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asparagus-hollandaise

As I’ve said, I’m working on Chapter 2 of my book Domestic Intelligence, a book about changing recipes to fit your life.  Chapter 2 is How To Make a Recipe Bigger or Smaller.  I picture most chapters as having about a dozen recipes treated in detail.  Sometimes I have to search and search for a recipe to illustrate a strategy, but sometimes, blessedly, a recipe finds me.  When we chose our cookbook of the month for May, Sonja Lee’s Sauce, I didn’t realize that one of its recipes would be perfect for chapter 2.  Imagine my delight.

The recipe is for hollandaise, a classic French sauce, lemon-flavored butter custard, perhaps best known as the sauce on Eggs Benedict.  I need to find out what the connection is to the Netherlands; most of the things we call Dutch in English are insults, dating from the great trade rivalries of the 18th and 19th centuries.  And it would also be nice to know why those eggs are called Benedict.

But all that is by the by.  What’s important about the recipe for chapter 2 is that it illustrates the strategy “Make it bigger to make it easier.”

Here are the ingredients for Sonja’s hollandaise:

2/3 cup butter
2 eggyolks
juice of 1/4 lemon
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground white pepper

And here’s what she wants you to do (in my words, not hers):

Take two saucepans, A and B.  Melt the butter in saucepan A, warm the eggyolks in saucepan B.  With a whisk, beat the yolks in saucepan B, all the while keeping the eggs from overcooking by moving saucepan B over the burner and then away, over and then away.  Keep an eye on saucepan A to be sure the butter doesn’t burn.

When the yolks have absorbed enough air to change color from eggy yellow to a pale lemon color, remove both saucepan B and saucepan A from the stove.  Quickly, before they have a chance to cool off, pour the melted butter from saucepan A in a steady, thin stream into the yolks in saucepan B, whisking like crazy all the while.

When you’ve used up all the butter, whisk the lemon juice, salt, and white pepper into the sauce.  Voila, hollandaise.

If that way of making hollandaise sounds hard to you, believe me, it is hard.  I used to make hollandaise that way a zillion years ago, before I owned a blender.  As soon as I had a little mechanical friend to help me, I started making hollandaise like this:

Put the yolks in the blender, turn it on high, and beat air into the yolks.  Meanwhile, melt the butter on the stove.  When it has just melted, take the little inner cap off the blender.  With the blender running, either pour in the hot butter in a thin, steady stream or spoon it in a spoonful at a time.

Again, when you’ve used up all the butter, whisk the lemon juice, salt, and white pepper into the sauce.  Again, hollandaise.  Hollandaise that’s just as good, just as authentic, and dead easy.

There’s only one problem about making the hollandaise the easy way with Sonja’s ingredient list:  It won’t work.  Or rather, it won’t work in my kitchen (it might in yours).  It won’t work because my blender won’t beat only two yolks.  They’ll just lie there under the reach of the blades, and when I pour the butter in it will make scrambled eggs.  Delicious scrambled eggs, but not what I’m looking for.

What do I need to do?  Make it bigger to make it easier.

I happen to know that my blender will blend three yolks just fine.  (To check yours, sacrifice a few yolks; then you’ll know for all time how many you need.)  Two yolks plus half of two yolks (one yolk) equals three yolks.  Now do the same thing to the butter.  Two-thirds of a cup plus half of two-thirds of a cup (one third of a cup) equals one cup.

Or, to put it more succinctly, but at the risk of scaring away the mathphobic, multiply each of the main ingredients by 1.5:

2/3 cup butter x 1.5 = 1 cup of butter
2 eggyolks      x 1.5 = 3 eggyolks

The minor ingredients, the lemon juice, salt, and pepper, I’m going to be adding to taste anyway, so I don’t bother to multiply them by anything.

Your blender may be different.  Two yolks might work fine, or you might need four yolks, in which case you’ll need a cup and a third of butter.  (Two times two-thirds of a cup of butter is four-thirds of a cup, or a cup and a third.  A third of a cup of butter is an awkward measurement; call it five Tablespoons.)

Great.  Now I have a very easy recipe and more hollandaise than I really wanted.  I guess properly the second half of the story goes in chapter 5, how to make a recipe cheaper, where we talk about never wasting anything, but I don’t expect to be working on that chapter till 2012, so I’ll bring you hollandaise part 2 as soon as I figure it out.

Stay tuned.

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wash

coconut rice
peanut sauce
stir-fried vegetables
raw vegetables
beef with thin gravy
lemon cake with fresh pineapple

Another Last Tuesday, recipes from or inspired by our cookbook of the month, Sri Owen’s The Indonesian Kitchen.  In attendance: M., R., Scot (no Jeff, boo-hoo), Stephen, Dave (no Jake, boo-hoo), plus Mark and me.

Now, I have to admit I did something insane.  Stir-frying is a last-minute technique, and stir-frying more than one thing means the cook is back there in the kitchen, unable to hear anything anybody is saying over the roar of the flames and the intense crackling of the food.  But I did it anyway.  All the folks who came are good conversationalists, and I wasn’t worried about their keeping one another entertained.  So fry away I did.  Here’s the run-down on the dishes.

coconut rice

Simplicity incarnate.  The ratio is 1 cup of brown basmati rice to 1 big can of coconut milk (13.5 or 14 ounces by weight) to 1 teaspoon of salt.  One cup of raw rice will, as Sri explains, serve four Westerners or one Indonesian.  I made two cups and felt that amount was a little sparse.  Three cups would probably have given me some left over, which is not a bad thing.

1. Soak the rice in plain water for at least an hour (all day is fine).

2. An hour or an hour and a half before you want to serve the rice, you drain it (but not fanatically), put it a big lidded saucepan (the coconut milk likes to boil over, so the pot should be four times as deep as the rice), and add the coconut milk and salt.

3. Bring the (uncovered) pot up to a simmer and simmer it till the rice is yielding but not soggy (like al dente pasta), around one hour.

4. When you’re satisfied with the texture of the rice, turn off the flame and cover the saucepan with a towel (to soak up drips), put its lid on (over the towel), and let it sit undisturbed for at least 15 minutes.

5. Serve it up or let it sit some more — it will stay nice for another 15-45 minutes.

Most of the eaters wanted more coconut flavor:

“The coconut is so subtle that its flavors meld imperceptibly with the brown rice.”  “So many flavors at this point it’s hard to pull out the coconut.”  “More coconut?”  “Delicious on its own, but wasted when eaten with the peanut sauce.”

I think the problem was that I called it “coconut rice.”  I should just have said “Indonesian rice,” so as not to arouse any coconut-cream-pie expectations.

And some folks did get the point:

“Subtle and wonderfully al dente and a good mate with the peanut sauce.”  “The coconut flavor is so gentle.  And the rice is so hearty!  A perfect foundation.”

peanut sauce

Oh, beloved peanut sauce, page 138 of Craig Claiborne, editor, The New York Times Cook Book (Harper & Row, 1961).  I made a small set of changes to Craig’s recipe in 1962 and since have deviated only in the matter of the lemon or lime juice.  I’m embarrassed to admit that I didn’t learn the difference between ReaLemon and real lemon for another fifteen years.  Hey, I was an idiot, what can I tell you?

You make the peanut sauce in your blender, adding in this order:

1/3 cup roasted peanut oil
1/2 cup peanut butter
   (roasted peanuts and salt, nothing else)
1 Tablespoon ground coriander seed
a pinch of cayenne pepper
4 grindings of black pepper
1/16 of a yellow onion (not a sweet onion), chopped
1 clove of garlic, chopped
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon brown sugar (not light brown sugar)
3 Tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon or lime juice
1/4 cup soy sauce

Be sure everything gets completely smashed.  You may need more peanut oil to loosen the sauce if your peanut butter is kind of blocky.

“It’s like Indonesia’s answer to ranch dressing.  It makes everything better, and it’s probably as bad for you.”

“I can imaging carrying a bottle of this everywhere I go.”

“Holy crap!  Love it.  More more more.”

“Excellent as usual,” said Mark, who has probably eaten it 10,000 times.  Age has not withered it, nor custom staled.

stir-fried vegetables

One of the great discoveries of the month has been nasi goreng sauce in a jar.  Nasi goreng is stir-fried rice, considered a Chinese dish — and a favorite — by Indonesians.  I’ve been using Kokita brand, and I’m sure Conimax, a trusted name in Dutch/Indonesian circles, must also be worthy.  The cool thing about the sauce is that you can doctor it with (a) soy sauce or (b) something sour (like lemon juice, lime juice, tamarind water, wine or cider vinegar) or (c) a flavorful oil like roasted peanut (Spectrum Naturals is good) or any two or three of the above and it comes out different every time.  Nobody at the table realized that all the stir-fried vegetables were seasoned with the same nasi goreng sauce, just mixed with other ingredients in various proportions.  Remember that Indonesians invented ketchup — they know their sauces.

I stir-fried, each separately: potatoes, green beans, zucchini, and red, yellow, and orange bell peppers.  I also had some carrots and spinach at the ready, but it seemed like we had enough food.

Everybody singled out the potatoes for special praise.  Small waxy potatoes cut into eighths, stir-fried in peanut oil, cooked through (most should be glowing and browned, 4-5 minutes), then a little nasi goreng sauce cut 50/50 with soy sauce.

raw vegetables

Butterhead lettuce leaves, halved cherry tomatoes, avocado chunks, cucumber sliced thin.

Some people used the raw veggies on their own as a palate refresher, others combined them with the cooked stuff.  Two people commented on how the raw veggies changed in their minds as they ate their way through the meal:

“I sort of used them as a rest from the spices and intensity.  Now I’m feeling a little guilty for neglecting them, treating them as second-class.”

“Seemed garnishy in comparison with the cooked veggies until you tasted them.”  (“Garnishy” is such a lightning-bolt word here.  My advice to anybody thinking of putting together occasions like our Last Tuesday tasting meals is to invite several professional writers.  Not only do they produce excellent copy, they raise everybody else to a higher level.)

It was a mistake to have only one lettuce leaf per person; three per person would have been better.  Wrapping the lettuce leaves around other stuff, Vietnamese-style, was a winner.

beef with thin gravy

Making meat a side dish rather than the center of a meal gives the cook leeway to try something a little unusual.  I chose to do a coconut-free interpretation of Sri’s recipe for gulai gajebo (pp. 266-269).  (I love coconut, but really, enough coconut already, Indonesians.)

1. Simmer a piece of flank steak or brisket, some kind of long-grained beef, in water flavored with lemon grass, lime leaves, bay leaves, and galangal for up to an hour, till it’s cooked through.  Let it steep in the broth until you need it for step 3.  An hour is not too little steeping, a day is not too much.

2. Make a paste of shallots, garlic, jalapeno, paprika, fresh ginger, fresh turmeric, and lemon juice, and fry it in a wide skillet until you can no longer taste the raw shallots, 4-5 minutes on a high flame.  Hover over the paste as you’re cooking it, because it loves to burn.

3. While hovering — or after the paste is cooked through and removed from the flame, if you don’t like to mix hovering with other activities — remove the beef from the broth and scrape off any clinging aromatics.  Put the beef into the frying pan and slather it all over with the paste.  Put it on a cutting board that you don’t mind serving from.  Ideally, people should be able to serve themselves by cutting off pieces, but that seemed too complicated, so Mark cut the whole piece of beef into small cubes.

4. Now strain the broth and discard the aromatics; add the strained broth to the remains of the paste in the frying pan, mix the two together, and empty them into a pitcher, to serve beside the beef.

The beef was nobody’s favorite.  (I, of course, loved it; I love stringy, flaccid soup meat.  If “stringy” and “flaccid” don’t sound laudatory, that’s just a reflection of other people’s taste.)  Several people remarked that it was dry.  The highest (faint) praise it received was “Subtle.”  I would have been so sad if the beef had been the centerpiece of the meal, but since it was a side dish I just noted the responses and added them to my mental scoreboard.

lemon cake served with fresh pineapple

Shirley Cake #4, full size.  I don’t want to give too much away before Margaret and I make our official report, but we rose from our chairs in spontaneous applause.  I followed Margaret’s good advice on disposing of the surplus, sending everyone off with extra pieces.  Two were left, one for Mark and one for me.  We’ll have them for Wednesday dessert.  (Not Wednesday breakfast because Scot brought us some heavenly banana walnut muffins.)

Thanks to all!  (Especially to Mark, who helps out in every way behind the scenes and never takes any of the praise except for his delicious coffee.)

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