Friends of the tribe: Christmas Eve special with The Humble Gourmet

She takes seemingly complicated gourmet dishes and makes them simple, easy, and beautiful. If I have to tell you all about Jillian Einck in a sentence, I would use her quote from her blog. ‘We all need to eat, right? So why not eat well?’

Creme fraiche and pink peppercorn ice cream. How did you ever come up with that?

Years ago, I had peppercorn ice cream at a small artisan ice cream shop that blew my mind. I loved the sweet ice cream with the peppery bite at the end; it was the first time I had ever realized how creative you could get with desserts, using ingredients that were not traditionally used in sweets to really elevate a dish. For my recipe, I added the creme fraiche because I thought the slightly sour element would mix really well with the pepper and sweet, rounding out the dish in a really interesting way.

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Macarons are so difficult to master, and you have three wonderful variations on your blog. Do you have tips to share for all those hesitant to make them?

Macarons definitely take some practice. The most important element I have found is knowing your oven; I had perfected a recipe for use in my former oven, but since moving last year, my current oven is a little more tempermental. Try a couple of test batches at different heat and timing settings to figure out what really works best for your kitchen. The other thing to really keep in mind is the moisture element. Always age your egg whites on the counter at least 24 hours beforehand; it allows some of the water in the whites to evaporate, allowing for a much firmer, stiffer peak. Also, after piping on the baking sheets, I always give my shells about an hour to sit out and form a bit of a crust before baking; this helps prevent cracking. You want a thin, firm shell giving way to a chewy center.

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What’s the one dish you haven’t been able to master yet?

Honeycomb! I’ve made about 4 batches now, and have yet to produce anything besides a heavy, sticky sugar mass. It has been discouraging, but I’ve managed to learn a lot about candy making through the mistakes.

What’s your signature style of cooking? Do you have a must-cook recipe that you share with new cooks?

I’m not sure if it’s a signature style, but I love to take a seemingly complicated or “gourmet” recipe and breaking it down in a way that is easy and accessible to the at-home cook. I find a lot of readers and friends are intimidated by certain dishes that don’t need to be too intimidating. One of my favorites to do with friends who are new to cooking is chocolate pots de creme; an incredibly simple dessert that seems way more complicated than it ever needs to be. I always tell them, master this and homemade whipped cream, and you will impress almost anyone!

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What are your favourite Christmas food traditions?

So many of my Christmas traditions revolve around food. I like to make candy for friends and family at Christmas, macarons and truffles being a particular favorite amongst the family. Homemade candy just has something that you can’t quite find in store-bought, and most everyone loves getting these gifts. My all-time favorite dessert is served at Christmas too. My family calls it “pink dessert”; a pink peppermint gelatin cream, similar in consistency to a panna cotta, served in a chocolate wafer crust. So, so good!

Who are your blogger friends who you turn to for inspiration, critique, or just good food?

My closest blogger friend, and the person who got me inspired to begin blogging, is Emily from Sparkle Meets Pop (www.sparklemeetspop.com). We’ve been great friends since middle school, and she is one of the first people I go to with recipe inspirations. We’ve hosted a couple of parties together; she providing her excellent styling skills and me on food. I’ve also recently become good friends with Camille from Planning Pretty (www.planningpretty.com). She has background working in a patisserie, so we’ve bounded over a love of baking and all things sweet. Nichole from Vanilla Extract (www.vanillaextract.me), Ana from Fluxi on Tour (www.fluxiontour.com) and Melissa from Serving Seconds (www.servingseconds.com) are all great bloggers who I’ve spent some time with recently exchanging tips, tricks and recipes.

If you had to make one dish to impress a non-foodie someone, what would you make?

Usually one of my desserts. A good chocolate mousse always impresses, as do almost any macaron or meringue recipe. I’ve found if you make someone a really great dessert, you can get away with most anything. ;-)

How do you make sure all your recipes are on the affordable side?

Being affordable is important. What I like to do is use high-end ingredients sparingly, surrounded by simple but good ingredients. I like to think a really well executed but simple recipe is infinitely more impressive than a bunch of fancy elements thrown together haphazardly. For instance, I’ll make whipped cream with basic heavy cream and sugar, but add a teaspoon of a high-quality Tahitian vanilla. Just a little bit of a really good ingredient to help take that basic recipe to a higher level. Living on a budget definitely helps keep this in check; I have a few high-end ingredients in my pantry, but use them carefully and thoughtfully.

What’s the most encouraging thing a reader has written to you?

I had one reader tell me that my blog has encouraged her to try recipes she had always deemed as “too advanced.” She had been scared to try making mousse after hearing from a friend that it was hard to master. After reading my recipe and breakdown, she gave it a try and hit it out of the park! I love hearing that I have made gourmet and difficult recipes more accessible by breaking down recipes to a simpler level; my goal has always been to encourage others to test themselves and their skills, and have fun while they’re at it. I love to cook, and I hope that my enthusiasm rubs off on my readers as well.

What’s the most rewarding thing The Humble Gourmet has given you?

I would have to say the most rewarding thing The Humble Gourmet has given me is a community of like-minded friends. I have met so many wonderful people through the blog, most of which share my near obsession with food and baking. :-) It has been great sharing tips and tricks and recipes with other cooks and bloggers; it has helped me to improve my own cooking skills and inspired me to become much more creative in my recipes.

What are you cooking for Christmas this year?

My family and I will be having fondue and crab for Christmas Eve dinner (a new tradition started just a couple of years ago). I will be providing dessert in the form of chocolate truffles and my famous truffle-sea salt caramels. I like individual and bite-sized desserts at Christmas; you can get away with eating a lot more that way. :-)