Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Mad about Madeleines

What is it about the Madeleine? Many have fallen victim to their love affair with this elusive tea cake hailing from the Lorraine region of France. Yes, elusive. For no one seems to be able to truly agree upon what a Madeleine is, other than a small scallop shaped tea cake/cookie/biscuit.

I have noticed people turn to Proust's description in Remembrance of Things for a possible clue.

Many years had elapsed during which nothing of Combray, save what was comprised in the theater and the drama of my going to bed there, had any existence for me, when one day in winter, on my return home, my mother, seeing that I was cold, offered me some tea, a thing I did not ordinarily take. I declined at first, and then, for no particular reason, changed my mind. She sent for one of those squat, plump little cakes called "petites madeleines," which look as though they had been molded in the fluted valve of a scallop shell. And soon, mechanically, dispirited after a dreary day with the prospect of a depressing morrow, I raised to my lips a spoonful of the tea in which I had soaked a morsel of the cake. No sooner had the warm liquid mixed with the crumbs touched my palate than a shudder ran through me and I stopped, intent upon the extraordinary thing that was happening to me. An exquisite pleasure had invaded my senses, something isolated, detached, with no suggestion of its origin. And at once the vicissitudes of life had become indifferent to me, its disasters innocuous, its brevity illusory - this new sensation having had on me the effect which love has of filling me with a precious essence; or rather this essence was not in me it was me. I had ceased now to feel mediocre, contingent, mortal. Whence could it have come to me, this all-powerful joy? I sensed that it was connected with the taste of the tea and the cake, but that it infinitely transcended those savors, could, no, indeed, be of the same nature. Whence did it come? What did it mean? How could I seize and apprehend it?

I drink a second mouthful, in which I find nothing more than in the first, then a third, which gives me rather less than the second. It is time to stop....

And suddenly the memory revealed itself. The taste was that of the little piece of madeleine which on Sunday mornings at Combray (because on those mornings I did not go out before mass), when I went to say good morning to her in her bedroom , my aunt Léonie used to give me, dipping it first in her own cup of tea or tisane. The sight of the little madeleine had recalled nothing to my mind before I tasted it; perhaps because I had so often seen such things in the meantime, without tasting them, on the trays in pastry-cooks' windows, that their image had dissociated itself from those Combray days to take its place among others more recent; perhaps because of those memories, so long abandoned and put out of mind, nothing now survived, everything was scattered; the shapes of things, including that of the little scallop-shell of pastry, so richly sensual under its severe, religious folds, were either obliterated or had been so long dormant as to have lost the power of expansion which would have allowed them to resume their place in my consciousness. But when from a long-distant past nothing subsists, after the people are dead, after the things are broken and scattered, taste and smell alone, more fragile but more enduring, more unsubstantial, more persistent, more faithful, remain poised a long time, like souls, remembering, waiting, hoping, amid the ruins of all the rest; and bear unflinchingly, in the tiny and almost impalpable drop of their essence, the vast structure of recollection.

And as soon as I had recognized the taste of the piece of madeleine soaked in her decoction of lime-blossom which my aunt used to give me (although I did not yet know and must long postpone the discovery of why this memory made me so happy) immediately the old gray house upon the street, where her room was, rose up like a stage set to attach itself to the little pavilion opening on to the garden which had been built out behind it for my parents (the isolated segment which until that moment had been all that I could see); and with the house the town, from morning to night and in all weathers, the Square where I used to be sent before lunch, the streets along which I used to run errands, the country roads we took when it was fine. And as in the game wherein the Japanese amuse themselves by filling a porcelain bowl with water and steeping in it little pieces of paper which until then are without character or form, but, the moment they become wet, stretch and twist and take on color and distinctive shape, become flowers or houses or people, solid and recognizable, so in that moment all the flowers in our garden and in M. Swann's park, and the water-lilies on the Vivonne and the good folk of the village and their little dwellings and the parish church and the whole of Combray and its surroundings, taking shape and solidity, sprang into being, town and gardens alike, from my cup of tea.

Concerns over "the crumb", whether it should be hard or soft, dry or moist, the structural integrity upon dunking in one's tea, or should it even be dunked in ones tea. Should it be dissolved to crumbs instead? The arguments abound as everyone cerebralizes the whole thing to the point that this little bit of Genoise based tea cake has been turned into a quest for Shangra La. OYE!

Poppy Cock, I say. Stop over thinking it and just enjoy them... with Lime-Blossom Tisane, of course. ;)

The key to a well made Madeleine is European butter and getting as much air incorporated into the eggs as possible. Oh, and your gonna need a Madeleine pan. For the only things that anyone ever agrees on is that they are shell shaped and flavored with Lemon Zest. LOL

Personally though, I prefer the intoxicating perfume of Meyer Lemon over Eureka Lemon.

Meyer Lemon Petites Madeleines

10 1/2 TB (150 g) European Butter, Unsalted
3 large Eggs, minus 2 tsp (150 g), Room Temp (or 2 Large eggs and 1 Medium egg)
2/3 cup (150g) Caster Sugar (if using Regular Granulated, it's 3/4 cup)
1/2 tsp Kosher Salt
3/4 tsp Meyer Lemon Zest
1 cup plus 3 TB (150 g) AP Flour

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.
Melt the butter.

Brush the Madeleine tin with some of the melted butter, (set the remaining butter aside to cool)

then dust the pan with flour and place in the refrigerator.

Use a fork or whisk to lightly beat the eggs then, if you are a little anal retentive like me, remove about 2 tsp of the beaten egg; this makes about 150g (3 large eggs is about 167g)

Place the beaten eggs in your mixing bowl along with the Sugar, Salt and Meyer Lemon Zest.

Whisk the egg mixture until light, foamy and thickened. It's gonna take awhile......

Probably about 8-10 minutes, before you reach maximum volume. (this is known as ribbon stage, and it's the only leavening for the cakes)

Sift a little flour onto the egg mixture and begin folding.

Sift in a little more flour and fold again. (this should take about 10 additions to keep from deflating the batter)

Once the flour has been added, begin slowly folding in the melted butter, 2 TBs at a time.

Again, be patient and careful to not deflate the batter

Spoon a 1 TB of batter into each depression in the madeleine mold; don't smooth it out, the batter will spread when baking. (Personally, I think letting the batter spread itself assists in creating the characteristic "hump" on the back)

Bake for 10 -12 minutes, just until the edges begin to turn golden brown.

Remove tray from oven and knock against the cooling rack, they should all fall out.

Turn them, bump side down and allow to cool completely before dusting with confectioners' sugar.

Arrange on a plate and serve with Lime-Blossom Tisane.

I suppose it would be more appropriate to serve the tisane in a Haviland-Limouge tea cup, but I don't have one of those, so Belleek "Thistle" it is; and a few experiments with lighting...


Monday, April 26, 2010

Childhood Flashbacks - Grandma's Meatloaf

In this world filled with foodie delights such as Quail Eggs, Morels, Fois Gras, Fennel Pollen and cuttlefish ink, nothing says lovin from the 40-something generation's oven more so than good ol' meatloaf. I don't know bout you, but I ate it a lot when I was a pup.

Yeah, it's not the most glamorous of dishes. It's not Avant-garde. It's not "Sexy". It's not Chic. It wont be showing up on the menu at a 3 Michelin star restaurant any time soon. Yet it is still adored. So lets give meatloaf it's due.

It brings us back to a simpler time. It's easy to prepare, though it takes time to bake, and darn it, it just tastes good. Simple and uncluttered. It's comfort food at it's best, with it's only possible rival being Macaroni & Cheese. It just gives us a sense of well being.

I was reminded of this when I visited my grandmother this last weekend. For all my experimentation in the kitchen, for all of my passion for Italian food, for all of my fascination over exotic ingredients, and for all of my supposed "refined" taste buds. I LOVE MEATLOAF. Especially my grandmother's meatloaf. So I made her recipe tonight, since I was finally smart enough to copy it down. And I just didn't get enough of it this weekend . ;)

Granted I use slightly different ingredients, but the premise is the same. Grandma uses Lipton Onion Soup mix and V8 juice. I went for the organic/low sodium options. Mainly because Lipton Onion soup contains Hydrolyzed Soy Protein and I need to avoid that as much as possible, and V8 juice is a little high on the sodium.

Grandma's Meatloaf

1 lb 10% ground Beef
1/2 lb ground Lamb
5 oz Vegetable Juice
1/2 cup Panko
1 envelope Onion Dip Mix (I go for Simply Organic brand)
1/4 cup Parmigiano-Reggiano, shredded
1 Large Egg
1/4 tsp Garlic powder
1/4 tsp Black Pepper
optional - 1 rib Celery, diced
optional - 1/2 Carrot, shredded

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Crush the Panko in a plastic bag. (cause it's a little to coarse for meatloaf)

Dump everything into a bowl.

Stir with a fork until well combined.

Form into a loaf and place in a roasting pan with a small rack in the bottom for the fat to drain away.

Bake for 45 minutes, then check the internal temperature (your looking for 160 degrees)

Bake an additional 10 -15 minutes if necessary then remove from the oven and tent for 10 minutes.

Slice and serve.

And tomorrow.... there WILL be meatloaf sandwiches. YAY!!


Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Rolo'in, Rolo'in, Rolo'in On The River - Spryte's Rolo Cookies

Not that I am trying to rub it in or anything, but I am going Sturgeon fishing again tomorrow morning at the crack of dawn. Since I will almost assuredly be a zombie, I decided that I was going to be in need of a sugar buzz. Since I am going to be drinking about 4 gallons of coffee to stay awake, I decided some sort of sweet was in order and Spud Nuts don't really travel all that well. (Especially when one is hiking down the side of a cliff to get to the river bank while carrying a 10 foot 1 piece fishin pole) So, I decided that my blood sugar would have to endure being spiked by Rolo Cookies.

I know I have mentioned Rolo Cookies before because they were the inspiration for the Barry White cookies as well as the Stuffed Peanut Butter Cookies that I made a little over a year ago. It all started with my friend Spryte from Spryte's Place. I met Spryte on Bakespace, which is the best inspirational social hangout's for all sorts of food related deliciousness. If you love food, conversations about food, or need a little advice or inspiration with food, then I suggest you check it out. It's awesome! So awesome, in fact, that Bakespace has been nominated for a Webby Award. If you check it out, and like what ya see you can vote here and show your support for grass roots communities like Bakespace.

OK, Back to the cookies......
So Spryte made these delectable chocolate cookies that were stuffed with Rolos, which melt when the cookies are baked and thusly creates this buttery gooey soft caramel center that just SCREAMS awesomeness! When I made them the first time, in my pre-blog days, I finally had to take them to work or risk eating all of them myself. They are seriously THAT good. As a matter of fact, I am beginning to drool on my keyboard just thinking about them as I am typing this. (I often write my introductions before I actually do the baking part)

I highly suggest that you try these, because they are seriously "da bomb". Spryte's original recipe is located here at Spryte's Place. So without any further yimmerin and yammerin, let us embark upon caramel stuffed chocolate cookie decadence. Oh, one note though, I always use the Pecans, although Walnuts, Hazelnuts or Almonds will work as well, but I find the caramel, chocolate & pecan combination to be reminiscent of those Turtle candies so I do it that way.

Spryte's Rolo Cookies

2 1/2 cups AP Flour
3/4 cup natural Cocoa Powder
1 tsp Baking Soda
1 cup Granulated Sugar
1 cup Brown Sugar, firmly packed
1 cup Butter
2 tsp Vanilla Extract
2 Large Eggs
48-54 Rolo Candies
1 1/4 cup Pecans, chopped
1 TB Granulated Sugar

In a medium bowl, whisk together the Flour, Cocoa and Baking Soda; then set aside.

In the bowl of your electric mixer, beat the butter, Brown Sugar and Granulated Sugar until light and fluffy.
Add the Eggs 1 at a time, blending well after each addition.

Mix in the Vanilla extract.

With the mixer at low speed, gradually add the Flour mixture, beating until combined

Cover the dough with plastic wrap and chill for about 2 hours.

Combine the chopped Pecans with 1 TB granulated Sugar in a small bowl and set aside.

After chilling the dough, begin preheating the oven to 375 degrees and line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper.

Remove the cookie dough from the refrigerator and begin scooping out Tablespoons full of dough.

Gently wrap each TB of cookie dough around 1 piece of Rolo candy, creating a ball.

Roll the resulting cookie ball in the Pecan mixture.

Place the cookie balls on your lined cookie sheets, about 1 inch part.

Bake for 7 to 10 minutes, depending on your oven. (My electric oven takes 10 minutes, my gas oven only took 7)

Cool on the baking sheet for 5 minutes to allow the caramel to set a little before moving to a cooling rack to completely cool.

Brew up some of your favorite coffee, kick back with a cookie or 4 and relax.

Or throw your bait in the water, kick back and wait for a bite, while you take a bite. ;)


Tuesday, April 20, 2010

The Sturgeon Whisperer - Sturgeon alla Dad

As I promised, in yesterdays post, here is a simple yet delicious way to prepare that lovely fresh white sturgeon. It's the way that my dad (the Sturgeon Whisperer) has always done it as far back as I can remember. The flavor of the sturgeon really shines through as the ingredient list is kept to a minimum.

The key is finding the right lemon pepper. Read the ingredient list carefully for all Lemon Pepper is not created equal. Even the Mrs. Dash Lemon Pepper that I use on my sea scallops contains a myriad of unnecessary ingredients to be honest. But, it all seems to work with the Saffron Sauce I lavish upon them.

Sturgeon truly benefits from simplicity, in my humble opinion. Thus it is imperative that your lemon pepper contain nothing much more than Lemon Rind and Black Pepper. Maybe a little onion, lemon oil or salt, but those should be at the end of the ingredient list. No cumin, thyme, rosemary, turmeric, coriander, celery seed, carrot powder, or a partridge in a pear tree.

If you are worried about your dinner not being "exciting" enough, simply serve with a Meyer Lemon Risotto and some Oven Roasted Asparagus and you'll be good to go. You will have more flavor components on the plate, yet keep the sturgeon in as pristine a condition as possible.

This recipe is for 6 slices off of the fillet, basically enough for 3 people at 2 slices each. Feel free to scale it up as needed.

Sturgeon alla Dad

3/4 cup Lightly Salted Saltine Crackers, crushed (You may use Panko, slightly crushed, but toss it with a pinch of salt)
1 Large Egg
1 tsp Water
1/2 tsp Lemon Pepper
6 Slices of White Sturgeon Fillet
1-2 TB Olive Oil

Crush the saltine crackers in a zip lock bag.

Whisk the Egg with Water and Lemon Pepper.

Set up your dredging station.

Dip each slice of fillet in the egg mixture.

Be sure to allow the excess to drip off for about 10-20 seconds.

Lay the fillet in the crushed Saltine crumbs, tossing to coat.

Set on a plate and repeat with the remaining slices.

Heat 1 TB Olive oil in a skillet over medium heat.

Heat oven to it's lowest setting, 150-175 degrees.
Lay the fish in the hot oil and "saute" until golden before turning; about 1 1/2 - 2 minutes depending on the size of your fish (I am saying saute, cause you are not using enough oil to "fry" the fish)

When the second side is golden,

remove the fish from the skillet and place on a rimmed sheet pan, then move to the preheated oven to keep it warm for up to 15 minutes while completing the remainder of your meal.

Serve with Lemon Risotto, or better yet Meyer Lemon Risotto and Oven Roasted Asparagus.

Simple, Elegant, Delicious! Fresh fish at it's best.