Thursday, January 29, 2009

There's a first time for everything: making veal stock

We were walking through Uwajimaya the other day and Dave noticed some packages of veal bones in the freezer case. At first I was not swayed. Then I turned around and, Dave swears with a twinkle in my eye, I loaded five pounds into the cart. Why not? It's not hard to make good stock, just time-consuming. And time, I got.

I'm using Jacque Pepin's "Complete Techniques" as my guide. Might as well learn from the best, right? Actually, I don't consider this learning as much as experience. I've made a lot of stock, a lot of good stock. Chicken, duck, beef -- but never veal.

Tonight is the prep, roasting and starting the boil. I'll get to the first major skimming tonight before bed, and let it percolate the rest of the night.

My plan is to reduce it at least to a demi-glace.

Funny interlude here, Dave comes home, smelling nice roasty meat smells and thinking there is something good for him to eat tonight. Ah, too bad, it's only bones...

More sous vide: dijon-maple pork chops

I am playing with sous vide again. Started with thick pork loin chops that I rubbed with salt and let sit overnight. Gave them a rinse and put into a vacuum bag with a paste of a teaspoon of dijon mustard and two teaspoons of maple syrup. (Yes I know maple syrup has carbohydrates, but using a small amount of a strong flavor is absolutely the right thing to do.)

I pulled out the induction burner and put the bag in a pot of water and set the control to keep the water at 140 degrees. A while back I tested each of the settings so that I know how hot each keeps water (114, 140, 172, and 203 for the first four settings, in case you are curious).

What I really like about sous vide is that if you can hold food at a known temperature you can avoid overcooking it -- for a very very long time. This make it useful when you are not sure when your partner will get home from work, and may need to grab dinner in a hurry.

To finish the dish I shredded green cabbage very fine and salted it lightly and let it sit for about an hour. Gave it a little rinse and drain then turned into a saute pan with some very hot bacon drippings, a bit if dry mustard and a bit of ground ginger. I don't know quite why I chose those two seasonings except to say that it felt right. A few turns with the tongs and then I piled the cabbage into the center or pasta bowls. Sliced down the pork chops and fanned them on top of the cabbage and ladled the meat juices (with all that nice maple and dijon flavor) around the cabbage. Because the cabbage was shredded so finely it soaked up the juices, a nice benefit since we did not get to have any bread or noodles.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Putting together a recipe: injera

Injera is an Ethiopian flatbread that is used both as a plate and a spoon for their rich “wat” or stews. We are having a berbere-seasoned beef, butternut squash, and cashew stew tonight so I thought I would look into making a little injera. Normally I would not have bread, as it’s very high on the glycemic index, making it unsuitable for our diet. However, injera calls for two parts whole grain flour and one part white flour. So a little bit of it to soak up the juices from the stew will be okay. It is also somewhat acidic, which lowers the glycemic index even more as it changes the way that the body metabolizes the carbohydrates. In traditional Ethiopian cuisine, a layer of injera is laid down on a platter or right on the table, and the stew is spooned over it. More injera is served on the side, and each person uses the bread to pick up bites of the stew in a communal meal.

As I usually do when making something new, I did a literature search. To my dismay, none of my baking books mention injera and I don’t have any books on African cooking. I will have to rectify that; I checked on “The Good Cook” online (the Book of the Month Club for cooks) and they didn’t have any. I’ll work on that task later. An online search turned up a half-dozen recipes and so I got the concepts: a pretty sour batter, with a mixture of whole grain like wheat and buckwheat or teff with some white flour, that uses yeast and baking powder/baking soda. Some of the recipes call for letting the batter sit and ferment for up to three days. That signals to me that using my starter, which is nice and sour, would be an okay place to start. The batter is cooked like a crepe, and is supposed to be thicker than a crepe but thinner than a pancake, cooked only on one side and not browned. It is supposed to have lots of small bubbles that break on the surface, resulting in a sponge-like look and texture. Sort of like cooking a crumpet, if you know what crumpets look like.

The research leads me to the recipe I’ve come up with. A cup of starter, awakened with a cup of very warm water. A teaspoon of sugar, a half-teaspoon of yeast. One half cup each of rye, whole wheat, and AP flours. Whisk together. Add ¼ t of baking powder. Add enough more warm water to form a thick batter. Cover and let stand for an hour or so. Then when I am ready to cook, whisk in ½ t baking soda and ½ t salt. Cook in a 10” non-stick skillet (I am using my omelet pan). Heat over medium heat until a water droplet skitters across the surface. Pour in 1/3 cup of batter and swirl to coat the bottom of the pan. Look for bubbles to appear on the surface and then break. Remove when the bread is firm, before the bottom starts to brown. Of course you can use a different size pan, just modify the amount of batter you put in. Someday I may try to make a dinner-plate sized bread, like I got in a restaurant. As you can see from the photos it got the open bubbles just like it is supposed to.

One thing that fascinated me as I cooked the injera were the chemical reactions I knew were happening: I put the baking soda in right before cooking, so it was still reacting with the acidity of the batter and making bubbles, and more bubbles were created as the baking powder reacted to the heat of the pan. This was in addition to the bubbles from the yeast.

I am not claiming that this is authentic, as I am not Ethiopian nor did I learn it at my momma’s knee. But it does work, and it is like what I have been served in an Ethiopian restaurant. It made a great base for the stew.

A note on my recipe search: when I am looking for ethnic recipes, I start with It used to be called S.O.A.R., the Searchable Online Archive of Recipes, and was hosted at Cal Berkeley. It started as an online database project. Anyone can submit recipes, and I have found that a lot of college students from outside the US who are hungry for “home cooking” post the recipes their mom gives them. It is one of many resources I use for recipe development.

What's for dinner: Thai seafood curry

This was dinner last night. We were near Uwajimaya, an Asian store that has great seafood. So of course I had to have some. W picked up a pound of rockfish (snapper) filets, half a pound of medium shrimp, and half a pound of beautiful bay scallops. I made the base by frying a tablespoon each of red and yellow Thai curry paste in the cream off a can of coconut milk, mashing the paste until it was smooth. Then added about 1.5 cups of chicken stock and 1.5 cups of coconut milk, one onion julienned, four pieces of dried galangal root, a couple of tablespoons of minced cilantro stems, one green onion sliced thin, a can of straw mushrooms and a large can of sliced bamboo shoots (both drained). I seasoned it with a packet of splenda, about 2 T of fish sauce, and about 2 T of lemon juice. I also steeped some dried lemongrass in boiling water and added that water, about a half cup, to the pot. That simmered for about 45 minutes while we cut the fish into 3” pieces and shelled the shrimp. (Then I took out half of the contents of the pot, about three cups, and set it aside to use in another meal, probably with chicken and zucchini.) The fish and shrimp went in for about six minutes, then I added the scallops and simmered another two minutes. When I tasted it I added a little salt and a T of lime juice. Then garnished with some chopped cilantro and green onion.

Unfortunately our diet doesn’t allow us to have the jasmine rice that would be perfect with this, but oh well. It was really good, the seafood was perfectly done, and the scallops were very tender and sweet.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

What's for dinner: Pork chops with almond masala

This was one of those meals when I had a really nice protein, thick pork loin chops, and wanted something with a lot of seasoning. I think low-carb diets do that to me; I seem to like things spicier than usual.

I did my usual brining routine on the pork. I guess it is a bit of a crutch to be sure it will be moist if I mess up, but I use it to add flavor, too. This time I added cumin, white pepper, and cinnamon to the brine. After about an hour in the brine I rinsed and dried them and while the pork chops came to room temp I tackled the side dishes. I wanted a curry of some sort, and with a sauce like that I would normally want a pilaf of some sort. In its place I zapped half a spaghetti squash in the microwave oven. While that cooked I heated 1 T of garam masala powder in a couple of teaspoons of oil until it was fragrant, then added about a half-cup of chopped onion and cooked that until the onion was translucent. Then I added a big pinch of cayenne and half a cup of coconut milk. Brought that up to a boil and added about two tablespoons of almond butter. I thought that was a good way to get in the nuttiness I wanted since I can’t eat peanuts. I simmered that for just a minute or two, it thickened up fast. Added a little salt to taste and set it aside.

To cook the pork I heated the oven to 400 degrees and a skillet to very hot. Coated the chops with oil and put them in the skillet, got that great sizzle that told me the skillet was hot enough. Two minutes on each side gave the chops a nice brown crust, then I put a thermometer probe into one of them and put them in the oven. Set the thermometer to beep when the temp hit 150. When that happened I put the chops on a plate and tented them and added the juices in the pan to the sauce and reheated it. Removed the spaghetti squash from its shell and put some in the center of the plate, sauce in a broad stripe across it, and the pork chop leaning up against the squash and sauce. Rounded out the meal with a romaine salad with blue cheese and cucumbers.

It was good enough that I had to write it down in this detail so I can do that sauce again. I think it would be good on chicken skewers.

Learning from Jacques

Yes, I do think that Jacques Pepin is an amazing man. Not just because he has such "classic" French training but because he's figured out ways to apply that to cooking for home cooks. I think that his series "Fast Food My Way" is so practical and I can't believe how many times I have an "aha" moment when watching that show. Tonight I was watching a recorded episode where he was making a seafood soup as a first course. What did I learn? A simple way to get a great julienne of leeks. Cut a 4" section of leek in half top to bottom, flatten out one half of it and fold it top to bottom. Then do a julienne cut, and you have a great result. In the same episode he thickened his seafood soup with instant potato flakes. While I would never have those things in the house, it is certainly a practical solution and much easier for most folks than making a beurre manie or a roux. I also saw him using a non-stick All-Clad skillet and today I got an email about a sale on said skillets, not related to the program. I was due to buy yet another pan...I always need more pans...can never have too many cooking will be so much better with this pan...see I can justify this six ways from Sunday!

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

What's for dinner: Miso-rubbed flatiron steak and grilled zucchini

In keeping with the theme of low-carb meals, we are having protein and veg for dinner. I have a beautifully marbled flatiron steak (it really could be graded Prime with all this marbling) and am rubbing it with some white miso. The miso seems to make it taste meatier, I suspect that is from natural glutamates in the miso. I am cutting a couple of small zucchini in half lengthwise and salting them for a couple of hours to get out some of the moisture and concentrate the flavor. Both the steak and the zucchini will go on the grill. It is cold outside, but not raining today so we will brave the cold and go up to the roof and use the grill.

I’ll slice down the steak and serve it at room temperature over greens and cucumbers with a miso vinaigrette. Bon appétit!

Saturday, January 17, 2009

What's for dessert: Low-carb ricotta cheesecake

I had some ricotta hanging around the fridge, and thought that maybe it could make a semi-healthy cheesecake (at least for those of us on low-carb diets).  I’ve heard of them before and to me it’s a pretty simple formula.  I beat two eggs and one egg yolk with ½ cup of granulated Splenda, 1 t vanilla, the zest of one lemon, and three cups of low-fat ricotta.  We have three small springform pans and I thought they’d make nice four-serving cakes.  Just sprayed them with some cooking spray and divided the batter between them.  Into a 325 oven for 20 minutes, then 225 degrees for 40 minutes.  About 20 minutes before they were done I spread each with some of a combination of 1 C sour cream, 1 T lemon juice, and 1 T granulated Splenda.   Next time I will wait until the cheesecakes are a little firmer before I do that because some of the sour cream mixture sank down into the middle of them.  However, they are good anyway.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

What's for dinner: Chicken mushroom soup

Hubby is out of town today L so I’m not cooking anything elaborate. I usually cook too much for two of us, and that’s way too much for just me. I seem to ascribe to the notion that if you’re going to work at it, you might as well make as much as you can.

Okay, off-topic. I’m sticking to the low-carb regimen so this soup is going to work for that., and it is not a bad thing to have several servings on hand for when cravings hit for nice soft fresh bread (or whatever your carb of choice may be).

I chopped half an onion and two stalks of celery and sautéed them in a soup pot with a little olive oil and a teaspoon of fresh thyme. Took one pound of mushrooms and chopped half of them; ran the other half through the fine julienne blade of a v-slicer. (The julienne will make me miss noodles less, giving a little of that mouthfeel at least. Of course you can just chop them all.) Added all the mushrooms to the pot long with a quart and a half of chicken stock (low sodium canned broth will work, too). Soaked a handful of assorted dried mushrooms, broken up small, in two cups of hot water, then added the ‘shrooms and the water to the pot, being sure not to pour in the grit at the bottom of the soaking liquid. At this point I stop to taste and season. Salt and pepper are good; I like to use ground dried green peppercorns instead of black, because they add a great flavor without being as harsh as black pepper can be.

This simmers for an hour or so, then I add two or three cups of chopped cooked chicken meat and turn off the heat. If you are using chicken thigh meat, you can put it in at the beginning of the simmer. Today I have breast meat so it goes in at the end. Cool the soup and refrigerate overnight, as this will infuse the chicken meat with mushroom flavor and let everything get well-acquainted. Reheat to serve. Of course you can serve it the same day! Or if you want to serve it immediately and you are using chicken breast, add the meat and simmer it for about ten minutes before serving. You don’t want to turn that chicken breast into erasers, now, do you?

A variation using raw chicken is to sauté raw chopped chicken with the vegetables and proceed with the recipe.

Monday, January 12, 2009

What's for dinner: stuffed mushrooms, salad

Today is the start of some perhaps less interesting dinner briefs. Today we started cutting carbohydrates out of our diet. Sigh. I know it works for me, but it sure puts a crimp in my cooking. Or at least my baking, for sure.

Dave had a meeting to go to right after he got home from work so I made us something to keep the blood sugar steady. I precooked some large mushroom caps (salted and cooked in the Advantium until the juices collected) and then stuffed them with diced mushroom stems, diced salami (one slice per mushroom) and shredded mozz (about ½ T per ‘shroom). Roasted them in the Advantium with 80% light and 40% microwaves for about three minutes.

They were good, and gave me the idea for making a “pizza” with a Portobello mushroom as the base. I’ll try that next week, I think.

After Dave gets back we’ll have a nice salad with blue cheese, tomato, bacon, and avocado. Thus will pass our first day back on this regimen.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

What's for dessert: vanilla gelato

Back on my gelato kick for a day – more on why only a day sometime next week.  I was finishing up some dulce de leche, had too much milk left over when we were in Hawaii and a lot of sugar, I did the long slow cook to reduce them and essentially get a milk caramel.  Wasn’t able to cook it quite long enough over there so I put it into a ziplock and brought it home to finish it. Dave said we needed ice cream to go with it.  Since I didn’t feel like making a custard base for ice cream, I decided on trying a simple vanilla gelato.  I could not find the kind of recipe I wanted but tonight I felt up to experimenting.  I took 1 cup of white corn syrup, 2 tsp of vanilla, 1 ¼ cups of heavy cream, ¾ cup of milk, and a pinch of salt.  Whisked that all together and froze it in my machine.  It came out with a wonderful texture, more like a soft-serve ice cream, so I guess I can’t call it gelato.  But I’ll be making this again!

What's for dinner: Butternut squash soup, cobb salad

I still have a bunch of different squash from the farm season sitting out on my deck, seemed like the time to use some. I picked out the biggest butternut squash, a little more than four pounds, for soup. I made the soup base by sautéing onion, celery, and apples, about a cup of each, in some olive oil. Added turmeric, powdered ginger, thyme, salt, white pepper, allspice, and coriander. Then the peeled and cubed squash went in with about eight cups of chicken broth and three cups of water. Cook for an hour or so until the squash is tender, blend smooth with a stick blender, and adjust the seasonings.

Cobb salad is one of my favorite things, since it includes so many of my favorite flavors. I have good avocados, which is the hardest thing to get, so it all came together beautifully. I tossed the greens with blue cheese dressing because we both love blue cheese, so having the dressing and the crumbles is a good thing to us. Of course, you can hardly see the greens for all the toppings – bacon, poached and chopped chicken, roma tomatoes, and chopped egg.