Thursday, December 29, 2011

Homemade Vanilla Extract

I threw away a couple of Vanilla bean skins before I tried making extract. I wasted the ones I threw away.   It turns out that it is exceptionally easy to make extract and it's just as good as the bought stuff.  I started with a little 100ml empty vanilla bottle, about 4 oz.  I had some 190 proof grain alcohol from the duty free store which is perfect because it has no taste of it's own.  It's 95% alcohol and I needed about 40% so I just boiled some water and let it cool down then added it to the bottle till I had approximately the correct proportion. Pushed a vanilla skin in and it took about 2 weeks for flavor to fully develop but that is faster than I expected.

I just mixed up a new 250ml bottle and with 2 of those going I should have a constant source of vanilla extract. I used up the last grain alcohol so next time I'll have to use vodka. No need to water down Vodka but that makes it a lot more expensive.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

I did a turkey but don't want to talk about it

My turkey was fine but nothing special. Tonight I mixed up a nice curried turkey, it was pretty good.  I use Sun Brand Madras Curry Powder. It's redder than regular curry and has a slightly different flavor but whatever you have will work just fine.

I took the rest of the breast meat and cut it up into bite size pieces, about three quarters of a pound.  Put some rice on to cook.  Dice a medium onion and set it on the burner to brown in some oil.  Thinly slice a carrot and add it when the onions start to brown.  Dice up a red pepper, celery stick and slice four mushrooms.  When the onions are golden sprinkle one to two tablespoons of curry powder over them and stir it in.  This will dry the pan so add some turkey or chicken stock to moisten the pan but not wet it.  Vigorously shake a can of coconut milk to break up the fat and add half the can to the pan.  Add a quarter cup whipping cream or milk.  Add more liquid if you need it but remember you are making a sauce not a soup.

Add a pinch of cayenne pepper to tone down the sweetness.  Add the rest of the vegetables and the meat and let it all simmer down to a thick sauce. If it's too thin you can shake a little instant blending flour to thicken it but then cook off the flour taste. When the vegetables are cooked serve over rice.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Brining Pork Loin

Brining greatly improves the flavor and moisture in roast pork.  For best results it needs to soak over night but not more than 48 hours, so this is a dish that needs a little planning (chops can be brined but not more than 12 hours).  When it's time for another roast pork I keep an eye out for that perfect little roast and pick it up at least one day before cooking it.

A brine solution is 1 cup salt per gallon of water or 1 tablespoon per cup or 60 ml per liter and you need enough to completely immerse the meat. If you have all the time in the world you can boil water to completely dissolve the salt, then let it all cool down. If you are a little more time constrained you can use an immersion blender or hand mixer to dissolve the salt.  Add a half tablespoon sugar and half a tablespoon of molasses or one tablespoon of brown sugar and finish mixing (add more for larger roasts).  Trim any excess fat from the roast and score what remains. Immerse it, cover and put in the fridge overnight.

Take the roast out of the brine half an hour before cooking. Set it on a rack in a shallow roasting pan. If you use a deep pan it won't brown. Warm your oven up to 350º to 375º (larger roast, lower temperature) and set the rack in the center. Season the roast and place a few bay leaves then top with a sprig each of thyme and rosemary.

You can cut potatoes into bite size pieces and toss them with oil, salt and pepper.  Spray oil into the pan and arrange the potatoes around the roast. Any fat you trimmed off the roast can be put back on the potatoes to flavor them. Carrots in with the potatoes is good too.

Insert a meat thermometer so the tip is in the middle of the roast.  I use an electronic one with a wire from the probe out the oven door to the display device. With that I can monitor the progress of the meat without opening the oven door.  If you buy a $3 analog thermometer then cook well past the indicated pork temperature as these devices have large errors.

Time putting the roast in the oven so it will be ready at least 20 minutes before you need to carve it.  It will take about an hour for a 2.5lb or 1kg roast.  If you don't let the meat rest after roasting all the moisture will escape as steam when you cut into it, leaving the meat dry and tasteless.

Serve with apple sauce or authentic French Canadian 'Ketchup' if you have some.  My partner makes it so I'll have to cajole the recipe out of him before next fall.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Walmart Ice Cream

If you have an ice cream maker lying around you should get it out to try this! If not this is a reason to get one.  I have a Cuisineart with compressor so I can make multiple batches.  The machine is very noisy but works reliably and we use it way more than we ever thought we would. This will make 1.2 liters or a quart and then some so get out an appropriate sized container(s) and put them in the freezer to cool.

Take 2 rows of the Walmart Waterbridge Extra Dark Chocolate, about 1/4 lb, and put it in a pot to melt.  Keep stirring it around but don't get the pot hot, it's very difficult to make ice cream with hot milk. Measure out 2 cups of whipping cream.  When the chocolate is melted take the pot off the burner and add a little bit of the whipping cream, mix it in then keep adding more till it's all combined.  The object here is to get the chocolate that's stuck to the bottom of the pot mixed into the cream. Next add 1 cup of milk and 3/4 cup of sugar.  Lastly add 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract and mix it all with an immersion blender or hand mixer. Pour the mixture into your ice cream maker.  If your ice cream maker uses ice or a frozen bucket you might want to put the mixture in the freezer for a little while to cool down but don't let it freeze!  This ice cream "tastes like a chocolate bar!" and goes well with the brownies in the previous post.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Walmart Brownies

Walmart, while not everyone's favorite retailer, does have one important distinction. Walmart is large enough to dictate minimum quality standards to it's suppliers that are slightly higher than other retailers can get.  One of their products that stands out for it's quality is their house brand Waterbridge chocolate. These large bars of about one pound for $3.98 are an excellent source of chocolate, particularly extra dark.  While you're there you should pick up some parchment paper, it's with the aluminum foil and will make your life as a pastry chef much easier, the dishwasher's too!

These are the best brownies I've ever tasted and they are jaw droppingly simple to make.  Get 2 eggs out of the fridge to warm up and line an 8x8 inch pan with parchment paper ( just press it down into the pan so it covers all 4 sides) and spray with oil or brush with butter.  Set the oven to 350º and put a small pot, about 1 liter(quart), on the stove with the burner on low.  Put 6 tablespoons of butter in the pot (3oz or 3/4 of 1/4 cup if you want to slice it off the brick) and when melted take half an extra dark chocolate bar, 4 rows, and put it in the pot. Spread 1 cup of raw nuts on a baking sheet and put them in the oven for 10 minutes when it's at temperature.  Stir the chocolate around occasionally while it melts but do not get it too hot or the chocolate will lose it's temper and the eggs will cook when you try to mix them in.  When it is all liquid take it off the heat. If you have gotten your chocolate too hot and it has separated, I don't know how to fix it so throw it out and start again. If you have smooth barely warm uniform melted chocolate proceed with the next step.

Mix in  3/4 cup sugar and 1 teaspoon Vanilla extract. Mix thoroughly.  Beat the eggs in one at a time then add 1/4 cup flour and beat vigorously for 1 minute.  It is important to beat it 1 minute to achieve the proper texture and consistency.  Finally, add 1 cup chopped nuts, mix and pour into the parchment paper. Bake 30 minutes, do not over bake. Let them cool completely before lifting the paper from the pan.  They do not need icing but they go well with ice cream which you can make while the brownies are cooling. Here is the complete list of ingredients:

6 tbsp butter (3/8 cup)
4 rows or 8 ounces Waterbridge Extra Dark (or Dark) Chocolate
3/4 cup sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 large eggs
1/4 cup flour
1 cup toasted chopped nuts

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Slow Roast Beef

We grew up with roast beef so we have it frequently.  A little while ago a I found a great Angus sirloin tip roast on special so I picked it up.  It was early enough in the day that I could take more time cooking it so I tried slow roasting at 250º.  I found a spice rub I had all the ingredients for with phenomenal results, it was the best roast I'd ever cooked. It was medium rare all the way through, moist and delicious.  I haven't managed to reproduce the phenomenal taste but I'm beginning to think it's because the first time you go from bland to delicious it raises your expectations so much that the next one will certainly fail to impress even if it's just as good.  Time will tell.

Here is what I used to for the rub.  It makes enough for 2 small roasts if you want to divide it up.  I use fresh oregano and I think it might be because I used a lot more the first time that it was so good.  If you use fresh then you won't be able to divide it up and save it but you can save the dry mix and add your fresh when you cook with it.

1  1/4  tablespoons paprika
1   tablespoon kosher salt
1   teaspoon garlic powder
1/2   teaspoon ground black pepper
1/2   teaspoon onion powder
1/2   teaspoon ground cayenne pepper
1/2   teaspoon dried oregano
1/2   teaspoon dried thyme
2   tablespoons olive oil
1   (3 pound) sirloin tip roast

Mix the oil and herbs and brush or use your hands to coat the entire roast.  Heat up a frying pan and sear all sides of the roast.  Searing is important so get the frying pan hot enough to sear each side in 10 to 30 seconds.  Insert the meat thermometer and put it all in the oven. It will take about 1.5 to 2 hours to cook and it must rest for at least 20 minutes out of the oven so start it early enough. When the temperature hits 135 to 140 it's done. Take it out and let it rest 20 minutes or it will dry out when you slice it.  Slice it thinly and serve with horseradish.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Celeriac - Celery root

I was perusing vegetables looking for something new and interesting the other day.  It's almost Christmas and fresh green vegetables are at a premium.  A root vegetable with the properties of a green vegetable would be a great addition. Celeriac is only about 6% starch and it has a celery taste, it might fit the bill so I bought the smallest one.

At home Fern said "What is that?"
"Celeriac, celery root. It's supposed to taste like celery"

Fern is a little leery of new foods as I tend to not know how to cook them first time round.  I read a bit about celeriac, cut the skin off, it's too difficult to peel, cook it like a potato.  I knew I had to pair it with something in some kind of sauce.

I decided to steam it with carrots and green peas.  When they were done I put the steamer in the sink and emptied the boiling water to use the pot for the sauce.  I made a little roux and added chicken stock and a little white wine, salt and pepper.  When I had a thick sauce I put the vegetables into the pot, tossed and plated.

It was good but Fern felt that since the celeriac is sweet, as are carrots and peas, the dish overall was too sweet. Next time I'll try something with a slightly bitter taste like chard and add a little lemon juice. Overall, celeriac is a welcome addition to our selection of fresh vegetables.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Eating Failure

A restaurant chef has the luxury of starting again when she fails.

It started off well enough, I had boneless chicken breasts and wanted rice, carrots and broccoli to go with it.  While I was getting the breasts out I spied the leftover ham.  Hmmmm a thin slice of ham stuffed inside the breast might be nice, so I grabbed that too.  I thought about making a slice in the breast and trying to stuff a piece of ham into it.  That won't work, I'll have to pound it flat.  I might as well get a thin slice of cheese and make it chicken cordon fontana.  I don't have any bread crumbs to coat it with so I'll try corn flour and meal that worked so well on the pork cutlet.  This is where I started to go wrong.

The pork cutlet has much more fat in it and was fried in a pan on the stove and the chicken is going straight in the oven. Never the less I coated the meat, put it on a baking sheet, sprayed it with oil so it would brown and put it in the oven. I set to work getting everything else ready.  We had a late lunch and I didn't want a huge meal so I was skipping the Hollandaise and was just going to shred a little parmesan over the meat.

Twenty five minutes later I took the chicken out of the oven and to my surprise, although fully cooked,  it was the same yellow speckled color it had going in.  I flipped on the broiler and shoved the breasts under direct heat while I got everything together. This was my second mistake.  I didn't realize heat wasn't the problem.  The problem was that there wasn't enough fat in and on the chicken to brown the corn meal.  I couldn't think of any other way to save the dish and at this point everything was ready so I had to serve what I had.

Needless to say my partner wasn't impressed with the yellow speckled turd. He ate it gingerly, trying not to look at the yellow pallor.  It tasted good but it looked so sorry it was not a pleasure to eat. Looking back later on I realized to save it I needed to put the breasts in a well oiled frying pan and sear all sides of it.  Then it would have had an attractive crispy exterior and be moist inside. I'll do better next time.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Chocolate Fudge with Nuts

The secret to a good fudge is preventing large sugar crystals from forming.  You achieve this by bringing the batter up to temperature then taking it off the heat and continuing to stir while it cools below sugar's melting point.  The recipe is simple and it takes about 15 minutes cooking time.  Press parchment paper into an 8x8 pan.  Get your candy thermometer out and a heat safe spatula. Set out 4 tablespoons of butter and your vanilla extract and measuring teaspoon. Optionally chop 1/4 cup fancy nuts coarsely and separate the dust and very small pieces out.  Put only larger pieces of nuts in the fudge, the dusty stuff will make the fudge taste gritty.

Put 2 cups of sugar and 1/2 cup cocoa in a pot and stir it around to break up any lumps.  Slowly stir in a cup of milk and make it uniform.   Bring it to a boil stirring constantly.  Once it is boiling stop stirring, if it threatens to boil over turn the heat down a little.  You need to bring it to at least 115C 239F, a little under and it will not set properly. To get it there you first have to boil off all the water in the milk, that's why it takes time.  Set the thermometer on the side sticking into the batter.  Occasionally  scrape the sides of the pot.  When the thermometer reads 115C 239F take the pot off the heat and stir constantly.  Take the thermometer out (don't put it in cold water, it will break) and add the butter. When the butter is mixed in add the vanilla and keep stirring.  The fudge will be glossy off the heat, continue to stir until the fudge has lost it's sheen and add the nuts.  When the fudge has acquired a matte surface pour into the parchment and let it cool.

Here are all the ingredients:

2 cups sugar
1/2 cup cocoa powder
1 cup milk
4 tablespoons butter
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
optional 1/4 cup chopped nuts

If your fudge is grainy, it didn't get to temperature and won't set properly or you didn't stir it long enough off the heat. Enjoy!

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Pavlova - What to do with those egg whites

There seems to be more uses for egg yolks than for egg whites.  I've had to be creative to find ways to use up egg whites.  Macaroons of course, but I don't like dry shredded coconut so that won't do. A Pavlova is basically a big meringue so it's easy to make.

4 egg whites
1 cup superfine sugar - icing, berry or regular sugar ground in the food processor
1/2 tsp vanilla
1 tsp white vinegar
1/2 Tbsp corn flour

Whip the egg whites up till stiff then fold in the sugar, vanilla, vinegar and corn flour.  Put parchment paper in a 8x8 or so pan and pour the batter into it.  Bake at 250 degrees for at least 60 minutes. It should be hard on the outside and a bit runny in the center.

You can use juice from half a lemon instead of vanilla and vinegar but you may need more sugar, taste it and add extra as needed.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Meeting expectations

One of my early lessons in cooking wasn't about cooking at all, it was about expectations.  My partner asked, "What's for dinner?"

"Spaghetti." I didn't mention I was making the sauce from scratch using fresh tomatoes so it wouldn't be anything like what we usually had for spaghetti. When I served the meal he looked at the plate and said, "What's this?"

 I proudly said, "Spaghetti."

"That's not sauce the way I like it!"

"It's good, try it."

He reluctantly twirled some pasta onto his fork and tasted it.  "It's good, but it's not what I was expecting."

I like spaghetti sauce the way my mother made it and Fern likes his the way his mother made it. Fortunately two small changes turns my mother's sauce into his mother's so it's easy to make. This day I wanted to experiment a little so I tried making it all from scratch with fresh tomatoes.  I think my sauce tasted better than what we were used to but because I had set an expectation and then didn't meet it the food was not enjoyed for what it was. If I had initially said, "Pasta with a fresh tomato sauce." He would have thoroughly enjoyed the meal.

I have seen similar things on tv shows like Chopped where chef's are given a variety of ingredients that must all be used in a dish.  If the chef presents his dish claiming it to be risotto then it had better taste and eat like a risotto or he will be chided for missing the mark.

Food must not only taste and look good, it has to meet the expectations that you have set in the diners. Whatever you are making, don't call it something it's not or it will be rejected.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Backyard Chickens

In march the feed store had a sign, Chicks $3.  Is that all they cost?  I'll take two! They arrived in a month, the middle of April, every bit as cute as advertised.  They were only cute for two days, they get bigger every day.  The first one started laying at the beginning of September and the other two weeks later.  They both lay an egg almost every day so they provide enough that we occasionally give half a dozen away.  Layer pellets are $13 per 40lb bag.  I bought a bag mid September and I'm about half way through it  now. So eggs are costing me about $.65/dozen. The free range eggs I was buying were $4.69/dozen so it saves a bit of money.

First thing every morning, no matter how I feel I have to go out and clean the coop, top up the food and give fresh water. It takes about 5 minutes.  The chickens are happiest if they get out of the run to scratch in the yard and garden for a couple of hours a day.  I have to keep an eye on them or they'll get right up on the BBQ, where I don't want them, yet.

Chickens aren't pets but they know who takes care of them and they follow me around the yard if they are out. I like having them and a supply of fresh eggs can't be beat, but they are a responsibility that cannot be shirked ever, not even for a day. I wouldn't get backyard chickens to save money, they are too much trouble.  Get them because you are committed to producing some of your own food and already do produce some in gardens. If you can't keep a garden going, you will definitely fail with livestock. I haven't had to get out of bed with a bad flu and care for the chickens but the day is coming and I'm going to have to do it no matter what.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Understanding Hollandaise

It's time to spruce up those vegetables.  I love broccoli or asparagus with Hollandaise sauce and Eggs Benedict for breakfast can't be beat.  Hollandaise is a very versatile sauce and it's easy to make too.  It is a mayonnaise that is made with melted butter instead of oil.  Egg yolk doesn't emulsify butter as well as oil so you have to use about two egg yolks to 1/3 cup of butter. Sterilize the egg as for Caesar Dressing, melt the butter but don't get it too hot because you don't want it to cook the yolk as you emulsify it.  Just as for Ceasar Salad Dressing add a teaspoon of melted butter beside the yolk then slowly pick it up with the whisk.  If you break the sauce you can rescue it with another egg yolk, slowly whisk the broken sauce into the yolk.

When you have successfully emulsified all the butter add a tablespoon of fresh squeezed lemon juice and a pinch of salt and whisk in and taste.  If it needs more lemon add it, if it's tangy enough but too thick add a little water. Is there enough salt? It should be a thick liquid before you cook it. When you have the sauce tasting great put it over boiling water and stir continuously or in the microwave for 20 seconds, stir, then 10 second and stir till it's thickened enough. That's it, pour it over your vegetables or eggs or crab and steak or even a cajun chicken breast and indulge yourself.

A note about asparagus, you use the flower top end and put the tough, fibrous root end in the stock pot. If you bend the root end it should break at the transition from stringy to succulent. There is probably a better way to determine where to trim them but that is the best I have so far.