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Hollandaise Sauce

Here is the post implied by the ending of the recent herb steamed asparagus post, in which I finally tried making hollandaise sauce almost but not exactly as indicated in this recipe. I had bought two bunches of asparagus, and planned to do this with the second one, just because.

Weird, right? It doesn’t smack of frugality, and I have no reason to want hollandaise, having never, as far as I can recall, eaten it before in my life.

The thing is, the perceived difficulty of cooking eggs and keeping them liquid intrigued me. The idea of mother sauces intrigues me, especially since I rock at sauces and gravies generally. The presumed similarity to making homemade mayonaise intrigues me.

Finally, it’s part of the quest to make variants of plain old asparagus.

So. The recipe. I used 4 yolks, as it said. Most recipes I perused called for 3 yolks. My eggs were extra large, for what it’s worth, not large. I’ve had a goofy little egg separator for 30+ years and, as far as I can recall, have never used it. Until now! For one egg. Which told me doing it with my hands, as I have seen TV chefs do, was vastly better. The gadget was too small, and failed to separate the white as fully or quickly as my fingers. I saved the whites for another experiment, in a cake, since it was my birthday and I am the cook here.

I got about 3 tablespoons of juice from a lemon I had remembered to buy for the purpose, and used one for the hollandaise. See the aforementioned cake for the fate of the rest.

Now, every other recipe I looked at called either for (mostly) a tablespoon of water or (less often) a tablespoon of cream. Or maybe it was milk. This recipe had neither, but I used water anyway, and good thing. I could see it being even better with cream or milk.

I used salted butter. I do not as a rule have unsalted in the house. I buy it if I plan something I know calls for it, and care enough to comply. Some recipes specify unsalted. Some do not. I melted it carefully in the microwave, managing to come out with a complete melt that was no more than room temperature. In just one place I saw mention that sometimes clarified butter is used in hollandaise. I thought that sounded right, so as best I could, I mostly skimmed off the foamy milk solids. (If, like me until relatively recently, you have no idea what is meant by “clarified butter,” that’s all it is: melted butter with the light colored scum you see floating on top skimmed off. It sounds fancier and more intimidating than it is.)

The pinches of salt and cayenne were as directed, though I went very light on the salt, considering the salted butter.

The recipe describes the lemon juice and yolk mixture doubling in volume. I’m not sure mine doubled, though my dubiousness was mooted by seeing that it did increase in volume.

The method described for using a stainless steel pan with a saucepan is great as a makeshift double boiler. Granted, doing this made me pine for a double boiler, and I even found that there are pans sold that come with both steamer and double boiler insets. I checked, since logic suggested the possibility to me.

I would emphasize that pretty much continuous light whisking/stirring is imperative to keep the egg from cooking into solids. It has to cook as a liquid. When it was obviously done, I set the metal bowl into another bowl with shallow, cool water in it. That arrested the cooking process. Shortly after, I changed the water for warm so the sauce wouldn’t get too cold.

I steamed the asparagus with herbs, but less strongly than I had the first time. I thought the flavor would go well, even though the sauce would add flavor and a change of texture profile. That sounds all fancy.

The result?

It was tasty, but too lemony for me. I can’t imagine it is meant to taste that lemony. It was a bit thicker than perhaps is ideal. And that’s with the water the recipe didn’t include! I could have put in a tiny bit more to thin it, but didn’t bother. If I make it again, I would start by reducing the lemon. I would probably use milk or cream instead of water. I might experiment with seasoning the sauce. Heck, I’d be interested in using the basic technique for an eggy sauce to diverge into doing my own thing entirely.

Was it hard to make? No. I didn’t find it tricky at all. I can see how it could go terribly wrong, sure. But I had perceived the making of a sauce in which eggs are cooked liquid to be extremely difficult. Anyone paying adequate attention could do it. Now I know.

Subpar Sub Rolls

Things have been grim here financially, and then I got sick and we had a blizzard warning on top of it. I’d bought two big packs of on sale ground beef at Market Basket, super fresh and tasty 85%, and the first of them had been partly used and partly frozen. The other sat in the fridge until the day after I’d normally have preferred to use. With everyone having suffered through fending for themselves the day before, and the burger needing to be used unless it had gone bad, I decided to make meatballs. Universally loved by all five of us, but not a meal I consider very frugal. The burger turned out to be as fresh as if you’d just bought it at an ordinary store. Given that it was well over 3 lbs, the amount that normally goes into meatballs, and that it wasn’t right on the edge, I made a big patty to freeze and at least got some freezer fodder out of it. While I was sick, with a blizzard expected, the wife went to the store and got a couple bags of ice to top off the freezer and help it keep should the power go out. Also, as a preventative to losing power, which worked. The alternative to meatballs was chili, but I could have done that on a pound of burger.

When I make meatballs, I usually make gravy and either egg noodles or potatoes. Neither were on hand. Sometimes we have them as meatball subs, for anyone who wants them that way, with red sauce (or just ketchup) and optional cheese. But there were no rolls, either! And not much bread, for that matter. I haven’t been buying sub rolls because I haven’t been buying cold cuts, because that’s expensive. When I could afford it, every 2-4 weeks we’d have subs for supper. If I’d planned the meatballs and been able to time a trip to Market Basket appropriately, I could have bought sub rolls, but would probably have bought egg noodles or potatoes instead.

Well, I’ve been experiementing with making bread, and in one case dinner rolls, so why not sub rolls? I focused on two recipes I came across, comparing what they involved if you made the batch size the same. This one looked tasty but looked like it might be too crusty compared to the result I wanted. This other one purports to be a way to match the rolls you would get at Subway. Now, I don’t know from Subway, but the picture looked like what I’d buy at Market Basket six for $1.50. With some trepidation about the volume of oil and lack of sugar compared to the other recipe and other breads I’ve made or looked at, I went for it.

This was not an entirely smooth process, given that I forgot to melt the butter before everything else was in the bowl, and that I don’t have a stand mixer. I could make a case for always moving on from recipes that assume you have a stand mixer. I usually do, but how hard could it be to just do things the old way?

Everything through the first rise and dividing the dough into eight rolls went fine. It rose enthusiastically enough not to provoke concern. The rolls, though… they would have taken hours to rise to where I thought they should be, at the rate they were going. After an hour and a half, I put them in the oven.

They tasted OK, if more like sourdough than the bread and rolls I am used to. You could definitely tell the lack of sugar. They were flat, though, completely unsuited to being a sub roll, especially for meatballs. Their best use seems to be as garlic bread, or cheesey garlic bread. Because it didn’t rise fully, the texture is pretty heavy.

I won’t make that recipe again, at least not without modifying it into something of my own. I don’t have enough bread making savvy yet to parse what went wrong without researching. Which, come to think of it, I had meant to do right afterward. “Why does second rise fail” or something like that fed to Google might give me insight. Or perhaps something on the science/principles of bread baking. That’s how I learned gravy. Best thing I found was something that described the principles of what you were doing, rather than trying to be an exact recipe, and gave insight into various types of gravy. Sometimes I have an imperfect batch, but in general I have never had gravy as good as what I make.

Powerless Cooking

This article is almost so devoid of details to be not worth linking, but it does give food for thought and discussion. I can’t help wondering what in the world the photo is that looks like stacked dutch ovens, each containing charcoal. I also can’t help thinking it’s rather convenient that civilization is so intact and accessible, and money so freely available, that copious amounts of aluminum foil are handy. Guess that’s a good thing to stock up on, then.

Most of us have cooked rough to some degree, at some time, with varying degrees of success, and the point of possibly needing to do so unexpectedly is a good one, even if you have nary a prepper bone in your body.

I took my kids camping two summers ago and they were horrified by the idea of burgers cooked over a fire, potatoes cooked in foil in the coals, and even the corn on the cob cooked the same way. That last they had reason to spurn, since it was burned enough in places to taste burned. The potatoes were delicious, as were the burgers, but I was stuffed, having to eat all of it myself. They had no interest in hot dogs over the fire, either, and one of them didn’t care for marshmallows. Weirdo.

I’d like to experiment more, even if I cook for one and they eat PBJ, but never went camping this year. For that matter, I wanted to experiment, kids participating, in matchless ways of creating a fire if needed. They aren’t woodsy as I was, growing up surrounded by woods, but even I never got beyond a magnifying glass and sun for fire starting. It didn’t help, back then, that I had it drilled into me not to build a fire because there was dread of forest fires, and there was active observation for same from local fire towers. The current suburban firepit rage seems stunning to me, after that. Not that it stopped me from having some of the best hot dogs I have ever had, cooked in a camp pan over a small fire on a cranberry bog road, but that’s not as rustic as going pan-free.

Perhaps next time I’ll take my cast iron and see what I can conjure up over a fire. Maybe the kids will even try it.

Chocolate Chip Cookie

A history. Always especially interesting to me, given that I grew up in a nearby town to Whitman, home of the Tool House. My father spent the latter part of his childhood in the town where I grew up, but went to high school in Whitman, and knew the person behind another Whitman instutution: Peaceful Meadows Ice Cream. I worked for nine months in 1985 just a couple doors down from the Wendy’s mentioned in the article. I was confused, though, because I remembered the Toll House being up route 18 a couple doors from where Wendy’s is now, and I even applied for a bookkeeping job there in the late eighties. Except… if it burned in 1984, that must have been a new incarnation, and I don’t remember the original. Despite clearly remembering Saftler’s, another institution, on the opposite corner, which held out until just recently.

Unexpect Food Pantry Needs

I found it interesting to see 1o Things Food Banks Need But Won’t Ask For. Spices particularly struck me, because I have thought about what if I couldn’t afford those. I mean, really couldn’t afford those. Not just name brands, less common items, or to order from Penzey’s. I can see going to Walmart and buying a bunch of their 50 cent, perfectly good garlic salt and garlic powder to donate, or going to Job Lot and buying a bunch of their $1 spices, most of which are just fine (poultry seasoning is an exception). When I was single, I pretty much used Italian seasoning, garlic powder, cinnamon, chili powder, and not much else. Just hadn’t explored enough yet, or learned the joys of cumin or allspice. One can go far on the few basics, plus salt and black pepper. The chocolate also struck me. Made me wish I could buy hundreds of chocolate bars to donate to the local pantry. Which is funny, since it would be entirely appropriate for us to use their services, and donating is well above our means for now. Socks? Paper goods? Baby stuff? Who’d have thought of that!

Extreme Couponing – Do You Do It?

I’ve had this couponing article queued for a while to post about. I was reminded of it recently by register coupons I received at Hannaford, including ones for $2 off an overall shopping trip and for 75 cents off a product that’s only $1.39 in the first place (which really means 75 cents off two, since it was purchase of one that provoked the coupon dispensing algorithm).

Do you use coupons at all? A lot? To an absurd degree as depicted in the article?

I stopped using all but the rare coupon years ago, for reasons of time versus money, and of lameness of most coupons.

Lame? Yes. If it’s a convenience product I won’t use, or that is expensive even with a coupon – even a serious coupon – I am inclined not to bother. If it’s a new product you want me to take a chance on for the first time, where I might never have known of it or considered buying it otherwise, it had better be more than a dime off. Or more than a quarter off, if it’s costly enough in proportion.

Granted, I have not explored the world of coupons lately, so things may have improved, and there may be online options that didn’t exist before, but frugal doesn’t mean work your tail off for little return. Or worse, to waste money.

The extreme folks depicted in the article are impressive, but they have to plan, spend time at it, and work out the storage and food rotation issues. It’s not frugal if you won’t use it. It’s not frugal if it costs you too much in other ways.