Don’t be disturbed if you can’t pronounce it, much less know what it is.
The French pronunciation is shar-coo-tree, and well, sometimes it pays to sound French.
But even if you’re just Texan like me and say this with all four syllables and lots of long r’s, it’s still the same- charcuterie is the culinary art of preparing meat products such as bacon, salami, ham, sausage, terrines, galantines, ballotines, pates and confits.
We’ll save a talk about those last five for when we’re all feeling particularly studious (you’re welcome) , but in the strictest sense, charcuterie just deals with the age-old treatment of cured and prepared meats.
Charcuterie boards, on the other hand, are a more modern iteration and have taken on a life of their own. You can find examples everywhere of this updated twist on your Grandma’s holiday meat and cheese tray.
In fact, current variations (like a pancake board? baked potato board?) have veered so far away from what traditional charcuterie is all about (the meat, remember) that they are really just boards, and that’s OK. They make a lovely centerpiece and are a fun food presentation for a crowd.
If you want to get on board (ha) the keys to making one are:
color (lots- remember that “we eat first with our eyes” thing)
variation (meats, cheeses, crackers, veggies, dips, sweet bites of dried fruits and nuts are staples) and
quantity (no one likes an anemic looking skinny board, so stuff that thing full to overflowing!)
Any way you load it up, a charcuterie board spells fun.
(Just with a lot of letters and a confusing pronunciation)
The kitchen/cooking world is filled with all things B. Baking and broiling and breakfast. Broccoli, banana and burnt. You can enjoy bisque, borscht, and Bordeaux, but nothing says fun more than brunch.
I think you’ll agree, just the idea of brunch conjures up a picture of tasty food and a relaxed time with friends. Blessedly brunch is traditionally served at 10 am or after, so non-early birds (like me) can enthusiastially jump on the brunch-love wagon. And just think- all you early bird get the worm-ers can just think of it as a welcome snack between your way too early breakfast and lunch.
Brunch is everyone’s best friend.
After the last year of few to zero family/friend gatherings, perhaps a brunch is the perfect way to break out of the isolation routine..
What’s your idea of the perfect brunch?
Mine would include a variety of savory and sweet, breakfast-y and lunch-y type things:
Candied Bacon (help me)
Fresh Fruit Salad
French Breakfast Puffs (a must-have for me)
An egg dish or omelet bar
Maybe something with a little spice- like a cheese dish with jalapenos
A make it yourself Champagne, Mimosa or other fun punch bar.
The idea, of course, is to serve delicious food in a relaxed setting to people you love (or even just like!)
At a time in our history which seems to reek of contention, whether you lean right or left, mask or no mask, or how you turn your toilet paper roll, I think we can all agree that 2020 was pretty darn hard. Perhaps we could at least join hands in accord on that one point? (Sanitizer available immediately thereafter, of course) I mean I know some great things happened in 2020 for a lot of people- grandbabies were born, people got married etc… but what seemed to be missing most though, from 2020, was fun. And without spending much more time bemoaning the last year, I’m here to say that I need some fun and I’m going to use this little nondescript corner of the internet to make some fun for myself if not necessarily anyone else.
You’re welcome to join me if you’d like. In fact I’d love that.
In sticking with a topic that I find fun (and for the life of me I just won’t understand someone who doesn’t agree) we’re talking FOOD and all things that go with it. And while we’re at it let’s hold hands again and agree that putting things in alphabetical order is fun and also orderly, so:
In the category of thingscommonly misunderstood/little used/confusing/or just plain interesting in the kitchen, we’ll begin with
A is for Apertif.
I’ll be honest, I’ve probably actually spoken the word apertif maybe two or three times in my entire life. I did not grow up fancy. I drank Tang and considered a TV dinner with some Salisbury steak, mashed potatoes and 2 teaspoons of applesauce for dessert something wildly swanky simply because it wasn’t homemade. My Mom was the best cook ever, but kids are weird and don’t appreciate that kind of thing when all their friends are getting to eat Swansons out of aluminum foil trays.
So there were typically no apertifs at my house.
Many times confused with appetizer or maybe even asparagus, an apertif is just an alcoholic beverage served before a meal and is meant to stimulate the appetite. Years ago it started out as a sneaky conduit to deliver quinine to patients fighting malaria but the quinine is typically not included these days.
Hmm. To each his own I suppose.
The concept of the apertif basically made its way from Europe to the US in the 1970’s starting the phenomenon we know today as Happy Hour. I’m pretty sure though, with pitchers of beer and other super sweet and otherwise overdone umbrella-laced concoctions that we’ve strayed a bit from the original intent.
Because it’s purpose is to stimulate the appetite rather than satisfy and certainly not to intoxicate, a true apertif is typically just a taste of champagne, liqueur, or wine that is quite dry rather than sweet.
And clearly not served in a pitcher.
So for 2021 I say we all embrace the spirit of the apertif, or at the very least use the word in a sentence now and again.
A glorious change in the weather (adios drizzly rain, you’re such a downer…) drew JT and me outside for an al fresco lunch today. We enjoyed this really quick to prepare salmon salad and then for dessert a couple of fried apple hand-pies- because when you eat a salad it’s only right to immediately back it up with something sweet and indulgent.
Welcome to my advanced school of logic.
I try to keep salmon in the freezer for days just like this, it thaws quickly, needs only a bit of seasoning rubbed on (I love the Table Mountain Seasoning from Savory Spice), and then a quick cook on both sides in a cast iron skillet (use butter please). After about 3 minutes per side I like to place the skillet in a 350 degree oven for about 3 more minutes to cook it through because this girlfriend is not a fan of raw fish.
This time I also threw a few cherry tomatoes in the skillet and served it all unashamedly over iceberg lettuce.
Can anyone tell me why and when iceberg became the un-cool, low-class lettuce? Personally I love its crisp texture and the way it holds up to heavier dressings, so my vision is to make it hip again.
Serve the salmon with a dressing made of mayo, sour cream, Dijon mustard, lemon juice and parsley. Or if you don’t have the time or inclination to make your own sauce, just use Ranch because let’s face it, Ranch is pretty good on anything.
We’re excited to be attending a fun and fabulous Mardi Gras themed dinner extravaganza at a local restaurant tonight, and because the meal will be anything but light, this lunch was the perfect way to tide us over!
Hope all of you are experiencing the same glorious weather, and have plans to enjoy your favorite people and food this weekend!!
p.s. I hope I can count on your support for Iceberg. Thank you.
I gazed out the window of the iconic Plaza Cafe in Santa Fe, NM, luxuriating in the crunchy brioche french toast dripping with syrup and the three perfectly cooked strips of the world’s best bacon, and revelled in the fact that I was not the one who got up early to cook it.
Let’s say I had a revelation of sorts.
While I absolutely LOVE breakfast, I don’t particularly like to cook it. There. I said it.
And here’s the problem: BREAKFAST HAPPENS IN THE MORNING, DANG IT.
Do I love to cook? Yes. Do I absolutely adore the plethora of sweet and savory breakfast choices? I do. I love egg-y things and bread-y things, sausage-y things and fruit things.
I will fight you for crispy bacon.
But honestly, morning is not my time. As much as I wish I was, I’m just not Perky Polly before around 9, and might even more accurately be described as Grumpy Gus. I try, really I do. JT is the early riser of all early risers and to top it off- he’s super happy in the morning. Seriously, the man is crazy happy in the morning.
I just can’t.
So, if you’re ever here and I tell you I’d love to get up early and cook you breakfast- take it from me and be a little suspicious… because, well, I probably really don’t want to do that at all. Not one little bit.
Do I want to cook you breakfast? Absolutely! Do I want to serve it to you in the early morning? Not a chance.
But after about 10am? I’ll be your Breakfast Betty.
I’ll make you homemade cinnamon rolls, biscuits with the best sausage gravy, omelets and frittatas galore. I will squeeze you fresh orange juice, turn it into a Mimosa and sprinkle your french toast with the lightest dusting of powdered sugar.
I’ll serve you candied bacon until you swoon.
And I’ll do all that with a smile on my face. As long as it’s not too early…
Here’s one of the best breakfast bread-y things around- a classic New York Crumb Cake (not to be confused with a Coffee Cake which traditionally has a swirled cinnamon batter, a glaze of some sort and less crumbly topping/cake ratio).
This is buttery and rich with a thick covering of the most wonderfully huge chunks of crumb topping.
The really great news is that you can make this in the afternoon and slightly re-heat it the next morning, eliminating the need to actually get up at all. 🙂
New York Style Crumb Cake
For the Crumb Topping:
1 cup packed golden brown sugar
½ cup white granulated sugar
½ teaspoon salt
1 ½ tablespoons ground cinnamon
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, melted
2 ½ cups unbleached all purpose flour
For the Cake base:
2 ½ cups unbleached all purpose flour
¾ teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
12 tablespoons (1 ½ stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 ½ cups white granulated sugar
2 large eggs, at room temperature
1 ¼ cups sour cream
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1. Preheat oven to 350°F and with the oven rack in the center. Butter the bottom and sides of a 9”x13” baking dish
2. Make the topping. Combine sugars, salt and cinnamon in a medium bowl. Pour the melted butter and whisk until combined, crushing any large lumps. Stir in flour until mixture is uniform.
3. Make the cake: Whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt in a medium bowl. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with paddle attachment, cream the butter on medium speed until smooth. Scrape down the bowl and add sugar, and continue beating until fluffy. Add eggs one at a time and beat for 30 seconds, scraping down the sides of the bowl in between addition. Add sour cream and vanilla and beat until just combined. Stir in the flour in thirds, scraping the sides of the bowl before each addition, until incorporated. Batter will be thick.
Pour the batter into buttered pan, level with a spatula. Scoop a handful of the topping mix, make a fist, and crumble the topping over the batter. Repeat until all the topping is used.
Bake for 45-55 minutes in the oven, rotating the pan twice. The cake is baked when a cake tester or toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean. Cool pan on a wire rack for 30 minutes before serving.
HaHa- who am I kidding? You won’t be able to wait 30 minutes or even 10! Enjoy!
In South Louisiana, at least the area in which I was privileged to live for a few years, there’s an actual season called “Gumbo Weather.”
It begins around November when temperatures start to drop and continues well into February, or at least until many Cajuns strut their gumbo prowess on Super Bowl weekend. You won’t find the official dates on most calendars but for people like me it just symbolizes that glorious time during cooler months when you’re yearning for some comfort food and when turning on the stove doesn’t also necessitate turning on the air conditioner.
In the 1901 Picayune Creole Cookbook a reference is made to “the occult science of making a good ‘Gombo a’ la Creole.'” Despite this rather off-putting assumption, no voodoo, sorcery, and certainly no culinary degree is required. A good gumbo though, can feel a lot like magic.
For me, learning to make gumbo involved a lot of trial and error- mostly error, but thankfully my foibles are not our focus here.
Typically a Cajun gumbo starts with a dark roux, carefully tended at very low temps with constant stirring- and that’s constant with a capital D-O N-O-T S-T-O-P. It definitely requires patience if not any particular culinary skill. If you think you might need to answer your phone in the other room or if, heaven forbid, you may need to go to the bathroom, you do not need to be starting on a dark roux.
In contrast, a Creole gumbo might be made with a much lighter, thinner roux requiring just a bit of oil and flour and very little stirring time.
If the thought of making a roux makes you sweat and slightly twitchy, I recommend a great little product called Tony Chachere’s Instant Roux mix. It can become your best friend if making a roux from scratch is not in your wheelhouse. There are actually lots of other sources for ready-made roux , some frozen, some jarred. All easy. All non-anxiety producing.
Just don’t disclose to a real Cajun Mamaw that you had some help from Mr. Chachere or a jar. That way no one gets hurt, and we all eat gumbo anyway.
You’ll find at least a million recipes out there for gumbo-one for every cook who decides to make one. You’ve got your chicken, sausage, shrimp, duck, and all kind of iterations and combinations hereto. The debate rages strong on whether okra is a mandatory ingredient, and some cooks wouldn’t think of serving their gumbo without offering a little potato salad to eat along with it. I prefer mine over rice, am not opposed to throwing in some okra if I have it, and don’t mind a little gumbo file’ (dried sassafras leaves) to sprinkle over the top.
In my opinion a couple of things are non-negotiable: 1. the roux, and 2. the “holy trinity” of chopped onion, bell pepper and celery. These are what make gumbo taste like gumbo and not like soup, and are probably the “occult science” thing alluded to back in 1901.
Whatever your preference, whatever the recipe, there’s a gumbo out there for you- and bonus- it tastes even better the next day!
Here’s my favorite:
Shrimp and Sausage Gumbo
Luann at Hobnob Kitchen
1 cup vegetable oil
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 medium onion, chopped
3 celery ribs, chopped
1 green bell pepper (sometimes I use orange instead), chopped
1 tablespoon garlic, finely chopped
6-7 cups chicken stock
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
Pinch of cayenne
Dash of hot sauce
Salt and fresh ground black pepper
2 or 3 bay leaves
2 tablespoons chopped fresh thyme
1 (15 oz.) can petite diced tomatoes
3 links andouille sausage, sliced in 1/4-inch thick rounds, browned and drained on paper towels
1 pound peeled and deveined shrimp (I always slice mine in half bilaterally)
6 green onions, chopped
1/2 cup coarsely chopped parsley
File powder, for serving
Slice the sausage into 1/4 inch thick rounds and brown (in a bit of oil) in a skillet. Drain on paper towels, and set aside.
Make a dark roux: Heat oil in a large Dutch oven over high heat. When oil begins to smoke, whisk in flour. Continue to whisk constantly until mixture is a rich brown color. Be careful not to produce specks of black. That means the flour is burning. If specks appear you must start over. When roux is dark peanut-butter colored, add onions, celery and bell pepper.
Stir mixture until the vegetables are softened. Add garlic and cook for 1 minute. Slowly whisk in the stock and the can of tomatoes (juice included) , the Worcestershire, hot sauce, and cayenne. Season lightly with salt and pepper and bring the liquid to a boil. Add the bay leaves and thyme and simmer about 30 minutes. Stir in the sausage and simmer for another 15 minutes. Stir in shrimp. Cook just until shrimp is opaque. Turn off the heat.
Serve over rice with a sprinkling of green onions, parsley, and file powder