Archive for the 'Savoury' Category

02
Sep
08

Roast Potatoes and Baby Shoes

I just wrapped up a beautiful evening with my family.

My daughter spent the afternoon in her jolly jumper, stomping in her new shoes.

Its hard to take a clear shot of fast-moving munchkin feet.

It's hard to take a clear shot of fast-moving munchkin feet.

We also had my parents and in-laws over for dinner on the deck.

My Mom brought two salads and a rhubarb cake, my Father-in-law brought honey garlic spareribs he’d done in the slow cooker. We made some homemade bread and roasted potatoes with tomatoes picked fresh from the garden.

The deck hangs out over the river, and we’re surrounded by trees. While we ate a Heron landed out in the water. It slowly walked up the river, stalking fish.

I love eating outside when the sky starts to go from late afternoon to dusk. I think it makes things taste better. Especially if you’re eating with friends and loved ones.

Wine also helps.

We had a red wine from California (Robert Mondavi, Pinot Noir, 2006) , and a white from South Africa (Two Oceans, Sauvignon Blanc, 2007). The Mondavi worked wonderfully with the starchiness of the potatoes and the meatiness of the ribs. I honestly didn’t get a chance to try the white, but was assured that it was good. 

My daughter, who is teething, even got in on the action. We let her gum a clean rib bone. It kept her entertained while the rest of us ate.

My Roasted Potatoes

This recipe doesn’t require any exactness. Do it to suit your own taste (then it won’t be “My roasted potatoes”, it’ll be your own creation and you can name it what ever you want.

Small, multicoloured potatoes

Ripe tomatoes or cherry tomatoes, the fresher the better

Extra virgin olive oil

Sea salt

Fresh ground black pepper

Feta cheese

     This is one of those recipes where the quality of the ingredients really affects the outcome, but it’s super easy to whip up a batch in under an hour with minimal effort.

     Preheat oven to 400F (200C).

     Rinse the potatoes, then cut them, skin on, into quarters. I use baby sized red, yellow, and blue potatoes to enhance the wow factor.

     Place them in a shallow baking dish. Splash on some olive oil. You don’t want to have them floating in it, but a nice coating allows the other ingredients to stick to the potato, and keeps the potato from burning to the dish.

     Add salt and pepper to taste. Slide the baking dish into the oven and cook for 20min. before adding the tomatoes. If using cherry tomatoes, just halve or quarter them, depending on size. Whole tomatoes can be diced and added. Try to get tomatoes that are compact and just ripened. You don’t want to deal with a lot of juice while cutting.

     Put the dish back in for an additional 20 minutes or so. Test the potatoes by tasting to see if they are fully cooked and if they need additional salt and pepper.

     Serve with the crumbled feta added at the last minute, or as a condiment (my Mom doesn’t like feta, so we had a small dish of it set aside as an accompaniment). 

     You can modify this dish any way you want. Increase or decrease any ingredient to suit your taste and feel free to add herbs or other ingredients. If you come up with a tasty variation, I’d love to hear about it.

31
May
08

The Pieman

Simple Simon met a pieman

Going to the fair;

Says Simple Simon to the pieman,

“Let me taste your ware.”

Says the pieman to Simple Simon,

“Show me first your penny.”

Says Simple Simon to the pieman,

“Indeed I have not any.”

I recently came across a write up in a publication from the mid-1800’s about the sellers of street foods in Victorian London, England.

Apparently the street pie trade had been one of the oldest of the street callings in London. By the mid-nineteenth century the trade had been almost destroyed by “pie shops.” Summer fairs and other large outdoor gatherings seem to have been one of the few places a pie-man could make a go of it.

The piemen would wander the streets with a portable tin oven getting business wherever they could. This often meant stopping in at the local public houses. Apparently business was pretty poor, and street piemen didn’t have the best reputation for quality goods. According to one meat pieman:

“People, when I go into houses…often begin crying ‘mee-yow’, or ‘bow-wow-wow!’ at me, but there’s nothing of that kind, now.”

Piemen bought their meat from the same places as sausage makers. They wouldn’t care about the flavour because they would use pepper to mask the taste of the meat. You could tell the quality of the meat by how little or how much pepper was in the pies.

Often a pieman would drum up business by calling out “Toss or buy! Up and win ’em.” Which basically turned the sale of the pies into a coin toss. You win the toss, you get a free pie. Loose a toss, and you’d better be able to pay for one.

That certainly sheds a new light on the old nursery rhyme.

And this…

 

04
May
08

Corn Bread

corn bread

This is the result of my first attempt of a basic corn bread recipe I got out of  “Baking at Home With The Culinary Institute of America.” It’s a good book for the rookie home baker as its recipes are fairly basic and easy to follow. I like using it for an almost guaranteed successful first attempt if I haven’t had a lot of experience making something.

Being Canadian, corn bread isn’t exactly in my usual repetoire, but after making these, I may have to reconsider. They turned out perfectly, and I even modified them to make them lactose free.

The only real issue I have with the book is that it’s written using Imperial measurements, which can be frustrating for an experienced baker. Using metric weights guarantees a standard set of results. It can mean the difference between professional quality and a sloppy mess. It’s for this reason that one of my first serious purchases back when I was an apprentice was a good quality digital scale.

24
Mar
08

The Kingdom of Morocco

In my last year or two of high school, I seriously considered moving to Morocco as a post-secondary option. I wanted to see the world, and I could think of no place more foreign to a farm kid from Canada, than the north-west coast of Africa. I got books out of the library, studied maps, day-dreamed away entire math classes (I didn’t do so well in math). Something about the country had me hooked.

The summer after high school, while working in tobacco, I befriended an Irishman named John. He had been to most of the countries in Europe, as well as Morocco. It was John who first warned me about the dangers of traveling in North Africa for a naive, blond haired North American. I would stand out like a sore thumb, and be an easy target for thieves. He painted a picture of a much more real and menacing but equally exotic location as the one I had been reading about. I decided to hold off on my Moroccan trek.

Life has a funny way of happening to you when you aren’t paying attention. In my last year of college I was approached by a company who wanted to send me to Morocco for two years. I had a diploma in outdoor adventure and could speak french and English, and they were looking for someone to lead convoys over the Atlas Mountains, to the Berbers in the Sahara. I was thrilled at the prospect, but the deal eventually fell through. To make a long story short, their expectations and my own weren’t exactly compatible.

To this day the Kingdom of Morocco haunts me. The Phoenicians, Romans, Christians and Muslims have each had a turn at ruling, and in spite of a very close proximity to Europe, and ties to the Middle East, the country is still very much African. French, Spanish, and Arabic can be heard on the streets, and this blending of histories and cultures is strongly reflected in the cuisine.

Moroccan cooking relies heavily on saffron, mint, olives, oranges and lemons. Green tea with mint and sugar is a common drink. Chicken, beef and lamb are the most popular meats, and couscous and tajine are the dishes most commonly associated with Morocco.

Berber Spice Paste

This is great to have on hand to make almost anything, from chicken and beef, to fish and vegetables, more flavourful and aromatic. A little goes a long way.

2tsp cracked black pepper,

1tsp coriander seeds,

1tsp cardamom seeds,

1 (1 inch) cinnamon stick,

4 allspice berries,

3 whole cloves,

1 small onion, cut into pieces,

2 cloves chopped garlic,

1 (1 inch) piece of fresh ginger, sliced,

1/3 cup paprika,

1tbsp sea salt,

1-2 tsp red pepper flakes,

1/2 cup olive oil,

3tbsp fresh lemon juice.

Add all the spices to a dry skillet over medium heat, and stir occasionally until toasted (approx. 3 min). Allow spices to cool, then grind into a powder.

place onion, garlic and ginger in a food processor. Finely chop. Add spices and remaining ingredients and blend to a fine paste. Use immediately, or keep covered and refrigerated for up to several weeks.

23
Mar
08

Elements of Cooking: Fire

The chemistry behind cooking and baking happens while following a recipe. Most of the chemical reactions that take place between ingredients happens during the initial mixing and blending together of those ingredients. The biggest difference I found between a pastry kitchen, and a restaurant kitchen is how fire is incorporated and utilised in the process of producing the finished result.

Fire in a pastry kitchen is utilised in two ways. The first, and likely the most obvious, is through baking.

Ingredients are mixed together, allowed to react to each other, shaped, and nearly finished before they are put in the oven to bake. The use of fire in this instance may or may not be direct, depending on the type of heat source being used. People traditionally think of baking as happening in an oven, however there are some instances where dough or batter is baked over direct heat. Many flat-breads are baked on a metal dome over an open fire, and pancakes, crepes, and waffles are poured into a pan or griddle over a heat source.

One of my favorite bread related memories happened on a three week canoe trip on the Buffalo River in Arkansas. We made bannock, a traditional Native American bread. We stuck the raw dough on the end of sticks, and baked it over the open flames of the bonfire. The finished result, when spread with homemade strawberry jam, was phenomenal. A raccoon even tried to get in on the action and scared the daylights out of my friend Jere.

The other type of heat generally employed in the pastry kitchen is direct heat in the form of boiling. Whether this takes the form of boiling sugar for confectionery work, boiling fruit for a puree, or boiling water for a bain marie, doesn’t really matter, since it’s the same general idea. Often boiling and baking can occur together in the same recipe, as in the case of a pie, where the filling is prepared by boiling ingredients together, and the crust is baked. 

Fire in the restaurant kitchen, on the other hand, is the nearly alchemical process by which a cook takes a single ingredient and transforms it into something different.

Roasting, braising, sauteing, poaching, grilling, broiling, sous vide, frying, steaming, all have their own unique purpose in the cook’s repertoire. Where a pastry chef follows an exact recipe to bring about a desired reaction, chefs use an exact cooking technique.

Through the application of fire, a cook is able to extract and reabsorb juices. They are able to reduce a liquid and caramelize an ingredient. Using these techniques allows them to concentrate flavours and reintegrate them back into the food.

How well you are able to heat, concentrate, and reintegrate through the use of fire will determing how good you are at cooking.

23
Feb
08

Improvisation is key

So the other night I tried out a recipe for an onion and egg calzone. I had never tried it before, and had no clue as to how it would turn out. I figured best case scenario, it’d be really good. Worst case scenario, it would end up in the garbage, but I’d be wiser for having made an attempt.

As I followed the recipe, I realized that I would have way more filling than I needed. I improvised by putting the leftover mixture into some tart shells I keep in the freezer.

The result? The calzone pastry worked out very well. The inside, not so much. The mini-quiche made with the extra, however, didn’t have time to cool before they had vanished. What can you take away from this? There were several points during this recipe where things could have gone horribly wrong. By taking a relaxed attitude in the kitchen, and being able to improvise on the fly, disaster can be averted.

Here’s the recipe for the Calzone pastry; I’ll let you be creative and come up with a filling of your own.

pastry

400g plain flour, plus extra to dust

100ml olive oil, plus extra to oil

1 egg, beaten

100ml dry white wine

salt

Put the flour in a bowl and make a well in the center. Add a pinch of salt, the oil, egg and wine. Slowly mix together with the flour to make the dough. Add water if necessary. Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and put in the fridge while you preheat the oven to 200c and prepare the filling. After about half an hour, roll out the pastry on a lightly floured surface. You want to end up with a large flat(3mm) circle. Place this on an oiled baking tray and dump the filling into the center. Fold the pastry over to enclose the filling. press the edges together to seal, and brush with egg. Bake for about 20 minutes, or until golden brown.