April 24, 2010

Personal Update

I haven't managed a new post for awhile so I thought I would share a few notes about what's happening in my life at the moment. Maybe you'll accept this as a valid excuse. I hope so.

Firstly, my teaching load is heavier. Most weeks I'm teaching three classes and some weeks there are one or two more. Now three classes may not seem like much, but it's a surprising amount of work.

Secondly, I've been spending a lot of time looking at real estate. Specifically, farm land. I've partnered with a friend and we're going off-grid, or as far off as we can get without completely giving up the Oregon Symphony. Meanwhile, we're having to do a lot of studying and planning.

Thirdly, the garden is going in. Small it may be, but gardens take a goodly amount of labor in the Spring. Later this year I'll be able to report on various dishes created from things I'm planting now. Judging from the carrots grown last year but harvested just a couple of days ago, I'll have interesting things to tell you for quite some time.

Fourthly, I'm getting ready for chickens. I've never owned chickens before, so I've had to learn a lot of new stuff. The eggs had better be worth it, because I'm taking a class in July to learn how to harvest chickens, and if these ladies don't perform well as layers I'll know exactly what I need to do to make them into dinner. Same thing goes for the banty Cochin. I know how to make coq au vin, and if he makes too much noise, into the pot! Expect some photos, and maybe a bit of bragging if the girls do their job well.

Fifthly, there's been a bit of charcuterie happening, but you won't be able to read about it for 2-3 months because it takes that long to cure. And I'm still trying to scrounge what I need to build a small smoke box without actually spending any money, because anyone can buy one. How am I supposed to make an interesting blog post out of buying a smoker?

So that's pretty much what's going on. I haven't forgotten you, in fact, I've been thinking about you a lot. I just haven't had the time or energy to write anything for awhile. I'll try to do better.

April 7, 2010

Scones and Curd

I wanted a nice Spring afternoon snack today, and when I spotted some lovely blueberries, I knew that a simple blueberry scone with lemon curd would go really well with a cup of coffee and a healthy dose of lazing about. Fortunately, I had lemon curd already made, so I could start on the lazing part almost immediately.

Lemon curd is one of those things that sounds difficult and costs a lot to buy, but turns out to be easy to do and so inexpensive that you'll wonder why you had to pay so much to buy it ready-made. The recipe I use may have been adapted from Nancy Silverton, or perhaps Julia Child, unless it was Jacques Pepin. I can't remember where I found it, but it was probably one of them. Or maybe not.

Lemon Curd
2 whole eggs
1 egg yolk
½ cup granulated sugar
½ cup freshly-squeezed lemon juice

In a heat-proof bowl, whisk the eggs and egg yolk for about 2 minutes. Add the sugar and whisk for about 1 minute, then add the lemon juice and whisk for another minute. Set the bowl over a pan of simmering water and continue to whisk for 5-6 minutes or so, until the curd thickens. Be careful not to stop whisking while on heat or you'll have lemony scrambled eggs. When it's as thick as you dare without scrambling, transfer the bowl to an ice bath (or some really cold water) to stop the cooking, and continue to stir until cooled. Refrigerate for at least 2 hours before using. It will last 1-2 weeks refrigerated, but if you have it around that long you made way too much. If you double this recipe you can make 12 tartlets and have a cup or so left over.

If you would prefer lime curd use lime juice. Maybe you want pink grapefruit curd? Use pink grapefruit juice. I think you get the idea. Learn this recipe and you can make any sort of citrus curd. Feel free to add the appropriate zest if you want.

Since I had already made the tartlets for a dinner party last week, there was leftover curd in the refrigerator. All I needed to do was make a batch of scones. I usually don't like my scones to be particularly sweet and prefer them to be a bit more biscuity than the scones I often see for sale, so I've always used a biscuit recipe with a bit of added sugar. Michael Ruhlman published an interesting biscuit recipe and technique in Ratio that I adapted to make a bit heavier and more scone-like.

Blueberry Scones
makes 6 scones
2 ounces oat flour
7 ounces all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon fleur de sel (or kosher salt, but not table salt)
2 teaspoons double-acting baking powder
1 tablespoon granulated sugar
3 ounces unsalted butter, chilled and cut into small pieces
1 large egg
4 ounces cultured buttermilk
milk or egg white for brushing the top
sugar for dusting the top

Put a mixing bowl on a scale, zero it out, and weigh the flour. I like the slight oaty flavor that oat flour adds, so I used 2 ounces. Some whole wheat flour, perhaps an ounce, would be nice. Use 2-3 ounces of cake flour for a lighter, cakier scone. If you only have all-purpose flour, it will make an excellent scone. Whatever flour or combination of flours you use, you'll need 9 ounces total weight. Add the salt and baking powder.

I didn't use very much sugar because I don't like my scones sugary sweet. One tablespoon makes the scone lightly sweetened. If you want more intense sweetness, use 2 or 3 tablespoons of sugar. If you want to use this dough to make a savory scone, leave out the sugar. Add whatever sugar you're using to the other dry ingredients and stir to mix with your fingers.

Add the chilled butter to the dry ingredients. Using your fingers--a pastry blender works as well--rub the butter into the dry ingredients until it is in pieces no larger than a pea. Don't worry about even distribution or getting all the pieces of butter the same size. Neither of those things matter in this case.

Break the egg into a measuring cup--it should be about 2 ounces or ¼ cup--and add enough buttermilk to make 6 ounces (¾ cup) of liquid. If you don't have an egg, or need to leave it out, just replace it with buttermilk. Even regular milk will work, but buttermilk adds some nice tang. Stir the liquids together in the cup.

Add the liquids to the dry ingredients and mix until blended. You'll have a soft, slightly sticky dough. Form it into a rectangle about 4" by 6", wrap it in plastic, and refrigerate for at least an hour.

When you're ready to proceed, preheat your oven to 400°F. Unwrap the dough and dust it with flour, then roll it out on a floured surface until it's about 2-3 times the original size. Cover the middle third (across the narrow part) with fresh blueberries, then fold the other two sides over. Gently roll to seal two or three times, then fold the long sides over in thirds, restoring the original 4" by 6" rectangle. Roll the dough out again, leaving it thick enough to hold the blueberries without crushing them, fold in thirds from the long sides, then from the short sides, and roll out a third time.

Using a sharp knife--a serrated knife works very well--cut the dough into six triangles, or more if you wish. Brush them with milk or egg white, then sprinkle sugar on top. Demerara sugar or some other large-crystal sugar works very nicely if you want a bit of sugary crunch. Transfer to an insulated cookie sheet or to a sheet pan inside another sheet pan and bake for 20-25 minutes, until done. The resulting scone will be fairly thick, and rather more biscuit-like than then rather thin things you might have seen at a coffee shop.

That folding technique that Ruhlman suggests makes a really good biscuit, by the way. When I first read the "make a rectangle, roll it out, fold in thirds one way, then in thirds the other way, and repeat" instructions, I wondered why I'd never thought of doing that myself, since it's the technique used to make puff pastry, and I've made a couple tons of that. That tip is just one of the reasons I consider Ratio to be the most useful cookbook published in years. If you don't have a copy, buy one. You can just click on the link on the right side of the page.

April 6, 2010

Stumptown Savoury on Savor Portland

Today, live on pdx.fm at 4:00pm Pacific, listen to me chat with Devlyn and rant on savor portland. Or wait and download the podcast for free on iTunes. Either way, it's something you won't want to miss. Episode 9. Sure to be a classic. ;)

April 3, 2010

What I'm Reading


Wow, what I didn't know about orange juice--and what you probably don't know--is frightening. In short, if you didn't watch it being squeezed you didn't get what you or I would consider real orange juice.

Sure, it started out as orange juice, more or less. Then it was concentrated (read boiled), frozen, and probably reconstituted (water and a flavor pack added). The "not from concentrate" stuff that you might reasonably think of as orange juice is even worse. It's treated with high heat, has all the essential oils removed, then is stored for up to a year(!) before a flavor pack is added and it's sold to you as "fresh" orange juice.

Oh, and that 100% Florida orange juice thing? Up to 10% of the juice might be mandarin and some unknown and probably unknowable percentage of the juice is from oranges raised and squeezed in Brazil.

This is a must-read if you buy orange juice rather than juice oranges yourself.

I ♥ Macarons

Here's a cute little book about a cute little cookie that includes cute little step-by-step pictures so you can bake your own cute little cookies to make into cute little gifts. But hey, if you really want to make macarons, this little book is going to make your life easier. Includes basic recipes for macarons and butter creams, and suggestions for using the leftover egg yolks.