Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Coming Soon: The Pin Ups

Sorry for the lack of blogs this week, friends. I've been busy getting everything ready for the pin up photo shoot this weekend, done in a very "what the bleep happened" style. Soon they'll be a fixture on the site and it will be even more fun (who thought it was possible?) to visit. Keep checking back and don't forget to send in your questions to whatthebleephappened@gmail.com.

Monday, April 20, 2009

We beah gettin' motier foux Cajun today, Peeshwanks! Ah Yeeeeee!

Dear Tricia, What is the best way to make and store roux? What are its origins?

To begin, lets break down what roux actually is. Traditionally, roux is equal parts by weight (as opposed to a cup of butter and a cup of flour which is completely different and will just make a mess) of clarified butter and flour cooked together to thicken sauces, gravies, and soups. However, when you're making gravy (Sausage gravy in my world. ALWAYS sausage gravy.) you use the fat from the meat that is going in your gravy instead of butter. There are also many Cajun and Creole recipes that use oil instead of butter. However, hearing Cajun folk talk is so distracting that they could probably use dog food and pine needles to make a roux and I'd never notice.
To prepare a roux, put your desired fat (clarified butter, regular butter, bacon fat, whatever) in a pan and melt it down. Then add enough flour to it so that when it is mixed together it looks like wet sand. On medium heat, keep stirring the roux to cook it. What you're trying to do is cook the flour taste out of the roux. There are different levels of how dark you can make a roux. Light or "blond" is when you cook it to a very light golden color. At this point the roux won't taste like flour and won't understand blond jokes. When you cook it further to a medium dark color (some people call it "peanut butter" roux or just "medium"), it will start to smell a bit nutty and a little like popcorn popping. This adds some extra depth to the flavor of the sauce so its ideal for brown sauces or soups. Last but not least is dark or sometimes "black" roux. To achieve a true black roux you have to use really low heat to keep it from burning and take it off the heat just before it is completely dark. Also, you'll need to use a vegetable oil instead of butter because oil has a higher "smoke point," which is fancy talk for "it can reach a higher temperature before it burns and pisses you off." Black roux is commonly used in creole soups and stews, but it doesn't thicken as well as a blond or medium roux.
In all of the roux research I've been internet-ing, so many references are made to Cajun and Creole cooking that its origin most likely comes from France, but has been adapted to American Southern French cooking. In fact the first step in so many Creole recipes is "First, you make a roux."
So, now that you know what your different roux are and how to make them, lets talk storage. I like to a make a big batch of roux and keep it in the freezer for whenever I need it. It will keep well in an air tight container for a good 4-5 months in the freezer, or for about 2-3 weeks in the refrigerator. When I had a little hotel kitchen where I make gravy every day, I just kept a quart sized container of roux in the refrigerator and used what I needed from that. And if you're not sure if its gone bad or not, please use your common sense. If it smells gross, throw it away. I'm always surprised at how many people ask me "This smells bad. Is it still good?" In Cajun, that would make you a "couyon," or a "stupid person."

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Strawberries: So Fresh and So Clean Clean

Dear Tricia, What's the best way to keep strawberries fresher, longer?

Well, for starters, DON'T buy those as-seen-on-TV bags that are meant to keep your produce fresh for up to a month. Who wants to eat a month-old carrot?? I sure don't. And if you do, then please don't add me as your friend on Facebook.
With strawberries, I know that they get soft and mold easily. And as soon as one starts to go bad, they all follow suit and cover themselves in a cozy blanket of green fuzz. The first thing you need to do is get them out of the package. Lay them out on a plate or cookie sheet and give them plenty of room between each other. Like me, they need lots of personal space. And keep them refrigerated. If you're going to eat them right away, don't worry about refrigerating them.
This is the way we had to keep all of our berries when I was cooking in San Francisco and our produce was organic, thus, more likely to go bad faster. (That's one good thing about chemicals.) Laying them out with room to breathe is the best way to keep them fresh, and it works great with other berries, especially raspberries which go bad in like 2 seconds.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Fancy Pants Baby Shower Cupcakes

Dear Tricia, Oh pastry guru, can you answer a question for me?? I am making cupcakes for a friend's baby shower next weekend. I found these, which I like. (See above photo!) However, one part of the recipe says to make the flowers out of fondant and if you click print recipe it suggests using royal icing. What is the difference? I have heard scary things about fondant. I'd like the whole cupcake to be edible.

Have you ever heard my rant about fondant? If not, let me do you the honors. Here are the reasons why I hate decorating cakes with fondant:
1. Fondant tastes like tootsie rolls.... if you're lucky. I don't know that cake and tootsie rolls and cake are a stellar combination, but I'm up for a debate on that. If you're unlucky, it tastes like chalky play-dough without that magic childhood saltiness. (Again, please refer to my "How did Diana Ross' hair get into my eggs?" post)
2. It's expensive and you either have to go a cake decorating store to buy it, or make your own, which people rarely know how to do.
3. It's just sugar. Buttercream frosting has butter in it. And butter is awesome.
4. It makes things look like you don't want to eat them. And frankly, as much as I like to "eat with the eye first," I also like food that looks like food. I don't want to be scared of a cake.

So, with that aside, lets address your fondant vs. royal icing-on-the-baby-shower-cupcake-issue. While the cupcakes you intend to make are lovely, they look a little difficult. But I'm not doubting your capabilities, lets just find the easiest way to make this happen.
Royal icing isn't the greatest idea for a very delicate looking cupcake as the picture shows (I'm guessing the food stylist used fondant), but it's an easy way to get the basic gist of what the photo shows you.
Let me get my megaphone to explain something to everyone first.
*For anyone who doesn't know what royal icing is, here's an explanation! Remember the icing your mom made to decorate Christmas cookies? It was powdered sugar and water and egg whites? And remember how when it dried it became hard? That's what royal icing is! Everyone understand?? Good!*
Okay, megaphone down.
Funny how royal icing is called royal but its not like it has a British accent or anything.
So here's how you can make the petals with royal icing. Follow said recipe. Pick your color. And either in a piping bag, or a ziploc bag with the corner snipped off with a pair of scissors, pipe a tear drop shape that is the size of half the top of your cupcake onto a piece of wax paper or parchment paper. So if you're using a standard cupcake pan, pipe 1" tear drops. Next to that pipe another tear drop. Repeat. By the look of the photo, you're going to need about a dozen of these per cupcake. (I'm already exhausted just thinking about it.) For every cupcake you're also going to need to pipe a small circle for the center of the flower. (That's where the magic happens, according to my 9th grade biology teacher.) These are going to take a day to dry. When they're dry, gently peel them off the paper and put them upright in a circle on the cupcake frosting. Once a dozen of them are settled, put the royal icing center in the middle to complete the flower.
Using fondant is also an option, but that would involve you rolling it out, cutting tiny strips in very straight lines and quickly shaping them into teardrops before they harden. Again, totally do-able, but more time consuming than the royal icing and much more expensive.
At this point I'd go with the royal icing. But I'm also the person who tends to conveniently get "food poisoning" in order to skip baby showers, so that should tell you something.