Organic vs Conventional: FIGHT!

I’m not sure if you’re aware of this, but there is a huge war going on in the food world. A gargantuan war that is, as of now, at a total standstill and there’s slight probability of it being resolved in any quantifiable time frame.  This war will be dubbed The War of Organic and Conventional Foods (or for those in opposition: The War ON Organic Foods).

Organic tomatoes

A few weeks back I was reading a food health-related article penned by a writer that was emphatically supportive of eating ONLY organic foods, no ifs, ands, or pork butts about it.  Typically I tend to stray from the bottom of articles near the dreaded comments section where there are, without fail, innumerable armies of trolls lurking, begging for recognition with their all-too-common snide and snippy remarks.  Though try as I did, I couldn’t help but not ignore my curiosity, so I clicked the “See More / Leave a Comment” link to find out what the chickens were squawking about

As expected, the trolls were going full force on this one.  There were claims of secret, internal USDA conspirators, organic and natural foodie-centric name calling, and (my favorite) one British commenter in particular stated that she was going to defecate on the writer’s post AND face for writing such “rubbish propaganda.”  What delightful manners!

Interspersed between the crude, unintelligible and just plain batshit crazy comments were people who, surprisingly, hadn’t one clue what organic meant and why it is such a hot topic.  I wanted so badly to write out an informative and slightly unbiased reply to these individuals that were missing out on important details of healthy living.  But I think my adult ADD went into effect and I went to check my Facebook, then made a sandwich, and then played Angry Birds.  By the time I went back to the article a few days later and remembered what I had aimed to do, the article had disappeared into the black hole of cyberspace, never to be seen from or defecated on again.

Reading all of the comments from that one article I saw that a lot of these angry commenters weren’t just internet degenerates, but also real people who I realized were so frustrated by this article and others like it because they likely felt judged by the organic industry and its supporters.  These were people who felt this was not a war between organic and conventional, but of classes of people; the perceived snobby, elitist organic-eating toffs versus everyday people just trying to survive in an unfortunate economy.

Let’s even the playing field here.  Throw any and all preconceived notions of the organic industry out the window, because I am going to give a quick, non-exhaustive crash course on the difference between organic and conventional and how this affects you.

Colorful peppers and raw honey

First, organic foods are foods that are produced without the aid of chemicals, pesticides, hormones or anything beyond  good old fashioned, natural farmed produce and livestock.  Conventional foods are those that incorporate conventional farming (i.e. the use of pesticides, hormones, etc.) into their production as they assist with faster development, larger/cheaper output and thus bigger profits for companies.  This is also why a lot of shoppers will comment that organic foods are “so small” and blemished.  The fact is that what you are seeing when you look at organic goods is exactly as it should look.  Crazy, right?

The big issue at hand with conventional foods is that a lot of the chemicals and additives used to make the foods more appealing (aka chemically created bright colors), delicious (aka “natural” and artificial flavoring) and cost-effective (aka ingredients that are not exactly foods but are somewhat edible, even if barely digestible, and passed by the FDA as consumable and thus included in your meals) is that they have potentially harmful effects on the sensitive human body with long-term, excessive consumption.  I won’t go into the long laundry list of researched additives and their linked illnesses, but if you type a few of those strange sounding and/or unpronounceable ingredients into Google, you may not be too happy with what pulls up (but while we’re here, look up Olestra and its side effects — it’s sexy!).  Not only that, but we haven’t even touched on the negative impact it has on the environment or how some big businesses bully and take advantage of agricultural suppliers.

With all of that being said however, you do not need to eat an all organic, natural diet to be healthy.   There is really only a small list of  produce items that you should buy organic since these fruits and vegetables tend to have the highest trace amounts of pesticides, but that’s really it if you want to do the bare minimum of organic eating.  These are referred to as The Dirty Dozen.  And on the other hand, there is another list of produce that is the cleanest to eat and is overall fine to buy conventional as long as you wash them thoroughly.  These superheros are called The Clean Fifteen.  Everything else is in a gray area as far as pesticides go and it’s up to you to choose whether you wish to go organic or conventional.

Organic Potatoes

An excellent way to score some good and cost-efficient organic produce is to hit up your local farmer’s market and scour the stands for any vendors selling hormone- and pesticide-free fruits and veggies.  Not only will you meet some interesting people and save money, but you’ll be taking money out of harmful mass food producers’ pockets and supporting your local food market instead.  If you want to know where the nearest farmer’s market is to your home, the USDA has a great tool to help you find it!

The last time I went to my farmer’s market there was a vendor that insisted on feeding me cherry tomatoes and blueberries, bare handed.  I normally would have declined because of my slight neuroses regarding germs and um…really, who wants an unwashed blueberry touched by unwashed hands that probably rested on his unwashed genitals sometime earlier in the day (people are gross, by the way).  But when he sold me 1 lb of the fattest, organic blueberries and 30 of the most beautiful organic, Roma tomatoes I’d ever seen in my life for just $13 total, what choice did I really have?

Anyway, what we need to remember is that there really is no war of classes when it comes to buying food.  Sure, there are elitist foodies salivating over couture cuisine and then there the heads of households feeding their families, each with their own agenda, but neither is above the other because of what is served on their respective tables.  You are not less of a person because you cannot afford the best brand organic cereal.  Times are tough and we all have to do what we can by cutting costs where we can, but the quality of food put into your body should be the last to suffer. Food is food first and foremost and it’s meant to sustain you, so please respect your body and health by choosing only the highest quality ingredients when possible, and most importantly you must never, EVER threaten to crap on anyone’s face, ever.  It’s just plain rude.

Organic Yams and Onions

Mother Sauces V of V: Velouté and Mole Made from Velouté.

Enchilada covered with mole made from velouté

Enchilada covered with mole made from velouté.

The final sauce on our list is velouté, and in the most anticlimactic manner ever I inadvertently chose to do the easiest mother sauce last and the supposed most difficult mother sauce first.  Hindsight says, “whoops,” and presently I say, “whatever.”

Velouté is so easy in fact that I feel like a fraud making an entire entry based around it.  This sauce is a very basic white sauce from white stock from chicken, veal or fish.  It’s called a white stock because it’s made from bones that have not been roasted, thus the taste is more light, clean and pure.

To start you must warm up your fish/veal/chicken stock until just boiling and then reduce heat to low.  While the stock is heating up, using 1/4 unsalted butter and 1/4 unbleached all purpose flour, create a blond roux (geez, blond roux, white sauce, “clean and pure”…you’d think the Aryans developed this sauce or something) and stir continuously over medium heat.

Once the roux has reached the desired color, start ladling in your warm stock while stirring until completely mixed in with the roux.  Allow to simmer until it reaches a thick enough consistency to coat the back of a spoon, add salt and pepper and you’re done.

Seriously, that’s it.  I’m yawning right now, that’s how bored I am with this sauce.  Don’t get me wrong, it tastes better than any of the other sauces I’ve made so far, but there is no CHALLENGE.  It’s a baby sauce!  In any case, given that this is a very basic sauce, you can make it into many, many other sauces such as suprême sauce, allemande sauce, and the list is virtually endless.

Obviously this doesn’t fit in with the French theme at all, but the night I made the batch of velouté I was having Mexican fiesta feast at my house with enchiladas stuffed with peppered chicken and avocado/ricotta brown rice (I even made the tortillas!) and originally I was going to make a spicy corn and tortilla soup out of the sauce to accompany it.  After looking in my fridge at the four quarts of untouched chicken soup I’d made the week before, I decided on mole instead.

Before you have a conniption, mole isn’t made from that underground annoyance that whistles when speaking his S’s and is friends with Winnie the Pooh.  Nor is it made from the brown beauty that rests above your dear Grandma’s mustache.

Mole (pronounced MOLE-AY, like olé, but with a mole) is a rich, dark savory sauce that is a staple in Mexican cuisine. The term mole is actually really generic, given that it is Aztecan word for “sauce.”  This means that saying mole sauce is like saying ATM machine, so don’t ever do it because it’s incredibly redundant.  And repetitive.

Now there are numerous types of mole, each with their own long list of ingredients.  Typical mole is a very involved  and takes a lot of love, patience and care to prepare the traditional way.  Truthfully I didn’t have time for any of that and I never had an Abuelito teach me the correct way, so I made my mole the Kerry way.  While not authentic, it serves as a decent, if not spot-on, alternative with its rich, thick consistency and spicy and lightly sweetened flavor.

If you have any personal favorite or authentic mole recipes you’d like to share, please share away in the comments. I’d love to hear from you!

Kerry’s Authentic-But-Not-So-Authentic Mole

Finished mole

Finished mole

Difficulty: Easy

Time: 35 minutes

Serves: 2

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup velouté sauce, warmed (or you can substitute chicken or beef stock)
  • 1 tsp flour (1TBSP if using stock instead of sauce)
  • 1tbsp olive oil
  • 1/3 cup white onion, chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp cumin
  • 1/4 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 tbsp chili powder
  • 1 oz dark chocolate (60% cacao works well)

Directions:

  1. In a small sauce pan, heat the olive oil over medium and add onions and garlic, stirring constantly.  Continue to cook until the onions are translucent, but before they start to brown.
  2. Add in salt, cumin, cinnamon and flour and continue to cook for an additional two minutes.
  3. Slowly pour in the warm sauce or stock, and whisk while pouring ensuring that nothing sticks to the bottom of the pan.
  4. Raise the heat to medium high while stirring and once the sauce comes to a boil, reduce to medium, add in the chili powder and chocolate, and reduce the sauce for 20 minutes or to desired consistency.

Serve immediately and spare the moles!

Mother Sauces IV of V: Tomato Sauce and Bread Made From Tomato Sauce

Sliced Tomato Bread

Sliced tomato bread with mozzarella and...more tomato

A lot of people believe that tomato sauce is inherently Italian, which isn’t true, but I can understand the misconception.  When I first saw that tomato sauce was included in the Mother Sauces I thought, “I’M GOING TO PUT IT ALL OVER SOME PASTAAAAA.”  While it’s true that a lot of Americanized Italian cooking contains tsunamis of tomato sauce, the Italians (and Europe in general) have little to do with its development.

Tomato sauce started where its base, the tomato, originated: in ancient South America.  But duh, right?  What would ever make us think that tomatoes, an exotic fruit, would have sprouted in Western Europe?  I mean, that’s like saying pineapples originated under the sea, which is just LUDICROUS.

Anyway, the ancient South Americans used to develop salsas and spicy tomato pastes to flavor rice, beans and maize as well as various pickled, dried and smoked meats and Tostidos.  Tomato sauce as we know it is very mild, but the South Americans loaded their sauces up with delicious chiles and peppers which I’m betting made going to the bathroom an exciting experience for them.

It wasn’t until much later in the 16th century that Spain and Italy started growing their own tomatoes, but just for aesthetic purposes.  It wasn’t until almost a century later that they were actually eaten due to an initial belief that tomatoes were poison.  And thank the freak lord of tuna that they aren’t, because I love me some tomatoes.  My GI specialist said I shouldn’t eat them because of my unfortunate bout of esophagitis and hiatal hernial, but who is he to tell me what to do?  He should stick to things he knows, like old people’s stomach and butt issues, and I’ll stick to what I know, which is appeasing my tongue.

To make the tomato sauce, you will first need the following:

  • 10 Roma tomatoes, peeled or two 28 oz cans of whole peeled tomatoes if you’re a cheater
  • 1 1/2 cups tomato puree
  • 5 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 Spanish or yellow onion, diced
  • 10 fresh basil leaves (add or subtract based on taste)
  • salt and pepper to taste

First, if you didn’t cheat, you’ll want to either blanche or freeze your tomatoes.  Doing either will make it much easier to peel them.  To blanche, boil a large pot of water and set aside a separate pot of cold water with ice.  Once the hot water boils, add your tomatoes and cook for about 2 minutes, or until the pot returns to a boil, and quickly take the tomatoes from the boiling water and put them directly into the ice water using tongs or a slotted spoon.  Let the tomatoes rest in the ice water until they are cooled through, about 30 minutes to 1 hour.

Drain the water and peel away and discard the tomato skin.  Once all the tomatoes have been peeled, transfer them to a large bowl and SQUEEZE THEM TO DEATH.  Seriously!  Use your hands and crush them like the puny weaklings they are.  Set your dead tomatoes aside.

Squeezed tomato

This was my favorite part.

In small stock pot heat the oil over medium heat and add the onions and garlic, cooking until they are soft.  Once they are soft add the tomato puree and crushed tomatoes, stirring frequently until boiling.  Add the basil leaves (either whole or shredded) and reduce the heat, allowing the sauce to simmer for 40 minutes to one hour.  Add salt and pepper and you’re done!  Taste your sauce, and if it’s too acidic you can either add a teaspoon or two of brown sugar or a few splashes of milk/heavy cream to tone it down.

Instead of making the obvious move and doing an Italian dish to represent the tomato sauce, I figured it’d only be appropriate to stick with something somewhat Frenchy.  And really, what’s more French than bread?  Quite a bit, but for now we’ll pretend that nothing is more French than bread, and nothing is more delicious than tomato sauce bread.  So read on, enjoy my tomato sauce bread recipe, and please feel free to share your favorite bread recipe in the comments section!

Tomato Sauce French Bread

Sliced Tomato Bread

BREAAAAAD.

Difficulty: Medium

Time: 3 hours total

Ingredients

  • .25 oz (or 1 packet) dry active yeast
  • 2 1/2 cups hot tomato sauce
  • 3 tbsp butter, melted
  • 1 tsp kosher salt
  • 3 tbsp sugar
  • 1/2 cup Parmesan cheese, grated
  • 1 tbsp oregano
  • 5 to 7 cups unbleached, all purpose flour

In a large bowl add together the yeast, tomato sauce, butter, salt, sugar, cheese oregano and let sit for 2 minutes. Add 2.5 to 3 cups of the flour and mix until well-incorporated. Add flour 1/2 cup at a time, beating constantly, until a ball of dough forms that is neither sticky nor dry. If you add too much flour and the dough becomes dry, add a bit more hot tomato sauce, one tablespoon at a time, until it becomes pliable again.

Bread mix/Bread ball

Bread Mix / Bread Ball

Turn dough onto a floured countertop and knead for 5 to 10 minutes until smooth. Put dough into a bowl that has been greased with olive oil, making sure to lightly cover the ball of dough, cover, and place in a warm spot for one hour or until the dough has doubled in size.  I put my bowl outside on my patio since I’m addicted to air conditioning and my apartment is in a constant tundra-like state.

Trusty Guard Cat

My trusty guard cat protecting my bounty.

Once the bread has risen, punch the dough down and split in half, transferring each half to a greased bread pan.  Preheat oven to 375 degrees.  Cover and let rest in a warm area for another 40 minutes to an hour until the dough has risen again.  Immediately bake for 30 minutes, or until browned, making sure that it does not become dried out.  Remove from the pans and allow the bread to cool slightly.  Gobble down mercilessly with lots of butter or mozzarella cheese.

tomato bread

My scoring technique needs some damn work.


NEXT POST: Mother Sauces Part V of V: Velouté.

Mother Sauces Part III of V: Béchamel, plus Three Cheese Mushroom and Basil lasagna

“Veggie melt?” Jamie Claire asked.

“No, Béchamel,” I said as clearly as I could.

“Va…Vashmel?”

“NO! BAY-SHA-MEL.”

Granted, I have a large kitchen, but Jamie Claire was standing not two feet away while I tried to over-enunciate the name of the sauce I was using in the lasagna I made for us.  I invited Jamie Claire over for dinner after she’d had a rough week, what with someone destroying her car in a head-on collision and a few other life nuisances that seemed to build up and execute within a short time span, as they generally aim to do.  And it’s not that I have an ego about my cooking skills, but the food I make tends to make people’s worries disappear.  What can I say, it’s my superpower.

White roux and warmed milk, reading for whiskin' and friskin'.

White roux and warmed milk, reading for whiskin' and friskin'.

So I guess it’s lucky that she caught me during my week of exploring the mother sauces with subsequent matching dishes to serve them with.  To accompany this post I made a three cheese mushroom and basil lasagna with a parma rosa Béchamel sauce that I slathered on each layer with wild abandon.

The history of Béchamel is a little foggy, much like the other sauces we’ve discussed this week, and there are a few theories of its origin being thrown around the culinary world.  One says it was Marquis Louis de Béchamel, a 17th century French financier,  had thought up the sauce while messing around in the kitchen trying to find new ways to dress up dishes.  While that seems like a true enough story given the shared name, it’s probably not true since Béchamel was known for his work in finances and wearing of ladies frilly underwear (allegedly), not his cooking.  A more likely origin is that it was created by Chef Francois Pierre de la Varenne, who had penned the recipe in his famous cookbook Le Cuisinier Francois, and had named it after Béchamel as an homage.  It’s not known why Pierre de la Varenne was reminded of Béchamel when making this particular sauce.  I mean, who knows what saucy shenanigans were going on between those two?  Since all we can do is speculate at this point, I will just say that Béchamel must’ve been a stand up guy.

Bechamel Ingredients

Ingredients for Béchamel

Béchamel is the third sauce I’ve made this week, and has definitely proven to be the easiest sauce I’ve ever made, EVER.  All it contains is a white roux, slightly warmed milk added to the roux, and a pinch of nutmeg.  It’s almost like a thin eggnog, only without the egg…or the nog.   And that’s it!

Ingredients

  • 1/4 cup flour
  • 1/4 cup butter (note: you can use 1/4 cup of olive oil as a healthier substitution)
  • 4 cups of slightly warmed milk
  • Pinch of nutmeg or clove
  •  Eggs
  •  Nog

The first step in creating the Béchamel is to warm 4 cups of milk slightly on a burner while creating a white roux (1/4 cup butter and 1/4 cup flour).  We don’t use cold milk because it will take forever to make the sauce, waiting for it to warm up after each ladle of milk.  We don’t use hot milk, because you don’t want to run the risk of scalding the milk and giving it a nasty, burnt taste.

Right before the roux gets to a blond state, begin ladling in the warm milk, one spoonfull at a time, and whisking it in thoroughly with the roux ensuring each spoonful is fully incorporated before adding the next.

After all the milk has been included, allow the roux to simmer for 5 to 10 minutes while stirring frequently, ensuring that it doesn’t stick or burn to the bottom of the pan. While it simmers the sauce will thicken, and you should allow it to thicken until it leaves a thick coat on the back of a wooden (or plastic, or metal) spoon.

Coated spoon

If it doesn't look like this, you might've failed somewhere along the line.

Remove from heat, add nutmeg or clove, and use it for any number of sauces you’d like!  You can add red sauce (as I did) for a more dynamic flavor,  keep it simple and add onion, garlic, salt and pepper or you can do any number of additions to make this sauce meet whatever flavor you need.

**********
Jamie Claire and I ate the delicious lasagna and talked about a cruddy week, and how a cruddy week can be made to seem insignificant with good food.  We also talked about how if we died and someone looked through our Safari history on our iPhones, we would probably be judged endlessly (for instance I am now looking through my history and I’m finding entries such as “avada kedavra,” “Tom Waits,” “why is my cat so afraid of me when I have fire,” and “yerrow asians” [?!?]).

I may not have eliminated Jamie Claire’s woes for the week, but I think it’s safe to say that the lasagna helped a little. It’s kind of like how funerals are usually succeeded by smorgasbords; somehow food helps make any problem seem more manageable.

Besides, would you ever be sad if you had a friend that cooked for you, dressed up for you and took pictures like this?

Pretty Kerry

I was having a really good eyebrow day.

I didn’t think so.

Three Cheese Mushroom and Basil Lasagna

Difficulty: Easy

Time: 1 1/2 hours, start to finish

Serves: 6

Ingredients:

  •  5 cups Béchamel sauce
  • 1 1/4 cups tomato sauce
  • 1lb cooked lasagna noodles
  • 1/2 white onion, chopped
  • 24 oz baby bella mushrooms, chopped
  • 4 cups mozzarella cheese, shredded
  • 1/2 cup Parmesan cheese, grated
  • 1 1/3 lbs ricotta cheese
  • 1/4 cup fresh basil leaves, hand-ripped
  • 3 eggs
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 4 tbsp olive oil

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
  2. In a large skillet over medium heat, heat olive oil and cook onions until soft and add mushrooms.  Add salt and pepper and cook mushrooms until they have given off most of their liquid. Drain and set aside.
  3. Add tomato sauce to Béchamel and season with salt and pepper to taste and set aside.
  4. In a large bowl, mix together one cup of the mozzarella cheese with the ricotta cheese, eggs and basil until well blended.
  5. In a 9×13 inch baking dish, spoon about 1/4 of the Béchamel sauce on the bottom and lay down the first sheet of lasagna noodles.  Add 1/2 the ricotta mixture and half the mushroom mixture and 1 cup of the mozzarella and coat with 1/4 of the Béchamel sauce.
  6. Add another layer of noodles and repeat with the same mixture.  Add a final layer of noodles and top with remaining mozzarella cheese and Parmesan cheese.  Place dish on a tinfoil lined cookie sheet, cover the lasagna with tinfoil, and bake for 30 to 40 minutes.  Remove tinfoil and continue to cook for another 10 minutes, or until the cheese has browned.
  7. Remove from oven, let sit 10 minutes and serve.

Afterward look through your iPhone history and delete anything incriminating.

Rest easy.

NEXT POST: Mother Sauces Part IV of V: Tomato Sauce.

Mother Sauces Part II of V: Espagnole.

Espagnole

Espangole sauce is my second feat in the quest to command and conquer the mother sauces and making them my bitches.  As we touched on last post, the mother sauces were born from the culinary loins of famous 19th century French chef Marie-Antoine Carême and later refined by 20th century chef Auguste Escoffier.  As I’m sure you’ve assumed, Espagnole is the French word meaning Spanish, though it’s not certain why they’ve named this sauce as such.  Some will say that it is because its base had originated in Spain, others will argue it’s because the dark color of the sauce is reminiscent of the coffee complexion of the Spanish people, and rest couldn’t care less.  I also read that a 17th century French chef, whose name has been omitted, named it Espagnole because he was reminded of a saucy little prostitute whom he’d met in Spain during a black-out drunken weekend, and he was drawn to her by her incredibly distinct, meaty smell.  Which isn’t at all true, but wouldn’t that be a more interesting story to hear?

Making Espagnole is fairly easy and only requires a few steps, though this wasn’t always the case.  At one point, Espagnole sauce was painstakingly laborious and incredibly costly given that it would require a large amount of meat to produce the stock, which would then be reduced multiple times to cultivate its highly-concentrated flavor.  Given the availability of stock at a fraction of the cost, you don’t have to break the bank to make this recipe.

The ingredients you will need to make Espagnole are:

  • 1/4 cup of butter
  • 1/4 cup of all-purpose, unbleached flour
  • 2 celery ribs, chopped
  • 1 carrot, chopped
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 1/3 cup tomato puree
  • 4.5 cups hot beef stock
  • 2 garlic gloves, crushed
  • 1 bouquet garni (parsley, thyme, bay leaf)
  • 1 tbsp of oil or bacon grease
  • salt and pepper to taste

If you have the time and are up to the challenge, I encourage you to make your own beef stock.  I however, realizing that my time on this particular day is somewhat limited, picked up a few boxes of the finest organic, low-sodium beef stock.  It’s not as good or as brag-worthy as making your own, but we busy business women have to do whatever fits our schedule sometimes.

Traditionally this sauce is made with veal stock, but this is where I come to a full stop at a moral impasse.  Veal is easily one of the finer meats; it’s moist, buttery, clean and once you’ve had a bite you’re sworn into some sort of OMG-this-meat-is-incredible society that is difficult, if not impossible, to break free of.  It’s also made from the meat of adorable baby cows and that moist, buttery, clean taste is achieved by never letting them walk or play. Ever. Do you see the quandary I’m faced with?  In any event, I haven’t set tongue on anything containing veal in years, so instead I use beef stock, which is suitable enough substitution.  Now, If you choose to use veal stock then you will receive no judgement from me, only longing gazes and wistful sighs.  Why are ethically dubious dishes always the most delicious, I wonder?  Nobody ever said eating responsibly was easy.

Getting started, you first want to heat up your stock until just simmering and keep it warm and off to the side while you prepare the rest of the ingredients. The next thing you will do is you will create a roux out of the butter and flour, which will be used as a thickening agent.  Melt the butter in a 4 qt saucepan (or any pot just large enough to hold all the ingredients), and once the butter turns a light almond brown, add the flour and stir until well mixed.  The roux will at first be white and you will want to continually stir it and cook until it is dark brown.  Roux, while cooking, will go through various stages represented by its color: white, blond, brown, dark brown.  The  darker in color, the heavier the flavor, and though it is not a set rule by any means, the brown and dark brown roux are generally reserved for sauces with red meats while the white and blond roux are used for seafood, chicken, pork and veal.

Stages of Roux

The many faces of roux.

Once the roux is dark and aromatic, take the pot off the burner and heat up the bacon grease in a sauté pan and cook the chopped celery, carrot and onion (by the way, these three chopped vegetables are used for many, many recipes and is called mirepoix) and garlic until soft.  Add the tomato puree and cook on medium heat for 5 to 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Add contents from sauté to the roux and return to the burner, stirring constantly until the mixture is bubbling lightly.  Continuing to stir, ladle in the hot stock, allowing each spoonful to be fully incorporated into the roux before adding more, until all the stock is mixed in with the vegetables and roux.  Bring stock to a simmer, add the bouquet garni, and season with salt and pepper.  Allow to simmer for 45 minutes to an hour while skimming the top periodically as a film forms.  You will want to do this as often as possible and as much as possible until a film stops forming, thus removing fats that will cause your sauce to separate and preventing both Carême and Escoffier from giving you a postmortem middle finger.

After it’s simmered and reduced and you’ve skimmed the gunk off the top, then let the sauce cool before straining.  If you’re not using the entire batch of sauce immediately, strain into freezer-safe containers and throw away the vegetables and bouquet garni.

Now this is just a base sauce.  If you try and use this sauce alone, may be disappointed by the flavor.  At this point the flavor is very bold and biting, but with minor additions it can be an incredible addition to many dishes.  Some variations include sauce Africaine, sauce bourguignon, demi-glace, or you can experiment and come up with something entirely different!

Me?  Oh, I just reduced it with equal parts additional stock into a demi-glace and drizzled it over a medium rare rib eye with onions caramelized in a white wine reduction.  Is it the most impressive meal I could have made with this sauce?  Probably not, but sometimes the best meals are the simplest.

Rib eye with caramelized onions and a demi-glace.

NEXT POST: Mother Sauces Part III of V: Béchamel.

The Mother Sauces Part I of V: Hollandaise

Like a lot of Americans on a Wednesday night, I’m sitting on my couch thinking about the multiple variations of sauces and truthfully?  I’m getting a little overwhelmed that I haven’t even scratched the surface of sauce making.  There are just so many!  Red sauce, brown sauce, white, blonde, fish sauces.  Savory sauces, sweet sauces, sauces with vegetable bases and sauces made from thick hunks of bone, barbecue sauces, dessert sauces.  Should I go on, or are you too getting a little twitchy in the eyes from all these sauces?

Well stop, because we’re not going to think about those complicated sauces now. Instead we are going to focus on the 5 basic sauces in cooking and the importance they’ve played in the food world.  But before we do that I’m going to give you a saucy little of history lesson on the beginning of sauces.

Sauces have been around for a really, really long time.  Even longer than your Grandma’s been making her lumpy brown turkey gravy.  Let’s take a little time warp back to the Roman era when the rich Romans had their outrageously fancy and questionably sanitary food orgies, shall we?  Back in 200 AD food was fresh and nobody had ever heard of polysorbates, nitrates, benzoates and other preservatives you-really-shan’t-ates, which meant nothing but pure, unadulterated nutrition for the masses.  In addition to a lack of contemporary ways of bastardizing and mummifying perfectly good food, there were minimal ways of preserving these foods by means of effective refrigeration.  As you can imagine, this meant their unsullied fruits, vegetables and meats went REALLY, REALLY bad REALLY, REALLY fast.  Now there weren’t slaughter houses and butcheries producing tens of thousands of pounds of meats daily for these people to be frivolously wasteful with their leftovers, so they needed to improvise.  What was the next best option?  Covering that mess in sauce, of course.

That’s right, boys and girls!  The origin of delicious, delectable, divine sauces were more or less a vehicle to make sure that Gaius, who was eating a large helping of the beef that Corvinus brought to the big org a few days back, had no clue he was actually eating damn-near rancid beef tenderloin.  And it was actually quite effective.  So effective in fact that this method of covering up any hint of jus de rance lasted centuries before modern refrigeration did away with that purpose.  Now cooks make all these crazy sauces for the sole purpose of adding extra dimensions to our food as opposed to adding it for palatable necessity.

Later down the history timeline in the 19th century there was a famous French chef named Marie-Antoine Carême who came up with the four first mother sauces (velouté, espagnole, béchamel and allemande).  Mother sauces were the basic sauces from which many derivations and variations were to sprout.  It was said that any chef worth his or her salt should learn and master these sauces and thus he or she could then develop their own savory sauces from these bases to pair with thousands and thousands of dishes.

Nearly a century later, another well-renown French chef by the name of Auguste Escoffier was like, “Yo, Carême. Your sauces are tasty and all, and it’s cute that you’re a dude and comfortable with a first name like ‘Marie-Antoine’ but I can totally one up you, son.”

And that he did.

Chefs Boxing

Take THAT, Carême.

Escoffier then determined that there are to be FIVE mother sauces from that point on instead of the original four.  He went so far as to change the recipe altogether for Allemande sauce and threw in an additional surprise, all of which I’ve listed below.

5 MOTHER SAUCES

  • Velouté – veal, chicken or fish stock thickened with a lightly browned roux.
  • Espagnole – veal or beef stock thickened with a dark brown roux
  • Béchamel – cream or milk based thickened with a white roux
  • Allemande – (deceased) veal, chicken or fish stock thickened with egg yolks and heavy cream.
  • Hollandaise – successor of allemande, typically an emulsion comprised of egg yolks, lemon juice and butter.
  • Tomate – um, it’s made of tomatoes.

And much like any true family tree, all of the complicated and overwhelming variety sauces I described at the beginning of this post (with the exception of dessert sauces) can be traced back to its basic beginning.  This declaration of the 5 mother sauces thus changed gastronomy forever.

Sadly, before this post I’d never made these sauces before without the help of those  just-add-water-or-milk cheat packets.  I’ve thrown those sauce packets out the window years ago when I began truly reading labels and understanding what ingredients meant for my body, and given that this is a blog about eating responsibly and healthily, we’re going to forget that those packets even exist.  Besides, what kind of cook could I call myself if I didn’t know the freakin’ MOTHER SAUCES?  GOSH.

As the title of the post would suggest, this is about making Hollandaise sauce which happens to be the so-called most challenging mother sauce to make.  We’ll get to why that is in just a moment.

For Hollandaise, the only ingredients you will need are:

  • 6 egg yolks
  • 3/4 cups of melted, unsalted butter
  • 1.5 tbsp lemon juice
  • Salt for taste

So few ingredients!  This means it’s easy peasy, right?  Wrong. Hollandaise is notoriously difficult to make because it consists of very carefully heating up the egg yolks to promote emulsion of all the ingredients while trying not to scramble them into a chunky, disgusting wad of unusable sauce.  By emulsion I mean forcibly combining ingredients that otherwise would not combine.  Egg yolk is very difficult to mix with butter and lemon juice given the oil/water compounds present, but adding the components together slowly and whipping continuously and vigorously allows these three to join in delicious matrimony.  It’s not incredibly difficult if you have a little bit of patience and a good whiskin’ arm.

Hollandaise

Holy Pre-Hollandaise.

The first step is to beat together the lemon juice and egg yolk in a glass or stainless steel bowl until the yolk becomes lighter in color and thick.  Bring an inch of water to a light simmer in a saucepan and place the bowl on top of the sauce pan and mix continually.  Very slowly drizzle in the melted butter while whisking to ensure proper emulsion of the egg yolks and butter.  If you add to much, they will separate and you will have a difficult, if not impossible, time getting them to cooperate after that.  Continue to add while also working quickly, being sure to not cook/scramble your yolks.  Once the butter has emulsified with the yolk completely, continue to whisk for another minute before removing from heat and you will notice the mixture will grow to nearly double in size.  It will be very thick, smooth and buttery.  Cover with plastic wrap and set aside to a warm spot while you prepare whatever dish you wish to serve with the hollandaise.

Hollandaise

WHIPWHIPWHIPWHIPWHIP!

This sauce goes extremely well with eggs (as is proven with eggs benedict), grilled/steamed asparagus, or any dish you deem worthy of this creamy concoction.  I may have gone a bit over the top with my dish, but I grilled fresh asparagus and topped them with a sliced hard boiled egg before dribbling the sauce over top.

Only I didn’t stop at the hard boiled egg.  I…may have pan-fried the hard boiled in panko before slicing to give it a little more depth.  This may be American indulgence manifested, but if Paula Deen can wrap a greasy burger between two Krispy Kreme donuts and get away with it, then what harm is a little fried, hard-boiled egg?

Fried hard-boiled egg over fresh, grilled asparagus topped with hollandaise.

All hard-boiled eggs should be pan fried all the time.

NEXT POST: Mother Sauces Part II of V: Espagnole.

Irish Booze Infused Cupcakes? Don’t Mind if I Do!

Cupcakes

Irish cream in solid form, what could be better?

In case the name Kerry Patrick didn’t give it away, I’m a little bit Irish. Or at least that’s what I’m told. And though I’ve had my fair share of foggy-sighted nights where I’ve nearly forgotten my name (or where I tried luring and petting possums, mistaking them for cats with stinkfaces – a story for another time and place), I go against the Irish stereotype of being a boozehound. However, anyone who visits my kitchen might suspect the opposite to be true as I regularly keep an impressive array of wine and liquors handy should I find them to be appropriate dinner companions, which is often. For instance, when I want to splash a little bit of red on a few beef cuts before braising the life out of them, or when I need to get my good friends, the Chicken Breasts, completely obliterated with a few liberal dunks of vodka (which happens more often than you would think because as you could only imagine, being a couple of chicken breasts is living a pretty sordid life).

Anyway, it came to my attention that I had never had Irish cream before. And I’m not talking about the cheap syrup your local hipster-friendly coffee house uses, because that stuff – in my truly well-regarded opinion – is terrible. How a liquor of any kind has gotten past me without so much a taste is a mystery. I don’t enjoy being out of any loop, much less a loop that contains an ingredient both Irish and flavorful, so last weekend I ran down to my nearest liquor store to pick up a bottle. You know, for the sake of an experiment. Let’s just say it’s a lucky thing I have no interest in drinking myself into oblivion on a regular basis, because it became apparent that my nearest liquor store is nearer than my nearest grocery store. This would make for a very tempting misuse of my grocery funds, I’m sure.

Back to the point, of course I found Irish cream to be delicious. What reason would I not? The only negative with Irish cream is that you can seldom use it in savory dishes, if at all, given its sweet, candy-like zing. Desserts, however…endless possibilities!

My good friend Sarah was in town last week from Missouri, which accounts for the last 11 days of no posting (hey, I was on vacation, and I’m allowed to take a break!) and I took this opportunity to put her hands to good use and punch out a few dozen cupcakes. Not just any cupcakes, mind you, but Irish cream white cupcakes with an Irish cream buttercream frosting and an Irish cream chocolate truffle on top. If that description doesn’t make you tingle downstairs, you should probably check your pulse immediately.

Diabeetus. You want some?

Cupcakes. Who came up with the idea to make cakes individual-sized, I ask you? I want to meet this guy and personally shake his hand. I also want to ask him a few questions, because I always have the damnedest time making sure my cupcakes come out and stay moist. This is even when using an oil-based recipe and loading it up with sour cream. The moistest cupcakes in the world were these incredible chocolate cupcakes made with a cup of scorching hot coffee that I put into the mixture before baking. Truly these were the kinds of moist and delicious sweet cuppin’ cakes that they could earn you titles such as “God of things pastry and chocolate” and other ear-pleasing monikers.

Anyway, that doesn’t matter because the cupcakes I was making were supposed to be white cupcakes and adding even the slightest bit of Columbian roast will ruin everything. Everything, I tell you!

After a rigorous cupcake making session, Sarah and I decided it best to put our cooking gloves away and grab something quick and easy. I took her to Evos, which is an organic and healthy (or healthier, I should say) fast food chain that currently has only a select few locations in the United States, which is really unfortunate because they are truly fantastic.

We strolled in about a quarter to closing time and went to the counter to order our air baked fries and organic burgers when the googly-eyed cashier (whom gave me a semi-weird feeling from the get-go) shifted his gaze toward Sarah’s lower mid-range and asked, “is that a cupcake?”

In my tired state I initially, if just for a split second, thought this guy was proving to us the creepiness I’d been sensing all along and was referring to her lady parts while using the wrong pastry-related euphemism. I understand that this isn’t the most rational or even likely conclusion to jump to, but one cannot control where his mind wanders off to when left unguarded, regardless of how much of a stretch it may be. I quickly gave a deeply arched eyebrow for his surprising, but admirable, suspected inappropriateness.

Becoming immediately self-conscious Sarah looked down and started brushing off her pant leg that I then noticed was covered in cocoa and flour, “Oh, uh, yeah. We were baking cupcakes…”

He smiled, “no, on your BELT.”

All of us looked down to realize Sarah had been wearing her cutesy, colorful belt that indeed had a dozen or so multicolored cartoon cupcakes on it. Sarah and I sighed with relief, though I suspect for different reasons.

When we got back to my apartment we dug into the cupcakes we had left out to set, and while they were not quite as moist as my awe-inspiring chocolate coffee cupcakes, they still had the right amount of fluff and moistness to satisfy and — dare I even say it? – even cuter than the cutesy cupcakes on Sarah’s belt.

The only slight disappointment was that the actual cake part of the cupcake did not taste as much like Irish cream as I’d hoped, in spite of the amount put in. Don’t get me wrong, these cupcakes were championship belt deserving successes, but when the alcohol cooked off what was left was a light, golden, sweet cupcake that tasted mostly like a deep vanilla. The additional layers, the rich frosting and soft, decadent, cocoa-powdered truffle, had the perfect amount of Irish cream mixed it to remind you that you were still eating an adult dessert.

It’s been days since we made our batches of cupcakes, and Sarah since returned back to her home in Missouri. A few surviving cupcakes have made it this long, and I’m finding it more and more difficult to eat them though they’re still just as inviting as their first appearance. Knowing they won’t last much longer before they harden and are subsequently and inevitably used as deadly projectiles, I grabbed one (okay, since we’re being honest here, I grabbed TWO) and shoved them down my gullet.

Now, I’d always been in shape and thin, but upon finishing that second cupcake I sat down heavily on the couch and felt an unfamiliar flub ripple go through the once taught, now softened section of my lower back, and I sighed.

It may be a while before I make cupcakes again.

Irish Cream Cupcakes with Irish Buttercream Frosting, Topped with Irish Cream Truffles (UPDATED RECIPE)

Irish cream cupcake

Difficulty: Easy

Time: 45 minutes total

Serves: 12

Ingredients:

For the cupcakes

  • 1 cup natural sugar
  • 1 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1 1/2 cup flour
  • Pinch of salt
  • 3 eggs, separated and at room temperature
  • 3/4 cups unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1/4 cup milk, room temperature
  • 1/2 cup Irish cream, room temperature
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

For the buttercream frosting:

  • 2 sticks unsalted butter at room temperature
  • 3 cups confectioners sugar
  • 6 tbsp Irish cream

For the truffles:

  • 12 oz bittersweet chocolate (no more than 55% cacao, unless you prefer a more bitter flavor)
  • 1/4 heavy cream
  • 2 egg yolks
  • 1/4 Irish cream
  • 1 tbsp of butter
  • 1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder

Cupcake directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Sift together flour, salt, baking powder and salt and set aside.
  3. Using a hand or standing mixer, cream the butter and sugar on medium-high and continue mixing for 5 minutes or until light and fluffy and set aside.
  4. Making sure you use a separate clean, dry bowl and clean beaters, mix the egg whites on high until stiff peaks form and set aside.
  5. In ANOTHER bowl (we are at 4 bowls right now, which may seem like overkill, but these will be worth it) whisk together the milk, Irish cream and vanilla and (as you may have guessed) set aside.
  6. With your mixer on low speed, first add 1/3 the flour mixture to the butter/sugar mixture and mix until just combined.  Then add 1/2 the milk/Irish cream mixture and mix until just combined.  Continue this process until both the flour and milk mixture are fully incorporated into the butter/sugar mixture, making sure not to overbeat — to simplify, you will add the flour to the butter/sugar mixture in 3 parts and the milk in 2 parts, starting and finishing with the flour mixture.
  7. Fold whipped egg whites into the batter.
  8. Ladle batter into cupcake cups and bake for 10 minutes or until you can prick the cupcake with a toothpick and it comes out fairly clean.  Don’t be afraid if it is slightly wet as the cupcakes will continue to bake a bit when removed from the oven.
  9. Brush the top of the cupcakes with Irish cream to keep them moist while they cool.
  10. While the cupcakes are cooling, you can start the truffles.

Truffle directions:

  1. In a double boiler, melt the  chocolate until liquid and add the heavy cream and Irish cream until warm and well incorporated, making sure not to overheat.
  2. Remove from heat and allow mixture to cool slightly before whisking in egg yolks one at a time.
  3. Finally add the tablespoon of butter and transfer mixture to a freezer-safe bowl and freeze until set — it will not harden.
  4. Using a melon baller (or good eyeballing!), roll the truffles into small balls and then roll into cocoa until well-coated and place back into the freezer while making your buttercream frosting.

Buttercream directions:

  1. Mix together butter and sifted confectioners sugar until just incorporated and immediately add the Irish cream and mix for 15 to 30 seconds, making sure to just allow the ingredients to coalesce, not whip.
  2. Using a pastry bag, decorate the cupcakes however you like and place truffle on top.  Serve with milk, because you’ll need it.

Remember, only serve these to adults.  Not because serving alcohol-based foods to kids is illegal, but because adults are the only ones who deserve it!