Monday, November 9, 2009

Just Keep on Ruhlman

I'd like to start by saying that I quite hope that I didn't make Brett as nervous as he implied. Interestingly enough, it was actually the first time he had ever cooked for me. I have to say that I was impressed. He cooked a stellar meal, managed to show me a good time and Wooster and really introduced me to the greatness that sage would help a meal attain. Thank you, Brett. Aces all the way. Let's do it again soon.

Yes, I know, I already spoke of Michael Ruhlman. So why, then, am I revisiting him so soon? The answer? I just picked up a copy of The Elements of Cooking. I'm not exaggerating when I say that Mr. Ruhlman ignites my passion for cooking more than any chef out there. Period.

The Elements of Cooking is important in exactly the same way as Ratio. Ruhlman doesn't give you the blueprints to a great meal. A step by step guide full of recipes ensured to "Feed Friends and Satiate People" this most certainly is not. It's a foundation on which incredible things can be built. Without that foundation, nothing will stand.

Naturally, Ruhlman covers everything in this book. Stocks? Check. Eggs? Check. Cookware? Check. Salt? Check. Wait, salt? What needs to be said about salt? A lot. If I didn't already love Michael Ruhlman, his writings on salt would have made me. I feel vindicated by what he wrote, that, as Thomas Keller said, salting is the most important skill for a cook to have. I am glad to say that I actually realized this years ago. Undersalted food is bland, no matter how many other spices are included, and oversalted food can be inedible. Sorry is the cook that doesn't recognize the importance of using salt properly.

Anyhow, I HIGHLY recommend this book. No matter whether you're an old hand or just delving into the world of cooking. Proper mastery of the basics is essential to attaining any level of culinary success.

Fall-ing in love again...

As long as I can remember, autumn has been my favorite season. This is for a number of obvious reasons. Spending all day raking leaves in the yard into a HUGE pile so that you can decimate it with so many different ways to jump into it. Good quality time with family (over food of course). Carving pumpkins, a tradition I still continue to this day and one which often will yield some delicious pumpkin puree for later use. But of course, the best part is the baking.

Now, you can tell I've been watching what I eat because it has been such a long time since my last Blog entry. I guess I just don't think many people will find reading about grilled chicken, broccoli, and brown rice to be all that intriguing. But now that summer is over, it's time to reward myself for the hard work... and reward is quite the word for it. There are so many goodies to have, it can be mind boggling. Pumpkin pie, spice cookies, hot cocoa, apple cider(mulled, of course), even on occasion candy corn, and so many more. It's the one season that my neighbors can't complain because I make the whole building smell like my mom's kitchen at Thanksgiving; you would have to be a communist not to love that. Now, when it comes to baking for autumn the primary ingredient of the season is obvious to anyone who grew up anywhere the leaves change... That ingredient: Pumpkin.

In the more than a decade since I've been experimenting with food I've used the pureed gold in so many different ways. Baking is obvious, but I've also used it in pastas, soups, sauces, kebabs... the list can go on and on. I've truly come to know Pumpkin as a delicious, extremely versatile, and wildly popular kitchen staple. But when the equation comes down to Autumn + Pumpkin + Oven, there is only one answer as far as I'm concerned and it isn't pumpkin pie (no hate mail, please). We are, in fact, talking about the uber-delicious, ultra-unhealthy, wholly irresistible Midwest treat... The pumpkin roll.

There's something about the flour and fat, the sugar and spice, the cake-y and the creamy that makes this delicacy downright addictive. Add in a cup of coffee and some good friends... and it's all over. Personally I could eat about a yard of the stuff myself, but I wouldn't recommend this. When you read the recipe, you'll see why.

P.S. If you wish to make your own pumpkin, I'll direct you to this eHow article that shows you how simple and easy it is to make from scratch. How to make pumpkin puree.

Preheat your oven to 375F.
Grease and flour the edges of a large Jelly Roll Pan, then line the bottom of the pan with wax paper.
Then in a mixing bowl stir together 3/4c Flour, 3/4t cinnamon, 1/2t cloves, 1/4t ginger, 1/4t nutmeg, pinch of fine ground black pepper, 1/4t salt, 1/2t baking powder and 1/2t baking soda.
In a large bowl, mix 3 eggs, and 1c sugar together until smooth. Blend in 3/4c pumpkin, and continue to blend until smooth.
Slowly add the dry mixture to the pumpkin mix incrementally until all of the dry is incorporated into the wet mix.
pour out onto the prepared jelly roll pan and bake for 14 to 16 mins. remove from the oven and allow to cool completely before moving ahead. My aunt actually will roll the cake at this point to ensure that it doesn't crack when you roll it later. I've found that this isn't truly necessary if you're careful when rolling later.
Make the filling by creaming together 1/2c softened butter, 1pkg cream cheese, once smooth, slowly sift in 1c powdered sugar and 1 1/2t REAL vanilla. (actually, for mine, I use a vanilla bean) stir until smooth and creamy.
Use the wax paper to help you roll out the cake, peeling it off as you go. Work slowly so as not to break the cake. Once rolled you can wrap in plastic wrap and store the cake or you can plate it, dust it with powdered sugar, and serve it to unsuspecting guests(or eat it all by yourself... choice is yours.)

Feel to experiment with the combination of layouts, you can see above that the last one I made was actually square. I've even been known to make this as a trifle, adding candied walnuts between each layer. You can feel free to do this in as many configurations as you like, just don't blame me if your pants don't fit properly later...