Thursday, March 31, 2011

Jane Eyre Party

Hmm, don’t know how to insert much into the Jane Eyre Party Story that hasn’t been covered by “Redgirl’s Quick ‘n Snarky Notes” on the festivities. I’d always been a big fan of George C. Scott (and not just because we had the same birthdays) and felt that he was a terrific Rochester. He was everything right; ugly, tortured, explosive, masculine, and with a huge presence that made him entirely believable. I wasn’t that fond of Susanna York as Jane, however. She seemed a bit too old and too pretty to be that young teenager, Jane. The first time I watched the William Hurt version, I decided that it would be my new favorite, mostly because of Charlotte Gainsborg’s Jane. She was young, somewhat plain, and uber cool and collected as she sparred with Rochester. But watching the two side-by-side, I claimed the first version again for favorite. Hurt isn’t bad, but seems more tortured and moody than imposing, and I appreciated York’s acting ability more than I had previously. The third version, with Orson Wells as Rochester and Joan Fontaine as Jane, I had not remembered fondly, but it held up better with this viewing. (Though that could have been due to the Robert Mondavi Cab that we were well into) I recently saw the movie Rebecca, and Fontaine starred as the “nameless I,” a character very similar to her Jane. Sort of passive and eager to please. And very beautiful. Orson Wells was ok, but it really bugged me how he spoke most of his lines without opening his mouth and moving his lips. Melinda was always right on cue with her line: "THIS wasn’t in the book!" Which made me want to go through the book again. So I’m skimming through it and making notes for a project. What sort of project? It’s a surprise…

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Lemon Curd

You may have heard that Melinda has just been accepted into UC Davis Veterinary School for this fall. More than a couple of corks were popped, but as long as there is inspiration, there is celebration. She was going to be up here this last weekend and wanted to share a customized celebration with Bethany, Tristan and me. After a few hours of brain-wracking, we both had a eureka moment at about 10pm that night---A Jane Eyre party!

We are all fond of the book Jane Eyre, by Charlotte Bronte, and I am especially fond of seeking out all the movie versions that have been of that gothic novel. Melinda just finished listening to the Librovox audio version and was enthusiastic about the theme party. Her offering was a bottle of Robert Mondavi Napa Valley Cab. The time was set for Saturday, 9am. That seemed a bit early for wine, but figured I could easily work it in as the party progressed.

Tea. If you are going to have a book or movie party based on the work of a famous dead English novelist, you must be prepared to go through a fair amount of hot tea. It must be served from a silver-plated or china teapot into teacups WITH saucers. And even though Americans drink it black, milk and sugar must be available in little serving pieces with little spoons. If you have ever watched the very long and complete BBC version of Jane Eyre starring Timothy Dalton, you will know that every time an emotional or taxing moment occurs (and there are many), someone, usually Mrs. Fairfax, hauls the tea tray out and offers it around. Of course, only a sip is taken, or the lips are wetted before the tea does its job and everyone feels restored. When we had watched it a few years ago, we were not so reticent, and kept the tea coming, ensuring plenty of “Loo Breaks.”

Scones. No question, scones were required. Americans leave out the egg and call it a biscuit, but if you call it a scone, it is very English and is just right for this type of party. Lately, I’ve been trying very hard to eliminate simple carbohydrates, such as sugar, white rice, white flour, etc from my pantry. I knew I had enough whole wheat flour, but decided to stop by the grocery on my way home and get a small bag of white flour to make the scones.

At the very last moment, I turned the wheel the other way, and I committed to whole wheat. With enough butter and tender care in making them, they surely would be good enough for the party! I added lemon extract to the scone dough, and baked them at 400 so they would bake fast and have a nice toasty crust. I made a glaze of powdered sugar and lemon juice to drizzle over the top. A small shake of salt in the glaze seems to make the cornstarch flavor less noticeable. I was very pleased with the end result; crusty, tender inside, lightly sweetened and a tangy lemon finish.

(Just in case you want to try it…)
Whole Wheat Scones
1 ¾ cups whole wheat flour
2 ½ teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
6 tablespoons cold butter, cut in pieces
1 egg
1/3 cup milk
½ teaspoon lemon extract

Mix flour, baking powder and salt in a medium bowl. Use your fingers to rub the very cold butter into the flour mixture until the butter is in lumps the size of flattened corn kernels. Mix together egg, milk and extract. Stir into the flour mixture, adding a tad more liquid or flour as needed. Dump onto flour-dusted waxed paper and lightly knead a half-dozen times. Pat out into a rectangle and cut into triangles. Bake on greased or parchment-covered cookie sheet at 400 degrees till done.

At the appointed time, I set out the tea and the hot scones on a side-board near the TV. And then, from the ‘fridge, I brought out the point of this post—Lemon Curd.

“Lemon Curd” sounds weird, sort of like “curdled,” along with a sour word, which makes you think of spoiled milk. But I knew, after a friend had served me some, imported from England, that it is more like a thick lemon custard that you spread on scones and crumpets.

I couldn’t find a recipe in any of my books, so I turned to the Internet. After scanning the recipe for a reality check, I did the next step on the checklist, reading all the reviews. The reviews can be really funny. It’s too runny, it’s just right, it’s too sweet, it’s too buttery, it’s perfect, it’s just like Lemon Curd from home (from an Englishman), it’s too sour, it has too many eggs, it’s fabulous.

Judging by the comments and my own reality check, I decided to cut the amount of butter in half. I also cut down the amount of zest and added a shake of salt since I use unsalted butter.

Lemon Curd
5 egg yolks
¾ cup sugar
1/3 cup fresh lemon juice (1-2 large lemons)
zest of one lemon (avoid the bitter white pith)
¼ cup butter, chilled and cut into pats
pinch of salt

If you don’t have a double boiler (I don’t) then use a metal bowl that fits over the top of a medium saucepan without touching the inch or so of boiling water in the pan.
Combine yolks and sugar in medium sized metal bowl and whisk until smooth, about 1 minute. Whisk in fresh lemon juice and zest until smooth. Place bowl over simmering water in saucepan. Whisk until thickened, about 8 minutes, or until thickened. Remove promptly from heat and stir in butter, one piece at a time, allowing each to melt before adding another. (At this point, I decided to run the mixture through a sieve). Remove to a clean jar and lay a piece of plastic wrap across the surface. Keep refrigerated up to 2 weeks.

WOW! It turned out, and was absolutely delicious. It was almost too thick, though, so I might back off on the time I cooked it (I left it on the heat for 9 or 10 minutes), or I might use one less egg yolk. But it was wonderful and I would surely make it again the next time I need an English condiment.

See tomorrow for my Jane Eyre reviews!

Friday, March 11, 2011

A Few of my Favorite Things

I enjoy a good list. And I was inspired by Mel’s posting on favorite resources to come up with my own favorite resources. Kitchen tools, that is.

In my life of cooking, I have “made do” more often than I’ve had the best tools and ingredients on hand when making something. And I will brag that it has made me a better person. I’m flexible, adaptable; I don’t panic when I find out when I find out I’m missing a vital part. No baking powder? No problem! A pinch of cream of tartar and baking soda. No rolling pin? Hey, as long as you have a whiskey bottle you’ve got it covered. The oven doesn’t work and you have 4 pies to bake? Fire up the barbeque for some serious indirect cooking!

KitchenAid Stand Mixer
The household I grew up in relied on a handheld portable mixer. We used it for everything. We whipped divinity and 7 minute frosting. We made cakes and beat up frosting (which was difficult. You had to do it quick because the hot air vented straight down into the buttery frosting, which was stiff and hard-going). It was the standard tool for whipping up the foam on our mixture of carpet cleaner.

One day, it died.

It just so happened that I needed to supply a Cake-Walk cake for our elementary school’s Halloween Carnival. My mom wasn’t home, so my grandma was helping me. The recipe called for beaten egg whites. We didn’t have a whisk. (Remember, we used the mixer for EVERYTHING) I have an image etched in my brain of my grandma working a fork over a platter full of egg whites, whipping and beating them into something lighter than the clear viscous pile she started out with.

A dozen years ago I bought my first KitchenAid stand mixer. It is so effortless. I can make pie dough, batter, grind meat, juice pomegranate seeds, shred cheese and cabbage, knead yeast dough and whip eggs like those bad boys have never been whipped before. One trait I especially am fond of is that I can walk away from it. With a portable, once you turn it on, you’re committed for the duration. If you’re going to have a stand mixer, get this one!

Garlic Press
Garlic is probably the favorite seasoning in my house. If I want the family to swoon with delight when they walk in the house and say, “What’s for dinner? It smells good!” , I just have to toss a pinch of garlic powder in the air. Yes, garlic powder. So easy. So cheap. But… Just not the best choice for garlic. I used to use the minced garlic in the jars, but I drifted back into using the powder. Once in a while I would get ambitious and buy a head of garlic. All those little papery garlic skins! Sticking to your fingers which are covered with fragrant, sticky garlic juice! Chop, chop, chop! Mince, mince, mince! Scrape them up from the cutting board and then scrape them off the knife into the pan!

Then I got wise and bought a NICE garlic press. It is heavy and has a little tool for pushing the bits that are left out of the holes so they don’t dry there. You don’t even have to cut the skins off; you just push the lever and the garlic squirts out.

And for everyone’s comfort, the rule in our house is, if one eats garlic, we all eat garlic!

Lemon Reamer
I love to use fresh lemon in my dishes. I usually have a choice. Either pull out a cuppie of previously juiced and frozen fresh lemon juice ( if I have any), drag out the juicer (like I’m going to do that for ½ of a lemon!) or slice wedges and squeeze the juice out. Yikes! Juice all over your fingers, juice still in the wedge so you end up mashing the thing messily.

I saw a reamer used in a kitchen show once. (You may have seen this many times, but since I don’t get TV reception or cable or dish etc, I hadn’t) It was not only efficient and easy, but also cute. I’ve used it twice now and it was love at first use. I’m much more likely to keep whole lemons on hand now!

Instant Read Meat Thermometer
I would never be without one of these! How can you gamble and guess about whether poultry or pork is done, when the consequences of underdone meat is food poisoning? And how can you gamble and guess whether your beef roast is rare enough when beef is so expensive and is ruined if it is well-done?

I do enjoy my leave-in thermometers to give me a heads up when big roasts are about done. But the instant-read can confirm the doneness in different places, especially in a fowl, and they are useful for burgers, and meat pieces.

Rubber Scraper
Scrape, scrape, scrape! Can you hear the sound of a spoon raking along the sides of a mixing bowl, trying to get out the last of the cake batter? It is impossible! And that goes for any mixture that is on the stiff or thick side. I still remember getting my first rubber scraper when I was a teen. What it could do for folding, stirring and scraping was nothing short of miraculous. I didn’t anticipate the complaints though. Now there was no batter for my batter-eating family to lick up! Heh heh, (evil grin) I didn’t like batter myself and now I could force my preferences on them.