Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Hello? Is it on?

Would you believe our luck?  After months of not posting anything on our beloved blog, Scott and Mary finally sit down and write a doozy of a thing - - a catch-all post complete with multiple gripping color photos and jaunty prose - - only to have Blogspot get a brain cramp, and dump the entire thing into the void of cyberspace, never more to be retrieved.  Don't tell our parents, but expletives may have been uttered, and throw pillows may have been....well, thrown.

So while we are busy re-constructing this post, please allow us to say thank you for coming back to read us.  After a tough few months and a busy holiday season, we have put our aprons back on, and lucky you, you're going to get to read about it.  Very, very soon.

We leave you with a conversation Scott and Mary had just this evening, concerning a book.  No, not a cookbook.  A book book.

Scott:  Ah, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo...!  You know, I know who the girl with the dragon tattoo is.
Mary: Well, I'd like to know too, except someone stole the copy I just bought.
Scott:  You've still got Little Women!
Mary:  I've still got two itty bitty chapters left of Little Women!
Scott:  Two chapters...I bet I'll finish reading TGWTDT before you finish Little Women.
Mary:  I'll take that action.  What're you betting?
Scott:  I don't know....I'll do the dishes.
Mary:  You already did the dishes.
Scott:  I don't know, all right?!  I' you something with your money!
Mary:  DEAL!

Stay tuned for more adventures in the kitchen coming soon!

Saturday, October 16, 2010

"Smooth, creamy, delicate...yet masculine!" --Cosmo Kramer

Creme Brulee

I love crème brulee.  Really, who doesn’t?  People who haven’t tried it, that’s who.  Mmm…the creaminess, the sweetness, the egginess…it’s really the perfect dessert.
Mary and I found some ramekins at Ross for cheap—I think 6 of them cost three dollars.  That was a great start, but I thought we should have eight, as there are eight grown-ups in my family.  I’m not counting the babies just yet, though I’m sure they would enjoy the crème brulee.  Again, who wouldn’t?  Well, maybe babies.  I don’t know.
We picked up two more ramekins at the Beyond (with what seems to have become an endless supply of wedding gift cards) and the ingredients are straight-forward:

Heavy cream
Vanilla bean (we used plain old vanilla extract)
Turbinado sugar (this ingredient isn’t exactly a staple, but was very easy to find at the supermarket)

The recipe, too, was also fairly simple, especially after having done flan.  This is pretty similar.  I first set up the ramekins for the water bath and began boiling a pot of water.  I didn’t mention this in the flan post, but the water bath is done to prevent the custard from drying out.  Because the water can only heat up to 212 degrees, it keeps the custard cooking evenly (and the evaporating water keeps the inside of the oven nice and humid, which doesn’t hurt).

Next, I heated up about half of the heavy cream (the recipe calls for four cups—wow, it’s a good thing this is served in small portions, right?) with the sugar and the vanilla.  This helps the sugar dissolve and lets the vanilla infuse with the cream.  This would be more important if you were using vanilla bean.

While that was heating up, I separated 10 eggs.  The recipe calls for 10 yolks—again, it’s a good thing this dessert is served in small portions.  If I had planned ahead better, I could have done something with the whites (like make a healthy omelet), but I didn’t.  I did, however, think that the 10 yolks all together in the bowl, looked quite pretty, like a big yellow flower that just happens to be high in cholesterol.

Combine the yolks.

Add the heated cream mixture.

The next step is to add the rest of the non-heated cream, which goes quickly so I didn’t get a picture of it.  After that, though, it is ready to go into the ramekins.  I transferred the mixture into a mixing bowl that has a little nose for pouring and it made filling the ramekins SO much easier than if I had tried to pour directly from the Pyrex mixing bowl.  After that, just fill up the water bath with the boiling water and bake at 300 degress.

Like with the flan, I baked until the internal temperature of the custard was around 170.  This took about 40 minutes. 

After the ramekins come out of the oven, they need to cool for a few hours and then chill for a few more, but then comes the fun part!

The idea of the crust is very simple.  You put the turbinado sugar on top and torch it.  I found out, though, that this part is more difficult than I thought it would be; it requires finesse.  The key, I learned, is not the torch.  True, I have to keep the torch moving to avoid burning the sugar.  However, the amount of sugar is what makes or breaks the crust.  With ramekin #1 (below), I used too much sugar.

The result?

Darn, burned it.  Because the sugar was so thick, I couldn't get all of it bubbly without burning the top layer.  So I was off to a slow start.  Ramekin #2 was more successful.  I used less sugar and kept the torch moving quicker...ideally, the sugar would all come to the boiling point at the same time.

Here’s a picture with all 8 done.  #1 was the top right and #8, the bottom left.  The two that we had burned, (numbers 1 and 8) were not ruined.  We ate one of them while it was crunchy and it was less good than the others (and with a tougher shell), but still edible.  The other was put in the fridge and eaten later, after the top had softened up and turned to caramel.  Some of the burned taste remained, but the texture was much more palatable.  The last two, 7 and 8 (top left and bottom left) show a stark difference.  #8 has too much sugar and, like #1, in an effort to get all of it bubbly, it was burned.  The sugar was just too thick.  #7 used a nice thin layer of sugar (even shaking off some excess) and got a nice even, thin crust.  The middle of #7 is perfect and this is what I will be shooting for on future brulees.

They were all tasty, though.  Really.  So good.  The recipe says that these should be chilled a bit after the torching (to re-chill the top layer of custard which was probably warmed up as the torch passed over it) and then eaten very soon after that (to prevent the crust from going soft and turning into liquid caramel).  I agree.  They are best while the crust is crunchy.  You have to crack it with the spoon, so it’s delicious AND it’s fun!

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Another weekend!  This weekend means a few things for the Walshes.  General Conference, Football, and Cooking.  Weekends are usually the time when Scott and I can try our more labor and time intensive recipes.  Take right now, for example.  As I write this we are in between the first and second sessions of General Conference (non-LDS folks:  a televised 2-day broadcast from our Church's presiding leadership; a series of talks and music, happens twice a year.)  ESPN Redzone is on the tube and Scott, still in his jammies at 1:11 p.m., is starting creme brulee.  Creme Brulee.  Is this man NOT ambitious?!

I'm going to let him do his thing, because yesterday and the day before I was cooking plenty.  To the tune of sweet potato vichysoisse, and another roast chicken (frenchie style.)  Scott did make some amazing orange poppyseed cupcakes, and I made the butter whipped frosting for them (butter, orange juice, orange rind and confectioners sugar - - outstanding.)  He also made some wonderful roasted peaches (how fun is the butane torch? A billion fun) and potatoes Lyonnaise to go with our roast chicken last night.  Where are the photos of all this you ask?  *sigh* I know.  We cook more than we can reasonably blog.  We are still newlyweds, after all.  We need time to do other things - - like watch football and veg.  So if you don't mind, I'll just post a few of many photos we've taken this week, in no apparent order, with no added commentary.  Because it's the weekend, and I think you can all appreciate that.


Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Flantastic! (or, Stop Looking At Me, Flan!)

This is Scott.  Here in the blue.  I thought about having my color be red...for the Utes and RSL, but the Fresno State Bulldogs (Mary's school) are also red and she likes RSL as well.  Plus, there's that whole "blue for boys, pink for girls" thing that we grew up with.  Whatever.  I'm blue. 

So...I love cooking.  I get way jazzed when I think about trying new recipes and buying ingredients, so I have been very excited to have a couple of fun new cookbooks.  I had the idea that Mary and I should both make a list of five recipes from the cookbooks that we wanted to try.  Before I go any further, I should also write a bit about how we operate in the kitchen.

We are both fairly mellow people, but we are both also kind of control freaks.  We know how we want certain things done and we get anxious when they are done other ways.  Before we figured out how to operate in the kitchen, a typical evening would consist of many quotes like: "Um...are you sure you want to use that much?" " that really how it's supposed to look?" " you not want to put any water on there?"

This wasn't working.  We both enjoy cooking and we were stressing each other out!  We've tried to remedy this by having one of us be in charge of whatever we're cooking.  The chef.  The other of us will be the sous chef.  I know it sounds silly.  Maybe it is.  Control is part of what I like about cooking, though.  If it tastes amazing, it's because I did a good job.  If it tastes terrible, it's because I messed it up.  I'm in control.

Back to our lists.  We each picked five dishes from the various cookbooks that we have and we are going to take turns making them.  For the recipes that Mary picked, she will be the chef and I will be the sous, and vice versa.

Mary's List
1. Poulet en Cocotte ("Chicken in a Pot"--it's French)
2. Pastitsio
3. Garlic Lemon Potatoes
4. Tortilla Soup
5. Chocolate Pumpkin Cake

My List
1. Cardamom Chicken
2. Lamb Stew
3. The "Indoor Clambake"
4. Fish and Chips
5. Pad Thai

So you can see we have quite a variety of dishes there.  We both gave it a great deal of thought and I am certain we could write an entire post about our personal motivations for picking each dish.

There is a problem with my list, though.  I didn't realize this until later (so maybe I didn't give it as much thought as I thought I had).  There are no desserts!  That's a problem for me.  I love dessert.  So far, I only know how to make one dessert well--bread pudding.  I don't think it's too much of an exaggeration to say that my bread pudding is legendary.

Moving on.  Sorry, I'm getting a little bogged down here.  The point, Dear Reader, as you have undoubtedly deduced from the title of this post, is that I made flan.  I have always loved it and my mother was making a Latin-inspired soup for Sunday dinner so I volunteered to make dessert.  Flan seemed in keeping with the Latin theme.

Also, just to whet your appetite for a later post not yet written, I also picked up a butane torch for...well, torching things.  I think I will be trying creme brulee in the near future and I will be busting the torch out for that.

Back to the flan.  On reading the recipe, I was concerned that it was too difficult.  It is a custard, after all, and there is also flipping involved, so I was a little nervous.  Mary bailed entirely and made cupcakes.  See?  [Mary here. Go Bulldogs!  I DID NOT BAIL.  I took the photos.  Besides, we needed those cupcakes.  And you will see why in a second.  Keep reading.]

They were Mocha Chocolate cupcakes with whipped topping (not pictured) and were delicious.  Still, I thought she was a bit of a coward.  [Control Freak.]

The ingredient list for flan is short: sugar, water, eggs, egg yolks, zest from a lemon, sweetened condensed milk, and milk.

The first step of the flan is the caramel.  This is pretty simple.  It's sugar and water.  You cook it until it thickens up and turns brown and then you pour it in the bottom of the pan, like so.

It gets hard instantly, but that's cool.  Don't worry.  It's supposed to do that.  Next is the custard
proper.  Whisk the eggs and yolks together.

Then add the lemon zest, sweetened condensed milk, regular milk and you're just about ready.  Well, you're just to the weird part anyway.  First, pour it in the pan on top of the caramel.

Make sure to get it all.

Now the weird part.  I forgot to say that this whole time, you've been boiling a kettle of water.  You'll see in the above picture that the flan pan has been placed inside a larger pan on top of a dish towel.  What?!?  I know.  I know.  Just stay with me.  Pour that boiling water into the big pan (but making sure not to splash onto the custard.  Pour that in until the water is about halfway up the side of the smaller pan.

Now bake it.  It takes 30-40 minutes or until the center of the custard "is no longer sloshy."  It was still pretty wiggly when I took it out but a quick poke revealed no sloshiness, only jiggliness.  I also tested the center with a thermometer and it was within the prescribe range of 170-175 degrees.

Now the boring part.  Wait.  Wait two hours and then put it in the fridge.  Then wait  at least two more hours.  I just fridged it overnight. [Aaaand ENTER CUPCAKES.  Ha!  We wouldn't have had any dessert that night had it not been for your cowardly, bailing sous chef.]

Other than that, though, it was lovely.  And the taste?  Heavenly.  You'll notice that we don't have any pictures of anybody enjoying this.  It was simply gone too fast.  [It totally was.  Gone too fast, and amazingly well crafted.  Well done, babe.]

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Intro/Chapter 1: Grilling - The Clear Choice

Seeing how this is our first entry as the Walsh Family, perhaps a small introduction is apropos.  My name is Mary. I am married to a man name Scott.  Together we share the name of Walsh.  Our lives became legally and lawfully one on August 12, 2010. And despite the occasional lovers squabble over a boiling pot of something, we can't get enough of each other.  Another thing we can't get enough of?  FOOD.  

Scott and I love to cook.  We started cooking together while we were dating, and it proved to be a fantastic way to unwind after a long day of work.  It gave us the chance to work on not only our cooking chops, but on that all too important relationship skill - what the professionals call "collaboration."  We still haven't perfected that skill, nor are we yet master chefs.  But thanks to all the fantastic wedding gifts, our jointly owned kitchen is well stocked and ready for new adventures!  In short, we're ready to shock and awe our palates with our self-made culinary delights.  And we're also ready to document our progress herein.

As you will see, we don't exactly take ourselves too seriously here.  A sense of humor is required, so make sure you bring it with you as you read.  

One of our very first cookbooks was the America's Test Kitchen Family Cookbook.  I bought it one summer ago, but didn't really start using it until I started cooking with Scott.  Since then, we have added many more cookbooks to our library, leaning more toward the exotic and international cuisines, but never forgetting the stunning impact of a well-made peach cobbler, and therefore use this little jewel almost weekly.  When we decided to start a blog, we thought it would be fun to take a cue from the ATK and conduct our own "tests" with our own kitchen, and see what sort of education we can gain from it.  And so we begin.

The Taste Test:  Pan-Grilled vs. Zapped

It all started when I told Scott I wanted a hot dog for dinner tonight.  I usually want a hot dog when I'm feeling lazy and carnivorous for processed pork.  Being the loving companion he is, Scott offered to make them for us.  That's when we came upon our first quandary:  to grill or to nuke?

I had grown up microwaving my hot dogs. I guess based on this fact you might conclude I was a lazy child.  And I'd grown very fond of the way a hot dog tastes when cooked with nuclear vapors.  So you can imagine my shock when my new husband takes out a frying pan, places it on our electric stove and throws two hot dogs in the center of it.  

THIS IS NOT HOW IT'S DONE.  Just another example of personal histories colliding violently under the backdrop of marital cohabitation.

I'll spare you the details of the conversation that followed, and just skip to the part where we decide that we'll each try one grilled and one microwaved hot dog, and see which one tastes better.

When I first saw how the grilled dogs were shaping up, it looked to me like they were suffering from some form of "casing" cancer.  I worried that this would make for a not so pleasing taste in my mouth.  I also worried that there was no water in the frying pan.  I pleaded with Scott to add a few drops to the pan so the dogs wouldn't scorch.  His reply:  "You don't put water on a grill, honey.  You shouldn't need it here either."  Whatever.


Next it was my turn.  I prepared the dogs the way I usually do by stabbing them with a fork and wrapping them in a paper towel.  

Then I monitored carefully, taking thorough notes:

The Results:

Scott noted that the dog from the frying pan had a nice, not too strong, char flavor to it.  The skin gave a satisfying crunch when you bit into it, not unlike a dog you eat right off the barbecue at a summer picnic.  He recommends a spicy mustard for a tasty condiment.

As for the microwaved dog, Scott was left a little underwhelmed (which didn't surprise me at all.)  The texture, according to him, was "spongey" and flimsy.  Aside from the benefit of cooking a hot dog quickly, Scott concluded that a pan-grilled hot dog was "the clear choice."

After trying both dogs myself, I reluctantly had to agree.


So maybe the reason why I preferred nuked dogs all this time had more to do with convenience than flavor.  But bottom line, Scott and I both will tell you, if you want a yummy dog, but it's too cold for a barbecue, don't 'wave it.  Grill it.  It's the clear choice.