Post #664 The Best of the Best

August 11, 2019 at 1:00 PM | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

It’s funny how things seem to come in threes, isn’t it?  In this situation, it was a case of several things happening coming together at nearly the same time leading to a funny ending.  At least, I thought it was funny.

It started a few days ago, maybe a week or so.  I was looking for a particular recipe and went to my hard drive.  I was running down the list of file names (each file name is the name of the recipe) and realized of the many dozens of recipes I’ve got on the computer, at least a third of them use the word Best.  I’ve got the best brownies, the best bread, the best yellow cake, the best butter cookies, and so on.  I got a chuckle out of it, found my recipe, and went on to cooking with a mental note to start naming the recipes with a little variety.

Then, this week at work, I flew solo.  The person I am replacing has retired and I was “on my own” so to speak.  Although since it’s a team effort, I wasn’t on my own really.  There’s an extra desk in my office/cubby that’s used by anyone who needs a space away from the mainstream to do work, usually to call patients.  Nearly everyone who came in during the week chatted cooking and baking with me.  All our conversations held the words, “I’ve got the best recipe for . . . ”  Usually, whatever that recipe was turned out to be a stand-out.  I learned some traditional Vermont and Canadian recipes, and I’ll likely learn more which I’ll share.  Ever heard of poutine?

But the capper came yesterday.  I was searching through some online cookbooks and found this one:

With the term “best of” ringing in my brain, I had to take a look at it.

I was searching on cooking basics because I was reminded that this blog started with the basics.  When this book popped, it almost seemed like fate.  I mean, the title is brilliant.  It’s designed to make you open the cover.  And the only quote about what’s inside is from a chef known for wanting perfection.  I’ve never heard of the guy, but the inside of the book is heavy with pictures, and “pro tips” to make the recipe more accessible for inexperienced cooks.  The only thing I don’t like about it is that the recipes are geared more towards “high class” cooking rather than home style cooking.  There are some basic recipes with good detailed instructions, but mostly it’s things like Chinese Noodle Bird Nest soup, and Cucumber Yogurt Gazpacho.  I can’t imagine any hungry four year old eating those.  But if you want to know how to make ’em, the details are there with tips to not screw it up.

Having said that, though, there are a ton of recipes that I’ve been looking for like authentic custard tarts, and roast belly of pork with apples and pistachios.  The real strength of this book is in the pro tips and keys to perfection sections.  These are lessons most people learn the hard way, but in this book they’re all spelled out in easy to understand (at least for me) language and steps.  And there are several recipes for building blocks; things like soup stock, and cookies, basic roasted chicken.

The search that found this fun book was looking for a basic cookbook to remind myself where cooking starts.  Since I want to bring the blog back to its roots, I figured I’d take a once-a-month approach and somewhere around the first of each month, I’d post a beginner’s style recipe and lesson.  So I was curious where cooking lessons start.  I remember as a kid, watching mom and absorbing information that way.  I knew what a stove was; I knew how to boil water for hot dogs and eggs; I knew how to make toast; I knew how to make popcorn.

What I didn’t know what how to plan a meal.  I didn’t know how to cook for small groups and large groups.  I didn’t know how to read a recipe.  I didn’t know how to blend flavors and textures.  I didn’t know how to think of a recipe as the first step.  I found a lot of advice, but no real lessons.  Even the above book is not a cooking lesson, per se.

Then I found this one:

And I thought, sure why not?  It’s a good cookbook and does the same thing as the one at the beginning of the post.  It gives a lot of tips, hints, and tricks to be successful.  I haven’t read all the way through it, but the bits I’ve read are good.

Over the years, I’ve read a LOT of cookbooks and “learning to cook” books.  They seem to follow a pattern and start with breakfast.  If they don’t start with breakfast, they start with the beginning of the meal.  So, I’ll likely follow that same pattern when I start.

For now, I’ll leave you with a favorite recipe.

When I was in high school, I did a lot of cooking, particularly in my senior year.  My home work and studying usually went pretty fast, and fixing and cleaning after dinner was normally done by 6 or 630.  My evenings were open, and unless the high school band had something going on that I needed to be at, I did a lot of reading and/or writing.  I started making cookies or fudge in the evening.  I made what was called Opera Fudge (I think) which consisted of cocoa, sugar, milk, vanilla, and butter.  The fudge was thin, shiny, and if it was made properly, it melted in your mouth.  But one thing I made only once in a while, even though it was my personal favorite – caramels.

I love caramel.   I love the ooey, gooey richness and flavor.  I love how it gets stuck to my teeth so I have to keep sucking at them to get all the candy off.  The first time I made them, I didn’t cook it long enough and it was more of a sauce than a candy.  It was wonderful on ice cream.  But over time, I got pretty good at it, and eventually started putting it on top of the fudge.  That never really worked exactly the way I wanted it to, but was pretty good overall.  Here’s the recipe I followed.

  • 2 cups sugar
  • 1/2 cup butter in pieces
  • 2 cups whipping cream
  • 3/4 cup light corn syrup

You will need an accurate candy thermometer for this.  Line a 9×9 inch glass baking dish with aluminum foil with an overhang of about an inch on two opposite sides.  Grease the foil with butter.  Do not use any spray.

In a large, heavy sauce pan mix all ingredients until well combined, then heat over medium-low heat until boiling stirring constantly to avoid scorching.  Cook for 35-45 minutes until the thermometer reaches 245.  Carefully pour into prepared dish and allow to cool completely.  Do not put it in the freezer or the fridge to cool as it may crystallize.  Once the caramel has cooled, pressed your finger lightly in the center to test for firmness.  It should have a slight give, but hold its shape.  Lift the candy out of the pan using the foil overhangs.  Gently peel the foil off the candy and place on a cutting board.  Cut into one inch square pieces and wrap individually in plastic wrap.

These can be decorated with a sprinkling of sea salt during the cooling stage.  Melt some chocolate chips with a little vegetable oil and pour over the top during the cooling stage and sprinkle with sea salt, or colored sprinkles.

Feel free to share this post far and wide and to ask me any questions you may have.

As always,

 

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