I hope I never lose my sense of wonder. If that makes me naive, then so be it.

Saturday, 14 April 2012

daring kitchen, april

This month's challenge was one reminiscent of the Food Network show 'Chopped', in which contestants open a basket full of mandatory ingredients and then must wow the judges with their dish. So instead of a cuisine type or a new technique, this month we had to do just that - make something from what was provided. At least there was no voice saying "twenty minutes on the clock!" 
Our April 2012 Daring Cooks hosts were David & Karen from Twenty-Fingered Cooking. They presented us with a very daring and unique challenge of forming our own recipes by using a set list of ingredients!
The recipe had to be created using one item from each of three lists:
  • parsnips, eggplant (aubergine), cauliflower (the "vegetable" list)
  • balsamic vinegar, goat cheese, chipoltle peppers (the "strong flavour" list)
  • maple syrup, coffee, bananas (the "weird" list)
I lobbied with my family for a few days suggesting eggplant, but to no avail. Even my brave taste testers were not keen on that, much as I plied them with descriptions of ratatouille and said that I was sure we could find out something good. In the end, I caved and went for the cauliflower. The goat cheese's tang got me thinking it'd be great with the sweet maple syrup, so those were my other choices.

The cauliflower was steamed in some beef stock left over from my Saucy project (see the other blog entries here), then a Mornay sauce added over top before baking for a bit of a gratin. I do like cauliflower, and the cheesy sauce was a nice addition to it.

The maple syrup came from a friend's brother's operation in Québec, a lovely medium syrup. I figured this would match well with venison, so out of the freezer came some boneless venison loin chops from D's hunt in the fall. This meat is beautiful, lean and dark - and given that D hunts it on our land, it's about as local as it comes. The venison was seared, then finished to medium-rare in the oven while I made sauce.

The sauce was simple, but the ingredients definitely made it: I started with some duck demi-glace I had made before (yay for crazy things like that in my freezer!), then added the maple syrup. The flavours blended well, but it needed to be brightened so I used the acid of balsamic vinegar for that. A little reduction, and it was ready to go. The chops were topped with a slice of goat cheese, and then the sauce. 

All the testers agreed it was good, but they still didn't trust me with eggplant. Maybe next time. Thanks for another great challenge!

Monday, 9 April 2012

saucy: a culinary project, take 2

This week the sauces were for beef. Three more down in one meal. The recipes for these came from the Sauces book, which is fast becoming a little treasure on my shelf. I love that the index has the standard listing, as well as a second index with sauces arranged under what to serve them with. Having duck? Here are the ones to have with it. Love it.

1. Sauce Albert (Velouté)
This is actually of British origin, and named after Queen Victoria's consort, Prince Albert. Royalty, even! It's quite simple to make and tasty with beef. Technically it's an English bread sauce, or sauce bâtarde, as the thickening comes not from a roux but from simmering bread crumbs in the mixture.

This sauce started with chicken stock and horseradish, which reduced before cream was added. After more reduction, it was put in a blender and processed for a minute before straining through a sieve. It returned to the pan and bread cubes (baguette) were added. After simmering for ten minutes, an egg yolk and mustard powder were whisked in until it had, and I quote from the recipe, "the consistency of oatmeal". May not sound appetizing, but it was delicious.

It was a nice change from a straight dollop of horseradish on beef. While I like the taste of that, it's very strong. Sauce Albert has a more mellow, complex taste. It was wonderful on the beef tenderloin, and would make a great topping for a gourmet burger. 

2. Béarnaise (mayonnaise derivative)
Okay, emulsion sauces. This was a new category. I've made one of these before when I made hollandaise, so the technique was not entirely new. Béarnaise dates to the 1830s, made and named in honour of King Henri VI. Good with beef, or, according to the Sauce Bible, always served with châteaubriand. Which I have no idea how to make.

Starting with wine vinegar, shallot, and tarragon (which smells an awful lot like black licorice. Interesting!) which simmered and reduced before being cooled, egg yolks and water were added before whisking continuously while the mixture heated slowly in the pan. It's fun to see the sauce emulsify and thicken while you cook, just like the recipe says (okay, 'fun' might be strong. But I liked it). This took about 10 minutes.

To finish the sauce, clarified butter was added. I'd prepared this earlier, basically melting butter before carefully pouring off the olive-oil-coloured clear liquid and leaving all the other stuff (what is that, exactly?) behind. The butter was gradually whisked into the sauce to make a mayonnaise-textured, pale yellow sauce. A little lemon juice to finish it off, and there it was. 

Delicious, and maybe even worth learning how to make châteaubriand to have it again with that.

3. Bordelaise (demi-glace derivative)
Bordelaise literally means "Bordeaux style", reflecting the use of the Bordeaux wines in it. While there are plenty of red wine based sauces, the defining ingredient in a Bordelaise is beef marrow. That squishy stuff inside the soup bones is full of deep, rich flavour.

It started with shallot, peppercorns, and a Bordeaux red wine. This was reduced, beef stock (made the other day!) was added along with a bouquet garni, and simmered some more before being strained. Those sieves have never seen so much action.

I'd bought big soup bones and had managed to chip the marrow out out of them with a paring knife before learning a nifty trick that purports to let you easily pop it out of the bones. Oops, lesson learned for next time. The marrow had soaked for hours, then was blanched and then added to the sauce in progress. Some butter was added in, and the sauce was done.

While the idea of eating the marrow had me intrigued and maybe a little squeamish, the sauce had an amazing flavour. These sauces take time to make, but the end result shows the time. Savoury and delicious.

We had all three at a family dinner. While the girls and I liked each sauce, D was mostly 'meh' on them (for him, really, the best accompaniment to meat is: more meat). He prefers the straight taste of good beef cooked well, and I definitely can't fault him on that. 

And now I'm curious to try more recipes with marrow. Eating marrow was always something I associated with the primeval, as evidence in prehistoric digs that the people had had tools to split bones and extract it. Might be worth checking out. It seems that doing these sauces has me adding as many things to my Oh-This-Would-Be-Cool-To-Try list as I am finishing on it.

saucy: a culinary project, take 1.5

This was a single-sauce meal (imagine that!), one I've made before in different versions. With Parmesan and garlic on pasta, with mozzarella on lasagna, with cheddar for good old-fashioned mac & cheese.

Mornay Sauce (Béchamel)
A traditional Mornay uses Gruyère and Parmesan and dates back to the 1800s in restaurant use. It may possibly go back to even the early 1600s - named after the duc de Mornay, though then it would have been based on a velouté rather than a béchamel as béchamel had not yet been invented. Hmm, the things you learn. 

Of course given the different tastes of cheeses, this sauce has a huge range of uses. For this use, I made croque-monsieur sandwiches, which I'd never had. And I found that I had been missing out.

Beginning with a roux (mine cooked into the blond stage), milk was added and the sauce thickened. Shredded swiss cheese and a bit of salt and pepper finished it off. Done!

Sandwiches: also simple. Bread plus sliced black forest ham, buttered and grilled. Then the Mornay sauce was added to the top, a little more cheese for good measure, and under the broiler. They were quick to make but made for a perfect lunch with a salad. Delicious! 

These, I decided, are what grilled cheese sandwiches dream of growing up to become.

Tuesday, 3 April 2012

saucy: a culinary project, beef stock

How to make stock: toss bones of some poor decimated animal carcass in a pot, and boil the crap out of it for 12 hours. Or, buy a can.

Okay, not quite how I've done it. Though I will confess to letting it boil too hard, or for too long. Oh, something smells good this morning. Oops, forgot that pot overnight...

I enjoy homemade chicken and turkey stock, which are wonderful for soups and risottos, and have made duck stocks as well since we raised our five last summer, but have never really made a nice beef stock. I tried it a time or two. The smell wasn't nice, there would be this foam on top that, to be honest, was a little creepy - beef bubbles? - and buying the can was so much easier and tastier.

But, since I'm trying to do the sauce thing right, I figured I should make a proper beef stock. So, consulting my handy Sauces book (oh, dear little book,I fear for you. Books I use too often in the kitchen rarely escape unscathed. And you are so cute!), I read up on stocks. And in keeping with the variations-on-variations thing that is an understandable product of centuries of amazing chefs doing amazing things with food, there is more to stock than meets the eye - err, tongue. There are white stocks, and brown stocks, and demiglaces, and glaces; chicken, beef, veal, vegetable, fish, even lobster stocks. And they all (of course!) have subtle and not-so-subtle differences, depending on how the bones are prepared, what is added, and how concentrated the end result is.

The beginning - bones ready to be roasted
I kept it basic - a brown stock from beef bones (thank you, Farm Boy store!). Big chunks of bones with marrow are the start for this, and they were roasted in the oven, which led to a false advertising dispute when I had to reveal that there was not, in fact, roast beef for dinner. Roasting the bones brings out their flavour and gives the stock its rich color (hence the 'brown' stock, versus 'white' stock, made from unroasted bones). The recipe I used was for veal stock, but veal bones were not to be found. For that matter, neither was the half of a calf's foot that the recipe called for. I wasn't too upset about that.

Roasted bones plus mirepoix
A mirepoix (mix of carrot, celery, and onion) was added and the roasting continued, then the bones and mirepoix moved to my stockpot. The fat, and there was plenty, was poured off, and white wine added to deglaze the pan. 

The stock begins while the fond reduces.
Deglazing is a bit of culinary loveliness in itself. When the meat cooks, bits of caramelized yummyness stick to the pan. When wine or other liquid is added to the pan and heated, the bits (called the "fond") release and the flavour can then be incorporated into a sauce or stock. It's getting the most out of it.

The wine and bits from the pan simmered to reduce the wine by half, then this was added to the stockpot. Cold water topped off the lot, and it was brought to just barely a boil, then simmered for 10 minutes. I waited for the nasty foam to appear, but only a teensy bit did and really, it looked less threatening in smaller quantities. The final addition to the pot was mushroom, tomato, garlic, and a bouquet garni - a lovely little package of herbs wrapped in a section of leek and tied with string. Cute and easily removed all in one. Score!

Then, the simmering. For two hours. Not ten hours. Not a rolling boil, just gently simmering away and getting brown and rich all the while. The end result was strained, chilled, and packed into nice little containers in the freezer for use in sauces.

Last stage of simmering. Look! No nasty foam!
A lot of work, definitely, but much of it was of the wait-and-cook type. Certainly not as convenient as a can, but the rich layers of flavour are sure to be a nice addition to the sauces I'll be making. 

saucy: a culinary project, take 1

It took me a while to figure it out, since the hundreds of sauce variations could have us eating rich food for a year, but I finally hit on a strategy and started working on my sauces this week. To get through a few at once, I decided to group them by the food they're served with and have a few at once. First up: chicken. So, here we go...

I need more hands.
One note - the recipes for the soubise and the suprême came from my Sauces book, while the Allemande came from the Sauce Bible, mostly because I realized that I had used all my shallots in the other two sauces, was out of onions, and had no tarragon (the horror!), and the Sauce Bible version didn't require those ingredients. I did find it interesting that even within the various sauces, there are different chefs' takes on the classic ones sometimes.

1. Soubise Sauce (Béchamel)

A béchamel sauce is a basic white sauce. I've made it dozens of times before and tossed in garlic and parmesan for pasta, lemon and dill for salmon, and cheddar for mac & cheese. A roux (the thickener) is made with butter and flour that cook together (how long? Depends if you want a roux blanc, roux blonde, or roux brun. Yes really. It darkens and the taste changes as you cook it longer), then milk is added and heated until it thickens. This gives a blank canvas, pretty much, just awaiting the other flavours. 

For the soubise, shallots were sliced thin and sweated in butter until soft, then the béchamel and some cream was added to this and all cooked for about 10 minutes. I'm pretty sure I'd just have eaten it then, but this was strained through a sieve (my sieves got a good workout today) for a velvety smooth sauce infused with shallots. A bit of salt and pepper, and it was delicious.

2. Allemande Sauce (Velouté)

Velouté sauce starts much like a béchamel, with a roux, but stock is added instead of milk. The stock flavour (chicken, beef, fish, vegetable) as well as the aromatics shape the flavour of the sauce. Thickening takes longer than a béchamel but it's a great sauce base and well worth the time.

Allemande (German) sauce started with mushrooms, shallots, lemon juice and chicken stock that simmered happily before having some of the velouté added. After this cooked a bit, I added a liaison (new culinary term! yay!) of egg yolk and some cream that had been whipped together. The liaison is used as a further thickening agent.

This sauce, a lovely pale yellow, was rich but bright with the hint of lemon. Very good. 

Historical note: this sauce was renamed Sauce blonde or Sauce Parisienne during the second World War. The politics of food didn't start with "Freedom Fries".

3. Sauce Suprême with mushrooms and sherry (Velouté)

This time, the mushrooms were simmered in the velouté before being strained, cream and butter added   (more cream! This? Is why I can't do this for a year. I'm trying to lose some weight here), and then sherry added before serving. We didn't like this one as much as the others, the sherry flavour being stronger than we wanted. A suprême is a great base for any flavour, really, so the technique is one I'll likely use again.

So, roasted chicken served with three sauces. It felt more like a tasting than a meal, but we enjoyed trying them. I learned a few things:

  • this is fun.
  • I can see why the saucier in a restaurant is a job in itself. I had all four burners going at one point, the counter busy with my chopping and whipping prep.
  • mastering the sauces would take years. I appreciate it more now.
  • looking forward to the next sauce tasting - beef with béarnaise, bordelaise, Albert, and maybe chasseur.