Grant McWilliams

Food Blog

Food Blog

Food is the only art you can eat.

Recession Chef: Eggs, Bacon and French Toast with pizzazz

Sometimes I want to be fancy. Food is fun. I could just throw some beaten eggs in a pan until they're solid, toss some egg soaked bread on the grill and fry up some bacon but what fun is that? 

My daughter had been asking me for French Toast so I gave in today and mixed an egg, some flour, sugar, salt and milk together to slather onto Texas Toast. The eggs were totally French style done in a double boiler. I didn't have any morels or truffles so I just added a touch of vanilla to them. The Bacon was coated with cracked pepper. 

The fancy part comes with the preparation. I cut off the top of the egg with your typical $20 "cut a muffler pipe" knifeset by ginsu (I think they're called Master Chef now) serrated knife. I washed out the eggshell nicely and filled it with the French style egg custard. 

A strip of bacon pressed flat while fried worked nicely as the dipper utensil for the eggs. Overall this fancy breakfast didn't cost any more than the traditional "slap it on a plate" method but was more fun for sure. 

You don't have to go out to breakfast and spend a fortune for something with pizzazz. 

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Irish people reviewing French food is always good for a laugh

Food reviews are always subjective so should be taken with a grain of salt but while reminiscing about Paris today I checked the Yelp reviews of one of my favorite bistros in the 15th arrondissement. The reason I liked it is because they had not one but two excellent duck dishes on the menu. The first was Magret de Canard in an orange honey sauce and roasted potatoes. The second being duck pieces shaped in a cylinder over sweet potatoes. Both were wonderful. Anyone that knows duck will agree that you can't cook it to medium or it will best be used as a football. The best Magret is served pink (really red) all the way through and it's the best thing ever. If you look to the photo on the right of the very Magret de Canard that I speak of you'll notice the the meat is very pink ringed by the wonderful duck fat cap. THIS is how it should be cooked. I apologize for the photo but I took this when I didn't know anything about taking food photos. I also took a friend to this restaurant who said she couldn't stand duck so she ordered linguine. I gave her one bite of my Magret and she exclaimed "That's not duck, that's a steak". Au contraire, it's better than a steak....Which brings me to a Yelp review of said bistro where an Irish couple gave it one star. <bolding is mine>



"..Irish Tourist Here... This is a place to be definitely avoided if you wish to get value for money!!!! .. Asked for Duck and Steak to be cooked well done. Both orders were cooked close to rare. Spuds were coldish. When asking for a glass of water we got landed a 2 ltr bottle of water on the table and 2 glasses.. When dishes were sent back. Duck was re cooked in juices of the steak so duck tasted like steak. Also we were rudely told we are big eaters sending food back!!!. When questioning why our food was not cooked correctly, standing beside the kitchen I seen why its horrible and messy!! Plus service was extremely rude. I refused to pay and asked for a reduction in the bill due to the rudeness and lack of respect to paying tourists. I was told that's the way we do food over here. Sorry... Now please pay your bill... So if you would like some nice food and manners go to Place Cambronne. Or a lovely side street pizza shop.."

 

What's to be said about this? I've bolded quite a lot because there's a lot wrong here. First of all I won't make any cracks about Irish cuisine because anything I'd say could also be said of American cuisine and I'm American. I also don't think it needs to be said so I'll just say this, the French are really good at some things that the folks living in the Mayonnaise belt (former British colonies) just don't understand. So to start they asked for both their Duck and Steak to be cooked well done. You probably couldn't eat a duck well done without a chain saw and I can only imagine the French chef in the kitchen not even comprehending that someone has CHOSEN to make their food inedible so he cooked it the best he could and sent it out. They also asked for what sounds like tap water. If you ask for water in France you'll get a choice of still bottled water or sparkling (with gas) bottled water. I'm not sure what they ended up with but it was in fact a bottle of water. The secret phrase in France is "une carafe d'eau s'il vous plaît!" which will get you a carafe of chilled tap water. Whenever I ask for my carafe I get a surprised look from the waiter followed by a look of respect, like I was just let into the back room of a secret clubhouse. 

 

The last point I'd like to make is that these folks believed they had some sort of buying power because they were tourists with money. They very clearly don't understand the French. You could walk into a French bank with a million dollars in cash and they'd want references before they'd let you open an account. Money talks in America but only whispers in France. 

 

So here's a couple of thoughts and lessons to take away.

 

  • Don't go to another country to which you know nothing of their culture and tell their chefs how to cook their dishes. Especially don't go to France and tell French chefs how to cook French food. If you like your food having the flavor and texture of a football you will probably have to go back home to get it.
  • Don't assume that people in France will bow down to your almighty dollar and want to serve you anymore than if you walked into someone else's house with money in your wallet.
  • Treat France like you're visiting a friend with an exquisite house and you'll be fine. This means you will be treated with politeness and respect as long as you keep your feet off the coffee table.

 

I actually experienced this very same situation in this very same restaurant. An American family sat down at a table, spoke perfect American English to the French staff and expected them to understand everything they said (even though French, not English is the language of the land) and when they didn't bring what the American family had ordered they man became enraged and demanded they take it back. His exact words to his wife were "They had BETTER make us what we ordered!". I felt ashamed and the manager treated them so much better than they deserved. Had it been me I would have thrown them out.

 

So the moral of the story is that we should exert at least a little bit of effort to understand the culture and customs of the country that we're in so we don't make total asses of ourselves and in addition we may very well enjoy our stay more. Huh, there's a thought.

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Brown butter Pumpkin cake with cinnamon buttercream frosting

Usually I can look at a recipe and have a pretty good idea whether it's worth the trouble or not. Sometimes I make a recipe that doesn't seem like a good idea just in case I'm wrong. On occasion I have been wrong.

One of my foodie friends on Google+ posted a recipe for Brown Butter Pumpkin cake with Cinnamon Buttercream Frosting and roasted marshmallow filling. My immediate thought was that there is a lot of adjectives in the name followed by "I bet that's way too rich". Sometimes I make recipes just because I like getting new ideas. This time was a mixture of reasons but partly because it was pretty.

I'd planned on making Pumpkin pots de Creme for Thanksgiving dessert which are a favorite but none of the stores had Munchkin pumpkins so I made this cake instead.

The instructions go something like this - brown a bunch of butter as if you were making a browned butter sage sauce. Then make a pumpkin cake with it spiced with cinnamon, ginger and allspice. Then roast marshmallows under the broiler, combine with marshmallow fluff, more sugar and more butter. Then make the Cinnamon Swiss Meringue Buttercream comprising of lots more butter, more sugar, egg whites, cinnamon and vanilla of course. In total this recipe uses 7.5 sticks of butter (almost two lbs), 3.5 cups of sugar, 16 marshmallows and half a pound of marshmallow fluff. What's amazing is the final product although over the top isn't as crazy as the ingredients sound.

Conclusion: I think if I adapted this cake into a two layer (one layer split or two full layers) with just a thin layer of buttercream frosting it would be more practical. You can beat the name and how wonderful it looks though.

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Microwave Cassoulet brought to you by Betty Crocker

This is not a joke! My daughter checked out a Betty Crocker cookbook from the local library. She was showing me some recipes in it as normally I would not have even opened it. About halfway through there was an Easy Cassoulet recipe. Intrigued I looked it over. Seconds later my jaw dropped in disbelief. You, my faithful readers probably remember my Cassoulet article from the past. If not then go there now and read up on it, I'll wait for you. In that recipe (which is quite good) there are no less than 19 ingredients and start to finish it takes about 3 days to prepare spread out over one month. I never thought any meal could be worth that kind of labor and yet I've made it 4 times. Now my least favorite season - Fall, is welcomed open armed just because it gives me an excuse to break out the butcher knife and soak those great northern white beans until they're smooth as butter. Yes, I'm hooked.

Betty Crocker I'm sure thinks they're doing their readers a great service having an Easy Cassoulet recipe because who wouldn't want to partake in this rustic southern French dish? The recipe is as follows.

 

  • 1 pound of Polish sausage
  • 1 can of great northern beans
  • 1 can of kidney beans
  • 1 can of black beans
  • 1 can of tomato sauce
  • 3 medium carrots
  • 2 small onions
  • 2 tbs brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup of dry red wine or beef broth
  • 1 1/2 tsp dried thyme leaves
  • 2 cloves of garlic

 

In the interest of their consummate readers they've even included microwave directions *gag cough gag* as follows.


To Microwave: Place carrots and red wine in 3 qt microwavable casserole. Cover and microwave on high for 5 minutes. Place sausage on carrots. Mix remaining ingredients. Pour over top. Cover tightly and microwave on high 18 to 22 minutes, stirring after 12 minutes, until hot and bubbly.

Can we have a moment of silence to honor the death of our dear old friend? If you don't mind I'd like to say a few words. "Cassoulet, I'm sorry for what has become of you. I'm sorry for how little we've tried to understand your complexity and how we've attempted to make you into something you're not out of our own laziness and for the sake of convenience. But most of all I'm sorry that you had to go out this way, with such a loss of dignity, please forgive us - amen."


Polish sausage and 3 cans of beans? Are you on crack Betty Crocker? Betty Coker is more like it. What can they possibly think to accomplish by putting Polish sausages and 3 types of canned beans in a microwave dish and cooking it for 20 minutes? I'm not saying you have to spend three days cooking Cassoulet but there are some dishes that if you don't plan on cooking them right you should just leave them the hell alone! Or here's another idea, microwave your sausage and beans but call it microwaved sausage and beans - not Cassoulet. >

I have other issues with it. I don't believe I'm actually giving it any time at all but dry red wine OR beef broth? Oh you don't have any dry red wine for your wine reduction to pour over that Chateaubriand? Just use beef broth, they taste about the same. Ack! I can't think of an instance where you'd substitute beef broth for red wine. I just can't. Speechless I may not be but flabbergasted I am.

 

 

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Microwave Cassoulet brought to you by Betty Crocker

This is not a joke! Well, it is sort of but I bet Betty Crocker didn't think so. My daughter checked out a Betty Crocker cookbook from the local library. She was showing me some recipes in it as normally I would not have even opened it. About halfway through there was an Easy Cassoulet recipe. Intrigued I looked it over. Seconds later my jaw dropped in disbelief. You, my faithful readers probably remember my Cassoulet article from the past. If not then go there now and read up on it, I'll wait for you. In that recipe (which is quite good) there are no less than 19 ingredients and start to finish it takes about 3 days to prepare spread out over one month. I never thought any meal could be worth that kind of labor and yet I've made it 4 times. Now my least favorite season - Fall, is welcomed open armed just because it gives me an excuse to break out the butcher knife and soak those great northern white beans until they're smooth as butter. Yes, I'm hooked.

I'm sure Betty Crocker they're doing their readers a great service having an Easy Cassoulet recipe because who wouldn't want to partake in this rustic southern French dish? The recipe is as follows.

  • 1 pound of Polish sausage
  • 1 can of great northern beans
  • 1 can of kidney beans
  • 1 can of black beans
  • 1 can of tomato sauce
  • 3 medium carrots
  • 2 small onions
  • 2 tbs brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup of dry red wine or beef broth
  • 1 1/2 tsp dried thyme leaves
  • 2 cloves of garlic

 

In the interest of their consummate readers they've even included microwave directions *gag cough gag* as follows.

 

To Microwave: Place carrots and red wine in 3 qt microwavable casserole. Cover and microwave on high for 5 minutes. Place sausage on carrots. Mix remaining ingredients. Pour over top. Cover tightly and microwave on high 18 to 22 minutes, stirring after 12 minutes, until hot and bubbly.

 

Can we have a moment of silence to honor the death of our dear old friend? If you don't mind I'd like to say a few words. "Cassoulet, I'm sorry for what has become of you. I'm sorry for how little we've tried to understand your complexity and how we've attempted to make you into something you're not out of our own laziness and for the sake of convenience. But most of all I'm sorry that you had to go out this way, with such a loss of dignity, please forgive us - amen."

Polish sausage and 3 cans of beans? Are you on crack Betty Crocker? Betty Coker is more like it. What can they possibly think to accomplish by putting Polish sausages and 3 types of canned beans in a microwave dish and cooking it for 20 minutes? I'm not saying you have to spend three days cooking Cassoulet but there are some dishes that if you don't plan on cooking them right you should just leave them the hell alone! Or here's another idea, microwave your sausage and beans but call it microwaved sausage and beans - not Cassoulet.

I have other issues with it. I don't believe I'm actually giving it any time at all but dry red wine OR beef broth? Oh you don't have any dry red wine for your wine reduction to pour over that Chateaubriand? Just use beef broth, they taste about the same. Ack! I can't think of an instance where you'd substitute beef broth for red wine. I just can't. Speechless I may not be but flabbergasted I am.

 

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Livening up Macaroni Salad

My mother has been bugging me about putting up my Macaroni Salad recipe so she can make it and you know what they say, if your mother tells you to do something you should listen - and share.

This is the first recipe in a series that's a result of my tackling each item of the standard American BBQ feast one at a time. I'm fairly happy with it so now I can move on to other things like BBQ beans or Potato salad. Considering the weather I probably won't finish them until next summer.

I'm not straying too far from the standard base of macaroni, mayonnaise, vinegar and some form of sweetener. In my rendition I swap sweetened condensed milk for some of the mayonnaise and the sweetener. I also add sweet peppers (bell or otherwise), red onion, carrot and celery.

As with a lot of cooking it's not so much the ingredients you choose but the balance they create and I really like this salad. I make it each Sunday and eat it for my lunch. Those of you who know me know that I don't put up recipes unless I'm satisfied and I rarely am so take this one serious. That does not mean however, that I won't still be playing with flavor balances in the future.

Without further ado here is the recipe - Macaroni Salad

 

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Sweet potato pumpkin soup with parmesan croutons

Google+ has been a very productive use of my time in a lot of ways. I have more intellectual conversations in one day than I've had on Facebook since the beginning. I fear that this will come to an end once everyone is using it but for now it's golden. If you'd like to follow me do so at gplus.to/grant.mcwilliams.

Lately on Google+ I've been trying to boost the number of foodie posts and in turn ended up making a recipe that Elaina Samardzija posted. You can follow her on her Flavour blog where she talks a great deal about food and wine. You can find her Google+ info there and I recommend her for your foodie circles.

The other day she posted a modification of Jamie Oliver's Butternut Squash soup recipe using pumpkin and sweet potatoes flavored with rosemary, red onion, carrots, sage and garlic. All good in my book. Since I had everything but the sweet potatoes I ran down to my local Indian market and picked up a few garnets (garnet yams are not yams, they're sweet potatoes, don't get me started).

The smell from the kitchen was very nice and the soup was easy to make.  I'd post the recipe here but it makes more sense to just send you to her blog at Flavour. Besides you might find other things interesting to read.

The gist of the soup is a melody of sweet potatoes, pumpkin, red onions, carrots, celery, garlic, rosemary and stock plus a touch of heat from cayenne. Topped with a sliced baguette sporting olive oil drizzles and shaved Parmesan toasted under the broiler.

I've tasted Butternut squash soup before that I've really liked and have attempted all the famous versions of it and it's been OK but not great. This one is better than OK but still not "hit it out of the park good". The heat is nice, the overall flavor is nice and it sort of grows on you. I think I'll be spending some time on it in the future to see if I get it creamy smooth and more depth.

The croûtons though I liked a lot and if you just cut them up and eat them with the soup it's a nice mixture of flavors. However, a change that I'll make the next time I do this is to fry them in olive oil in my non-stick pan like I do for my Fried baguette and truffle chèvre hors d'oeuvres. I think that will be an improvement.

Overall very nice and perfect timing for winter

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Making food more fun

My daughter like a lot of kids, loves Macaroni and Cheese. However, there isn't a more boring food so today I thought I'd try to liven it up a bit. A lot of people eat hot dogs in Mac and Cheese so I started there. With some innovative ideas and changing out the standard elbow macaroni things get interesting. I found the larger tube macaroni (but not as large as penne) at my local Asian market even though they're still an Italian style noodle. Combine that with some spaghetti noodles and it gets fun.

The rest of the recipe is largely the Cooks Illustrated Macaroni and Cheese recipe with 8 oz of cheddar, 8 oz of Monterey jack, a blonde roux turned Béchamel sauce turned Mornay, a little dried mustard and cayenne for zip.

 

 

Enjoy!

 

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Pumpkin bread loaf number 1 - 2011

My first Cinderella Pumpkin was very productive and gave me a great deal of pumpkin so naturally I wanted to do something with it so I made bread as I always do. I've always been very reluctant to put up a Pumpkin Bread recipe because there's a LOT of method involved in how I do it. The reason for this is the amount of moisture in the fresh pumpkin I use. Also every loaf has a full 2 cups of pumpkin in it thus compounding the problem. When you have wet recipes it's very easy to end up with a mess. Also my readers pumpkins may be dryer or wetter than mine thus needing modifications to the recipe. So after 10 years I've still not posted the recipe for my bread.

In addition the first loaf of the year may or may not turn out since I'm getting the feel of my pumpkins. I've made the recipe more reliable in the past by putting the pumpkin meat in a pan over low heat and condensing the flavor by steaming out some of the liquid. This also takes some of the moisture out of the bread which I don't want. It's all about weights and balances which only my eyes and fingers know. Recipe or no, I baked a loaf and of course took photos.

I'm sure there will be more later.

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Pumpkins are food... eat them. Really!

It's that time of year again.... The leaves are falling, the grapes are a bit surprised at our 60 degree daytime temps and pumpkins are available from the farms. It's Pumpkin Bread time -  a 20 year tradition at The Man, The Myth, The Legend. It all started two decades ago when we got coupons to spend at the local farmers market. Not knowing what to spend them on I bought a pumpkin and made bread from a recipe out of the 1971 edition of The Joy of Cooking (not to be confused with the 1969 edition of The Joy of Sex, something you only do once for sure). The bread was not bad and we got to use the pumpkin. In the last 20 years I've cooked pumpkin every way possible, changed recipes, tossed out ingredients, added others and about 10 years ago figured I was done. Since then I've played a bit with baking dishes, clay tiles etc. but the ingredients and methods have been locked in and now is just a tradition that we look forward to. Following is a few tips.

  1. Don't use Jack-o-lantern pumpkins for anything. No really, don't. They're not food, they're tasteless mass.
  2. Buy Cinderella Pumpkins no larger than 12 inches in diameter
  3. Buy your pumpkins from a farm. Most farms have them from late September to Halloween. Not all farms have Cinderellas so you might ask first.
  4. Don't get pumpkins from the store unless they're Sugar Pie pumpkins (my second choice)
  5. Do not boil, steam or bake open side up. You actually want to keep the flavor, not disperse with it.
  6. Don't believe Christopher Kimble and the America's Test Kitchen staff when they say fresh pumpkin isn't worth the effort. The next time I see him I'll bring both canned and fresh to see if I can change his mind.

I've cooked many different types of pumpkins many different ways. If you use Jack-o-lanterns from the store you might as well just pick up a can of pumpkin puree because you won't be able to tell the difference. Cinderellas have consistently won my choice as the best pumpkins for the following reasons.

  • Best flavor. Sugar Pie is also good
  • Large enough to be worth the trouble. Sugar Pie don't have a lot of meat so take a great deal more work
  • They last forever. I don't know why but they do. I've had Cinderellas which were picked in October still be cookable in December. This extends my Pumpkin Bread season.
  • They're a flat pumpkin (think Cinderellas Carriage) so you can cook both halves in a standard oven at the same time otherwise it would take 6 hrs which is quite a lot.
  • Good texture. If cooked like I outline below the meat nearly has the consistency of applesauce (no strings).

There is ONE way to cook pumpkin and retain as much of the flavor as possible.  With the longest stiff knife you own cut the pumpkin around the equator (beltline). If you do it right your blade will return back to where you started in the exact latitude. Sometimes I'm off by an eighth of an inch. In this case cut the surface on both pumpkins so it's as flat as possible. Place them face down on a counter to see if there's any air gaps. Scrape out the strings and seeds until the walls of the pumpkin are smooth and lighter orange colored. The strings and goo attached to it have a deeper orange color. Don't dig too much into the meat, it's precious. The texture of the meat changes depending on the season, how much rain, how early you picked the pumpkin and so on. If it's spongy and dry be especially careful of removing meat. If it's firm the go ahead and scrape the walls smooth. The best meat is around the beltline of the pumpkin so try to keep as much as possible while still leaving a smooth surface.. Once they're flat place them cut side down on a half sheet pan and in an oven at 350 degrees. It will take somewhere near 3 hours to cook. You will get to know when they're done by looking at them. The outside of the pumpkin should be charred a bit but it should still be holding it's shape. The reason for this is if you got a good seal the steam inside the pumpkin holds it up. This is very important because if you didn't get a good seal the steam will escape and the meat of the pumpkin will rest on the pan and burn. Cut it right and it will turn out.  If the pumpkin hasn't caved in and you're not sure if it's done leave it in the oven longer. When you think it's done stick a pie server under one edge and lift. A large amount of liquid will come rushing out. Suck this off using a Turkey baster so it doesn't spill when removing the pumpkin from the oven. Remove and let cook.

Once the pumpkins are cool place another half sheet pan on the skin side of the pumpkin sandwiching it between the two half sheet pans. Turn them both over quickly and remove the pan that the pumpkin was cooked on. This will leave the cooked pumpkin facing cut side up which eases the removal of the meat. I've been using a cheese slicer for 20 years to scrape out my pumpkins and sadly this is it's last pumpkin. I've already started looking online to find another. It's the perfect tool because of the round shape of it. You could probably use a large spoon but your goal is to scrape, not scoop because you'll never get the walls smooth and you'll lose too much meat. Perhaps a very shallow spoon would work with a nice defined edge.

As I've said the best pumpkin is around the beltline and I'm a bit picky about the meat near the stem as it's flavor isn't as nice. If your pumpkin is cooked properly you will take the meat around the beltine clear out to the skin. Near the stem go by color. If it's looking a bit dark leave it. It won't hurt you but it's more bitter.

I've experimented with all the liquid that comes out of the pumpkin. It HAS flavor but reducing it with the meat doesn't make enough difference in my opinion to be worth the effort. I'm still looking for a use for it though. I wonder if it could help flavor squash soups etc...

Store the pumpkin in a plastic container with a lid that seals in the refrigerator. I've tried canning and freezing the cooked meat and I lose too much flavor both ways so I've decided that pumpkin bread is seasonal and why not? You have to have something to look forward to in the fall.

Well, that's it. In the next few days I'll be making bread so there will be an article on that.

 

 

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