Thursday, October 27, 2011

On Soup

I mentioned quite a while back that I would write about soup.  If you know your way around a kitchen and how flavors can pair together, soup is a wonderfully organic, natural thing to cook.  Though I mean "organic" in the "naturally and harmoniously coming together" definition, it can also be organic in the "non-creepy stuff used in the growing process" definition.  Sadly, the second one didn't apply to me.

Soup is wonderful for fall and winter.  It's warm and soothing, and if it's a thick or rich soup, it can also be quite satisfying, especially if served with a warm, buttered crusty roll or something similar.  I need to make some more soup soon, but I don't have the freezer space to keep stock around all the time, so soup can't really be a spur of the moment thing for me, even though I have a selection of stock cubes (sigh).

The first soup I made was a broccoli-cheddar.  I was a bit leery about this; not that I don't love a good broccoli-cheddar--it's one of the few ways I truly enjoy broccoli--but I worried that if Adam and I couldn't eat it all quickly, it would start to smell.  Many different recipes and websites warned me of this, but I'm happy to report they were wrong, at least this time.  Admittedly, the soup didn't last more than 3-4 days, but I made it on a Friday, and Sunday it was absolutely fantastic, better than it had been late Friday or on Saturday.  It was also simple, though it could have been even more so.

Cheddar Broccoli Soup
1 head broccoli (medium to largish), cut into chunks, including stem
1 large onion, chopped
3-4 tablespoons olive oil/butter/other oil
4 tablespoons flour
Dried mustard powder (a tablespoon?  I never measure)
Garlic powder (a shake or two)
4 cups of warm liquid--about 2 cups of the broccoli water and 2 cups of cream/milk
Wholegrain mustard (optional, but a scant teaspoon is really tasty)
Cheddar cheese (perhaps 250 grams?)
Boil the broccoli florets and stem until reasonably soft in some salted water.  In a large, deep saucepan, saute the onion in some olive oil/butter/both until soft (you'll be making the soup in this).  Add the flour, dried mustard, garlic powder, and any other seasonings to make a roux (you may need some additional oil/butter).  Cook the roux for a couple of minutes, stirring regularly, then add the broccoli water/cream mix.  Stirring regularly, bring to a boil, then turn down the heat to simmer (you don't want it to boil again).  Add the broccoli and the wholegrain mustard.  If your pan is big enough and you have a stick blender, you can blitz the broccoli in the pan; otherwise, pour small amounts into the blender/food processor and blitz until smooth.  Add the grated cheddar.  Don't let it boil after the cheese goes in--it should still taste fine, but it'll screw with the texture.  Adjust any seasoning as needed.

Normally I hate sea-foam green, but this was pretty and tasty.

I served the soup with mustard croutons, the concept of which was tastier than the execution.  If I do them again, I think they'll work better, but I was quite lazy in my preparation, so they were heavily greasy, and not as crunchy as a crouton should be.

Another soup I made in my crazy soup-making spree was one I found out of the Morrison's Magazine.  I first made it back in the spring, once for the in-laws, and once for my parents, and everyone pronounced it delicious.

Parsnip Parmesan Soup (from Morrison's Magazine, with my notes/changes)
3-4 tablespoons olive oil
6 large parsnips, peeled and chopped into chunks
1 large onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1.25 litres vegetable stock (Beef stock is tasty, but soup ceases to be white.  Chicken, lamb, or anything else should work.  If using cubes, the recipe says 2 cubes.)
1 red chili, seeds removed and finely chopped (Optional, but adds a nice heat.)
50 grams grated Parmesan (Or more, I used about 65 with beef stock and it was nice.  Don't used fake-canned, but hit the cheese counter and get grated parm that way, or buy a block and grate it yourself.)
50 ml single cream (half and half, and I used closer to 100 ml.  or even more.  To taste, really.)
In large, deep saucepan, saute onion and parsnips in olive oil for 5 or so minutes, then add garlic and saute another minute or two, then add stock and bring to boil.  Turn down the heat and add the chili, and cook for a while longer, until parsnips are soft.  Remove from heat and blitz until smooth.  If the soup becomes too cool to melt the Parmesan, reheat (don't boil), then add the Parmesan, stir to smooth, and add the cream (to taste).  Season to taste.
I have no picture for this one, but it is so nice, and if you somehow have parsnips that are past their prime--they don't last long in any house I'm affiliated with, since everyone I know loves them unconditionally--this is a great way to use them up.

How can anyone be sad eating a bowl of bright orange soup with some lovely basil to complement it?

As winter comes steadily on, soup is always a warming, happy meal.  To me, homemade soup is a family meal, something that can be left on the stove, gently warming, for people to take a bowl as they please.  As a child this was mostly done with bean (num) or split-pea soup (ugh) during lazy holidays or important Duck football games, but stews and other soups are equally nice to be able to grab a bowl as one pleases during those cold winter days.  Soup can be so much more than just an appetizer.

EDIT:  Because I'm special, I forgot to even mention what that bright orange soup is.  It's curried carrot, and was quite tasty, and very pretty.  I didn't include a recipe because for the life of me I can't remember what I did.  It's not hard, though; I remember that much.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

The Larder on Goosegate: Nottingham, UK

I wish that I could do more reviews on here; sadly a combination of finances and locale make it difficult to eat out, let alone at places that are interesting enough for a review.  Since we got back from Iceland (in February!), we've only eaten out maybe 4 times until this weekend: once at a really quite nasty curry place after drinking, once at a Thai restaurant for my birthday (good, but not really review-worthy), once at the nice curry place near us (also good, but not review-worthy), and at The Larder (this review).  We also ate at Ye Olde Trip to Jerusalem twice this weekend, so that might warrant a review down the road, but wasn't that exceptional.  The good news is that in a few weeks we'll be in San Francisco, Napa, and then Eugene (with probable trips to Portland and McMinnville), so if I'm quick on the draw, lots of reviews may be coming your way!

A group of eight of us ate at The Larder on Goosegate for Sunday lunch.  The first problem is that they lost our reservations, but they quickly made good(ish) on that by a round of free soft drinks.  Since most of us didn't want alcohol--five of us had been at the beer festival the night before, and four of us the night before that--it was fine, if a bit cheap.

The second problem was a bit bad, but I wasn't as bothered by it as the others were.  Whenever you eat out in a group, the service tends to be slow.  So far as I can tell, that's because a) large groups often tip badly (assuming that someone else in the group will make up for it--usually me), and b) large groups are too busy talking to each other to actually pay attention to the menu and the staff.  Tips are less of a problem here in England; service staff are paid slightly better here, though I always add some sort of tip to a bill at a decent restaurant (not at a pub, though).  The Larder also includes a 10% gratuity on top of the bill for groups of 6 or more, which is something I absolutely agree with, especially in the US (see a) above).  So in short, our service was slow.  VERY slow.  Enough to really irritate everyone else, and to bother me slightly.  It was slower than necessary for the number of people in the restaurant, and we were actually paying attention.

But the food was quite tasty.  Claire recommended it, and she used to eat there often while she was living in Nottingham.  It's a cute, upscale, quasi-bistro style restaurant located up a flight of stairs, with huge windows and exposed architectural features.  Lots of light, rustic but clean.  Quite lovely and chic.  And comfortable, stylish chairs (which is extra-nice after two days spent largely in camping chairs).  The food was delicious, with a menu that changes daily.  Food is primarily seasonal and locally sourced.  It's essentially traditional British food, but done in a more modern, clean, and upscale manner.  One of our group, for example, ordered the puy lentil shepherd's pie, which came in an individual, very deep bowl.  She said it was excellent (though she complained that her gravy smelled like warm wine, but I just assume it was a wine gravy, which means she probably wouldn't like most of the gravy I make).  That's a cleaner, more modern take of the traditional shepherd's pie.  Or at least pretty much any variant I've had at home, which when made in a big dish, serves out as a messy pile.

Because we were in a group, it would have been awkward to ask everyone for a bite of their meals; this is something I can do amongst family and a few friends, but as we were with Adam's friends, whom I'm not as close to, I didn't think I'd be able to get away with it.  As such, the only comment I can make about the other dishes is that Claire's salmon appeared to be perfectly cooked.  It was a large slice off the fillet, firm and pink, served skin side up.  It appeared to be moist and not over-cooked, as is so often the case with fish.  It came with a mussel sauce, which included 3 mussels in shell, which also looked delicious.  With the salmon was an interesting looking side of cauliflower.  I'm not sure what they had done with it, but it had clearly been shaped in a ramekin or ring mold, possibly with some potatoes, and baked.  I don't think it was a gratin, as I saw no evidence of sauce or cheese, but it was rather in the style of an individual gratin.  Quite pretty, if a bit reminiscent of white brains.  I'm sure it was good, because Claire ate everything on her plate.

Adam and I split a starter of fried British seafood with a garlic mayonnaise.  The seafood included some anchovies (we think), chunks of salmon, and what purported to be balls of skate.  I say purported, because I don't remember the waitress mentioning salmon or anchovies in the list of fish included, but I'm sure I heard the word skate; however I couldn't hear well, since we were at the opposite end of the table.  We're fairly certain on the anchovies though, and salmon is clearly salmon.  All the fish was lightly battered, and fried perfectly.  Crispy and light batter that clearly wasn't tempura, but resembled tempura in it's lightness, and not at all greasy.  The anchovies maintained their rich oily flavor without becoming overpowering (I find heat makes oily fish like anchovies and mackerel overpowering and unpleasant), and the salmon was not overcooked, remaining firm and reasonably moist.  The probable skate chunks were probably my favorite; sadly, there were only a couple in the bowl.  They were also moist and nicely flavored, flaking apart nicely when bit, but not falling apart.  A slice of lime was provided in lieu of lemon, which I felt to be a very nice change.  The garlic mayo was also nice; very creamy and rich, but not greasy.  However, I felt that it could have used a bit more garlic flavor, or if the kitchen was afraid of overwhelming with garlic, a bit of citrus (lime to match the lime on the plate, perhaps) would have boosted its flavor tremendously.  Still, the fish was supposed to be the center, and it was.  I just happen to love a good condiment/sauce, and think that the quality of those is where a chef can really show off his or her skill.

Our main course was the same; Adam and I both had the roast pork belly.  I love pork, and I really really love bacon, so pork belly should be my favorite thing in the world.  Oddly, it's not, because as much as I love streaky bacon and all that crisp fat, I find pork belly is often greasy.  The Larder's was no exception, except I didn't mind it as much.  Instead of cubes of pork belly, or a slab, this was rolled, resembling either a roulade or a very thick slice of rolled panchetta.  It was maybe 8 centimeters/just under 3.5 inches across, and probably 4 centimeters/1.5 inches thick.  It was very crispy on the outside, just the way I like it, and the inside was so moist from the fat that it shredded apart perfectly.  It was also exceptionally rich from all the fat, and I couldn't finish mine (Adam persevered, but he was unsure for a while).  It came with 3 or 4 pieces of roast potatoes, and a Yorkshire pudding approximately the same size and shape as the pork belly.  Lightly poured on the plate (too lightly for my taste, but again, I like sauces, condiments, and gravies a bit too much) was a jus, which I think was a cider gravy.  It was superb, but I could have used more--I'll drink gravy, though.  The plating was quite attractive.  On a plain white round plate the gravy was poured, with the potatoes laid in the center with the pork belly leaning on them.  Leaning on the pork belly was the Yorkshire pudding, and between the two (I think it was supposed to be on top of the pork belly but slipped) was a small slice of baked apple, tart and soft.  I could have used more apple; not only was it a surprisingly simple but delicious addition to the plate, but it cut through the fat of the pork very nicely.

Served family style was a bowl (two bowls, actually) of wilted rainbow chard.  I'm not normally a huge fan of chard--I don't hate it, but I'm not going to actively seek it out, either--but this was a perfect match for everything ordered at the table (shepherd's pie, salmon, pork belly, and steak), and it was nicely warm and wilted without being limp or unpleasant.  It wasn't salty, but had been nicely salted as well.

The only real concern I had was that Adam and I are both unsure of the provenance of the potatoes and Yorkshire puddings.  Specifically, we think they might have been frozen.  They didn't taste bad or anything, but the potatoes were a little too perfect to be coming out of the kitchen (they looked like clones of each other on both Adam's and my plate), and the Yorkshire puds were tasty enough (I'm not picky when it comes to those, however), but not exceptional, and they held their shape creepily well.  I'd like to believe that's not the case, but Adam and I both got a hit of inauthenticity off of those.  It saddens me that they might have been frozen, since The Larder prides itself on local, fresh, and authentic foods.  Additionally, I hate paying for frozen when I'm supposed to be getting local and fresh.  But we're not sure.

For dessert, Adam and I--thankfully--split a Cordillera Chocolate and Honeycomb torte.  If you don't know what cordillera chocolate is, don't worry, I didn't either (it's Fairtrade and manufactured where grown, though I don't know where that is).  Honeycomb is not an actual honeycomb, but a type of candy.  Were it actual honeycomb, I probably wouldn't enjoy it so much.  Regardless, the chocolate tort was rich and dense, but not so rich as to make you feel ill--though had we not split it, I'm not sure that would have been the case--and the crust was crispy and crunchy and nicely lightened the chocolate.  And the outside edge of the torte had a big piece of honeycomb candy in it, that Adam and I split, by virtue of marriage being all about sharing things when you'd rather just stab the other person and take it all.  The torte was a nice balance of rich and light, and a nice end to the meal.

Overall, Adam and I really enjoyed The Larder, and we'd be very happy to eat there again.  However, we would not be inclined to eat there with a large group (in fact we won't next year, but that was primarily due to transport issues), as the slow service was verging on painful.  Definitely a place to check out if you're in Nottingham and fancy a nice meal that's not pub-cheap, but certainly won't break the bank.  Beware, however, that there's very little signage at ground level for The Larder, but if you find the area, just look up at the buildings until you find a glass-fronted section with "The Larder on Goosegate" written across it, then find the stairs under that and head up.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Rhubarb-Peach Cobbler

I've been spending a lot of time in the kitchen lately; it's fall (with a brief summer stretch in there--what was that about, England?), which means late-summer fruit desserts and soup.  Lots of soup, but more on that in future posts.  It also means that I've been getting cold(er), so being in the kitchen is warm.  Not because it's a separate room that's easier to heat, but because I'm standing and moving, and spending at least part of my time in front of the stove or the oven or both.  Otherwise I tend to be sitting and writing, which makes me cold(er).

It's been several weeks since I made this, but it was an unqualified success.  So without further ado, Rhubarb-Peach Cobbler.

Rhubarb-Peach Cobbler

Preheat oven to 375º F.
3 peaches or 5 donut peaches, peeled, pitted, and cut into half-inch chunks
3-6 stalks of rhubarb, depending on their size, cleaned and chopped into ½ cm - 1 cm pieces (halve über stalks first if necessary, but a variety in size is fine)
½ cup of sugar (give or take, depending on the sweetness of the fruit)
1½ teaspoons of vanilla extract (optional, but if used, make sure it's real vanilla extract)
Toss fruit in non-metallic baking dish that's been lightly greased.  The size and shape can vary, but think about the dough to fruit ratio when eating (the dough will rise slightly, and the fruit will cook down). Toss sugar over top, and mix to coat.  Pour vanilla extract over it, and mix again.  While making the cobbler dough, periodically stir some more, to ensure everything is coated, the sugar will eventually dissolve, and the fruit is starting to release its liquids.
Cobbler Dough (courtesy of Joy of Cooking, now with more sugar and vanilla)
1⅓ cup all-purpose flour
3 tablespoons sugar
1½ teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
5 tablespoons unsalted butter (or salted, but use less salt above)
⅔ cup heavy cream or ½ cup of milk
2 teaspoons vanilla extract (or more, or less, or none.  need I keep repeating real vanilla?)
Whisk the flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt together in a bowl.  Place the butter in the bowl in chunks, and blend until it's crumbly, and the butter is mostly incorporated (if you've not done this, I don't know how to describe it.  It's like making pie crust, unless you do that in a food processor).  Add the cream/milk (or a combo of the two--I told you it was flexible!) and vanilla, and stir together until you have a very sticky dough.  Don't overmix.
With a spoon, drop the cobbler batter over the fruit in the baking dish.  It doesn't have to be pretty, but it should mostly cover the fruit (there can be some small gaps; the dough will rise and expand, but it's also tasty if the fruit juice bubbles through in places).  If you desire, sprinkle some sugar over the top of the cobbler.  Bake in preheated oven on middle rack until the dough is done (or the fruit is done).  It's done when the dough is lightly golden on top and dry, but springy-soft to the touch.  You could try the toothpick test, but if you go too far, you'll hit fruit and ruin your results.  Besides, it's quite tasty if it's slightly undercooked as well.
Serve warm (or cold) with cream (plain, sweetened, or whipped) or ice cream, or just plain.

I love the Joy of Cooking cobbler dough because it's super easy to make, nice and rich, sweet (but not too sweet), and quite forgiving.  You can pretty much do whatever you want with it, and it'll cook (either fast or slow, whatever you need.  It's miraculous that way. Of course, so is fruit). You could probably use it for scones, but it's a bit sticky.  Still, it's a sweet biscuit dough, so it has many, many uses, and I imagine all of them would be tasty.  I made this with less fruit than listed, because it was all I had on hand.  Since The Boy prefers baked goods to basically all things, this was fine with him, but I would have preferred more fruit.  The donut peaches made this dish particularly beautiful, but when I made it again the next week with regular peaches, it was still tasty.  According to the internet, this can also be made with canned cling peaches.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Maple-Bacon Ice Cream

Getting into why I decided to make bacon ice cream is a rather involved tale, but I've had bacon in chocolate--Vosges, which doesn't use particularly fine chocolate, and doesn't contain very much bacon, but is quite expensive--and while I wasn't impressed with it for the reasons stated, I liked the idea.  I've always liked the combination of sweet and salty (chocolate dipped potato chips/crisps are awesome), and since I wanted to try something different, ice cream came to mind.  As a note, the recipe below is a good maple ice cream on it's own, without the bacon.

I heavily modified Betty Crocker's vanilla ice cream recipe, and I don't have an ice cream maker, so the texture isn't as smooth as one would like.  For people without ice cream makers, I'll post the "entertain and occupy the kiddies" version, as well as the "it works but isn't a smooth texture because I got tired of stirring and went to bed" version.

Maple-Bacon Ice Cream
3 large egg yolks, beaten
1/2 cup (a generous half cup, up to 3/4 of a cup) real maple syrup
1 cup milk
1 cup half n' half
1 cup heavy cream/whipping cream
pinch of salt
1 teaspoon real vanilla extract (the fake stuff is an abomination, just like turkey or soy bacon)
Streaky bacon (regular bacon in the States), fried crispy and crumbled.  However much you'd like.
In a sufficiently large saucepan, heat the egg yolks, maple syrup, milk, half n' half, and cream to just below the boil.  Whisk constantly, and don't let it boil (Betty Crocker adds the cream later, and uses 2 cups of cream instead of some half n' half, but I find the mouthfeel is a bit greasy that way).  Pull off the heat, and keep whisking for a bit to cool it down slightly.  Add your pinch of salt (I suggest kosher or fine ground Alaea red clay) and vanilla extract and whisk a bit more.  Pour into chilled bowl (or the container you'll freeze it in, if you don't have an ice cream maker) and put in fridge.  Stir every 15 minutes or so until somewhere below room temp.  Stir bacon through, then pour into ice cream maker and follow the directions on it.

If you don't have an ice cream maker, you can try it this way (not something I had the containers to do).  Take a 3 pound coffee can with lid and find a second, smaller container that fits inside and won't break.  Put some/all of the ice cream mixture in the smaller container and seal it very very well (duct tape might be in order here, provided you can get it off).  Throw some ice and rock salt into the bigger container, put the container with the ice cream goo in it, and pack more ice and rock salt around it.  Put the lid on, seal that tightly (definitely use duct tape here), and find some small kids to roll it around on the floor for about 30-45 minutes.  Pull the ice cream out and finish freezing it in the freezer.  Note that I've never done this, just seen it done and understand the concept.  I've heard that the ice cream isn't particularly smooth doing this.

Or, if you don't have that option, after you add the bacon, put it all in the freezer.  Every 15-30 minutes whisk the crap out of it.  It'll take forever to freeze, but you're trying to break up the ice crystals to get a smoother texture.  I failed at this because I was seriously tired and wanted to go to bed.  The flavor isn't particularly altered by the presence of large ice crystals, but the texture isn't that beautifully smooth ice cream you get when it's properly churned.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Chocolate Syrup

If you do a search on the internet you'll find about a zillion reasons as to why people make or want to make their own chocolate syrup instead of buying a can or squeeze bottle of Hershey's.*  For me, it's threefold.  First, the store-bought kind is expensive, especially if you look at what's in it; not having a can to hand, I couldn't tell you for certain, but it's primarily high-fructose corn syrup and a small amount of cocoa powder or something chocolate tasting.  Second, it's not particularly natural, as I like knowing what all my ingredients are, let alone being able to pronounce them. Thirdly, I live in England and while I'm sure I can find Hershey's or the equivalent, grocery shopping has often been an experience in frustration and/or settling (I think that may just be where I live; I don't remember it being so bad in Leicester or London).

*Is there any other kind?  Also, the squeeze bottles suck; you can't get as much out as you can by just removing the lid from the can and scraping it out with a spoon.

I'm not opposed to high-fructose corn syrup per se.  In fact, I'll argue for it--it isn't any worse for you than sugar.  Because it is sugar.  It's all bad for you, no matter what form.  Honey isn't any better for you either, although if it's local I suppose it could at least help with allergies.  My problem with high-fructose corn syrup is the same as my problem with sodium, preservatives, and food colouring: there's too much of it in prepared foods.  High-fructose corn syrup is used instead of sugar (I presume) because it won't crystallize and make that pre-packaged meal grainy.

All that said, when I went looking for a chocolate syrup recipe today, I wanted one that didn't call for any kind of sugar syrup like Karo.  Not because I'm inherently against it, but because I don't have any.  I also didn't want any dairy, or really anything that could spoil, because we don't have a lot of use for chocolate syrup--the only reason I made it today is for dessert on Father's Day.  My husband hates ice cream and we rarely have chocolate milk, in part because we don't have chocolate syrup and in part because we don't drink a lot of milk.  So for longevity's sake, I wanted the simplest recipe possible.

The one I found I've actually made before.  Years ago on Alton Brown's Good Eats, he made some homemade chocolate syrup, and I've been fascinated with the idea since then.  I didn't use his recipe however.  Instead, I used one I found here, which was apparently taken from Amy Dacyczyn’s The Complete Tightwad Gazette.  The original recipe is as follows (per most things, I modified it).

½ cup cocoa powder
1 cup water
2 cups sugar
⅛ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon vanilla
Mix the cocoa powder and the water in a saucepan. Heat and stir to dissolve the cocoa. Add the sugar, and stir to dissolve. Boil for 3 minutes over medium heat. Be careful not to let it get too hot and boil over! Add the salt and the vanilla. Let cool. Pour into a clean glass jar, and store in the refrigerator. Keeps for several months, but trust me it will be gone before then. Yields two cups.

The first thing I forgot to do was halve the recipe.  Oops.  I now have more chocolate syrup than I know what to do with.  The second thing I did was to cut the sugar by half a cup.  Because the plan for this batch is to go over brownies (also homemade, with a cream cheese layer in the middle), I didn't want it too sweet.  I love the Betty Crocker brownies--though I've not made the cream cheese ones before--but they're so sweet and sugary that even after baking you can feel undissolved sugar crystals crunch in your teeth (hence why I don't make them often).  That, and the first time I experimented with this recipe left me a mess of crystallized sugar in the bottom of the jar after a couple of weeks (months) in the fridge.  That problem is solved by microwaving it briefly and lots of stirring, but I'm hoping that reducing the amount of sugar will lessen the problem (I'm sure it won't solve it, just as I'm sure that a bit of Karo would).

The husband's verdict is that it'll be fabulous over the brownies, and was excellent in chocolate milk, but that it's not sweet enough on it's own.  Since it's not designed to be eaten on it's own, that's fine by me.

So my recipe is this:

½ cup cocoa powder
1 cup water
1½ cups sugar
pinch salt (good sized)
vanilla (I used two capfuls, pour in what you feel.  please use real extract, or I will cry)
Whisk cocoa powder and water in a saucepan over medium heat to dissolve cocoa (cocoa can form lumps if done with a spoon). Add sugar, whisk to dissolve.  Boil for 5 minutes over medium heat, whisking close to constantly, and watch to make sure it doesn't boil over.  Remove from heat, and whisk for another 2 minutes.  Add salt and vanilla, whisk for another minute.  Cool, then pour into glass (or microwave safe plastic) wide-mouth jar, and store in the refrigerator.  If it crystallizes, microwave on high for 20 seconds and stir briskly.  Repeat as needed.  Keeps for several months.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Tapas Night

Now I have to be honest and admit that I neither cooked this meal nor did I partake of it. I'm really quite jealous, but to be fair, I have had similar meals before at my parents'. Dad was obviously impressed with the meal as well, since he asked Mom to take a couple of pictures of it before they ravaged it.

The pig oversees all meals at my parents' house.  Also note the large, primary wine rack in the corner.
The secondary wine rack (for multiple bottles of a vintage) is downstairs.

On the black plate is a Eugene City Bakery french roll, and next to it in the white lotus bowl are meatballs in tomato sauce.  On the two black fan plates are prosciutto wrapped Tuscan-style cantaloupe and brussels sprouts (left) and anchovies with roasted red pepper on parsley that's been lightly dressed with oil and a sprinkle of Cypress flake salt (right).  In the first bowl behind the fan plates is chorizo (pre-cooked) that's been oven-roasted in red wine, followed by blanched asparagus (cut) with crispy prosciutto (left) and baby carrots in white wine, butter, honey and tarragon (right).

The two lotus bowls contain aioli (a garlic mayonnaise); one is simple garlic aioli, the other is onion and habanero aioli.  On the white sqare plate is manchego cheese topped with membrillo (quince jelly/paste).  Next to that is a dish of green olives.  Lastly there's patatas bravas--roasted baby potatoes with spicy rub (left) and a bowl of sliced cantaloupe (right).  Added after the photo was taken was a dish of marcona almonds.

The wine was Emperador de Barros, a 2009 Tempranillo from Ribera del Guadiana, Spain.  If you live in Eugene, Market of Choice carries it and it's relatively inexpensive (this is my mother's definition of "relatively inexpensive," so I would guess it's between $9 and $18--her definition tends to vary on the day).

As I said, I wasn't involved in this, but I can make some guesses as to how it was put together.  The meatballs were homemade, most likely a mixture of pork and beef.  Get some quality lean beef and mix it with ground pork (about a 70%-30% beef-pork mix), and you've got a surefire way to have delicious ground meat dishes, be they hamburgers, meatloaf, cottage pie, meatballs, or anything else.  In the past, we've experimented with mixing wagyu and pork, but it's way too moist to work with (but made the best meatloaf ever).  Ground veal also adds a lovely flavour, but that's a bit harder to come by, and some people think that eating veal is cruel.*  I am not one of those people, however (it's no more cruel than eating any other animal).

The tomato sauce is probably oven-roasted tomatoes, onions, and garlic, puréed together.  It's dead simple to make and a brilliant sauce for basically anything you might want a tomato sauce for.  Take a big Pyrex baking dish (NOT metal), and drizzle a small amount of olive oil in the bottom.  Throw a load of sliced (fairly thin) onions in the pan and toss them around a bit to coat with the oil (don't worry if you miss some).  Then halve your nice, fresh, vine-ripened, flavourful tomatoes.  This doesn't really work with store-bought, even if they say "organic" and "vine-ripened," so hit up the farmer's market or your garden to get some tomatoes with real flavour.  Lay them cut side down, cramming as many into the baking dish as you can whilst ensuring they're touching the onions.  Then add some fresh peeled whole cloves of garlic, tucking them under the tomato halves so the garlic doesn't burn.  Drizzle some more olive oil over the tomatoes, and rub it into the skins a bit so they're coated (helps them brown and makes the skins easy to remove).  Lastly sprinkle liberally with salt--I recommend Kosher, but any sea salt is good, just avoid iodized NaCl, blech!  Then roast at about 325ºF until there's bubblage (bubbles are good, caramelization is fine, burned is bad) in the bottom, and most importantly, the tomato skins are brown.  You'll know it's done when you can grab a tomato skin and easily lift it off.  When it's cool enough, pull the skins off, and purée.  It freezes beautifully, and can be seasoned as needed.  You probably won't need to add sugar to this tomato sauce!

Though homemade aioli is the best, homemade mayo is a pain to do, and some people are convinced that raw eggs will kill them (this is unlikely at best--only about 1 egg in 100 is contaminated, and the likelihood of you getting that particular one to eat raw is quite small).  Regardless, the easiest way to do make a flavoured aioli is to get good quality FULL-FAT mayo, and mix stuff in.  Cheating, yes, but a whole lot faster and those among you who may be paranoid can rest assured that mass-produced mayo includes only pasteurized eggs.  The easiest way to make garlic aioli is to take a couple of big spoonfuls of Best Foods/Hellman's (full-fat) mayo and mix it with finely diced/pressed FRESH garlic (nothing out of a jar.  If it's in a jar, it's not fresh.)  The garlic flavour will strengthen, so unless it's really weak, give it an hour or so before you decide to add more garlic.  I assume the onion-habanero aioli followed a similar principle.

I've not had the potatoes or carrots before, so I can't guess at how those were made, but the chorizo in red wine is delicious, and again, dead easy.  Take some pre-cooked, cured chorizo (you don't want fresh/raw for this) and slice it into bite-sized chunks.  Then toss it in a baking dish with some red wine, slosh it around to coat (you don't want loads of wine in the bottom of the baking dish, just a bit), and toss it in the oven (350ºF) until the wine has reduced and nicely coated the chorizo with it's flavour, and the chorizo is hot through.  Eat it with a bit of garlic aioli, and ignore how much fat you're putting into your body.  Actually, that last part is easy, because the flavour is so wonderful.

The nice thing about tapas is that they can be ridiculously simple to make, and because they're small plates, you can have a lot of different things.  If you're at a restaurant that serves tapas, it can be a great way to experiment, because you won't be getting massive amounts of it.

*Veal is cruel if you get the kind where the animal is kept in the dark and caged.  Long's Meat Market does not source their meat from places that do that.  Plus, I haven't heard of any farm that still raises veal that way, though I imagine some still do somewhere.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Étouffée: Recipe

One of my favorite dishes of all time used to be called Catfish Zoe by the chef/owner of the now defunct From the Bayou in Tacoma, Washington.  Catfish Zoe was a piece of flash-fried catfish--perfect and delicious in it's own right--smothered in crawfish étouffée, which was also amazing and delicious.  The chef was born and raised in Louisiana, and so he really did know his Cajun food, and the restaurant was a local hangout, particularly for Pacific Lutheran University students (the further point of the university was maybe 10 minutes away), with great food and a funky atmosphere.  The restaurant also had a website, on which the chef posted the recipes (though I'm guessing he altered them slightly).  So even though "Bayou" is gone, I can still recreate the many nights I spent too much money and drank too much wine--half-priced bottles of wine on Wednesdays--instead of studying.

I'm posting this now, because my parents are here in England, and will be joining us on Tuesday for a few days, before staying at my in-laws for a few more days.  Though my mother-in-law thinks I should make traditional English food for my folks, or something they wouldn't normally eat, this actually does fall into the second category.  Besides, all of my "traditional" British cooking has my own spin, and rarely ends up being English. Hey, we from the Pacific Northwest (or really, anywhere on the West Coast) believe in fusion cooking!

The recipe that follows is mine.  Though I originally based it on the one posted on From the Bayou's website, I've made so many changes, additions, and subtractions that it really doesn't resemble the original.  I will, however, include the opening paragraph, because it's informative.  I've copied it verbatim, hence the . . . well, let's just say that's not how I would have written it, punctuation-wise at least.

Etouffe means to "smother" in cajun cooking, it means covering a dish with a spicy sauce.  This sauce usually has one or a combination of crawfish, seafood, chicken or vegetables.  This is our most popular dish a From The Bayou.  A little 'lagniappe' info: the longer you cook the etouffe, the better the flavors.

2 tablespoons Butter
2 tablespoons Olive Oil
Bacon Grease (optional, not much as it can burn--don't use it to replace the olive oil)
1/2 teaspoon Cayenne Pepper
1/2 tablespoon Garlic Powder/Granules
1-2 dashes Tabasco
Salt (to taste)
Fresh Cracked Black Pepper (to taste)
2 teaspoons Garlic, minced
3 cups Onions, chopped
1 cup Bell Peppers, chopped (color of your choice, I prefer orange, red, and/or yellow)
2 1/2 cups Mushrooms, diced (about 2 cups), and sliced (about 1/2 cup)
1 Andouille Sausage, diced (optional, and should be the precooked variety)
1 tablespoon Flour (white, NOT self-rising)
1/2 cup Whipping/Heavy/Double Cream
2 cups Half and Half/Single Cream
3 ounces Tomato Paste (half of one of the small cans)
Prawns/Shrimp, Crawfish, Chicken, or other meat/seafood (or vegetables)
Lemon Juice

Melt butter and olive oil and bacon grease in a large, heavy-duty pot (I recommend Le Creuset, but anything like a dutch oven is good).  Add the onions, peppers, garlic, cayenne pepper, garlic powder, Tabasco, salt, and pepper.  Sauté, stirring occasionally, until the onions are translucent (about 10-15 minutes).  Add all the mushrooms and the andouille sausage and sauté for another 7-8 minutes.  Add the flour and mix it in thoroughly, cooking and stirring for 1 minute.  Add the cream and half and half.  Cook until the cream thickens, stirring often.  Try not to let it boil (a small amount of bubbling is fine).  Add the tomato paste and cook for another 15 minutes, still avoiding the boil.  Add the desired seafood or meat.  After the seafood/meat is cooked, add lemon juice to taste, and more salt if necessary.  The longer the étouffée simmers, the tastier it is.

**My Notes**
Andouille sausage really makes this dish, but it's not always easy to find.  If you're in Eugene, Long's Meat Market stocks cooked andouille, and it's wonderful.  If you live in England and you can find andouille (NOT chorizo, they are nothing alike and I wouldn't substitute one for the other ever) please tell me where so I can get some.

The tomato paste amount is approximate.  If you've had From the Bayou's étoufée, you might remember it's a pale pink color.  That's what you're going for (it takes a lot of stirring and then suddenly the color changes, so be patient).  I think it's about half a small can of tomato paste.  It seems that the small cans of tomato paste are the same basic size in both England and the US, and they seem to be just under 6 ounces or 150 grams.

I love crawfish, but I stopped using it, because I won't catch/crack my own, and all the pre-dressed crawfish I've seen comes from China and I'm a bit leery about using a lot of food products from that part of the world.

It's not supposed to boil.  It will.  Try to keep it from a rolling boil.  Burned cream sucks, so keep it at a simmer and stir often.

This is best served over flash-fried fish, but if you're lazy, it's good with rice or cornbread (a difficult endeavor in the UK as cornmeal is hard to find; look for dried polenta).  Bacon cornbread is always a treat, as is jalapeño cornbread.  Note that the bacon can just be precooked and crumbled into the batter with no problems, but the jalapeños need to be well drained or the cornbread's texture will change.  My friend Sarah uses a half-muffin, half-cornbread mix for better consistency, but I like playing with fire (read: I'm lazy).

If it looks all pretty when I make it tomorrow and serve it on Tuesday, I will add pictures to the post.  Otherwise, enjoy the recipe!

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Lækjarbrekka: Reykjavik, Iceland

Lækjarbrekka--the pronunciation is on you to figure out--was supposed to be our big "fancy" meal while in Reykjavik (that didn't strictly turn out to be the case, but that's a different story).  Their website is here, (in English, Icelandic, and Japanese) and we decided to go with the "Feasts" (prix fixé) menu.  These were three course meals, and while expensivish*, they were a pretty good deal, although wine was not included.  Which, by the way, the house red is quite nice.  Sadly, not all the feasts listed on the website were offered when we ate there, but no regrets were had.

*I understand that cost is relative, based on personal habits, income, currency conversion, and so forth.  I try to describe restaurant prices based off of what I think a more "normal" person would consider expensive, since I personally don't think $50 (excluding a 20% tip) is an unreasonable sum of money for a meal that someone else made and served to you, and I happily dropped nearly $500 on a meal for two once upon a time (note: totally worth it).  But that's just me.  PS  You should tip in the US.  If you can't afford to leave at least a 15% tip (based off the total bill) when you go out to eat, you can't afford to go out to eat.  Like it or hate it, that's how it goes.

I had the Icelandic Langustine Feast, which was slightly different than the website's menu.  The first course was creamy langustine soup with a taste of cognac and whipping cream, and it was absolutely divine.  Perfectly smooth, with the lovely sweetness of langustines, the warmth from the cognac, and the coolness from the cream.  Think of the best lobster bisque you've ever had, and this was probably better.  The flavours all played beautifully off one another, and did I mention the perfect, velvety smoothness?

My second course was langustine three ways.  The first way the tails were grilled in garlic butter (4 tails), which were beautifully flavoured, slightly crispy where they were grilled, and smooth and sweet and moist on the inside, and thankfully, popped from the shell (as is traditional with the tails, but still much appreciated; I hate having to pick at my food before I can consume it).  Also on the plate was tempura fried langustine chunks (about 2 tails worth), which were delicious, but probably the weakest part of the meal.  They were nice, but they just didn't shine compared to the other preparations.  Lastly were chunks of langustine (again, about 2 tails worth) in saffron sauce.  The langustine was very simply done; it might have just been poached in the saffron sauce, given how succulent and moist it was.  I'm not a big fan of saffron usually; I don't know why, but I don't like the flavour of saffron--normally this suits me fine, since I have expensive enough tastes already.  This sauce, however, could make me change my mind--I'm fairly certain the vast amounts of butter in the sauce may have had something to do with my enjoyment.  Icelandic butter is like crack, by the way, it's so good.  And there was a load of the buttery saffron sauce, so I was able to dunk my tempura langustine in it as well.

Third course was dessert, and that was an interesting concoction.  I adored the creativity, if I wasn't a big fan of the flavours.  Essentially, it was an ice cream torte: the bottom layer was solid dark chocolate (not ice cream, but chocolate), the middle layer was a blueberry sorbet (I don't really like blueberries), and the top layer was an anise ice cream (also don't really like anise).  The flavours all combined beautifully, however, and went very well with the strawberry coulis that was on the plate.  The combination of the textures was also really intriguing; a bit unexpected, but nice.  The solid crack of the cold dark chocolate, combined with the cold, ever-so-slightly grittiness of the blueberry sorbet, and the almost foamy smoothness of the anise ice cream.  All in all, totally worth trying, even if the flavours were not my first choices.

Adam had the Lamb Feast, which was also totally fabulous.  His first course was lamb carpaccio and smoked lamb with a crisp salad.  Choosing the better of the two preparations was not possible--they were both excellent in their own ways, and neither of us could decide which was better, though I wasn't given multiple chances to compare!  The carpaccio was buttery soft and smooth, as delicate as you'd expect lamb to be, and while I would have never thought of lamb carpaccio (more of a beef thing in my mind), I'm glad someone thought of it, because it works really well.  But then I like my meat cooked at medium or less (mostly less...I like steak tartare, carpaccio, and sushi, and pork should be pink in the middle).

His second course was roasted lamb with crispy roasted potatoes and a thyme sauce; simple, traditional preparation, and oh so tasty.  He was given the option of cooking time, and after a confused look at me (he didn't get lamb much before we met, and to be fair, not much after, either), he ordered it as the chef suggested, medium rare (which is how he eats his steaks, so that was ok).  It was probably the best of everything we ate at Lækjarbrekka, and that's really saying something.

But Adam's dessert was also to die for.  It was the chocolate special of the house, and it was three small chocolate dishes.  The first was a small ball of chocolate sorbet.  Again, simple, but the sweet and the chocolate were perfectly balanced, making for a rich, flavourful, but not heavy sorbet.  The second one was a tiny chocolate soufflé.  Again, simple and traditional, but soufflés do require some mastery, and this one was light and airy and moist, and rich, but not overpoweringly sweet.  And the size was really cute.  The last of the three was the true masterpiece, however.  It was a white chocolate mousse.  I'm not a mousse fan, nor do I particularly like white chocolate.  I would have cheerfully beaten Adam to death for it, however.  Perfectly smooth, a bit thin (which is probably what I liked it, but it also worked well to put a bit on the soufflé), and all the nice flavours that exist in white chocolate without the flavours that I associate with cheap tasting chocolate (as white chocolate so often does to me, even not-cheap white chocolate).

All in all, I would completely recommend Lækjarbrekka.  Lonely Planet describes it as having half an eye on the tourist dollar (krona, whatever), and while that may be true, the food was top notch, and the building is lovely.  The service was also good, though we had problems getting the bill.  We had this problem elsewhere in Iceland, so I think it might have something to do with us not understanding the local protocol.


Food is one of the great passions of life.  It's at the very least one of my passions.  This blog will share my cooking experiences and experiments, as well as all the tasty food that I encounter on my travels.  I'll also post about wine and beer, including our experiments in home brewing.