Things have been pretty quiet around here… at least online. I haven’t been cooking much these past two weeks. The reason I haven’t been cooking is two-fold. First, the temperature has been up in the 90’s almost every single day. We still have to eat, of course, but I have been avoiding the stove, grill, oven, and every other source of heat. We’ve been having panzanella salads, cold pasta salads, plain-old salads, grilled kale caesar salads, Thai salads, and the occasional bowl of cereal for dinner… last night we fed the girls and then forgot to make food for ourselves. We only remembered that we hadn’t had dinner when we climbed into bed at 10:30pm and by then it was too late, and we were to tired to do anything about it.
The second reason I haven’t been cooking much is that my back has been hurting a lot and I’ve been feeling pretty down. Spending time driving to doctor appointments or on the phone with the insurance, spending lots of money on an MRI, spending way too much time Googling medical terminology and watching YouTube videos on anatomy have a way of zapping your optimism. I can only sit or stand still for a few minutes before my muscles tighten up and start to ache so I’ve been avoiding working, and cooking. The irony, if that’s what you can call it in this case, is that my work, and my cooking, are what keep me going throughout the day. Creating recipes, playing with ingredients, photography, writing, and ultimately feeding my family what I’ve created is what motivates me and keeps me energized. Cooking is my creative outlet and it’s something I feel fulfilled by and proud of.
I had an MRI last week because half of my leg wasn’t working and my doctors wanted to rule out a major injury. The MRI came back totally clean which is wonderful; no herniated disc, no slipped vertebrae, no surgery, no degeneration, no arthritis. But a clean MRI also means that nailing down the cause of my pain and nerve impingement isn’t going to be quite as easy as taking a picture, or in this case, a magnetic resolution image. I got a cortisone injection in my left hip to try to get some of the inflammation down and I’m heading back to the physical therapist with a little more information and we will change direction by adding more exercises to my routine. I’m determined to work my way out of pain; part of that means not letting my pain get in the way of my cooking because without it I feel lost and defeated and bored. In order to defeat the discomfort I need to stay positive and active. I hate sharing this here because I pride myself on being a positive, proactive person and it’s hard for me to admit that I’m having a hard time.
I went grocery shopping yesterday and loaded up on ingredients to do some proper cooking, or at least some grilling. I have been doing a little cooking… or rather, I’ve been mixing together ingredients that “cook” themselves. I’ve been playing around in the kitchen making Crème Fraîche, which requires no cooking at all. Last week I shared my Cherry Clafoutis recipe which is served with Crème Fraîche. I had decided to make my own Crème Fraîche rather than buying the small $6 tub of it at the grocery store. I was a little apprehensive about making something that’s fermented, which is kind of silly considering that my husband ferments things for a living!
Crème Fraîche is a cultured cream made by combining heavy cream with a starter and allowing it to thicken and develop a slightly tart, nutty, rich flavor. Crème fraîche is less sour than sour cream, and used for savory dishes and well as for desserts. It can be used on top of fresh berries or pie, to add cream to soups, thicken sauces, etc. It’s commonly used all over Europe, but up until recently I couldn’t even find it in the grocery store here. I did lots of research for different Crème Fraîche recipes and set about experimenting. Our counter for the last week has been covered in little bowls and cups filled with heavy cream and buttermilk, each with it’s own Post-It to remind me how much of each ingredient I had mixed together and how long the bowl was supposed to sit out.
This is all sounding pretty complicated but it’s actually really easy. All you need is heavy cream and buttermilk! What I found with my recipe experimentation is that the recipe isn’t perfectly fixed. I made three different variations of Crème Fraîche; each had it’s own flavor profile depending on the ratio of buttermilk to heavy cream. All the combinations were relatively similar, but there were subtle differences in the flavor and in the texture. Depending on what kind of buttermilk you buy, and what kind of heavy cream you buy, and what the temperature is outside, the fermentation time can vary quite a bit. You also can control the tartness of the crème fraîche by adjusting the buttermilk to cream ratio. Below are the different variations I tried and a couple of notes on each of them.
2 cups heavy cream
1 tablespoon buttermilk
This combination was our favorite. It thickened up more than the others and was rich, creamy, nutty, and lightly tart.
2 cups heavy cream
2 tablespoons buttermilk
This combination tasted a lot like tart cream cheese, it tasted a little like almonds, and had a nice texture.
1 cups heavy cream 2 tablespoon buttermilk
This combination was nutty and tart; a lot like sour cream. This was also the most liquid/thinnest Crème Fraîche.
Combine the heavy cream and buttermilk in a small bowl. Stir to combine. Cover with a thin cloth and let it stand at room temperature, preferably in a warm, draft free place, for 12-24 hours. When it’s the thickness that you like, stir it, cover it and refrigerate until chilled before using. It will keep in the refrigerator for about a week.