Thursday, December 22, 2005
Although I now have a few ways to cook myself a steak, there are a few things I always do. Here are my steak rules. Feel free to disobey my rules, no-one will enforced them on you… but let me know of your own tricks and experiments.
1. Use thick steaks. If, like me, you think a thick strip loin steak is too big for you, just cut it in two smaller pieces. Most supermarkets only offer fairly thin steaks. Ask your butcher for a steak at least 3/4 inch thick or cut them yourself from a larger piece of meat.
2. Bring the meat to room temperature before cooking it. This reduces cooking time which helps tremendously the cooking process.
3. Season well but never use oil or use only a minimal amount except if you are using a very lean piece of meat (such as filet mignon).
4. Pre-heat a thick pan to a very temperature and do not be afraid of a little smoke: this is why you have a fan over your stove.
5. Sear all sides of your steak and finish cooking in the oven. It should not take very long but you won't burn your steak. Use a thermometer.
6. Never serve a steak more than medium. If you like it well done, you are probably better off braising your meat and forget about grilled steaks: it would be cheaper, as delicious and no one will frown at you anymore.
7. Let your steak rest at least 5 minutes before serving it or slicing it otherwise it will loose juices and make your plate look messy.
For this recipe, I made a sauce using my veal glace, some black pepper corns and a bit of balsamic vinegar for a nice aroma and to balance my sauce. I served it with mushrooms, roasted tomatoes and roasted fennel.
Wednesday, December 21, 2005
This is another story of a failure turned into a success. I am starting to think that I this could be my speciality.
As some of you have probably noticed by reading my previous posts, I sometimes mingle with French food bloggers. They are a fun bunch and have some very interesting events such as Blog Appétit. During the last weeks however I noticed that a great number of these guys and gals made their own 'marrons glacés' (glazed chestnuts) in preparation for the holidays. I had seen boxes of these in some fancy grocery stores but since they were quite expensive I never tried them. Since I was curious and that I thought they could make wonderful gifts for Christmas, I decided to attempt making some by myself. While I don’t want to divulge the result of my experiment yet, let’s just say that in the process I broke a great number of these delicious nuts while cooking them; they can be really fragile.
Since I could not use little pieces of chestnuts to make my 'marrons glacés', I re-cooked them in a light syrup and pureed them in a food processor. This produced a nice purée which I could use in many recipes. Yesterday however, I made some simple chestnut soufflés. They were good but not sweet enough to my taste. I am thinking about incorporating some caster sugar to the egg whites before folding them into the purée next time. With a bit of luck, it might add some texture and even some structure to this soufflé. I like my sweet soufflés to have that hardish texture in the mouth before slowly melting and vanishing. I'm not much of a baker, so it may takes some time before I'll be able to get exactly what I want. In the meantime I still enjoy them; these are not bad little deserts at all. They just not perfectly adjusted to my taste yet.
And by the way, sorry for the ugly picture... that was the best of the lot believe it or not!
Tuesday, December 20, 2005
Puisqu'on nous a déjà offert les ingrédients des deux prochaines éditions de Blog Appétit, j'ai décidé de combiner ces deux éditions en un seul plat. Je m'amuserai encore en cuisine avec ces ingrédients dans un avenir rapproché mais le destin m'a poussé à faire ce 2 en 1 il y a déjà quelques semaines: j'avais tout sous la main de toutes façons!
Je vous conseille de prendre des notes, il s'agit d'une de mes plus belles réalisation en cuisine et croyez-moi, les photos sont bien ordinaire par rapport à l'arôme qui se dégage de ce plat. Ça change de mes recettes ratées ou de celles sauvées de justesse.
Poulet sauce aux chanterelles à pieds jaunes.
(note: les proportions sont approximatives car je ne mesure que très rarement mes ingrédients, de toutes façon il est probablement bien mieux d'ajuster la recette à vos propre goûts)
Saumure (note: ajustez les quantités selon la taille de votre poulet et de celle du contenant utlisé):
- 1 tasses de vin blanc sec de votre choix (Évitez les cépages trop riche comme le chardonais à moins d'être vraiment amateur. Mon avis très peu professionnel sur le sujet: un vin léger et floral, voire même plutôt fruité, est plus à propos)
- 2 C. à soupe de sel
- 2 tasses d'eau
- 1 bon poulet fermier
- 1 branche de thym
- sel et poivre
Bouillon pour la sauce:
- cou, ailes et carcasse non utilisée du poulet
- 2-3 tasses d'eau
- 1 carotte coupée grossièrement
- 1 branche de céleri coupé grossièrement
- 1 petit oignon coupé grossièrement
- 1/2 tasse de poireau coupé grossièrement
- 1 bouquet garni (thym, laurier, persil)
- 1/2 tasse de chanterelles à pieds jaunes sèche (ou tout autre champignons sauvages parfumés et au goût délicat comme des morilles ou d'autres membres de la famille des chanterelles)
- 1 tasse du même vin blanc ayant servi à la saumure.
- 1 échalotte grise coupée finement
- Quelques cubes de beurre froid (pour monter la sauce si désiré)
- Désossez partiellement le poulet de façon à garder seulement les os des pattes ainsi que le premier segment de l'aile de poulet. (Cette étape est facultative mais permet de mieux cuire le poulet et d'en retirer les os qui serviront à faire la sauce)
- Préparez la saumure et déposez-y votre poulet pour 6 heures ou plus, voire même 24 heures.
- Faites brunir les os au four pendant au moins 30 minutes à 400° F (200° C) puis ajouter la carotte, le céleri l'oignon et le poireau pour 20 ou 30 minutes supplémentaires.
- Mettre les os, les légumes, le bouquet garni et l’eau dans une casserole et amener à ébullition très lentement en écumant fréquemment. Laisser frémir une heure ou deux, ou même plus si vous avez le temps.
- Passez au tamis pour ne conserver que le bouillon. Réservez.
- Après avoir bien asséché le poulet et l'avoir assaisonné avec le thym le sel et le poivre, placez le dans une poêle relativement chaude et déposez un objet lourd dessus (une brique par exemple ou, comme moi, une marmite en fonte), ceci permettra d'accroître la surface touchant à la poêle. Lorsque le poulet sera bien doré, retournez le et mettez le au four jusqu’à ce qu’il soit cuit.
- Pendant ce temps, réhydratez les champignons dans un peu de bouillon et préparez le reste des ingrédients pour la sauce. Réservez les champignons et le bouillon dans lequel ils ont baigné.
- Pendant que le poulet repose, faite sauter légèrement l’échalote dans la même poêle ayant servi à cuire le poulet puis déglacez avec le vin blanc.
- Faites réduire puis ajoutez le bouillon de poulet et le bouillon de réhydratation des champignons. Faites réduire à nouveau jusqu’à l’obtention d’une sauce à peine sirupeuse. Passez au tamis pour en retirer les impuretés.
- Ajoutez les champignons et montez au beurre si désiré.
- Découper le poulet et servir.
J'ai servi ce poulet sur un lit de choux rapidement sauté à feu très vif. Le résultat était délicieux. Après ma mauvaise expérience avec les poulets industriels, je suis maintenant vendu au poulet bio. Je crois aussi qu'ajouter un vin léger à la saumure ajoute beaucoup au produit final.
J'ai commencé à cueillir des champignons de façon sérieuse l'an dernier après m’être joint à un club de mycologues amateurs. J'ai tout de suite développé un grand intérêt pour les champignons d'abord au niveau culinaire mais ensuite pour leur étonnante beauté et leur étonnante diversité. Ce type d'activité n'est pas très répandu au Canada mais les histoires d'empoisonnements sont pourtant très nombreuses. J'étais donc très craintif lors de mes premières excursions et il m'a fallut des heures de vérification, de recherche et de re-vérification pour enfin vaincre ma peur de manger certaines espèces. Je me tiens toujours loin des champignons plus difficilement identifiables mais j'ai maintenant suffisamment confiance en moi pour mettre une bonne quinzaines d'espèces dans mon assiette et celles de mes convives.
Il m'a également fallut apprendre à identifier les milieux et les saisons propices à la cueillette. D'excusions en excursions, j'ai réussi à trouver des sites plus intéressants que d'autres et comme bien d'autres amateurs, j'ai maintenant mes petites talles secrètes ici et là dans quelques forêts de la région. Je suis pourtant plusieurs fois revenu bredouille à la maison avec une certaine tristesse dans l'âme, je l’avoue, et parfois même avec une certaine jalousie devant les paniers bien remplis d'autres cueilleurs. Mais le bonheur de marcher en forêt à la recherche de ces petits trésors gastronomiques forestiers demeure.
Par une de ces superbes journées du début septembre, alors que je prenais une marche dans un boisé près de chez mois, j'ai pu découvrir une immense talle de chanterelles à pied jaune. Je n’en croyais pas mes yeux. Je jubilais. Et c’est avec une certaine fierté que je suis retourné à la maison, un peu tard c'est vrai, avec deux grands sacs pleins à raz bord de ces délicats champignons. La surprise de ma copine de me voir arriver ainsi avec une si grande quantité de champignons estompa immédiatement la petite crainte qu'elle avait de me voir arriver si tard. Lorsque le travail fastidieux de nettoyage et de séchages des champignons commença, un petit brin de fainéantise nous pris tous les deux mais après quelques jours nous savions que nous aurions des provisions de chanterelles à pieds jaune pour l'année entière.
Comme il s'agit d'un des champignons préférés de la femme que j'aime tant, je cuisine de plus en plus avec ce champignon que je crois malheureusement peu apprécié par la plupart des mycophages.
Pour ceux qui lisent l'anglais, voici un autre épisode de l'épopée de la dinde à rabais. Vous trouverez les premiers épisodes ici, ici, ici et ici. Pour ceux qui ne lisent pas l'anglais voici l'histoire en bref: j’ai acheté une dinde très bon marché récemment et j’ai entrepris de la transformer en une série de petits repas tous différents les uns des autres. Il faut bien trouver une façon d’économiser un peu si l’on veut, par exemple, contribuer à la campagne Menu for Hope organisée par Pim et dont une des pages les plus importante a été traduite en Français par Pascale sur son site 'C'est moi qui l'ai fait'. (allez faire un tour, il y a plusieurs cadeaux à gagner y compris des repas dans des restos à Paris et ailleurs dans le monde).
Revenons à ma dinde. Dans cet épisode ci, j'ai décris la découpe de la dinde en plusieurs morceaux mais ce que j'ai omis de vous raconter c'est qu'avant de transformer la carcasse en un délicieux bouillon, j'ai pu sauver suffisamment de beaux morceaux de chair pour préparer un petit plat tout simple: au sauté asiatique.
J'ai d'abord fait mariner les morceaux de dindes pendant 10 heures dans un peu de jus de gingembre, de l'ail et de la sauce soya (parce qu'il faut bien l'admettre, la dinde, et surtout la dinde congelée à rabais, ce n'est pas toujours très goûteux). J'ai ensuite fait sauter mes champignons (une bonne quantité de champignons de couche et de shiitakes) dans un peu d'huile. Puis j'ai fait de même avec la dinde après l'avoir bien égouttée. Ensuite, j'ai recombiné le tout – champignons, viande et marinade – dans le wok et ai fait réduire légèrement la sauce avant d'ajouter un peu de vinaigre de Chinkiang. Il s'agit probablement du meilleur vinaigre chinois, il est très corsé, a une belle couleur noire et puisqu'il a été âgé pendant un certain temps, il a un petit côté sirupeux qui ne va pas sans rappeler le vinaigre balsamique. À cela j'ai ajouté un peu de fécule de maïs mélangée avec un peu d'eau pour épaissir la sauce. Le tout est garni de feuille de coriandre fraichement hachée.
D'abord l'Amour. On ne peut pas passer à côté de ça quand on parle d'émotion. Comme certains d'entre vous le savent déjà, ma conjointe est d'origine chinoise d'où ce plat d'abord prévue pour lui faire plaisir (on ne cuisine avec amour pour soi même que très rarement).
Ensuite déception. J'ai mis trop de fécule de maïs dans mon plat et la sauce était beaucoup trop épaisse à mon goût. J'essayerai d'être plus délicat la prochaine fois.
Monday, December 19, 2005
Friday, December 16, 2005
A last note: I also rolled the shaped dough in ground flax seeds. Most people add flax seeds for health benefits but both my partner and I simply love the nutty taste it gives to bread.
Wednesday, December 14, 2005
Depuis que j’ai commencé ce blog, j’ai tranquillement laissé transparaître ma propre identité sans jamais me dévoiler complètement. La plupart d’entre vous ne me connaissent que sous mon pseudonyme, Magictofu, et la plupart de mes parents et amis ignorent encore l’existence de ce blog (quoique les rumeurs doivent déjà en avoir rejoint plusieurs). En fait, j’aime bien la liberté qu’offre un certain anonymat.
D’ailleurs, pour être très franc, j’ai commencé ce blog parce que j’avais beaucoup de temps libre que je voulais utiliser pour m’améliorer en cuisine. J’ai donc créé ce blog pour me construire un journal de cuisine dans lequel je pourrais prendre des notes sur mes réussites et mes échecs. Avec le temps, je me suis rendu compte que je n’étais pas le seul à écrire depuis ma cuisine et qu’il y avait une communauté gourmande bien implantée sur le web. J’ai rapidement pris goût à lire d’autres blog et à participer à certains événements tel que Blog Appétit ou Paper Chef. Bref, mon blog se transforme tranquillement en une véritable publication électronique, il ne s’agit plus tout à fait d’un simple projet de perfectionnement personnel.
Je vais donc répondre à ce questionnaire mais je le ferai de façon un peu timide en demeurant un peu vague par endroit ou en ne me concentrant que sur la cuisine. J’y répond quand même sérieusement; c’est promis!
5 choses que tu aimerais faire avant de mourir:
- Faire un long voyage à vélo. En ce moment je rêve de faire le trajet Amsterdam-Singapour.
- Apprendre le chinois. J’ai déjà commencé mais je me suis aplatit devant l’ampleur du travail à faire; il faudrait bien que je me remette à l’ouvrage.
- Terminer certains de mes projets de recherche, commencés alors que j’étais encore aux études, et les publier. Ça me permettrait de pouvoir enfin les oublier sans avoir de remords.
- C’est naïf pour quelqu’un de mon age mais j’aimerais quand même participer activement à l’amélioration de la vie sur Terre. Oui oui, sauver la planète, affranchir l’humanité de la misère, etc.… je vous l’avais dit que c’était naïf.
- Me remettre à dessiner ou m’initier à un art quelconque. Je crois que j’ai besoin de produire avec mes mains. En fait, ce qui me plairait le plus, ce serait d’écrire et dessiner une BD.
5 choses que tu sais faire:
Je ne sais pas trop comment répondre à cette question. Je vais donc simplement mentionner 5 choses dont je suis fier d’être capable de faire en cuisine :
- Transformer des restes en un bon repas.
- Inventer en cuisine.
- Copier presque à la perfection les plats que l’on me sert au resto.
- Je sais jouer avec ma nourriture. (C’est fou à quel point la plupart des gens prennent la bouffe au sérieux parfois)
- Identifier plusieurs de mes erreurs en cuisine.
5 choses que tu ne sais pas faire
- Un bon pain croûté et léger avec de grosses bulles dans la mie. J’ai beau tout essayer, je n’y arrive pas encore.
- Faire des pâtisseries. Je n’ai pas de patience pour mesure mes aliments et suivre une recette, deux choses nécessaire en pâtisserie.
- Je ne sais pas cacher mon mécontentement quand un de mes plats n’est pas à mon goût. Je suis heureusement beaucoup moins critique quand quelqu’un d’autre me sert.
- Je ne sais pas reconnaître la cuisson d’une viande au toucher; j’ai besoin d’un thermomètre dès que la pièce de viande en question est minimalement épaisse.
- Je ne sais pas cuisiner dans une autre cuisine que la mienne. C’est con mais je bloque.
5 choses qui t'attirent chez le sexe opposé ou chez l'autre :
- Sens de l’humour
- Capacité à se faire plaisir
5 choses que tu dis le plus souvent
- Qu’est-ce qu’on mange?
- Que veux-tu manger?
- Veux-tu un coup de main?
- Tu me donnes un coup de main?
- A table!
5 personnalités qui te plaisent
Là c’est pas facile… car pour être bien franc, je ne connais que très partiellement les gens dont j’apprécie le travail. J’y vais quand même, mais sachez que demain je pourrais bien vous donner des noms bien différents.
- Littérature : Georges Perec : pas toujours facile à lire mais toujours stimulant.
- Chanson : Georges Brassens : classique, incontournable…
- Côté cuisine : Alice Waters et Ferran Adria pour des raisons très différentes.
- Bouffe-pop : Anthony Bourdain : un brin cynique genre année 1990 mais tout de même très intéressant.
Voilà, c’était mes révélations de la semaine… je passe ce formulaire à tout ceux et celles qui m’ont lu jusqu’à la fin!
Tuesday, December 13, 2005
The result was surprisingly good. I attribute much of that goodness to the broth I used but maybe it is the cold outside which makes us crave warm soupy dishes like this one. A bit more quinoa and potatoes instead of carrots and turnips would have made this soup more authentic but who cares if its good?
A few days ago, we decided that we would not do any unnecessary groceries before our fridge was empty and clean. It would allow us to restock it with fresher ingredients and to enjoy nicer looking shelves. This is why we made this leeks and potatoes gratin using half an onion that was sitting on the top shelf, cheese leftover from the pizza I made recently, the leeks and potatoes as well as all the ingredients needed to make a nice béchamel.
First step: I caramelized the little onions I had to add flavour to what could have been a very bland dish.
Second step: I made a thick béchamel and added a pinch of nutmeg to it.
Third step: I blanched the potatoes and the leeks.
Fourth step: I mixed everything together and topped the resulting mixture with cheese.
Fifth step: I baked it in the oven for a few minutes.
The result was surprisingly good. Cooking magazine would talk about its rusticity but I'll just say that it was really nice to have this dish sitting on the table. The days are getting colder and colder and comforting and rich flavours are what we crave for in such circumstances.
Saturday, December 10, 2005
Using leftover pizza dough I made a nice loaf of bread the same day I cooked my last pizza. After all, pizza dough is a type of bread. The result was surprisingly good and light. I might have a few tricks to learn from this experiment: like making a stickier dough using more water.
Friday, December 09, 2005
Stock making is simple but it can take time. Since I tend to prefer working with brown stocks, the first thing I do when making a stock is to brown my ingredients in the oven for an hour or two. If you brown your vegetables too, like I do, you might want to add them when your bones have already gained some color. Something people don't always do is to turn their bones once or twice during this process. I find that this operation not only gives a deeper brown color but it also greatly improve the taste of the resulting stock.
Another important thing that you should not forget when making stock is to deglaze your roasting pan (after draining the excess fat of course) to avoid loosing all the flavourful bits at the bottom of your pan. There is often as much flavour there as there is in the bones. It also makes cleaning a bit faster afterward.
There are numerous recipes for broth available but I tend to adapt mine to what I have in the fridge. The traditional aromatic vegetables like carrots, celery, leeks and onions can be replaced by others ingredients like fennel bulb, daikon or mushrooms.
One important thing to remember however is that you should only cover your ingredients with cold water and bring it to simmer (not to a boil) very slowly skimming every 15 minutes to get rid of the impurities. Finally, the longer you let your pot simmer, the more body the less delicacy it would have. For poultry stock used for a soup, I would prefer shorter cooking time than if using it for sauce making. At home, when both soups and sauces are often made of the same stock, I feel 4 to 5 hours is a good compromise.
These are the tricks and techniques I've learned so far... if you have anything else to share on stock making, I'd be glad to read your comments.
As you saw in part 2, I had some deboned turkey legs left to work with after deboning the whole turkey. Here's what hapened to them:
First, I simply opened them and lightly flattened them, adding pieces of meat where there was only skin in order to have a somewhat even layer of meat. Then I stuffed them with:
1. Tomato paste diluted with olive oil
2. Very finely chopped garlic and cilantro (I used the stems and roots but the leaves might even be better)
3. Chopped rehydrated Mexican dried chilli peppers
5. Grated cheese (I used Manchego cheese because that's what was in my fridge that day but feel free to experiment here)
6. Salt and pepper
Then I seared each side in a little bit of oil and placed the roll in the oven until fully cooked.
For the mole, I simply used store bought mole paste and whisked it in some chicken and turkey stock (see next post). I served the roll with roasted garlic mashed potatoes containing a generous amount of sour cream.
I think it was one of the best turkey dish I ever made. I know I
said the same thing about that rabbit the other day but I guess this week everything worked perfectly in the kitchen for me.
The reason I partially thawed the turkey was to allow me to take it apart in smaller pieces: two boneless breast, two boneless legs, two wings each segmented in three and a pile of bones, neck and cartilages to make stock. Fresh turkey is better but always more expensive and, although it is unfortunate, one has to make concessions.
I defrosted the bird in brine made with water, white wine, salt and some bay leaves. Adding just a little bit of wine to your brine is a wonderful way to add a complementary flavour to almost any poultry, about ¼ of the liquid is enough, more and you’ll get something resembling Chinese drunk chicken (which is not necessarily a bad option). When I say that I only partly defrosted the turkey it is because there was still some slightly frozen parts when I deboned it; I didn’t want bacteria to have time to build their own microbial cities and societies so I did what I had to do as fast as the bird was workable.
At the end, the two breasts were placed in Ziploc bags along with some of the brine to freeze until they were needed. The legs were boned and rolled with herbs, cheese and spices (see next post) and I kept the meatiest part of the wings for diner and added the wing tips to my pile of bones from which I made this stock. To this I also added some bones leftovers from previous chicken meals.
I'll talk about stock making in a further post but let's talk about those wings. At home, both my partner and I like very spicy food so I simply made a rub with salt, chilli powder, paprika and cayenne pepper and applied it to the drumette and wing before baking them. Since a turkey is a fairly large bird, it was enough to feed the two of us, especially since we have had a liver appetizer before the main course. We added a small parsley salad, some sautéed cabbage and some beets to the plate to make it complete.
Thursday, December 08, 2005
I recently bought a whole turkey. They are usually very cheap after the American thanksgiving and before the Christmas holidays. I didn't buy it to roast it and serve 12 peoples but to butcher it in smaller pieces that I could use in a variety of recipes. It's a cost saving decision that I would gladly discuss in a latter post.
This turkey came with a little bag containing the heart and the liver, nothing more. I usually love these little bagged gifts but I was a bit disappointed by its meagre content. I nonetheless decided to make the best use of what I had and made a small liver appetizer for my girlfriend and I and dumped the heart with the bones from the carcass to make a broth.
Contrary to many people, I love liver. My mom cooked the very traditional liver and onions quite often and although there were times when I protested eating it, I grew up loving this meat. Over the years however I learned that liver was not always a healthy choice: it contains a high level of cholesterol and in rare cases a good amount of pollutants. As with everything else, I guess it means we should eat liver in moderation. As such, I don't buy this delicious part of meat very often.
Conversely, when I get my hands on free liver (from a chicken or a turkey for instance), I find it hard not to cook it and savour it. This is exactly what happened a few days ago. I simply pan-fried the turkey liver until medium-rare and served it with a bit of olive oil, balsamic vinegar and my carrot and anchovies sauce leftover from my recent paper chef contribution. To this, I also added a bit of sauteed watercress and a few leaves of coriander. I think it was delicious but I know I won’t convince the many liver-phobics… Their lost!
Wednesday, December 07, 2005
I just made a pizza with the ingredients leftover from my previous experiment. This time I made a very wet dough using approximately the same ingredient but adding some extra water. The dough was much better done this way. It is still not perfect but I'm on the right path. It now needs improvements on the crust and the size of the air bubbles.
Last spring, my girlfriend and I picked a ton of fiddleheads in the forests surrounding Ottawa. Of course, we left enough of them on each plant to make sure the plant would not suffer too much from our harvest. Even then, probably because of the great excitement caused such an abundance of fresh greens after a long winter, we collected them in such huge amounts and that we had to freeze a few large bags. In fact, we collected so much of them that they still clog the freezer. We are using them once in a while, in fried rice for instance, but there is now a need to use them up before they degrade too much (yes, things do loose taste and texture in the freezer).
I made this soup out of one of our big bags the other day. I simply cooked them in water, pureed them with the cooking water, and strained the puree to remove the fibrous parts. I then seasoned the soup and tasted. Let’s say politely that it was not very good. I wondered for a long time why I had so much trouble eating this vegetable that my girlfriend love so much. While experimenting with my soup in order to make it better, I discovered that a little bit of acidity tremendously helps me appreciate this vegetable better. A touch of balsamic vinegar, sour cream and tomatoes were then added to the soup making it much better. It was still not a tremendous success, there are much better soups to be made, but I now know how adding a little bit of acid greatly improve this vegetable that I otherwise tend to find a bit, well… weird.
That’s one thing to remember for the next spring!
Tuesday, December 06, 2005
Sometimes, and especially when composing a menu for a weekend diner, I find it amusing to subtly link each dish to the other in a succession of services. I guess it comes from my secret fantasy in which I am the chef of a very fine restaurant in only serving people who like and do play with their food. Anyway, when I cooked my rabbit the other night, I also prepared a desert using similar flavours. The rabbit was braised in a spices and dark beer sauce so I decided to poach my pears in a syrup aromatised with the same spices. I decided to forgo using beer here for obvious reason and replaced it with port, water and sugar instead. I’ll let the more adventurous cooks show me how to make desert with beer.
The pears were quite good and so was the syrup which I concentrated into a delightful sauce. In the end I was quite glad of my experiment but I still find the cost of making such desert a bit steep: I used a good cup or two of a fairly good and therefore expensive (at least for me) port wine in my recipe.
Monday, December 05, 2005
“Eggs yolks should not be runny or liquid.”
This is something I am not willing to do for now. I just can’t imagine having my Sunday brunch eggs thoroughly cooked… especially if I’m having poached eggs. I also love homemade mayo and other egg yolk based sauces. In any cases, if bird flu hits us, it would spread from human to human not from egg to human. I understand that these guidelines apply mostly to areas currently affected by the current epidemic and that aim at reducing the probability of a virus mutation into a lethal killer. The problem is that I always fear over-zealous civil servants when addressing food issues. Will bird flu be the end of organic bird farms? Will runny eggs become only available in clandestine restaurants?
Let me set the record straight here: I am afraid of a potential bird flu pandemic but I am equally afraid of misdirected policies in time of great social apprehension and panic.
However, in the event that runny eggs are to be portrayed as weapons of mass destruction and eradicated from the face of this planet, you could still find comfort in my fake soft-boiled eggs.
- Rice (good, I have a few bags of different types of rice on my shelves)
- Carrots (cheap, good and readily available = perfect!)
- Anchovies (salty, pungent… excellent to kick up almost any recipe… great!)
- Something from the other side of the world that helps make this dish a celebration for you. (Celebration… ok… Food is festive… but where the heck is the opposite of the world?)
I feel quite at ease with most ingredients this week, but I didn’t realize there would be some geographical research involved in this. I dropped out of my PhD studies in geography a few months ago and now I have to get back at it? Procrastinating my way to an answer using internet I found this website which can help any of you to know where that other end of the world is located.
I live in Ottawa, Canada. The opposite of the world, for me, is in the South Indian Ocean just between Australia (hello, dear judges) and the Kerguelen Islands, a remnant of the French Empire. The only commercially available product coming out of these waters found in my area, at least the only one that I am aware of, is the Chilean Sea Bass which is found in the cold seas surrounding Antarctica. It used to be abundant but has been over-fished for the years now and many fear its future might resemble the fate of the Atlantic cod, a social and ecological disaster well known here in Canada. There are already many people involved in the politics of fishing over this species. As such, I am a bit reluctant to use the product.
There are also some problems in dealing with the antipode approach to this “other-side-of-the-world” theme. After all, antipodes, by their physical nature, are usually quite similar, at least ecologically speaking: the climate is usually similar and so is the agriculture practised in each places. There are, of course, cultural differences that usually come into play when such distances are involved. In my case, however, the colonial powers of the last centuries pretty much erased many of the cultural differences between here and the antipode. Ottawa, the city where I now reside is a French and English bilingual city, the capital of a country made of a cultural compromises between these two same European traditions along with a few trace from a long repressed native culture. The antipode of Ottawa, as you know by now, is located between Australia, a country which resemble Canada in many ways obviously without the French influences, and the Kerguelen Islands, a French territory in the Indian Ocean. We are therefore talking about an essentially western culture combining both English and French influences at each point of the antipode.
Perhaps this “other side of the world” theme is more evocative in nature and one could imagine many ways to look at the problem. For instance, we could do like 2-minute Noodle Cook did and use the equator to make a reflection around the waistline of our planet. One could also count 12 time zones to find the opposite slice of the planet or get the equivalent of a place’s latitude in the opposite hemisphere. I bet one could even create a complicated equation which would factor a certain degree of randomness, especially along the latitude gradient, to find a place as different as possible from one’s own.
As for myself, I’ve arbitrarily decided to go the easy way and pretend that China is the opposite of where I live. Since my girlfriend is Chinese, it makes this decision a bit suspicious, so let me explain such a choice. Firstly, there are exactly 12 hours between here and China and therefore it is on the opposite side of the planet in terms of day and nights. Secondly, although the climate is extremely diverse in China from North to South and even East to West, most of the places I visited there are in very hot subtropical areas that are at the climatic opposite of my dear cold Canada. Thirdly, China is very different, culturally speaking, from the western world (at least this is what I slowly start to understand after more than 4 years of common life with my wonderful partner). Fourthly, China is where cartoons characters tend to end up when they dig a hole through the Earth. Finally, it was cold and snowy today and I didn’t want to browse from shop to shop for a product that I was not even sure to find. So I went through my girlfriend’s spice rack, picked a few bottles and smelled them to find the perfect ingredient: some kind of mixed spices that I thought would complement the dish I had in mind.
You will know about this dish in a few minutes, but let’s recapitulate for now. The ingredients that had to be part of my dish would then be
- A Chinese spice mix (I can’t be more specific for the moment since I just can’t read the label but I am guessing there is a good amount of star anis in there)
Now, one of the suggested paths was to make something celebratory. At home, we try to make every meal as festive as we can. Life is too short for boredom, so even the simplest hot dog meal has to be as festive as possible.
On the other hand, there are some traditions around festivities in my family. One of my favourite is the Sunday brunch at my mom’s place. We usually end up eating soft-boiled eggs, croissants, cheese, some charcuteries and a ton of fruits. It is the soft boiled egg avenue that I decided to follow for this edition of paper chef.
Now you have waited long enough, here it is: the “carrot and anchovies rice-croquette fake soft boiled egg” with a slight Chinese spices accent and made of recycled products at 70%. I had the idea of making such a dish while thinking about rice croquettes, Japanese breakfast rice balls with a piece of fish hidden inside and, of course, soft boiled eggs.
Two days ago, I made a risotto and we had some leftover in the fridge. Risotto is rarely good when reheated so I had to find an imaginative way to use it and avoid loosing it. This edition of Paper Chef came to the rescue forcing me to deal with a great list of ingredients that got my mind going: carrots, rice and anchovies. Since I noticed that a ‘Super Saver’ category had been created, my desire to use my old risotto grew even stronger and I made an extra effort to keep everything as cheap as possible. As such, I decide to use the oil in which my anchovies are kept instead of the anchovies themselves and to stick to a minimal amount of ingredients. Heck! I even recycled my old frying oil for this recipe.
Here’s the recipe:
Carrot and anchovies rice-croquette or fake soft boiled egg
- Old risotto (one with few added ingredients)
- About 1 cup of carrot juice
- About I teaspoon of ‘anchovy oil’ (the oil from your jar of oil packed anchovies)
- The same amount of flour
- 1 small pack of gelatine
- A good pinch of that Chinese spice mix on my girlfriend’s spice rack
- Sea salt (remember, the antipode of where I live is the Ocean)
- Frying oil
- In a small bowl, mix the gelatine with half of the carrot juice.
- In a sauce pan, make a roux using the flour and the anchovy oil.
- Slowly add the other half of the carrot juice and the spices.
- When the sauce has thickened and almost reaches boiling point, pour it in the small bowl with the rest of the juice and gelatine. Mix well. Verify seasoning and add salt if needed.
- Place in the fridge for a few hours to set.
- Once set, use a melon baler or a spoon to mould your ‘egg yolks’
- Using the old risotto, mould eggs and place one of your carrot and anchovies ‘egg yolk’ in each of them.
- Deep fry each egg for a few minutes until they are golden brown.
The result is a nice crunchy rice croquette with its own sauce inside. The gelatine, by making the sauce solid at cold temperature, helps when creating the desired shape but melts during the cooking process giving the impression of a decadent runny yolk of a soft boiled egg. We served them with a bit of coriander leaves because we thought that deep-frying stuff would mean a somewhat greasy food but we were probably able to control the temperature enough to avoid that unpleasant greasiness. Oh, yeah… this must be awesome with a cold beer (do I get a bonus point for mentioning beer here?).
Now we are asked to nominate ourselves for one of the four categories. Let’s see where I could fit:
Paper Chef Personality - creative, clever or witty writer (English is a second language to me and I don’t feel like a very clever or witty writer…….. yet)
Paper Chef Super Saver - budget meals or crowd pleaser specialist (Hey… I used recycled ingredients like ‘anchovy oil’ and an old risotto… my carrots were in a 10 pounds bag that I only paid 1$... and to top that I also used recycled oil to fry my ‘eggs’… I could be a winner here)
Paper Chef Prestige - food styling, presentation or plating up expert (not my specialty… I’m actually quite bad at this)
Paper Chef Nutrition Genie - magician for getting fussy diners to eat veggies, less salt, less fat (hum, my dish is probably a bit too fat to fit in there… but I’m sure kids would love to eat carrots this way)
Paper Chef Supreme - the champion for Paper Chef #13 (I’d love to win this one but there are some awesome cooks out there… I’ll pass)
So I officially nominate myself in the Super Saver category!
And as for the gifts… In the event that I win one, I’d like to get the Ground Australian bush spice sampler pack. I’d love to try to other ingredients too but a sampler pack seems like a good option in order to satisfy my curiosity. I’m just afraid I’ll get addicted to some of those and have to rely on mail order in the very near future.
Saturday, December 03, 2005
It's a success!
It is rare that I am as proud of my kitchen achievements as I am right now. Yesterday, saw one my best success with rabbit ever. This one started at my local newspaper and magazine shop. This is where I quickly browsed through a new local gastronomy magazine named ‘Flaveurs’. At first sight, this magazine looked fairly pompous, often showcasing expensive ingredients and let’s admit it: the name is awful. Nonetheless, in part because I learned as a kid not to judge things and people by their appearances, I decided to browse the recipes to see if there was something that would provoke my imagination. One of these recipes proposed the use of one of our best and most unusual local beers, Trois Pistoles, to braise rabbit. I forgot most of the original recipe but remembered that it requested a small amount of beer (100 ml I think), one head of star anis and about 2 cups of demi-glace. For those who read French: this could be the original recipe (link) but I can’t confirm for now.
Brewed by one of the best know micro-breweries of Canada, Unibroue, Trois-Pistoles, as I said, is an incredibly good beer but is also a quite atypical one. It is a very dark beer made like a strong Belgian Abbey beer with aromas reminiscent of exotic spices, dark chocolate and brown sugar. It is surprisingly soft on the palate in part due to its slight sweetness. It is not your typical dark beer so I would not advise using a Guinness or a similar beer in this recipe: a nice brown Belgian Abbey beer should do the trick better.
I started my recipe using half a bottle of beer and a few spices which included prominently star anis and clove. After reducing this mixture for a few minutes, I tasted it and was quite disappointed by the taste of it: I wanted a much stronger taste of spices infused in the beer. I then looked at the comparatively large amount of demi-glace in my other pot and realised that I would need much more beer and spices to alter its taste sufficiently for my guests to notice them in the final product. There was definitely a need to move away from the original recipe that I had partly forgotten anyway. I reluctantly poured in my pot the rest of the beer bottle that I planed to drink while cooking and added about ¼ of a cup of star anis along with a few other spices. In the meantime, I browned the rabbit pieces in a small Dutch oven.
Happy with my work, I opened another Trois-Pistoles to celebrate another happy late afternoon in my kitchen. And then, I got distracted and forgot about my rabbit for a few minutes… when I came back, there was a bit of smoke coming out of the overheated Dutch oven… nothing to cause panic yet but there was a need to act in order to avoid a catastrophe. I then decided to deglaze the pot with some of my newly opened beer to reduce the heat and avoid loosing the nice fond which had been created on the base of the Dutch oven. There was now over 1 ½ bottle of beer in my recipe. The rest went as planed and the result more than surpassed my expectations. Here’s the recipe!
(Note that the quantities are approximate since I didn’t measure anything… and don’t be fooled by the ugly picture: this dish was awesome!)
Braised rabbit in spices and Trois-Pistoles beer sauce
- 1 Rabbit cut in 6 or 8 pieces
- 2 bottles of Trois-Pistoles (341 ml each)
- About two cups of demi-glace (I used the commercial powdered version to reduce the costs… I’m sure this recipe would get even better if you use a better product or you own heavily reduced brown veal stock)
- 2 thinly sliced shallots
- ¼ cup of star anis (whole)
- ½ tea spoon of clove (whole)
- ¼ tea spoon of Sichuan pepper (whole)
- A tiny bit of cinnamon stick (cinnamon, as well as all the other spices in this recipe can be overwhelming so stick to these amounts or use your own judgement to adapt this recipe to your own tastes)
- 1 sprig of thyme
- 1 or 2 bay leaves
- Salt and pepper to taste
In a small sauce pan, slowly reduce, on a very low flame, the content of one bottle of beer in which you add all the spices but the salt and pepper along with the thyme and bay leaf. Then strain in the demi-glace sauce and season to taste. In the meantime, season and brown the rabbit in a Dutch oven with a little bit of oil or butter and reserve. Add the shallot until they are very lightly browned. At this point, add the content of the second beer bottle to deglaze (minus a few sips which should be enjoyed by the cook). Let reduce the beer by half. Put the rabbit back in your Dutch oven along with the flavoured demi-glace. Place in the oven for about an hour at 350° Fahrenheit. Before serving, strain the sauce in a small sauce pan and reduce to desired consistency (by half in my case).
A note on the picture: the rabbit was served with a lemon and cabbage risotto, roasted tomatoes and some oven roasted root vegetables. The roots and tomatoes were quite good but the risotto had a sourness that I didn’t like: too much lemon! I also added chestnuts in my original recipe but I came to the conclusion that they didn’t add much to the dish. There must be a way to make a decent presentation with this recipe… I’m open to any suggestion regarding this as I will certainly make this recipe again.
Now, the next things to try with this recipe:
- Marinate rabbit in beer and spices for a few hours before hand.
- Use only the legs of the rabbit keeping the loins for other uses and the bones to make the stock from which the sauce will be produced. (e.g. for 4 people: use 2 rabbits which will give two carcasses for broth, four loins for another meal and some extra meat from the front legs which could be used in again another recipe)
- Try a similar version with chicken legs.
Thursday, December 01, 2005
Then my partner joined me and the kitchen and each of us made our own pizza. My partner added a mountain of pepperoni and just a little bit of cheese along with onions, bell pepper and mushrooms. As for myself, I layered just little bit of pepperoni, lots of cheese, about the same vegetables and added tomatoes and olives.
The result was alright. I feel the crust was too thick in the center and not enough at the edge and that it didn't raise properly. Otherwise... it was pizza... pretty much the same kind we get at the local pizza joints. Nothing very good, nothing fancy but filling... exactly what I appreciated during my teen years.
Tuesday, November 29, 2005
To be honest, I don't know what to think about this industrialization of the restaurant business. This is not an entirely new phenomenon: fast-food chains have done exactly the same thing for the last 50 years and most restaurants keep ready made sauces at hand in the freezer or even more simply in a bain-marie. I think most of the outcry comes from food enthusiasts who are able to detect the smell of the industrial kitchen on their plates and from those advocating for a less industrialized (and homogenized) approach to food. In that sense, I certainly see a problem with these trends especially since low prices for acceptable but homogenised industrial food might put out of business the true and sincere artisans whose product, I believe, would almost always be of greater quality and contributing to culinary diversity.
According to an investigation by the newspaper France Soir, the days when a Gallic chef could boast of 86 different ways to make an omelette are fast disappearing.
Instead they are turning to frozen vegetables, ready-made dishes and sauces delivered in cartons - some of them supplied discreetly by an arm of a British "pub grub" caterer.
Restaurants may give the impression that their leg of lamb is fait maison (made by the house) when in fact all the chef has done is remove it from a bag and heat it up, said France Soir.
Many younger chefs, it claims, would now struggle to produce standard fare such as a sauce Béarnaise or even straight-forward vol-au-vents.
To add to the dismay of food purists, more than a dozen traditional techniques - including how to truss a chicken, open oysters and prepare artichoke hearts have been dropped from the national cookery qualification, the Certificat d'Aptitude
Professionnel. Instead trainees are tested on their use and handling of processed, frozen, powdered or pre-prepared foods.
On the other hand however, we should not forget that these techniques allow a certain democratization of the dining experience. Not all of us have the money to eat out in good restaurants who themselves are able to hire experienced cooks. I live in a city where good restaurants are scarce and expensive and I would certainly appreciate the possibility to indulge in standardized but good food at a reasonable price once in a while. As for now, however, it seems the ready-made meals are only served in awful chain restaurants in my area...
Saturday, November 26, 2005
Il s'agit, comme vous le voyez bien, d'une plante apparentée à nos propres variétés de zizania qui envahisse souvent nos cours d'eau, surtout en bordure d'autoroute.
Merci à ma conjointe (YanYan ou FuFu dépendamment de son humeur du jour) pour son aide!
Et je le répète, si vous trouvez cette plante dans une épicerie chinoise près de chez vous, essayez-là et donnez moi en des nouvelles!
Friday, November 25, 2005
Il y a déjà quelques semaines, je me suis procuré ce très beau livre de cuisine présentant les créations d'un grand nombre de grands chefs d'Europe. Avec au delà de 800 pages, toutes superbement illustrées, ce livre est très bon marché puisque je l'ai payé à peu près 60$ canadiens.
J'achète et consulte rarement des livres de cuisine pour y suivre les recettes. Règle générale, je les lis lorsque je suis en recherche d'inspiration. J'y découvre des techniques nouvelles, des trucs intéressants et des agencements de saveurs intrigants. En ce sens, ce livre fait décidément un bon boulot. On y trouve quelques photographies illustrant les techniques de préparations ainsi qu'une photo du plat terminé quasiment pornographique tant elle met l'eau à la bouche. Pour ceux et celles qui désirent suivre les recettes, elles sont très bien décrites, parfois avec une touche historique ou même biographique.
Le mélange de recettes traditionnelles modernisées et de recettes plus contemporaines, tout comme le mélange de saveurs régionales, plaira à ceux ayant l'esprit éclectique. En fait, il n'y manque qu'un peu plus de détails sur les chefs ayant participé à ce volumineux ouvrage et peut-être aussi une petite touche d'humour pour adoucir l'aspect pompeux de la haute cuisine pour me plaire à 100%. Je crois que l'important à retenir ici c'est qu'il s'agit d'un très bel ouvrage à un prix exceptionnel!
Wednesday, November 23, 2005
Hence yesterday we bought a factory farmed chicken. I actually insisted because I love eating birds (duck, quail, Cornish hen…) and because cheap poultry is usually the only thing we can afford. I made myself believe that I could make something good out of this fowl using some flavouring ingredients such as thyme, bacon and garlic. Today I proceeded with my plan and cooked the bird. I placed garlic slices and thyme under the skin, added bacon strips on top of the bird and roasted it as instructed in most decent cookbooks: breast side down for the first 30 minutes and then breast side up until cooked.
At diner, I served it with roasted root vegetables (carrot, rutabaga, celeriac and potatoes) and a sauce made with the jus from the roasting pan. What a nice combination! Well, to be honnest it was only ok. The taste of the chicken was very mild… not to say bland. The thyme flavour was overwhelming and gave the meat a slight but weird bitter aftertaste; something like the taste you get from drinking cheap beer. I have to say that it was more than just a little bit disappointing. I am not sure where I failed, maybe it was the ingredients and their dosage, maybe it was the chicken itself. Street corner rotisseries are often able to offer a much tastier chicken using what I believe to be the same factory farmed chicken. However, their chicken does not always taste like, er… chicken.
I might be fast to blame the chicken industry for the bland taste of today’s poultry; after all, there is a huge demand for flavourless skinless and boneless chicken breast. I’m not the greatest cook either and I am sure there is way to deal with this kind of bland meat: if Chinese cooks can make such amazing dishes out of tofu and rice there must be a way to make something tasty with industrial chicken. The problem is that I still don’t know how.
We all know that it is best to let your meat rest for a few minutes after cooking so that you won't loose all its delicious juices. Most people I know simply tent their piece of meat with aluminium paper. I am using one of my large mixing bowls to do the same. Less garbage and much easier!