Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Boxing Day

Our tradition during the Christmas Season is to have a Boxing Day party.

So, while Christmas for many is a time of plenty and friendship, it can highlight the poverty or loneliness of some people's lives. December 26 celebrates the Feast of St Stephen, or Boxing Day as it is known in Britain. It was on this day, we are told in the carol that “Good King Wenceslas looked out

Good King Wenceslas looked out

On the Feast of Stephen,

When the snow lay round about

Deep and crisp and even.

Brightly shone the moon that night,

Though the frost was cruel;

When a poor man came in sight

Gathering winter fuel

King Wenceslas took the poor man food, drink and firewood, to cheer and warm him with the spirit of Christmas.

In Britain, Boxing Day originally got its name from the custom of distributing the money put in alms boxes for the poor people in a town or parish. The day after Christmas, the boxes were broken open and the money distributed by the priests. This custom, which dates back to Roman times, was stopped during the Protestant Reformation in the sixteenth century. 'Christmas Boxes' then became gifts of money, or tips, given to servants, trades people and those who had provided services throughout the year.

While the Feast of Stephen is specific to the Christian Tradition, the sentiments of King Wenceslas are not confined to one faith.

We host an open house on Boxing Day where we ask our friends to bring a donation to our parish food bank, and leftovers from their own Christmas celebrations to share with each other. It’s a relaxing time now that the mad rush of getting ready for Christmas is passed.

We always make mulled wine, have hot dishes, desserts and other things for everyone to share – and are humbled by the generosity of our neighbours and friends.

The Bloody Mary Party

This was a much more sedate affair than some of our parties. We had the Christmas Eve blowout the night before and were due to go to the Four Seasons for brunch on Christmas Day. There were a group of us going, so we suggested stopping by our house for a bloody mary to sweep away any cobwebs that had accumulated the night before. This was easy, but so worth doing.

We made up pitchers of tomato juice and vodka (2.5:1 ratio tomato juice:vodka) and chilled it. On the counter we put out a variety of additions:

Limes cut into 1/8ths
Martini olives
Celerey sticks
Cocktail onions
Pickle spears
Pickled jalapaneos
Habanero vinegar
Chilli salt
Worcestershire sauce

We had an ice bucket handy and appropriate glasses. Simply gave the guests a glass of ice and vodka/tomato juice and ncourgaed them to add their own fixin's. I think if we didn't have somewhere else to go, we would have stayed all afternoon with these. They turned out quite well!

Christmas 2010

It all started innocently enough. Madame and I were in Bastrop for a wedding in September. In came a text saying, "My mother in law is out ot town and we don't have anywhere to have Christmas Eve dinner, can we come to your house?" This would have been fine, except I had no idea who it was from!. My telephone had conveniently deposited all its contents into the bit bucket a couple of days before. So after some signaling back and forth, we established that it was our very good friends Etienne and Leigh who were in need of Christmas Eve support. Their usual hosts (Leigh's parents) were out of town.
Realizing that Christmas Eve was likely to be a big deal, we assembled a table for 8 and started planning a menu.
Etienne and Leigh had had an amazing foie gras dish at Gordon Ramsay's in London, had acquired the cookbook and wanted to make it. They also had a tradition of a spicy carrot soup for dinner. I make a Christmassy Salad, have to have Christmas pudding with brandy butter and figured we could make all the accompaniments. The main course had yet to be determined.

Oh and just to add to the complexity, this happened..

Foie Gras with vegetables a la grecque and brioche toast
Ingredients - The marinade
1/4 cup Sauternes
1/4 cup Calvados
1/4 cup medium sherry
Method - marinade
Combine liquids in a small pan and boil gently and reuced by half. Allow to cool.

Ingredients - Foie gras, marinade
1.75 lbs fresh grade A foie gras
1 recipe of marinade
Method prepare the foie gras
Separate the lobes of the foie gras, remove the veins and other sinews, also any blood spots. Handle it as gently as possible. Pour the marinade over the foie gras and cover, refrigerate for 6 hours or overnight. Make a parchment sling in a loaf pan, sprinkle pink salt in the bottom. Layer the foie gras in tto the pan. Cover with another layer of parchment paper, and press it down with another breadpan. Bake in a 200F oven for 45 minutes. When the foie gras is cooked, remove from the oven, weight it down with canned foods still in the pan. Refrigerate, still weighted overnight. Remove as much of the congealed yellow fat as you want.

Ingredients camomile gelee
The foie gras is to be served with a gelee made from camomile tea and sauternes, piped between batons of foie gras.
500 ml Sauternes
150 ml Camomile tea (made from 1 teabag)
6 leaves gelatine
Method - gelee
Make the camomile tea, add to the Sauternes and boil in a saucepan until reduced by half. Soak the gelatine in cold water for 3-4 minutes and then squeeze dry
Gently stir the gelatine, one sheet at a time into the reduction. When all the geklatine has been incorporated, chill te misture in an ice bath. Stir occasionally to make sure it sets up evenly. When it has mostly set, put the gelee into a piping bag with a plain nozzle. Block the tip of the nozzle with wadded up cling wrap until ready to use. refrigerate.
Meanwhile make the brioche using this recipe
Unmold the foie gras and cut into 3/4 inch batons. Place 2 batons on each plate, parallel and 3/4 inch apart. Pipe the gelee between the batons.
Cut the brioche into thin slices and toast each slice lightly on both sides. Serve 1 1/2 slices of toasted brioche with each plate of foie gras.
We served it with a fermented aperitif made from maple syrup and some blanched vegetables a la Grecque

The piquant carrot soup
This soup is traditional in Etienne and Leigh's world, and so it became the second course. Delicious - and easy to make - especially for me, Etienne did all the work!.
3T butter
4 Cups carrots, peeled and cut into 3/4 inch slices
2 Cups washed, thinly sliced leeks (white and ligh green only)
1 1/2 Cups potatoes, peeled and diced
1T peeled, grated ginger
1t Salt (more or less to taste)
1 (or more) dashes of Tabasco, depending on how piquant you want it
2 1/2 C Chicken stock
2 C Whipping cream
1t White pepper
4 Oz chopped crystallized ginger

Melt the butter in a dutch oven over medium heat. Gently sweat the carrots, leeks, potatoes, onion and the ginger for about 10 minutes. Salt the vegetables, add the chicken stock and Tabasco. Bring to the boil and simmer for about 20 minutes, covered. The vegetables should be soft and fully cooked. Puree the soup in the blender in several batches (take care not to fill the blender more than 1/2 fiull and make sure you cover with a tea towel to prevent the possibility of scalding). At this stage the soup can be held - for up to 2 days.
To serve, reheat the soup to almost boiling and stir in the cream. Do not allow it to boil after the cream has been added. Check the seasoning by adding some white pepper and extra salt if necessary. Serve piping hot in bowls with a few pieces of chopped crystallized ginger.

The Christmassy salad.
This dish appears elsewhere on this blog, so I include a link to it here

The Main Course
It is always a treat to have an excuse for a nice piece of beef. I went to Hirsch's (in Plano) and bought a prime rib roast (Prime Grade - not just the confusingly named Prime Rib!) which we cooked the way that Heston Blumenthal recommends in his book, "In Search of Perfection".
As accompaniments we had braised red cabbage, blue cheese gnocchi, mushroom ketchup and some oven roasted carrots and green beans.
The meat is also described on the blog - here
I (mostly) followed this recipe for the gnocchi. Used some Crater Lake blue cheese from the Rogue River Creamery as the filling for the gnocchi

Mushroom ketchup (adapted from Heston Blumenthal's In Search of Perfection")
This is a highly flavored brown ketchup that Chef Blumenthal recommends with the beef. It takes a couple of days to make and is sooo worth it. It is made in 3 parts.

Mushroom juice
3 lbs of white mushrooms chopped fine in a few pulses of the food processor
2T table salt

Pickled Mushrooms
1lb cremini ("Baby Bella") mushrooms - stems removed and quartered
4 oz sugar
1 1/4 C red wine vinegar

Ketchup Base
2 1/2 C Mushroom juice
Pickled mushrooms (drained)
1/2 C red wine (I used a Shiraz because that was what happened to be open)
1/4 C red wine vinegar
1/4 t ground mace
1 t whole peppercorns
4 cloves
1 shallot roughly chopped
4t cornstarch
3T cold water

Starting 48 hours before you wish to use the ketchup, prepare the mushroom juice. Simply sprinkle the salt over the chopped mushrooms, put in a colander to drain and catch the juices. You should have about 2 1/2 cups juice after 24 hours of straining.
Meanwhile make the pickled mushrooms. Dissolve the sugar in the viunegar by bringing to boil in a small pan. Pour over the muschrooms, cover and chill for 24 hours/
Place the mushroom juice, wine, vinegar, pepper, cloves, mace, and shallot in a pan and reduce the liquid by about 1/2. Remove from the heat and strain the liquid. Make a slurry with the corn starch and water. Return the liquor to the pan, stir in the cornstarch slurry and bring to the boil gently, whisking occasionally. It should thicken considerably, resulting in the ketchup base.
Strain the pickling juice from the mushrooms and add the mushrooms to the base, cover tightly and chill before use.

Braised red cabbage
This has become a staple for us - many holiday dishes need something to cut through the richness. The slightly vinegary red cabbage does the trick.
1/2 cup cider vinegar
2 gala apples peeled, cored, sliced and placed in the vinegar to prevent browning
1 yellow onion
3T vegetable oil
1 head red cabbage thinly shredded
4 cloves
6 black peppercorns
1 inch cinnamon stick
Salt to taste
up to 2T sugar (depends on tartness of apples)
Add the vegetable oil to a dutch oven over low heat. weat the onions for a few minutes. While the a=onions are sweating, tie the spices up into a cheeseloth "package" - making retrieval of the spices easier at the end of the dish. Add the spice package, cabbage, apples, vinegar to the pot, stir and simmer for 1 1/2 hours.
Taste after 1 1/2 hours to check the seasoning and acid/sweet balance. Adjust with salt//vinegar/sugar. Simmer for a few minutes longer and serve hot as a bed under the meat.

Of course that has to be Christmas Pudding (plum pudding). It is sort of like a steamed fruit cake. Sounds weird but is the one must have dish for me at Christmas. My parents send us a Christmas hamper from that wonderful store Fortnum and Mason on the years we don't visit England. There is usually a Christmas Pudding in the hamper. We typically eat them well after their sell by date. This year's was in the hamper 2 years ago.....The Christmas pudding is an excuse to have a "sauce" that we simply call brandy butter. Shoe leather would be delicious with brandy butter. It is so easy to make. It used to be my job to make it in my grandmother's kitchen years ago. Now that mantle is passed on to my nephew Sam. However since he was not on hand, I became 9 years old again and made brandy butter. No need for the recipe for the pudding - we just follow the directions on the box. However it is served lit. We warm a little brandy in a pan over low heat (put the brandy in the pan before turning on the flame), when the brandy is warm, pour over the pudding and light. Makes an impressive entrance.

Ingredients - Brandy butter
6 Oz salted butter (I am sure purists would use unsalted, but my granny always used salted) at room temp
6 Oz confectioners (icing) sugar
4T  Brandy - don't bother with the finest coggnac here

Method - Brandy butter
Beat the butter alone until slightly fluffy, add the sugar in 3 additions beating hard between additions. When the mixture is light, add the brandy and beat until incorporated. Cover and allow to cool for at least 2 hours in the refrigerator.

Coffee, etc
We roast our own coffee, and for Christmas we chose a Brazilian Joao de Campos Yellow Catuai coffee. We buy all our beans from Sweet marias - they are extremely reliable and fun people to deal with. Internet + cheap shipping is a wonderful thing. We served chocolates from Morgen Chocolates in Dallas and for those wanting to try it a Chateau de Breuil VSOP Calvados.

Needless to say this was a fun event - fortunately Etienne and Leigh stayed over, and everyone else was local. The roads were safe.

Sunday, December 12, 2010


One of Madame's co workers has had a hankering for scones. So I was press ganged into making some. Luckily they are pretty easy to make. I like them roundand just over an inch in diameter. Also she wanted raisins in them. Now raisins and scones are an odd pair - it's too easy to burn the raisins on the edge, so I have a novel technique....

8 oz self rising flower sifted twice
1 1/2 oz. Unsalted butter at room temperatiure
3/4 oz superfine sugar
pinch salt
a scant 2/3 cup of milk (whole milk)
1/4 cup raisins

Pre-heat oven to 425. If you have a baking stone, remove it first, otherwise the bottoms will brown too quickly.

Rub the butter into the flour. Add the sugar and salt. Mix with finger tips and then add most of the milk. Collect the dough into a ball, and if it won't come together add a little more milk. Turn ut the dough onto a work surface and form into a rectangle about 5x3 inches. Press the raisins into one half of the dough. Cut the dough and cover the raisins with the half you cut off.press the dough out so it is about 3/4 inch thick.

Cut the dough into small rounds about 1 inch + in diameter. Place on a sheet pan lined with parchment. Bake on upper third of oven for about 8 minutes, rotate the pan and bake for a further 5 or so, until they are golden brown and delicious.

Remove from sheet and allow to cool on a wire rack. Serve with butter or clotted cream and strawberry jam.

Friday, November 26, 2010

What to take for thanksgiving?

Our friend and uber hostess Deborah had us over for thanksgiving dinner yesterday. We knew it was going to be a feast but also wanted to make sure we contributed something other than our sparkling wit...

Foods at thanksgiving here in the USA can be rather rich - I didn't want to contribute to richness, but wanted to make something that fit the following:
  • Could be finished at the house anything from 2 hours to 4 after our arrival
  • Would not use a scarce resource (burner/oven)
  • Would not contribute to the richness factor
  • Was really tasty
A somewhat tough challenge until we remembered
  • The crockpot
  • Braising cabbage
  • Pairing apples and braised cabbage
So the decision was easy. Braised red cabbage cooked in the crock pot. Braising red cabbage always (well almost always) uses vinegar, so that definitely damps down the richness factor. So here's the dish we took:
1 head (about 3 lbs) red cabbage, tough outer leaves removed and sliced finely and evenly
3 Granny Smith apples peeled, cored and sliced (24 slices per apple approximately)
3 Gala apples treated like the Granny Smiths
2 Medium yellow onions sliced into wedges (about 12 wedges per onion)
6 cloves + 2 broken fried chillies in a small spice bag. (Note I used a piece of cheesecloth and some kitchen twine to make the bag
2T Sugar
1C Cider vinegar
2t salt (more to taste after cooking)
1 1/2 cups boiling water
4 oz (1 stick) unsalted butter
Put the sliced apples and vinegar together in the bottom of the slow cooker (mine is a crock pot, btw). The vinegar helps prevent the apples from browning. Add the spice bag, onions, cabbage and the rest of the ingredients. Stir to mix well. Cook on high for at least 4 hours. Low for about 8.

Note we cooked it on high for 1 1/2 hours before we left home, then plugged it in at Deborah's house and cooked on high for a further 3 hours. It may not be salty enough for you, so have some handy.

You may also want to use a little less water, this had a little more liquid than I wanted. Nonetheless everyone seemed to like it.

The rest of the dinner was fantastic - Deborah had a TurDuckHen and it was wonderful. And then a carrot cake was my dessert of choice - and a very good one it was too. Of course the various other dishes played their parts well. I was stuffed. Madame (being more polite than I) was pleasantly full.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Fig, honeycomb and greek yogurt

Yesterday evening we had Chef Dave Gilbert over to talk about his adventures as the Exceutive Chef at the American Pavilion in Shanghai. Dave, of course had a ream of pictures, some great stories and he brought me some fantastic oolong teas. But those are another story. We invited our next door neighbors over as well so it was a nice small group.

Main course was a fairly conventional salade nicoise so I won't bore you with those details. Dessert was a little whimsy and fun. The basic ingredients are (per serving)::

1 ripe mission or other whole fig
1T greek yougurt made into quenelles with 2 spoons
1 small 1/4" cube piece of honeycomb
a few drops of kaffir lime infused vodka (left over from the hallow-tini party.) (This would also be nice with cointreau or even a nice sipping rum if you don't happen to have any kaffir lime infused vodka handy).
Some tangerine zest

The pictures here arenot exactly as serverd - I remade the dish this morning to take photos.

Form the yogurt into quenelles using 2 tablespoons
Cut the stem off the fig leaving the top flat. Then cut vertically into quarters, leaving it just still attached at the bottom
Place the honecomb resting against the yogurt, and the fig up against that.
With a pipette draw a small amount of the liquor

Add a few drops of the liquor to the center of the fig.

Drop the rest of the liquor near the yogurt
Sprinkle a little tangerine zest on the yogurt.
Serve immediately

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Pavlova Roulade

I got the idea for this from some cooking show that we were watching and realized it could be a bit of a challenge. After all how often do you get to try to roll something like meringue up?
We needed a quick dessert to take to what was going to be a fun party, so what better than to try it? It's the kind of dessert that can be repaired with powdered sugar if necessary. It wasn't even necessary.
The basic idea is, make a meringue base (a flexible meringue not a fully dried meringue), place it in a sheet pan, bake it, turn it out, slather on whipped cream and berries, then roll it up, dust with powdered sugar and it's ready to go.

Ingredients (Meringue)
5 large egg whites at room temperature
8 oz Superfine (caster) sugar
1 tsp vinegar (light coloured)
1 tsp corn starch (cornflour)
pinch salt (not kosher salt), use a fine regular salt

If the eggs are refrigerated, remove from the refrigerator and allow to warm slightly (to a cool room temperature).
Prepare a sheet pan by lining it with foil, leaving about a 2 inch "collar". Grease the foil with cooking spray - or brush on a flavourless oil. Do not use butter here as it has a high moisture count and we don't need more mositure. Pre-heat oven to 350F.
Place the egg whiles in the bowl of a stand mixer and whisk on medium speed until the whites are broken apart and foamy. Now increase to full speed and whisk to the soft peak stage.
Stir in the salt, corn starch and light coloured vinegar - carefully so as not to deflate the foam.
Whisk on high while adding the sugar until the mixture is smooth and glossy. About 3-4 minutes. It should now be at the stiff peaks stage.
Spread the meringue misture into the prepared foil lined pan.

Bake the meringue in the 350 oven on the lower rack (with no oven stone or pizza stone) for 20-25 minutes - until the exterior is brown and firm, but not hard. make sure you keep an eye on it and don't allow it to get dark. Your oven may read hotter or cooler than mine. If you have a fan-assisted oven then I suspect you will need to drop the temperature by 25 degrees, but I suggest that you experiment for yourselves.
When the meringue is "done", remove the pan from the oven, allow to cool for a few minutes, and then turn out of the pan onto a sheet of parchment paper. Carefully peel the foil and allow the meringue base to cool.
Once the base has cooled, whip 1 1/2 cups of whipping cream + 1/4 t of vanilla and a pinch of sugar up to soft peaks. Take care not to over whip, you want it a bit floppy. Spread the cream on the meringue base, taking care to leave the long edge nearest you with a rim of about 1.5 inches with no cream. That's where the rolling will start.
Prepare some berries by hulling and halving them (strawberries) and washing them (any others). Sprinkle a few drops of creme de cassis or rose water over the berries. Spread the berries over the whipped cream.
Roll the meringue away from you, starting with the plain edge. The outside will crack a bit, but that is OK.
Once it is rolled, place on a serving platter, seam side down. Sprinkle with powdered sugar. Scatter a few berries on the plate and serve.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Pumpkin Soup

More from the Hallow-tini party.

Since it was close to Halloween, we thought it might be nice to do a pumpkin soup using a hollowed out pumpkin as a soup tureen. Had never done it before so didn't know what to expect/ There were some things I did know, however.
  1. Jack o' lanterns taste disgusting
  2. Big pumpkins are hard to cut. Round shape, flat surface, sharpened metal?
  3. The flesh of big pumpkins won't be enough
  4. The flavors need to be "amped up" to make the thing edible.
  5. The seeds are huge
So, what to do? I was able to find a Boston Squash pumpkin which weighed about 12 lbs. A big boy. I also bought some "sugar pumpkins, because I figured their flesh would be good to eat.

I learned something weird - that when I was baking the pumpkin (to soften it after I had taken its top off and scooped the seeds/strings), it did indeed soften, but created about 6 cups of liquid. Of course I added that to the ingredients because it had great pumpkin flavor.

1 Large (12 lbs) eating pumpkin - like Boston.
3 2lb sugar pumpkins
1/2 head celery
2 onions (yellow, Spanish) finely chopped 1 Jalapeno minced
1 Tabasco chile (minced) could substitute Serrano
3T grapeseed oil (could use any vegetable oil, that's what I had handy)
1 1/2 t ground cumin
4 cans vegetable broth
3 bay leaves
1 can evaporated skim milk
Freshly chopped parsley and pumpkin seeds for garnish

Ciut the top off the large pumkin, remove strings, seeds, etc. and bake at 35o uncovered until soft (around 2 hours). Allow too cool. Liquid will collect in the hollowed shell.
meanwhile quarter the smaller pumpkins, remove strings and seeds. Steam the quarters with the strings seeds in the water. Strain the strings seeds and keep the liquid, discarding the strings/seeds. Mix the strained liquid with the liquid from the baked pumpkin. Add liquids to the stock.
Heat the oil and toast the cumin. Add the onions chile peppers, and celery and soften with the lid on (10 minutes) add the pumpkin, the stock and a bayleaf. Turn heat down and simmer fo5 another 20 minutes or so.
Puree the soup (after removing the bay leaf) iuntil smooth. Return to heatand bring just to the boil. Turn the heat off, stir in the evaporated milk. Do not reoil at this point.

Serve with a garnish of parsley and pumpkin seeds inside the warmed pumpkin shell

White Chili

Another Hallow-tini dish

This dish is inspired by Cooks Illustrated magazine and incorporates some prettyy clever ideas. It uses both cooked chilis and raw ones as well. It uses variety of chilis to get extra complexity.

4 lbs bone in skin on schicken breasts, patted dry and with salt pepper sprinkled on.
1T vegetable oil
2 medium Spanish (yellow) onions
5 medium Jalapeno chillies divided use
3 Poblano chillies divided use
4 Anaheim chillies
6 cloves garlic crushed
1 1/2 t ground cumin (best freshly ground)
2T ground coriander (best freshly ground)
4 cans cannelini beans (15 oz cans) rinsed
3 cups vegetable stock (I had vegetable stock left over!, chicken is fine)
Bunch minced cilantro leaves (including most of green part)
3 scallions
3T cider vinegar for balance
Salt/Pepper to taste


In a Dutch Oven heat the oil and put in the chicken breasts skin side down. Leave for several (4-6) minutes without moving them and allow to brown. While cooking the chicken, chop the vegetable ingredients (1/2 the jalapenos, 1/2 the poblanos) in a couple of batches in the food processor. About 5 -7 short pulses. You are looking for chunky salsa not paste.
Turn the chicken over and cook on the bone side for a couple of minutes. The chicken is, of course, not cooked at this point. We have created fond in the pan.
Remove the chicken from the pan remove all but 1T of the fat. Add the chopped up vegetables, coriander and cumin. Cook for 10 minutes covered, on low heat until the onions are translucent and the peppers soft. You do not want any colour. 
remove 1 cup or so of the cooked vegetable, 1 cup cannellini beans and 1 cup stock to the food processor bowl, and process until smooth. Return the smooth vegetable/bean misture to the dutch oven, add the rest of the stock. remove the skin from the chicken and discard. Place the chicken bone side up in the dutch oven, add the rest of the beans. Simmer for 15-20 minutes until the chicken temperature is around 160-165F. remove chicken and allow to cool slightly
Add the remainer of the beans and warm through allowing the beans to thicken the liquid.
Cut the chicken off the bone - into bite sized pieces. Add back into the pot.
At this point the dish can be refriegerated.

Gently reheat the dish. While it is reheating, mince the remaining Jalapaneos and Poblanos withthe cilantro and scallions (inclusing some green parts). Add 3 T cider vinegar (or so, to balance), and adjust seasoning adding salt/pepper to taste.

Serve in bowls....

Lasagne (for a crowd)

There's much debate about Lasagne. Ricotta or bechamel? Ground meat/chili-grind? Cook/no-cook pasta. All beef or beef/pork/veal? Too many variables.

For the Hallow-tini party I made a couple of pans of lasagne - and they seemed to be well received. I am in the bechamel, chili grind, beeef pork veal, 1/2 cook the pasta camp. But there is no one true lasagne. And oh, heresy I put carrots (grated) in there to add some sweetness and even more horrors soy sauce for umami. Not much but enough to add flavour without assertiveness.

This came out a bit wetter than I would have liked, so I suggest using less tomato juice

This makes 2 9x13x3 pans of lasagne

Ingredients - meat sauce
2T vegetable oil
5 lbs beef chuck. I buy it whole and break it down myself.
1 lb pork - I used boneless ribs
1 lb veal - I used shoulder. (You can skip the veal with little flavour loss, it does affect texture though)
3 Spanish (yellow onions, diced)
1/2 head of celery, diced small
6 carrots, grated
6 cloves garlic made into a paste
12 oz Tomato paste
1/4 cup soy sauce
3 bay leaves
3 T fresh thyme
3 large cans of chopped tomatoes (or use whole and break them down). I used all the juice, but 1/2 would have been better
Salt/pepper to taste

Method - meat sauce
Break down the meat into 1/2 - 1" chunks removing the big chunks of fat. Also strip out any silverskin or connective tissue. In 4 or 5 batches, pulse grind the meats in the food processor. You are looking for small chunks not a paste. It's about 10-12 pulses per batch in mine. Your mileage may vary.

In a dutch oven add the oil, brown the meat in 4 or 5 batches, pouring off some of the fat between batches. Set the meat aside. Into the same pan, put the onions, celery, carrot and cook on low until the onion has become translucent. You do not want any browning. When they are translucent, add the garlic and cook for 30 seconds more.

Transger the vegetables from the pot and add the tyomato paste. Cook fairly high, stirring constantly antil it thickens and brown a little. This develops extra flavor. Deglaze with soy sauce.

Add the vegetables,meat, some pepper, the thyme leaves and bay leaves back to the pot and stir together.  Cover and simmer for at least an hour, preferably 2. Note this requires longer simmering than it would with ground beef.

Ingredients - bechamel
2 US Quarts whole milk

2 blades mace
1/2 medium onion (spanish) or use a shallot chopped thinly, roughly.
4 oz butter
4 oz flour

Method - bechamel
Put milk, mace, onion in a saucepan and heat sowly until bubbles form on thesurface. Turn heat off, cover and leave to steep for 30 minutes. After 30 minutes, melt the butter over medium heat, and when foaming has stopped, add the flour and cook, stirring vigorously for 3 minutes to cook out the floury taste and make a blonde roux. Do not let the butter flour mixture brown.
Strain the hot milk mixture into the roux while whisking constantly to ensure no lumps. Discard the onion/mace from the strainer.
Bring the roux/milk mixture slowly to the boil allowing it to thicken. Boil gently for about 30 seconds, stirring constantly. Set aside.

Ingredients - Lasagne
12 sheets lasagne pasta (I was too chicken to try the noo cook kind)
1 measure meat sauce (above)
1 measure bechamel (above)
1t finely grated fresh nutmeg
1 1/2 cups grated sharp cheddar cheese (hardly traditional!)
1 cup coarsley grated Parmigiano Reggiano
1 cup coarsely grated mozzarella (shredded low moisture. No point is using fresh ehere)

Method - Lasagne
Spray each pan with non-stick cooking spray. In each pan, lay down a covering of meat sauce. It wants to be about 1/4" (6mm).

1/2 cook the pasta sheets (6 minutes) in a lot of boiling salted water. This is my compromise between no-cook and fully cokked. Less risk than no cook and better texture than fully cooked.

On top of the meat layer, lay three sheets of 1/2 cooked pasta, side by side. Immediately follow with another meat layer. Follow that with a thin layer of bechamel (about 1/4 of the bechamel per addition). Sprinkle 1/2 the nutmeg on each layer of bechamel. Then follow with 1/2 the cheddar on each. Now another layer of pasta (as before) the rest of the meat, the rest of the becahmel and sprinkle on the parmesan/mozzrella mixture.

Refrigerate for a couple of days (if desired) covered with aluminum foil.

When time to cook, bring to room temperature. Cook covered at 375F for 1 hour with the foil on. Turn heat to 425F, uncover and cook for a further 15 minutes - until brown and bubbly. You want the inside to be about 180F on your instant read thermometer. It is a pretty deep dense pan, so it takes a while to come up to speed.

Mac and cheese

Another dish from Hallow-tini.

When I learned to make "mac and cheese" (or as it is called in England, macaroni cheese), I learned using a bechamel sauce, so that's what I do.

Ingredients - bechamel

2 US Quarts whole milk
2 blades mace
1/2 medium onion (spanish) or use a shallot chopped thinly, roughly.
4 oz butter
4 oz flour

Method - bechamel
Put milk, mace, onion in a saucepan and heat sowly andtil bubbles form on thesurface. Turn heat off, cover and leave to steep for 30 minutes. After 30 minutes, melt the butter over medium heat, and when foaming has stopped, add the flour and cook, stirring vigorously for 3 minutes to cook out the floury taste and make a blonde roux. Do not let the butter flour mixture brown.
Strain the hot milk mixture into the roux while whisking constantly to ensure no lumps. Discard the onion/mace from the strainer.
Bring the roux/milk mixture slowly to the boil allowing it to thicken. Boil gently for about 30 seconds, stirring constantly. Set aside.

Ingredients Mac and Cheese
3 1/2 lbs elbow macaroni
1 Recipe bechamel sauces(above)
2 cups Asiago grated
1 cup Cheddar grated
1 cup Pecorino Romano (not Locatelli) grated
1 cup Parmigiano Reggiano gtared coarsly
1 Cup shredded mozzarella (low moisture, part skim)
Salt/white pepper to taste

Method (Mac and Cheese)
Cook the pasta accroding to the packet directions for 3/4 of the time mentioned. You want there still to be a bit of a bite.Drain, but do not rinse.
Add the Asiago, Cheddar, Pecorino to the bechamel and stir carefully to incorporate.
Pour the bechamel/cheese misxture over the pasta and stir to incorporate.
Place into baking pans (12x8 or thereabouts). Sprinkle the evenly divided Parmigiano Reggiano and Mozzarella on top of the mac/cheese misxture.
Cover with foil and refrigerate up to 3 days.
When ready to serve, bring to room temperature. bake covered in a 375F oven for 45 minutes, and then uncovered to brown in a 425 oven for 15 or so. Serve piping hot

Infusing Vodka

At the Hallow-tini party we made some infused vodkas.

The approach was that the guests would get a small measure of vodka (Titos) or Gin (Beefeater) and then add various "mixins" to create their own unique drinks. For the mixins we made some infused vodkas. Knowing that the mixins were going to be additions and not consumed straight, we made them pretty potent.

The basic process was easy.
500 ml (essentially 1 US pint) of vodka
A bunch of flavoring agent (One of the agents below)
Mix the flavoring agent into the vodka
steep for 1 week - storing in a dark place, doesn't need to be refrigerated.
strain back into 500 ml water bottle
keep in freezer until time to use.

Flavoring Agents
4 dried habaneros quartered
12 fresh tabasco peppers split
24 black peppercorns, crushed
6 kaffir lime leaves roughly chopped
3 inch piece of ginger grated.

These are very strong so we provided medical pipettes to allow people to add them in small quantities to their drinks.

Of course 1 brave soul tried the habanero vodka as a shot. It is so cold that it anesthetizes initially. An ice dagger goes to your innards. And then it warms up, and every nerve gets the hit. The top of your head comes off spins round acouple of times and resettles with slightly glazed eyes. Emergency cookies are then applied to calm down again.

I can see using some of these flavorings as bases for "interesting" bloody marys

The Hallow-tini party

We held a party for about 50 people last evening (October 30). The idea was to serve "martinis" where the gin/vodka were chilled (freezer then dry ice) and a dozen or so mixins were made available. Using medical pipettes, guests could doctor up their drinks to make flavor combinations that they wanted.

We had a variety of hot/spicy flavorings and some milder ones. The glasses were small, so folks could have several and try lots of flavors. Since the theme was halloween (and slight geek) we named the flavors appropriately. The one that had the best cross over name was dragon drops (drag and drop?) which was vodka infused with dried habaneros. We had some habaneros left from last years crop so dried them.

The spicy flavors were
  • Habanero vodka
  • Tabasco pepper vodka (made with the peppers not the bottle)
  • Black pepper vodka
  • Ginger vodka
  • Kaffir lime vodka
  • Joy (pickled jalapaneos) pickle juice
 The milder flavors were:
  • Blue Curacao
  • Lime juice
  • Tia maria (dessert anyone)
  • Sweet pickle juice
  • Vermouth
Of course we had cocktail onions and stuffed olives too.

We decorated the yard (thanks Lisa) with appropriate pagan symbols, and fired up the fog machine, played suitable music, hired fantastic help and served the drinks and food.

Outdoor food
  • Empanadas from the Argentinean bakery
  • Various wings from wing stop
  • chips/salsa (hardly touched!) Too much fun
Indoor food
  • Pumpkin soup served in its shell (recipe in a following post)
  • White Chili (recipe in a following post)
  • Lasagne (recipe in a following post)
  • Mac and cheese (recipe in a following post)
  • Cheeses - details in a bit + crackers
  • Soprasetto salame
  • Olives, roasted red peppers, cippolini onions 
  • Party tray from Corner bakery
  • Fantastic cookies made by Claudia
  • Halloween M&Ms
The cheeses:
  • Delice de Bourgogne -  A triple cream cows milk cheese from Burgundy
  • Pierre Robert  - Another very decadent French triple cream
  • Keen's - Cheddar from England
  • Morbier - A raw milk cheese from france
  • Gorgonzola - from Italy
A good time was had by all.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

We had a dining room party

We completely remodeled the dining room - resulting in the need for a formal party to celebrate. It was in honour of the designer who worked so patiently with us. So we made it a special occasion.

Starting with some appetizers and a nice Cremant de Bourgogne in the living room (appetizers were an edamame dip with red chili, served with fried, salted wontons; Small cubes of aged Parmigiano Reggiano, some spiced olives. All this as a preface to the dinner itself.

Naturally we had home made bread - this time ciabatta rolls made in the afternoon. Butter balls accompanied those.

Starting with this salad, but using Valencia ornages instead of blood oranges, finished with pomegranate seeds and guanciale lardons.  The wine was a 1998 Gravonia (100% Viura) Rioja. The pick of the litter from the 2009 Texas Sommeliers convention.

The main course was braised beef ribs (with cinnamon, clove, cardomom, thyme, nutmeg spicing), serverd over a bed of sauteed onion/grated carrot (they had been sauteed using the strained fat from the braise, together with pommes boulangere and sauteed red/rellow/orange peppers. The peppers had been julienned, but also had the interior layer of slightly bitter flesh removed. The wine for the main course was a Tikal Patriota (60% Bonarda, 40% Malbec). The faintly spicy notes in the wine really picked up the cinnamon and nutmeg in the braise, and the nutmeg/thyme in the potatoes.

For dessert we had a summer pudding served with thick cream. I aadded a little creme de cassis to the berries on this occasion. The pic below is from a previous event, but shows a summer pudding at its finest. The wine was a Beringer Nightingale 2005 Botyritized Semillion/Sauvignon Blanc blend. Perfect with the tartness of the berries and the lusciousness of the cassis.

After dinner we adjourned to the living room for after dinner drinks of Calvados, Angostrua Rumm and Bushmills 12 year old Irish. Together with specially roasted El Salvador Matalap coffee roasted to City+ to get some of its toffee notes developed, and Belcolade Costa Rican chocolate drops.

A very satisfactory evening indeed - and the first of many exciting dining occassions in the new dining room.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

A sign! Edamame Dip

This was clearly meant to be. Alton Brown on Good Eats did a show on edamame in which he described an edamame dip. Then yesterday madame and I were out for lunch and an edamame dip was offered. Must be a trendy thing. So not wishing to be behind any trends, I immediately thought about making one - so here it is. It's kinda like making hummus except that you use edamame instead of chick peas and red miso paste instead of tahini.
16 oz shelled edamame  - cooked and cooled
6 green onions minced
3 cloves garlic peeled and sliced (you could reduce this to 1 or 2 depending on taste)
1 roasted hatch chile finely chopped
2 T red miso paste - key ingredient. Adds a depth and richness. We bought ours at an Asian supermarket
2T sweet chili sauce
1T soy sauce
Juice 1/2 lemon (more if needed to your taste)
1/3 cup vegetable oil

Put everything except the lemon juice and oil into the food processor and process until mostly smooth. Add the lemon juice, blend again and taste. Adjust to suit your own taste. With the motor running, finish off the dip by adding the oil and continue to process until smooth. Taste, add salt/pepper to taste - we didn't because the soy sauce added enough saltiness.

Chill for 2 hours or so before serving.

We served it using bagel chips, but madame will be taking left overs to work with celery.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Timing and the one critical component of the dish

No recipes in this post! I was watching "Michael Symon's How to cook like an iron chef" the other evening. I was struck by a few things in his approach. The first is the old adage of, "make sure you have all your ingredients ready" (aka get your mise en place together).

The second is, however much more valuable to me. I realised that for each of the dishes that he demonstrated, there was really only one thing whose timing was really critical. However, the dishes themselves had a lot going on. So that prompted me to think about how we manage time in the kitchen.

I suspect that we all have our own natural rhythms. Sort of instincts about how long it takes us to do certain tasks. Also we probably have an idea how long the critical item will be doing its thing. So, for example, Chef Symon was cooking some skirt steak. He talked about it taking 3 minutes on the first side, and less on the second. So we know that it will be done in 5 minutes, and then perhaps some resting afterwards - maybe another 5 minutes. 10 in all.

We therefore need to ask ourselves, "Is it possible for me to make the accompanying salad, set the table, pour the water,...in that 10 minutes total, recognizing that there are interruptions?" If you are anything like me, the answer is no, so we need to find ways of getting the other tasks done. The goal is for the meat to be perfect - after all it is both the star of the show and the major constraint on readiness. So perhaps you lay the table first, make up the salad dressing, assemble the salad all before you put the meat on to cook. It depends on your rhythms. Some of us like to work fast, almost in a panic - rushing about. Others prefer a more deliberate pace. The key is that you can't base your timing and sequence on what you see someone else doing. You have to decide for yourself and then avoid putting to much pressure on.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Green Goddess Soup

Madame and I went to a very good wine tasting at the Classic Cafe last Wednesday evening. As usual the restaurant did a very good meal, and they had clearly thought carefully about the pairings. For the soup course, the chef made a "Green Goddess" soup. It reminded me a bit of the cooking of Michel Guerard - he of cuisine minceur fame. It was a very green soup, with herby flavours - especially sorrel and garnished with sorrel leaves - and the surprise element was a drop or 2 of sriracha - the pungent, slightly sweet red chili sauce named for a small town in Thailand. Srirarcha sauce (plastic bottle, green cap, picture of a rooster) is actually made for the US market and complements this dish well, both in flavour and colour So this was a pretty dish, served beautifully. So good that Madame said, "I am sure you can make this".
Ever up for the challenge I tried. My approach was to be using avocado to give the soup body, blanched herbs and spinach for the flavor and lemon juice for brightening. A small amount of chicken stock to set the texture just right.
My first attempt (an abject failure) was to use water cress, cilantro, and a couple of varieties of Asian mint. That was terrible - too bitter. So I threw it away!
The second attempt was a whole lot better, so here are the details.
1 ripe avocado
Juice of 1 lemon
4 Cups baby spinach
2 Cups fresh basil
1/2 cup fresh tarragon
1/2 cup fresh marjoram
2 Thai peppers minced
About 6 oz chicken stock (although I think vegetable might have been better)
Extra basil leaves chiffonade for garnish
Large sea salt crystals for garnish/taste
8 drops sriracha (2 drops per serving)
12 drops sherry vinegar on the basil garnish
Bring a large pot of water to the boil (at least a gallon). Prepare an ice bath - again about a gallon of ice and water. Scoop the avocado flesh into a blender, and add the lemon juice. Quickly blanch the spinach and herbs. They should be in the boiling water for about 5 seconds and then immediately transferred to the ice bath. They will all wilt. This will help remove some bitterness and allow them to retain their bright green colour.
Add the  hot peppers, blanched spinach and herbs to the blender and blend on high. You will need to add some stock to help it come together. You will need to blend until it is completely smooth and even coloured.
When the soup is completely blended, transfer to a covered container and refrigerate at least 4 hours.
Serve in chilled bowls. Chef Gilbert would have been proud - I chilled the bowls, and then placed the chilled bowls inside larger bowls packed with ice. Nice presentation. Into each bowl place a ladle of soup and 2 drops of sriracha. Sprinkle with coarse sea salt. Garnish with the basil chiffonade and 3 drops of sherry vinegar.

This did get the "we can serve this to people" accolade from Madame, so I figure it was a success.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Ripening peaches

I cant claim to have come up with this myself. Nowever this method is so good that I just have to pass it on.

Place a dish towel on a rack of some kind. Place the peaches on the dish towel with their stalk ends down. Make sure the peaches are not touching each other. Cover with another towel and leave in a cool dark (I don't know how important the dark is) place for a while. It is imprecise because I don't know how unripe yours are.

We did try an experiment. We kept some from the same batch out on the counter and we ripened some by the above method. Night and day difference. The covered versions were so much more tasty, so much more juicy.

I am converted

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Summer pudding

This is in the tradition of English puddings using the bounty of the season. It is also a handy way of using left over bread! I make it in a 1 1/2 quart pudding basin - a lampshade shaped basin. Since I did this for July 4th. I served the red dish on a blue plate with white whipped cream.

1 1/2 lb raspberries
12 oz blueberries
8 oz blackberries
1 cup superfine sugar
several slices of challah or other light, absorbent bread. Do not use sourdough.
Whipped cream - to serve

Clean the berries and place them into a saucepan with the sugar. Bring to a simmer slowly,  stirring occasionally. You want the berries to give up their juices but not to become cooked.
Meanwhile spray the pudding basin with non-stick spray (or grease lightly with butter). Cut the crusts off the bread slices. Make a circular piece of the bread, dip it into the juices and place in the bottom of the basin. Line the sides of the basin with bread slices - also dipped in the juices. Make sure that there are no gaps - overlapping the slices as necessary.
When the fruit has cooled, somewhat, pour the fruit and some of the juice into the lined basin. Create a bread "lid" for the basin, dip it in the juice and put it on the top of the fruit. reserve the remainder of the juice
Pour some of the remaining juice onto the bread lid.
Cut a circle of waxed paper (butcher paper is fine) to the size of of the top of the basin and place on top of the lid. Place a small plate on top of the waxed paper and then a weight on top of that. I am using a 28 oz can of tomatoes as the weight.
Refrigerate the weighted basin for at least 8 hours - and for anything up to 48 hours.
Unmold the pudding from the basin, and serve with whipped cream alongside.

dulce de leche

This sinfully good milk caramel is the easiest thing in the world to make. That is going to be a problem. When something that good is too easy, there is a danger of it ending up on our hips. How easy, you might ask?
This easy.

1 can sweetened condensed milk.

Take the paper wrapping off the can of sweetened condensed milk. Place the can (unopened) into a  large pan of water. Make sure it is fully covered. Bring water to a gentle simmer, put the lid on the pan and simmer for at least 2 hours. Turn the heat off, allow to cool overnight. Open can and spoon out the caramel lusciousness.

Yup that really is all there is to it.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Fun with eggs

I have to stay entertained while madame is away. The easiest and most troublefree way is to play with my food. So this morning I took a couple of things that normally aren't used together and experimented. The ingredients were eggs, the equipment - the steamed milk attachment to my espresso machine.

3 eggs beaten with a little salt and pepper.  Put into a small stainless steel jug. Insert steam nozzle, move the jug around and in about 30 seconds, light, fluffy, puffy, firm eggs. So simple and absolutely delicious.

So future experiments will envolve some "fillings" in the eggs. I think smoked salmon would be nice, maybe some very thinly sliced ham (maybe a prosciutto cotto). I could imagine some cream there too, but don't yet know what that would do to the texture. I'll report back on those tricks later.

So for a first attempt an amazing success.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Spanish tortilla redux

In a previous posting, I talked about making a Spanish tortilla (that potato egg dish that is a staple of Spanish cooking). In previous incarnations, I used potatoes that had been boiled and then allowed to cool. That of course is not the way it should be done, but is quite handy if you have some cooked spuds lying around. The "real" way of doing a tortilla is to poach the potatoes in oil. How much difference does this make you might ask? How greasy will it be? The answers are simple. It makes a huge difference and it isn't greasy. So this will be the way from now on.
2 cups olive oil (not extra virgin, just a good quality oil)
4 medium yukon gold potatoes, peeled and sliced thinly
1t kosher salt
1/2 medium yellow onion sliced thinly into rings
5 large eggs
a couple of threads of saffron (steeped in the eggs)

In an 8" non stick pan bring the oil up to a suitable temperature over a medium flame. Suitable here is when you see viscous threads in the oil, but it won't brown a bread cube. This is not a frying process, but a poaching process. Meanwhile salt the potato slices lightly. When the oil is at temperature, slide the potato slices in to the pan, and poach lightly for about 15 minutes - until the potato slices are soft. Do not allow the potatoes to brown. Add the onion slices, again allow to poach with no browning. When the onion is cooked, remove the potatoes and onion from the pan. Drain the oil and stir for a future use.

Beat the eggs with a little salt/pepper. Add the drained potatoes and onions back to the pan, and turn the heat to medium. Allow to warm. When warmed, pour the egg mixture over the potatoes and onions - cook until just set.

Allow to cool to room temp and server

Friday, April 30, 2010


2 new ideas/techniques this week. Well new to me. The first was inspired by Mario Batali and discovered here, the second done out of necessity. So, the lentils are first up. They are a simple dish, lots of flavor and very inexpensive - especially if you buy the cheap supermarket lentils. The link suggests some rather more fancy lentils, but I used the 75 cent supermarket variety just fine.

Lentils with Guanciale
8 oz packet of lentils sorted to remove any small stones or other bad things
2 carrots halved
2 celery ribs halved
2 T Coarse Dijon mustard
2 bay leaves
3 Oz guanciale or pancetta or other unsmoked bacon in a single piece
Water to cover lentils
Place the lentils, carrots, celery, mustard, bay leaves and guanciale in a saucepan. Cover by 1 inch with water, and stir to mix everything together.
Put over low heat, cover and bring to a simmer. Simmer for about 25 minutes - or until the lentils are cooked. They should be al dente and not mushy.
Remove from the pan, discard the vegetation and chop the guanciale into 1/4 inch or less pieces. Mix the guanciale thoroughly back into the lentils.
Allow to cool to room temperature and serve with olive oil drizzled over it and maybe a little sherry vinegar if you want the acid bite. Depending on the pork product you use, you may need a little salt. My guanciale is pretty salty, so I found I did not need any.

Roasted and Oil Poached Red Peppers
This recipe came about because i was in a hurry and wanted some roasted peppers. The trusty blowtorch came to the rescue, but more needed to be done. The peppers come out sweet and tender, but don't have the caramelized roasted flavor.
4 red peppers
1/2 cup high quality olive oil (I used a good extra virgin oil)
Using an open flame (in my case the blow torch that Madame is so frightened of), blacken the skins of the peppers. This does not fully roast them, just makes them easy to peel.
Peel and seed the peppers and cut into 1 inch wide strips.
Place the pepper strips in a sauce pan and add the olive oil. Heat over low heat, taking care that the oil does not even reach the shimmering stage until the peppers are softened - about 15 minutes.
Remove the peppers from the oil - with a couple of tablespoons of the oil too, and place on the antipasti dish. Use the rest of the oil in a vinaigrette where the slight red pepper flavor adds some depth to the vinaigrette.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

The Behmor 1600 Coffee Roaster

Our old and trusty iRoast 2 coffee roaster has been ailing for a while. It wheezed to life only to stop half way through a roast resulting in very unevenly roasted beans - reminiscent of an old man's shaving - there are simply patches of beans that got too little attention.

So what to do? There are some wonderful machines on the market - with exotic prices to match. I had thought about the Gene cafe roaster but at $495 that seemed too much. Then I saw the Behmor 1600 at sweetmarias.com for $299 and I was hooked. As usual when ordering from sweetmarias, the process was flawless and included an assortment (8 x 1lb bags) of green coffee beans

The device arrived on Thursday night. I was a little startled that it is about the size of a toaster oven - but no matter. Madame was, of course, horrified. Anyhow, I set it up ran its cleaning cycle and roasted my first lb of beans. I used the same beans that we had been using in the iRoast - Sumatram Mandehling so we could do a beans to beans comparison.

Night and day difference. First, of course, the new machine produced a perfectly even roast. Second it didn't go from FC+ to Vienna in the blink of an eye. I found I could control the roast pretty easily. Third is was blissfully quiet. I wasn't getting beat frequencies from its motor and the vent hood. The smoke was less than the iRoast2 for the same degree of roasting as well. So all in all I am happy.

For those contemplating the device, I used 15oz of coffee and did the roast on P3 to get an FC+. I killed the roast with about 30 seconds to go to prevent over roasting.

This may be enough to convince me to drink coffee again!

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Naturally Slim

I have noticed that my clothes are becoming a bit tight and that the lying scales are becomeing more mendacious by the day. The result being that I need to drop some lbs. The question is how to? How does a serious, committed chowhound manage to limit the input while keeping the passion for food and love of cooking going.

Fortunately there are a couple of things on my side. First my employer, Sabre pays for a program called naturally slim. Second the house is in disarray because of some remodeling.
Naturally Slim, in a nutshell, says a couple of basic things. Eat when you are hungry, eat slowly, don't mistake thirst for hunger. They also recommend a dilute orange juice solution to drink to help smooth out blood sugar and keep you from wanting to gnaw the meat of any uncovered arms that happen by.
It's been 10 days, I have dropped about 7lbs and have (mostly) not been starving. Certainly I am eating less and that is goodness.However the diluted orange juice is an absolute non-starter. So to replace that I have made up a concoction using maple syrup. The diluted OJ is 1 part OJ to 7 parts water. To get the same glycemic load, I use 1/3 cup maple syrup to 1 gallon water. It tastes faintly mapley (?!) and isn't bad at all.

The big aha is that if I drink a pint of that, a pint of tea (milk and 1/2 t of sugar) and a pint of water first thing in the morning, I am actually not hungry until almost noon. Contrast that with eating a piece of toast and marmalade for breakfast, followed by being so ravenous at about 9:30.

I haven't actually changed what I eat much at all. definitely avoiding the snacking on candies that are littered around the office, am eating more slowly - eat slowly for 10 minutes, rest for 5, eat slowly for another 10 and the brain/stomach signals should combine saying, "yes you are full". They mostly do. So goodness all around there.

The secret weapon? Exercise of course, but with a twist. The approach requires so much liquid that one has to go to the bathroom every 45 minutes or so. Many extra walking steps as a result!

The goal of the 10 week program is to change the lifestyle so that one needs less food. Eat what you want, but only do it when hungry, and stay hydrated. We'll see.

During the early stages, I have little desire to cook :-(. I am sure that the passion will return once I am off the draconian early weeks - and when the house is finally fixed.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Duck egg omelette

This started with a conversation with Dave Gilbert (he of many culinary adventures documented elsewhere in this blog and at Dave Gilbert's Blog.) On a phone call he said, "we need to meet, I have something tasty for you." I didn't need much further encouragement.

We met up for dinner at Cretia's in Dallas, and headed off afterwards for a pint or 2 at the Amsterdam bar. All in all a good evening. At the end of the evening he hunted in the back of his car for the taste treat - and what a treat it was. 1/2 dozen very fresh duck eggs in a pink styrofoam box. The box isn't my color, and the eggs weren't "duck egg blue".

Duck eggs are a bit larger than hen eggs, and the yolks is disproportionally large - at least compared to hen eggs. So they are rather richer and seem to have a more eggy, definite flavor.

So, when Madame saw them in the fridge yesterday, she asked, "What will we do with these?" The obvious answer seemed to be a duck egg omellette , a small salad and some simple fried potatoes. Madame and fried food - now that's a tough sell. But well cooked, properly seasoned and the deal was done. It helped that I had them started before she got home!

The omelettes were tricky - no real recipe needed, but the duck eggs seemed not to hold together quite as well as hen eggs, so it was hard to get a nicely rolled omelette. Still cooking it without colour was easy, and we melted just a little Raclette cheese inside before folding it onto the plate.

Salad was simple - some leaf lettuce, avocado, halved cherry tomatoes and a home made vinaigrette - 1 part sherry vinegar, 1 part very good olive oil, 3 parts peanut (or other neutral) oil. Peanut oil is what I had handy, and it has (to me) less of a flavour that fights with the olive oil. Salt, pepper, shake and it takes almost the same amount of time to use a home made vinaigrette as it does to open a bottle, scrape the crud off the sides, sniff it to make sure it is still OK, trying to remember when you bought it, looking at expiry date and realizing it was 2008...

Potatoes - easy too. Make 1/2 inch cubes of 2 lbs peeled yukon gold potatoes. Heat 1/2 cup (yes that is a lot, I know) of olive oil (not extra virgin) until shimmering hot. Dump the potatoes in and let fry for at least 5 minutes before touching them. Keeping the heat high. That way they don't stick - and no I didn't use a non-stick pan. Toss the potatoes to cook on all sides. When nearly done, make the omelettes. Serve the omelletes on the same plate as the salad, salt the potatoes and put on the plate too.

A crisp Sancerre or Pinot Grigio goes well with this. The eggs are so rich that you want some dryness/acidity in the wine to cut through it.

Dave probably wants pictures. Sadly I forgot to take any :-(

Friday, January 29, 2010

Simple chicken soup

I have been feeling under the weather - with a cough/cold/sore throat. Unimaginably grumpy - poor Madame. So I thought maybe some chicken soup might help. As you can imagine preprepared chicken soup doesn't do it for a variety of reasons. So I needed to make some. This is an unbelievably simple way of doing it - and surprisingly good given the amount of effort involved. As Madame would say, "the taste to effort ratio makes this worth doing". Not quite as high praise as "we can serve this to people", but still worthwhile. The vegetables and chicken aren't browned, so there is no flavor from caramelization. It's just chicken/aromatics/stock/water. It looks like a lot of ingredients, but the prep time is very short. As you will see from the method you just bung them all in the pot.
1 whole roasting chicken (this one was about 5lbs)
2 medium onions sliced pole to pole
6 medium carrots cut into 1 inch pieces
6 stalks celery roughly chopped
2 Fennel bulbs washed and quartered
3 Kaffir (Thai) lime leaves
3 inches lemon grass cut on the bias into 1/2 inch pieces
2 cups chicken stock
2 cups (or so) water
1 Chipotle pepper
3" piece of fresh ginger peeled and roughly chopped
Salt/pepper to taste
Clean out the cavity of the chicken and remove the silly pop up timer (if present). Place the whole chicken into a large dutch oven. Sprinkle the flavoring ingredients (except the salt) into the pot, add the liquids. Bring to a simmer over a medium flame and then simmer for at least 90 minutes with the lid on. The chicken will make its own broth while it cooks. If you cook it for longer than 90 minutes (and it does get better with time), then discard the vegetables 1/2 an hour before the end of cooking and put in fresh vegetables. The old vegetables have given everything up so you will need fresh to get them to taste of something.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Brining boneless/skinless chicken breasts

As we have heard on many occasions, brining chicken is a good way to keep the meat juicy - especially for parts that are naturally dry - like boneless/skinless breasts. Many of you know that I will almost always choose an opportunity to get some fat/flavor into my dishes, but sometimes that simply isn't an option.
Yesterday afternoon I was presented with about 3lbs of boneless skinless chicken breasts of varying thickness and told that they needed to be grilled. No it wasn't that peremptory, but the people concerned had clearly experienced dry chicken before.

There really aren't many opportunities for getting flavoring in, so brining was it. It is pretty straightforward and doesn't require a whole lot of precision, just some attention to hygeine.
1/2 cup table salt (3/4 - 1 cup kosher salt)
6 whole cloves
6 whole cardomoms (green or white it doesn't matter)
12 whole peppercorns
12 coriander seeds
2 star anise
2 cups boiling water
1/2 cup dark brown sugar
4 cups ice cubes
4 cups ice water
3lb chicken breasts

In a non reactive pan put the first 8 ingredients. Bring to the boil and stir until the salt/sugar are dissolved. Immedietaley add the ice too cool. Pour liquid into a 1 gallon zip-lock bag and add the cold water. Add the chicken breasts. Seal the bag, expelling all the air.
Refrigerate the chicken breasts for 1 - 2 hours. No more than 2 hours.
When ready to grill, pour the liquid off the breasts, rinse and pat dry with paper towels. Make sure you carefully wash down the surfaces that have touched the raw chicken.
 Cook the chicken on a high heat grill for a couple of minutes/side. Thicker pieces will need longer than thinner pieces of course. Use the nick and peek technique to check for doneness.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Mushroom Risotto

At a conversation over dinner earlier in the week our friend Claudia was bemoaning the fact that risotto rather intimidated her, but she really liked it. So I suggested that while Madame and friends were playing tennis, she should come over and play in the kitchen and we would make dinner. That seemed like an excellent plan, so she came over and made a very good risotto. I have to admit it was rather nice having someone else doing all the work :-). This turned into some general instruction around chopping, sequence, ratios, and technique. All good.
The key ratio is the ratio of rice to liquid. Typically this is between 3 and 3 1/2 to 1. Hence 7 cups stock for the 2 cups of rice in the recipe below.
Ingredients (for 8 as a starter)
4 portabella mushrooms cut into small cubes.
2T butter
7 cups chicken stock (you may not use all of it, but make sure you have enough)
6T mixed dried mushrooms (optional)
2T olive oil
4 shallots, minced
2 cups arborio rice
1/2 cup dry white wine
1 bunch Italian (flat leaf) parsley chopped finely
2T butter
1/2 cup finely grated Parmesan cheese
In a 4 qt saucier melt the butter, and when melted add the chopped portabellas and cook gently over lowish heat until all the water has evaporated. Meanwhile put the chicken stock and dried mushrooms into a sauce pan and heat almost to boiling.
When the portabellas are cooked, transfer to a bowl and set aside. Rinse and dry the saucier. In the saucier heat the 2T olive oil until a piece of shallot just sizzles. This is nowhere near the smoke point. Add the shallots and turn the heat down to sweat the shallots. You want to avoid getting any color onto the shallots, but they want to be soft. Add the rice and turn the heat up a bit, toasting the rice. You want to see some very slight browning and a slight translucency. About 4 minutes. Make sure that you do stir the mixture to make sure it doesn't stick.
Once the rice is toasted, deglaze with the white wine. It will evaporate quickly, but leave its flavor compounds behind. As soon as the wine is absorbed, add 1 ladle of hot stock to the rice. Stir until the liquid is absorbed - essentially once you drag the spoon through the rice, the bottom of the pan should be almost dry. Every time the liquid is absorbed, add another ladle of stock, and stir. Repeat this process a few times.
Eventually (after about 6-8 additions), the stock will start to be absorbed more slowly. So at this stage add the stock in 1/2 ladle increments.
Remove the rehydrated mushrooms from the stock (assuming that you are using some dried mushrooms too), and chop roughly to be the same size as the portabella pieces. Add the chopped mushrooms to the portabellas.
When the risotto has the right texture - creamy and with a slight resistance to the bite, add the mushrooms and stir through. Now add the cheese, butter, parsley. Stir and adjust the seasoning to taste.
Serve immediately in warmed bowls with teh same wine that you used to deglaze the pan initially.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Poached pear with Cashel blue cheese and pistachio brittle

In the previous post I described pistachio brittle. This was for the pear/blue cheese dessert at this event.  We bought the cheese at Scardellos (of course), where we also took some of the Stellekaya wines for the hard working staff there to try.

This is the recipe for making the dish, illustrated below.
This is a relatively simple dish to make, but has a great wow factor.
Ingredients (serves 12)
6 bosc pears peeled, quartered and cored
3 cups sugar
2 cups red wine
4 oz Cashel blue cheese
8 oz crushed pistachio brittle (about 1/3 of the recipe from the previous posting)

In a 4 quart pan, dissolve the sugar in the red wine and bring to a simmer. Add the pears and ensure that they are well coated. Simmer for 90 minutes stirring every so often to make sure all pears are covered. The pear should turn a deep purple on the surface.
When the pears are cooked and the liquid is syrupy, take the pears off heat and reserve the syrup. Cut 12 of the pear quarters into small cubes (1/3 inch). Fan the other 12 quarters.
Lay the fanned quarter on the plate, make a tower with the pear cubes, the cheese and top with a little brittle.
Spoon sone syrup onto the plate and serve.

The Pistachio Brittle

For the most recent underground dinner, we had a dessert involving poached pears, some blue cheese and pistachio brittle. Why pistachio brittle? you might ask. Simply because we had some pistachios and I thought they would go better with the pears than traditional peanut brittle would. And by all accounts it did!
2 cups sugar
1 cup light corn syrup
1/2 cup water
1 cup butter - preferably unsalted, chopped into small cubes
2 - 3 cups shelled, roasted, salted pistachios
1 t baking soda (bicarbonate of soda)

In a straight sided pan with a candy thermometer clipped to the side, place the sugar, water and corn syrup. Bring to the boil, stirring frequently over a medium flame. It should rwach a full, rolling boil after about 10-15 minutes.Add the butter and cover the pan for a couple of minutes. The thermometer will be in the way, so do the best you can.
Put a "flame tamer" under the pan (or a cast iron pan) such that the heat is properly diffused, preventing any hot spots in the pan. Cook and stir the mixture until it reaches about 280F. Be very careful that you o not get any of this mixture on yourself during the process. It retains heat and sticks as well.
Add the pistachios and stir to incorporate. Continue to heat until the temperature reaches 305F. You should stir the nisxture the whole time. By adding the nuts while the caramel is a bit cooler gives the mixture a bit of a chance to toast the nuts for extra flavor.
Once it has reached 305F, stir in the baking soda and stir. The mixture will foam up, so be careful.
Pour into a greased baking sheet, smooth into the corners with a palette knife and allow to cool.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Underground dining featuring Stellekaya wines

It's been a busy week. On Thursday Dave Gilbert and I worked to deliver some appetizers at a charity wine event honoring Ntsiki Biyela - the wine maker from the South African winery called Stellekaya. On Sunday + Chris F and Graeme F. (no relation to each other despite the F. for last names), we put together a 7 course dinner for a carefully selected group of wine and food lovers. In subsequent posts I will outline some of the recipes - at least those that I know about! here, I will simply outline the dishes and attach the required "Food Porn" photographs!

Dave's web site beyondthekitchen.com will have more details and more pictures.

The Charity Event
For this event we made 7 appetizers. They ranged from soup to dessert. They are

  • Chinese Pumpkin soup with cinnamon foam and crispy fried sage leaves
  • Seafood lollipops
  • Sous vide beef tenderloin over mealie porage
  • Bacon and eggs - braised pork belly topped with a quail egg and a tomato vinaigrette
  • Spiced fruit beggars' purses
  • Dried fruit shooters with whipped cream and passion fruit puree
  • Layered gelees of Baileys/Banana/Colada and rooibos tea 
Rooibos tea - or red bush tea is a drink made from a bush native to the  Western Cape Province of South Africa. The better grocery stores in the US are beginning to carry it.

The Underground Dinner
This event had 7 courses and was rather more substantial than the charity event. While there was some overlap in dishes, the presentation was quite different.
Dave, Chris F., Graeme F. and I were busy cooking all day Sunday. Dave, of course started much earlier in the week. His planning meant that several of the dishes/ingredients were shared with other events and thus were prepared earlier in the week. Chris F.'s deft hand with the presentation made the dishes look fantastic. Graeme (being the only South African in the kitchen) made the bobotie. The courses were:

  • Chinese pumpkin soup with cinnamon foam, cinnamon perfume and crispy sage leaves. Yes this was a new batch, not left overs from the charity!
  • A trio of South African meats. Biltong and boerewors both (made by Graeme's dad and shipped to me) and Graeme's bobotie.
  • Bacon and eggs - as at the chairty event, except we used sous vide hen eggs this time. This was served with a mushroom ketchup doing duty instead of brown or HP sauce.
  • Kudu biltong (dried, cured kudu - like beef jerky)
  • Duck confit and roasted garlic gnocchi topped with lightly fried monkfish liver
  • Sous vide backstrap of wild venison served over caramelized bananas, garnished with crispy fried plantain strips
  • Red wine poached pears served with a little Cashel blue cheese and home made pistachio brittle.

For this event we made sure we had professional serving help. Nico who has just got his sommelier pin helped Ntsiki with the pouring and kept the cooks honest with place settings, flatware, etc.

Friday, January 1, 2010

New Year's Eve

It was a quiet evening - Madame is out of town :-(. Bryan was free and as usual had some wines to try. So I put together a quick dinner to suit. Of course with 2 of us and several wines to try, it became a bit complex! For the main course I did an old stand-by http://seabirdskitchen.blogspot.com/2007/12/french-bistro-chicken-in-pot.html. Served with Pommes Anna (using the Cooks Illustrated recipe) and some sauteed/steamed cauliflower with fresh red chiles.. For a starter I made a room temp black-eyed pea dish, and for dessert a cherry clafoutis using some mysterious liquor brought back by a co-worker from Poland. Dave Gilbert came later and brought a bottle of the Stellekaya Orion 2005 with him. So we just sipped on that without a food pairing. That was a fantastic bottle. The evening did go on a bit and I see 5 used wine bottles (not all empty) shared amount the three of us. That goes some way to explaining why I feel a little groggy this morning - that and getting to bed slightly after 2am! So here are some of the dishes...

Black Eyed Peas
1t neutral vegetable oil
1 Linguisa sausage (you could use kielbasa if you wanted) diced into 1/4" cubes
1 medium red onion diced
12 oz fresh black eyed peas
2 cups chicken stock
1 yellow bell pepper (diced and blanched)
Cabbage leaves blanched - 1 per person
salt/pepper as needed
3 drops lemon juice per serving.
Coarse sea salt for crunch

In a skillet, heat the oil over a medium flame until shimmering. Add the sausage and cook until it has taken on some color. Add the onion and cook some more - softening the onion. Once the onion is soft, add the peas, toss to mix well and add the stock. Bring to a simmer and simmer for 10 or so minutes. Turn off the heat, adjust the seasoning - that will largely depend on the sausage you are using.

Blanch the yellow pepper dice for 10-15 seconds in boiling, lightly salted water and immediately transfer to an ice bath. Do the same with the individual cabbage leaves.
Place the cabbage leaf on the plate, and trim to desired shape with kitchen shears. Make a small mound of the room temp peas/onions/sausage on the leaf. Add the lemon juice, sprinkle some of the yellow pepper on top, scatter some sea salt and serve.

2003 Hermitage Blanc Paul Jaboulet "Gaspard de Sterimberg" This was crisp enough to cut through the fattiness of the linguisa. It stood up well to the intense flavors, but was otherwise a bit undistinguished. Surprisingly less interesting than the 2005 that we tasted at the Texas Sommelier convention back in August..

Clafoutis is a traditional French dessert from the Limousin area of central France. It is a simple enough dessert, but is very impressive looking when it comes out of the oven. Think giant cherry popover (or Yorkshire pudding) . Like many batters this batter is better if allowed to develop a little, so I make it an hour in advance, and refrigerate it. I hold back a little milk to thin it just prior to makeing the dessert.

3/4 cup all purpose flour
Pinch of salt
6 eggs
1 cup whole milk
Butter to grease the dish
1 lb of pitted cherries. I used a jar of sour cherries in light syrup. These were drained
3T Kirsch

Sift the flour into a small bowl with the salt. Beat the eggs lightly in a separate bowl and incorporate the eggs into the flour using a whisk. Add all but 2T of the milk and whick until a smooth batter is formed. Leave  to stand (in the fridge) for about an hour.
Drain the cherries and then immediately cover with the liqueur and toss to make sure that the cherries are fully covered. Leave these to sit too.
When ready to cook it, preheat the oven to 400F. Grease a low oven proof pan (I use a gratin dish) thoroughly with unsalted butter. Mix the cherries into the batter and pour immediately into the greased dish. Bake on the middle rack of the oven for 35 minutes - or until puffy. Sprinkle with superfine sugar and serve hot from the oven - maybe with a little thin cream.