had described earlier. Rough cuts are all you will need as they will be tender after a few hours in the oven. Add them to a roasting pan, season with salt and toss, add your tbs of butter to the mix. Note: I didn’t have a proper roasting pan, so I used a straight sided sauce pan. Anything oven safe and large enough for your chicken and vegetables will work.

Turn your over on to 400℉. Time to focus on your chicken. Finely chop whatever herbs you have so that you have about 1-2 tbs of herbs. Soften the remaining 1 tbs of butter and combine your herbs and butter. Dry off whatever water remains on your bird with paper towel. Gently lift the skin of your chicken and slather every surface you can reach beneath the skin with your butter/herb mix. My sage butter was more than softened, it was melted so I poured the mixture in with some success. Reserve about 1/4 of the mixture and apply to the outside of your bird. Salt and pepper all surfaces of the bird, inside and out. If you have any remaining herbs stuff them into the cavity of the bird. For me I had about a handful of sage left, I stuffed it in.

Add the chicken to the bed of veggies. Keep all appendages of your bird close to the body, using some cotton twine if you need to(most probably wont). It should look similar to this:

Now into the hotbox for 1 1/2 hours, give or take about 15 minutes. Mine took just over 10 minutes longer than the prescribed time. If you use a larger bird, expect longer cook times. Cook it until it is properly browned, and when the skin is punctured the juices run clear. If you need a more empirical form- look for a thermometer reading of 165℉.  It should look something like this:

Tasty, but we aren’t done yet! Cover with foil and let it rest for at least 20 minutes. Go check your facebook, run a 5k or dance a festive jig. I’m guessing you’ll do the first.

Remove the bird and the now well cooked veggies and plate them. In the pan you will find the remnants of the cooking process, rendered fat and browned bits of vegetables. It’s time to deglaze the pan. Take your pan and put it over high heat. Add your cup of wine and scrape all the brown stuff off the bottom of the pan. Keep going until you feel nothing left of the bottom of your pan. Reduce the heat to medium low and allow to simmer for ~5 minutes. Make a small slurry by vigorously whisking 1tbs flour and about 3tbs of your cooking liquid in a small cup or bowl. This will reduce the chance of clumping of the flour. Add the mixture to your pan and integrate fully. Remove from heat and allow to thicken for a minute or two.

You are all set! Cut your chicken (or rip it apart caveman style, it will be tender enough) and add to plate with a heaping side of your vegetables. I also made some simple mashed potatoes (boil potatoes in salt water for 20 minutes, drain mash with 1/2 stick butter 1/4 cup whole cream, salt and pepper to taste) as my brother could not exist without their starchy goodness. Enjoy!


I’m afraid the gravy is not pictured, I apologize. I’m sure you can envision what a light brown chicken gravy delicately placed on top of both the potatoes and meat would do, and how wonderfully delicious it was. The best part of this entire thing was that is cost less than $10 for four separate meals. $2.50 for a meal is absurdly inexpensive, and overwhelmingly tasty. Give it a shot! If I can do it, you most probably can too.

Posted: December 5th, 2011
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Acorn Squash… With Vermont FLAIR

It is fall, I’m told in many parts of the country. Here in Florida I don’t see much of this change of season unless I take a semi- spontaneous trip a little further north (which barely happens) but I have been told by second hand sources that we are currently in the part of the solar cycle known as autumn. To Many above the mason dixon line this means cooler weathers which mean it is time to harvest some acorn squash.

My preparation couldn’t be simpler. Take a squash and hack it in two. I used my least favorite chefs knife (this is not a job for your shinies) and tapped it through the thick skin from stem to base. Once halved I seeded it and removed as much of the slime with a large spoon until I found a wonderfully orange, firm flesh. My ingredient list is again simple, and putting it all together took such few steps even this incompetent cook couldn’t falter:

  • 1 medium sized acorn squash, firm to the touch, heavier than you would expect it to be
  • 2 tbs unsalted butter
  • 2 tsp brown sugar
  • 2 tbs maple syrup, the good stuff. Vermont’s finest shipped monthly thanks to some wonderful parents.
Prehead your oven to 400. Split you ingredient list as you did the squash. I partially melted the butter and liberally rubbed all orange surfaces. Pat on brown sugar to all inside surfaces. I avoided the rim as I expected the sugar to burn that exposed. Finally, pour in the maple syrup. Dab it across as you had the brown sugar, but it will pool. All to be expected. Add about half an inch of water to a baking dish and suspend your newly coated squash over. You can do so with small ramekins, or you can use a pan that is too small to fit both halves of your squash comfortably, so they don’t actually touch the water or bottom of the pan. Mine looked like this:
Throw that in the oven for an hour to an hour and a half. I personally don’t know how long it took mine to finish, as I fell asleep(there are still four walls to the house, I promise). However much time it was it turned out better than I could have expected:
That pool of buttery maple syrup with the browning on the rim… this was so simple and so delicious. I ate it as a meal, I’m not sure how people could reserve this as a side or appetizer- it is well deserving as a centerpiece to an entire meal. I hope you try this, the only thing that you could possibly mess up is by buying a bad squash. Right now is the best time to buy one, for the best price as well. Give it a shot- I promise you will not be disappointed. Especially if you have air carried maple syrup donning every coverable surface.
Posted: November 18th, 2011
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Quiche.

I made a quiche. My inspiration? the prepackaged square hunk of egg and cheese I see at least biweekly in the B&N cafe. If they can ship something across the country, nuke it and serve it and it still looks and smells edible I think I can do something, at least equally as good if not better. A quiche is by its very nature a dish best  prepared with whatever is left. It has a very forgiving nature- and I took that to heart, using just what I had around the house. The only purchased ingredients were some cream and a pie crust. Yes, I bought a crust- I was making a comfort food from scraps, not something you find in a small well admired cafe off the Champs-Élysées. The web adress you typed or clicked was that of the incopetentcook, and I promise I will not let you down on that fact.

My recipe list was simple:

  • 4 eggs
  • 2 cups half and half
  • 6 ounces of cheese total (2 parts swiss to one part mozzarella)
  • Random “fixin’s”- a couple slices of deli ham, some sundried tomatoes, and some basil
  • fresh ground pepper and kosher salt to taste, a pinch of hot smoked paprica(why not)

It looks a little like this:

The prep was beyond easy. Shred some cheese to equal roughly 1 unpacked cup of cheese (I have no scale 6 ounces had to be guestimated), chiffonade the basil and roughly chop the tomatoes. In a large bowl I combined the eggs and h&h, beat them(with whisk or handheld mixer) until the mixture becomes slightly airy. You aren’t going to whisk for too long- we don’t want the cream to become butter. 3-4 minutes is what I ended up at. Loosely place all dry ingredients into your pie pan(you can blind bake this if you want a crispier crust- 15 minutes at 400). Slowly pour the egg/cream mixture over the cheese, ham/goodies until you are about 1/2 an inch from the top of the pie crust. Mine looked like this:

Bake that guy for 15-20 minutes at 425(which I didn’t mention to preheat, but you should have known to!) and then lower the heat to 350 until the quiche is stiff with only a little giggle when you shake the pan. It took about 30-35 minutes in my oven. Let it cool for at least half an hour before diving in.

 

 

The best part about a quiche is that what you put in it is infinite. I made a savory tasting quiche that wasn’t half bad. If i were to do it again I wouldn’t recommend the sun dried tomatoes. Overall, it is delicious. I made this three days ago, and I still have half of it left. The best part is that all I needed to go buy was the h&h, a total investment of $5(less than that hunk sold at B&N) for a meal that will last me for days. Exactingly simple, without any arrogance about it, I really do like my quiche. Any food that is based out of necessity, and odd parts seems to be more fulfilling. My barely improved Neanderthal brain finds joy in using all available resources instead of wasting.

Speaking of, I still have half that cream left up next I’ll be taking a torch to some cream. I’ve done it before, I’ll do it again- I love
Crème brûlée.

Posted: September 12th, 2011
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Cooking and Incompetence.

Hello, and welcome to my newest site! I think the goal of this page is understood- it’s a cooking blog. If we manage to dive a little deeper, or read the web address you will notice that this involves a level of incompetence. Yes, I am a bad cook. I try my hardest to make food that is at least enjoyable, but that usually ends in a ‘meh’ emanating from my own tastebuds. This blog will be following my attempts to make some good food on the budget of a poor-ish college student.

That means that you will not be seeing any of the culinary buzz words that are jammed down your ears. No free-range, grass fed sirloin, family-owned farm raised chicken, and certainly no organic. I understand the merits of each of these titles affixed to foods, but for years organic has become synonymous with better- for consumer, animal and environment. While it is of course true that organic is better for the consumer as it is purchased it loses much of its value when you dive a little deeper. That organic strawberry you use to make your glaze on your mouth watering cheesecake probably traveled across the country from California. Even here in Florida where we have a nationally appreciated festival to celebrate this spurious fruit you can go into any of the local grocery stores and find California, or Argentinian strawberries. You can only find Florida berries for a few weeks, or not at all.

If you are reading this you are probably a friend of  mine or a family member. The grand majority of my friends are as well versed as I am, and my immediate family members may be moreso inclined to understand how bad the international transport of these foods is for all involved. Gallons of diesel(or jet fuel) are needed for that $6 pint of organic strawberries you have in front of you. It is worthless. Free range chicken? Think warehouse with a door so small a chicken can barely fit through, and a range no bigger than your first dorm room(and somehow more crowded than mine was). The chickens are so prone to disease that they aren’t even allowed out of that warehouse until they are more mature, and by that time they are days away from slaughter- and have only ever existed inside their four walls. There is no motivation to use that range.

If I can I will head up to Dade City for some of my foods. They have a few farms and a few markets selling locally grown produce I would adore having, but work and school full time make the trip cumbersome. Normal supermarket faire will have to do.

I will also be posting some of my gastronomical excursions here as well. I know that I am a poor cook because I go out of my way to find good ones. I will repost my Cafe Provence entry here on this site as an introduction to my thoughts about food if you hadn’t read it. 

Posted: September 7th, 2011
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Cafe Provence!

I drove my sister back up north last week, and although the 1400 mile drive wasn’t anything to scoff at I was ready to go. After the countless hours on I-95 and the hell that is the New Jersey Turnpike there was Vermont. Ahh… Vermont, I have talked about the Green Mountain State before(and with multiple posts on this blog no less) with all due revelry and aplum. So it was I drove. I drove for a scant six hours the first day, and managed to survive eleven hours the next.  It was an experience I felt I needed to conquer, perhaps a manly accomplishment to prove my testosterone-ly-ness(sounds good, right?). I survived my harrowing tale with a few battle scars(a backache that was taken care of by a few tylenol) and enjoyed the few days away before school and before work I had while in the brilliantly vibrant Maple forests of Vermont.

First step was to replace my mug from Bennington Potters. On my spring break trip to Vermont I had bought a tea cup that since it’s purchase I had used nearly daily. With my delicately tuned and precise nerdy hands I somehow knocked it off a table, causing my hunk of fired mud to bifurcate. I had bought a factory second from the potters the first time around, and planned to do the same this time. My cup had a few small imperfections that were noticeable only if you were looking for them, but my replacement was not a discounted cup. It had passed the muster of the potter who had made it, and it seems…different because of it. It clearly says something about my character I think- I found the details of the first to make it unique, not wrong. My replacement is wonderful and it is marvelous but it seems too pristine. This is some pretty blunt percolation I know, and I would delve deeper but I have a much more interesting focus.

The next day was supposed to end my stay in Vermont(ask me about my flight back…) but I had the entire day to explore before my flight left at 9. I nearly demanded that we go to Cafe Provence. The spring break trip previously mentioned was supposed to initiate me to the small cafe in Brandon, VT. Without proper planning the first time around I missed any service and felt nearly bitter. I remedied that this time around. You may want some background of this little restaurant- it is a French cafe with the proprietors coming right from Provence (decidedly straight-forward). I had heard wonderful things about this place from everyone I had met which only fueled my nearly rabid exigency.

We get there and it is a cafe. Small tables scarce wait staff and a simple menu. We are seated and presented menus. We aren’t asked instantaneously for our drink orders, instead the waitress leaves allowing us to enjoy the menu: I am already impressed. Throughout the entire meal we are never pressured to leave quickly or to add a side, it is whatever looks good to us. It is a very casual experience with a kitchen wholly open to the entire establishment. The only complaint with this lassiez-faire attitude is that there are a few New Yorker tourists in biker shorts. I never want to have a sweaty man walk past me in spandex while I’m eating. Or when I’m not eating. Still, I’m not deterred.

I started my meal simply, with a tomato pie with goat cheese and greens as an appetizer. It was…unfathomably, unequivocally, insatiably phenomenal. With every bite I was humbled. I took one small bite and for a fraction of a second my mouth exploded, mind expanded, and I could truly understand all was well with the universe. The fact that a simple piece of dough with a few tomatoes, greens and cheese could be combined so simply into something that was so god-like made me sit in silence for minutes. My lunch companions could tell you, I was in a nearly trance-like state as I savored. It may seem melodramatic- but I can’t emphasize how beautiful this little plate was.

Alas, as is the nature of matter and energy, the food was consumed and there was no more. I had a Chicken Nicoise for my lunch. It was a simple meal of pan-fried chicken lightly seasoned served with a similar arrangement of vegetables as my tomato pie, on top of some well prepared garlic mashed potatoes. I hate how clunky the English language is when it comes to describing foods, you can only say succulent, delicious, wonderful etc. so many times before you feel like a broken record. The mashed potatoes were piped from a pastry bag, it was the first time I had seen that before, it wasn’t the most original idea ever, but it made its effect on the presentation.

We finished our meal and we sat and waited. We conversed, and were a little confused when the waitress walked past us many times without stopping, or if she did she only refilled our water and left without asking if we wanted the check. It was so very refreshing. Not once were we pressured to move, to stop enjoying our gastronomic enjoyment. Our plates were cleared and we were politely brought a small dessert menu which we looked over half-heartedly. Our table had seen quiches that were so silken you would think there were whipped cream, a simple sandwich made devine with only simple ingredients in a baguette resembling, I’m told, a genuine french loaf, and of course my little pie that caused a thousand epiphanies for me- we were in no need for a dessert as well. Still, we looked and were convinced to share their sampler of a chocolate cake, cheesecake and a creme brulee. I have made my own brulees before I thought well, but it was no comparison. The brulee was a different texture and color, I think the direct result of using some local eggs and creme, and the cheesecake was perfection, highlighted notes of maple syrup well integrated. The cake was simple, it was French afterall, containing chocolate, flour, and enough butter cause a hundred heart attacks.

It was an experience I was glad to finally have. I consider myself a technically proficient creator of some simple things to eat, but to be some throughly humbled in such an enjoyable way was mesmerizing. I hope to again be baffled by what others create, regardless of medium. If I could find a restaurant with such food and without the high brow atmosphere that usually accompanies such places here in Florida I would gain 40 pounds and go broke over-tipping. I like that others’ diversions have this effect on me. I love that there is profundity even in a small bite of food, there is a whole world, mesmerizingly beautiful just over the next hill, around the next bend.

Posted: September 6th, 2011
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