Friday, 9 July 2010

Budding Tastes

Cold soups seem kind of odd, don't they? To many people, cold soup is an oxymoron. But that really isn't true is it? Yeah sure you can call many fruit soups a smoothie. Cantaloupe, Honeydew and even Cucumber Soup is often uncooked and pureed and served chilled. Throw in some flavours and, well, that's it. But there are others that are slightly more complex. Take Vichyssoise for example. If anybody can provide for me a recipe for a no-cook Vichyssoise, please feel free and send it off and I'll give it a shot and I'll post it on the blog.

I have made this recipe many times and often with different types of apples. It is striking how much the soup changes every time in both taste and appearance. I first tried with Granny Smiths and it was too tart. Pink Lady wasn't bad but had an odd colour of pinkish brown. It didn't look right. Empires and Macintosh worked well in each occasion and in my mind had the best and so the last time I experimented I used both.

If you are a fan of cold soups, and I know that many of you are not, remember that it is a great way to experiment on any flavour combination. Having said that, remember that taste buds are more sensitive to salt when the soup (or anything for that matter) is hot. Cold food and drinks tones down the palate. So, what does that mean? If you are preparing any cold soup that is first cooked then chilled, season to taste after chilling so you know exactly how it tastes for presentation.

I'm going to give my Humble Chef's tip a little early: if you are being forced to eat something somewhat unpleasant, but is probably very healthy for you, drink a glass of ice water right before consuming. Yes, it really does dull the taste buds for a short amount of time.

I am being very restraint in not providing a sarcastic remark regarding the many unpleasant meals I have eaten over the years. Truth is, I was probably the cook who made most of them.

Cold Apple Curry Soup

Dab of Butter
1 Cooking Onion, roughly chopped
2 Cloves of Garlic
8 Empire Apples, quartered and cored, skin on
12 MacIntosh Apples, quartered and cored, skin on
250 ml White Wine
1 L Vegetable Stock
.5 L Apple Cider
Tbs. Tumeric
Tsp. Dried Ginger
Tsp. Cumin
Tsp. Coriander Seed
Tsp. Clove
Tsp. Cinnamon
Tsp. Cayenne
100 g Old Cheddar, grated, for garnish
Salt and Pepper to taste

In a tall stock pot, melt butter and cook onions for 1 minute. Add all spices and garlic and stir frequently. Cook for 4 - 5 minutes or until spices are sticking to the bottom of the pan. Add apples and cook for 2 minutes. Add wine and resuce by half. Add stock and bring to a boil and let simmer for 8 - 10 minutes. Puree and remove from heat. Add cider and let cool rapidly in an ice bath. Adjust to taste.

Garnish with cheddar and something green. Whatever.

Serves 6 - 8.

Variation: this recipe works with Anjou Pears. Make sure the pears (even the apples for that matter) are very ripe.

Saturday, 27 March 2010

Excuse Me, I Need To Make This Cauliflower

Growing up I never liked cauliflower. Actually, truth is, I never really liked vegetables and cauliflower simply just happens to be one.

As with many other vegetables, after learning how to cook them and use them in soups, stews or whatever, I have learned to love this floral vegetable for a number of reasons. Much like broccoli and asparagus, it has a number of ways it likes to be cooked: steamed, blanched, sauteed or roasted. It is usually inexpensive and keeps for a decent amount of time in your crisper. And it is very low in fat and high in fiber and vitamin C. It can be eaten raw but ugh. Not for me.

Now onto Bechamel. All you need to know is that Bechamel is essentially a milk sauce thickened with a roux and flavoured with cloves, onion and garlic.If you're interested, it is also one of the five mother sauces and is also known as White Sauce. Not too many people make this anymore. Reason being is that 35% cream is easier to buy, easier use and it tastes better. I've never ended up with lumps of roux in my 35% cream before. However, Bechamel has two major advantages for me: it is cost effective and it has more of a binding ability than that of 35% cream. Sometimes I use 35% and sometimes I use Bechy. It depends on what you're doing really.

Before I bore everyone with sauce cookery 101, I will mention that this recipe is a derivative of Bechamel called Mornay. Without getting into too much detail, a derivative is simply one of the mother sauces with an added ingredient to make something new. In our case, we are using Emmenthal Cheese to make our creamy sauce.

One last thing. As with many French Classical sauces, the names of the sauces are usually names after some dude. If you ever have to study sauce cookery, then ugh. It sucks. All these names of things that offer no hint or clue to what makes this sauce unique. I wonder, if cooks were still naming sauces after people today, who would have this honour bestowed upon them? Actors? Athletes? Journalists? Politicians? Or how about the Chefs who created them? Naw. No way. If there is one thing that we chefs aren't, that would be vain. Right?

Roasted Cauliflower with Mornay

2 Heads of Cauliflower, cut into florets (if you like the wacky coloured ones, go ahead, though I've learned the orange varietal comes from Ontario!)
1 L of 2% Milk
100 g Butter
100 g All Purpose (A.P.) Flour
1 Small Cooking Onion, rough dice
2 Cloves of Garlic, crushed
2 Cloves (no, not a typo. The spice.)
350 g Emmenthal Cheese, grated
Ice for Ice Bath
Drizzle of Oil
Salt and Pepper, to taste

In a tall stock pot, bring salted water to a simmer. Blanch cauliflower until tender; approximately 4 minutes. Remove and place into ice bath to stop the cooking. Drain and pat dry. Set aside.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

In a sauce pan, melt butter until frothy. Add onions, garlic and cloves and cook for 3 minutes. Add flour and stir frequently. Add one third of your milk and whisk vigorously until smooth. Add remaining milk and continue to whisk. Bring to a slight boil. Stir constantly. Once it heats to a scald, remove from heat and strain. Return to heat and whisk in cheese. Season to taste.

Toss cauliflower in a drizzle and lay onto a baking sheet. Roast in oven for 8-10 minutes or until a little golden. Remove and place in a bowl and cover with Mornay sauce.

Serves 8.

Variation: you can use this on broccoli or asparagus or even pasta.

A Humble Chef's tip: make sure you use cold milk when adding it to your aromatic roux.

Thursday, 18 March 2010

A Derivative Post with a Derivative Recipe

Spring is nearly here and I have yet another recipe with my favourite vegetable: asparagus. However, in my first recipe, asparagus is used to make a puree soup. The next one we use it in a pasta. Here it is cooked and used in a salad. As many of you obviously know, asparagus is best in spring because only the young shoots are eaten. Extremely healthy with a high amount of fibre, calcium and every vitamin in the alphabet.

There are three basic styles of dressings used for salads: the first is the obvious one where fat is added to an acid and emulsified, creamy dressings such as ranch or mayonaisse and, finally, cooked dressings. Like Hollandaise. I have already talked about Hollandaise in a previous post. And since asparagus is so healthy, then you are required to use something fatty to go with it. Obviously.

Hollandaise has a classic method that can be a little tricky for the first time. However, if you are adventurous, there is an alternative method. Similar to Beurre Blanc, you whip your eggs over simmering water with a pinch of sugar. Once it triples in volume, then you monter au beurre (whisk in cubed butter) and return to heat if it gets a little too cool. With this method, your hollandaise is less likely to split.

This sauce is known as Maltaise; one of the many derivatives from Hollandaise. Thanks to my Professional Cooking textbook, I am able list off some the many derivatives. Bearnaise is with a tarragon reduction. Foyot is with a hint of demi-glace. Choron uses tomato paste. Paloise is similar to bearnaise but uses mint instead of tarragon. Very nice with Leg of Lamb. Suffice to say, there are too numerous to name. Especially since nobody is really going to make any of them. Obviously.

A Bloomin' Sauce with Bloody Oranges on a Hammy Sparrow-Grass Salad

30 Asparagus Spears
3 Belgian Endives (for garnish)
1 Yellow or Orange Pepper, julienne
6 oz. Prosciutto, thinly sliced and cut into strips
1 Box of Spinach
8 Egg Yolks
Splash of White Wine
200 g Clarified Butter, warm
2 Large Blood Oranges, juiced
Pinch of Cayenne
Pinch of Paprika
Ice for Ice Bath
Salt and Pepper to Taste

In a tall pot, bring salted water to a boil. Blanch asparagus until tender. Remove and shock in ice bath. Drain and pat dry. Using prosciutto, tie up asparagus into bundles of 5.

In a frying pan, heat juice of blood orange until it comes to a boil. Remove from heat.

In a steel bowl, combine eggs with wine. Over simmering water, whisk eggs until it triples in volume; about ten minutes. Remove from heat and slowly drizzle in clarified butter while whisking vigorously. When finished, add blood orange juice and cayenne. Reserve for later.

Arrange on plates, spinach, peppers, endives and asparagus bundles. Drizzle dressing on top, garnish with paprika and serve immediately.

Variation: instead of spinach, use whatever lettuce you like. With the exception of iceberg. But lollo rosso, frisee and mache. These all work well.

A Humble Chef's tip: to clarify your butter, melt butter, remove milk solid then place in your fridge for an hour. Take out, pierce a hole and drain excess water and heat up again.

Sunday, 7 February 2010

Playing Ghosts and Gobblings

Do people eat turkey just after Christmas? It is now February and I wonder if people do.

Now I noticed recently at the general store something specific: whole turkey drops in price after Christmas and yet people don't seem to be buying them. Strange really. When you think about how often people eat chicken in a year and contrast that to turkey, you have to wonder what people have against this bird most fowl.

Well, yes, eating turkey makes you drowsy, but so does wine. And do we only drink wine twice a year? Not in this household. If I remember my nutrition classes well, turkey meat contains tryptophans. After eating it, the blood carries it to our digestive system and then to our brains which then gets changed to serotonin. I know this is sleepy material but certainly you must have wondered why we get so tired at Thanksgiving.

Turkey is available whole both fresh and frozen but at any time of year at major grocers; I often buy either the legs or the breasts rather than whole. Depends really on how much time you have to cook it and how many people you intend on feeding. If buying breasts, remember that they come in different sizes and usually feed 4 or 5 people. Unless you're suffering from insomnia. Then all you need to do is eat an extra portion of turkey, start reading my blog and then you'll be over yawnder.

Hazelnut Crusted Breast of Turkey

2 Turkey Breasts
4 Cloves of Garlic, crushed
1 Cooking Onion, roughly chunked
1 Carrot, roughly chunked
1 Celery Stalk, roughly chunked
Small Bunch of Sage, chiffonade
Pinch of Paprika and Allspice
300 g Hazelnuts, finely chopped
400 ml Dijon Mustard, grainy if available
200 ml Maple Syrup
Salt and Pepper to Taste
Drizzle of Oil for Searing

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Combine mustard, maple syrup and half the sage in a bowl and set aside.

Coat turkey breasts with touch of oil. Rub paprika, allspice and garlic on top. Let marinate for 10 minutes.

In a large frying pan, heat oil until very hot. Sear breasts on skin side only for 2-3 minutes.

On a roasting pan, lay out veggies evenly. Place seared turkey on top. Cook for 30 minutes. Remove from oven and coat with mustard mixture. Pat hazelnuts on top and cook for another 15 - 20 minutes or, using an instant read thermometer, until 155 - 160 degrees internal temperature.

Let rest for 10 minutes and slice.

Serves 8 - 10.

Variation: if you don't have hazelnuts, use either pecans or walnuts.

A Humble Chef's tip: serve with a sauce using the pan drippings and the Sour Dough Stuffing recipe from this previous post.

Monday, 1 February 2010

Underground Vegetable Resistance

Yes. Another soup. But where I live, it minus 20 degrees. And soup is what we're having.

It has taken a while but I've finally converted my mother-in-law to no longer be a parsnip hater. It wasn't easy but this recipe did the trick. She discovered that she liked parsnips.

Over the past few years, I have learned to value this lesser known root vegetable. It is far more versatile than people give this under-appreciated, underground veggie credit for. On top of this, parsnips are higher in minerals and vitamins than the famous cousin and bully, the carrot (which everybody eats). Parsnips have their own unique sweet taste and it is usually inexpensive. So why don't more people buy it? Carrots are to blame.

Parsnips apparently grow best in temperate regions because their sugar content increases after a little frost. Having said that, the taste of the parsnip, like the potato, is dramatically affected by the climate. So, don't buy them in the spring or summer when they're out of season.

Like the orange-coloured relative, parsnips can be cooked any number of ways: roasted, sauteed, deep-fried, boiled. It can be eaten raw but it is not entirely recommended. Unlike carrots which many people do eat raw. However, if you eat your carrots for the beta carotene, eating it raw is a waste of time.

Anyways, enough of that. All I'm trying to say is, parsnips taste good. And they're cheap. And they're healthy. And they're easy too cook. And anytime you see a carrot recipe, think about substituting it and see if it works. Which it won't all the time so you'll have to use your culinary judgment.

Parsnip and Ginger Soup

1 Large Cooking Onion, peeled and cut into chunks
2 Cloves of Garlic, crushed
Small Chunk of Fresh Ginger (how much is a small chunk? About a tablespoon size)
Pinch of Clove
8 - 10 Parsnips, peeled and cut into chunks
Drizzle of Oil
Drizzle of Liquid Honey
2 L Vegetable Stock
250 ml Orange Juice
Salt and Pepper to Taste

In a soup pot, heat oil. Add onions and cook for 5 minutes. Add cloves and cloves of garlic (that's the spice and your two cloves of garlic, not a ton of garlic). Cook for 2 more minutes. Add parsnips and ginger and stir until parsnips are coated in fat. Add extra oil if necessary. Cook for another 5 minutes. Add vegetable stock and orange juice and bring to a boil. Liquify using an immersion blender. Season to taste with honey and salt and pepper.

Add desired garnish. Cream, thyme or even Candied Parsnips.

Serves 8.

A Humble Chef's tip: if the parsnips are really skinny, don't bother peeling them. Soak thoroughly and let air dry before using them.

Variation: this is already a variation on the classic Carrot Ginger Soup, which goes to show how easy it is to change it up.

This next recipe is very tricky. Be sure to measure accurately and follow the instructions carefully or the recipe won't work.

Candied Parsnips

Dab of Butter
Handful of Brown Sugar
Drizzle of Maple Syrup
Pinch of Salt
Splash of Rum
1 Large Parsnips, peeled and thinly sliced

Put everything in a pan. Bring to a boil. Reduce to simmer and cook until parsnips are cooked. About 8 minutes.


A Humble Chef's tip: don't overcook the parsnips.

Variation: change up the quantities of ingredients.

Saturday, 30 January 2010

Tactics and Strategies in the Game of Chefs

There are times where I find the simplest combinations to be unbeatable. For example, I'll take a freshly baked chocolate chip cookie and a cold glass of milk over some over priced lamb chop. Yeah, I love grilled lamb chops and all, but it's up against very stiff competition. I could live off freshly brewed black coffee with some swiss chocolate. Just writing about it . . . . well, give me a minute while I run to the kitchen for some chocolate. Okay, I'm back. What is it I'm writing about?

Right. Combinations. I often experiment with combinations in soups, sauces and salads. Here is where you can try different things and see where it takes you. In fact, in a a previous post for a Carrot Cantaloupe Soup I discuss taking risks. However, there are times where you can make a new soup or sauce using a combination that is usually for a different application.

Am I confusing you?

If I am, think of something (not a soup or sauce) you make often. How about breakfast? You have eggs, bacon and homefries. The Sunday Morning Special at any greasy spoon for $5.99. We all know that potatoes and bacon are so good together -- why don't we mash them together? And wait! Sometimes I make potato skins stuffed with mashed potatoes, topped with bacon bits, cheddar and green onions. Can we take that concept and make a soup out of it? Sure you can.

Potato, Bacon and Cheddar (aka Piggyssoise)

8 Russet or Baking Potatoes, peeled and cut into chunks
1/2 lb. bacon, roughly cut
2 Cooking Onions, roughly cut
3 Cloves of Garlic, crushed
Pinch of Allspice
150 g Cheddar (your preference of type), grated
1 Green Onion, cut into rings
100 ml Whipping Cream
3 L Vegetable Stock (recipe here)
Dab of Butter
Salt and Pepper to Taste

In a tall soup pot, melt butter until frothy. Add bacon and cook for 5 minutes. Move bacon to the side and add onion, garlic and allspice. Cook for another 5 minutes or until onions have a little colour. Add stock and potatoes. Bring to a boil then let simmer for 10 - 15 minutes (actually, it depends how small or large you cut your potatoes). Using an immersion blender, carefully puree until desired consistency. Add green onion. Whisk in grated cheddar and add cream. Taste then season. The bacon and cheddar have sodium so use salt sparingly.

Serves 10.

A Humble Chef's tip: if you have leftover mashed potatoes, use them for this recipe.

Variation: Bouneschlupp is a soup from Luxembourg that is very similar. However, add green beans and leave the soup as a chowder. Meaning that you should cut everything more uniformly, cook the potatoes in the soup and skip on liquefying it.

Wednesday, 13 January 2010

When You Are In A Curry, Paste Yourself

I am no expert on using curry spices. I did not get formally trained with them nor did I ever work for an Indian or south Asian restaurant. I do know some basics having worked with the many Sri Lankans in Toronto. And so, I often experiment for myself and keep to what I know when serving.

Curry refers to a mixture of spices. We here in Canada have our own standard of what we think is curry; typically a blend of tumeric, cumin, coriander and a few others. Yet, abroad in countries like India and Bangladesh, this is not the case. Some chefs I've worked with make their own curry that often include spices like ginger, mace, cinnamon, clove and many others. It does take practice blending these spices to a desired taste. Which is why manufacturers have typically three types of curries at your disposal: mild, medium and hot.

For those unfamiliar to curry, stick to the mild for a while until comfortable. Then, experiment on your own.

This recipe uses a red curry paste which is more frequent in Vietnam and Thailand. The red paste is usually a blend of red chili peppers, onion (or shallots), lime zest, lemongrass, garlic and coriander. Though they range from manufacturer to manufacturer just like they would range from home to home. The green is virtually the same but uses green chilies instead.

Braised Root Vegetables in a Coconut Curry Sauce

4 Slices of Bacon, cubed
1 Garlic Clove, crushed
1 MacIntosh Apple, cored and grated
1 Red Onion, finely diced
1 Butternut Squash, cubed
1 Carrot, cubed
1 Sweet Potato, cubed
1 Parsnip, cubed
Pinch of Dried Ginger
Pinch of Tumeric
Dollop of Red Curry Paste
1 Green Onion, diced
2 Cans of Coconut Milk
Drizzle of Sesame Oil
Juice of Half a Lime (or lemon)
1 Sprig of Cilantro, chopped (optional)
Drizzle of Honey
Salt and Pepper to Taste

In a large saute pan, heat sesame oil. Add bacon until fat renders (about 2 minutes). Add ginger, onion and garlic. Cook for 1 minute stirring frequently. Add apples, tumeric and curry paste. Cook for 2 minutes stirring frequently. Add all root veggies and cook until all veggies are coated with fat and are slightly caramelized.

Add coconut milk and bring to a boil. Cover and reduce to a simmer. Cook for 8-10 minutes. Uncover and check for doneness: the veggies should whole but tender when pricked with a fork. Add lime juice, honey and, if you want, cilantro.

Serves around 6 people.

Variation: you can keep this vegetarian and omit the bacon. If you don't like cilantro, and I know many of you do, use basil at the last minute.

A Humble Chef's tip: use a small amount of the paste at first. Especially if you are unsure of how spicy the paste is. If the amount you put doesn't cut it, in a separate pot, ladle some of the curry broth out and add extra. Whisk in until blended and then add to original dish.