My father is a very clever man. Long ago, as a Christmas Eve was coming to a close and we were preparing to plate up our milk and cookie offering to Santa, my dad stopped us with a suggestion. Arguing that, because our name was near the end of the alphabet, we were going to be one of the last houses Santa visited. Therefore, the jolly old elf would be very cold and tired of milk. Instead, we should leave him some bourbon to warm him up. It didn’t take long for our young minds to realize that a warmed up and happy Santa was much more likely to leave us better loot. As it happened, Dad had some of Santa’s favorite bourbon (parents know these things), which by amazing coincidence was also my dad’s favorite. I would hazard to say that this was the creation of our family’s traditional Christmas drink: alcohol.
Every chef I know has given some thought to what they would want their secret ingredient to be if they were ever on Iron Chef. For me, the answer will always be butter. This is not because I am a Paula Dean doppelgänger that would love nothing more than to eat butter straight from the packaging. I simply love the delicate flavors and textures that one can achieve with butter. Such a simple ingredient with so many uses. But, more than anything, it is because I love the smell of brown butter. I really think the French, “beurre noisette”, captures all the sexy nuances of brown butter. The nutty aroma. The caramelly toasted milk flavors. The scattered brown specks hinting at all the depth of flavor of vanilla bean. Say it with me – noisette. We’ll be exploring butter from how to make it at home to clarifying to browning. And, in preparation for a visit from St. Nick, we’ll leave you with a recipe for brown butter shortbread cookies that will have Santa leaving you a little extra loot this year. Continue reading “Brown Butter Shortbread Cookies: The Secret to Making it onto the “Nice” List”
Last Thanksgiving, I decided that I wanted a heritage turkey. Reading about the selective breeding1 and the bland tasting meat of commercial turkeys compared to wild and heritage turkeys. So, I asked The Fiancé. Prices may vary, but they are such that it is wise to ask your significant other for permission prior to purchase. She said, “yes” because she rocks.
When Thanksgiving morning arrived and my turkey had not, I worried. I called the farmer to ask when I should expect it. She told me, with concern in her voice, that the turkey had already been delivered – FOUR DAYS AGO. Like a condemned man, I went to my apartment building’s front office to ask if they had forgotten any packages for me. I knew my fears were confirmed as I opened the office door – I COULD SMELL IT.
The office smelled like spoiled meat. When the office worker found the package she proclaimed, “I got this a few days ago, I must have forgotten to give you a notice.” In what I think was a steady voice, I said, “That’s my Thanksgiving turkey.” Without missing a beat she replied, “We were wondering what that smell was.” To cap off the comedy2, the management office’s remedy was that they would buy me a new turkey – FOUR DAYS AFTER THANKSGIVING! I told them where they could stuff their turkey.
For me, Autumn doesn’t start with the first chill in the air or the changing leaves or paper cut outs of pilgrims and turkeys covering grade school walls. It starts with pie – pumpkin pie. I can get behind apple pie as the all-American pie and will commit unspeakable acts for a well made cherry pie; but for seasonal deliciousness, you can’t beat pumpkin pie.
There are a few secrets to perfect pumpkin pie. Maple syrup and bourbon are the easy ones. Adding maple syrup and bourbon to anything is like adding a double dose of awesome. You should seriously question the baking qualifications of anyone who leaves out the maple syrup and bourbon (I’m looking at you Betty Crocker).
The other secret is pretty easy too – the crust.
The secret to good pumpkin pie – to good any pie, in fact – is the crust, flaky, golden, crisp, melt in your mouth crust. The ingredients – flour, salt, fat, and liquid – may be simple, but the science of pie crust is still pretty interesting. As we examine the science of the flaky pie crust, we are also going to answer the long-standing debate over the best fat for pie making. Let get baking. Continue reading “Pumpkin Pie”
As we head towards colder weather and the holidays, I thought it might be a good time to talk about meat. Some might say summer, the height of barbecue season, is the time for meat; but I think of summer as a time for beautiful, fresh vegetables, not of meat. For me, a big hunk of steak is for when I want something warm and hearty. We are all about passion for food and the science behind good cooking. A well cooked steak has plenty of good science behind it and can make those carnivores among us start to drool like Homer Simpson with a donut. But the first ingredient when cooking meat is respect. Continue reading “Ribeye Steak: The Secret to Perfect Steak”