Thursday, 13 January 2011

Green Around the Gills

Substituting the portobella mushroom for a beef patty is nothing new. And why wouldn't it be? It's easy and quick. If you feel you eat too much red meat (which I and much of North America does), portobella is an excellent alternative to a burger.

Last post, I was discussing everyone's favourite fungus, the mushroom. But there is way too much to cover and so I had to cap it off.

What many people may or may not know is that the common white mushroom, the cremini and the portobella mushroom are basically the same thing. What differs them from one another is the maturity level. I imagine many of you can figure out which mushroom has been allowed to grow the longest. That's right! You guessed it. It's the portobella. Or is it the portobello? Oh, whatever. You get what I mean. Because the portobella has been allowed to mature and grow, the gills can bleed quite extensively. Some chefs I've worked for would cut out the gills while other chefs couldn't be bothered. In my opinion, I leave them in for most recipes and will cut them out for only a few recipes. For example, Mushroom Polenta or Cornbread. The gills bleed and makes the polenta very grey looking and very unappetizing. Or maybe a chowder or a cream sauce where I want to retain the white colour. As you can see, I determine it for the sake of appearance. Not so much for texture or flavour.

Then again, many of you may not care about the appearance. But, I think, to a certain degree, everyone does. Every time we go grocery shopping, we are bombarded with magazine covers where the dishes look ridiculously delicious. Or on T.V. where these chefs seem to make these gorgeous dinners in less than half an hour. And because of this, can it not be said that we start to want our own food to look this good all the time? Appearance matters. When you buy beef, do you normally base your judgment on the redness of the beef? Even though the colour can be very deceiving. Sure, grey beef is not usually a good thing, but just because the alternative is red, doesn't mean it's fresher. With a quick flash of carbon monoxide, that meat can stay red much longer after it's gone rancid. Scary. How about produce? If you see two red peppers where one is a perfect shape and other looks curled over and slightly disfigured. Which do you buy? If you said the perfect one, why? Will it taste better?

Anyways, appearance matters whether we like it or not. So, keep the garnishes coming!

Grilled Portobello Mushrooms on a Foccaccia

6 Large Portobello Mushrooms, washed
1 Red Pepper
100 ml Balsamic Vinegar
100 ml Oil
2 Garlic Cloves, crushed
Drizzle of Honey
1 Package of Arugula
Small Package of Blue Cheese (Gorgonzola is good), crumbled
6 Foccaccias
Salt and Pepper to Taste

Score the cap of the mushroom with two cross hatches.

Marinate mushrooms in oil and balsamic vinegar and two cloves of crushed garlic.

Coat red peppers with oil and grill peppers until blackened on the outside. Place in a sealed bag and close. Steam through for 10 minutes. Remove and let cool. Peel skin away and discard innards. Keep flesh of peppers.

In a hot grill pan or on the BBQ, grill mushrooms for 3 minutes per side. Remove and cut in half.

On a foccaccia, rub last clove of garlic on the inside. Place arugula, peppers and mushrooms in panini. Add desired amount of cheese.

Makes 6 sandwiches.

A Humble Chef's tip: if it's winter time, cook your peppers in the oven at 400 for 30 min. Less smoke will emit if you roast them.

Variation: Goat's Cheese over the blue if you don't like blue cheese.

Saturday, 8 January 2011

Girls Just Wanna Have Fungus

When you break down what a mushroom is, it seems a bit strange that we eat it. I mean, it's a spore bearing fungus. It's not a plant. It's weird, isn't it? And yet, so delicious. I suppose the same can be said about drinking the milk from a cow or a goat. It's a bit weird.

It is a goal of mine to learn how to pick mushrooms (a mycophagist they are known as) and certainly intend on going through with it. Where I live, there are pockets of morel mushrooms which I never had growing up. But, as an adult, have become quite fond of. If you've never seen a morel, they are quite different in appearance to common mushrooms you buy at the grocery store. They have a cool honey comb look to them. However, you can buy them at most major grocers dried (much like porcini) and are usually very expensive. At least for a humble chef like me.

However, there are many other types of 'shrooms that you can eat that are much more affordable. They usually have a stem, cap and gills. We all know of the white mushroom that are usually farmed and delivered across the continent. In the same family is the ever popular cremini and portobella. I am fond of shitake, enoki and somewhat indifferent to oyster. But that's just me. In all, there are supposedly 14,000 varieties. Wow.

It goes without saying, here is a vast amount information to give about the intrepid toadstool, but that would be over-bearing. So, I will break up mushrooms 101 into several posts.

Here is a super duper easy recipe that is strictly an appetizer.

Field Mushrooms on Crostini

2 Baguettes, cut in rounds
1 White Onion, medium dice
1 Clove of Garlic, crushed
2 Sprigs of Fresh Thyme
Juice of a Lemon
200 ml Olive Oil
25 – 30 Mushrooms, cremini, portobella and shitake
150 g Asiago Cheese, grated
Salt and Pepper to taste

Preheat oven on roast at 400. On a baking sheet, lay out crostinis. Drizzle some oil over top and sprinkle a pinch of salt and pepper. Roast in oven for 5-7 minutes or until golden crusted.

In a large frying pan, heat oil. Saute onions and garlic for 3 minutes. Add mushrooms and cook for 2 minutes. Add lemon juice and continue to cook.

Let cool and add thyme and asiago garnish.

Season carefully to taste.

Makes about 30 crostinis.

Variation: serve the cooked mushrooms in phyllo cups as a side to a steak. Cool.

A Humble Chef's tip: be generous with the garlic. It tastes good.

Tuesday, 4 January 2011

Putting On The Schnitz

Before going to culinary school, I knew I enjoyed cooking but I really didn't know much about different techniques. However, the three stage breading station was something I pretty much grew up on. I've never really thought about it until recently. It turns out that the breading station is used throughout most of the world. It seems to be just as common as making a sandwich.

The breading station is a three step process where you dredge whatever it is in seasoned flour, then covered with plain egg wash and then coated with seasoned breadcrumbs. A classic technique that has been used for a very long time.

The recipe today is a simple Schnitzel with a slight variation. But, even here in Canada, I'm not always sure what to call it. I suppose some days it's a scallopine or even a cotoletta alla milanese. But here we get into little details that even I find very confusing. Schnitzels and scallopines are usually made with an escalope rather than cotoletta alla milanese which uses a cutlet. What's the difference between an escalope and a cutlet you ask? Ummm, glad you asked. Let me pull out my old textbook and let me see. Aha! Found it. A cutlet is a slice of meat that usually comes from either the leg or the rib and is usually very thin. An escalope is boneless slice of meat, often from a loin, and is pounded out to make it thin. Got it? I'm sure many of you reading this will forget everything I've written anyways. Not exactly life changing material. Nevertheless, you can now strike up a conversation with your favourite butcher. I find it very awkward talking to butchers. Seems like I'm always trying to break the ice with them. But it's very hard. They can be quite intense. Maybe it's just me but when a gentleman who maintains eye contact while covered in blood, holding a cleaver, surrounded by dead animals and talking about municipal politics (and is hopefully not missing any teeth), I am slightly intimidated.

Anyways, no more silliness. Here's a recipe! You read it. You make it. You serve it. You eat it.

Pork Schnitzel

8 Thin Pork Cutlets
150 g Flour (about 1.5 Cups)
4 Eggs, whipped
150 g Seasoned Bread Crumbs (about 1.5 cups)
2 Lemons, zested then cut into wedges for garnish
100 g Cheddar Cheese, grated (about three quarters of a cup)
Drizzle of Honey Dijon
Salt and Black Pepper to Taste
Canola Oil for searing

In a bowl, combine bread crumbs with zest and grated cheese.

Dredge cutlets in seasoned flour. Drizzle mustard and spread evenly. Place in egg wash and then in bread crumbs. Repeat with remaining cutlets.

In a large skillet, pour generous amounts of oil and heat well. Sear both sides until brown, If not quite cooked, place in oven at 350 until cooked; about 5 minutes.

Serve with zested lemon wedges and Not Just Any A Humble Chef's Farinaceous Salad Made In the Style of the Germans

Serves 6.

Variation: you know, virtually every country in the world has a variation on this recipe. Ask your mom or grandma and I'm sure they can give a variation from their own country.

A Humble Chef's tip: these can be made in advance and refrigerated. However, do not allow them to touch other too much or they'll stick to each other. Then you'll have to peel one off the other.

Sunday, 2 January 2011

Copy and Pasty

I must start this new post by offering apologies to all readers of my blog for my long hiatus. Yeah, sorry about that. As my old Italian neighbour used to say, "Whatta goin to do?"

I have been very busy with cooking classes these passed few months and I would like to say thank you to all those who come to my classes and to the co-ordinators who book them. Very swell of you.

For me, what is more rewarding than anything else is when someone tells me about their successful attempts to use my recipes. Shucks. Truthfully, boosts to my fragile ego and an occasional pat on the back are always welcome in my books. Having said that, this is a recipe I recently did and even I was surprised on the positive outcome.

I've recently renewed my interest in pasty and it's origins. Not to be confused with pastry, pasty is when you take a pastry and fold over a filling and is then crimped. Very similar to empanadas. However, in the case of the empanada, the filling is usually cooked in advance. Pasties are often filled with root vegetables, onions, beef, whatever and then baked. I suppose if you put tomato sauce, mozzarella and maybe some pepperoni, you could pretty much call that pasty a calzone. Confusing. Yes the pastry is a little different, but essentially the same concept.

Not far from the pasty, is pot pie. However, many of you already know this, but the pot pie filling is cooked in advance and covered with pastry. There are different types of pastry you could use for pot pie (flaky, puff, choux, phyllo) but I like shortcrust. If you can remember 1:2 (1 part fat to 2 parts flour) you'll be fine. Not to be confused with my 1:1:4 recipe. 1 cup of flour, 1 cup of milk and 4 eggs. I wonder, can anyone guess what this ratio might be?

And to keep life easy, make the stew and put the pastry on top in the pot. I mean, if you want to make a pastry base and make an actual pie, be my guest. But I like to keep it simple silly.

Before I move on, I recently had a, um, discussion about the origin of the term Mulligatany. It means "Pepper Water" in Tamil. Millagu for Pepper and Thanni for water. It doesn't refer to some Irish town where it came from like someone in one of my classes argued. Sigh.

Christmas Leftover Mulligatawny Pot Pie

For the Pastry:

240 g A. P. Flour (2 ¼ Cups)
170 g Butter (¼ lb.)
125 ml Cold Water (½ Cup)
Pinch of Salt

For everything else:
170 g butter (¼ lb.)
100 g A.P. Flour (1 Cup)
1 Small Red Onion, finely diced
1/2 Celery Stalk, diced
1 Small Carrot, diced
1 Red Pepper, diced
1 Green Pepper, diced
1 Green or Yellow Zucchini, diced
3 Garlic Cloves, crushed
1 Whole Breast of Turkey or whatever leftovers you have
2 Bosc Pears, grated
2 Large Russet Potatoes, diced
3 l Chicken or Turkey Stock
1 Can of Cranberry Sauce
Drizzle of Oil
Pinches, of Tumeric, Cumin, Mild Curry Powder, Cayenne, Paprika, Thyme
2 Bay Leaves
2 Eggs, whipped
Salt and Pepper to Taste

Preheat oven to 400.

To make the pastry, combine the flour, salt and butter and crumble with your hands; the mixture should look dry. Add one third of the water and gently mix in. Add next third of water and continue. Add the remaining water and massage in; it should be just damp enough to mass together. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 1 hour or up 24 hours.

On a floured surface, roll out the dough into circle big enough to cover the top of your pot. Maybe make the crust about ¼ inch thick.

In a soup pot, heat oil on med-high heat. Add onion, celery and carrot and cook for one minute.Add blend of spices. Add peppers and garlic and cook for another. Add pears, zucchini and potatoes and cook for 5 minutes. Add flour and cook for 5 minutes.

Whisk in chicken stock until blended. Add turkey and bay leaves. Bring to a boil and let simmer. Adjust to seasonings.

Brush the rim of the pot with cold water. Carefully lay the pastry round over the top and crimp the edges to seal. Brush the pastry with some of the egg mixture and bake until golden brown, about 25 minutes. About 5 – 10 minutes resting time.

Serves 8 – 10.

A Humble Chef's tip: where to begin? How about, this? Be sure the chicken stock is cold when adding to the aromatic roux. Rememeber, cold liquids to a hot roux.

Variations: simple. Turkey Mulligatawny Empanadas.