Saturday, August 25, 2012


Mayonnaise is an emulsion of oil in a liquid base, and one of the classic French sauces.
To make mayonnaise, oil is added very slowly and beaten into a liquid mixture (which includes egg yolk and acid such as lemon juice). All the while it is whisked, the oil is broken down into smaller and smaller droplets. The mixture becomes thick as oil is suspended within the liquid and becomes mayonnaise.

In and of itself mayonnaise is fine and dandy. But to be honest, it's something I rarely use or crave.
As part of a thicker salad dressing, yes, but as a necessity on a sandwich? Not so much.

About a year ago out of complete necessity (trust me on this), I made mayonnaise.
Now, I knew what was in it, but had never made it before. Luckily the version I threw together turned out just fine.
On to figuring out just what I did...  and well, this isn't exactly what I did, but since this particular recipe has been successful a few times, I've got the very helpful element of reliability on my side.

Homemade mayonnaise is much different than store bought. It's amazingly different.
Perhaps life-changeingly so as far as condiments go.
Just how can a condiment change your life?
Well, it may at least change your perception of mayonnaise.
But I know many people would prefer the convenience of store bought mayo, and that's fine.

Anyway, first of all, you know this condiment is fresh and you know exactly what went into it.
Then again, when making it at home, you're technically taking a walk on the wild side since a raw egg yolk is used. If you know the chickens personally though, you may not feel like you're taking your life into your hands.  Pasteurized eggs are also an option.

Homemade mayonnaise is kind of impressive. Don't you think it would really impress your friends and relatives if you told them you made mayonnaise?
It CAN be done, and besides that, it can be said to be creamier and more flavorful than the store-bought version (as well as a lovely soft shade of pale yellow due to the egg).
Since homemade mayonnaise is much more perishable than store bought I suddenly wonder just what is in the bottled mayonnaises that makes them last as long as they do.

One nice thing about mayonnaise as a sauce is that it's versatile.
It can be spread onto a sandwich.
It makes a nice little dressing when spooned into halved avocados (I think this is my favorite use).
Fresh mayonnaise can become a great dip for crudités or shrimp cocktail.
Or use it as part of a potato salad perhaps.

(Aioli is a version of mayonnaise, often served with seafood or vegetables, but by definition it has to have garlic.)

The reason we use something like canola oil (vegetable oil, sunflower oil) for the mayonnaise is because it is a neutral-tasting oil (as compared to olive oil, sesame oil, walnut oil). Also, while it may sound like a good idea to use it, olive oil will apparently not always provide you with a stable mayonnaise: it can separate. 
Perhaps you could try making mayonnaise with half canola and half olive oil for some of the flavor, but I don't know that I would add more olive oil than that.

Mayonnaise can be flavored however you would like: garlic, herbs, spices... the variations could be practically endless.
But this is how I like it- the light licorice flavor of tarragon with the bite of raw shallot.

Shallot and Tarragon Mayonnaise
makes about 1 1/3 cups 

1 large egg yolk, room temperature
1/2 t Dijon mustard (5g)
1 T freshly squeezed lemon juice (15 ml)
1 t white wine vinegar (5 ml)
1 c canola oil (240 ml)
1 T minced shallot (10g)
1 T minced tarragon (4g)
1/2 t salt (3g), plus more to taste
1/4 t freshly ground black pepper (1g), plus more to taste

Whisk together egg yolk, Dijon mustard, lemon juice, and vinegar until combined. Slowly whisk in the oil, in a very thin stream, beginning a few drops at a time. Continue very slowly drizzling in the oil, whisking all the while, until all of the oil is combined and the mayonnaise is very thick (this could take 10 minutes). If at any point you add a little too much oil, stop pouring, and whisk the mayonnaise mixture until the oil is fully incorporated, then resume the slow addition of oil with the whisking. Once the mayonnaise is completely emulsified, whisk in the shallot, tarragon, salt, and black pepper. Taste the mayonnaise for seasonings and add more salt and pepper as necessary. 
Refrigerated mayonnaise kept in a tightly closed container will keep for a week at most.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Cherry Clafoutis

The other day I was at the grocery and saw there were lots of cherries, so I thought it might be a good idea to buy some and do something with them.

Cherries are all well and good as they are fresh, but I prefer them at least a little cooked.
Because when cooked, I think the flavor intensifies and the cherries become juicy, more cherry-flavored.

Clafoutis is a custardy, cakey French dessert made with fresh fruit. Of course, any fruit can be used- seasonal changes can be nice, but cherry is classic.
And late summer is the perfect time for the cherry version.
Like I said, the good news (if someone doesn't like cherries) is that you can make the dessert with other fruits. I wouldn't have thought it possible that cherries might not be liked, or even just tolerated, but a roommate I once had hated them. Cherry haters do exist. As do chocolate haters.

It's just a simple batter- rich, creamy, and eggy (very similar to crepe batter), with cherries bobbing about until they whole thing is baked and the warm sweet-tart little jewels become suspended.
The batter is a perfect medium to showcase the cherries.
It's not dull, not boring, but it's sort of neutral, comforting, and wonderful in the same way vanilla ice cream might be described. It's a perfect partner.

No machines needed for this one, just a bowl and a whisk.

If you don't have a cherry pitter, it's not a problem. A knife will certainly work just as well, and I know some people use a bent paperclip to remove cherry pits, but I can't really tell you how that's done.

You are welcome to leave the pits in for the added benefit of extra flavor, but I don't because I'm concerned for people's teeth and there's no real delicate way to spit out cherry pits at table.

One of my favorite flours is almond flour. I like the bit of texture and flavor that it offers, and it's one that I've kept around for several years because it was an integral ingredient for making lovely macarons. 
At one point I read or heard somewhere that clafoutis was traditionally made with almond flour, but I haven't found this statement anywhere (yet), so don't quote me on it. Then again, why not have another good reason to keep almond flour handy?

And yes, I started weighing the ingredients. It's more exact this way.
(It's a habit I would like to get into, but I don't know how consistent I'll end up being.)

Cherry Clafoutis
serves about 8

Butter, for greasing dish
1/2 c sugar, plus extra for dish (116g +)
1/4 t salt (1g)
1 1/2 c half and half or light cream (350 ml)
2/3 c almond flour (50g)
1/4 c tapioca flour (38g)
4 large eggs
1 t vanilla extract (5g)
Scant 1 1/2 lb. cherries, pitted (645g)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
Grease the bottom and sides of a 6 cup (1.4 l) capacity dish (a deep dish pie pan, 10 inch quiche pan, or 9 inch square baking dish will all work). Sprinkle the buttered dish with granulated sugar and turn to coat, knocking out excess sugar.
Whisk together half and half, sugar, and salt until the sugar is dissolved. Add the almond and tapioca flours and whisk until incorporated and no lumps remain.
Add eggs, one at a time, whisking between each addition.
Whisk in vanilla to combine.
Pour a thin layer of batter over the bottom of the dish (it should be less than 1 cm deep). Place the dish in the oven for 5 minutes or so until the batter is set.
Remove the dish from the oven and scatter the cherries over the batter in a single layer.
Re-whisk the remaining batter and pour over the cherries.
Place the dish back in the oven and bake for another 30 minutes, or until the batter is set and puffed, the edges golden.
Remove the finished clafoutis from the oven and let rest and cool at least 20 minutes before serving.
Serve warm or at room temperature, dusted with powdered sugar (and perhaps a little whipped cream).
Refrigerate any leftovers.

Saturday, August 11, 2012


This time of year, many are inundated with an overflow of garden-fresh tomatoes.

Think of it as a good thing.
The good news is that they're like money in the bank.
You don't have to do too much to or with them and they can add a lot to a meal.

What to do with them?
First, do not refrigerate them, they'll lose their intense tomato flavor and the texture can become mealy.
That would be the reason tomatoes fresh from the garden taste better than those from the grocery store- the tomatoes from the store were most likely refrigerated to keep them from going bad since they probably travelled a distance to get to you.
Tomatoes should be stored at room temperature, not stacked up, not packed in.
They're delicate, give them some space. Air will circulate better, you've left a little less chance for rot, and if they're not stacked they won't be smashed so easily.

Tomatoes are crucial components in many recipes.
Of course, they're at their best when raw, fresh from the vine and warmed by the sun (especially when they don't have a future in the oven or a frying pan). They're sweeter, more tomato-y.
Even if the looks or the color isn't completely magazine perfect, they still taste better.
In fact, I think they taste best when they don't look perfect.
Fighting the elements must do them good.
Heirloom varieties offer different flavors and textures as well as colors and patterns.
And the flavor hasn't been engineered out of them in favor of perfectly circular tennis ball-sized orbs with a just so shade of tomato red and a satiny sheen.

Frequently, things that grow together, go together.
Another way of putting it would be that things that are stereotypical to a certain location or style of food are pretty much that way for a reason.
However, as ubiquitous as tomatoes may be when we think of Italy, they're not really Italian.  Like potatoes and corn, they're an originally imported New World crop.
The good news is that they can go with just about everything, and though normally used as a vegetable, they can become switch hitters and work for the fruit team (to which they really belong anyway).
The strict tomato/vegetable issue must be a mindset thing.
But think about it: what do tomatoes add to a dish?
Sweetness and acidity, which seem like very fruity things to do.

So, what to do with tomatoes?

Sweet and easy to handle, garden-ripened cherry, grape, and pear tomatoes are wonderful left out in a bowl, ready for snacking.

If I use fresh tomatoes, I prefer to use a variety all at once, and I like to cut them differently, too.
The larger ones sliced into rounds, the medium ones quartered or cut into sixths, smaller ones halved or left whole. This way, the tomatoes are more visually appealing with their shapes and textures as well as color and personality (well, as far as tomato variety goes).
There is more involved in eating than just the sense of taste.

Here's a little list to get things started:

Sauces, whether cooked or fresh
Tossed fresh into hot pasta
Soup, such as gazpacho or roasted tomato
Tomato salad
Caprese salad
Compote, confit
Eaten out of hand
Added to quinoa
On pizza
Tomato tart
In sandwiches
As a relish
Drizzled with olive oil, sprinkled with salt and pepper
Cored and stuffed with tuna salad, chicken salad
Smaller tomatoes stuffed with chevre and fresh herbs

Perhaps an internet search for any of these ideas or including several on-hand ingredients might be helpful if brainstorming isn't fruitful...

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Fish Tacos- Updated

This is an updated version of fish tacos. 
It's a little more appropriate for the summer since it involves grilling instead of the steaming version in the original recipe. 

The fish has also been made a little more flavorful. 
That's one really nice thing about tilapia: it soaks up whatever flavor you give it. It's sort of like a blank canvas. 

And the black beans...? Well, those pretty much remain the same. 
But they're good enough as a side any time, though I could sometimes just eat black beans as a main and supplement with other things like salsa and some good tortilla chips.
I also think they'd be good with a fried egg (sort of semi-huevos rancheros). 

Fish Tacos and Black Beans
Yield: 6 servings

1 pound dried black beans
7 cloves garlic, divided
6 cups water
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 large white onion, peeled and sliced
2 teaspoons kosher salt
3/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper (divided)
2 cups roughly chopped cilantro leaves, stems reserved (divided)
2 pounds fresh tilapia fillets
4 tablespoons soy sauce
1 jalapeno pepper, minced (see note)
3 to 4 tablespoons vegetable oil
salt and black pepper to taste

12 six-inch corn or flour tortillas
1 cup thinly sliced green cabbage
1/2 cup thinly sliced red onion
1 medium tomato, diced
1 avocado, sliced
1 cup sour cream (optional)
1 cup shredded cheese; Monterey jack, cheddar or Mexican blend (optional)
3 limes, quartered lengthwise

Prepare the black beans 2 to 3 hours ahead of the fish. Rinse black beans and sort, removing any small pebbles or particles. Peel and mince 3 garlic cloves. Place rinsed beans, minced garlic, water, olive oil, onion and salt in a 5-quart pot with a tight-fitting lid. If desired, add 1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper. Bring to a boil. Lay cilantro stems over beans if desired. Reduce heat to low, cover and simmer beans, stirring gently a few times. Simmer beans about two hours, until the beans are soft and most of the water has been absorbed. Test for doneness after an hour, then check every fifteen minutes.

Remove pot from heat. Remove cilantro stems. Using a potato masher or the back of a large spoon, partially mash and stir the beans. Cover until ready to serve. The beans will thicken as they sit. 

When the beans are nearly ready, arrange tilapia fillets in a single layer in a shallow pan or tray. Peel and mince remaining 4 cloves garlic. In a small bowl, combine garlic, soy sauce, jalapeno and cayenne pepper. Pour over fish and turn to coat. Refrigerate fillets for 20 minutes, turning once or twice in the marinade

Prepare to grill fillets. Heat grate over medium heat. When the grate is hot, brush with vegetable oil and place fillets on grill. Cook about 5 minutes on one side, the flip the fillets. Grill about 2 minutes on the other side and check for doneness (continue cooking as necessary). The fillets should be opaque and will flake easily when done.

Remove fillets to a plate. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Using a fork, break fillets into large flakes. Warm the tortillas

Assemble the tacos with fish on the bottom. Add shredded cabbage, sliced onion, tomatoes, avocado slices, sour cream and cheeses in any combination desired. Squeeze with lime juice and eat. 

Remove jalapeno seeds and ribs for a milder marinade. 

Photo by David Carson of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
(So, I completely forgot to take a photo until the tacos had been completely demolished. Too late... but it can be blamed both on negligence and lunch time.)

As to the recipe, it's an update of my fish taco recipe from April of 2011, and was part of an article in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch by Pat Eby published on August 1, 2012.