Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Glad that's done!

Well, I have to admit I am feeling a little exhausted after coming up with this weeks menu. You see, it is imperative I stay on budget, as always, but even more so this week, as we just purchased a new vehicle at the top end of our allotted vehicle funds! But at the same time I want to learn a new technique with every entree and stretch my knowledge a little further. So for this week I have chosen dinners which require many steps and plenty of ingredients. This is made possible, again, by using only fresh foods that need loads of prep before and during cooking. Why do I do this to myself? Because it's fun - and the more variety of foods I use, the more I learn about them. The menu is international this week, since one of my goals is to expose my kids to many different food cultures, in a hope to 'produce' well-rounded palettes in them.
I am only planning for 4 entrees, as they allow for plenty of left overs and I intend not to have any waste!

Corn and Crab Chowder with Basil
Old-fashioned Rye Bread

Meats and Game
Beef Pot Pie

Pasta, Noodles and Dumplings
German Spaetzle
Fresh Tomato Coulis with Garlic
Baby Greens with Balsamic Vinaigrette

Yellow Split Pea and Vegetable Curry
with Spiced Rice and Cucumber Raita

Pita Bread
Old-fashioned Rye Bread using Rye starter

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

The Verdict.

It's 6:03pm, we are finished with dinner, and there are hardly any dishes in my sink. I am very pleased with the results of this pizza, these cook books just seem to deliver results every time. Fresh is definitely the way to go. The crust was divine, and didn't taste like bread at all! I did roll it out too thick, as I realized later on that with the amount of dough I had I should have made three pizzas, not two. So we didn't get the thin crust pizza I had hoped for, but nevertheless it was crispy on the outside with a super soft centre. And did I mention it tasted like crust, not bread?! I am over the moon excited!
Pizza Dough, Sponge Method
250g Bread Flour
250g Water
15g fresh Yeast, or 7.5g Active Dry Yeast (not instant)
8g Malt Syrup
500g Bread Flour
202g Water
13g Salt
Sponge: Soak yeast in water for a few minutes. Add flour and malt syrup, mix into a thick, smooth batter. Ferment 4 hours at 24 C (75 F) or overnight at 18 C (65 F). This can be a little tricky in a home setting, so what I do is I preheat my oven at it's lowest setting, with water in a cake pan (for humidity) for about 3 minutes, then turn the oven off. Cover the dough bowl with plastic wrap, this way it won't dry out. Put it in the oven for the 4 hours.
Dough: When the 4 hours are up, punch down the sponge and add the remaining dough ingredients, knead (with your hands) for several minutes and ferment again at 27 C for 30 minutes.
Pizza toppings for Margherita
(the following recipe is for ONE pizza, so depending on whether you need toppings for 2 or 3, double or triple these amounts):
Prepare the tomatoes during the second fermenting, to allow them to cool down in time.
360g Fresh ripe plum tomatoes or canned Italian-style plum tomatoes
1 tbsp Olive Oil
to taste Salt
- If using fresh tomatoes, peel, seed and chop them. If using canned, chop and drain them.
-Combine the tomatoes and olive oil in a saucepan. Cook uncovered over moderate heat until the tomatoes are no longer watery, about 5 minutes.
-Add salt to taste.
6 Fresh Basil leaves, torn in half
120g Fresh mozzarella cheese, preferably buffalo-milk mozzarella
1 tbsp Parmesan cheese (optional)
1 tbsp olive oil
-Preheat oven to 500 F (260 C).
-Meanwhile, flatten the dough and roll it out into a circle (or 2 or 3!) Drape the dough over the backs of the hands and carefully stretch the circle to a diameter of 30cm (12 inches). Leave the dough thicker around the edges than in the centre.
-Flour pizza stones or cookie sheets so the dough does not stick (might not be a bad idea to also grease the cookie sheets). Lay the circle of dough on it.
-Spread the tomatoes over the dough, leaving the rim uncovered.
-Distribute the Mozzarella, Parmesan (if using) and basil over the pizza.
-Drizzle with olive oil.
-Bake in the preheated oven for 10 - 16 minutes, until the dough is browned and the cheese is melted.
I baked two pizzas at the same time, and since my oven is not a convection oven, I rotated the pizzas half way through baking.

Scientific Pizza.

A few weeks ago I was watching a TV show which 'goes behind the scenes' of food and cooking, it explores the science of cooking, to be more exact. It was my lucky day, as the topic of the episode dealt with real Neapolitan Pizza. It's one of those things I have hoped to better myself at - homemade pizza - which doesn't necessarily taste like take-out, but also not like the usual homemade pizza, which is more like a big, dense round piece of bread with pizza toppings on it. At least mine turns out like that! Growing up in Europe my taste buds were given the opportunity to develop a love for real Italian pizza. The crust is thin - crisp on the outside and soft on the inside. The pizza is not greasy and the toppings are quite different from ours here, in North America. Now don't get me wrong, there is something special about a piece of pepperoni Pizza, we wouldn't be Canadian if we never indulged in one once in a while! But, going back to the original is where I want to go, at least for now. The ingredients are fresher, and so to me, the allure all the greater.

I was super excited to see what it was the science guy would do differently than what I had done with my home made pizza, since pizza dough is pretty much always made up of the same stuff: flour, water, (natural) yeast and salt. Here is where I was introduced to malt syrup. To my delight, my new cook books also use malt syrup in most of their bread recipes (and you can too, just substitute in equal amounts, the sugar or molasses for malt syrup in your bread recipes). I found malt syrup at the Bulk Barn, but it may also be found at health food stores, or perhaps wonderfully amazing stores like Whole Foods.

So malt syrup was the first difference, the second, and probably most significant difference, was the method of preparing the dough. Again, I was happy to discover that my cook books fell in line with the TV show, since the show was about making true Neapolitan pizza, and now I had exact recipes to follow. The procedure for the pizza dough is called the Sponge Method, which in essence is a yeast-starter, or pre-fermenter of yeast. Part of the flour, water, malt syrup and yeast is combined into a smooth, but sticky dough. This is then allowed to ferment for 4 hours at 27 C, or even overnight at a lower temperature. After fermenting, the remainder of the dough is then added, and a second ferment is done for just 30 minutes. At this point the dough is ready to be formed into a pizza shell, then topped and baked right away. No proofing needed!

The third and final difference was the oven used for the pizza. This I can not replicate, as I do not own a stone hearth, but I will pull out my trusty pizza stone. I am wondering if using my barbecue may produce a more authentic flavour? If the rain holds off, I will give it a try.

As I am writing this, my dough is in it's first hour of fermenting. Now I realize all this pre-fermenting sounds like a lot of work, but it some what reminded me of using my crock pot, where I can throw everything in in the morning, and have a nice meal for dinner. I put the ingredients in the bowl, give it a quick stir, and forget about it for 4 hours. I do have this timed perfectly for dinner time, of course - just as with the crock pot. But it would be possible to make the sponge the night before, and then at dinner time, add the remaining dough ingredients, allow it to sit for 3o minutes, then top and pop in the oven. Seriously, how simple is that!?

My toppings are super simple also, as I am making an original Margherita Pizza. All it needs are plum tomatoes, fresh or canned, fresh mozzarella cheese, fresh basil leaves and olive oil. So often it's the simple ingredients without too much fuss that produce the best flavours. And who doesn't love the classic tomato, basil and mozzarella combo!

One last interesting tid bit of information: Authentic Neapolitan pizza, made in Naples, are baked in a stone hearth which is over 1000 F (!) hot, for only 90 seconds! Huh!

Sunday, September 27, 2009

An absolute must try!

A proper Risotto has got to be one of life's little pleasures. Leave it to the Italians to take something as simple as rice, and turn it into a mouth watering dish! For the past years I have been making a sort of a cheater's version of Risotto, since, apparently Risotto is too much effort. I would like to dispel this myth once and for all by sharing the simplest of all Risotto recipes with you, "Risotto alla Parmigiana". I challenge everyone to share in this experience, as this is comfort food that rivals the best macaroni and cheese. And please, never ever use pre-shredded Parmesan from the pasta sauce aisle. A little goes a long way with the real stuff, and you can even save a few bucks by substituting Asiago cheese for the Parm. I did - and was happy to discover that Asiago is a beautiful thing in Risotto.
Read all the directions carefully before beginning to cook, since once you start the risotto you may not leave it's side until finished. Serve with either a light and crisp salad or a vegetable like asparagus, and you've got yourself a tasty meal! (Never mind the bargain price!)

Risotto alla Parmigiana
Serves 10 - can easily be halved, but left overs for the next day will not be turned down, I am sure of it!

30 g (2 tbsp) Butter
30 mL (2 tbsp) Vegetable Oil
30 g (about 1/4) Onion, chopped fine
450 g (1 lb) Italian Arborio rice
1.4 L Chicken stock, hot (!) - approximately

30 g (2 tbsp) Butter
90 g (about 1/2 cup) Parmesan cheese, grated
to taste Salt


Heat the butter and the oil in a large, straight-sided saute pan (not a sauce pot). Add the onion and saute on low heat until soft. Do not brown.

Add the rice and saute until well coated with the fat.

Using a ladle, add one ladle of stock to the rice. Stir the rice over medium-low heat until the stock is absorbed and the rice is almost dry.

Add another ladle of stock and repeat procedure. Do not add more than one ladleful of stock at a time.

Stop adding stock when the rice is tender but still firm. It should be very moist and creamy, but not runny. The cooking should take about 30 minutes.

Remove from the heat and stir in the butter and Parmesan cheese. Salt to taste.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Fall fusion.

Today is one of those days where the fall air is crisp but the summer sun still warm. A new season begins, but the old one is trying to hold on for just a little while longer. A day like today is the perfect day for warm baked sweet potatoes along side a crisp summer lettuce and barbecued pork tenderloin. A fusion of sorts, where two very different worlds walk hand in hand for just a very short time. I love fall cooking, it has amazing rustic elements to it. With it's gentle warmth, seeming almost to wrap flavour around you like a big, cuddly blanket. Cinnamon and apples come to mind, as do turkey and gravy, and today - sweet potato with chipotle pepper sauce. A combination completely new to me, but it just simply works. I decide to put this on my 'when company comes for dinner' list of meals to make, since even though the preparation is quite involved, it can be mostly done early on in the day.

I had the intention of sharing the recipes with you, but I have to admit, this meal has relaxed me in such a way, that all I can think of is a warm cup of raspberry apple tea, perhaps with a little cinnamon, a soft blanket and my hubby by my side. So that's what I am going to do... perhaps I will get around to it tomorrow.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Sticking with it.

I spent an hour at Chapters last night, wandering the isles, with the intent of reading a good magazine or two. It didn't take long before I ended up in the cook book section, although I was trying to avoid it. Why? I felt a little like I was having an affair with other books, when I have two perfectly sufficient cook books sitting at home, and to whom I am dedicated to for the next year. I need to stay focused, stick to the plan and learn from one source! Don't get me wrong, research is a wonderful thing, and I don't believe much in putting all your eggs in one basket. But this time is a little different, as I have done my research and decided on one source of information and I plan to stay focused! However, just for future reference, here are three books I found inspiring and are on my list for Fall 2010:

Niagara Cooks by Lynn Ogryzlo

Dough - Simple Contemporary Bread by Richard Bertinet

Knife Skills by Norman Weinstein

I am especially excited about Niagara Cooks, as it is an amazing guide to eating locally in the Niagara Region of Ontario. This is, after all, in the plan!

On the menu for the coming week:

Meats and Game
Grilled Pork Tenderloin with Sweet Potato Puree and Warm Chipotle Salsa

Pizza Margherita with mixed Greens

Potato and Leek Soup with Sorrel

Salad, Rice
Broccoli, Prosciutto and Sunflower Salad with
Risotto alla Parmigiana

Stir Fried mixed Vegetables over Angel Hair Pasta

100% Whole Wheat Bread
Cinnamon Raisin Bread

Chocolate Pecan Biscotti

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Best ever Drop Biscuits

In keeping with the spirit of bread making, as I am sure it is plain to see that I am concentrating on this part of my culinary journey right now, I would like to share with you my all time favourite drop biscuit recipe. It is probably one of the simplest items I make, yet I am never ever let down by it. In about 5 minutes, plus 12 - 15 bake time, you will have wonderfully rustic and custom flavoured biscuits to accompany a good bowl of stew, or whatever your heart (stomach!) fancies that day. I love to have them hot and ready, perfectly timed with dinner - especially when we are expecting guests - as they are best served warm out of the oven.
Custom flavour additions are up to you, and the meal they are accompanying. My tried and true favourite is small cubes of old cheddar with dried or fresh onions. The amount is up to you, so play around with it. Other options can be garlic and herbs - oregano works best; Parmesan and Asiago; or even a sweet version - try chocolate chips or cinnamon and brown sugar.
I always use my pizza stone (which I think is a kitchen must have, and only a $10 investment) for that wonderful stone baked aroma. I also love that the stone does not need greasing, not that I mind the grease, but it's one extra step that can be left out and makes for easier clean up. If you do not have a pizza stone (shame on you!), use a baking sheet which has been lightly greased or lined with parchment.

Let the fun begin!

Drop Biscuits
Makes 12 biscuits

2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tbsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 cup butter, softened
1 cup milk

Preheat oven to 450 F (230 C). Prepare pizza stone or baking sheet.

In a bowl, mix flour, baking powder and salt. Cut in the butter. Add the milk and flavourings and mix only until the dry mixture has been absorbed.

Drop by heaping spoonfuls (12 even portions) onto a pizza stone.

Bake for 12 - 1 5 minutes, until golden brown.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

My little crush on yeast.

As I work my way through the yeast chapters of the baking book, I find myself fascinated by all the intricate details that are involved with bread making. I have always loved to make bread, and more so now, as I discover the beauty and art of handmade dough. It's amazing to me how a dough starts out a sticky mess, and within minutes turns soft and pliable as the gluten strands form and connect. I am learning about all the things that get in the way of gluten, like bran and sugar, and how to work around these to still achieve beautiful, soft and perfectly risen bread. It's tough to retain all this information, so I go over every written word again and again, and put it into practice as often as I can. Today I wanted to do something different, and, being German, I figured pretzels would be the perfect place to start with shaped dough. I have eaten pretzels here in Canada - they are soft and chewy, but mostly taste like a simple sweet dough shaped as a pretzel. German pretzels are salty, with a hint of sweetness, they are soft with a chewy crust. I was sceptical of this recipe, and maybe also my capability to produce a pretzel in the first place! As far as yeast dough goes, pretzel dough is much simpler than other doughs and does not need a long fermentation or baking time. Shaping is also quick and easy, after the first or second try. The tricky part comes after shaping, where the pretzel needs to be dunked entirely in baking soda water, to give that beautiful dark crust and the soda flavour that is unique to it. There was a quick option, however, to brush the pretzels with soda water instead of dunking. I decided to try it, since it was easier... with the full intent of doing it the hard way next time. After baking, I realized that the hard way is definitely the better way, as with the short cut browning is uneven, and the crust could have a more pronounced flavour.
When the oven timer went off, and that wonderful smell of freshly baked dough filled the kitchen, I couldn't help but plate a pretzel right away and devour it. (I did share it with my daughter.) There are after all 5 of them, and only 4 people in our family, which means everyone still gets one (including myself!). It's just one of the perks the cook of the house enjoys. How did they taste? They were so good, maybe because I was proud of myself for making them, I don't know. I could be biased, but us Germans are super picky about getting it right, and I have to say these pretzels come pretty close to the real thing. Perhaps one day I will find the nerve to ask a German bakery to show me their secrets. Until then, this recipe will certainly suffice.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Thinking outside the (bread) box

I simply have to share this recipe, it is too good to be kept secret! For my version I used my whole wheat bread instead of the French bread, and home made chicken stock (made of left over chicken bones from the chicken I butchered yesterday). Store bought stock will work just fine, but I think once you use home made, it's hard to go back to the other!
Anyway... I hope you enjoy.
Butternut Squash Soup with Caramelized Apples
Yield: 12 portions (can be halved)
125 g French Bread
30 g Butter
30 g Butter
125 g Onions, small dice
125 g Leeks, small dice
190 g Carrots, small dice
1 kg Butternut Squash, medium dice
2.5 L Chicken stock
3/4 tsp Salt
1/4 tsp White pepper
1/4 tsp Ground allspice
1/4 tsp Ground ginger
12 croutons
375 g Tart, firm cooking apples
15 g Butter
30 g Brown sugar
190 mL Heavy cream (optional)
as needed - additional heavy cream or creme fraiche for garnish, if desired
1) Cut the bread into slices 1/2 inch thick
2) Fry the bread in the 30g butter until golden brown. (If desired, prepare additional croutons for garnish at the same time; see step 8.)
3) Heat 30g butter in a heavy sauce pot over moderately low heat.
4) Add the onions, leeks and carrots. Sweat them until they are about half cooked. Do not let them brown.
5)Add the squash, stock and browned bread from step 2. (But NOT the croutons for the garnish.) Simmer until vegetables are tender, about 10 - 15 minutes.
6) Puree the soup with a food mill or immersion blender.
7) Bring the soup back to a simmer. Add seasonings, taste and adjust if necessary.
8) While the soup is simmering, prepare the croutons if you have not already done so, by browning slices of French bread in butter as in steps 1 and 2. For the best appearance, use a slender loaf so croutons aren't too big.
9) Peel and core the apples. Cut into small dice.
10) Heat 15g butter in a saute pan and add the apples and sugar. Cook over moderate heat until the apples are brown and caramelized.
11) At service, heat the heavy cream (if using) and add to the soup.
12) For each portion, ladle the soup into a broad soup plate. Decorate the top of the soup with a swirl of cream, if desired. Heap a generous tablespoon of apple onto a crouton and carefully place the crouton in the soup.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Practice makes perfect

MUCH to my dismay, dinner was not on the table until 7:05pm this evening. Our usual dinner time is right around 5:30pm, so the dismay of my children was all the grander, as you may be able to imagine.
It started off to be a rather productive day - I made my loaf of bread, this time with proper bread flour, a batch of banana muffins, read two chapters of my book - I even walked around the mall for two hours looking for some good deals. At 4:30 things began to change, however ... although not right away ... I gathered all my ingredients and necessary utensils; "mise en place" - everything in it's place as the french like to say. I was excited yet a bit nervous as I had the task of separating a whole chicken into 8 beautiful, separate pieces, as in the photo above. We all know that when something looks simple, in reality it is not! But first things first, I began peeling back the plastic wrap on the chicken and a foul waft of rotting meat hit me so hard, I just about fell over. I was pretty sure there was time left before the expiry date, and, there was. Thankfully I have made it a habit to keep my grocery receipts until the next shop, so I packed up the kids, and the chicken, and headed back to the store. The car quickly smelt rotten as well, the kids were complaining and so a 5 minute car ride felt like an eternity. I was annoyed, and tired from a long day, and getting hungry! This nuisance has now pushed dinner back by 45 minutes. I returned my chicken, and ended up getting two for the price of one since they went on sale that day - so, not a total waste of time I suppose!
When all was said and done, I did manage to cut one (fresh) chicken into 8 pieces. And although they may not be pretty, there are 8 and that is all that matters to me at this point! I slathered them with herb butter, wrapped the prosciutto around them, and popped the things in the oven for an hour. These better taste good, I though out loud, as if the chicken could hear me.
And I must say, this was probably the juiciest and most flavourful chicken I have ever made. But in the end what this was really about was learning a new technique, and it looks like I am going to have to do alot more practicing.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Saving money and time - menu writing!

All right, here it is... my first weekly menu! I have always been one to write out menus for the week, since it makes writing a grocery list a breeze and choosing what to make for dinner even easier! Plus I am convinced I spend less money with a plan than without. Three solid reasons, and only about 20 minutes out of my time every week. A little strategy goes a long way; all you need are 5 - 7 entrees, from varying categories. For example, this week I have chosen soup/stew, poultry, salad, pasta, and eggs. I find 5 is often enough, since some of these meals allow for left overs, and so a 5 day plan turns itself into a 7 day plan. I try to do only 2 meat dishes a week, for health and for budget. Tip: If you have a dish that will have left over prep ingredients, try to incorporate these into another dish. This week I have a squash soup that needs leeks, but only a little, so I chose a frittata that also uses leeks to make sure I use them up and so have no waste.
The only difference from my usual menu to the new menu is that I am also incorporating a new skill into each dish, taking us from a child's menu to a bit more sophisticated one. We are also trying out new foods, like scallops and prosciutto (well, new for the kids, I suppose). Here it goes...


Butternut Squash Soup with Caramelized Apples

Chicken baked with Prosciutto and Herbs
Vegetable Tagliatelle

Salad of Seared Sea Scallops with Oriental Vinaigrette
Smashed Potatoes

Spaghettini with Basic Tomato Sauce
Salad Greens with Oil and Vinegar dressing

Summer Squash, Spinach and Leek Frittata
Fresh tomato wedges

French Bread
Multigrain Loaf

I quite often pick a couple of snacks to bake up, like muffins or cookies. I have some overripe bananas that are crying out for my attention, so I will whip up banana muffins and perhaps Oatmeal Chocolate Chip cookies. That is, if I have time in between all my bread baking! I have to say though, there is just something about sending the kids off to school, brewing some (strong!) coffee, putting on good music, and kneading dough for 15 minutes. Talk about a stress reliever! People who have had kids, including myself, often wonder - what ever did we do before we had kids!? This morning I caught myself thinking - what ever did I do before bread dough?

Monday, September 14, 2009

yumm-O !!

It's rather interesting how imperfection is not so hard to take when you allow yourself to learn. I have this silly fear of failure sometimes, and I am impatient too - mostly with myself! This so often gets in the way of doing new things that I would love to be able to do. It's no different with food; how many times have I leafed through my cook books, reading recipes and flipping on to the next one - just because I wasn't sure if I could do it! Yet I yearn to make pasta, Chinese food, and the perfect Sunday roast. I have watched someone else make gnocchi a couple of years ago, it looked so simple but I just never attempted it myself. It's funny to think that I am constantly encouraging my kids with these very words, "Never say I can't, always say I'll try". So today that is what I did, I tried! I was prepared for a total flop, perhaps it's my way of avoiding disappointment. But I have to say, I was not! My first gnocchi may not be perfect to the trained eye, but the flavour was bang on and they were hardly gluey in texture. Not to mention the fun I had putting them together, and eating them with my family. Oh what reward when there is not a sound at the table other than utensils brushing across the plate, and my little one humming along as she always does when she is enjoying her meal.

The art of juggling.

I am oddly stuck for words as I finally sit down with a steaming cup of peppermint tea at the end of a busy day - juggling laundry, cooking, reading, kids, homework, the dog (who, I admit, did not get as much attention as he would like!), dishes, writing menus, etc etc... My husband is just as busy as I am today, so he won't notice his lack of attention. I can't complain, however, as I do love to be busy!
My day started with baking some more bread. If you are a woman, you will understand that by the time I got around to the bread which I started my day with, I have already showered, dressed myself and the kids, made breakfast, cleaned up after breakfast, broke up fights and wiped tears off kids faces, made beds, stepped on toys, made kids clean up toys, made lunches, fed the dog (then ignored the dog), put 3 loads of laundry in, checked my email, wrote some emails, ran the dishwasher and sorted mail. I did skip doing my hair today!
I decided to use up the little bit of whole wheat flour I had left since I did need bread again as my the other bread was devoured fairly quickly. I am determined not to use my bread machine or give into buying bread at the grocery store. My bread did not turn out so perfect today, but I did learn some things along the way.

1)Whole wheat dough is stickier than white, and can get very stuck on the baking sheet after baking. Cornmeal is on my to buy list.

2)I didn't take enough time to tuck in the seams after forming. Thus the big crack on the side.

3) The crust was harder than friday's bread as I wanted to see if my way of adding steam to the oven somehow made a difference. It did, the crust was pretty crunchy today.

4) The inside was soft and fluffy, which means I am doing an ok job kneading it. (Hooray!)

5) I did not use a sharp enough knife to score the top and should be more careful to get these little details right.

Learning is fun, isn't it?

Friday, September 11, 2009

First made-entirely-from-scratch-and-by-hand Bread

I am happy with it!

Leftovers, Reading, more Reading and Bread

It's the end of the week, which in my kitchen means clear-out-the-fridge-day. In other words, no cooking today. It's just one of those things I put a lot of effort into, besides sticking to a food budget, and that is to avoid throwing out food. I have discovered that food is not valued in our society as much as it should be. Growing up in a missionary family of 6 we learned early on to value every slice of bread, every piece of fruit even if it's a little brown - otherwise we may run out before the next grocery shopping day. I think it's a good value to have, even if my kids don't need to worry about running out of food. Somewhere in this world, someone worked hard to produce what is now on our plates, and probably earned only a small wage for a long days work. I am hoping one day to grow at least one green thumb so I can teach my kids the effort that goes into planting and harvesting. Until then, and maybe never (!) I hope to find good sources of local food, and purchase directly from where it came from in the first place.
Back to cleaning out the fridge; there are plenty of leftovers for dinner but I do need bread as I have run out completely, and pb & j sandwiches don't go over so well on burger buns... I switched my cooking book for baking and flipped to yeast breads, hoping to quickly and simply throw together a loaf of white bread. Turns out there is A LOT more to yeast than I thought! I have in my past worked in a bagel shop where I made, from scratch, about 1000 bagels each and every day. And so as I am reading along, some of the things I was required to do to make these bagels properly, finally make sense to me. Like steaming the bagels in the oven when they first went in. Or fermenting, retarding then proofing the dough... exact temperatures of ingredients and in the air. My head is buzzing with all this information, information I know I will have to come back to many times in the future as I attempt different varieties of bread. Turns out bread making is not only an art, it's a very exact science too. Time was running out, although it was only noon, so I had to move on. One thing I do know is that bread made from scratch can take a long time. I put my book down and got out flour, milk, sugar, eggs, salt, oil and yeast. The bread recipes in my new book call for malt syrup, which I do not have and have yet to find out what it is, so I decide that I have enough understanding of yeast to take a basic bread recipe from my bread machine cookbook and turn that into a beautiful hand made round loaf.
I have to admit there was a bit of guess work involved as I was kneading the bread since I don't yet own a kitchen mixer. In my new book, a soft white bread is put in the mixer on low for 10 minutes. What is low when you are hand kneading? I figured I would just knead for 10 minutes and do a windowpane test - which is a stretching out of the dough to check for a thin, translucent membrane. I never really got that, even after 15 minutes. I am blaming that on my all-purpose flour. Note to self, put bread flour on the shopping list. And malt syrup.
As I am writing, my dough is about ready to be put in the oven. We'll see what happens, I suppose. At the end of the day, I am sure it will look even just a little nicer than what my bread machine puts out. As for steaming the bread, I placed a brownie pan with water in the oven, to hopefully make up my ovens lack of a built in steamer. One can only hope!

Thursday, September 10, 2009

So last night as the sun set and the house went quiet, I finally had a chance to pick up my crisp new book. With just a few butterflies in my stomach, I read the preface - I don't want to miss a word - and as I read, I noticed a little something that said all recipes are portioned for 12 - 16! What?! Surprised, I flip to the recipe section, and low and behold, they weren't lying... Thoughts of returning the book and finding something simpler quickly crossed my mind. Thoughts of disappointment replaced the excitement I had just a few minutes earlier. But I decided to read on, and I am glad I did. As this 'problem' quickly turned into a possibility: recipe conversion! Something every cook should learn, and I suppose I will master as I scale back every recipe down to 4 - 6 portions to better suit my family.
I finish the preface and also chapter one, a short history lesson and heavy reinforcement on the importance of going back to the basics and understanding food. And now I am certain, this is the book for me. Relieved, I turn out the lights and look forward to the next months of absorbing information that takes me beyond cooking for 4. I think to myself, why was I surprised to find that a book named Professional Cooking really is for the professional. Silly me...

How to convert a recipe:

Divide the desired yield by the recipe yield, then multiply each ingredient quantity by the conversion factor:

conversion factor x old quantity = new quantity.

Another little tidbit I discovered is the true meaning of the word Chef. This respected title is reserved only for the chief or head of a kitchen. You don't become a chef by going to a culinary school or by putting together nice menus. Only by preparing food and managing staff and planning production does one earn the title of being a Chef. It's kind of like the difference between an Interior Decorator and Interior Designer. Designers do not like to be called decoraters! It's all about respect.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Mm Mm Good!

My five year old is home from school today, and spending a little time on the computer. Our computer is in the basement, our kitchen upstairs. So when a waft of Mushroom Soup lingers downstairs and she comes running, searching for where this amazing smell is coming from... I know I have found a keeper (recipe that is, the kid goes without saying). She is less impressed when I list the ingredients for the bread. Although she will eat just about anything, olives are not on her list of favourites.
We wait patiently for our soup to complete it's simmering process - which is vital for all the flavours to come together, then we dig in... oh, what bliss!
There is a lot of bliss though, and I think we may be eating of it for a little while. Leftovers, anyone?

Aroma Therapy

I have to give it up to for super fast delivery! My books are here... and... I don't feel ready for them. My menu for this week is planned out, mostly home cooking, but all new meals that I have never dared to attempt - which puts my official launch date to Monday or Tuesday. I do plan to do plenty of reading until then, however, and plenty there will be! Over 2000 pages to be exact. A little intimidating, perhaps?
But first things first, a rustic Mushroom Barley Soup with Olive and Rosemary Bread. The thought of watching over soup calms my nerves, and because of this I know this year will be just fine. Spending an hour in the kitchen (or two, or three!) is like therapy to me. And oh what therapy it is, as it fills the house with beautiful aroma, not to mention a happy husband after a long day at work.

Tuscan fresh Olive and Rosemary Bread
A rustic loaf flavoured with fresh rosemary, this good served warm from the oven to accompany hearty winter soups and stews.

3 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1 cup whole wheat flour
1 tsp chopped fresh rosemary
1/2 cup mixed green and black olives
1 tbsp baking powder
1/2 tsp sea salt
2 extra-large eggs
3 tbsp olive oil
about 3/4 cup milk (not fat-free)

a baking sheet, lightly greased

Makes 1 medium loaf

Preheat oven to 350 F.

Mix the flours with the chopped rosemary, olives, baking powder and salt in a large bowl.

In a separate bowl, lightly beat the eggs with the olive oil and milk, then stir into dry ingredients to make a soft and slightly sticky dough. If there are dry crumbs or the dough feels stiff, work in a little more milk.

Turn out dough onto a lightly floured surface and shape into a ball about 7 inches across. Set on a baking sheet and score the top with a knife.

Put in the oven immediately and bake for 45 minutes until golden brown and the loaf sounds hollow when tapped underneath with your knuckles. Transfer to a wire rack and leave until cool enough to break into quarters or cut into thick slices. This loaf is best eaten the same day but can be frozen for up to 1 month.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Au revoir to bottled salad dressing

Never have I been as excited to pay for my groceries as I was today - I felt like I accomplished something monumental, something that seemed impossible became possible today. $110, right on budget, and my cart is filled with organic fruit, fresh herbs and fish, bacon, and flour - all the *good* stuff which is, in my mind, a treat for a very special occasion. What I don't have is packaged food, although yogurt and cheese may or may not apply.
Today is the beginning of a new journey, a very personal and somewhat unique journey... the sprouting of my diy culinary school. I love food, good food - simple but full of colour and flavour. I love the idea of fine cooking, the passion that goes with it, and the endless possibilities to express one self. It has seemed like a far away dream, however, since I have been at home with my kids the past 7 years. Living on one income and feeding small children soft, mild foods, never mind the thought of paying for culinary school or having time for it in the first place! So for the past few years, my family has eaten well plated casseroles, fun finger foods and plenty of pasta. As my girls begin their own lives at school and independently brush their teeth, I suddenly find myself with time on my hands and a need to fill that time. Working an hourly job somehow does not appeal to me, college is still too expensive - and so I began piecing together what now is my next year or two.
A few weeks ago I went to the movies with a good friend to see Julie and Julia. I was on cloud nine for two hours as I watched these two women do amazing things with their lives, and with food. How inspiring! I am sure I am not the only one that walked out of the theater that day with a burning desire to create beautiful food and share it with friends. If Julia can do it, then so can I! My journey is slightly different, as I am not following one particular chef, but instead I have purchased two very large and very heavy cookbooks from Le Cordon Bleu. My goal is to master professional cooking and to understand food, all within my small 12 x 12 kitchen (and small weekly budget!).
My cookbooks have not yet arrived in the mail, but I do have a few recipes from the Culinary Institute of America. A sort of a prelude of things to come this year, I am attempting my first step away from basic family meals with poached sole in a creamy wine sauce with haricots verts.. I do find myself making a few adjustments here and there, as I don't have a stainless steel saucepan, but your average non-stick pan. Today it's all about learning new techniques and perhaps acquiring a few new kitchen supplies along the way.
Writing this blog in a way makes this all official to me. I am hoping to be able to grow a third arm so I can document my progress with my camera. I imagine fine cooking will require the attention of my other two arms!