September 30, 2009

Chicken Salad

Chicken Salad

When I have a full day planned in the kitchen--breaking down chickens, making stock, making soup, or similar activities--I like to reward myself mid-day with a chicken salad sandwich. It's simple and tasty so I always make enough for two or three more meals.

Today, I'm making soup so I have chicken stock, which is essential to making a good chicken salad. I started by poaching boneless, skinless chicken breasts in hot stock with a couple cloves of garlic for added flavor. I use stock for poaching to re-infuse the chicken with flavor from the stock. Poaching in water would leech flavor out of the meat.

While the chicken cooled, I diced half a red onion and put it into a bowl with some milk. Soaking onion in milk will mellow the flavor so that it doesn't overpower the other ingredients or taste raw. It needs half an hour in the milk.

I selected diced Granny Smith apple to provide a tart note, walnuts for some crunch, and raisins to add some sweetness. I tossed those ingredients with the diced chicken and the drained onion, then added some lemon thyme fresh from the herb garden. I used just enough mayonnaise to hold the ingredients together, but not so much that it was overpowering.

To serve, I sliced a kaiser roll in half, laid down a bed of lettuce greens and nasturtium leaves, topped the greens with chicken salad, and added a few cherry tomatoes from the garden. Lunch is served!

September 25, 2009

Popcorn Maker Giveaway!

cpm-900bkUpdate, October 10, 2009

The winner of the Popcorn Maker is Jolene (Everyday Foodie). Congratulations, Jolene! Thanks to everyone who participated. It was a lot of fun!


I was fortunate enough to be given a popcorn maker, but I don't need it, so I thought I'd give it to one of you. All you need to do is leave a comment here and follow me on Twitter, and you could win a black Cuisinart® EasyPop™ Popcorn Maker! If you leave your Twitter name in your comment, I'll follow you as well. Your comment must be submitted before midnight (Pacific), October 9, 2009 to be considered. I'll mail this thing anywhere in the world. One entry per person. Good luck!

September 23, 2009

Carrot and Nasturtium Soup


A bowl of carrot soup garnished with nasturtiums
Carrot Soup

Nasturtiums are staging a coup in the vegetable garden, trying to take over everything. They need to be thinned, and are delicious, so I decided to make a salad with nasturtiums. Salad goes well with soup for a meal so I started thinking about what soup might be nice. I remembered the Pan-Roasted Carrots I made recently and realized that peppery nasturtium leaves would make a perfect seasoning for the carrots.

September 21, 2009

Eat Your Colors

Eat Your Colors

A good, well-balanced meal is easy to put together so long as you remember to fill your plate with color. There's nothing fancy here, just a large selection of sautéed veggies with some noodles lightly fried and seasoned with mirin and soy sauce.

I started with celery, carrot, onion, and red bell pepper with some olive oil from a batch of garlic confit. Then I added some red cabbage and a splash of apple cider vinegar. Next came green beans and broccoli, then red and yellow grape tomatoes from the garden. I finished the veggies with some sweet snap peas and two kinds of parsley. For starch I made udon, then lightly fried the noodles with mirin and soy sauce. To add more crunch and flavor, I quickly fried some basil leaves from the garden in a bit of canola oil.

It's important to include at least five colors in every meal; for fruits and vegetables, the outside color is what counts. Eating a broad spectrum of colors not only ensures that you'll get plenty of micronutrients in your diet, it also ensures that you'll be eager to eat because, as we all know, we eat with the eyes first.

September 18, 2009

Whole-Grain Mustard Sauce


Sautéed chicken breast with whole-grain mustard sauce and sautéed vegetables.
Sautéed Chicken Breast with Whole-Grain Mustard Sauce

I held a class last Sunday on the techniques of braising and sautéing and had a lot of fun. During the class I made a simple whole-grain mustard sauce that is really very tasty and quite versatile.

September 17, 2009

Chorizo

Chorizo con Huevos
One of my upcoming Thanksgiving Dinner classes at Kookoolan Farms requires chorizo for the dressing, so I decided to get in and make some. I'm no Rick Bayless, so this might not be authentic, but it's pretty tasty.

Chorizo
3¼ pounds boneless pork shoulder, cut into 1" cubes
2 tablespoons kosher or sea salt
1 tablespoon ancho chile powder
2 teaspoons chipotle chile powder
1 teaspoon achiote chile powder
½ teaspoon guajillo chile powder
½ teaspoon ground cumin
¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon chopped fresh cilantro
50ml (3 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon) tequila

Start by cleaning and cubing the pork. You'll want to remove as much as possible of the "silver skin" and tendons as possible. You might find that you need some extra pork fat if the piece of meat you've selected is too lean. Mix the meat with everything except the tequila and refrigerate for at least two hours or up to overnight. Chill the tequila as well.

You want to chill everything because grinding the meat involves friction, which generates heat. The more chilled your meat is to start with, the better the resulting texture and flavor.

Chorizo RawWhen you're ready to grind the sausage, set up your stand mixer with a food grinder attachment, or set up your meat grinder if you have one. You'll also need a bowl of ice to hold the catch bowl for your sausage; once again, you want to keep the sausage as chilled as possible.

Grind the sausage using a medium grind, then place it in the work bowl of your stand mixer. Using the flat paddle attachment, mix the chilled tequila into the sausage for 1-2 minutes. Quickly cook as small bit of the sausage and taste to adjust the seasonings. Remember that as the sausage cures the flavors will intensify.

Remove the sausage to a storage container and refrigerate for a day before using--if you can wait that long, that is. This sausage freezes well and will last 1-3 months, depending on how cold you keep your freezer.

My favorite way to eat chorizo is in chorizo con huevos. Simply sauté some sausage until it's just done, add eggs, and scramble until just done. Serve with warm tortillas if you've got them.

September 16, 2009

Greens for Breakfast

Today I'm pleased to have a guest post by Dr. Jennifer J. Casey. She trained as a Naturopathic Doctor and currently practices as a massage therapist in Lake Oswego, Oregon. She's started her own blog on natural health topics at her website, Hands of Gold. Here's what Dr. Jen has to say about eating greens for breakfast.


So often in the past, I was mentally stuck on the limited range of standard choices for breakfast. I would find myself thinking, “Ugh, I don’t want cold cereal for breakfast;” and I knew it would never stick with me for long anyway. It seems like so many of the standard breakfast choices are wheat based—cereals, breads, muffins, pancakes, waffles, quiches, etc. And, the fruit or sugar that so often goes with them can send your blood sugar quickly spiraling upward only to lead to a crash a short while later.

Eggs make a tasty breakfast, but I found I only wanted eggs once in a while, certainly not every day. Breakfast seemed boring and limited, given the choices. Then it occurred to me, “Why not get outside that box and explore more nutritious possibilities for breakfast?” So I decided that sautéed greens might be just the ticket. Sure enough, the sautéed greens were immensely satisfying and had great staying power. I’ve since had them with leftover rice, with shiitake mushrooms, with onions, with red peppers, and with homemade bacon (yum!). They might even be good with leftover fried potatoes or with scrambled eggs on top. They’re great with a side slice of homemade cornbread too! The list of possibilities is endless!

Just what am I getting nutritionally when I long for greens for breakfast? The vitamins and minerals most prevalent in greens include vitamin A, vitamin B6, calcium, magnesium, vitamin C, iron, manganese, potassium, folic acid, and PABA. Huh. Well, so what do those things do for you? Lots!

Vitamin A is needed for growth and repair of body tissues and it aids in formation of bone and teeth. It is essential to eye health and specific to epithelial tissues (skin, eyes, ears, mouth, nose, internal organs, etc.). Vitamin A plays a very important role in helping the body fight infection. It plays an important role in the development of sex hormones and has a significant relationship to reproductive abilities. Vitamin A plays an important role in maintaining skin health and facilitates wound healing

Vitamin B6 plays a role in strengthening your immune system and the formation of red blood cells. It is a very important co-enzyme and aids in carbohydrate, fat and protein metabolism (the process of breaking these foods down to make the nutrition available to body cells and vital processes). The need for vitamin B6 increases during pregnancy and lactation, for those using oral contraceptives, and for the aged, those exposed to radiation (and there are many kinds of radiation—including tanning booth or excessive sunlight exposure). Vitamin B6 can produce rapid and dramatic improvement in symptoms associated with Parkinson’s disease.

Calcium is a very important mineral. It helps maintain bones and teeth. It is essential for healthy blood, plays a role in blood clotting, helps regulate the heartbeat, and helps prevent insomnia. It is an essential component in muscle, nerve and heart function. It plays an important role in muscle growth, muscle contraction, and nerve transmission. It also helps regulate the passage of nutrients in ond out of the cell walls.

Magnesium is involved in many essential metabolic processes in the body. It assists the body in utilizing the nutrients derived from certain minerals, carbohydrates, fats, and proteins. Magnesium is essential for proper nerve and muscle function, including those of the heart.

Vitamin C helps maintain the integrity of skin, ligaments, and bones. Vitamin C combats bacterial infections and helps reduce or prevent allergic reactions. It plays an important role in healing wounds and burns. It also plays a role in the formation of red blood cells and in preventing hemorrhaging. Vitamin C has many important relationships to other vital nutrients.

Iron plays a role in protein metabolism. It is necessary for healthy blood cells and promotes growth. Women who are menstruating should be sure to have adequate iron intake. Iron is combined with protein in the body and is found in every living cell. Iron is responsible for building the quality of blood and also increases your resistance to stress and disease. It plays an essential role in supplying vital oxygen to muscle cells. The need for iron increases during menstruation, hemorrhage, and during periods of rapid growth. Additional iron is required during pregnancy.

Manganese is important for normal bone development. It is involved in the maintenance of sex hormones. It also helps nourish the nerves and brain as well as playing an important role in thyroid functioning and sex hormone production. Manganese is an enzyme activator (virtually all body processes involve enzymatic reactions). It plays a role in protein, carbohydrate and fat production. Manganese has been shown to be helpful in the treatment of diabetes, multiple sclerosis, fibromyalgia, and in the general treatment of fatigue

Potassium is essential for normal growth, for nerve conduction, and for muscle contraction. It helps regulate the activity of the heart, muscles, nervous system, kidneys and ensures the health of the skin. It also plays an important role in helping to get oxygen to the brain.

Folic acid is part of the vitamin B complex. It plays a co-enzymatic role in metabolism and helps breakdown and utilization of proteins. It plays an important role in brain and nervous system function. It also plays a role in the production of red blood cells and in normal cellular growth and reproduction. It is very important for pregnant women to have adequate folic acid intake in order to prevent birth defects. Adding a serving of brown rice to the greens would increase the level and range B complex vitamins you would derive from this meal.

Vitamin K is an important factor in blood clotting. It is also important for normal liver functioning, well as being an important vitality and longevity factor.

PABA is an important part of the B complex vitamins. It functions as a coenzyme that assists in the breakdown and utilization of protein. It also assists in the formation of red blood cells and is important in the health of skin and the intestines. All the B vitamins can help by providing more energy and ameliorating fatigue. They can also help with insomnia and your ability to deal with stress,

When you read the list of nutrients shown on a box of cereal, you may think you are getting good nutrition. You probably don’t realize that all those ingredients have been synthetically created. The manufacturing process destroys the naturally occurring nutrients found in the food in the course of processing, which are later replaced with synthetic replicas. The synthetic ingredients are not absorbed or utilized in the same manner as the naturally occurring nutrients derived directly from food. Moreover, they lack the natural synergism found in the whole food, which can never be duplicated in any test tube.

Yes, preparing good food takes a little time but you will feel a great deal better for having taken that time. You might remember that the next time you’re down in bed, incapacitated with a cold or the flu. The time and energy it would have taken to cook nutritious breakfasts will seem very insignificant by comparison.

September 15, 2009

Chicken Velouté

Veloute

I was watching Top Chef: Las Vegas and saw one of the contestants struggling with sauce velouté. Really? You can't make a blonde roux and mix it with white stock? So, for future contestants, here's what you need to know, and I'll even teach you how to make it into a soup.

First, make a white stock. The basic characteristic of a white stock is that the bones aren't roasted. The carcass of a chicken with breast meat and thigh quarters removed will make a good quart or so of stock. A whole chicken is even better.

Start by putting the bones you're using into a large pot, cover with cold water by a couple of inches, then bring to a very lazy boil. While you're waiting, dice the basic aromatics: onions, celery, carrots, leeks.

After the stock has slowly boiled for about ten minutes, reduce the heat to simmer and carefully skim all the gray gunk off the top. Then add the aromatics, a bay leaf or two, and a small handful of peppercorns. Let simmer for at least 1½ hours, but longer is better.

Once the simmering is done--you'll decide by aroma--take the pot off the heat and let it settle for about 15 minutes before degreasing. For you Top Chef contestants, that means you gently skim off all the fat floating on the surface of the stock. After degreasing, lift as much of the bone and aromatics mixture out as you can, then gently pour the stock through a strainer to remove what you couldn't get out otherwise. Cool the stock as quickly as possible by setting it into an ice water bath, then refrigerate up to 3 days, or freeze up to 1 month.

Now, for the sauce velouté, bring some stock to a lazy boil--1½ cups will produce about the same amount of sauce. In a saucier make a blond roux by melting 2 tablespoons of butter, then adding 4 tablespoons of all-purpose flour and stirring. After about 2-3 minutes, the flour will have cooked.

Remove the roux from the heat and add a few tablespoons of hot stock, whisking vigorously to mix without causing lumps. Return the mixture to the heat and slowly whisk in the remaining stock. Season to taste with kosher or sea salt and freshly ground white pepper. Strain through a fine mesh seive or chinoise and serve.

If you want to make a soup, use a quart of stock instead of 1½ cups. In the saucier, add 2 tablespoons of butter to melt, then 1 finely minced shallot to sauté for a couple of minutes, then 4 tablespoons flour. Proceed as with the sauce above. If you have some nice French brandy, a splash of brandy to finish the soup is rather nice. Adjust the seasoning, then strain to remove any lingering lumps and the shallots. The shallots are there to perfume the soup, not to eat. Serve with a dollop of crème fraîche and some minced chives.

When you taste this soup you will find it hard to believe that it's almost completely dairy-free and low-fat. It's velvety, as the name says, and if you've made a good stock, very flavorful.

September 11, 2009

Gluten-Free Quick Bread Round 1

Quick Bread 1

I was out at Bob's Red Mill yesterday to visit their store and do a bit of browsing for more flours. Somehow I managed to leave without the spelt and kamut flours that intrigued me, but I did get some interesting flours. I'm not gluten intolerant like some people, but I like producing excellent foods for anyone, so I decided to experiment with gluten-free quick bread using the quick bread ratio from Michael Ruhlman's book, Ratio.

Ratio_ImageThe basic ratio for quick bread is 2 parts flour, 2 parts liquid, 1 part egg, and 1 part butter. Leavening is also required, of course, and for a sweet bread, some sweetener.

Quick Bread Batter (Sweet)
8 ounces flour
8 ounces liquid
4 ounces egg (2 large eggs)
4 ounces butter, melted
½ cup sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder

Let's start with the baking powder. Assuming there are no extraneous ingredients, it's gluten-free. Hopefully it's also aluminum-free. I chose to make sure by making my own. The ratio for baking powder is 2 parts cream of tartar, 1 part baking soda, and 1 part cornstarch. The cornstarch is an optional addition to keep it dry and non-reactive prior to use. I left it out. If you plan to use a large amount within a short time-period, add the cornstarch and store in an air-tight container.

For the flour, I used 2 ounces of coconut flour and 3 ounces each of brown and white rice flours. Coconut flour is high in fiber and an excellent source of protein, making the bread more healthful. It also adds a bit of sweetness, but doesn't taste coconut-y. I also added a pinch of allspice, some freshly ground nutmeg, and ½ teaspoon of ground Vietnamese cassia (cinnamon). I used ¼ cup of sugar rather than the usual ½ cup because I expected plenty of sweetness from the apple juice and coconut butter I planned to use.

For the liquid, I used 4 ounces of apple juice and 4 ounces of milk. It would have worked just as well to use all apple juice, or any other fruit juice. For that matter, coconut milk would make an excellent substitution if you want to avoid dairy. To the milk and juice I added two large eggs and one very ripe banana and mixed everything thoroughly.

When you're making a quick bread, the general procedure is to whisk the dry ingredients together, then whisk the wet ingredients together, then mix the dry into the wet, adding nuts at that point. If you're working with coconut flour, be very careful to do a thorough job of whisking the dry ingredients together or you'll end up with lumps of coconut flour in the batter.

I poured the dry ingredients into the wet, mixed until the batter formed, then added toasted pecan pieces. The batter went into a buttered loaf pan, then into a pre-heated 350°F/180°C oven to bake for about 40-50 minutes.

About thirty minutes into baking, I took a peek and everything looked fine. That's when I noticed the bowl of melted butter sitting on the counter. Oops! I was supposed to have added melted butter to the liquids, but I forgot. Since this was an experimental quick bread I decided to just let it finish baking.

Quick Bread 2The texture of the bread is pretty good, although it's a bit more fragile than a similar bread made with wheat flour, and the crumb is finer, probably because of the rice flours. It's also lighter than the last batch of banana bread I made, almost certainly because it's quite low in fat. The only fats in this bread are those found in the eggs and milk. So, here's the recipe for what I made.

Gluten-Free Banana Bread
2 ounces coconut flour
3 ounces white rice flour
3 ounces brown rice flour
¼ cup sugar
pinch allspice
½ teaspoon cinnamon
freshly ground nutmeg to taste
4 ounces apple juice
4 ounces whole milk
4 ounces egg (2 large eggs)

I'm not satisfied yet, which is why this is Round 1. I want to refine this until I have a satisfactory basic quick bread that a gluten-intolerant vegan can love, but that no one else realizes is gluten-free and vegan!

September 9, 2009

BLT From Scratch

BLT 1

The challenge: make a BLT from scratch by growing the tomato, growing the lettuce, curing the bacon, baking the bread, and making the mayonnaise. The result: a delicious sandwich that took all summer to make but was worth the wait!

The Components

The lettuce is a mix of several varieties. The tomatoes include beefsteak and green zebra. Due to a combination of weak soil, too much shade, and too little summer sun in the Pacific Northwest, the tomato crop in my garden was unfortunately small. Tasty, though. The bacon was straight-forward--I smoked it lightly with applewood. The mayonnaise includes some whole grain mustard. And then there's the bread.

BLT 5

The bread has been the most interesting part of the challenge for me. I've tweaked bread all summer long, looking for an elusive flavor, all the while working from Ruhlman's ratio of 20 ounces of flour, 12 ounces of water, 2 teaspoons of salt, and 1 teaspoon of active dry yeast. I've finally gotten really close to what I want.

First, I put 1-2 tablespoons of wheat berries into a cup of water to soak overnight. Meanwhile, I mixed an ounce (or so) each of millet, oat, semolina, whole wheat, and light rye flours with enough unbleached bread flour to come to 16 total ounces. I proofed a generous ½ teaspoon of active dry yeast in a cup of warm water, then added that and another ½ cup of water to the flour mixture along with a tablespoon of honey, mixed well, and let it grow. Once the pre-dough showed good signs of life, I put it into the refrigerator for overnight fermentation.

The next day, I took the pre-dough out of the refrigerator and let it come to room temperature while I cooked the wheat berries for about an hour, until they began to crack open. Then I drained the berries and added them to the pre-dough along with ½ cup toasted pecans, 4 ounces of unbleached bread flour, 2 teaspoons of fleur de sel, a tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil, and six cloves of garlic confit. I used the trusty stand mixer to knead the dough for about ten minutes, then covered it and let it rise until doubled. Finally, I punched it down, formed it, let it proof, then baked it.

This was a fun and rewarding challenge. The sandwich was juicy and very tasty. I've learned a lot, and have even convinced a friend to cure her own bacon rather than buy it!

Now, is anyone up for Mac 'n Cheese from scratch?

September 8, 2009

Crêpes au Cerises

Crepes Cerise 2

Now that I have nearly 2 liters of cherry liqueur sitting around, I have to come up with excuses to use it. Yes, it makes a great Cherry Coke, but I can only drink so many of those. As it happens, I'm teaching a series of classes based on classic French cooking, so instead of Crêpes Suzette, I made this.

Ratio_ImageFirst I made some crêpes using the basic ratio in Michael Ruhlman's Ratio. If you don't have that book yet, you really ought to get a copy. The standard ratio for crêpe batter is 2:2:1 (liquid : egg : flour), which works out to 8 ounces of liquid, 4 large eggs, and 4 ounces of flour. He suggests milk for the liquid. I used  cherry liqueur and milk. I also added a tablespoon of sugar, whisked everything together, then covered and refrigerated for several hours to let the flour hydrate fully.

Next, I altered the standard Suzette butter, which calls for orange. I used the zest and juice of one tangelo instead, to which I added a third of a cup of sugar and ½ cup (1 stick) of unsalted butter. The ingredients went into a food processor for thorough mixing, then into a covered bowl for thorough chilling.

The cherry liqueur I'd made tasted pretty good, but I felt it needed more depth, so about a week ago I strained it and added half a pound of dried sour cherries. They cut just enough of the sweetness to make the liqueur much better, and at the same time added a third layer of cherry flavor. I strained those cherries out of the liqueur and chopped some to add to my dessert.

To complete the dessert, I heated a large skillet (12") over medium high heat, then added about half the compound butter. As the butter melted, I added the crêpes, folded in triangles, and the chopped cherries. Once everything was hot and the butter was bubbling nicely, I added about a third of a cup of cherry liqueur and flambéed. After plating, I added a dollop of crème fraîche to balance the sweetness.

If you don't mind the number of steps in this preparation, making a flambéed crêpe dessert is a rather spectacular way to finish off a meal. Do be careful, though, or have enough to share with the fire department.

September 5, 2009

Condiments: Mayonnaise

Mayonnaise

Mayonnaise is deliciously simple to make and tastes nothing like the stuff you buy in a jar. All you need to make it is a bowl, a whisk, a squeeze bottle, and a few ingredients. It's really handy to have a soft silicone pad that will keep the bowl from moving while you whisk. Alternatively, form a damp towel into a ring and set the bowl into it.

Mayonnaise
1 egg yolk
2 teaspoons freshly squeezed lemon juice or to taste
1 teaspoon water (optional but useful)
1 teaspoon fleur de sel
1 teaspoon whole grain mustard (optional)
4 ounces (approximately) extra virgin olive oil (optional)
4 ounces (approximately) canola oil (8 ounces without olive oil)

Mayo 1Whisk together the yolk, lemon juice, and water. Then use the squeeze bottle filled with oil to add just a few drops of oil so that you can begin the emulsion. I find that pouring oil from a can or bottle doesn't work well for me--too much oil comes out to start the emulsion.

Once you have the emulsion well started, you can squeeze the bottle to squirt a stream of oil into the mixture. If it looks a little oily, or starts to break up, stop adding oil until it smooths out. If that doesn't work add a splash more cold water and whisk until it comes back together.

Mayo 2After adding about four ounces of olive oil, add the mustard and salt, then switch to canola oil and continue whisking until you've added about 8 ounces total of oil. You can use all canola oil if you wish, I just prefer the more pungent flavor of olive oil. When you've added as much oil as you dare, taste and adjust the seasoning.

That's it. No real fuss, just a bit of work, and you've got a great tasting cup of mayonnaise. Use it immediately, or refrigerate for a day.

Some people use a food processor to make mayonnaise. For whatever reason, I've never succeeded with a food processor. Since I'm quite happy with the result of doing it by hand, I don't really care.

There are lots of options you can use to extend this mother recipe. Try adding a pinch of chipotle powder or minced chipotles in adobo for a spicy mayo. Some freshly ground wasabi makes a very nice twist on the classic. In fact, almost anything you think might taste good in mayonnaise works just fine. Have fun!

September 3, 2009

Buttermilk Cornbread


Buttermilk Cornbread with honey and butter along with a plate of greens.

If you're looking for the Breakfast of Champions, this is it: Buttermilk Cornbread and a mess of greens. I'm currently validating recipes for my Thanksgiving Dinner classes at Kookoolan Farms, so I needed to make some cornbread.