I was teaching a cooking class a few days ago, and the question was asked: Do you ever NOT think about food?
Phew! Here is the long and convoluted answer.
I come from a family that is notorious for sitting at the breakfast table discussing what we will be eating for lunch! That seems normal until a guest points out that it seems weird. Really? The reply to that is a backstory of having a mindset for the need to pick the tomatoes and sending someone to get the squash before it is mistaken for a baseball bat. I come from farm stock. I did not grow up on the farm; I was a generation removed, but the sense of being tied to the land and the seasons is terrifically genetic. Wasting food is not something I can bear, and planning for the next meal seems a logical process.
Years ago, I was surprised when I realized that lots of people don’t know that tomatoes are only ripe and fresh in the hot summer months. Kale and collards are not good until after first frost. Hog killing used to be a single date on the calendar. As in, clear your calendar next week; we’re killing a hog…
Do I always think about food?
Actually, I should reply that I always think about an ingredient, which then leads to thinking about a meal,which is really more like a set of steps to a meal (a.k.a. my social life).
I invited guests for Sunday night dinner. Text messages ensued, I pulled some local ground beef from the freezer to go with the cabbage I had in the crisper drawer. It was hot weather but not miserable, and the whole reason for the dinner invitation was the duck eggs I had scored and then turned into Duck Egg Flan. The general plan was a simple dinner followed by a wicked dessert, which sounded perfect until I got the text that my guests were going to skip the burgers and dogs part of the birthday celebration they were attending before they headed my direction.
Damn. Skipping the burgers in anticipation of what I would serve…
Saveur to the rescue. When is a burger not a burger? When you make it “French”.
The exact recipe did not match what I had in the house, so a few little tweaks and this is what we ate.
Caramelized onions cooked low and slow and set to the side. Local grass-fed ground beef mixed with fresh thyme, smashed and finely chopped garlic, salt and pepper then formed into small patties. Following the Savuer method, the burgers were seared in the same onion pan on each side no more than 3 minutes for medium rare.
I removed the burgers from the pan, added back the onions, brought them up to a nice sizzle, added about one cup of leftover cabernet, and reduced. And reduced some more. Then I added a tablespoon of unsalted butter and stirred until silky. And another…and another… and what I had was this fragrant rich silky wine reduction of melted caramelized onions that gently, oh so gently, cradled those burgers as they were returned to the pan for a quick re-heat.
Yep. I call your plain burger on the grill, and I raise you a wine reduction and caramelized onion smothered snooty French Boeuf.
The original recipe is here.
(Yes, I do digress from a written recipe. A lot.)
It was really good and certainly a notch above plain grilled burgers-in-the-park, especially with the coleslaw and crusty cornbread on the side. But it was a mere trifle compared to the Duck Egg Flan that followed.
And here is where we address the “do you always think about food” question. I got some duck eggs last week. Text messages were sent. People on foreign soil cursed me. I connected to friends scattered around the country, and all the while, I was flow-charting a Duck Egg Flan in my head planning out the time and headspace to make that decadence happen in my kitchen.
One Duck Egg Flan plan led to five phone calls and two Skype sessions. I managed to lure a friend to the house immediately though we had played the calendar schedule game for weeks…
So yes, I think of food all of the time.
More importantly, I think of the people who will share that food, the people who are a bit too far away to get here, and even more the food memories with people scattered around the globe for whom I will always have a chair waiting at my table.
Watch out, someone texted me to ask what they could do “different” with the eggplant from the CSA box this week…
- Oven 350 degrees with racks placed in the middle of the oven
- 8- 4 ounce oven proof ramekins OR 2 glass pie plates
- Baking pan large enough and deep enough to use as a water bath for baking
- Heavy Cream- 3 ½ cups
- Whole Milk- 2 cups
- Salt- ¼ tsp
- Sugar- 1 heaping cup
- Vanilla- Pure extract, 1 Tbsp
- Duck Eggs -4
- Duck Yolks- 2
- Sugar- 2 cups
- Water -2/3 cup
- Make Caramel first.
- Prepare your ramekins or pie plates so that you can easily pour the hot caramel into the bottom of each container without getting burned or spilling onto the counter or floor. This is very HOT and not a good project to do with young children in the kitchen.
- In a medium heavy bottomed saucepan add sugar and water to pan and swirl gently. Heat over medium high heat and swirl the pan frequently to keep from creating hot spots. Plan to spend up to 10 minutes making the caramel.
- When the sugar mixture comes to a boil reduce heat to medium and lift the pan off the heat source and swirl several times to keep the caramel moving. Place back on the burner and continue to do this process until the caramel turns light golden brown. When the smell makes you want to drink it straight from the pan you are getting close! Be patient and stay with the pan swirling often. Remove from the heat to stop the cooking before you think it is dark enough and keep swirling in the hot pan until it is dark but not scorched. Pour directly into the prepared ramekins or pie plates just covering the bottom of each container. You may need to tilt each ramekin or pie plate to fully cover the bottom. Move as fast as possible as this cools and hardens fast!
- Place the hot sauce pan back on the stove and leave it alone to cool. Don't panic about cleaning the stuck caramel, just soak the pan in water until it dissolves.
- Custard: In a glass mixing bowl add the sugar and egg yolks and wisk together until the yolks are combined thoroughly with the sugar. Add the salt and stir and then add all of the cream and milk. Add vanilla extract. Stir all of this together gently, try not to create a lot of air bubbles. Make sure the egg and sugar mixture is completely combined with the dairy.
- Pour the custard through a fine mesh strainer into another bowl or pitcher. This is a really important step for the silky texture of the final product! Allow to settle while you boil enough water to add to the water bath pans. My full electric kettle boils just enough water to come half way up the side of any container in my water bath pan.
- Place the caramel coated containers in the dry pan you will be using for a water bath then fill with the custard in equal portions. The ramekins will be a little over half full each and the pie plates will fill to just below the glass rim.
- Carefully place pan(s) onto the middle rack of the oven and pour the hot water into the baking pan until it comes to halfway up the ramekins or pie plates. Obviously with 2 pie plates you need two baking pans and will need to position two racks as close to the middle of the oven as possible.
- Bake for 30 minutes and gently test for doneness by jiggling a ramekin or pie plate to see if the center is still loose. The best description is a wiggly center the diameter of a dime for the ramekins and the diameter of a quarter for the pie plates. This may take up to 40 minutes to be done. The custards may brown just a bit.
- Carefully, carefully pull the roasting pans from the oven and allow to cool on a heat proof surface for 10 minutes before removing flans from the water bath to cool completely. I move the ramekins to a wire rack placed on a kitchen towel to catch drips.
- Wrap each container in plastic wrap and chill at least 8 hours before serving.
- To serve: boil some water and pour at least 1 inch deep into a baking pan. Place each ramekin or pie plate into the hot water and let rest for 2 or 3 minutes to liquefy the caramel base. Run a small sharp knife around the edge of each container and invert onto a dessert plate or wide rimmed shallow bowl.
- If you want to be really crazy microwave each empty ramekin to get the last drops of caramel out of the ramekin. Use caution as this is hot sugar!
- If you are not feeling brave about turning out a whole pie plate of Flan onto a rimmed platter then soften the caramel in the hot water bath and run a sharp knife around the edge of the custard to loosen. Spoon portions into serving bowls and ladle on the caramel sauce. It is not nearly as pretty as a single ramekin portion but no one ever notices how it looks before it disappears.