April 30, 2009

Home Creamery: Butter

Butter is one of those essential pantry items we often take for granted--and we shouldn't. If you buy butter, you can't control the fat content, and the salt content of salted butters is dependant on the dairy or creamery where it's made, or even on the season. Oh, and one more thing: your favorite butter might become unavailable.

The butter I preferred over all others was only available at one chain market in the Portland metropolitan region, and they quit carrying it because of slow sales. I could have gotten it online--at more than twice the price--but I refused to spend $8 for a pound of butter, plus shipping. I managed to get the price down to $5 plus shipping, but only if I would buy at least 24 pounds at a time.

The solution? I made butter myself. One quart of heavy cream yielded about one pound of butter plus a cup-and-a-half of uncultured buttermilk. Cost? $4.69. Time involved? About 20 minutes, including 15 minutes of waiting while the mixer did all the work. Equipment required? A Kitchen Aid stand mixer for the method I used, but I'm sure it could be done with a hand mixer, a butter churn, or even a glass jar.

This may be the easiest thing I've ever done. I knew from my previous experience as a pastry chef that if I didn't pay attention to cream when whipping it, I'd end up with butter. So I did that on purpose. I poured a quart of room temperature heavy cream into the bowl of the mixer, turned the mixer on low to get started, and then speeded it up when the cream started to come together a bit. After about 10 minutes, it was almost butter, so I slowed the speed down. After another minute or so, the near-butter solidified rather quickly.

Next, I washed the butter, then pressed the water out. I probably should press a bit more next time, because there's still a bit of buttermilk present in the butter, but it's absolutely delicious!

Making butter this way is impressively easy. It might be a bit spendy to use for cooking and making clarified butter, but for spreading on some good bread--or impressing guests--nothing can top homemade butter. I might even try making Vanilla Shortbread Cookies with it.

April 24, 2009

Pantry Soup

[caption id="attachment_161" align="aligncenter" width="450" caption="Chicken Soup"]Chicken Soup[/caption]

What's pantry soup? That's when you make a soup out of what you have in your pantry and freezer. The trick is to make sure you have a ready supply of the sorts of things you almost always need.

I make it a rule never to buy parts of a chicken, only the whole chicken. The only exception is when I buy chicken livers so that I can feed my friend's cat, Beau, his favorite treat--minced chicken livers with garlic. Recently I needed two chicken leg quarters to make dinner for two, so I was left with two half-breasts and a carcass. The two half-breasts went into freezer bags for later. The carcass I made into stock.

Another rule I follow is never throw away vegetable parts. I save all parts of carrots, celery, onions, and mushrooms for stock-making. If I don't need them right away, they go into a freezer bag. Yes, they're better fresh. No, I don't always make stock right away.

[caption id="attachment_160" align="alignleft" width="256" caption="Chicken Soup Mise en Place"]Chicken Soup Mise en Place[/caption]

So, it was time to make lunch. The freezer yielded a quart of chicken stock, a chicken breast, and a bag of frozen peas. The crisper drawer yielded a carrot and celery stalk, plus half an onion from the previous night. I found some lemon pappardelle in a cupboard.

I brought the stock to a gentle boil and added the chicken breast to poach it. Meanwhile, I diced the mirepoix. Once the chicken was reasonably cooked, I pulled it out of the pot to cut it into bite-size chunks. The mirepoix and the chicken chunks went back into the pot along with the noodles. Any noodle would have been fine, or I could have added a grain like rice to make it gluten-free, waiting about 15 minutes to return the chicken to the pot. When the noodles were mostly done I added some frozen peas.

Total prep time? About 10 minutes while the chicken breast poached. Total cost? I'm not sure, but I'd estimate less than $2. That's two bucks. Or less. Because the chicken and stock were leftovers from other meals, the mirepoix couldn't have cost more than about 75 cents, I didn't use more than about 50 cents worth of frozen peas, and no more than 75 cents worth of noodles.

April 23, 2009

Home Creamery: Crème Fraîche

Crème Fraîche
Crème Fraîche

Setting up a home creamery to make your own dairy foods is really very simple and one of the best things you can do to economize. You'll also end up with better dairy foods as a result.

April 16, 2009

Capellini with Chicken and Mushrooms

[caption id="attachment_117" align="aligncenter" width="414" caption="Capellini with Chicken and Mushrooms"]Capellini with Chicken and Mushrooms[/caption]

Remember that roasted chicken? Well, half of it was still sitting in the refrigerator at lunch time! I removed the breast and cut it into chunks. Then I sliced up a couple of large crimini mushrooms. Meanwhile, a pot of salted water went onto the stove, and when it reached a boil, I tossed in some capellini.

I sautéed the mushrooms with some butter, olive oil, and minced garlic until the mushrooms were nicely colored, then deglazed the pan with about a tablespoon of chardonnay. I added the chicken and cooked until the mushrooms were done and the chicken was warmed. Then I added about a quarter of a cup of crème fraîche and reduced until the sauce was nicely thickened.

By then, the pasta was ready, so I drained it and tossed it with the chicken and mushroom sauce. A bit of minced parsely finished the dish.

So far, that chicken has produced dinner for two and lunch for two, and there's still a leg quarter and the rest of the carcass remaining.

April 15, 2009

Roast Chicken

[caption id="attachment_113" align="aligncenter" width="495" caption="Roast Chicken"]Roast Chicken[/caption]

I bought a whole chicken on sale. It was rather late in the day and I didn't feel like doing anything difficult, so I decided to roast it.

Roasting a chicken is really easy. You'll need a roasting pan and rack, or a nice grill pan, which is what I used. Start by rinsing the chicken, then drying it thoroughly, inside and out, with a paper towel. Let the chicken air dry while the oven is warming to 425º. Once the oven is ready, put the chicken in for 20 minutes, the reduce the heat to 400º. Roast it about another 40 minutes, until the temperature of the thigh meat reaches 175º.

While the oven was warming, I made a compound butter to put under the skin. A compound butter is butter mixed with seasonings, in this case minced garlic and a few herbs. I gently pushed the compound butter under the breast skin and massaged it into the breast meat to add flavor and moistness. I also crushed three cloves of garlic, rubbed the interior cavity of the chicken with the garlic and some salt, and then left the garlic in the cavity to add more flavor. Some fruit or herbs would have worked just as well.

I wanted a sauce with the chicken, so I sautéed the neck, heart(s) and gizzard with about one-half tablespoon each butter and olive oil, plus about one-quarter onion, minced. Once that was nicely browned, I deglazed the pan with about two tablespoons of chardonnay and added a cup of water. I then simmered until the liquid reduced to about half a cup. I strained and reserved the liquid.

The pan went back onto the stove with about two tablespoons each of butter and olive oil, in which I sautéed some sliced mushrooms. When they gave up their moisture I added some leftover caramelized onions, the reserved liquid, and about half a cup of red wine, and cooked until the liquid was reduced in half. I then added about a quarter cup of crème fraîche and simmered until the liquid was once again reduced to about a half cup.

A side salad, plus bow tie pasta dressed with extra virgin olive oil, a chiffonade of basil, and freshly cracked black pepper completed the meal for two. Total time was about 90 minutes, including waiting. Half the chicken remains to be used for something else.

April 7, 2009

Spring Salad

[caption id="attachment_90" align="aligncenter" width="452" caption="Spring Salad"]Spring Salad[/caption]

I walked into Whole Foods and saw that organic zucchini are on sale at only 99 cents per pound. It feels too hot to cook. Must have zukes for supper, but how? Then I read Michael Ruhlman's guest post on Simply Recipes about The Vinaigrette Ratio and decided a salad would be on the menu for supper.

Shredded raw zucchini is always nice in a salad. Add some shredded carrots and Pink Lady apple and you've got a nice slaw. I wanted more flavor, so I added some balsamic-caramelized onions. For additional texture and a nice bit of umami I added goji berries.

Next I made a simple vinaigrette using the classic 3:1 ratio. To the juice of half a navel orange I added white balsamic vinegar to make up 2 tablespoons, which I whisked together with 6 tablespoons of a nice Spanish olive oil. One clove of garlic, minced, and a pinch of fleur de sel provided punch.

I drizzled a bit of vinaigrette onto some mixed herbs and greens and tossed to coat. I used about one tablespoon of vinaigrette to two cups of greens so the greens would be just coated, but not swimming. The greens formed a bed upon which I heaped the slaw. The whole was topped with toasted sliced almonds.

It made a delicious and wholeseome vegan meal, and didn't take much time at all. As a bonus, the leftover vinaigrette will make a lovely marinade for chicken.

April 6, 2009

Making Crème Fraîche

Updated 4/8/'09

I watched a video on the 'Net about making crème fraîche. You may have seen that one or a similar one yourself. Looks easy enough.

Well, I needed some crème fraîche so went shopping. I can get eight ounces for six bucks, or maybe less, but really, does it matter? No, because it's supposed to be easy to make. So I bought a pint of organic heavy cream, pasteurized but not ultra-pasteurized, some buttermilk, and a half-liter jar. Total cost, $6.93. Could have spent less on the cream, but I was at Whole Foods (my favorite grocer) and that's what it cost.

Day One

Cleaned the jar, brought some water to a boil and sterilized it, then put the cream on the heat until just tepid. Poured it into the jar, added three tablespoons of buttermilk and stirred. Sealed the jar, put a note on it letting people know it's supposed to be out on the counter, and let it sit out. It's supposed to be at warm room temperature for 24 hours.

After 12 hours or so, I remembered I'm supposed to stir now and then, so I did. There's a very faint sour odor and taste--a really pleasant sour, not the throw-it-away sort of sour. Over the next 12 hours it has thickened slightly and developed a very pleasantly tangy sourness. It goes into the refrigerator at this point.

Day Two

After being in the refrigerator 24 hours it should have thickened. It thickened a little, but isn't as thick as I think it should be. But it tastes fine. It whipped nicely, and I added some chives and fleur de sel to it to use as a topping on a fritatta.

Making crème fraîche is extremely simple. I could buy it, paying between forty and eighty cents per ounce, but now that I've tried making it--at twenty-seven cents per ounce--I'll never buy it again.

I'll experiment a bit more to see if I can get a thicker crème. I'll update this post with results when I have some.

Update: "Looks easy enough," he said. Not so fast there, it isn't quite as simple as it looks.

I've checked half a dozen videos and about twenty recipes, on- and off-line. There is agreement that you need cream, that you heat the cream, that you add buttermilk, that you let it ferment, and that you refrigerate it.

The recipes all specified varying amounts of cream, but agreed that it should be 30% butterfat and pasteurized but not ultra-pasteurized. Then you heat the cream to between 85° and 105° Fahrenheit, or to body temperature, or to tepid. Then you add between one teaspoon and one and one-half tablespoons of buttermilk per cup of cream. The mixture sits out 8+ hours, or overnight, or 24 hours or 24-36 hours until thickened, and then is refrigerated 6 hours or overnight or 24 hours.

My Results

I used a pint (2 cups, 16 ounces) of heavy cream, heated to 105° Fahrenheit. I put three tablespoons of buttermilk into my half-liter jar and added the heated cream to fill, leaving about ¼ cup in the pan. After 24 hours, I was dissatisfied with the thickness so let it sit out another 12 hours. The flavor richened over that additional time, but did not get more sour. It went into the refrigerator, and after about 6 hours I could use it if I want, but it still isn't as thick as I'd like. I'm going to let it "age" a bit and see what happens.