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Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Oscar's Popcorn

Oscar’s Popcorn

Sunday night I plan to be in front of the TV when the 83rd Academy Awards Show gets underway.  From the red-carpet segment to the sign-off several hours later, I’ll be glued to the screen. Broadcast from the Hollywood Kodak Theatre, and co-hosted this year by Anne Hathaway and James Franco, the show will undoubtedly have surprises even though movie critics seem certain that the big winners will be “The King’s Speech” for Best Picture, and Colin Firth and Natalie Portman for Best Actors. 

Food and Oscars have been a long tradition for many of us. One of my former assistants hosts a dinner where guests are encouraged to come dressed as their favorite movie star.  In the past, I’ve planned pre-Oscar suppers where I handed out voting ballots, and even set up a betting pool.

One constant for all Oscar parties is popcorn. Can you imagine watching the awards without a bowl of America’s favorite movie food at your side?  Just to keep things interesting, here are four ways to season those popped kernels. Use as much or as little of the ingredients as you like, tossing the popcorn until you are pleased with the balance of flavors.

1.     Melted unsalted butter, finely grated Parmesan, and sea salt
2.     Melted unsalted butter, sea salt, and coarsely ground black pepper
3.     Olive oil, crushed dried rosemary, and sea salt
4.     Truffle oil (this is a slight extravagance but so good!) and sea salt

If you want a printable ballot, try:

Friday, February 18, 2011

A Day in the Life of a Cookbook Author

A few weeks ago the folks at Chronicle Books, the publisher of my Sunday Soup and Sunday Roasts (coming this fall) asked if I would continue the series with Sunday Brunch. The manuscript was due in only a few months’ time, but I agreed knowing that there would be long days spent creating, testing, and fine-tuning recipes for brunches. The calendar of an average day gives you an idea of what’s entailed in writing a cookbook under pressure:

8 AM—Grab quick breakfast of toasted French bread and butter.

8:30 AM—Follow my husband to take his car to repair shop. He knocked off the right side mirror backing out of the garage, and blamed it on the bad weather. This is the 4th time he’s demolished that same mirror; the other three times, it wasn’t snowing.

9:00 AM- Return home. Set up mise en place trays for testing, foolishly optimistic that I would get through four dishes for the new book.

10 AM- Assistants, Mary and Ron, arrive.

10:30 AM Start on Eggs Benedict prepared with wedges of cornbread studded with andouille sausage and a spicy Hollandaise. Made cornbread in 8-inch skillet, but the result was too high and not enough sausage. Redo in 9-inch skillet. Make hollandaise in food processor; spill half of melted butter, and start over. Increase cayenne pepper for spicy accent for the sauce three times until right. Poach eggs. Assemble dish. Unfortunate color combo—hollandaise with cayenne is same hue as yellow cornbread.  Addition of sliced tomatoes corrects monotone situation. Dish looks great, but cornbread still too high. Ron agrees to retest in his kitchen using a 10-inch skillet.

12 PM Tart Cherry and Almond Muffins recipe calls for almond paste, which comes in a tube sealed with metal brackets. Have to find pliers to get the brackets off.  Almond paste and butter fail to combine well in mixer, because I forget to crumble the paste. Finally get mixture smooth and assemble batter.
My muffin tins are bigger than what is called for so have to adjust for size difference. Muffins are gorgeous, but stick to nonstick pan and hard to unmold. Decide to spray “nonstick” pans on next try.

1PM- My weekly house cleaners (and fabulous tasters) arrive. They sample and critique muffins as well as Espresso Coffee Cake made another day. Both dishes get a thumbs up.

1:30 PM Assemble Souffléed Eggs with Ricotta and Spinach. Recipe calls for sautéed
bacon, but want to try with pancetta.  Make half of dish with bacon and half with Italian counterpart. Dish cooks 10 minutes quicker than my notes indicate. Pancetta wins over bacon.

2:00 PM Move to my office to fine-tune the three recipes tested. Will save fourth recipe, Potato and Onion Galettes
, for another day.

3:00 PM Assistants leave with muffins for their partners. I return to office to answer emails with review sheets from volunteers testing recipes for book.

4:00 PM Pick up my husband at his college, return to car garage. Learn that the wrong mirror had been ordered!

5:00 PM Go over testers’ reviews sheets to correct for any problems they had.

7:00 PM My spouse, in the kitchen, grading papers, emails me on the second floor, saying “I’m hungry! When is supper?”

7:05 PM Reheat spaghetti and tomato sauce; make garlic bread. Eat quickly and return to testers’ reviews in office.

8:00 PM Call it a day.  Write out schedule for tomorrow.

* Photo of Souffléed Eggs with Ricotta and Pancetta from forthcoming Sunday Brunch.

Monday, February 14, 2011

A Valentine Greeting

Hello Readers,

Happy Valentine’s Day to each of you. I hope it is filled with chocolate and love!

XOXO, Betty

PS. If you need more of the former, see the recipe for Chocolate Caramel Pecan Cake under The Recipe Pantry on my site!

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Bon Appétit, Julia!

My friend, Connie Wenzel-Jordan, reminded me that this week marks the 48th anniversary of the first episode of The French Chef on WGBH in Boston.
On February 11, 1963, that station broadcast the initial show of the cooking series that turned Julia Child into a popular icon. One of the first such series on television, Child’s was done live and videotaped. Her occasional cooking accidents became classic and her aplomb at handling them her trademark. For the next ten years, the show was produced by WGBH and distributed to PBS stations across the country. 
Julia’s passion for French cuisine and all things culinary changed the way America cooked. She introduced home chefs to shallots, leeks, fresh herbs, croissants, baguettes, unsalted butter, and French cheeses. She also taught them the difference between poaching, braising, and sautéing, and how to chop, dice, and slice.
I certainly owe my career to her. When I was newly married, my husband gave me a copy of her Mastering the Art of French Cooking, desperately hoping that I would take a hint.  I cooked my way through that tome and never missed Julia on tv, hamming it up as she prepared sophisticated French specialties.
Julia’s legacy is indelible. Her Mastering the Art of French Cooking was on the NYT best seller list in 2009, the same year the movie “Julie and Julia,” debuted celebrating her life and that of a young blogger, Julie Powell. 
In a few weeks, I’ll teach a class called “Cooking With Julia.”  The centerpiece of the night’s menu will be boeuf à la bourguignonne, a fork-tender beef and mushroom stew The French Chef made famous. I’d like to say “Bon appétit, Julia!
* The photo of Julia Child cooking with her classmate and fellow cook, Charlotte Turgeon, at their 1964 Smith College 30th reunion was taken by Margaret Sussman (also a member of the class) and is reproduced by permission of the Smith College Archives.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Cooking Up a Storm During the Storm

“Baby It’s Cold Outside!” Those famous song lyrics barely describe what it’s been like in  New England this week. Between temperatures plunging to single digits, and unending snow, we’ve been stuck in the house for long stretches. There’s 3 feet of the white stuff on the ground and more piled atop our roof. Then there are the giant icicles hanging from all the gutters that frame our house.

Since we couldn’t go out I decided to spend my time in the kitchen. I’ve made 6 pounds of chili (that was for a cooking class that had to be postponed), baked a white and dark chocolate cheesecake (a recipe testing for an upcoming Valentine course), prepared several batches of dark caramel sauce, and also turned out loaves of cheese-scented cornbread. Oh, and did I mention that I made a big skillet of red beans and rice another day. We might be cold, but we are certainly not hungry. 

Now I hear more snow is predicted in a few days so I’m planning to shop, stock up, and start cooking again.

 Cheddar Cornbread

You can use a sharp cheddar or a Monterey Pepper Jack cheese in this recipe. The former will add a mild cheese flavor while the latter will add a touch of heat. This cornbread is great with chili or vegetable soups.

4 teaspoons vegetable oil
2 large eggs
3/4 cup buttermilk
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1 cup yellow cornmeal
1 cup (about 3 ounces) grated white cheddar or Pepper Jack cheese   
Arrange an oven rack at center position and preheat the oven to 450 degrees F.
Place oil in an 8-inch cast iron skillet set over high heat. Heat until oil is hot, 2 to 3 minutes. Watch carefully.

Whisk eggs and buttermilk together in a large mixing bowl. Whisk in baking powder, salt, baking soda, cornmeal, and cheese.  Pour oil into batter and mix well. Pour the batter into the skillet and place in the oven.

 Bake until a tester inserted into the center comes out clean, 15 to 20 minutes.  Remove and turn out bread onto a rack to cool for a few minutes. (Cornbread can be prepared a day ahead; wrap tightly and let stand at cool room temperature. Reheat in the microwave for several seconds.) Makes one 8-inch loaf.