February 2012 Challenge: Homemade Mayonnaise

Mayonnaise is a condiment love of mine. And for years I’ve heard the deliciousness of homemade mayonnaise lauded, but I always feared making it from scratch. Eight pages of description plus alternates in Mastering the Art of French Cooking is enough to scare anyone off. But one weekend, I decided it was time.

I was encouraged when I read the lines from Julia Child, “But as the egg yolks do not have to be warmed, the sauce is that much simpler to make than hollandaise.” But then I really got into reading the recipe and wondered if this was really a good idea.

One thing you can say about MTAOFC is that each recipe is greatly researched, so it is necessary to read the recipe over, maybe even several times, before forging through. Alternative instructions are given for hand-beaten mayonnaise and one with an electric blender; I chose to go the hand-beaten route. (Note: You may want to go into training before making this by hand; my arm was KILLING me, and even though I wasn’t supposed to stop whisking, I had to once in a while to let my arm rest!)

While this was a success as a sauce, don’t expect this to look like a bowlful of Hellman’s like I was. It is smooth, bright yellow, and creamy, resembling hollandaise sauce with the consistency of a thin pudding or pancake batter. And the flavor, to me, was not what I was expecting–or particularly liked. I used all extra virgin olive oil, and I should have used a mixture, which is an option. Using all olive oil, especially extra virgin, gave the sauce an overpowering taste; additional vinegar and mustard didn’t blend the flavor. Also, admittedly, I really wasn’t sure what to do with this. You certainly can’t spread this on a sandwich, this is really as a topping for fish, hors d’oeuvres, and meats. Maybe as a topping for some roasted vegetables. So while I am proud this recipe was successful, next time I will make a smaller batch and a dinner menu so it can be used, and fiddle with the ingredients, lemon juice instead of vinegar, dried mustard instead of prepared, canola oil instead of olive.

Here are the directions for about 2 cups hand-beaten mayonnaise

From Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Volume I by Julia Child, Louisette Bertholle, Simone Beck. Copyright 1961.

Note: Unlike typical recipes, this cookbook has side-by-side ingredients to directions; I’ve divided this into parts, to make it easy for you.

Part I
• A round-bottomed, 2 ½- to 3-quart glazed pottery, glass, or stainless-steel mixing bowl. Set it in a heavy casserole or saucepan to keep it from slipping. (Cook’s Note: I set it on a plastic cutting board and it was fine.)
• 3 egg yolks
• A large wire whip

Warm the bowl in hot water. Dry it. Add the egg yolks and beat for 1 to 2 minutes until they are thick and sticky.

Part II
• 1 TB wine vinegar or lemon juice
• ½ tsp salt
• ⅓ tsp dry or prepared mustard

Add the vinegar or lemon juice, salt, and mustard. Beat for 30 seconds more.

Part III
1 ½ to 2 ¼ cups of olive oil, salad oil, or a mixture of each. If the oil is cold, heat it to tepid; and if you are a novice, use the minimum amount.

The egg yolks are now ready to receive the oil, and while it goes in, drop by drop, you must not stop beating until the sauce has thickened. A speed of 2 strokes per second is fast enough. You can switch hands or switch directions, it makes no difference as long as you beat constantly. Add the drops of oil with a teaspoon or rest the lip of the bottle on the edge of the bowl. Keep your eye on the oil rather than on the sauce. Stop pouring and continue beating every 10 seconds or so, to be sure the egg yolks are absorbing the oil. After ⅓ to ½ cup of oil has been incorporated, the sauce will thicken into a very heavy cream and the crisis is over. The beating arm may rest a moment. (Cook’s Note: FINALLY!) Then beat in the remaining oil by 1 to 2 tablespoon dollops, blending it thoroughly after each addition.

Part IV
• Drops of wine vinegar or lemon juice as needed

When the sauce becomes too thick and stiff, beat in drops of vinegar or lemon juice to think it out. Then continue with the oil.

Part V
• 2 TB boiling water
• Vinegar, lemon juice, salt, pepper, and mustard

Beat the boiling water into the sauce. This is an anti-curdling insurance. Season to taste.

* * * * *
If the sauce is not used immediately, scrape it into a small bowl and cover it closely so a skin will not form on its surface. 

Drunken Beans

I have seen recipes for drunken beans for years. These are hearty beans, cooked with bacon and beer. With those three B’s, can you go wrong? Recently I found a beer in the back recesses of my refrigerator leftover from summer that really should be used. I had some dried Soldier beans in the cupboard. So I thought this recipe would be a perfect solution to use up what I have on hand!

I consulted a couple of recipes to see what ingredients they used and both were different, so I chose to create my own. I wanted the beans to be rich and creamy, I’m not one for hard beans in a little bit of sauce. Upon mixing all the ingredients together, I was skeptical, things weren’t blending the way I wanted, but after letting the pot simmer on the stove for about ten minutes as I prepared the rest of the meal, that’s all it needed. I took a corn tortilla and warmed it with a little bit of cheese, sliced a little bit of avocado for the side, and sprinkled a little fresh lime on the top of everything. This was easy, inexpensive, and you’ll have half a beer left over to drink with dinner! This made enough for leftovers, so I had a little bit warmed with some scrambled eggs the next morning. Delicious!

I think you could use canned beans if you choose, but I would select a heartier bean, like a kidney, pinto, etc., any you would use in a chili or with Mexican cooking. For a vegetarian version, omit the bacon, or use a vegetarian substitute (although the flavor may not be the same). I found my jalapeno wasn’t spicy enough for my liking, so I added a tiny dash of cayenne and that made it perfect. Of course, that’s optional. I also had some mushrooms that needed to be used, so I quartered them and tossed them in. That’s optional, too, as is the topping of scallions.


Drunken Beans
2-3 cups hearty beans, cooked (Cook’s note: I soaked my Soldier beans overnight, and cooked them up a few days early.)
• 1 bottle of beer
• 2 slices of bacon, diced
• 2 garlic cloves, minced
• 1 small onion, diced
• 1 jalapeno pepper, minced
• ½ cup mushrooms, quartered (optional)
• Dash of cayenne pepper (optional)
• Sliced scallions (optional)
• Salt to taste

1. In a saucepan, add the beans and about half a bottle of beer. Let them sit on warm heat. You want to make sure the beans are just about covered with the beer, if not, add a little more.

2. Heat a non-stick skillet, add the diced bacon and cook until done. Remove the bacon from the pan and place in a bowl, drain the bacon grease and leave a couple of teaspoons in the pan. Add the garlic and onion, cook until soft.

3. Add the jalapeno and mushrooms, if using, to the garlic and onion. Cook until soft.

4. When completely cooked, add the garlic, onion, jalapeno, mushrooms, and bacon to the bean pot. Stir to combine and cook for about 10 minutes or so, or until the beans start to break. Serve with warm corn tortillas and sliced avocado, if desired. Top with the squirt of fresh lime juice.

OMG! Brownies

Happy Valentine’s Day! In honor of this day, I thought I would bring you a special recipe, with enough time to pick up the ingredients at the grocery store on the way home from work to make for your Valentine! 

Anyone who knows me well knows sweets aren’t a particular weakness of mine. Crunchy, greasy potato chips and a creamy dip, yes; dessert, not so much. I will jump at a good homemade pie and will eat the obligatory birthday cake, but for the most part, I can pass on sweets when they’re offered. Until now.

A few weeks ago we were invited to spend the afternoon with friends. A downfall of being told to others you’re a good cook by your significant other is you (I) feel obligated to always take along something special; a plate of nice cheese and crackers wouldn’t do. I always want to make something delicious that people would just say “wow.” I wasn’t sure if I was going to make something sweet or savory, but while looking for a recipe in the Essential New York Times Cook Book, I came across a recipe for brownies. Originally printed in the Times in 1943, this was noted as a treat that traveled well in a soldier’s care package. I had all the ingredients in the cupboard and the instructions were super easy, so I thought I would try these. (If you hang out with me long enough, you are bound to be a guinea pig for a variety of recipes!) The recipe I’ve been using for the past  30 years have always been just OK; they are moist when they come out of the oven and are flavorful, but tend to turn rock hard in a day.

I pulled these out of the oven and they were super moist, too moist to be done I thought. I was told by the sweets eater in the house, “I think that’s they way they are supposed to be.” And he’s right. Right out of the oven, the top is crackly and shiny. They are moist, dense and dark, with a deep chocolate flavor. Heaven in a little square.

I packed them up carefully, still warm, and brought them to our friends. Set on the table, they were gone in a matter of minutes. (I think the “wow” was there; it’s called silence. And when people have seconds!) These are sure to be a hit with any group. You can take these to a bake sale or potluck or even bribe friends to help you with something (yes, I’ve done this). Or make a batch just for yourself. (I’ll give you a little hint, wrap each brownie individually and put in a freezer bag. This way you can control how much you eat, and have a nice little treat for a later date!)

Enjoy!

Brownies
From The Essential New York Times Cook Book, Classic Recipes for a New Century, by Amanda Hesser, 2010.
Makes 16 brownies

• ¼ pound semisweet or bittersweet chocolate (Cook’s note: I use a bar of Ghirardelli semisweet chocolate)
• 8 Tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter
• 2 large eggs
• 1 cup sugar
•½ cup sifted all-purpose flour
• ½ cup chopped nuts (Cook’s note: I use walnuts)
• 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
•¼ teaspoon salt

1. Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Butter an 8-inch square baking pan and line the base with parchment.

2. Melt the chocolate and butter in a saucepan over low heat. Remove from the heat.

3. Beat the eggs with the sugar until the sugar is mostly dissolved, and add to the chocolate mixture. Add the other ingredients and mix well. Pour the batter into the prepared pan and smooth the top.

4. Bake until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out almost, but not quite, clean, about 25 minutes. Let cool for a few minutes, then invert the brownie onto a rack, remove the parchment, and turn it right side up. When cool cut into 16 squares.

Hesser’s Cooking Note: You might laugh at the size of these brownies, which are 2-in squares–brownie “bites” by today’s standard. Cut them larger at your (waistline’s) peril.

Soup of the Week: Turnip, Leek and Wild Rice Soup

This time of year, after the food-laden holidays and resolutions to eat better and exercise more are in place, the weather still deems that my healthy soups be warm and comforting. One winter night, I opened the vegetable bin and noticed leeks, turnips, and a little bit of cream. With wild rice in the cupboard, I knew what I was going to do. I developed this recipe by combining two different recipes I’ve made through the years from Cooking Light, but when I made this I took the two names and created my own recipe instead of pulling out the recipes. I never looked back, so how close they are to the originals I have no idea. With just a little bit of cream to make the turnips smooth and warm and the crunchiness of the wild rice, this fit the bill of healthy and comforting. Like some musical mash-ups, this one is a winner!

Please appreciate this photo. Right after I took this picture, my camera slipped and fell in the soup!

Turnip, Leek and Wild Rice Soup
Serves 3-4

Cook’s Note: Since turnip is a harder vegetable than potatoes, this will take longer to cook than a normal potato soup. But be patient, they’ll eventually soften.

2 teaspoons olive oil
1 cup sliced leeks
5 cups peeled and diced turnip
3+ cups chicken broth or stock (water or vegetable broth for a vegetarian version)
¾ cup wild rice, cooked**
¼ cup heavy or light cream or whole milk
Salt and pepper to taste

Cook the leeks in the olive oil for a few minutes until soft. Stir in the turnip. Add broth or water and bring to a boil. Turn to low, simmer until turnip is extra soft. When finished cooking, puree with a hand blender or put the soup in a blender in batches. Thin out with extra stock if necessary until smooth. Return soup to pot. Add the cooked wild rice and stir. Slowly pour in the cream and stir until smooth. Serve with a simple green salad.

**To cook wild rice: 1 cup of rice to 2 1/2 cups of water. Cook for 1 1/4 hour or until done. I usually cut this in half (1/2 cup of rice to 3/4 cup of water) and add to pilafs or soups.

Stay tuned for an early post next week  just in time for Valentine’s Day!  

When Good Cooks Don’t Follow Directions

Rabbit, Rabbit! Happy February 1st!

When trying out a new recipe, I really try to make sure I’ve read it thoroughly and carefully, yet many times I fail. Sometimes the results are disasters, but other times they turn into something even more delicious and become a new favorite!

I received two cookbooks for Christmas this year, the aforementioned The Essential New York Times Cook Book, and Cook This Now! by food columnist Melissa Clark. This is the second cookbook by Clark I own and she always makes everything sound so easy. Her recipes are tasty and versatile and she always gives options for changing the recipe if you don’t have a particular ingredient or want to substitute, change, or add. This newest cookbook is great, it’s cooking with the seasons, so it’s divided by months. One Sunday morning I cooked white beans after soaking them overnight and put them in the fridge so they were ready for a January recipe, White Bean Stew with Garlic, Rosemary, and Farro.

As I’m reading what to do when starting the recipe, I discover a major problem; the recipe didn’t call for dried beans that had been cooked, it called for dried beans, uncooked! No matter, I forged forth with my cooked beans and it was delectable! So much so, I decided to make it again my way, one night for dinner. It had a little bit of French flavor to it, so I served it with a little bit of kielbasa, and it was warm, creamy, and oh so delicious! Instead of serving a salad for the dinner’s greens, I sautéed some Swiss chard and collard greens together with some olive oil and garlic. There was just a little bit of the beans left over, so I put them in the freezer for a future solo dinner!

Another gem I discovered when making my error-laden recipe, I tried the grain farro for the first time. I’ve been seeing this grain in recipes for years and have never found it on the shelves until recently. To me, they taste like large wheat berries, and what I’ve read, it can be a substitute for  barley. I bought mine in bulk at the coop; I don’t think I’ve seen it in the supermarket yet. Of course, being wheat, it is a no-no for those who have a gluten intolerance.

Braised White Beans with Garlic and Rosemary
Serves 3
Soaking and cooking beans over the weekend is a great way to save some money at the supermarket, and then you have beans at the ready for recipes during the week!

• 2+ teaspoons olive oil
• 4+ cloves of garlic, minced
• 2 small carrots, finely diced
• 1 celery stalk, finely diced
• 1 ½ cups cooked white beans
• 1 ½ cups chicken broth or more if needed (for a vegetarian version, substitute water or vegetable broth)
• 1 bay leaf
• Sprig of fresh rosemary
• Dash of dried thyme
• Small piece of Parmesan cheese rind, if desired (this adds creaminess and great flavor to the dish)

Add the olive oil to a Dutch oven and heat. Add the garlic and cook until soft, repeat with the carrots and celery, making sure nothing burns. Stir in the beans, rosemary, and bay leaf and add enough broth to cover. Bring to a boil and turn down to medium, or warm enough so the beans are bubbling. Add the Parmesan rind, if using. Continue to watch the beans, stirring. You want these to be creamy, so if they start to lose the broth, continue to add a little at a time, continuing to stir. The beans are done, to me, when some are creamy, others still have a little bit of shape. I like the consistency to be almost pudding-like.