Monday, December 29, 2014

Make Your Own Crème Fraîche

As I began my adventures as a foodie, I kept coming across the term crème fraîche. I had no idea what it was, but I found several references that described it as something like yogurt or sour cream. I made a few dishes with those ingredients as substitutions and they were pretty good. I realized, though, that I didn't really know if they were good substitutions or not. I'd never had any crème fraîche. I'd never even seen it in the supermarket. I did find one video about how to make it, from a chef I'd never heard of, but it's only been recently that I decided to give it a go.

Now that I've made a few batches, I can report that crème fraîche is wonderfully tangy and creamy. Yoghurt or sour cream just don't do it justice. And it's ridiculously simple to make. There's not a lot of reason to substitute anything. I've fallen in love with it as a homemade ingredient.

 For those who don't know, crème fraîche is cultured cream. I don't mean that it's been to the opera or can discuss the finer points of a James Joyce novel. In the food world, “cultured” means it's laden with “good” bacteria. In the days of yore, when it was still easy to get unpasteurized dairy products, all you would do is put some cream out in a warm place overnight and let the natural bacteria in the air and cream do it's work. These days, buying unpasteurized dairy products requires you to sign a release form, if you can legally get it at all. To make cultured cream, we have to bring the bacteria back. The easiest way is to invite buttermilk to the party.

The other issue is temperature. The bacteria will thrive best in a warm environment, but not too warm. About 75 ºF is what we're after. My kitchen gets too cold in the winter so, I turn on the light in my oven and let it sit in there. It keeps the temperature just about perfect. Colder temperatures can work, but it will take longer.

Another concern, when making any ingredient that you might otherwise buy at the supermarket, is cost effectiveness. In this case, the cost of the ingredients was about $2.72 for one batch, not counting my time and the electricity to power the oven light. I can't buy crème fraîche at my local supermarket. The cheapest online source was I found was about $7.35 for the same amount, not counting shipping. That's a savings of $4.63 per pint. That's about 170% less than “store bought.” Not bad. It's not as cheap as substituting yogurt or sour cream, but like I said, they're just not the same. In my mind, it's well worth it to make your own. 

Equipment Needed 
glass jar (one pint) with canning ring (or use a rubber band)
plastic wrap

1 pint pasteurized heavy cream (not ultra-pasteurized or UHT)
1/4 cup buttermilk

Mix the cream and buttermilk together in the pint jar. Cover with two or three layers of plastic wrap and seal with a canning ring or rubber band. Poke three or four small holes in the top of the wrap so the cream mixture can “breathe.” Put jar in a warm place, about 75 ºF, for 12 to 24 hours. The mixture will become thick, but can still be poured, the longer you leave it, the thicker it will get. Stir the mixture, replace the plastic wrap, or get a lid that will seal. The crème fraîche will keep in the refrigerator for about one month.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Macaroni and Cheese for Adults

Let us all bow our heads in thanks to Kraft Foods for packaging macaroni and cheese in a form we don't have to turn the oven on to make. My kids love it, anyway. My youngest thrives on the stuff. That and ramen noodles. It's cheap, and a lot of people will eat it.

Except my wife. I'm not a real fan, either. I don't hate it like my wife does, but I can't stand to eat it like it is. The sauce is usually runny and, although it's made with cheese by-products (what the heck is a cheese by-product?), tastes like its was only placed next to real cheese in the hopes that it might get an idea of what it should taste like. It didn't work, but hey, they tried.

I've always got to add something to it, too. Cut up hot dogs, creole seasoning, and catsup come to mind. Everything crappy tasting gets covered up by catsup and hot sauce, doesn't it?

As much as my kids love the packaged stuff, and the off-brands are too expensive, I'm all about good flavor. I want a macaroni and cheese dish an adult can enjoy. Something I can enjoy without trying to drown out the taste with cayenne pepper and castup. Something that actually tastes like it has cheese in it instead of cheese byproducts.

This recipe for macaroni and cheese does exactly that. As much as I like Noodles and Company as a fast food chain, I like this mac and cheese much better than theirs. Or the stuff at the supermarket deli. Sorry guys. I'm eating at home, tonight.

Fresh bread crumbs work best. Don't bother with over-priced, days old crap from the grocery store. Pulse 3 slices of bread in your food processor until they turn into course crumbs. It will take you all of 2 minutes and it's much tastier.

If you can, use whole milk. 2%, or skim milk, won't be creamy enough. If you're going to go all out with real cheese, it makes no sense to skimp on the milk.

Equipment Needed
Small saucepan or microwave safe bowl
Mixing bowls
Measuring cups and spoons
Large pot or Dutch oven
9” x 13” baking dish
Rubber spatula

8 Tbl unsalted butter, divided
2 cups fresh breadcrumbs
1 Tbl salt
1 lb elbow macaroni, or other small curvy pasta
1 garlic clove, minced
1 pounds colby-jack cheese, shredded (about 4 cups)
8 oz. extra-sharp cheddar Cheese, shredded (about 2 cups)
1 tsp dry mustard
1 tsp water
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper (optional)
6 Tbl all-purpose flour
3 1/2 cups whole milk
1 3/4 cups chicken broth or vegetable broth.
salt and pepper, to taste
cooking spray

In a large pot, bring 4 quarts of water to a boil over high heat.

While you're waiting, combine the mustard and water in a small bowl. Stir until smooth and set aside.

Melt 2 Tbl of butter in a small saucepan over medium heat (or use the microwave, about 30 seconds). Toss with the breadcrumbs and set aside.

Once the water is boiling, add 1 Tbl salt and the macaroni. Cook until mostly tender, about 10 minutes.

While the pasta is cooking, preheat the oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit, making sure the top rack is in the middle position.

Drain the cooked pasta in a colander, and leave it to fully drain while you continue.

Wipe the pot dry and return to the stove. Over medium heat, add the rest of the butter to the pot to melt it. Stir in the garlic, mustard mixture, and cayenne pepper. Cook about 30 seconds, until fragrant. Stir in the flour and cook until golden, about 1 minute.

Add the milk and broth slowly, whisking it into the flour mixture until smooth. Bring it to a simmer, reducing the heat to medium-low sow it doesn't boil. Cook until slightly thickened, whisking it often to avoid burning; about 5 or 6 minutes.

Remove the sauce from the heat and whisk in the colby-jack and cheddar cheese until it's completely melted into the sauce. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Stir in the cooked macaroni, breaking up any clumped bits, until well combined.

Spray a 9” x 13” baking dish with cooking spray. Pour the macaroni mixture into the dish and spread evenly with a rubber spatula. Sprinkle the breadcrumb mixture evenly over the top.

Bake on the center rack until golden brown and bubbling; about 30 minutes.

Remove from the oven and let cool for 10 minutes before serving.

Makes 8 servings.

You can easily customize this recipe. Play around with the kinds of cheese you use, just be careful with hard cheeses like extra-sharp cheddar. By themselves, they could make the dish really greasy. I used a combination of extra-sharp cheddar and a colby-jack blend because that's what I had on hand, but straight colby cheese with the cheddar would have stronger flavor. Get creative! Try gorgonzola or blue cheese cut with queso fresco, if want to. Add cooked and chopped bacon or cooked hamburger. Add chili powder with the cayenne and garlic. Brown the butter and add Andouie sausage. Why not? If you come up with something interesting, I'd love to hear about it in the comments, below.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Strawberry Sour-Cream Jello® Bites

With summer in full swing, cool, tasty treats are in high demand. At least with my kids they are. Not me, though. No no. I'd never admit to make these Jello treats for myself. Well, maybe I'll admit it. They are pretty tasty. It's been some time since I did a Jello recipe, too. Gotta keep up the Mormon stereotypes, don't I? I can see it now, “Tales of the Jello Eaters,” a new book by Clive Barker.

Heh, heh. Okay, maybe not.

This is a recipe I modified from Kraft Foods. I actually use a different brand of flavored gelatin, but most people know it as Jello, no matter who makes it. This one combines strawberry gelatin, sour cream, and fresh strawberries. We're going to break with tradition and put the fruit on top, instead of mixing it in so it can sink to the bottom. If you've every been to an LDS ward social, you know of what I speak. This way, is tastier, and more elegant. Who said Jello can't have class?

Equipment Needed
Kettle (to boil the water)
Mixing bowls
Measuring cups
Ice cube trays

Cooking spray
1/3 cup boiling water
1 package (3 oz) strawberry flavored gelatin.
1/2 cup sour cream
5 fresh strawberries, stemmed and quartered.

Spray the ice cube tray with cooking spray and set aside.

Mix the boiling water with the gelatin in a large bowl. Whisk until completely dissolved, about 2 minutes. Add the sour cream. Gently mix until completely incorporated.

Divide the mixture evenly between the sections of the prepared ice cube tray. Refrigerate until very firm, at least 20 minutes.

In the meantime, remove the stems from the strawberries and quarter them.

When the gelatin mixture is firm, fill the sink about halfway with very warm water. Briefly dip the bottom of the ice cube tray into the water, and remove. This will loosen the gelatin and make it easier to unmold. Put a plate or small baking pan, upside down, on top of the ice cube tray. Invert them both, together, and give the bottom a quick tap on the counter to unmold the gelatin cubes. Place one quarter of a strawberry on top, and serve.

Most ice cube trays have about 14 sections, so you'll have two quarters of a strawberry left. Eat them before your kids do.

Jello is a registered trademark ® of Kraft Foods.