July 31, 2009

Bacon

Bacon3

Mmm, bacon. I need some bacon for the BLT From Scratch Challenge, and I've never cured meat before, so it's time to do a test.

For this first bacon I used the recipe and method in Jam It, Pickle It, Cure It. There are excellent recipes in Michael Ruhlman's Charcuterie and The Paley's Place Cookbook by Vitaly Paley. I'll try both eventually.

For this recipe you'll need to get some curing salt, sometimes called "pink salt," Prague powder, or Insta-Cure #1. Don't confuse this pink salt with actual pink salt from Australia or the Himalayan Plateau. Curing salt includes salt, sodium nitrate, sodium nitrite, and other ingredients, and is commonly dyed pink to make it visually different from regular salt.

Bacon1Bacon Cure

½ cup sugar
1 tablespoon blackstrap molasses
2 tablespoons kosher or sea salt
1 teaspoon curing salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground pepper

Rinse, trim, and dry one hunk of pork belly of about 2½-3 pounds so that it's rectangular. Then mix the cure ingredients together and rub it into the pork belly on both sides and along the edges.

Bacon2

Put the belly into a plastic bag if you have one big enough, or into a glass dish that will hold it and cover with plastic wrap. Put into the refrigerator to cure.

Every day for the next week, massage the juices that have accumulated back into the meat and turn it over. If it still feels squishy anywhere after a week, continue to cure for another day or two. Then you're ready to smoke or roast the bacon.

For this first batch I roasted the bacon in a 200°F oven for about 2 hours until the interior temperature reached 150°F. Then I brushed genuine liquid hickory smoke on both sides and let it cool.

Bacon

This was my first home-cured bacon and I will never buy bacon again. It's just plain silly to buy that which can be made so easily and so very much better than store-bought.

July 29, 2009

Home Creamery: Ricotta Salata

Ricotta Salata

A couple of weeks ago I was out at Kookoolan Farms to take a goat cheese class. While I was there I picked up a nice basket mold for ricotta salata. Raw goat milk was available at a nearby farm. I had everything I needed to try to make ricotta salata.

Ricotta Salata 1I decided to follow, more or less, the instructions in Jam It, Pickle It, Cure It. First, I made a batch of Whole Milk Ricotta using a full gallon of raw goat milk. I used the two-pan method to heat the milk; that's milk in a smaller pan, water in a larger pan, small pan into the water. I find it gives much better control with much less risk of scorching.

Ricotta Salata 3

The curds are fairly fragile at first, so I carefully ladled them into a colander line with butter muslin. Ricotta Salata 4Then I used a food-safe rubber band to make the muslin into a bag and hang it from the skimmer to let the cheese drain.

Ricotta Salata 5After an hour, I carefully transferred the curds to the ricotta mold. I used a bit of plastic over the cheese, then set a plate on top and a can of tomatoes on the plate to use as a weight.Ricotta Salata 6

The instructions say to remove the cheese from the mold after an hour and turn it over. That didn't seem reasonable because of the shape of the mold, so I added more weight and continued to press the cheese for about 8 hours.

When I was satisfied that it was drained as thoroughly as it would be, I unmolded the cheese and salted it liberally with cheese salt. Then I wrapped it in cheesecloth and put it into the refrigerator. Every couple of days for the next two weeks I salted the cheese and changed the cheesecloth.

The cheese turned out very tasty and fairly creamy, with a slight hint of goaty-ness. It isn't a grateable cheese, but that's just a matter of continuing to age it before tasting.

Overall, I'm rather pleased with the result, especially because this was my first attempt at making a semi-hard cheese. Now that I know cheesemaking isn't really all that difficult, I'll try some longer-aging cheeses.

July 25, 2009

Sauces: Pesto

Pasta with Pesto

The basil in the garden is going wild; some of it is starting to bolt. It's definitely time to preserve some of it before it's too late, and one of the best ways to preserve basil is in pesto.

There are as many ways to make pesto as there are Italian grandmothers. If you have an Italian grandmother, get her to show you how she makes pesto and use her method and recipe. I don't have one, so I'm on my own.

There are two traditional ways to make pesto. Some traditionalists insist that a mezzaluna is required so that everything can be chopped by hand and mixed with olive oil. Other purists rejoineder with the mortar and pestle, claiming it's the only way to mash the leaves to get a true paste. Someday I may try the mortar and pestle version, but for now I'm using a food processor.

I don't measure anything when I make pesto, so I can't give you a detailed recipe, but it doesn't matter, because there is no one true pesto. What I prefer is to start with parmigiano reggiano and pecorino romano in about 2:1 proportions, roughly grated. I add two or more cloves of garlic, depending on the size and season, and about the same quantity of toasted pine nuts as grated cheese. Then I add a small handful of Italian parsley leaves and two or three handsful of basil.

After pulsing the food processor a couple of times I'll add two or three more handsful of basil leaves and pulse again to roughly chop and mix everything. If it looks like enough basil, I'll start the processor and drizzle in extra virgin olive oil until there's just enough for the pesto to hold together, but not enough for it to be soupy. Next I taste and add a pinch or so of salt if needed, pulse once or twice, and taste again. Once I'm satisfied with the flavor, I add a generous squeeze of fresh lemon juice to brighten the flavor and preserve the color.

Whatever pesto I don't need right away goes into ice cube trays for freezing. Once the cubes are frozen I put them into a freezer bag so that whenever I need a bit of pesto I only need to grab a cube or two.

July 23, 2009

Improved Basic Bread Dough

Batard

What, again with the bread? Yes, because I'm obsessed by the memory of a flavor.

I have this taste memory of bread from the bakery in Rettigheim--it's too small to be located on any but the most detailed maps of Germany--and I want bread like that again. I want a crust that resists the bite without shattering, a somewhat dense bread that isn't really heavy, with moist chewiness but not too much of it. I want the flavor of good wheat, a hint of the sweetness of oats, and just a bit of the sharp bite of rye. I want a bread that, with a glass of wine, makes a meal, and with some cheese, fruit, and nuts, makes a feast. I want a bread that olive oil wants to marry, that marmalade dreams of. In short, I want a bread that I can eat for the rest of my life and be satisfied, even if I never have any other variations on the theme.

There are many good books out there about bread baking, like The Bread Baker's Apprentice. If you want to get serious about bread baking, buy it, it's a great book. I read it, and tried a few things from it, but it involves more work than I really want for my everyday bread. I'm just not that serious about bread baking.

Honestly, I'm most happy with the simplicity of the basic bread recipe in Ratio:  20 ounces of flour, 12 ounces of water, 2 teaspoons of salt, and 1 teaspoon of yeast. If you haven't yet purchased a copy of Ratio yet you really need to get one.

What I've finally settled on--okay, maybe it isn't final, but it's close--is 1½ ounces of rye flour, 1 ounce of oat flour, and 17½ ounces of unbleached white flour, all from Bob's Red Mill. I use a heaping teaspoon of Bob's Red Mill Active Dry Yeast to compensate for the heaviness of the oat flour. I also add a splash of extra virgin olive oil and about a teaspoon of honey to feed the yeast; I don't measure either of these ingredients.

I proceed as in the standard bread dough recipe in Ratio and my previous post; usually I'll do this when I start making dinner. Once the bread is kneaded and has risen for about an hour (and the dinner dishes are done), I put it into the refrigerator to continue rising overnight. The next morning I punch it down, shape it, and let it rise until nearly doubled in size. Then I score and bake it.

The resulting bread is moist, fairly dense without being heavy, has a nice crust that doesn't shatter, and a really good flavor. It would be better if I had the patience to make a sourdough starter, but I don't. I wonder if adding a small amount of semolina will improve it?

July 17, 2009

Home Creamery: Mascarpone

Strawberry and Ranier Cherry Parfait

Mascarpone, the queen of dessert cheeses. At least it is when it's freshly made. The mascarpone available in most stores is a little rubbery and a bit too citrusy. The real thing has a texture like whipped cream about to turn to butter and an ethereal, ever-so-slightly tart flavor.

Cream of Tartar vs Tartaric AcidTo make mascarpone you'll need tartaric acid. In spite of what you might have read, cream of tartar is not tartaric acid; rather, it's a derivative of tartaric acid. You cannot subsitute one for the other with any hope of success. In the picture to the right, the powdery cream of tartar is on the left, and the crystaline tartaric acid is on the right.

Mascarpone 1You'll also need a double boiler setup of some sort, or you could just use two pans like I did. A thermometer is mandatory. You'll need to line a stainless steel colander with a double layer of butter muslin to finish the cheese. Set the colander into a bowl to catch the whey.

Heat one quart/liter of half-and-half or cream to 185°F/85°C. Then add ¼ teaspoon/1.25mL tartaric acid and stir until the dairy thickens. It should be thick enough to be reminiscent of cream of wheat or farina, and the spoon or whisk you're stirring with should leave tracks behind. It takes a good five minutes or so to coagulate, so have some patience.

Mascarpone 2When the dairy is thickened, pour it into the muslin-lined colander and let it drain for about an hour at room temperature. Carefully spoon the cheese into a container, cover, and refrigerate overnight; in a dessert emergency, you can use it once it's chilled a couple of hours. It will keep in the refrigerator up to two weeks, not that you'll have any around that long.

Mascarpone has many uses: cannoli, tiramisu, cheesecake, or it can be served plain. I used it to make the dessert pictured above, which has quartered strawberries in mint simple syrup on the bottom, mascarpone, and Rainier cherries on top. The dollop on top that looks like whipped cream? More mascarpone. Delicious.

July 15, 2009

Pickled Beets

Pickled Beets

In the garden, the beets are beginning to look like they're ready to eat. If I have a large crop, I'll want to pickle some of them.

There are three steps required for good pickled beets, and all three take some time. First you need to make a good picking vinegar, then the beets need to be roasted, and finally you'll preserve the beets in the vinegar and wait at least a month.

Pickling Vinegar MisePickling Vinegar
1 tablespoon whole cloves
1 tablespoon whole allspice berries
1 tablespoon pink peppercorns
1½ teaspoons white peppercorns
2 mace blades
2 cinnamon sticks
5 cups white wine vinegar

Bring to a boil, then cool slightly and pour into a glass container. Store in a cool, dark place for 2 weeks. Strain.

Now that your vinegar is ready, roast the beets. I suggest wrapping them in foil and roasting them slowly to release as much sugar as possible. As soon as the beets are cool enough to handle, peel them. Then slice, dice, quarter, or leave baby beets whole.

Put the beets into one or more sterilized jars, leaving plenty of room for the vinegar to cover them. If you wish, put some of the whole spices from the vinegar recipe into the jars as well. For spicy beets, add chiles to taste. Chipotles work nicely if you want a smoky heat.

Bring the strained vinegar to a boil and carefully pour it into the jars to cover the beets. Seal the jars and store in a cool, dry place for at least a month, or up to two months for best flavor.

If you don't have time to make pickling vinegar, distribute the spices from the recipe evenly between the jars and add boiling vinegar. The flavors won't have as much time to develop, but the pickle will still be okay.

July 12, 2009

Chicken and Veal Stew

Veal and Chicken Stew

I needed a meal for four. I had chicken for two, veal shanks for two, and absolutely no desire to go to the store. A look into the pantry revealed potatoes and carrots. I had what I needed for a stew!

Veal and Chicken Stew 1The first step was to braise the veal shanks. A braise will be successful if the meat is dredged in seasoned flour, then browned before beginning the actual braise. There's nothing fancy here, just some salt and freshly ground pepper in flour. Be sure to leave air around each piece while browning, even if you have to do it in stages, as in this case.

Veal and Chicken Stew 2It isn't strictly necessary to use aromatics, but I really like to melt some mirepoix to make an extra rich broth. I didn't have celery, so I used carrots, onions, and red capsicum (bell pepper), better known as the Cajun trinity. I just cooked the trinity in some extra virgin olive oil until the onions were starting to look translucent.

Veal and Chicken Stew 3You really need wine and stock for a good braise, although stock alone will work fine. I had some wild mushroom stock left over, and a goodly stock of dried wild mushrooms to make more. I put the shanks into the pan and added hot stock until it was about halfway up the shanks. This went into a 350°F/175°C oven, uncovered, for about three hours. After an hour or so, I turned the shanks over, and turned them back about two hours into cooking.

At this point I needed the oven to make bread, so I finished the stew on the stovetop. It would have worked just as well in the oven.

While the braise was working, I skinned two chicken leg quarters and visited the herb garden for rosemary, thyme, and parsley. The rosemary and thyme were wrapped in a scrap of cheesecloth and secured with a food-safe band--kitchen twine would have worked fine.

Veal and Chicken Stew 4After the shanks had cooked to the point that the meat fell off the bone, I removed the veal bones and added the chicken quarters along with more stock and the now-reconstituted dried mushrooms used to make it, three cloves of garlic, and the herb packet.

I cooked this, covered, at a simmer until the chicken meat literally fell off the bones when I picked them up with tongs. At that point I added baby red potatoes, quartered yukon gold potatoes, and carrots. I continued cooking at a simmer until the potatoes were done.

Then I strained the liquid into another container and degreased it. Meanwhile the pot went back onto the stove with wine, which was reduced by one-half, then more stock, and finally the degreased juices from the braise and simmer. At this point I tasted the sauce, and added a bit of salt and pepper. Notice that this was the first and only seasoning, other than the small amount of salt and pepper in the flour used for dredging.

Cooking slowly for more than five hours extracted a lot of flavor from the veal and chicken bones, as well as from the meat. Wine has some sodium in it, and reducing the stock and juices concentrated the flavors. Thus, only a small bit of salt and pepper was needed. The parsley isn't there just for looks. A bit of  minced parsley adds a subtle fresh note that really finishes a dish.

Turned out that I made too much. No one seemed to complain about having this stew two days running, and yes, it was better the second day!

July 10, 2009

Salmon en Papillote

Salmon en Papillote

Cooking en papillote is an easy do-ahead preparation that is virtually foolproof, and it's a fabulous way to impress guests! Children also enjoy being able to rip open the little present you've left on their plates.

Salmon en Papillote 2Start by removing the pin bones from the fish if it has any. Lay out a sheet of parchment paper. Visually divide the sheet in half, then center the fish in the middle of one half. For this dish, I used a salmon fillet. Season the fish, then add whatever vegetables you wish to serve with it. In addition to salt, I used fresh dill and thinly sliced lemon. For vegetables I used red bell pepper and green beans. The whole was topped with some caramelized onions and about a tablespoon of butter to make a sauce.

Salmon en Papillote 1Fold the parchment in half and crimp the edges. I find that simply crimping and tucking as I work my way around works fine. Sometimes it takes an extra fold or two to get the package to hold together. Carefully slide the packet onto a baking sheet. If you're making this ahead of time, put it in the refrigerator until time to cook.

When you're ready to eat, slide the baking sheet into a medium oven and cook until done. You won't be able to check for doneness, so be sure you have a good idea how long the fish will take. The salmon fillet I used needed 12 minutes. Remember that when cooking en papillote you're partially steaming what you're cooking, so things cook faster. It's better to stop too soon with fish than to overcook, so err on the side of shorter cooking times. Besides, things keep cooking for awhile in the packet because of residual heat.

Carefully place the packets on plates and serve. Your guests will tear open the packet to release a wonderfully aromatic steam and find everything inside is cooked just right with flavors that are distinct, yet with notes from the other items in the packet.

July 9, 2009

Knife Skills: Chiffonade and Mince

When you are supposed to mince herbs, and the leaves are long, what do you do? Start with a chiffonade, that's what.

First, stack the leaves, then roll them into a cigar.

Mince 2

Next, slice the cigar thinly. You'll want to use a slicing motion to be sure you cut all the way through.

Mince 3

That's the chiffonade. It's easy and useful. Make it thicker or thinner, as you wish.

Mince 4

To mince, gather the strips in a pile and rock your chef's knife through them.

Mince 5

You'll need to stop now and then to reform the pile and clean the blade.

Mince 6

Keep mincing until it's as small a mince as you want. That's it.

July 6, 2009

Blueberry-Mint Vinaigrette

Blueberry-Mint Vinaigrette

It was a very hot day for Portland, and I didn't really want to add to the heat by warming up my kitchen. With fresh blueberries, herbs in the garden, plenty of greens on hand, and a full pantry, I didn't need any heat.

The key component in this vinaigrette is blueberry syrup. I made some a few weeks ago by putting a 2 pints of blueberries and a cup of sugar into a food processor and pulsing a few times to purée roughly. I put the purée into a saucepan over medium-low heat, tasted and adjusted the sugar, then simmered for about 30 minutes. I poured the simmered pulp into a colander lined with two layers of cheesecloth and let it drain. The remaining pulp went into the composter, while the syrup went into a small glass container in the refrigerator, where it sat until I remembered it.

Making a vinaigrette is quite simple when you know the correct ratio of oil to vinegar, 3:1. If you didn't know that ratio, or you did but you want more of that kind of handy information, you really must get yourself a copy of Michael Ruhlman's Ratio. I didn't follow the 3:1 ratio strictly, because of the lack of acidity in the ingredients I used for this vinaigrette.

Blueberry-Mint Vinaigrette
2 teaspoons fresh blueberry syrup
1 teaspoons balsamic vinegar
1 teaspoons riece wine vinegar (unseasoned)
4 teaspoons extra virgin olive oil
2 leaves spearmint, minced
salt and pepper to taste

I added fresh blueberries, shredded mint, and diced red pepper to the mixed greens and herbs I had on hand. Simple, refreshing, and with the mint, cooling on a hot day.

July 4, 2009

Garlic, Apple, and Bacon Bread

Garlic Bacon Apple Bread 2

For the past couple of weeks I've been thinking about how nice it would be to make some bread using garlic confit for Michael Ruhlman's BLT Challenge. This is my first attempt, and although it wasn't entirely successful, it's still a tasty bread.

Garlic Bacon Apple Bread 3I started by making a basic bread dough. Toward the end of the first rise I sautéed some bacon to make crispy bits, then added apple chunks and a hint of rosemary. After draining the apple and bacon on paper towels, I went ahead and punched the bread dough down, then rolled it out and put the bacon-apple mixture on top, along with some garlic confit.

Garlic Bacon Apple Bread 4As I rolled the dough over the filling, I added more garlic confit. Then I tucked the ends under and let the bread proof. After proofing, I scored the loaf and baked it.

The final result is tasty, but I'm really not satisfied. The flavor isn't quite what I was looking for, and it's not a good bread for sandwich making, which means it won't work well for the BLT Challenge.

Garlic Bacon Apple Bread 1

I've learned a few things making this experimental loaf. First, I didn't put in enough garlic confit for a really garlicky flavor.

Second, I'd have done better to put what I used as a filling into the dough during the initial mixing. Distribution would have been better that way, I wouldn't have had air pockets in the loaf, and slices wouldn't tend to fall apart where there's filling. If I don't want to put the filling into the dough, I need to roll it out much thinner.

Third, I needed more rosemary. Perhaps I should brush the outside of the loaf with oil and rosemary if I want to add that flavor.

Finally, I learned that if I'm going to stuff a loaf, I don't need as much filling as I thought I would need, and that the bread will be more successful baked in a pan rather than as a hand-shaped loaf.

While I may not have hit the target I aimed for, I learned a lot doing this. I'll definitely try again!