Thursday, December 31, 2009

Dinner Tonight: Roasted Saddle of Unicorn, Napped with Pixie-Fairy Jus

Mike liked the risotto.
Quite a bit, actually.

This is the recipe for the ice cream I made last night, tweaked after the fact to reflect how it ought to have tasted:

Stir together: 1 500 mL tub full fat sour cream (probably you could use low fat but I can't imagine why on earth anyone would... Which reminds me: New Year's Resolution #1 = go back to the gym!), 1.5 cups 35% cream, the zest and juice of 2 lemons, and 1 cup sugar. Let rest in the fridge to allow the lemon to infuse into the creaminess, then process in an ice cream maker according to the manufacturer's instructions.

**Every recipe for ice cream says this last bit, and for sure, I feel very grown up and professional saying it myself. However, when I inherited this ice cream maker from Dana, an all around great guy that I work with (and a fine cook), there were no instructions, and when I found the PDF on the internet, they basically amounted to ''put the bowl in the freezer until the gel in the double wall is frozen solid, put it on the base, turn the thing on, then dump your chilled ice cream base into it. If you're adding any pieces of anything to the frosty treat that you wish to remain in distinct pieces (chocolate bits, nuts, cookies, etc...), add these in the last 5 minutes of churning. This yields ice cream the consistency os soft-serve, but it will firm up in the freezer. So put it there, in a sealed container so it doesn't pick up tastes from your freezer itself, and it will harden. For some reason (maybe because of the lack of food science-y gums and emollient additives), homemade ice cream gets way harder than store-bought, so let it thaw for a few minutes before you serve it (if you can stand to wait that long). Those are the manufacturer's instructions, for the most part, so don't let the lack of a manual prevent you from purchasing this treasure second-hand at a yard sale or Value Village. No mystery, here.

Anyway, I had used a little more lemon, and a little less sugar, and the result was gloriously refreshing, but had the slightest whiff of floor cleaner. So a little less citrus, and a little more sweetness it is. This will be a perfect treat in late June, with fresh strawberries, I think.

A very happy New Year, y'all! To you and everyone you hold dear, all the health, wealth, happiness and success you could wish yourselves!

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Chèvre and Wild Mushroom Risotto, Braised Lamb Shanks & Sour Cream Ice Cream for Dessert

This is the plan for day off dinner:
(And I am having a day off in the most glorious sense of the word: slept late, did zero in the way of chores, drank boozy coffee with Mike whilst listening to the CBC, had a lazy trip to the Italian grocery, the LCBO and the regular grocery store, all of which took way too long due to silliness and careful examination of food products beyond our ken. Like Ackee. Packed in brine. In a can. Careful research reveals that Ackee is the national fruit of Jamaica, but the picture on the label looked threatening...)

Anyhow, dinner!

Braised lamb shanks, following my all-purpose braising method, swapping rosemary for thyme, served with chèvre and wild mushroom risotto. And sour cream ice cream for dessert.

Risotto for 2 people (date night!)

I'm using the Carnaroli variety of rice, rather than Arborio (which is easier to find), because it has a higher starch content (=creamier risotto), and it keeps its shape beautifully.

1. Heat 2 tbsp butter or olive oil in a heavy pot or pan. Over low heat, sweat 1/2 cup finely diced, salted onion. Seriously, the onion should be about the size of the grains of rice you're using. You want the onions translucent, but not browning.

2. If you want, add some *not rehydrated* dried mushrooms. I got a little (30 g) package of mixed mushrooms: dried shiitake, oyster, button and porcini. I'll probably use about half of the packet. Break them up into manageable pieces and stir them in once the onion is done.

3. Add 1 cup rice and sautée briefly, long enough to coat each grain with fat.

4. Add enough white wine to barely cover the rice. I'm currently loving the Stoneleigh Chardonnay from New Zealand for drinking, but it may well be too fruity (not sweet, more of a green apple-citrus thing) for the rice. I think I have some open Citra Pinot Grigio, which is a bit more of a wallflower, as far as I can tell. Cook, over medium/low heat until the wine is absorbed into the rice.

5. Start ladling in hot chicken or vegetable stock. Add enough to just cover, and stir constantly until it is mostly absorbed. Repeat. The liquid between the grains of rice should look creamy and silky.
*If you're making this ahead of time, stop when the rice looks creamy, but is actually unpleasantly crunchy on the inside. The rice should stick inside your molars. Remove from heat, spread as thinly as possible on a flat baking sheet to cool it quickly and prevent it from overcooking. To serve, over medium/low heat, rejoin the rest of the recipe, beginning with the gradual addition of more hot stock.

Apparently, risotto takes about 17 minutes to cook from the time the wine evaporates. A better way of knowing when it is done is by tasting the rice and eyeballing it. Know that the rice will continue to absorb liquid and cook for a while even once it is off the heat, there are fine lines between underdone, perfect and overdone risotto. Perfect risotto is tender and toothsome, but neither crunchy nor slimy. The grains of rice are visible as individual grains, and are suspended in a creamy sauce that is neither watery nor too stiff. A spoonful of risotto on a plate should spread, but the sauce should not dribble out beyond the rice.

6. Once all this is happening, finish the risotto with cold, diced, salted butter (about 1/4 cup) and, in this case, room temperature chèvre. Grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese is way more traditional, but the soft tang of the chèvre will nicely complement (I think) the gentle zip of the lamb.

Easy as pie!

Now I'm going to take a stab at making sour cream ice cream without a recipe (ballsy, and probably a mistake, given the mixed results I've had producing decent ice cream while obsessively following a recipe).

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

This Week's At Home Cooking Effort

This past autumn, I worked a lot. I worked. All. The. Time. I juggled 3 jobs, but for the most part, Wednesdays and Fridays were my easiest days, and those were the days I would make an effort to stretch a little at home, cooking-wise. Duck breast, Osso Bucco, Boeuf Bourguignon, Duck Confit, Paella, braised Ox Tail, Bouillabaisse, handmade Ravioli, Bourride de Lotte, Veal Canneloni, Doro Wat, etc., etc., etc...

My schedule has loosened up a lot (I now have entire days off!), and so while I don't feel the same urgency of doing something really special for Mike and I (and our friends) on my easiest days, preparing a nice meal on a day off is a pleasure, and quite frankly, my favorite part of the week.

Mike says he strongly dislikes risotto. He claims that the rice is always slimy on the outside and crunchy/raw in the middle. Not content to leave well enough alone, I am operating on the assumption that he has just never had a really good risotto- the rice should be tender all the way through, and the slow cooking releases the starch from the rice into the cooking liquid to make a creamy, unctuous sauce that is neither slimy nor puddle-y, but delicate and comforting. Plus, it is improved by the addition of tasties: butter, parmesan, saffron, bits of exotic mushroom, whatever.

I'm going to mull this over today. Maybe risotto as a side dish, rather than the foundation of the entire meal, just a small amount to reveal it's charms to Mike. But as an accompaniment to what?

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Erev Christmas

1. David Lebovitz's vanilla ice cream turned out beautifully. As in, it firmed up slightly in the ice cream maker. (A Cuisinart ICE-20. Am I expecting too much of this machine?) From everything I have read, I was expecting the consistency of soft-serve. Granted, it's been some time since I've had any soft ice cream, but I distinctly remember it holding shape. In any event, it solidified beautifully in the freezer.

2. Thusly encouraged, I threw the lemon ice cream/granita mess into my stand mixer to break up the ice crystals and whip some more air into it. The result? Delicious. Still a little icy, but definitely ice cream.

3. I made a butterscotch sauce to accompany the vanilla (and who are we kidding? Probably the lemon, and anything that stands still long enough for me to drizzle it onto.) Lovely. Brown sugar, corn syrup, butter, heavy cream, a little fleur de sel, brought to the boil, then simmered to thicken, then finished with more butter, some vanilla extract and some blended Scotch.

4. Feeling awfully proud of myself, I started a third batch of ice cream, truffled honey/saffron. I let the custard stay on the heat too long, and it curdled. Garbage. Expensive garbage, at that. Pride goeth before a fall, or something, right?

5. I took a nice (well, angry, actually) break from my kitchen, went to a houseparty, home now for dinner. Not, as it turns out, the traditional Jewish Christmas eve festive meal of Chinese takeout, but leftovers from last night: braised short ribs. Here's how to make them:

**Unfortunately, I don't have any accompanying photos for this one, because last night when I was cooking, I didn't know I would have a weblog today!! I'll do better next time.

Braised Short Ribs: A Recipe in Broad Strokes. (Also, an all-purpose method of braising things)
Serves 4 big appetites

1. Finely dice: 1 large yellow onion, 2 ribs celery, 2 peeled carrots. Sweat these vegetables in 2 tbsp. butter or flavorless cooking oil (canola or some such), about 10 minutes over medium/low heat, or until veggies are translucent, but not browned. Season very well with Kosher salt and ground black pepper. Add 4 cloves chopped garlic, and 2 cups sliced mushrooms (whatever kind, really. I used white mushrooms, but cremini would be fine, shiitake would be lovely and rich, portobello would be meaty and lovely as well.) and cook a further 4-5 minutes, then scrape into a roasting pan, dutch oven or similar.

2. Dredge 6 pieces of "flanken cut" short beef ribs in all-purpose flour. Using the same pan, heat 3 tbsp. cooking oil over medium/high heat, and brown the short ribs in the oil until deep brown all over. Place on top of the vegetables you just set aside. Drain off most of the oil remaining in the pan.

3. Deglaze the pan with about 2 cups of a medium-bodied red wine. I was introduced to the Casal Thaulero 2007 Sangiovese, a medium red wine, dry, cherry notes, a bit of a metallic finish, INCREDIBLY inexpensive ($7), considering how darn drinkable it is. Anyway, keep the heat on under the pan, pour in the wine, and use a wooden spoon or heat-proof spatula to release all the delicious brown bits stuck from the browning of the meat. Let the wine reduce a little, to concentrate its flavour, and then dump it over the meat and vegetables.

4. Heat up some chicken stock (beef stock would be better, but I had neither the inclination nor the fridge space to make any), about 2 cups, or as much as is needed to have the meat 2/3 submerged in liquid. If you don't have any chicken stock, go on ahead and use beef consomme or bouillon, but keep in mind that the stuff you can buy in the store is wicked salty, and so you'll want to show some restraint in adding salt to the vegetables as you sweat them. Pour this onto the meat.

5. Halve some small red potatoes (8-10 of 'em) and fit them into the spaces around the pieces of meat.

6. Add 1/2 large can (not the industrial large size) diced, canned plum tomatoes.

7. Toss in 2 bay leaves, 4-5 sprigs fresh thyme.

8. Cover and put in an oven preheated to 350F for 2 1/2 - 3 hours, or until the meat is very soft, the braising liquid has reduced into a nice sauce, and the potatoes are fork-tender. Every 45 minutes or so, baste the meat, and taste the sauce and adjust the seasoning, if necessary.

Leftovers? Shred the remaining meat into the remaining sauce, heat with some extra tomatoes for a rich ragù that is delicious over pasta. Or just reheat and eat as is.

This is some tasty eating, right here.

Ice Cream Failure #1

I don't know where I went wrong - it could have been anything, really. The
recipe seemed solid, I
thought the bowl was properly frozen, I thought Mike had measured the ingredients carefully, I thought the custard was thick enough, I thought I had chilled it sufficiently, etc...

And yet: no ice cream. Delicious, rich lemony soup, yes. Rich, refreshing lemon ice cream, no. I let it churn about 30 minutes extra, and still nothing. I left it in the freezer over night, where it firmed up into an ice-crystally granita-type of a substance. Should I put it back into the ice-cream maker to churn it again now that it is semifrozen? Or am I better off trying another recipe and calling the lemon soup a loss?

My current enthusiasm for homemade ice cream knows no bounds. I have decided to start a new batch, this time classic vanilla, from a reputable source (the hugely inspirational David Lebovitz's favorite Vanilla Ice Cream Recipe). Wish me luck!

Welcome to my weblog, a chronicle of my culinary adventures. I have been working in the restaurant industry for nearly 9 years, mostly as a cook and baker, largely as a talented amateur. I will be attending culinary school next fall, but for the most part, my enthusiasm outstrips my experience and knowledge base. This is my trainwreck of a kitchen, now all over the internets!