All good players know the importance of taking batting practice before a game. It’s a chance to limber up and shift gears, get a few whiffs out of their system, and start hitting dingers that hopefully will end the game in a win. Two weeks ago I set my last 3AM alarm, thus ending the first act of my evolving new career in the culinary arts. Act two began a few days later when I tied on a new apron as chef of a small hotel in downtown Hood River. And during intermission I took batting practice. Armed with cookbooks, recipe files, and the various whosis and whatsis of internet gastronomical search engines open on every computer, I perused, bemused, researched and ultimately broke out the whisks and bowls for a few practice swings.
Switching from production baking to filling far fewer bellies with recipes of my own takes physical downshifting and mental up shifting. Recipes go back to cups or ounces instead of pounds, butter is now measured again in sticks, not cases, and the standard kitchen oven feels a lot like the Easy-Bake variety, especially when you turned on one at 3:30 AM the size of a large phone booth. In exchange I face the realization that everything on the menu will be a product of my hands and the information that lives in the culinary file cabinets of my brain. While I’m thrilled at the opportunities that lay ahead, until now the product of my own oven was mostly served to people who knew and loved me. They had to be nice, or they wouldn’t be fed. Well, they would, but serious sucking up would be necessary. Now I’d be cooking for relative strangers, at least until I fed them. And they’d be paying for it too. A wave of something akin to major excitement and minor terror washed over me at the thought. I was heading to the Bigs. Well, maybe not the Bigs, but certainly the Biggers in regards to my role in it. So I did a little practicing, if for nothing else than to make me a little more confident before charging into the breach. Did I embark upon some lavish 14-ingredient recipe? Well, no. After all, this is a small hotel, not the Plaza, and the guests just want a nice farm to table breakfast. So I kept it relatively simple, and really tasty. And hopefully as I step up to the plate in this new ball yard, I’ll hit more than a few out of the park. 🙂
I’ve always thought it was kind of fun to learn how to make something you’d normally buy in the supermarket. Not only is it most often cheaper, you know exactly what the ingredients are. And if you are like me in the kitchen and often dive into a new recipe at a moments notice, knowing how to make a few special things saves you a trip to the market after you’ve just hunkered down in your pjs. The other day batting practice began after several minutes of fruitless surfing around remote. I needed a little kitchen distraction. So I opened the repository of inspiration…my fridge. Nothing all that fascinating jumped out, but then I saw them in the door. Heavy cream and buttermilk. Ok you’re thinking…that’s what got her excited? Well, yes, when you know that with the two you can make a heavenly substance called crème fraiche. Not quite sour cream, nor whipped cream, crème fraiche is a slightly tangy pillow of love when it’s paired with pies, tarts, fresh fruit, or even fish. And it’s ridiculously easy to make.
Homemade Crème Fraiche
Makes one cup
This version is thinner than some (which I like) and lasts over a week in the refrigerator.
- 1 cup heavy cream
- 1 TBSP buttermilk
Mix the two ingredients in a bowl, cover with cling film and let sit on the counter overnight (or at least 8 hours and up to 24). Once it has sat a while, chill for at least 4 hours. It will continue to thicken in the fridge. If you want a little thicker version, you could heat the mixture to just tepid (not more than 85 degrees) before covering and leaving out.
Uses for the wonderful stuff
- Balsamic Strawberries Almond Galette
- Tarte Tatin Aux Poires
- Blueberry Frangipane Crostata
- Tante Betty’s Plum Tart (Zwetchken Kuchen)
Atop a filet of Salmon:
Per 4-6 ounce filet (about 1” thick) – Preheat oven to 425°F and line a rimmed baking sheet with oiled or buttered foil. Place filets skin-side down, season liberally with salt and pepper. Mix in ½ tsp of lemon zest or minced herb (dill is nice with salmon, so is tarragon or basil) into 1-2 tablespoons crème fraiche. Spread over filet, and bake for 12-14 minutes. The fish is done when all but the center is opaque at the thickest part.
Atop Balsamic Marinated Strawberries or Peaches
Hull and quarter ½ cup of strawberries or cut a ripe peach into pieces a little larger than bite-sized. Sprinkle over 1 tsp sugar, 1 tsp balsamic vinegar and a tiny pinch black pepper. Let sit at room temperature 30 minutes or longer. Drizzle crème fraiche over the fruit.
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