Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Happy Happy Joy Joy - Mexican ingredients available in Australia

With only six weeks left here in the US, I was not looking forward to the prospect of leaving one of my new favourite styles of food - Mexican. Read proper mexican, not gringo mexican as Noemi would say, and certainly not the tex mex fare usually passed of as mexican in Australia. The sorts of ingredients I was after include whole dried chiles, such as ancho, guajillo, mulato, pasilla and chipotle, spices such as annatto seeds, mexican oregano and epazote (yay), as well as things such as masa harina and my tortilla press, which unfortunately I will have to leave behind.

Anyway the store is in Victoria and is called Aztec Products (http://www.aztecmexican.com.au/index.shtml). And for those of you wondering, this blog was as much about tell y'all as it was helping me remember this great find :)

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Vanilla Fest - Thai Coconut Vanilla Soup with Deep Fried Tofu

Well we had the vanilla fest last night with many dishes presented. For a complete rundown, head over to Alice & Steve's blog. I ended up cooking five dishes in all, and this was the first. It is inspired by Thai flavours, complemented by some crunchy bean shoots and deep fried tofu.

Thai Coconut Vanilla Soup with Deep Fried Tofu

Serves 6

2 cans coconut milk
1 red chili, sliced with seeds removed
1 inch ginger, sliced
3 cloves garlic
1 tbsp tamarind paste
2 kaffir lime leaves
1 vanilla pod, slit and scraped
2 stalks lemongrass, halved and bruised
1 tsp fish sauce
1 tbsp palm sugar
1-2 tbsp lime juice
1 pkt firm tofu, pressed then cubed
flour, for dusting
handful of bean shoots

1. Combine the coconut milk with the chili, ginger, garlic, vanilla, tamarind, lime leaves and lemongrass in a pot. Bring to a boil and simmer gently for about 15 mins to allow the flavours to infuse.

2. Add the fish sauce, palm sugar and lime juice. Taste, adding any of the three to balance salty (fish sauce), sweet (palm sugar), and sour (lime juice). Once balanced, either proceed with recipe or remove and allow to cool. This stage can be prepared up to a day in advance.

3. When ready to serve, toss the cubes of tofu in salt, pepper and a little flour. Heat vegetable oil to 350F (180C) then carefully drop in the cubes a few at a time. Fry until golden (about a minute), stirring occasionally.

4. To serve, reheat the soup and strain. Divide the bean sprouts between six bowls, pour the soup over the top then add the tofu.

Monday, January 7, 2008

A Bounty of Vanilla - What to do?

One of my favourite spices is vanilla, with it's heady sweet aroma. One vanilla pod is a bounty indeed, only to be surpassed by...

A fistful of vanilla beans! Thanks to Rocio's recent trip back to Mexico, I now have 156 vanilla beans.

While I needed to count them to truly understand the magnitude of the bounty before me, my thoughts quickly turned to what to do with them all.

First up vanilla sugar, which is simply a couple of vanilla beans (usually ones that are used for another application and wiped clean) slit in half, the seeds scraped out and all placed in a jar with sugar. Leave it for a few weeks then use as needed. It can be whipped into a little cream to make a great chantilly cream, or used in place of normal sugar in baking sweet pastries or cakes to add a great hint of vanilla.

My question to you is what to do? If you have any suggestions, let me know!

Thursday, January 3, 2008

Food for thought - The Realities of Industrial Pork Production

Warning, this is not pretty. Nor however are the conditions that over 99% of the livestock raised for meat in this country. Part of this blog is going to be a discussion on food itself, where it comes from, what goes into creating it, moving it, preparing it, eating it and cleaning up after it. Among the many food blogs that I read, I found an article on Chef Chris Cosentino's website referring to an article in the Rolling Stone Magazine (of all things) discussing the production of pork. While I won't go into details nor show the picks, you should have a look for yourself here.

Food for thought indeed.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Lemon Delicious Pudding after our First Pork Crackling in 10 Months

We had Alex over this evening for a delightful pre-Christmas meal. For those of you who don't know, Alex is another Postdoc at Purdue with whom I share an office. Anyway, the meal itself revolved around two things, our first pork crackling in 10 months, and a scrumptious lemon delicious pudding. Pork crackling is the skin of a piece of roast pork that is scored, salted and then goes really crispy. Unfortunately there were no pictures as it disappeared too soon, as it is one of Gemma's favourite foods. Along with the roast pork and crackling, we had roast potatoes, braised red cabbage, steamed broccoli, apple sauce and gravy made from the roast drippings.

For dessert I needed to try a recipe I have for lemon delicious pudding, which is basically a pudding that is lemon sponge cake on top and a thick lemon sauce underneath (it naturally settles that way during the cooking). The recipe itself comes from arguably one of the most useful cook books ever, Stephanie Alexander's "The Cook's Companion". The recipe turned out great, really lemony which was great after the pork.

The pudding once it's out of the oven and GBD (golden brown and delicious)!

A view inside, showing the sponge on the top and the sauce down the bottom.

From Stephanie Alexander's "The Cook's Companion":

Lemon Delicious Pudding

2 lemons
60g butter (4 tbsp)
1 1/2 cups sugar
3 eggs, separated
3 tbsp self-raising flour (or 3 tbsp flour and a pinch of baking powder)
1 1/2 cups milk

1. Preheat oven to 180C (350F) and butter a 1L (1 Quart) ovenproof basin or serving dish, OR butter 4 10oz ramekins.
2. Zest 1 lemon and juice both. In a food processor, cream butter with zest and sugar, then add egg yolks.
3. Add flour and milk alternately to make a smooth batter. Scrape mixture from sides of processor bowl and blend in lemon juice. Transfer to a bowl.
4. Wisk egg whites until creamy and firm and fold gently into batter. Pour batter into prepared basin. Stand basin in a baking dish and pour in hot water to come halfway up sides of basin. Bake for 1 hour. Allow to cool a little before serving.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

A look back to Thanksgiving to look forward to Christmas - The Turkey

I may have been lax so far in updating this blog, I thought that I would finally post about the turkey we did for Thanksgiving. We managed to wrangle a free range organic bird weighing 11 pounds from the local health food shop (rather than the local megamart).

There were six basic steps that I go through to prepare a turkey over two days:
1. Brine the turkey (two days out)
2. Dry the turkey (afternoon before)
3. Prepare the turkey for the oven (morning)
4. Cook the turkey low and slow, then
5. Glaze and brown the turkey high and fast
6. Rest the bird, carve then eat!

So we begin with step 1: the brine. Brining the turkey does a few things. It makes the bird plump and juicy, as well as seasoning the bird and introducing other flavours into the meat. The basic recipe for the brine is 3/4 cup of salt and 3/4 cup brown sugar to 1 gallon (4 Litres) of water. I ended up doubling this recipe for the turkey in order to fit it fully submerged in the bringing container.

To this you can add any number of flavours that will complement the final flavour profile you want. For this turkey, I went with bay leaves (3), black pepper corns (1 tbsp), cinnamon sticks (2) and juniper berries (1 tbsp). Simply place the sugar, salt and seasonings in a saucepan and add about 2 cups of the water. Bring to a simmer then simmer for about 10 mins. Allow to cool thoroughly then refrigerate along with the rest of the water you will use. Once cool, add the mix to the container then place in the bird, washed, which should be fully submerged in the brine. Leave it in a cool place for at least 8 hours or preferably overnight.

The turkey ready to be washed.

The turkey in the brine. Yes I used a cooler (an esky for those in OZ) as the container, as it keeps the bird cool. You can also add ice to the mix to keep the temperature down.

Step 2: Dry the bird. In order to get a nice skin formed, it's important that the bird is dried thoroughly. To do this, I remove the bird from the brine, rinse well then dry with kitchen paper (or an old kitchen towel). Place on the rack you will eventually cook it in, place it over a tray and stash in the refrigerator overnight.

Step 3: Prepare the turkey for the oven. The first step to this is to remove the bird from the refrigerator at least an hour before cooking to allow it to come to room temperature. As the first cooking is done at a low temperature, this step will greatly reduce the overall cooking time.

To prepare the turkey, we have to consider two things, the cavity and the roasting tray under the bird. Firstly, I never stuff the turkey with stuffing. The basic idea is that by the time the middle of the stuffing has reached the safe temperature for killing bacteria, the meat itself, especially the breasts will be overcooked and dry. However I do stuff the cavity with lots of aromatics. In this case, I used 1 lemon, 1 orange, 1/2 onion and a bunch of sage. Simply quarter everything and stuff it in the cavity. There is no need to season the cavity however as the brine has done that job for you.

In the roasting pan underneath the turkey, I place lots of vegetables to get a head start on the gravy. I used 3 carrots, 2 onions, 6 stalks celery and 2 heads garlic (yes whole heads). Simply chop roughly, and slice the heads of garlic in half. Place these in the bottom of the roasting tray before putting the turkey in it's rack on top. If you don't have a rack, just build a small mound from the vegetables and put the turkey straight on that. Finally give the skin of the turkey a good rub down with oil and it's ready for the oven.

Rubbing down the prepared turkey.

Step 4: Cook the turkey low and slow. One of the secrets to cooking such a large piece of meat is to actually cook it low and slow to start. This will bring the inside temperature of the meat up without overcooking the outside. So preheat the oven to 250F (120C) for about half an hour before placing the bird in the oven.

If you have a thermometer designed to go in the oven (the best way of ensuring a well cooked turkey) place it in the bird now. On the day I was about to use my probe thermometer, which consists of a thermocouple probe that stays in the turkey, connected to a temperature gauge outside the oven. Unfortunately the probe wire somehow burned out on the morning after about half an hour in the oven, so we quickly changed tac, went low tech, and stuck Robin's roasting thermometer in instead (the one you can see in the top pick). A final note, once you stick the thermometer in, it stays there until carving. Otherwise you end up with a gaping wound for any juice to pour out. That goes for the annoying little pop timer that most turkeys come with; leave it in but rely on your thermometer.

Once the bird is in the oven, you want to cook the bird until it registers an internal temperature of 155F (68C). While the safe temperature for turkey is 165F (74C), the turkey will continue cooking from both the hot blast once the glaze is on, as well as carryover. For those of you who don't know, carryover is the process where by the meat continues to cook even though you have removed it from the oven. Basically if it's done once it's removed, then it's overdone by the time it's rested. If you look closely at the picture at the top of the post, the final temperature of my glazed bird was just below 160F.

Step 5. Glaze and brown the turkey high and fast. Once the turkey has reached an internal temperature of 155F, remove the bird and raise the temperature of the oven to 450F (230C). Glaze the turkey with the prepared glaze then once the oven has reached the required temperature, place the bird back in for 5 mins. Remove, glaze again and cook for a further 5 mins. Finally remove the bird, give it a final glaze.

While you can use what ever you like in your glaze to match the flavour profile you are shooting for, I went with an orange, ginger and sage glaze. Simply reduce 1 1/2 cups orange juice with 2 tbsp brown sugar, 1 tbsp grated ginger and a few shredded sage leaves until syrupy.

6. Rest the bird, carve then eat! Resting is without a doubt one of the most important steps in roasting any meat, especially large pieces like turkey. A good rule of thumb is for a turkey this large to rest for about half an hour, any bigger and I would even go up to 45 mins. Once the final glaze has been applied, wrap the turkey well in aluminium foil and leave to rest UPSIDE DOWN. That's right, a little trick I picked up from Maggie Beer. Doing this will allow any juices to naturally make their way to the (usually dryer) breast meat, making it juicier.

The bird out of the oven and glazed.

Once rested, its then carved. My technique involves removing the whole breasts then slicing them separately. Remove the legs and thighs as one piece, then chop the leg off and if you want to be really fancy, bone the thigh and slice. In this way you guests will be able to get a bit of the white meat and a bit of the (more tastier) dark meat.

Finally, the gravy. While not essential for everyone, there is so much flavour going to waste in the bottom of the roasting tray it would be a shame not to turn it into a nice gravy. Once the bird is resting, place the roasting tray over heat (I was in Robin's kitchen so I had gas which was great). Add a little turkey stock to the tray and start scraping all the burnt looking bits from the pan with a wooden spoon (the French call those bits in the bottom of a roasting pan the fond, which is the foundation to all good meat sauces). Once most of the bits are dissolved into the stock, add some more stock (about 1 1/2 cups in all) and bring to a simmer, squishing the vegetables in the bottom of the pan to extract as much flavour as you can.

Once the mix has simmered for about 5mins, strain through a strainer, again pressing on all the vegetables to extract as much liquid as possible. Allow the liquid to settle to see how much fat comes to the surface. Pour this fat off into a saucepan and add enough butter for there to be about 2 tbsp of fat in all. Add 2 tbsp flour and cook for a few minutes. Add the liquid, a little at a time at first, stirring all the while, until all is added. Simmer this until thickened. This is your basic gravy (or more correctly a veloute) which you can either serve as is (once you have tasted for seasoning) or jazz it up. In my case, I added a tablespoon of pomegranate glaze, a tablespoon of cream and a tablespoon of butter to give it a further richness. Finally, taste for seasoning to see if it needs more salt. Serve with the sliced turkey and enjoy!

Thursday, November 29, 2007

A Belated Thanksgiving Post

Well I can't say that I haven't have time, and I can't say that I have nothing to say. All I can say is that I am finally around to uploading some details of the large thanksgiving meal we had last week. I think possibly it was the size of the task at hand, with three starters, fourteen different main dishes and three desserts. Even so, there was not a lot of preparitory work to do in the days leading up to thanksgiving, mainly making both turkey and vegetable stock.

So, to start we had a duo of soups: a butternut squash soup with sage, and a cream of asparagus soup with fresh thyme. We served these with delicious little cheese biscuits Robin made, and a selection of local Indiana cheeses we bought from the local cheese shop on Main street (yes Main Street is the main street through Lafayette). We also enjoyed a rather nice mulled cider while people were milling around (for those outside the US, cider refers usually to unfilted apple juice, where as hard cider is alcoholic).

The main meal was made up of the following dishes:

Roast organic turkey with an orange, ginger & sage glaze
Vegeloaf with roasted red pepper sauce
Cranberry apple and maple sauce
Pomegranate gravy
Country bread, italian sausage and sage dressing
Potato, spinach and gruyere gratin
Stuffed sweet potatoes with pecan and marshmallow streusel
Green beans with olives, lemon and toasted almonds
Brussel sprouts in brown butter with pancetta
Honey glazed radishes
Maple roasted parsnips
Baked carrots with cumin & thyme
Skillet cornbread with pancetta and poblanos
Honey saffron loaf

Dessert involved two dishes of my own making and one of Noami's creations from Mexico:
Pumpkin custard profiteroles with glazed maple pecans
Angel food cake with and orange and orange blossom water syrup
Pineapple upside-down cake (volteado de piƱa)

I will slowly post them over the following days along with pictures, but to get us started, the starters!

Butternut squash soup with sage

1 butternut squash, cubed
2 tbsp butter
1 white onion, chopped
1 stalk sage, leaves removed and chopped, stalk retained
1 cup vegetable stock (home made preferably)
1 cup whole milk
Salt and pepper to taste

Simply steam the cubes of squash until very tender. Mash with a fork and place in a sieve over a bowl and leave for about an hour. Sweat the onion in the butter with a pinch of salt and the sage stalk (not the leaves) until softened. Add the squash and stock and simmer for 10 mins. Add the milk, simmer for a further 2 mins then process in either a blender or food processor. Put back into a saucepan and add sliced sage, and salt and pepper to taste. Keep warm until ready to serve.

Cream of asparagus soup

Bunch of asparagus, wshed and chopped into inch pieces
2 tbsp butter
1 onion, diced
1 cup vegetable stock (preferably home made)
3 springs thyme
1/2 cup cream
Salt and pepper to taste

Sweat the onion in the butter with a pinch of salt until softened (3 mins). Add the asparagus and cook for a further 2 mins. Add the vegetable stock and two stalks of thyme and simmer until the asparagus is tender. Process in a blender or food processor (removing the stalks of thyme) and place back in the saucepan. Add the cream, the leaves from the final stalk of sage and salt and pepper to taste. Keep warm until ready to serve.