Monday, April 5, 2010

Recapping Some Recent Cuisine de Chateau Papillon

My mother in law P.A.T. always claims that being in the kitchen energizes me creatively.  It certainly pays not to argue with one's mother in law--particularly when she's right.  I enjoy building upon culinary inspirations from many sources, be they travel (like the Mozzarella di Bufala bruscetta I baked after our trip to Italy); cookbooks (sometimes I even follow the recipe); or even lack of a dinner "plan," when I rifle through the pantry and fridge and build a whimsical dish from whatever I have on hand.

This past weekend, the fantastic weather had Beth and me eating out on the patio each morning, enjoying the sounds of springtime.  Thus, I spent a pretty fair amount of time in the kitchen and put together a couple of dishes I'd like to share.  First, for Sunday, I baked a vanilla-orange buttermilk pound cake; I wanted to make a breakfast/brunch item which would take advantage of fresh fruit, could be enjoyed with coffee, and was something different than the scones and pancakes I so often cook on the weekends.

After flipping through my baking staple cookbook, The Professional Pastry Chef by Bo Friberg, and scanning several fairly exotic quick bread, muffin, and cake recipes, I decided on pound cake--but Bo's recipes are typically scaled for the restaurant kitchen, so rather than dig out my calculator and multiply all the metric ingredients (real chefs bake from measurements by mass, not volume) by 40% to account for the smaller pans, I consulted another of my favorites, Alton Brown's baking text, I'm Just Here for More Food: Food x Mixing + Heat = Baking.  Then it was time to tinker.

Most people will say you can't mess with recipes for baking, but I'm here to say that so long as you know what you're doing, you most certainly can (Beth, though, might still refer to it a "tampering" with the recipe instead of my preferred "tweaking" or "tinkering").  I wanted a denser, finer texture than Alton's pound cake, so I swapped half the all-purpose flour out for cake flour; the lower protein content of the cake flour would result in less gluten linking in the finished product.  (Incidentally, I note Alton's online buttermilk pound cake recipe on Food Network's site uses cake flour and an extra egg, among other differences from the one in his cookbook.)

I also used dehydrated buttermilk instead of fresh--we never use all of a container of fresh buttermilk before it goes bad, so we now keep plenty of powder on hand and just reconstitute it as needed.  And, of course, the flavoring: two vanilla beans, their insides scraped and added to the batter, along with about 4 tablespoons of fresh orange peel I'd grated myself as a byproduct of the hand-squeezed OJ we've enjoyed of late, and finally about 2 tablespoons of Grand Marnier, the definitive orange-flavored cognac every cook should have on hand.  As for that orange peel: just use a Microplane grater and skim off the outermost rind; use it fresh, or spread it in a thin layer and allow to dry, and store in an airtight bottle.  (The greenie in me must also note that the leftover rinds, chopped finely, go into our compost pile afterwards.  No wasting here!)

After baking in a bundt pan, I served the cake with some homemade whipped cream (with a quart of heavy cream going for $2 or so at Costco, no reason ever to use canned stuff!), sweetened with a bit of vanilla sugar.  (One more "waste not, want not" note: the vanilla pods I scraped out go right into a cannister of plain old sugar, where they infuse it with fantastic vanilla flavor for coffees and baking!)  Fresh strawberries finished the cake off--and a cup of espresso.

On Saturday morning, we'd already had some leftover cookies which I'd baked earlier in the week, so for late breakfast I wanted something a bit more savory.  I had several mushrooms getting near the end of their culinary lives in the fridge, just begging to be used, so I sautéed them and incorporated the fungi into a couple of omelets.

There's something of a skill involved in cooking up an omelet verses something simpler, like scrambled eggs, particularly when nonstick cookware is verboten (due to the potentially-deadly fumes when overheated; we have several birds at Chateau Papillon, you may recall).  The key is in getting the pan properly lubricated--I used a mix of canola-based cooking spray and fresh butter--and at the right temperature.  I scrambled a couple of eggs up with a pinch of salt; a fork does wonders for scrambling an egg with much less mess than a whisk, I might add.  When the pan's at the ideal temperature, the eggs will "set" on the bottom very quickly when poured into the pan, so during those first few moments, it's critically important to keep the pan moving.  If done properly, the eggs will set up on their bottom but not stick (remember, move the pan around, shaking it in a slightly circular motion)--and then it's time to quickly add any fixings before the omelet cooks through!

I had the mushrooms ready, along with a few grinds of black pepper and some crumbles of goat cheese; these went in, and then with the assistance of a spatula, I flipped the omelet over in half and let it cook a few seconds more--then off onto the plate.  Voila!  Mine also included some prosciutto, something off-limits to pescetarian Beth; had we a bit of smoked salmon, she'd have gotten that.

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