Doctor Sister Outlaw answers the question “can a soufflé rise twice?”

Who knows? They never last that long around here.*

The soufflé inspires dread in many a cook, probably because we all grew up with images of soufflé disasters. Chefs bursting into tears because someone opened the oven on their soufflé. Delicate soufflés deflating because someone makes a loud noise. Housewives bawling because the piéce de resistance of their dinner party is a big fat fail. So it is no surprise that soufflés have a formidable reputation as a classic, only achievable by the gifted.

But oh, the French, they are so very good at tricking people into believing their cuisine is complicated, when, in reality, it relies on simple processes that require little technical knowhow. If you read a French cookery book it would bang on about pâte brisée or roux, but you don’t need to know about those things. A souffle is nothing more than a white sauce, with some stuff added for flavour, and foofed up with some egg whites. That. Is. All. The best thing about them is you can make the sauce and the egg whites before your guests arrive and assemble the whole shebang quickly after opening the plonk, then drink quite a bit before blowing their minds by serving up something that tastes incredibly luxurious and clever. Which it is, because it is so simple.

Now that I’ve demystified the soufflé, it’s time to share this recipe, which I was asked for after boasting about it on twitter. It incorporates a few tasty tricks I’ve learned from a blissful year of making soufflés for friends and family. Try it, enjoy it, vary it.

Smoked Salmon Soufflé for four

Ingredients:
A bit of polenta, about 100g of butter, flour (gluten-free is fine), a cup of normal or low fat milk, a finely diced onion, four or five finely sliced spring onions (scallions), 70 grammes of grated parmesan, 4 eggs (separated – you only use three yolks), a pinch of cream of tartar, 200 grammes of smoked salmon (shredded roughly) or drained tinned salmon, a tablespoon of chopped dill, chervil or parsley, salt and pepper.

Method
First, prepare the oven and the dish. Heat the oven to 180C and warm the dish. Melt some butter in the bottom of it and spread it around. Tip in a small handful of polenta, flour or semolina, and shake it over the butter so it dusts the bottom and sides of the bowl. This will form a tasty crust later (if you made a sweet souffle, you would do this with sugar).

Second, make le sauce. Put 50g of butter in the bottom of a solid saucepan and get it bubbling gently, but NOT browning. Add two heaped tablespoons of flour or gluten-free flour and stir it all about so the flour cooks (expands) in the butter (gently, no browning – this is called a roux and you can see, it doesn’t hurt a bit). Then add a cup of milk. Get a whisk and blend the flour mixture into the milk. Cook it until the whole mess thickens (no lumps!). You just made white sauce. (It’s also called bechamel, but you didn’t need to know that.) Mix in the parmesan and cook a little more. Now you have cheese sauce. Set it aside and let it cool off a little.

Next, le flavourings. In a separate saucepan gently fry the onion and garlic in butter, until soft. Add the spring onions then add the onion mixture, take it off the heat and chuck in the salmon. Let it all sit. Beat THREE egg yolks into the not-very-hot cheese sauce. Feed the extra egg yolk to the cat or compost it. Mix the onions and sauce together. Taste the mix and add the herbs and some salt and pepper. Take a break and cook the other things you want to eat. Talk to your guests.

Penultimately, ouefs. Get a good clean glass or metal bowl, add the four egg whites and a pinch of cream of tartar and get beating. Make really good stiff peaks with lots of air in them as it’s the air that creates the rise and the volume of the soufflé. Let it all sit until you are thinking you would like to eat.

Finally, assemblage: Get a big spoon full of the egg whites and stir it into the cheese/salmon saucy mix. This will ‘lighten’ the mix. Then tip the mix into the egg whites, and fold it in with a spatula. Don’t beat it or the air will leave the whites. You’ll end up with a rough looking mix. Cool! Spoon it into the soufflé dish and pop it in the oven. Cook for between 35 & 40 minutes and you’ll have a fluffy body with a cheesy sauce; 40 minutes and she will be cooked mostly through, 45 minutes and you’ll have a savoury sponge. Connoisseurs like the first option, others don’t. It will rise! You can open the oven and slide a skewer in under the top crust, to see how it’s going. Do it many times. You’ll be right! (Don’t bang the door though, at least not hard).


Before serving get everyone to sit down so they can see your majestic, high top creation. As soon as you crack the top with a spoon it will fall into a goopy mess of marshmallowy topping and saucy bits. Your guests will fall on it with ravenous passion. Everyone will be happy. Eat with bread, salad, spuds and other things. Never be afraid of a soufflé again.

* Actually, a soufflé doesn’t rise twice but is really good reheated in an oven, with a dollop of cream to make them even more sinful. You can also do this mix in 6 ramekins, which makes them even easier to reheat. Cook for 15-20 minutes only.
** This recipe is easily adapted for use without the salmon. Rule of thumb is one cup of additional flavours, be it spinach, peas, grated veges, herbs, more cheese. I often add paprika.
*** Some would add cream to the white sauce. I don’t, but if you do, reduce the milk accordingly.
**** Sweet soufflés are the same, but without the salt, pepper, veges or cream of tartar, and with caster sugar, chocolate etc. If you make one, the white sauce is sweetened, in which case it’s called a pate thingummy. Bon appetit!

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Dr Sister Outlaw books a table for one at Becasse

The other night I found myself in Sydney, all alone, at the end of two extremely interesting but tiring weeks of work-related learnings. Something about the blueness of the autumn sky, and the sudden freedom of completing my duties, infected me with hedonism. I decided that I would do something I’d not done for a long, long time and buy myself a scarily expensive meal. After spending most of the day thinking about it, I booked a table for one at Becasse. After a trip to the beach, to catch the last warm waves of the season, and buying myself a new pair of red shoes, I was there. Alone.

Dining alone is a curious experience. I remember being told, by a much older woman I admired 21 years ago, that the measure of a restaurant is how they treat the solo diner. Her name was Lynn and her gold standard was the legendary 1980s restaurant Stephanie’s, whose staff did not sit the solo diner at a table next to the kitchen, but put them in the best seat, so as to shower them with discreet attention. As Lynn pointed out, the food and a good book should substitute for lack of companionship, and being alone should never be a reason not to partake of all the best that chefs have to offer. I’ve never forgotten Lynn’s example and have often eaten alone often and happily. But restaurants as splendid as Becasse are restaurants for romantic encounters, or significant life events, or, if one is truly vulgar, proving your financial muscle to people you want to impress. I’ve never really considered going to such a place alone. My Crush, stuck at home and unable to accompany me asked, won’t you feel awkward being by yourself? I thought I wouldn’t, but I needed to test that.

I’m so glad I did. My booking was last minute, but the lovely bloke who answered the phone explained that he did only have two tables, and I would be near the kitchen, but he hoped I wouldn’t mind and I would find the staff friendly. The only indication he gave that he thought my request for a table for one was odd was asking me if I was in the food industry. No, I assured him, but I did want to eat a really good meal. I knew by his tone that I would, and the night would be good.

It was. The ambience of the restaurant is late 70s, with lots of black and white velvet wallpaper, gold and smoked glass, and frivolous chandeliers. There was almost one staff member per table, and a phalanx of chefs. I had forgotten how spoiling it is to eat silver service, but they did it in a way that was completely unfussy and laid back. The lovely woman in charge of the food had the motherliness you’d expect to find over a bar on the Central Coast, and none of the staff were hipsters. Who’d have thought that?

I love going to a restaurant with someone with a good palate and unpacking the food, but being alone meant I could focus completely, and not feel self-conscious for it, as I might have with a friend or a date. The food deserved the attention. Big kitchens do things you could never do at home – emulsions and gels and foams you would only bother with if you were a bit demented, and they pride themselves on flourishes, such as making little sculptures of marinated baby heirloom vegetables with crumbled olives and purees of beetroot and peas (please excuse the grainy iPhone pictures – it was dark in there and I thought it would have been rude to pull out the flash, or use my proper camera). 
Despite such amusing frippery, it was all underpinned by some very decent cooking – French-based, Asian influenced and rounded out with a deep knowledge of wholefoods and craft. The breads, for instance, were outstanding examples of a skilled baker’s work (the little green block in the bread picture is a fascinating but unnecessary emulsion of olive oil, while the white one was an emulsion of butter and pork fat, which I did not taste as I am a friend of the pig). Apparently Justin North, who owns Becasse, is opening new digs and a bakery across the road – I suggest you go there as soon as it opens. Just ignore the emulsions.

Other highlights were the delicate punch of wagyu and tuna in a beef and tomato consomme, the smokiness of scallops with miso and magically simple things; toasted buckwheat crumbled on top of scallops; the consistency of the chocolate mousse, with its glazed surface; the delight of creamy pannacotta at the bottom of a cup of mandarin granita. Nine of the ten courses were extraordinary, blending seafoods, beef and smoked flavours with lots of variations on potato and light, light dressings. It wasn’t perfect: the eggs with legumes were foamy and it was all too salty, but only the last savoury course was entirely disappointing, because the chicken was tough and the lemon pith overpowering. Still, this was the flaw that kept my feet on the ground and I was wowed by the smoked scallops, the various versions of potato, the wagyu and yellowfin, the savoury biscotti with goats cheese, those pumpkin and rosemary brioches, and that chocolate mousse.

And, as it turned out, being near the open kitchen was quite entertaining. I could hear the machinery of the restaurant and the calm, well-drilled voices of the head chefs as they pulled together the tiny elements of dishes they’d prepped all day. I had my back to them, but a piece of smoked glass in front of me provided a perfect reflection of what they were doing, and this meant I had a kind of chef TV, as well as a great view of the restaurant. And they could not see me watching them …

Dining alone was a wonderful experience. After two hours, when I was getting a bit restless but had eaten through only eight of the 10 courses, I fell into the closing pages of The Great Gatsby, and floated away. Then it was time to go. When the bill came I signed the credit card without a flourish, then poured myself out into the night, full of happiness and pride for spoiling myself so thoroughly.

So I’m sending thanks my old friend Lynn, wherever she is, for giving me the courage to eat alone in a fancy restaurant. I loved it Lynn. You knew I would.

[I have been wrestling with the alignment of the text with these photos but they will have to wait until Ms Zoe gets back from her holiday shenanigans to fix the blessed things. My bad.]

Dr Sister Outlaw’s baking career goes bung …

Having written extensively on the magic of flour-butter combos (which includes fabulous pastry for scallop pies), the seductive powers of fine desserts like Lemon Delicious Pudding and the charms of Christmas pudding, I think I have established I have quite a thing for working with flour.

Of all my kitchen skills I am most grateful for my skills as a baker and pastry chef. Over three decades I have gained a keen sense of how to emulsify flour and liquids into elastic doughs, or puff flour and fat into gorgeous cakes and desserts. I have celebrated these skills most when I have someone to impress; at a “bring a plate” do or, as has not often been the case, when there is an appreciative man around. I’m a baking nerd with a real thing for gluten – I know how to use it and how to play with it. And of course I love to eat it, as I confessed in my post about my food crimes as a single woman.

But now find myself in a quite a sad situation. Those who follow me on twitter will realise that I have, of late, developed a strong and quite dizzy making crush. This of course is not sad at all, for it seems the crush is reciprocated. No, what’s sad is all my mad baking skills are wasted upon him. He cannot eat gluten. Worst of all, I have not spent that much time cooking for people who are gluten intolerant so I do not know how to bake or make much at all without it.

The only answer to this problem, of course, is to develop some skills and knowhow in the area of gluten-free baking and cooking, which is why I have turned to you, denizens of the lazy web. I know you wise and learned Progressive Dinner Party readers will have heaps of good advice about how to develop mad skills in gluten-free baking. So, this is an open thread on pitfalls and dangers, tips and advice and, hopefully, a really good recipe for gluten-free bread.

Can we go on? DSO contemplates Masterchef sans Marion and Jonathan

I am so sad. After performing amazing cooking feats, the nation’s most beloved AND the nation’s most bitched about are both gone.

Marion definitely had skill in buckets, and was lovely. The only good thing about her elimination was watching Alvin say OMG and Claire wrap Aaron up in the biggest hug, while the others tried not to smile at the chance they might now get ahead.

Jonathan suited more complicated tastes than Marion, or maybe it was just that he grew on you. He certainly grew on me. I can only think how irritated he was that he got knocked out by two Eliminata, but he graciously did not say so. He did however say that his ruthless ‘eliminator’ persona was a product of the cutting room floor. The bevy of friends and family and the loving wife who welcomed him home would seem to indicate this is true.

Oh goodness. Two reliable, consistent performers, each capable of real flair, each of whom held deep knowledge and understanding of their craft, both gone. So now, we return to the gifted amateurs.

Thoughts people, thoughts. Will the telly be better or worse without them? Will others fly now that Marion and Jonathan aren’t going to win everything? Will the food be better now that people who don’t know very much will be faffing about in the Masterchef kitchen?

OR WAS THIS ALL A STUNT TO PLAY WITH OUR HEADS?

You be the judge. The thread is open. Bitch, whine, moan, complain, mourn. Whatever you need to do.

And they’re rounding the bend … or sending Dr Sister Outlaw around one: Midseason Masterchef post

So, nine to go, which means eight eliminations before we find out who is The One. We are getting to know the personalities, and everyone surely has their favourites and their hot tips, and enough good people are gone now to be a bit upset (Jake and Skye, for instance). Last night Matt Preston tweeted that every week of episodes equals 10 days of filming and we are catching up to where the remaining contestants are really at.

While we wait to see who goes home from tonight’s Blue Team (which contains most of my favourites), it seems a good time to reflect on the series thus far. I will present the following observations, for the purpose of discussion and debate. (With the exception of the first point, which is beyond question, OK?)

1. Joanne simply has to go. No one can take any more of her ingratiating manner, which is so incongruous with her tightly pursed lips. Lest anyone think my loathing of her is about appearances, let me make it very clear – she put Carrie in it with the creme brulee even though she contributed to it by making Carrie fix her peaches and she dumped on Jonathan’s leadership. This is where we need a voting mechanism – Australia hates dobbers.

2. I really like Jonathan now, and it seems to me that, after a rough start, the others are fond of him too. Under pressure he’s a good leader, he takes responsibility and if he can survive the emotional strain of one more elimination challenge, he’s a contender. He’s also a fearsomely talented cook and I’d like to read a cookbook he wrote.

3. Aaron really needs to wash his hair and shave because I don’t like thinking about him handling food as he currently appears and I am in no way particular about these things. Also, he should get over himself.

4. I really like Claire, Adam and Marion, but I think that they might be disadvantaged by having faced too few eliminations. Adam and Marion’s immunity may weaken them in the longer term.

5. George really should stop saying beeyouteeful and just say bewdiful, like he really wants to.

6. Last time I posted about Masterchef, I observed a distinct skills deficit, but the skills really have improved. This makes me wonder just how much training they do off camera.

OK, so that’s my two cents’ worth. What do all youse think?

Dr Sister Outlaw asks, ‘do the basics matter’ and ‘what is the world coming to with these young people’?

I’m loving Australian Masterchef 2010, although it’s pretty different to the first season. Last year I didn’t watch seriously until the major personalities had emerged. Even so, it was clear that each contestant was seriously interested in a wide range of cooking styles and was a reliable all-rounder, as well as being able to demonstrate flair and insight.

But this year, night after night, I sit there tweeting (which, as Zoe and other tweeps have said, is more than half the fun of viewing) complaining about the incompetence of this lot and their constant moans (and tears): “I’ve never … [cooked Thai, filleted fish, seen a live chook, made a curry from scratch] before”. And although I initially forgave Kate for using a microwave because she made a great case for it, she was so ignorant that if she hadn’t been eliminated I would have microwaved her.

This week in the eliminations Jonathan “The Terminator” saw off “Soggy” Adele (thanks whoever tweeted that epithet). He’d also easily despatched Devon “No Nickname Necessary”. Why? Because of his technical competence. He was superb at handling eggs and had actually thought about the chemistry of tomato paste and that it does not enhance a bolognaise unless you cook it for hours. When I was discussing this with my bloke, who is learning to cook, he said “I always put tomato paste in bolognaise”, which kind of underscores my point – Adele failed because she cooks by the “always” method, rather than being analytical about what she is doing.

Home cooks like me usually have a good sense about how to dish up good tasting food, but I would argue that a chef thinks much more deeply about the ways in which the chemistry and physics of cooking affect taste. The highest expression of this is molecular gastronomy, which is iconoclastic in the way it challenges rules and understandings but does through via highly refined technique. You could say Masterchef teaches home cooks to think about chemistry and physics (certainly Gary and George try), but you can’t teach contestants how to break rules if they don’t know any rules to start with.

Then I read this Associated Press article about food snobbery. Apparently wee young things have not got a clue about cooking technique because they don’t read cookbooks any more but source their info from teh internetz:

“The twentysomethings right now are probably one of the most educated food generations ever. And by that I mean they can talk to you about foie gras or cooking sous vide or the flavor profile of a Bordeaux,” said Cheryl Brown, editorial director of the popular website Slashfood.

“But what they can’t do is truss a chicken or cook a pot roast. So there’s this funny balance of having an amazing breadth of food knowledge but not having the kitchen basics to back it up,” she said.

Hmmm. I’m not Gen Y but I don’t think we can blame teh internetz. For one thing, the web is full of people showing off their technique (I’ll often google when I am stumped about how to do something I’ve not done before). But if the current Masterchef contestants are any guide, this article may be bang on the mark.

But who or what can we blame for this problem? Maybe Jamie Oliver and Nigella Lawson (who I love, btw), for dumbing food down to reliable combinations? Maybe providore types, for telling us that only the most exclusive items from the most rarefied locations can be considered edible? Or is this just another Gen Y bashing exercise, and the truth is there is no problem at all?

An open thread, on whatever you feel like saying about food, technique, Masterchef, the contestants’ obvious hatred of Jonathan, Gen Y and food knowledge.

‘Mum, you overgrew them!’: Dr Sister Outlaw’s bountiful home harvest

It’s been a lovely summer and autumn of eating in my vege patch. Every day since November I have been harvesting herbs, rambling for raspberries, slurping shockingly sweet strawberries and, when the alliteration got too much, unearthing spuds from mulch, snapping leaves of kale and silver beet and devouring zucchinis. The only disappointment of the season was the tomatoes, which resented the foot of rain we got in one weekend in January and sulked throughout the extended warm dry period we enjoyed until yesterday. I’m not bothered. That wet summer and long autumn made growing everything else easy. I still have strawberries!

strawberries

Easy is good, because I am not diligent in the garden (or many other places, if you really want to know). I am prone to fits and starts and sometimes ignore things. I’m not always cooking so I don’t get to things in time. In the garden, this forgetfulness can have spectacular results.

These Hollow Crown parsnips looked so pretty in the vege patch that I was loth to dig them up, but maybe I shoulda done it sooner, because they got a bit … large (that’s a full size 1940s sink they are sitting on). Notice the rather ladylike limbs on the top one? I did wonder if these were really mandrakes (or ladydrakes), but luckily they did not scream when cooked. Parsnips get a bad rap, as this story about Don Burke ripping Donna Hay a new one for daring to promote them reveals. He is wrong. Parsnips are delicious. Which doesn’t explain why I ignored them so comprehensively they grew legs.

But then my marrows got into a similar state, as you can see with this cucumber, modelled by my lovely assistant Aaron, who adores cucumbers but is not sure about this one.

I’ve blogged about the advantages of overgrown zucchinis before, but I love baby beets and slender parsnips, roasted with brown sugar and balsamic, so there’s really no accounting for letting things go to this extent.

Yet this neglect has had benign – nay, wonderful – results. OK, if you ever saw a parsnip the size and shape of the ones above in a shop, you would never buy it, and neither you should. It would be tough, woody of heart and bitter of taste, because it would have endured long periods in transit and storage. But when taken straight from the earth (with a giant fork and a lot of grunting), even massive parsnips are sweet, juicy and yielding. I casseroled some with a jointed chook, a cup of white wine, preserved lemon and a bit of sage and tarragon and the result was a sauce that looked like I’d added a cup of cream to it. I nearly died of pleasure eating it. I also made them into a vegan soup with vege stock and white wine – they smelled apple sweet. 

Same goes for the beetroot, which were so overgrown they stood up out of the ground but united heaven and earth when cooked into a soup with coriander and served with a dollop of tart yoghurt. But again, you wouldn’t buy beetroot like that in a shop. You’d surmise it would be past its peak of perfection, but you would be wrong.

It’s made me think a lot about how aesthetic notions of shop-ready produce lead to waste. What do the farmers do with the produce that does not meet Coles-Woollies specifications because it is too big, too small or looks like mandrake? I suppose some goes to canneries, but precious little would be returned to the earth via compost.

Growing to order can also afflict home gardeners, to their cost. If we only eat when vegetables reach a defined size, we miss the early tenderness of baby vegetables and shorten the eating season. If you cut the head off a cabbage or silverbeet or lettuce you kill it, but if you harvest outside leaves as you need them it will bear for months and months – over the course of a year a bunch of kale will become a palm tree. Peas and beans produce longer if harvested constantly, so it makes even more sense to pick early and often. If you leave things in the ground there is always something to salvage when you are hungry. And although most gardening books would tell you beetroots and parsnips take a lot of space, the fact is I’ve gotten almost six months of eating from stuffing a couple of dozen plants into a square metre of garden, and have not tired of either food. You see, even the instructions on seed packets guide you to producing shop-ready vegetables.

My slack gardening habits have led me to an epiphany. It’s time to break free from supermarket values. Don’t follow the directions on the seed packet but overplant and eat as you thin – the plants left over will fatten in the extra space and be there when you want them. Eat the leaf the caterpillar has chomped on, grow the artichokes to see their beauty, let the beets and parsnips stay in the ground until you are good and ready for them and save your harvesting energy for turning summer peaches into bellinis or racing the autumn frosts to tuck the tender things into the really deep freeze.