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.