Monday, April 28, 2008


In the previous post, I promised the tzaziki recipe. This one isn't exactly traditional, but pretty close. I should have used yogurt, but I used home-made quark instead. It's what I had in the house and sometimes you just have to make do.

1 cucumber
1t Kosher salt - divided use
2 cloves garlic
1 cup loose packed mint - the fresher the better
1T high quality, preferably Greek, extra virgin olive oil
1 cup quark (or 1 1/2 cups plain yogurt, strained for about an 30 minutes)
juice of 1/2 lemon (more or less to taste)
freshly ground black pepper, also to taste.

Peel the whole cucumber in stripes lengthwise, so that you have alternating peeled/unpeeled surfaces. You could completely peel it, but I likethe color and texture of a little peel. Cut in half lengthwise and scoop out the seeds. Discard the seeds. Chop the cucumber finely (1/4" dice) and salt in a colander for 30 minutes. This removes much of the liquid and makes the tzaziki less watery.

If using plain yogurt, strain it through cheesecloth for about 30 minutes. You should have a little more than a cup of strained yogurt.

Peel and make a paste out of the garlic. Using a press is fine, or simply running your knife over it on the curing board works too. Put the garlic paste into a small non reactive bowl. Add the olive oil. Set aside. Pull the mint leaves off the stems and discard the stems. Mince the mint leaves and add to the oil/garlic in the bowl.

Add the quark (or yogurt if using) to the mint/garlic/oil in the bowl and stir well. Rinse the cucumbers, pat dry (very dry) and add to the bowl. Stir and taste. Add lemon juice a little at a time until you have the flavor you want. Check for seasoning, adding a couple of grinds of black pepper.

Set aside (well covered) in the refrigerator for at last an hour.

Serve with lamb souvlaki, gyros, shoe leather, pretty much anything. It should keep the vampires away for a bit too.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

strawberry season

April in North Texas is Strawberry time, so Madame and I always head to Gnismer Farms on Bowen Rd. in Arlington to pick them. Today was this year's pilgrimage, and what a wonderful day it turned out to be.

I had previously decided on Souvlaki for dinner, especially when I saw lamb shoulder at $1.99/lb this morning.

So I bought a chunk of lamb shoulder and boned it, cut it into 1 inch cubes and set it to marinate with olive oil, garlic, mint, thyme and oregano. It is so good having the fresh herbs to hand.

This afternoon we drove down to Gnismer farms to pick our own strawberries. It was a coolish ut sunny afternoon and there were several families already picking theer. It was wonderful to see how wxcited the kids were when they found ripe fruit. Also to see their happy faces and strawberry juice stained clothes. We picked about 14lbs of strawberries - some for freezing and some for eating now. Once we had paid for them, we engaged the farme owners in conversation to find out what else they had.

That opened the motherlode. We bought lettuce (by going down the rows of plants and pointing to the ones we wanted). Also they dug onions and leeks for us, found some honey comb taken from the bees on the property. What a treat.

So for dinner (and leftovers for Madame all week), we had the souvlaki (oh yes I made tzaziki for that, recipe in another post) and grilled eggplant, mushrooms, onions, leeks and cauliflower that I had bought before visiting the farm. A bottle of a Beaujolais Villages and we were happy campers.

It was so good to connect again with the growing of the food we ate and to marvel at the earth's bounty.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Cooking school day 3

If I thought day 2 was intense, I was in for a real shock on day 3. The menu looked straightforward -
  • Beef pot roast
  • Grilled rib eye steaks with a mushroom sauce
  • Perfect mashed potatoes
  • Greens and blue cheese dressing
  • Green beans with a shallot vinaigrette
  • Individual chocolate soufflees
  • Blueberry muffins

Again 5 hours from start to cleanup. We missed this one it went almost 6 hours, there was so much to do.

This time the pressure was on to get it all done. Again planning and sequence were keys. Recognizing what can be done ahead and held, what has to be done right then and there, and what kinds of timing/oven collisions there might be so they can be avoided. For instance one of the ovens needed three different temps, with the souuflees being the most critical. They were at the very end of the meal, so we had to the temp. of the oven back to the right place for them. That meant cooking the muffins, then the bacon pretty early in the process to give the oven a chance to cool a bit.

Of course the pot roast was going to take 3 hours in the oven, let alone the amount of prep required. So that had to be done first, oh and the blue cheese dressing needed to chill a long while to let the flavors blend. My head was spinning.

Anyhow off to do it, and it became clear that the pressure was real. 2 potentially disastrous errors - one was I used the confectioner's sugar that had been measured for the muffin glaze instead of the granulated sugar. That meant that the quantity was wrong. Luckily I caght that one added granulated sugar to the muffins and baked them anyway. They came out fine. I was amazed that when recipes tell you that muffins don't require much mixing the really mean it. This was barely a batter. It didn't stay together at all, and when I scooped it into the pans it looked awful. Never mind they came out just fine with a lighter texture than I am used to. The Dallas Stars will have to look elsewhere for pucks.

The second error was that was about to make the world's first flourless soufflee. That probably would not have been a success. Fortunately the chef instructor caught that one and asked when the flour should be added. So good opportunity to see what happens if you add it late. It appeared not to matter, but of course it was a pain to add because I couldn't do it all at once for fear of lumps.

Everyting from that point on was a blur! It was nice to get my hands on a food mill for the potatoes - easier than the ricer I normally use.

Also interesting to use beurre manie to thicken the sauce from the pot roast. It is pretty straightforward to do and adds a nice richness. Another technique to add to the repertoire.

The result of all of this was pretty good, timing was a bit off, so things weren't as hot as I would of liked. However, it shows it is possible to get through this much work in about 5 hours. The extra time was the eating.

All in all, I got a lot out of the classes, thought they were good value and loved that attitude of Dianne and Emily. Of course I was lucky to have them all to myself.

Cooking school Day 2

Day 2 at the Milestone Cooking School proved as useful and interesting as day 1. I was still the only student, so was able to continue to work on weaknesses, while making the dishes that were on the menu for the day.

The pace certainly picked up and was more intense than day 1. Again, the dishes were expected to be made in teams, and probably each team would work on a single dish. Not so for this session.

The menu had the following dishes:
  • Vegetable Soup
  • Pasta with fresh tomatoes
  • Chicken stuffed with Mozzarella
  • Pork tenderloin with a dijon mustard glaze
  • Rustic apple pie

all to be made, eaten and largely cleaned up in 5 hours.

When planning a meal of this size, the sequence is pretty important, so the first part of the lesson was dealing with just that. Surprisingly (or not if you were already thinking this way), the pastry for the appple pie was the first thing to be made. Followed by prepping the chicken. At least in this class we didn't have to fabricate a whole chicken, although at home I probably would.

None of the dishes was particularly complicated, but they were all fairly laborious - well all except the pork.

Again, lots of learning. Keeping the workplace tidy and clean. Many trips to the sink for washing/sanitization. The pastry was interesting - the tricks there were keeping everything really cold and using a whole lot less liquid than you think. When you turn it out of the food processor it is kind of a shaggy mess which really does come together quickly and easily. Lots of resting time in the fridge and rolling was a cinch. Well, rolling was a cinch once they showed me what I was doing wrong.

Making sure that the pork tenderloin was cooked just enough (I like it at 140, the FDA recommends something much higher, but with modern pork cooking it a little less seems to preserve the juiciness). However if you have any doubts cook it to the temperature your country advises. It was seared to build a nice crust and flavor and then cooked on a rack in the oven (350 or so for about 12 minutes). Your mileage may very depending on oven callibration.

Prepping the chicken meant making a pocket, so of course I tore one. The flour coating helped to seal it after it stuffing it. These needed to be refrigerated as well prior to cooking them. More opportunity to ensure that I used one hand to handle the chicken and the other to dip into the salt/pepper for seasoning. You don't want a chickeny hand in the salt - contamination you know!

Everything therafter was pretty straight forward, but since there was a fair amount going on, it was amatter of staying organized and paying attention.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Seabirdskitchen decamps to cooking school - day 1

This weekend I am attending cooking classes at the Milestone School in the Viking kitchen in Dallas. 3 pretty intense days. The class is supposed to take up to 12 people, but they had no shows last evening. I was therefore privileged to have a private class with a wonderful chef and a culinary school student.

Quite the treat. The first evening involved making 2 main courses (a crispy lemon chicken and an Asian marinated mahi mahi) with a rice pilaf and stir fried veges. For dessert a made from scratch raspberry shortcake. Normally, of course, this would be done in teams, but I got to do it all.

Lessons at several levels. First the reinforcement - especially for the stir fry - that size matters. Getting the piecs even in size so they cook evenly and fit well on the fork is critical. Second, the emphasis on hygiene, hand washing and general sanitization after handling the raw chicken. Third a great tip for pounding the chicken - put the breast into a zip-loc bag and pound it in that. It's a whole lot easier than using cling-wrap.

I got to try using panko for the first time, and yes it is worth it. So I can see that becoming a staple.

Today will be an intense day - I am looking forward to it. More posts to come.

Bread starter

I had been wondering how long my bread starter would keep without the normal care and feeding. So 2 weeks ago I put cling wrap on it and put it in the fridge. I then left town, leaving the starter in a state of suspended animation.

On my return home on Thursday evening, I took it out of the fridge, added a scoop of flour and some water, covered it with cheesecloth and left it to sit out overnight. In the morning I looked at it, it was nice and bubbly - all ready to use. I made up a batch of bread with it, and baked it in time for breakfast today.


So yes, you can keep the starter refrigerated and it works like it should.