The Food

Are You Mature Enough?

Since I was a kid, I remember a strange commercial. A man looking at the sunset with a glass of brandy next to him looking at the sun, without doing really anything. His eyes where just traveling like he was expecting something. And when the sun finally set, he grabs the brandy and enjoys it while the narrator was saying, “Metaxa, the only spirit that waits for you to mature.” Back then my taste buds where not as trained to very strong and earthy flavors, and I didn ‘t really liked the taste of it. And while the time was going by, I grew up and the taste of that Brandy became, from bitter, interesting, good, and finally complex and exceptional. It is a staple in the greek tradition with about 160 years history along side with the greek nation. It is my grandmothers favorite treat and the only spirit that still occasionally drinks. 

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Real Thoughts on Food

So I haven ‘t written anything a two months. So what is the deal about it? I know you wonder… Well you don ‘t but I just thing you should know prior to the wondering. I took the time that I went to Greece to take a break, but more important, to study the food of Greece.Not study in depth of course, but learn about it. See food is the one thing that unites people. Knowing your food heritage, is knowing yourself.  Many times when I meet someone new and food conversations are ideal to break the ice.

I wat...

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Sweet Mama: Hollandaise

I left for last the sauce that is the one closest to my heart. The sauce of the sauces. Well at least for me it is. I love this sauce as nothing in the world. It is a sauce that has only one way of making it and can accommodate everything, from veggies to cardboard.

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Grande Mére: Espagnole

his sauce under different conditions could have been called just a condiment and not a real sauce. Well it is a sauce, but it is one of those sauces that does not share anything with the actual food, and as we will see further on, it is a sauce that requires a lot of preparation and usually is made in huge quantities.

If you know french, or if you can guess Espagnole means spanish. But the actual sauce has little connection with Spanish cuisine. According to Louis Diat, the creator of vichyssoise and the author of the classic Gourmet’s Basic French Cookbook: “There is a story that explains why the most important basic brown sauce in French cuisine is called sauce espagnole, or Spanish sauce. According to the story, the Spanish cooks of Louis XIII’s bride, Anne, helped to prepare their wedding feast, and insisted upon improving the rich brown sauce of France with Spanish tomatoes. This new sauce was an instant success, and was gratefully named in honor of its creators.”

Before we continue, I would like t say that I have never made espagnole, because it is a very tedious and elaborate sauce. It is however very tasty and really brights up the dishes. Espagnole has a strong taste and is rarely used directly on food. The sauce is used in small quantities to give contrast between the different bites of food, and therefore highlight its flavor. Using even a little more than the required can overpower the taste of the target food and therefore you should be very cautious.

The foundation of the sauce is the roux the butter and flour mixture that we see in béchamel and almost in velouté sauce. A great difference here is the dark roux that is used. The dark roux although weak in thickening, it provides a very deep dark flavor that makes for strong nutty taste. To the roux we add big amounts of veal stock. For 2 cups of roux (1 butter and 1 flour) we add 2 gallons of veal stock. So so far it is a mix of the béchamel (the roux) and the velouté. The fun part is now starting. To the mix we add veal bones that have been browned in the oven alongside with vegetables (not starchy veggies, just carrots onions a celery). The mix is cooked over simmer, traditionally for hours (at least 3), where other chefs report up to days. To maintain the solution with enough liquid, periodically veal stock is added.

The last step is to strain the sauce in another pot and keep on the cooking. This time tomato sauce that has been pureed  is added and the reduction continuous till the sauce reach the desired consistency. A typical espagnole recipe takes many hours or even several days to make, and produces four to five quarts of sauce. In most derivative recipes, however, one cup of espagnole is more than enough, so that the basic recipe will yield enough sauce for 16 to 20 meals. Frozen in small quantities, espagnole will keep practically indefinitely.

As a mother sauce, however, it then serves as the starting point for many derivative sauces, such as Sauce Africaine, Sauce Bigarade, Sauce Bourguignonne, Sauce aux Champignons, Sauce Charcutiere, Sauce Chasseur, and Sauce Chevreuil, just to go as far as the “Cs”. There are hundreds of other derivatives in the classic French repertoire.

Are you going to  make an espagnole sauce? I doubt it. But it is a sauce that requires patient and skill, the two qualities that the French people have. But it is a good exercise. Then you will appreciate it more next time you will have it.

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First Mama’s Cousin: Velouté

Velouté is the next in line sauce of the five mother sauces of the french cousin. It is however in a slightly different category than the other two. While the other two were prepared separate and were blending with the food on the plate, velouté is one of the sauces that can be prepared with parts of the actual dish you are preparing. It has a very creamy texture and very smooth feel, like velvet, which I think véloute stand for in French.

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The Other Big Mama: Tomato Sauce

This is probably the more common, and recognizable sauce. Every culture around the Mediterranean sea and in general the countries that have the tomato as a farm product. It is probably the one sauce that can be made in 1000 different ways; with meat, with veggies, with cheese, with sea food…. And can top everything from pasta to meat. It is the only sauce that can be used as cooking media to give flavor to roasts. It is actually the only sauce that is eaten cold as well. Yeah… cold like ketchup.

The Tomato ...

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The Big Mama: Béchamel

The first mama of all is Béchamel. A cream sauce that is the base for half of the white sauces. It is the base not only of sauces but of a wide range of food, where it is acting as binder, and can be a desert sauce as well. When it was invented, sauce Béchamel was a slow simmering of milk, veal stock and seasonings, strained, with an enrichment of cream. The sauce under its familiar name first appeared in Le Cuisinier François, (published in 1651), by François Pierre La Varenne (1615 – 1678), chef de cuisine to Nicolas Chalon du Blé, marquis d’Uxelles. The foundation of French cuisine, the Cuisinier François ran through some thirty editions in seventy-five years. The sauce was named to flatter a courtier, Louis de Béchameil, marquis de Nointel (1630 – 1703), a financier, sometime intendant of Brittany, who is sometimes mistakenly credited with having invented it. Many chefs would now regard as authoritative the recipe of Auguste Escoffier presented in Saulnier’s Répertoire: “White roux moistened with milk, salt, onion stuck with clove, cook for 20 minutes”. The sauce called velouté, in which a blond roux is whisked into a white stock, is a full hundred years older, having appeared in the cookbook of Sabina Welserin in 1553.

This basic sauce, one o...

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The Five Mothers

The word “sauce” is a French word that means a relish to make our food more appetizing. Sauces are liquid or semi-liquid foods devised to make other foods look, smell, and taste better, and hence be more easily digested and more beneficial. Because of the lack of refrigeration in the early days of cooking, meat, poultry, fish, and seafood didn’t last long. Sauces and gravies were used to mask the flavor of tainted foods.

In addition sauce...

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Ze Meatloaf Cake… Ja Baby!

So I have a friend... A very good friend that she prefers for her birthday a meat loaf shaped as a cake instead of a real birthday cake. Well she prefers both a meat loaf cake and a real cake, but in the case she had to pick one, she will pick the meatloaf. It is a neat idea that her mom started and carried on till this last weekend when her birthday arrived and her mom was not here to make it. Oh what a disaster. Who you gonna call? The rescue semiprofessional chef Webby (that would be me). So I made one and it looked just like the one in the picture above. Actually it is the one in the picture.

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Pilaf

What do you think when I say rice? I know chinese food. Some more adventurous my think indian food. But in every case it will be thought as the companion to a very hearty, saucy meal. But Rice is way more than that. Rice can be yummy and delicious on its own. All it takes is some simple techniques, some basic know-how, and will to get creative... Yes with rice. But rice is a lot more than Chinese and Indian food. Don ‘t get me wrong, I love both of Chinese (and more generally speaking oriental) and Indian food.

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