Thursday, March 25, 2010

Survey Says...

When I was younger, I loved Family Feud. Not sure what it was about the show that grabbed my attention, but it did. Maybe it's because I'm nosy and want to know what others think about things. It was a pulse on some unknown group of people polled on random topics. I no longer care for the show and am pretty sure it's because I was grossed out when I watched reruns of the original host groping all the females.

Before I jump into the latest creation in the Commanding Journey, I want to let you know I missed chatting with you the past couple weeks. I kept expecting to get fan mail begging for the next post, but suprisingly you devoted Berry Patch followers are of a patient nature. Many things have been going on with the Berry's, and I just needed some time to retreat. You know, the days you come home from work, take off your workie works, put on the jammy jams, and don't think about anything. On top of that, the time change always gets me in Spring.

Now on with the real topic, I won't keep you waiting any longer.

It was time for a dessert. I truly enjoy preparing sweet delights and was craving it, thus I landed on French Bread Pudding with Clear Rum Sauce. I've enjoyed many-a-bread pudding desserts but never attempted to make it. The recipe looked simple enough and I had most of the ingredients in the cabinet.

Essentially bread pudding is pieces of bread soaked in custard and then baked in a water bath (place pan with food inside a larger pan of water). That's it. When I've eaten it in the past, the bread was cubed, but this recipe called for sliced. I will cube next time. I must call for a moment of silence in honor of how delicious the custard was. I helped myself to a little, and it was divine. If it weren't so rich, I could eat it like a bowl of chilled soup.
Sliced French bread soaking in custard.

Soaking on the other side...Just look at that frothy custard.

The most difficult part of the recipe was the Clear Rum Sauce. The ingredients are rum (light or dark - I used dark), sugar, water, cinnamon, butter, and cornstarch. I took the description literally as the sauce would be clear. I tend to take things too literally. The directions say to stir sauce until clear and it will be thin. Thanks Ella & Dick for no timeframe on how long it will take to become clear. Twenty minutes into stirring the sauce, it hit me...How did I expect the sauce to be crystal clear with the color of the ingredients? I came to the conclusion that clear sauce must mean all solid particles/lumps are gone. If nothing else, that's the definition in Berry's Dictionary, First Edition.

No amount of stirring could turn this clear.

It was 9:00pm on Monday night and time to taste. The bread pudding was yummy, rich, mushy, and sweet. I enjoyed it but not as much as some other bread puddings I've had. Maybe that's because it was the first time I had eaten traditional bread pudding. I enjoy the ones enhanced with chocolate, blueberries, or anything really. I took out one bite for Brad because he rather eat Hamburger Helper than something mushy with sauce. So, how would I share the bread pudding and find out if it was really good or not?

It does look delicious in this picture.

Survey says....
Ah-ha. I decided to take it to work and let the lovely and talented ladies in the Event & Patient Liaison Department (EPLD) decide. I packed everything up and took it to work the next day. In an effort to get honest feedback, I drafted an anonymous survey. After getting everything set up in the EPLD Bistro (FYI - I cleared everything in advance with Bistro manager, Lesssslie.) and waited for the ladies to arrive.

This has Christie Berry written all over it.

I started to get a little nervous. What if everyone was really quiet and didn't say much? That would mean they thought it was grodie...Would I get defensive or my feelings be hurt? What if people that I was a nerd?...To late for that and I am pretty much at peace with who I really am.

So, everyone arrives and checks it out. It was funny because most everyone knew immediately this was the workings of Truly Yours.

Now for the results.....Drum Roll Please......(Picture Sparky's wife in Christmas Vacation just before he connects the chords for the first time)......

As you can see from these semi-scientific survey results, it was a hit! Unless everyone thought differently and just didn't have the heart to tell me. Just like my mom didn't when I asked her if I was chubby as a child or could sing special music at church on Sunday. Gah.

I will leave you with this -
I find it interesting that after knowing my co-workers enjoyed the dessert, I remember it tasting better than I did before knowing. Hmm.

Tata for now.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Oh the Things I Learned

Big Guy and I were home this weekend, so Sunday was cooking day. With a hectic week, I didn't put as much thought into this week's recipe so I had to find a recipe with easy to find ingredients. I also felt it was time to experiment with fish. Maybe it was a subconscious desire due to that horrible yet funny McDonald's commercial promoting their fish sandwich. I'm still not clear on what the mounted fish is singing but the tune pops in my mind often.

I landed on Grilled Redfish as the entree. I managed to create four more recipes - Commander's House Salad, Commander's Garlic Bread, Creole Seafood Seasoning and Grilled Fish. To recap this portion of the Commanding Journey, I will share the top 10 things I learned:

  1. It is impossible to find Redfish or an appropriate substitution in Memphis. I tried sweet talking the East Memphis Fresh Market seafood specialist into ordering for me, went to multiple Kroger's, cold called a seafood distributor that services Memphis grocery stores and restaurants, and contemplated ordering online. The only Redfish I found is 22lb frozen increments, and I don't need or have space for 22lbs of anything. Finally Brad and I settled on Chilean Sea Bass at Fresh Market.
  2. Sea Bass is not a suitable substitution for Redfish. At least not when I'm cooking it or with this recipe. Also, there were these weird little bones in the filets that I couldn't get out before cooking. Oh, we got them out while eating dinner.
  3. Grilled means least to Commander's Palace. At first glance, I thought this recipe could be cooked on the Big Green Egg; however, the book specifically says use a heavy cast iron skillet. With a little searching, I learned the cast iron skillet is the traditional way to blacken.
  4. Blackening fish in a cast iron skillet will completely fill a 1279 square foot cottage with fish smoke. I am not exaggerating. Again, the recipe said it's important to have a very hot skillet. In fact, it says cook fish in a white hot cast iron skillet. A quick search on the handy iPhone confirmed my suspicion that white hot means heating an object until it turns white. After a solid 20 minutes of heating the skillet on medium high heat, it was still as black as when I turned on the eye. I experienced a little panic and perspiration - fair to say the perspiring could have been caused by the radiating heat from the skillet. I gathered my gumption and dropped one filet in, flung myself away from the stove, and stood amazed wide-eyed and mouth opened as smoked billowed from the skillet. The first thought was to drop in the other filet, so they would be the same whether good or bad. With the second one, came a continuous billow of fish smoke. While I was traveling through this part of the journey, Brad was in the shower. You can only imagine his surprise when he got out. He said the fish smoke and smell almost knocked him down when he opened the door. He probably felt like he needed to take another one.
  5. Fish smoke doesn't go away quickly. We opened the back door for a while to get the actual smoke out of the house. No such luck with the horrific smell. It was just bad. We had to close the door because of massive mosquitos coming in which is an entirely different subject - how do we have mosquitos already after four snows? After eating dinner (see #6), we went to see Alice in Wonderland 3D at the Paradiso. When we returned, I got a little peek into how Brad felt when he opened the bathroom door. We walked in the front door and shew-wheee. Operation candle lighting in every room. The smell was still lingering Monday evening after work. I cooked a roast in the crock pot today, Tuesday, so we're almost clear of fish stink.
  6. We don't like blackened Chilean Sea Bass cooked in a skillet. I tried to justify different elements of the meal but only because how much hard work was put into it. I rated it a generous six, and Brad gave it a five. Twenty-four hours later, I gave it around a three. Maybe the fish scent has a permanent place in my olfactory system and brought back an unpleasant memory. Whatever the case, I will not cook more fish on top of the stove.
  7. I do like creating sauces. The recipe called for a lemon butter sauce to accompany the fish. I realized peeling the lemons, mashing the pulp, melting the butter, and whisking the liquid until it thickened made me happy. I haven't learned why; just that it made me happy and that's enough for now.
  8. Peeling lemons is a such a refreshing and an inexpensive way to freshen up your kitchen. Eureka!...just learned something else. I need to peel about 10 lemons in the kitchen to rid it of any lingering fish. 
  9. My husband has joined the Commanding Journey. He is coming around slowly and did encourage me last night at a Mexican restaurant to change to a Mexican cookbook but he's accepting my self imposed challenge. He helped me shop for ingredients at Fresh Market after church, ate the Grilled Chilean Sea Bass, gave it a rating of 5 out of 10 in fear of a marital melt down, and took me to see Alice in Wonderland all in one day. I love him for these things.
  10. A cookbook is only a guide. I need to use it as such, taste test along the way, and make personal adaptations to create more enjoyable cooking and dining experiences. To successfully complete this journey, I must utilize the cookbook as a tool kit. This is my hobby, and I'm going to put my personal stamp on it.
Creole Seafood Seasoning on Chilean Sea Bass

Colorful vegetables to slice and saute.

A glimpse of our tiny kitchen while cooking these meals.

After the smoke simmered down.

I looks much better than it tasted. Except the Garlic bread. It was yummy.

Tata for now.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Celebrate, We Did

Hi everyone. The Berry Patch reading audience is growing, and I couldn't be more excited about it. I do apologize for not posting about last weekend's cooking experiences, but this week has been a whirlwind.

Last weekend was all about celebrating. I managed to travel and prepare four more recipes.

On Saturday night we surprised our good friend Melanie with a 30th birthday party with her closest friends at Marriott Shoals. It was officially the first surprise party I had ever attended or helped organize. Melanie was truly surprised and had a great time.

I must show off the decoration. It was so fun and easy to do!

It was sweet to see Melanie and Nick's little Cole join the party for a short time. This was only Nick and Melanie's second time to spend the night without Cole, so we needed to give her a good night out.

Of course I had packed the cookbook in my suitcase (because doesn't everyone take a cookbook with them for a weekend getaway?) just in case the perfect opportunity presented itself...and it did. After most everyone left and a handful of us were left, we needed a special toast to Melanie's birthday. "Hold on everyone. Let's find just the right drink in my cookbook." Now if these were not close friends, they would have probably been surprised that I had a cookbook with drink recipes readily available. But they know me, so this seemed normal.

Stephanie suggested Kir Royale, and we agreed because it just sounded so festive and fancy - just like us. Forty minutes until the hotel bar closed, so off to the bar we went with cookbook in hand.
Todd, Stephanie's husband, entertained us on the elevator ride to the lobby bar.

I wonder what people thought when we walked in carrying the cookbook. We got some looks, and the bartender was surprised but played along. She even allowed us to take pictures of her preparing the recipe.

Side note - Doug, who was once at The Peabody Memphis, is now in Florence at Marriott! It was fun catching up with him. We go way back...paint ball in the snow at The Peabody's retreat a couple years ago.

Unfortunately for us, the Kir Royale doesn't taste nearly as good as its name. The champagne and raspberry chambord concoction tasted like drinking cough medicine out of a champagne glass. We all agreed it was pretty hard to mess up champagne but this did it.

When we gave the guys a chance to taste, one of Nick's staff thought it was just the grandest thing and drank the remaining. So for the record,  Commander's cocktails are 0-2.

Sunday morning, I was on to the next celebration. My mom's 55th birthday was Monday, so I stayed in Corinth with her Sunday night and Monday during the day to have mother/daughter time. My mom is one of the most wonderful women I know. Of course, I'm biased because she's mine, but she continues to overcome and endure such hardships and manage to stay so humble and loving. During the USA vs Canada Olympic hockey game, we started talking about cooking out came the cookbook again. If this was going to work, I needed to find a simple recipe. No chicken stock required as it was in Memphis, no seafood because I didn't know where to get fresh seafood in the quaint town of Corinth, MS on a Sunday evening, and something my mom would enjoy because this meal was for her.

I landed on Crepes Claire, named after Ella & Dick Brennan's brother's wife Claire. Fresh crepes are filled with diced cooked chicken breast, crisp crumbled bacon, mushrooms, and green onions blended in a béchamel sauce. I've been intrigued by the idea of making crepes for a while now.

First up, crepe making. Do you know how easy these things are to make? It obviously doesn't take much to intrigue me, because all they consist of is eggs, butter, vanilla extract, water, salt, and flour. Yep, that's it.
Get the consistency thick enough to lightly cover a spoon.

Now, how to actually make the crepe itself. The recipe didn't insist on using a special crepe maker and were limited directions using a skillet with hot oil. The recipe says it prepares 18 - 20 crepes. I obviously did something wrong because I only managed to get 10. I added water along the way to thin the mixture and that helped with the last few. Out of 10, I managed to be pleased with four of them.
Not the prettiest crepes, but they will do. They actually look like they are leprosy crepes.

Next, béchamel sauce. I looked up a description online to get an idea of what I was about to create. Béchamel is a creamy white sauce known as one of the mother sauces of French cuisine and named after Louis de Bechameil (1630 - 1703). Bechameil was a financier who held the honorary post of chief steward to Loius XIV. The sauce first appeared in Le Cuisinier Francois published in 1651. How interesting, my mom and I were preparing something that originated so long ago. I was proud of us. My mom was putting in the dash of nutmeg and hot sauce, I was stirring, we were doing this together.

Crepes were made, chicken boiled, bacon cooked and crumbled, mushrooms and green onions sauteed, and bechamel sauce to a perfect consistency. All that was left to do was assemble. Broil a fresh tomato sprinkled with parmesan and voila.

It was time for my mom to enjoy her first crepe ever while we celebrated a mother/daughter dinner in our jammies. We both loved them and thought they were perfect. I highly recommend this recipe, just as the Brennan's do, for a ladies' luncheon because of yummy flavor and the ability to prepare in advance and assemble right before time to eat. I give this recipe a 9 out of 10.

Before I go, I must set the record straight about Mr. Bechameil and this creamy sauce. I started thinking, why would a financier for Louis XIV create a sauce. Did he have a knack for cooking? With a little more research, I found there are four theories of different people originating the sauce. Supposedly Bechameil perfected an existing form of the sauce and it was dedicated to him as a form of flattery after a comment made by the Duke of Escars.
"That fellow Béchameil has all the luck! I was serving breast of chicken à la crème more than 20 years before he was born, but I have never had the chance of giving my name to even the most modest sauce."
I'm not so sure Bechameil should receive the credit, but it is more fun to pronounce his name than the other three!

Tata for now.

Ponte Vecchio

Ponte Vecchio
Brad and me in Florence, Italy