Tuesday, 13 March 2007

Shall We Dance or Walk the Plank?

Salsas are very handy, easy, healthy and economical. They can be served on fish, as a dip, garnish for a salad, on bread or eaten on its own. There is usually no cooking involved and allows you to parctice knife skills.

I must stress the importance of a sharp knife. Do not try and use a dull knife and make the excuse of being afraid of using a sharp knife because you don't want to cut yourself. Statistically
speaking, most people cut themselves with a dull knife because they are putting extra force and thus causing mishaps to happen.

This is a base recipe and following is one of many variations. Use the following salsa as a garnish for your next BBQ where you serve some grilled fish. This is yummy stuff! If you have never used a cedar plank on your BBQ before, follow the instructions on the package. I usually buy mine at hardware stores or major grocers. However, last time I checked, water has no flavour. So instead of a flavourless liquid, soak your planks in something that has some zing.

Tomato Salsa
4 Ripe Tomatoes, quatered, seeded, cut into small squares
1 Small Red Onion, finely diced (brunoise)
Drizzle of Olive Oil
1 Lime, squeezed
1 Bunch of Cilantro, finely chopped and dried
5 Drops of Tobasco
Salt and Pepper to taste

In a small bowl combine all ingredients and let marinate over 1 hour. Serve with tortilla chips and sour cream.

Serves 4.

Vodka Flavoured Salmon with a Pineapple Salsa
1 Side Salmon
200 ml Vodka
1 Pineapple, cut in small squares
Half of 1 Red Pepper, brunoise
Half of 1 Red Onion, brunoise
Half of 1 Green Pepper, brunoise
1 Bunch of Cilantro, finely chopped
1 Lime, juiced
Dash of Paprika and Chili Powder
Salt and Pepper to taste

Soak planks as per instructions. Remove planks and save vodka.

In a saute pan on high heat, drizzle some oil. Sear the pineapple and constantly stir. Add paprika and chili powder. When pineapple is caramelized, deglaze with vodka and reduce to one third. Remove from heat and let cool. In a bowl, combine pineapple, vodka, onion, pepper, cilantro, lime juice and seasonings. Let marinate in fridge for 1 hour.

Preheat BBQ. Place seasoned salmon on planks and put into BBQ. Cook approximately
for 10 minues. Salmon should be firm on all sides. Remove from planks and serve hot with salsa garnish.

Serves 6.

Serve this with a simple rice. There is plenty of colours and flavours here so there is no need to bombard this dish with any fancy starch.

Wednesday, 7 March 2007

"It Tastes Like Mushy Rice!"

Going with the theme of building flavours and recipes, the next stage is exploring different types of food to expirement with. For chefs, most (not all) dishes consists of a starch, veg, protein and sauce. Of course there are many exceptions but generally speaking this is usually the case. While proteins and veg are nearly limitless in possibilities starch often poses a problem: it can get very repetitive. Rice, potatoes, pasta. That's often it. Of course there are many alternatives like cous cous, quinoa, wild rice (which has no starch), yams (in the same family as potatoes) or whatever obsure shit you can find. Nevertheless, potatoes, pasta and rice are usualy the popular picks for chefs to have on their menu. It's being creative with those starches that can be challenging.

Risotto is a good alternative. This italian rice is relatively easy, cheap and most people like it - except my brother who always tells me "It tastes like mushy rice." There are different types of rice but arborio is usually the most common. There are some standards to making risotto and then after that, well there are whole cookbooks dedicated to risotto.

The three things critical to risotto are: the rice must be sauted, cooked slowly with a hot liquid, cheese must be added near the end to thicken the sauce and butter to taste for the glaze. The cooking liquid is often chicken broth but can be anything from veg. stock, cucumber juice, beet juice, duck stock, tomato broth, whatever. Parmaggiano cheese the preferred choice but not the required one: asaigo, grano padano, queso manchego to name a few alternatives.

My recipe spawned by accident (many of them do). I had leftover sage in my garden, leftover pears in my fridge, leftover turkey stock in my freezer. I can spend all day talking about risotto but that's enough chit chat. Here's my recipe.

Risotto with Rum Poached Pears and Prosciutto

150 g Arborio Rice
1 l Turkey or Chicken Stock, hot
1 Small Red Onion, fine brunoise
2 Ripe Pears, cut into 6 segments
6 Slices Prosciutto, jullienne
250 ml Rum
150 g Parmaggiano-Reggianno Cheese, grated
80 ml Butter, melted
5 Sprigs of Sage, chiffonade (save some for garnish)

In a small sauce pan, bring rum to a slight boil. Poach pears until cooked through, about three - four minutes. Remove pears from rum and keep warm.

In a large saute pan, melt 20 ml butter until frothy. Sweat onion until translucent. Add rice and stir constantly. Cook for about two minutes until rice becomes translucent. Deglaze with rum and stir until reduced by half. Add ladle of stock and stir until reduced by half. Repeat until stock has run out (approx. 20 minutes). If risotto is still hard, add boiling water and stir to cook through.

Add prosciutto and heat through. Add sage, cheese and 50ml butter and stir. The rice should be firm and sticky.

In a frying pan, use leftover butter to caramelize the pears and heat through. When serving, place pears on top for garnish with sprig of sage.

Serves 6.

Risotto itself can be simply a base that you can add anything to in the last minute to make your dish unique. Try mine as a variation with your turkey dinner.

Tuesday, 6 March 2007

I'm On A Cabbage Roll

Like the Maple Glazed Carrots, here is a recipe that entitles you to add anything you like. It is a variation of a recipe I learned from school that is a good recipe for any novice or prefessional to practice. It is cheap, tasty and easy. And it also allows you to practice your braising abilities.

Apple Glazed Braised Cabbage
1 Small Red Cabbage, fine jullienne
2 Granny Smith Apples, grated
1 Small Red Onion, fine brunoise (dice)
250 ml apple juice or cider
50 ml Maple Syrup
Dab of Butter for saute
1 Sprig Fresh Mint, chiffonade
1 Lemon, juiced
Salt and Pepper To Taste

Preheat oven at 350 Celsius. On medium heat in a soup pot, melt butter until frothy. Add onion until translucent. Add apple until slightly brown. Add cabbage and cook for about 2 minutes. The cabbage should deflate as you cook. Deglaze with juice and maple syrup. Bring to boil and cover. Place in oven and cook for 1 hour. Remove from oven and taste, the cabbage should be sweet and tender. Add lemon, mint and seasoning. On stove top, bring to boil and serve.

Serves 8.

Variations are plentiful once again. Whatever you think goes with apples might just work. You can omit mint and add sage and bacon, or remove maple syrup and use rum or you can add leek and raisins.

Like Playing With LEGO

Cooking is building flavours. If you can grasp the concept then sky's the limit. This recipe is so simple, that I'm almost embarrassed to include it. However, I have been asked to add this side veggie dish by someone who enjoyed this dish and also because it is the perfect example of building flavours for a recipe.

This is such a simple recipe, I guarantee you will make this again and again. And I am willing to bet you will add the things you have leftover in your fridge until you have made your own signature side dish.

Maple Glazed Carrots
4 Carrots, Batonnet (or a bag of baby carrots to make life easy)
1 Medium Red Onion, Fine Brunoise (dice)
1 Orange, Squeezed
40 ml White Wine or Vegetable Stock or Water
40 ml Maple Syrup
1 Lemon, Squeezed
Pinch of Ginger Powder
Dab of Butter for Saute
Salt and Pepper to Taste

In a saute pan on medium heat, melt butter until frothy. Add onion and cook until translucent. Add ginger powder and carrots and cook for one minute. Deglaze with orange juice, wine and maple syrup. Bring to boil and cover and turn off heat. After five minutes, remove carrots and reduce stock until syrup. Add carrots back to glaze. Just before serving, add lemon juice and salt and pepper.

Serves 4.

Variations are too numerous to give. However, add anything from pineapple juice to lime juice to tequila to sesame oil to vanilla extract . . . whatever. Feel free to be adventerous with this simply because it is so simple!

When you are making this dish, try tasting the carrots as you go and notice how much they change in flavours. Ask your inner chef what can make this different and appealling to you. Add the ingredients one at a time if you like (the juice, wine, maple syrup, etc.) and concentrate how much flavours blend together.

Monday, 5 March 2007

Humble Chef's On The Lamb

Yikes. Has it been a week since my last recipe? I'll keep them coming as much as I can. I realize some of these recipes are not for everyone so I'll keep the volume up to expand the variety. Most of what I've given have been fairly simple one-pot syle meals. Here's one that involves a little preperation but great pay off. It is one I'm planning for an upcoming dinner party so this is a good way to refresh myself. Also, if the guests enjoy the dinner, there is access to the recipe for them to make and enjoy.

Braising is simple yet time consuming technique. Braising refers to "cooking in liquid" for an extended amount of time. The idea behind braising is to take a tough, usually inexpensive cut of beef or poultry and slowly cook it to make the meat tender. Cooking is often a trade off; you can purchase expensive cuts of meat(steaks, chicken breasts, rack of lamb, salmon) that cook quickly, easily and make them taste pretty good. On the flip side, braising requires patience and planning but are usually pretty easy on the wallet.

This is not a new recipe. This is a classic, home style french cuisine. Yet can be flipped to something unique to you by adding little things you have at home. You can buy frozen lamb shanks at most major grocers, but fresh can be purchased at local butchers.

Braised Lamb Shanks

6 Lamb Shanks, dredge in flour
1 Carrot, roughly cut in cubes
1 Large White Onion, large dice
4 Stalk of Celery, large dice
2 Bay leaves
2 l stock (beef, chicken, veg, lamb, whatever)
500 ml Red Wine
10 g Seasoned Flour for Dredging
2 Sprigs of Rosemary, Thyme
50 ml maple syrup
15 ml vegetable oil
Salt and Peppet to Taste

Preheat oven at 375 Celsius.

In a large soup pot, on medium-high heat, preheat vegetable oil. Sear all sides of lamb and remove from pot. Reduce heat and throw in mirepoix (onion, carrot, celery, bay leaves) and cook until bottom of pan is golden brown. Add a little oil if needed. Deglaze the pan with red wine. Reduce by half. Add stock and lamb shanks. Stir pot until it comes to boil. Remove from heat. Add fresh herbs. Cover with a lid and place in the oven.

Cook for approximately 2 hours occasionally removing from oven and stirring.

To check for doneness, half the lamb should be a clean bone. Tear a piece of the lamb and it should tender and juicy. When braised through remove shanks and cover to keep hot. Strain the stock and discard leftover vegetables and herb sprigs. On the stove top, bring to a boil. The stock should coat the back of a spoon. Season with salt, pepper and maple syrup.

Serve shanks with jus, mashed potatoes and freshly steamed green vegetables.

Serves 5.