Friday, February 12, 2016

My family understands that I don't use actual recipes for my cooking. I use ingredient lists and comments and notes at best with a foundation of cooking principles learned over the years mostly from my mother and grandmother. I've tried to put more standardized recipes together for posting here to make it easier for you but thinking about that lately I decided that it would be more useful long term to switch back and pass family cooking customs and principles along to you instead. I've always liked the tradition of cooking with family and friends and passing along a body of common knowledge. I hope you find this useful and feel comfortable asking questions as well as adding your part to the greater whole.

Cheese baked stuffed mushrooms

Our current favorite starter or light lunch. Quick and simple to make, perfect when you need something hot and savory. Also pretty good for using up bits and pieces of stuff lingering in the fridge. Very easy to increase the number of servings.

This serves 2.

2 large flat mushrooms - size should be proportionate to your appetite. We find the huge portobello mushrooms are too big for us lately so we switched to plain field mushrooms.

Unsalted butter - I use unsalted butter for all my cooking and just add salt to taste if needed later in the process

Olive oil - extra virgin olive oil - we're currently favoring Portuguese olive oil.

Fresh thyme leaves - fresh tarragon if you have any - dried herbs are sort of pointless here

sea salt, freshly ground pepper

Panko bread crumbs

Cheese - crumbled or shredded - Lately I've been using cheddar for me and stilton for Alan. Use what you like or have around, this is very flexible.

1/2 onion

Garlic cloves, minced

Shallow crockery baking dish
Small saute/frying pan
Medium size chef's knife - make sure it's well sharpened - I keep a knife sharpener on my prep counter so I can give my knives a few strokes to touch up the edge before I begin prep.
 Timer

1  start your oven pre-heating to 175 C/350 F (fan oven) 

2  drizzle a little oil in the baking dish
remove the stems from the mushrooms and set aside
put the mushrooms in the baking dish open side up
put a generous knob of butter in the mushroom cavity
sprinkle in a few thyme leaves
as soon as the oven reaches temp put the dish in and bake for 10 minutes
Please use a timer with a loud annoying beep

*This is the preliminary bake. It ensures that you end up with a soft mushroom that's cooked all the way through before you put the topping on to melt.

3   while the mushrooms are baking, start preparing your layers of filling -
finely dice the mushroom stems
finely dice onion
If you have tarragon chop a few leaves now
roughly mince the garlic clove

Heat the saute pan, toss in butter to melt
Toss in the minced mushroom and onion and saute until translucent
add in the minced garlic, chopped tarragon, sprinkle in thyme leaves
add salt and pepper to taste - yes, TASTE IT and add more as needed
When it's all soft and translucent and smells insanely yummy, turn off the heat and set the pan aside

4   When the timer beeps remove the baking dish from the oven
Spoon the sauteed filling evenly into the 2 mushroom cavities
Sprinkle or crumble in a generous layer of cheese
Sprinkle panko over the cheese and drizzle olive oil over all
Sprinkle a bit of sea salt crystals and black pepper over the olive oil in the bottom of the baking dish (add a bit more oil to the bottom of the dish if needed)

5 Put the baking dish back into the hot oven and bake for 20 minutes
Make sure to set the timer!

While the mushrooms are baking -
set the table
warm the plates if you like
slice some bread - a baguette or crusty loaf
get out the butter of your choice for table use
* Heat some soup or toss some green salad if you are having the mushrooms as part of a lunch/light meal

At the 20 minute mark when the timer beeps - turn off the oven and take the baking dish out
Place the mushrooms on plates and serve
Either bring the baking dish to the table so you can dip your bread into the hot pan juices/olive oil mix - or spoon some of the pan juices over the mushrooms.


* I know this may look like a lot of fussy complicated work but that's only because I'm trying to pass along all the details to you. Once you have made this you'll realize how fast and easy it actually is. And of course, you'll adjust what you do to your taste and convenience.

Let me know if you try making this - whether you liked it and how you customized it, etc.

Btw you can use small mushrooms and make trays of this for vegetarian party nibbles or starter course.


Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Horseradish Whipped Cream Sauce

This is a simple to mix together but luxuriously delicious horseradish sauce that tastes amazing with rare roast beef but also delicious as a dip for raw vegetables, a tart spread for sandwiches - endless uses. It lasts for several weeks in an airtight container - not in my house tho because we consume the stuff in a flash; it's literally finger licking good.

Note: You absolutely must make this stuff at least 2 hours before use to give the flavours a chance to mature and develop. Fresh made it's tasty but allowed to develop for 2 hours it's divine. Great to make the day before serving for your convenience.

1/2 cup double cream/heavy cream
1/2 cup creme fraiche/cultured sour cream
1/2 cup horseradish
2 T finely chopped fresh chives
1 T fresh squeezed lemon juice
salt & pepper
pinch of fresh thyme leaves - if you don't have fresh don't bother

1. In a medium size mixing bowl, whisk the cream until it reaches softly whipped stage
2. Gently whisk in the creme fraiche, then the horseradish
3. Stir in the chopped chives and lemon juice
4. If you have fresh thyme, pull off a pinch of leaves and sprinkle on the mix.
5. Cautiously add fresh ground pepper and salt. Stir and taste. Keep to the conservative side because you will do a final balance after the mix has a chance to develop.
6. Cover and let sit in the refrigerator for 2 hours for the flavours to develop. When ready to use, stir and taste and adjust salt & pepper as needed.

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Brine your bird!!

I've known about brining poultry for many years but never actually tried doing it. But the other day a combination of events led me to buy a guinea hen - because I'd just watched a cooking show which claimed that guinea hen was succulent and delicious and delicately gamey and gorgeous but thended to be quite dry so needed care during prep to prevent that. The solution they declared was brining. Ah ha! That was why I always avoided guinea hen - I always found the meat dry and crumbly and lacking taste. But brining turned that around? They hadn't been lying for years, it just needed brining? Wow! Easy enough done and we shall see.

So I brined the hen - the most basic simple brine - nothing fancy and only for 2 hours or so, not the recommended 8 or more. No special spices or dried citrus peel, etc.

So a simple 2 hour brine then roast it with a simple stuffing of bread with sage, onion, and apple.

OMG!

It was heaven!
We were licking our fingers. We were stuffing ourselves. We were moaning in delight.

Wow - so that is what brining does.
That's it for me folks. From now on ALL poultry made in this house will be brined.
Utterly succulent, moist and delicious.

People - Alan did not breathe even the slightest criticism! He just kept moaning how delicious it was.

So - next time you want to roast a chicken or turkey or any fowl - brine it first!

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Chopped Chicken Liver

Ingredients:
 1 pound fresh chicken livers
 salt and freshly ground black pepper
 4 tablespoons chicken fat, goose fat, vegetable oil, or unsalted butter (more as needed)
 2 large onions, diced (about 3 cups)
 3 cloves garlic - optional
 3 hard boiled eggs - large
 1 tablespoon brandy or cognac - optional

Tools:
1 medium frying pan
1  small pot with lid
1 large bowl and several small bowls
grater
hand chopper (often called a mezzaluna or lunette)
If you prefer, you can use a food processor for this.

1. Add your choice of fat to a medium size frying pan, turn heat to medium and allow the fat to melt and heat. Add the diced onions and cook stirring often until they are caramelized brown and soft. Watch carefully so they don't burn; the process takes about 45+ minutes. This is the secret to the best tasting results - lots of rich, soft, brown caramelized onion. When onions are done, use a slotted spoon to transfer them to a bowl and allow to cool.

2. Place 3 large eggs in a small pot and cover with water. Put a lid on the pot and bring to a boil over high heat. When the water boils, turn off the heat and allow the pot to stand covered for about 25 min. Drain off hot water, rinse with cold water, peel eggs. Set eggs aside or into fridge to cool.

3. Back to the frying pan - add another tablespoon or two of fat to what's left over in the pan from the onions. Start heating the pan over medium heat. Pat the livers dry with a paper towel. Cut them in half or so if they seem large. Add the livers to the frying pan and saute until lightly brown.

4. While the liver cooks, peel a few whole garlic cloves and toss into the pan with the liver. Check after 5 min or so - the liver should be lightly brown and only slightly pink in the center. Turn off the heat and gather everything for the final assembly.

*This assumes manual assembly which is my preference. Skip to the end if you are using a processor for this.

5. Scrape the cooked livers and garlic into the large bowl. Use the hand chopper to coarsely chop the livers and garlic until it looks about how you like it. Grind some black pepper and salt over the liver.

6. Grate the eggs over the liver. Graters usually have 2 sets of holes - regular and tiny - I use the regular size, the tiny turns it into mush. Now set aside the grater and use the chopper a couple times to chop and mix the eggs into the liver.

7. Scrape all the caramelized onions into the big bowl on top of the liver and eggs. Make sure you get all the fat and tasty bits. Use a spoon to mix in the onions thoroughly. Add the brandy now if you intend to use it. Mix well and chop more if you want a finer texture.

8. TASTE! This is seriously important. You will probably need to adjust the salt & pepper. It should taste gorgeous but slightly under-salted. Mix and taste until it's exactly as you like. Please don't oversalt.

9. Pack mixture into a tupperwear type container or small bowl and cover tightly. Put into the fridge and let cool.

10 - If you are not using a food processor - you're done and ready to eat.

* If you are using a food processor -
Scrape all the cooked ingredients (liver, eggs, onions, etc) into the processor bowl. and pulse until its the consistency you prefer. Season to taste and pack into storage container.


Notes: I think this tastes best the day its made after it has a chance to cool and settle. It's also gorgeous the next day if there's any left over. Generally it will keep up to 3 days from preparation so you can make it ahead of time for parties.

Any questions, Ask!

Sunday, July 26, 2015

My take on Weisswurst

I'm just going to start by dealing with the elephant in the room. Yes, Weisswurst is made from veal. Deal with it.

Now that that's taken care of:

As usual, I didn't have the ingredients to make what I might have originally envisioned, and made do. I expect you'll do about the same. The result was incredible, however, so even if it's inauthentic, I recommend it.

Cole-Slaw
I made this on the side because I didn't have any traditionally made sauerkraut. Traditionally made is fermented in a brine solution, then rinsed thoroughly before eating. The end result is a pleasant, crunchy vegetable with a touch of sharpness and piquency. Supermarket sauerkraut, however, is fast pickled in vinegar, and tastes nothing like the real stuff. I wanted something light and sharp to contrast the meatiness of the rest of the dinner, something to act as an astringent palate cleanser. Well, I had the cabbage...

Take 1 head of cabbage and peel off the nasty outer leaves. Quarter and core it, then slice into strips. In a large bowl, add the cabbage, a few tablespoons of mayonnaise, a dash of salt and pepper, a quarter cup or so of lemon juice, a heaping tablespoon of horseradish, and about a teaspoon of dried dill. Mix thoroughly, cover, and stick in the fridge.

As always, cole slaw is better if prepared the day before, but we don't always have that luxury. Thus, get it out of the way at the beginning so it has at least an hour or so to sit in your fridge before eating.

Weisswurst

Grab six large russet potatoes. Peel them and chop them into cubes. Dump into a pot of cold water, then heat the pot under high heat. The pot will take a long time to come to boil and cook the potatoes, by which time hopefully everything else should be ready.

Take a half dozen thick cut strips (double the number for normal thickness) of bacon. I used a medium-fatty bacon, so if yours is leaner, use a bit more. For my readers overseas who use bacon which is cut from leaner parts of the pig, you can use goosefat instead. Chop the bacon into strips about a half inch wide by an inch long. Throw into a large, high-walled pan in medium heat. You'll be cooking the bacon until all the fat has rendered out and the whole bottom of the pan is generously covered in fat. Seriously, don't be afraid of having too much fat. While the bacon cooks, make sure to stir it and break it up on occasion so the bacon gets a little crispy.

While the bacon cooks, take a half dozen large leeks (more if you have skinny ones) and remove the outer leaves. Chop off the very tops, but retain as much of the green part as you can. Slice off the root end. Make sure to rinse to remove any dirt present. Separate the green and white parts, then half the white part lengthwise through the middle. Slice the entire leek into the thinnest strips you can and put into a large bowl until ready to use them.

Similarly, take six stalks of celery, remove and toss the tops and bottoms, and rinse under cold water. Slice lengthwise, then chop the celery into small pieces and add to the leeks.

Once the bacon is done, carefully but quickly remove the bacon to a separate container while retaining the fat in the pan. To the still hot pan, add a flat tablespoon of minced garlic. Watch the garlic like a hawk- the fat will be very hot, and the garlic will likely be done within 30-60 seconds. Once the color just begins to turn (BEGINS to turn), dump in the sliced leeks and celery. Stir the vegetables occasionally and add a dash of salt and pepper.  Cook until the leeks and celery have started to soften, but they don't need to be completely soft and cooked through.

Check your potatoes. They should only need to boil for ~10 minutes. By that time, they'll be done but still very firm. If you aren't sure, grab a piece out and (after blowing on it to cool it off) bite into it. You should reasonably be able to tell if it's done then. Drain the potatoes and add to the leeks. Aren't you glad you had that high walled pan now? Add back the cooked bacon, and stir until everything is well incorporated. Ah, the smells should be pretty fantastic now.

Take 8 weisswurst and add them to the pan. You don't want them sitting on the metal bottom getting heated directly by the pan. Stir them around so that they get a nice coating of the leeks and such, and have all of them nicely snuggled into the potatoes. Cover and turn your heat down to low for 25 minutes.

Serve immediately.


Sunday, May 10, 2015

Chicken Corn Chowder

Alan and I are in the process of shifting our eating habits. It's not a deliberate choice; it's just recognising the changing nature of our appetites and needs as we age. An example is that we often find we definitely want something to eat for supper but we don't have a great appetite for a proper, full meal. What we want is a bowl of very tasty soup with a chunk of buttered bagette on the side. So I've started to make interesting soups and decided to share some recipes with you. The amount I make is good for about 2 meals for 2 people. I'm not into making vast vats of soup which will age and degrade even if frozen. A vat of soup works if you are feeding a horde of indiscriminate guests. But you can't make delicate, elegant broths or silky, creamy veloutes in vat size amounts. You'll also grow weary and bored with even the nicest soup if you have to work your way through a vat of it. The charm of homemade soup is that you can make something that appeals to whatever mood you are in at that moment. And tonight Alan was yearning for Chicken Corn Chowder.

Remember that we're tossing this together so there's no precise measurements. You need a stick blender for this. It's an essential piece of basic kitchen equipment and only costs about $25 (US).

Ingedients for soup base:
Chicken stock - about 1 liter - homemade or bought. I used Tesco Finest Chicken Stock. In NYC I used to use College Inn No Salt. Whatever you use, try to get something that relies on chicken for flavour not yeast. (I find the yeast flavour musty and disgusting not meaty.)
1 onion - 3" yellow or white - peeled and roughly chopped
3 potatoes - peeled and chopped - Floury or Idaho type preferred
1 heaping cup of corn kernels - I used frozen 
1 plump clove garlic
white pepper
sea salt
honey

Ingredients for soup finish:
1 heaping cup corn kernels
leftover cooked chicken - remove all skin, bones, etc and roughly chop into bite size pieces or shreds
double cream

Method:
1. Dump chicken stock and veg into a comfortably large pot.
2. Bring to a boil and then reduce heat to a simmer
3. Cover and simmer for 60 min
4. Take the pot off the heat and taste the soup base. Add a bit of white pepper and a sprinkle of salt to taste. Go easy as this is not the final adjustment.
5. Use the stick blender to grind everything to a relatively smooth soup.
6. Smash and chop the clove of garlic to pulp. Add to the soup to taste - keep it subtle, you just want to add a background warmth.
7. Add the additional cup of corn kernels and the shredded chicken.
8. Cover and simmer gently for another 30 min
9. Add some double cream to enrich the soup - 1/4 to 1/2 cup, adjust the salt and pepper. You may want to add a spoon of honey to enhance the sweetness of the corn.
10. You can serve the soup now or cover and allow to cool, then refrigerate overnight. Bring to a simmer before serving it the next day.

A chunk of bagette with butter goes very nice on the side.

Monday, February 23, 2015

Sauerkraut

As most of my friends and family know, I love Kickstarter. So about a year ago, the opportunity came up to back a small-batch home pickling/fermentation system. Last week, it finally came in.

Bolstered by the success of my pickles, I wanted to make something immediately. But between my lack of wide mouthed mason jars (soon to be rectified) and the difficulty in finding appropriate ingredients in February, I went with making sauerkraut.

Classic sauerkraut uses caraway seeds and juniper berries for flavoring, neither of which I have. I have, however, found that celery seed (of which I still have a ridiculous abundance left over from making celery soda) is an acceptable substitute for caraway.

I also thought it would be neat to make a mixture of red and white cabbage. So the ingredients were as follows:

1/2 head white cabbage
1/2 head red cabbage
sea salt
onion powder
black peppercorns
celery seed

Chop the cabbage into thin slices and combine with ingredients in your preferred proportions. I didn't really measure anything out, but it was roughly 3-4 tablespoons salt, a couple of tablespoons of onion powder, a tablespoon of black peppercorns, and about a teaspoon of celery seed. Mix until evenly coated, then cram into a clean and sterilized mason jar. Add your water well air blockage system (I am now using the Kraut Source) and set aside. It's important to cram it in and pack it tight. This is a lot, and I used a half gallon mason jar, the only one I have with a wide mouth. Even then, I thought it was crammed in properly, but I didn't have a nice pounder, and I didn't pound as I layered. The result was that once I set up the press and it began to mascerate, the level dropped a solid inch or two, which made it awkward.

Now, in theory, if you live in a place where you can get fresh cabbage, the cabbage should spew enough moisture over the course of 24 hours to more than cover the solids. This may not happen for the rest of us. If after 12 hours it still hasn't happened, I'd make up a brine solution of 1 tbsp salt in 1 cup warm water. Add until you have a half inch or so of brine above the solids.

After 2 weeks, take some out and taste test. If you like it, great! If you want it more developed, give it another week or two.

After 2 weeks, ready to eat!
You will occasionally get what some people call bloom or scum. It's mold that grows on the surface of the brine. That is a-okay, as it happens. Just use a spoon and try to scoop out the worst of it. You don't need to worry about getting every tiny little bit. So long as the solids stay below the brine level, they should be just fine, protected by the brine.

You can play with the ingredients. Use paprika, tumeric, garlic, whatever you like. I like the Kraut Source system because it allows me to experiment with small batches using mason jars. Your mileage may vary. As always with pickling, be aware of keeping an anaerobic environment- see my post on LES-style pickles for an explanation.

Final verdict on my sauerkraut: weird for the first bite, but a nice aftertaste. Realized that it was weird because I expected more of the classic sauerkraut flavor, but the different spices made it, of course, taste different. Once I got over the initial shock, I really enjoyed it. Added it as a side for a roasted and stuffed pork tenderloin my wife made, it was a bright note both visually and on the palate to contrast the savory meat.