Tuesday, 25 September 2007

The Monster Mash

Mash potatoes. I mean, it's the ultimate isn't it? They go with virtually every meal, it's pretty tough to screw up, you can make them in advance and everybody at any age loves it. No collection of recipes is complete without mashed potatoes. Make too much and it keeps pretty well until the next day. Or, fry it up and serve with eggs and bacon. Hey. It's famous for a reason.

I imagine most people and restaurants simply peel and boil their potatoes and whip with some milk, butter and season and there you have it. 1-2-3 easy as pie. However, there is an alternative.

When purchasing potatoes, ensure there is no green spots. And each type of potato is good for certain type of cooking. Potatoes are generally classified by the amount of starch it contains. New potatoes have high sugar, low starch. Good for salad and roasting. Not deep frying or mash. Mature potatoes like Yukon Gold or Russets have a high starch content and, hopefully, low sugar. Actually, sugar content often relies on the season and/or temperature. So, unless you have Shaman at your disposal, don't fret about sugar and moisture content.

One quick note: some of you may be familiar with Duchesses Potatoes. This is basically Mashed Potatoes with egg yolks. Egg yolks keeps the potatoes firmer and richer, so if you are making this recipe for Sheppard's Pie, adding an egg yolk will enable you to have better control of the potatoes when spreading over the ground meat.

Mashed Potatoes

8 Large Yukon Gold Potatoes, whole
200 ml 35% Whipping Cream
100 ml Butter, melted
2 Garlic Cloves, crushed
Salt and Pepper

Preheat oven at 350 degrees. Cook potatoes on a tray until cooked through. Approximately 1 hour, or longer if potatoes are particularly large.

Scald cream and add butter and garlic. Reduce heat and keep warm.

After potatoes are cooked, cut each one into half. Carefully using a spoon, scoop out the innards of the potatoes into a large bowl. Add cream and seasonings. Using a stand or hand mixer, whip potatoes until creamy and without lumps. Do not overwhip.

Serves 6.

Variation: Everyone has their own variation on mash. My personal favourites are adding roasted garlic and goat's cheese in the last minute. I'm not so sure if there is anything that beats it.

Amuse Your Bouche

I haven't put any hors d'oeuvre yet. Not surprising since I don't make them too frequently. They're finicky, time consuming and often annoying. No wonder most banquet facilities order their hors d'oeuvre from outside sources.

However, many times for dinner parties or small events, I will provide some one bite wonders to entertain my guests' palettes. The term "Amuse Bouche" refers to giving the mouth a little fun before the real meal begins.

The one thing to remember is whenever making your hors d'oeurve, be sure you can platter them in advance so that you keep yourself out of "the shit." Also remember to make them one bite and allow your guests to hold onto the hors d'oeurve with their hands. Unless you have a personal vendetta with a few of your guests and you're dying to get some pomegranate juice on somebody new suit . . . . maybe your brother-in-law borrowed some money and never paid you back or something.

Possibilities are endless (however, I find that many recipes usually have either prosciutto or smoked salmon in it) but here is one cheap one that is a little different than the norm.

Cherry Tomatoes on A Pink Peppercorn Pancake

12 Cherry Tomatoes, halved
300 g All Purpose Flour
20 g Sugar
Pinch of Salt
10 g Baking Powder
2 Eggs, beaten
400 ml Milk, buttermilk preferably though not required
50 g Butter, melted
20g Pink Peppercorns, cracked soaked in milk

Preheat oven at 250 degrees. On a baking sheet, lay down parchment. In a bowl, toss tomatoes in a little oil and salt. Lay flat side down and lightly roast for 25 minutes. Remove from oven and let cool.

For pancakes, mix together dry ingredients. Mix together wet ingredients and pink peppercorns. Gently mix the wet to the dry. Do not over mix. Spoon small amounts of mix onto a non-stick pan or a griddle. Flip pancake and cook through. Lay flat to cool.

To serve, platter pancakes first, then add cherry tomatoes on top and serve at room temperature.

Makes 30 - 40 hors d'eourve.

Variation: If you feel like it you can add a garnish: something creamy would do the trick. A shaving from brie cheese or some other soft cheese would compliment the spicy pancake and acidic tomato extremely well.

I've Got Your Cure Right Here

As you all know, you don't need heat to actually cook something. Curing and smoking foods is not only not new, it predates heat methods for many cultures. It is very easy to purchase smoked fish but you are usually stuck with stuff that you may or may not want. Besides, curing your own foods is so much more cost effective and it enables you to control the flavours you want to use.

I was catering a bachelorette party and I had very little money to use. I decided to salt cure my salmon and I discovered that I saved close to twenty dollars on my food cost.

Curing your own salmon sounds tricky but it isn't. All you need is your memory. And it really impresses people when you've actually gone and done it.

Tequila Scented Gravlox

1 kg Salmon Fillet, whole and skin on
120 g Rock Salt
120g Sugar
Pinch ofWhite Pepper
1 Sprig of Basil, coarsely chiffonade
50 ml Tequila
2 Bricks

Combine sugar, salt and pepper.

Using a glass or stainless steel pan (big enough to hold salmon fillet, 13 X 8), sprinkle a little of the mixture on the bottom. Lay salmon skin side down. Cover with half of mixture completely. Spread basil evenly on top of salmon and finish with the remainder of salt. Pour the tequila in the corner of the pan slowly to allow for even distribution.

Cover well with plastic wrap. Lay down bricks (please make sure bricks are clean) and cover with wrap once again. Refrigerate for 1 day.

Turn fillet over 24 hours later and cover well. Refrigerate for another day.

On the final day, drain any excess water and carefully remove all the remainder of the basil.

Using your sharpest knife, slice on the bias as thin as possible.

Approximately 30 slices.

Variation: You can now use your Gravlox for anything you want: wraps, canapes, open face sandwiches, in a salad, whatever. It will keep for up to two weeks so long as it well wrapped to prevent drying out.

Chop! Chop!

Apples are great. However, they have a weakness: they are easily overpowered. When combining them with something else, they can get lost very easily. That is why apple sauce goes so well with pork chops: pork chops have very little flavour and the sweetness offsets the fattiness of the chop.

On the flip side, I've made Mulligatawny Soup (which apparently means "pepper-water") with grated apple to compliment the curry flavours. In the soup (which by the way is fantastic, if anyone wishes to know it, ask and I shall post it, if no requests then I won't bother) the flavour of the apples are lost if used too sparingly but the tartness adds a different dimension to the soup that is only noticeable when noted. Again, it is the building of flavours I've referred to in the past that I'm getting at.

This simple, simple, simple recipe is for the person who wants to make everything fresh but isn't complicated. Serve this with sweet potato mash or regular mash. Which, incidentally, was requested by my cousin to post because she swears I make the best mash she's ever had. Well, mash potatoes are as easy as it gets but maybe, just maybe, I know a trick about how to make mash potatoes better than average. Stay tuned.

One quick note on making apple sauce; I like using a food mill to puree the sauce. If you don't have one, you will have to peel the apples, remove seeds and quater them.

Grilled Pork Loin With Apple Sauce

8 Pork Chops, cut from the loin
2 Sprigs of Sage, finely chiffonade
Pinch of Paprika
Salt and Pepper to Taste
6 Apples, quatered
200 g Brown Sugar
Pinch of Cinnamon
100 g Unsalted Butter

Preheat BBQ or indoor grill pan. Marinate chops with sage and paprika in the fridge for ten minutes.

In a mid-sized sauce pan on medium high heat, throw in cinnamon, sugar and apples and cover. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat and add water if too dry. Cook thoroughly until apples are mushy. Using a food mill, throw in cooked mixture and puree.

In a small frying pan, melt butter until it starts turning a little brown (this is called a beurre noisette) and fold into the puree. Keep hot until served.

On grill, sear off loins. After 2 minutes, turn one quarter and let sear for another minute. Turn over and repeat. After searing, remove from direct heat and let cook for 6-8 minutes depending on thickness of the chop. The interior should reach be a little pink but not fleshy looking.

Serve with Apple Sauce.

Serves 4.

Variation: You can even try this with peameal bacon, or back or Canadian or whatever you want to call it, using the exact same method. Cooking time would be reduce simply because peameal takes no time to cook since it has already been cured.

I've Always Preferred Squash Over Raquetball

Fall is upon us. At least here in the upper hemisphere. Cooking outdoors gets a little scarce when the temperature starts to drop in the temperate region so we can make the things we miss from last winter.

One of the most requested recipes is probably one of the easiest: Butternut Squash Soup. I find that people either love it or hate it. Some people love it because it is so smooth, creamy, hearty and comforting. I find others hate it because it is often made too sweet or with too many spices. There is a trick I like to use that people usually really love and are surprised that I've added this ingredient.

Truth be told, apples are a no brainer. It's tartness cuts down on the sweetness of the squash and further adds richness to the soup.

There are two ways to prep the soup: peel squash and cut into chunks and then roast (which is my preferred method) or cut squash in half, score flesh and remove seeds and then roast. Either way the final product will be the same. So it's up to you to decide how to roast the squash.

One might ask, why bother roasting the squash? Why not cook in the stock? A perfectly good and easy way to do it; if you like to serve orange water. However, roasting the squash adds colour, flavour from the caramelization of the sugars and the roasting of the spices.

Butternut Squash Soup with Apple Purée

2 Medium Sized Butternut Squash, peeled and cut into chunks
1.5 l Stock (Chicken or Vegetable, check for recipe)
4 Tart Apples (Red Delicious, for example), peeled and quatered
1 Large White Onion, finely diced
3 Cloves of Garlic, peeled
Pinches of Cinnamon, Allspice and Clove
20 ml Maple Syrup
Salt and Pepper to Taste
10 ml 35% Whipping Cream for Garnish (optional)

Preheat oven at 400 degrees.

Peel squash and cut in half. Remove seeds with a spoon. Cut into chunks and place into a large bowl. Drizzle some olive oil and throw on spices and salt. Toss well and place in a baking sheet. Let roast for 10 minutes or until squash is a little brown.

In a large soup pot, saute onion, apple and garlic in some butter. Let cook for 2 minutes. Add stock and roasted squash and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium and cook squash through, 10 minutes. Using a stick or bar blender, puree the soup. If too thick, add stock to desired consistency.

Season with salt and pepper to taste. When serving, drizzle a little cream for garnish.

Serves 8.

A Humble Chef's Tip: If you whip 35% to stiff peaks, add rum or calvados to enhance the flavour of the apples and add some zing to the soup.