Two Ways to Choux (paste)

On a rainy/sleeting/snowy day in Montana, what could be better than making a treat for the family? Even if the family is only two people?

This time, I made profiteroles for the Sweet Hubs, and using the same choux paste, dressed differently, I made some bacon cheese puffs for me, because I'm a salty kind of girl.

There isn't much to choux. Really, there isn't. There it is, right here.  A stick of butter, a cup of flour, a cup of water, a pinch of salt and four eggs. What could be easier?

I've been making this in this same saucepan for over 30 years. It doesn't look over 30, does it? Of course, saucepans don't get wrinkles... anyway. Melt the butter over low heat. Then turn the heat up to medium and add the water and salt.
When the butter-water mixture is boiling, add the cup of flour, all at once, and continue cooking, stirring the whole time, until the mixture forms a ball and leaves the sides of the pan.

So that part is easy, right?
When it looks about like that picture on the right, turn off the heat and let it cool for 5 or 10 minutes.
Then you need to add the eggs. Add them one at a time, beating well after each addition. Just as an aside, an old country girl like me breaks each egg in a bowl or cup and examines it before adding it to a batter. You want to check for any blood spots, bits of matter or even just a piece of eggshell. There's nothing like that **crunch** of shell when you think you're biting into a cream puff. Blech. 

Make a little well in the dough, add the egg, and stir it in.The texture is a little funny, I must say. I tried to get a picture of it, but it's difficult to see: your dough is going to have kind of a bunch of slippery layers. Just keep stirring.
After you have added the fourth egg and stirred it in, your choux will look like the photo at right.

Then I get a rubber spatula and spoon the paste into a gallon-size freezer bag.
In this case, I put about 2/3 of the paste into the freezer bag, because I had plans for the other 1/3.

Then just pipe the paste into rounds on a parchment lined sheet, as below.

Do take a butter knife or even a finger dipped in water, and smooth down any little tits. Those get much too brown.

To the other 1/3 of the choux, I just folded in some shredded sharp cheddar cheese and some bacon bits, then dropped this by spoonfuls onto another parchment-lined sheet. Sprinkled with kosher salt and popped them into the oven, next to the ones that are destined to be a treat for my darling. These were baked at 375 degrees for about 30 minutes. 

It's tempting, I know, to open the oven door and check on the progress of your pastries, but you simply must control yourself. Wait until you are starting to worry that you're burning them.  Seriously, you want them to be golden brown all over before you open that door. Can you see how even the little crannies are also golden, and there is nothing very pale anywhere?

It may be indecent, but here's a look at their bottom side: not too brown but definitely not pale.

When the shells are cool, just slice a lid off the top, pull out any gooey bits inside or press them down, and fill with whatever you like: pastry cream, whipped cream, prepared pudding, ice cream, frozen margarita...I don't care.

The chocolate topping I used is also super simple: a heap of good quality chocolate chips, melted over low-low heat, with a splash of heavy cream added so it doesn't become brittle again when the pastries are chilled. 

For my Sweet Hubs, Mr. Sweet Tooth, a profiterole. These are filled with almond pastry cream and topped with chocolate.

For me, who doesn't happen to own a sweet tooth, Bacon Cheddar Cheese Puffs. These are fabulous as a vehicle for spinach-artichoke dip, but they're luscious just plain, too.


What About US? We're Out Here, Too

I recently finished reading Michael Pollan's book, In Defense of Food. Most of what Mr. Pollan has to say, I agree with completely and always have. He espouses a lifestyle of food choices that is very much the way my family has always lived. His food rules in particular make me feel like AT LAST!!! Someone who isn't touting the next food fad, low carb, high protein, low fat, grapefruit, boiled egg kind of ridiculousness. Back in 2012, I posted a list of my own "healthiest eating tips ever". There are some definite parallels between Mr. Pollan's conclusions and my own. :-)

Mr. Pollan's points about cooking being about more than eating: about community, culture, connection, socializing and simple pleasure... he could not be more right, in my opinion. I think very much of what we teach our children we teach by the vehicle of cooking and food.

If you are over 50 or if you came from a family that still held a rich heritage of cooking and food, think back to what you learned from a life lived around the kitchen. In my house, we learned some very cool lessons. Like, the kitchen is not only a woman's domain. My Dad was the main breakfast cook in the house (Mom liked to sleep in). We learned the importance of planning. We learned the value of our grandparents and their wisdom. We learned that even very intelligent people do really stupid things from time to time. We learned about standards, about thrift, about making wise decisions with your money. We learned about priorities. We learned the pleasure of a task done well, and the simple joy of working. We learned about tradition, how to make oliebollen and a host of other important things. The kitchen is where most of the funny stories of my childhood took place because, hello! We were always in the kitchen.

He does make one point that I think completely overlooks my family and the many, many other families like us. Mr. Pollan writes about the statistics showing that Americans spend a lower percentage of their income on food than they ever have, and less than any other country in the world.
What I want to know, Mr. Pollan, does that statistic include the largely rural people like me, who do not spend all their food dollars at a grocery store, convenience store, restaurant or drive through?

We seldom buy meat. We hunt it. Those "food dollars" appear in our budget hidden in the costs of ammo or arrows, game bags, freezer paper and a lot of dish soap (processing game is messy!). Many of our "food dollars" were actually spent in the garden department of the Home Depot or a nursery, buying plants, seeds, bags of manure, fencing to thwart our 4-legged visitors, etc.We spent quite a bit of our "food dollars" on buying a pig at the local 4-H auction, and then having it processed. Some of our "food dollars" were spent in the form of a fishing license. Some were spent buying chicks and then feed at the local feed store. There are a lot of families just like us: hunting our food, fishing, growing a garden. We spend our food dollars in ways that don't look like we're buying food at all, at first, and ultimately, we get more food and more health for a lower investment.

I have never subscribed to any kind of food fad, never worried about how much fat or gluten is in our meals. I believe in cooking real food. When you grow a garden, you can't help but to eat seasonally and you can't get any more local than your own patch of ground. When the tomatoes are ripe and the jalapenos and green chilis are ready, we eat a lot of Mexican food. We eat pizza. I make it. We eat cookies and cakes and chocolate eclairs. I make most of them. I don't think a box of ding dongs is going to kill you, but it sure shouldn't be your main meal every day. Once, having been abducted by aliens or something, I bought a box of Hamburger Helper. It was horrid. I never learned how to "cook" with a can of cream of something soup poured over tater tots and topped with something else. Here's the thing, though. We don't do this to "be healthy". It is simply the way we have always lived. It is the routine of my life. Here we are, both over 50. We're healthy. We have both had health issues come up in the past, but were fortunately able to overcome them. Neither one of us takes any medication. Neither one of us has ever had a struggle with weight, and neither do either of our children, who both grew up to be excellent cooks. Go figure.

Strictly as an aside, Mr. Pollan also mentions the amount of time cleaning up after a meal, and aptly points out the if it takes you less than 5 minutes to clean up...what did you really COOK? If we were to count up the time cleaning up after the part where we just get ready to cook: after the butchering, after the gardening, after the hunting, after after after... we would totally blow the curve, I'm sure.

According to Mr. Pollan's food rules, we should avoid anything that our grandmothers wouldn't recognize as food, cuisine notwithstanding, of course, since no one in my family before my generation would have any idea what a tamale might be. He did later amend that to great-grandmother, since a grandmother today might well be young enough to have grown up on processed food. Mine was born 114 years ago, so I don't have to go back another generation. Grandma's diet was very simple and very predictable. Beans. Fish. Cheese. Lots of vegetables. A little bit of chicken. An occasional bit of bacon or salt pork, added for flavor. Some eggs. And bread. Lots and lots of bread, because Grandpa was a baker. That is a very good description of what I eat, a hundred years later, if you add in game meat.

Mr. Pollan writes one food rule that hits a particular nerve for me. "Cook". Yes, it's that simple. You will avoid many processed foods if you simply cook real food for yourself.

There have been many times over the years when I have encountered someone, especially if it was a family with children, where the parents would say they don't cook. Then I do one of those... shaking my head, "Huh???" things. How do you NOT cook when you have a family? I made no picture. How could anybody afford to eat out all the time, for one thing? And who would want to? But mostly, I just never have understood being able to say "We don't cook for our family" any more than I could understand saying, "Nah, my kids don't need to know how to read." I just... try to think of how that works and get...nothing. No comprehension.

Please don't get me wrong. I understand completely that time is an issue for many families. At least, it is perceived to be an issue. The families I know who "don't cook" DO have time to watch a lot of TV. They have time to "like" their friends' posts, peruse online auctions and read internet articles about the latest evil food additive and how it will cause the end of civilization. They do have time to drive into town, buy their greasy bags of fast food garbage and bring it home. Some of them have enough time to attend group meetings on how to lose weight. Many of them have the time to go to the doctor a lot. They spend as much time at the grocery store as I do: they're just buying different things: single-serve packages of this and that, little trays with processed meat, cheese and crackers apportioned out for them (that product completely baffles me), microwaveable pockets filled with everything from peanut butter to pepperoni. Some of them spend more time in the grocery store, simply because they are spending so much time looking at different varieties of foods, trying to find the ones that say they are 'low fat' or 'heart healthy' or 'less sugar'. So I don't think it's really a matter of time as much as it is a matter of priorities. Maybe by adjusting priorities, the meetings and most of the doctor visits can go away,


Cooking IS Love

A conversation with my young friend brought something to my mind that I'd like to explore a little bit.

She said that cooking just feels like more work.

I get that. I really do. I love cooking, don't get me wrong, but I love cooking FOR people. Cooking for myself is likely to result in some kale chips, a little rice and some wine.

But I love cooking. I love making foods that make people close their eyes and savor. Or making something that makes the person I am feeding know I made it especially for them.

My Sweet Hubs has a sweet tooth. How many teeth does a human being have? 32? (He didn't have to have his wisdom teeth pulled, so...32?) Well, in my darling man, 31.5 of those are sweet. Me, I could live without ever tasting another cookie or cupcake and my life would be undiminished. But not him.

So I bake for him pretty regularly. Because he loves it. Because he's a hot hardbody who burns off any calorie within shouting distance. Because I love him. I bake fairly healthy treats for him with a minimum of overly processed ingredients and NEVER something like marshmallow cream. Ugh.

But what do you do when you are cooking for you and you alone?

Cooking is love, people. Like many young women, I think my young friend feels that internal struggle between what she deserves and what she ought to and what she wants to and what others tell her she must. And, forgive me, I might be guilty of telling her what she ought to, too. I want her to learn to love to cook, for it's pure creative pleasure, yes. But also because I can think of no better way to take charge of your own health than to take charge of what you eat.

Oh, and then... and THEN! Like I wasn't struggling enough with wanting to take her by the hand and step in as her surrogate momma and teach her about how to love to cook? THEN she tells me that she doesn't like to cook but would happily clean any time.

Well, butter my butt and call me a friggin biscuit. I need to adopt her. I'd love to cook for her and I'd damn sure love to have someone around who was happy to clean. Because you know, as my Momma said, you can tell how good a cook someone is by how big a mess they make while cooking. And I must be one damn fine cook by that measure.

The reality is, she is a grown woman with a rich and vibrant life of her own. How does a grown, lone person find it within themselves to make cooking a happy, high thing in their life?

I wish I knew. I have always had plenty of someones to cook for in my world. Even now that it's just Sweet Hubs and me in our long-empty nest, I know the value of having someone to cook for.

And while we're talking about it, do you know what it means when someone is cooking for you? Do you appreciate the care and creativity and love that is inherent in that seemingly-simple act? People don't cook for you because you need to be fed. Any fool can microwave you something to fill your belly. If someone loves you enough to really COOK for you, please run to them right now and hug them.

That lady who brings homemade cookies in to everyone in the office? That is a truly loving thing to do. Please do show her how much you appreciate her effort, even if, like me, you are immune to cookies. The measure of her love is not in my lack of a sweet tooth, but in her labor. Even if they taste exactly like hockey pucks, she put her love into them.

Part of being human is to care about the people around us. For some of us, we get to show that regularly by cooking for you. Because we love you.

To my young, work-weary friend who doesn't need one more job: no, you don't have to cook for yourself to treat yourself well. You can make good food choices even if others (businesses) do your cooking for you. But if you come to the place where you do want to cook for yourself, it is an act of self-esteem to know that YOU are worth your own efforts.

I Still Love You, But....

I'm still out here!

Did you know that it's November? Do you know what November means? It means NaNoWriMo!

That's National Novel Writing Month. In a nutshell, you challenge yourself to write 1,667 words every single day for the month of November which gives you 50,000 words at month's end. Which, oddly enough, is enough to be a novel.

So instead of blogging, or posting pictures to Instagram, or even taking pictures in the first place, I am writing.

Every day.

At least 1,667 words.

Oh, and I'm drinking wine. :-)


A Hausfrau's Kitchen - Easy Squeezy Artichokes

I love artichokes. Doesn't everyone?

Last night was a kind of a semi-leftover night, but I added an artichoke and a baked potato to the leftover mini-meatloaf I was feeding Sweet Hubs. The trouble is, I also wanted to go have a soak in the hot tub before dinner, so what to do? Easy! Cook the artichokes in the oven along with the potatoes and then I could totally ignore them for an hour or so!

I started out with two lovely arties. You'll notice the leaves are closed and the colors are bright. The picture doesn't show it, of course, but they are nice and heavy for their size. You'll have to just trust me on that.

 Using a very sharp knife, I cut off the top and the bottom.Then with my kitchen shears, I trimmed the tip of every leaf, both for pretty and to get rid of the little thorn on there.

I plopped it down on a piece of heavy duty aluminum foil, tucked a few slices of peeled elephant garlic into the leaves, drizzled a little lemon juice over the top and sprinkled it liberally with kosher salt.

Then I trimmed and peeled the stem, which is perfectly edible, and set that on top.
Next, I wrapped the foil around them and put them in my baking pan. I SHOULD have put them in a little foil nest, too, because the bottoms did get kind of over browned and some juices escaped and burned in my pan. Live and learn, I guess.

Anyway, I baked them right next to the potatoes for just about an hour at 370 degrees.

For the butter sauce, I just melted some butter in a small saucepan. About 1/4 cup per artichoke works nice. Then I had about 2 teaspoons of dried parsley, a nice splash of lemon juice (about 1/2 teaspoon per 1/4 cup of butter) a dash of cayenne pepper and more kosher salt.

How do you know when your artichoke is done? The easiest way is to pull a leaf from near the center and see if it comes out easily. Or you can poke the bottom with a fork. Or you can give the artichoke a squeeze along the bottom and see if it feels soft.

I wasn't especially hungry, so I skipped the elk meatloaf and just had the potato and artichoke. I couldn't even finish that, but I sure enjoyed it!

Bon appetit!

What I See--Alita

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