Thursday, June 24, 2010

Comfy Alex, Cozy Food

Alex's Day Off with Alex Guarnaschelli

Comfy Sunday Brunch

Deluxe Coffee Cake

Homemade Butter

Omelet with Fines Herbes

White Mushrooms and Spinach

Raspberry and Lime Brunch Cocktail

As tough as Alex can be on the chefs on Chopped, she’s quite easy on her viewers on Alex’s Day Off, as she gently guides us through recipes that the home cook can easily accomplish. They may be simple, but each step is perfectly executed and THAT is what I appreciate about this show.

Alex is making brunch today.

She starts by making her own butter!!! (Does she serve this in her restaurant?) She whisks together 2 1/2 cups of cream and a cup of sour cream. (She notes in the recipe to use an all natural sour cream.) Alex puts the mixture into the KitchenAid and beats it on a low speed for awhile.

The milk solids are going to separate from the liquids, she tells us, and she’s going to wind up with butter and its by-product, which is buttermilk. Wouldn’t the same thing happen without the sour cream? I guess that makes it tangy.

Alex moves on to her coffee cake. For the topping, she melts 5 tablespoons butter and mixes together toasted walnuts, pecans, flour, sugar, cinnamon (which she sifts), light brown sugar and salt. She breaks it all up with her hands.

I love the aside that Alex adds when she’s talking about the nut topping. She’s visualizes the cake coming out of the oven…all golden and puffy with the crunchy topping. She picks off a piece of the topping and puts it into her…

Hold on! This is sounding rather racy. Alex gives us a naughty smile.

I really like her and I LOVE the Food Network manicurist, who is doing a great job. Her hands are more than camera-ready. Beautiful hair and makeup too, by the way.

Alex mixes melted butter into the topping mixture and spreads it out on a tray. She refrigerates it. I wonder why. Is it going on the BAKED cake?

Back to the HOMEMADE butter, Alex shows us the buttermilk in the bottom of the bowl. She drains it and gathers the remaining butter up in cheesecloth. She squeezes it gently to get rid of any additional liquid (the buttermilk) and then submerges the entire cheesecloth-wrapped ball into an ice bath.

Alex lifts it out the ball of butter and unwraps it. “I’m going to pop it on the table, kind of innocently, like, oh by the way, I just happened to whip up some HOMEMADE BUTTER.” She obviously expects our friends and family to rave. I certainly would.

For the coffee cake batter, she creams butter and sugar together and then cracks two eggs into a little bowl and beats them in separately.

Alex says sifting the dry ingredients incorporates them better AND aerates them. She sifts flour with salt, baking power, baking soda and flour. Next she measures out some of the homemade buttermilk and mixes it with some yogurt. She adds the dry and wet ingredients alternately to the creamed butter mixture.

It goes into a buttered 9 by 13 glass baking dish. She spreads it gently…the same way she talks to us. The topping goes on now, but WHY did she refrigerate it? Does that make it clump together more, even after baking?

Alex makes sure to put some extra topping in the corner, so she can fulfill her breaking-off-a-piece-of-the-topping fantasy when it comes out of the oven. It bakes for 40 to 50 minutes at 350ยบ F.

Alex makes an herb syrup for a raspberry spritzer. She has ½ cup of water boiling on the stove and she adds ½ cup superfine sugar and then shuts off the heat. She adds mint leaves and just leaves it to infuse. Remember this for a fabulous iced tea. Add TONS of mint in that case.

Alex layers ¾ cup of sugar and 2 pints of raspberries in a tall pitcher. She keeps 1 pint of raspberries for garnish. She pounds the raspberries with the sugar, muddling them with a wooden spoon (I think it was a spoon). She adds ¼ cup fresh lime juice to the raspberries (to brighten the flavor), strains the syrup in and refrigerates the pitcher.

The coffee cake comes out of the oven and Alex tests it with a knife. She takes a “TINY” scoop from the corner and covers her tracks. I'm really liking her. I wonder if she has any tips for covering up the hole left by eating a quarter of a layer cake. What about a half a container of Edy’s caramel fudge?

To serve with an omelet, Alex quarters white button mushrooms and adds them to a hot cast iron skillet with some olive oil, garlic, thyme and salt. (MC says not to add the salt until the mushrooms are browned.)

I don’t think I need to describe how she makes toast. Oh wait, she’s slicing a beautiful loaf of sour dough bread quite thick, which will never fit in the toaster, so she’ll do it in the oven.

Alex adds some Marsala to the mushroom pan. She pulls it off the heat and then “pops” it back on and cooks it off.

The garlic cloves and thyme get picked out of the pan and, after turning off the heat, Alex adds some fresh spinach leaves.

For the omelet, Alex chops A LOT of chives, tarragon and parsley. She breaks 3 eggs (one-handed) into a bowl and whisks them with a fork. She tells us not to waste our energy overbeating, to save it for eating. I’m with her. She adds a tablespoon of water. GOOD! No salt?


She takes out the toast and tucks it into a towel to keep warm. She adds coarse salt and freshly ground pepper to the homemade butter. She tastes the mushrooms. Yum.

Alex adds a few drops of hot sauce, Worcestershire and salt to the eggs. She pours them into the hot pan. She stirs the eggs and then swirls the edges around. She adds the herbs. (Not all of them, but still A LOT.)

Alex finishes her omelet in a slightly untraditional way (to me, at least), but actually it’s neater. She folds in a third of the omelet towards herself and then she folds over the other third to envelope the herbs. She tilts it out onto the plate.

It’s less wide than usual, because it’s folded in thirds, not halves. And it looks less baveuse than I like it, but I bet it’s good. The mushrooms go on the plate, the toast gets buttered. She tastes everything. Loves it.

Alex fills up the chilled raspberry and mint syrup pitcher with champagne. She places raspberries in a champagne glass and pours herself a cocktail. Hmm, I AM liking that.

BTW, Bobby Flay (mwwwahhh!) is her executive producer, but I feel as if the concept and execution of the show is all Alex.

There was nothing I didn’t like. There were no loud voices or jerky movements, just the calm assurance of a professional showing us how it’s done. I would visit Alex’s kitchen anytime.


SayGrace said...

So glad you love the Alex. I think she just seems so darned SMART in the kitchen and I feel like I truly do learn a little something-something each show.(And I get the feeling she'd be really funny and more than a tad naughty if you hung out with her!) I made the Indian dinner she did a couple weeks back and it was perfection.

The Short (dis)Order Cook said...

I rather liked her previous show: The Cooking Loft. She doesn't get wound up in catch phrases, spastic gestures, and theatrics (which is why I supposed FN cancelled the show) and did demonstrate real cooking techiniques that weren't complicated (TAKE THAT Rachael and Sandy - real cooking doesn't have to be hard!) I'd be willing to watch more of her shows.

I've been known to whip up leftover cream into butter and then freeze the buttermilk for whatever purposes I need in the future. Nothing goes to waste and I have homemade butter. I would never add sour cream though. I don't want my butter tart!

Sue said...

Hiya Grace,
Actually Alex seems like she'd be smart ANYWHERE, not just the kitchen. I agree that she would probably be a hoot to hang with. Love her!

Hi Rach,
I didn't like that show. Those random people hanging around seemed to suck the energy out of the room. I just wanted HER.

YOU are sooo good. That actually is a great thing to do with leftover cream (as if I would ever have any leftover). I'm with you about the sour cream. I think I would leave it out.

Anonymous said...

Hi Sue,

I like Alex's food and cooking techniques. And for the most part her personality too, but I find some of the looks she gives the camera a little disconcerting sometimes -- like we're supposed to be in on some sort of joke or something.

Adding sour cream to the butter would make it taste more like cultured butter -- I buy that from Vermont Butter and Cheese sometimes when I want a more interesting taste on toast or bagels. But I don't use it in cooking or baking.

I disagree with her instructions to toast the nuts for the top of the coffee cake, though -- it would be OK for filling, but in my experience getting the topping the right color toasts the nuts enough without doing it beforehand.

Cynthia said...

I love Alex!