Monday, June 26, 2006

What I learned in cooking class this week

This week was cheesemaking. Lots of pots of milk on the stove! I worked on making Camembert, simple enough as long as you are paying attention to the details. But the devil is in those details -- as we saw with some of the other cheeses, you get careless with proportions and things get messed up in a hurry. One person put in only half the milk needed for the mozzarella curd, and the full amount of citric acid. What we got was a grainy tangy mess that would not melt into the soft mass we needed to pull it into shape. So had to start over on that one. But we didn't toss the first batch -- I chopped up some fresh herbs and we mixed them with that, some cream, and some olive oil. Tasted good -- then we tossed it into a pasta salad with tomatoes, kalamata olives, and other good things. What I learned was more about the progression of proteins through denaturing and recombining, and what happens at each of those stages. That learning had an interesting effect on my breadmaking the next day -- I didn't have bread flour so we were using AP, and I could understand how to compensate for the lower protein content of the AP flour and not freak out when my dough needed more flour and more attention to get the result I wanted (which I did, see earlier post about the challah buns for lamb burgers). Also took the next step on our prosciutto. Washed off all of the salt, dried it nicely with towels. Coated it in lard, keeps it from drying out when we hang it. Then a coating of ground black pepper on all the flesh areas, keeps the flies away and gives more flavor. Wrap it all up in a couple of layers of cheesecloth, and then hung it in the garage. That will now take about five months, I guess, for it to finish drying. The other sausages are looking good -- can't wait to try them in another three weeks.

Lamb and sweet potatoes (again)

One of the interesting things for me about blogging is that I can begin to see patterns in what I am cooking and paying attention to. For example, back in mid-May I made lamb meatballs and was eating sweet potato fries. And... ...yesterday I grilled lamb burgers and sweet potato slices. Different mix than for my meatballs: the usual 3/4 lb ground lamb to 1/4 pound regular ground beef, but left the onion finely chopped and mixed everything by hand. Two cloves of garlic minced into a paste with 1/2 t of salt, 1T olive oil, 1T chopped fresh oregano, 1T chopped fresh mint, pepper. I make four relatively thin patties out of this mixture. On the grill for about 8-10 minutes. Served them on homemade buns, used the challah recipe in "Joy of Cooking" since it makes dough with a nice texture and flavor for the lamb. Toss on a little tzatziki, a slice of tomato, and a couple of torn mint leaves and it makes a great sandwich! For the sweet potatoes, I peeled and sliced one into about 1/3" slices, tossed with olive oil and salt. They went on the grill for five min on one side, then turned and brushed with honey/lime/mint glaze (2T honey, juice of one lime, about 1/8t lime zest, 1t chopped fresh mint leaves. Boy, were those good. Once again, we served a rose. Nice with all those flavors going on, and it was a scorcher of a day around here so quite refreshing.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Duck redux

Well, as I was saying, I made duck confit last month. After four weeks, it was time to try it out. So I heated an iron skillet in the oven at 450 degrees and put four legs in there to crisp up. Then I put them aside, drained off some of the fat that had melted off the legs, and put in two bunches of chopped arugula with half a chopped sweet onion. Let the heat of the pan cook it, and finished it with a little sherry vinegar. (Not an original idea -- a riff on one from Alton Brown.) The bitter/sour of the greens were a great offset to the richness of the duck. And the duck -- ohmygawd. I could eat that every day! Beside the word "savory" in the dictionary is a picture of that duck. I am SO pleased with how that turned out. Juicy, seasonings just right, my mouth waters again to think on it. Drank a 1999 Milestone Merlot from Columbia Winery. Not something we'd been fond of last year when we tasted it before, but an extra year really softened it up and it was a great match. Still dancing around the chaos in the kitchen and the rest of the condo, but another day of touch-up painting and I can pretty much move everything back into the kitchen and go back to normal life in there. However --- now I don't have a bedroom for a couple of days because the paint we're using in there requires three coats+ to cover (it's a dark wine red). So the chaos continues for a while longer. Our painter just called me in to see the master bath, it's now rose pink and it's beautiful. Before it was sort of the color of a flesh-colored crayon. Now -- it pops.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Kitchen remodeling continues, and it's count the cookbooks time

New countertops installed last Friday. They are made of something called Swanstone, sort of like Corian but harder. And you can set a pot right off the stove or out of the oven on them. That's going to take getting used to, after being so careful with the Formica we had. They are purple. Actually the color name is Purple Sage, and they go very nicely with the lilac and olive paint in the kitchen. I like the integrated sink. By Sunday I had a working sink (and disposal) again so other than touch up paint, the first stage of the kitchen stuff is done. Next thing is getting the cupboards built-in around the fridge. But that doesn't keep me from using the kitchen, and we can now move most things back in. We discovered that due to all the dust we have to wash pretty much everything, and wipe out all the cupboards. So the dishwasher has been doing extra duty the past few days. Of course, getting the kitchen finished isn't the end of it, now we starting having the master bedroom and bath painted. So everything gets moved out of there into other rooms. Feels like we're playing musical chairs with everything. Gotta move all the cookbooks out of the bedroom so we can move the bookcases away from the walls. No small effort, since there are 375 of them in there! There are more than 100 in other places, so the cookbook count these days is about 500.

Making up for 20 years? Thai cooking and other classes

Four cooking classes in the span of eight days. Having always denied myself the pleasure of taking those kinds of classes, it seems I'm trying to make up for lost time all at once. But it really wasn't intentional. One of the classes was more demonstration and book-signing reception, for Tom Douglas' new book on crab cakes. He made five different ones, and they were all interesting. But the crab foo yung was my favorite. I'd signed up to go to this a couple of months ago, and it got postponed. So it landed on the 14th. While I was at the cookware shop where it was hosted, I looked at their schedule of classes and noticed there was a five-hour class on Thai cooking the next day. (One of those advantages of being a consultant, you get to do some interesting things in the middle of the day.) The cool thing about the Thai class was that first we went shopping. So I got introduced to a great hole-in-the-wall market in the International District that even has free parking. And incredible prices on great produce as well as an amazing selection of Asian ingredients. Lots less expensive than Uwajimaya, which is everyone's go-to place for such things. I can't wait to take Dave there to shop with me. The class was fun -- practical stuff I'll use again, and learned more about how to deal with fresh rice noodles, which I love. My second week of the Culinary Communion preservation series was mostly about preserves (duh!). As a class we made a lot of recipes; I took responsibility for making a poblano ketchup, which was great. Though the batch of poblanos was pretty spicy -- you know how they can vary so much -- so the end result had quite a kick. Would be great with a chunk of halibut or deep-fried zucchini. We also did some followup work on the cured things we did the week before. So I removed the skin from the cured pork belly and rolled it very tight to continue the process of making pancetta. That was hard work! We cooked (smoked) some of the bacon we made last week and had it with our lunch, it was quite yummy. Oh, and lunch was pork vindaloo, rice, and fava bean puree. I'm feeling a little more comfortable with the group but still a little disoriented. It's fine though. Next Saturday we're making cheese -- mozzarella, Camembert, cheddar, goat's milk cottage cheese, chevre, and maybe some paneer. Mmmmmm.

Monday, June 12, 2006

My first cooking class!

Geez, you'd think someone like me would have been taking cooking classes all along. For some reason, I just haven't made the time. But I am now! I signed up for a six week course on "preserving." That means sausages, smoking, pickles, cheeses, jams, etc. The first class was on Saturday, and we were making sausages for smoking/drying. Eight students, and an entire pig! It had already been broken down, but we were using incredibly fresh, organic pork to make saucisson sec, spanish chorizo, salted air-dried ham, molasses-cured ham, lamb bresaola, and duck prosciutto (among other things). I was elbow-deep in pork fat for quite some time. It was a blast, though because everyone else had taken classes with Culinary Communion before, I felt a little outside the circle. I'm sure that will change over the course of the course. What surprised me the most was that as part of the five-hour session, we also cooked ourselves lunch -- roasted leg of lamb with a honey/garlic/cream sauce, braised artichokes, blanched asparagus and garlic curls, with pre-prepped ratatouille and mushroom/fennel/artichoke salad. So after about five hours of sausage talking and making, we all sat down to a substantial meal. Wow! It was energizing and exhausting.

Rose and sweet potatoes?

Sorry I've been remiss in keeping this up. Time for a little catch-up (catsup??). Grilled pork chops -- salted with a nice dry rub for two days since they were over an inch thick. Sweet potato puree, and a Chinook Rose of Cab Franc. What a combination! Everything tasted better together. And I've gotten into roasting/grilling heads of romaine lately. Very nice just rubbed with olive oil and salt, then drizzled with a good balsamic vinegar. They go great with almost anything, rack of lamb last Friday. Wrapped some asparagus in foil with some sliced baby Walla Walla sweet onions to go with both, and it was a pretty quick dinner based on stuff that was already sitting in the fridge. (Yes, I do consider a rack of lamb a pantry staple sometimes :) Two things we are really liking this time of year are those baby Walla Wallas and fresh garlic. With the garlic, you don't have to peel it, just chop up the whole thing. That's what I used in the eggs I talked about last week. Also great with some shrimp and capers for a quick picatta sauce over angel hair pasta.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Scrambling eggs

I'm currently reading Julia Child's memoirs, and something in there about scrambling eggs made me do it twice (Sunday and today). I've got lots of fresh herbs begging to be used out on the balcony, so I made "Scarborough Fair" eggs. Parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme, of course, and a teaspoon of chopped fresh young garlic (you use the whole head, no skins to remove), and a couple of tablespoons of sweet spring onions for six eggs. This time of year is just the best when the brand new Walla Walla sweet onions come in, with the tops still attached. Anyway, sweat the garlic and onion over low heat in some clarified butter in a nonstick pan. Whisk the eggs gently with a fork. Add a couple of tablespoons of heavy cream and a couple of tablespoons of the chopped mixed herbs to the eggs along with salt and pepper (I prefer to use white pepper in this). Add the eggs to the pan and patiently cook them very gently, using a spatula to move them around until they are in soft curds and as firm as you like them. With some steamed asparagus and a couple of slices of tomato, it's a very nice brunch for two.