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Monthly Archives: August 2013

Oh cookbooks – even after my praising words last post, you had to go and do this, didn’t you?  You had to show me that blind obedience to what I saw written, ignoring my instincts, was a Bad Idea.

So yesterday my wife decided to take care of dinner, asking me only to make a side dish to go with.  Lately I have been finding myself coming across recipes for Cornbread a lot, and thusly craving said sweet, gritty bread.  I grabbed a few of my cookbooks, and upon coming across the first recipe for cornbread, decided to go with it.  (Mistake #1: Never assume the first recipe found will be the best)

I checked that I had all the ingredients, noting with a bit of surprise the 10 teaspoons of baking soda being called for in a dish that only used a total of four cups of flour and cornmeal — a very unusually high ratio, but I figured it must be right and went, without comparing against any other recipes.  (Mistake #2: If your instincts scream something is wrong with a recipe, listen to them.  Double-check it somehow)

Everything went together well, and the batter went into a pan to cook quickly before I had to run a quick errand.  Upon taking it out of the oven, the edges and top a beautiful golden brown, I sliced off a quarter-inch off an edge to taste — Holy baking soda blast, Batman!  We are talking the wonderful taste of baking soda with just a hint of cornmeal in the background – not exactly what I was going for.  As I’ve got a bit of a cold, I was hoping it was my own taste buds which were out of whack, so I made my final (and least forgivable) mistake of the evening — after I failed to get my wife to taste a piece, I went ahead and served it with her dinner anyhow.  (Mistake #3:  If you won’t eat it happily, don’t assume others will!  Never serve something you’re not happy with!!!)

There are all sorts of ways I could have looked at the events up until this point:
* The recipe was published – that assumes a certain standard of quality, doesn’t it?
* Publishers have proof-readers and editors to make sure typos don’t happen, so the recipe has to be correct, doesn’t it?
* I tried to get her to taste it before serving it, and my wife was too busy at the time, so it’s not my fault the final product wasn’t something she liked, was it?

Well, sadly, all three of those things are wrong, and my failure to catch the three of them, let alone just a single one(!) puts the final result squarely on my shoulders – a large pieces of cornbread sitting on her plate at the end of the meal, one small bite all that was taken of it.

I’m happy to say that it is relatively rare that I make those kinds of errors, especially all together like that, but let the Cornbread Catastrophe serve as an example to all of you — no matter how good you think you are, no matter your training, and no matter the sources you are drawing upon, if you don’t exercise critical thinking skills, failure is *always* an option.

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So it has been a week.  After some amazing guests at ‘my’ B&B last week, I was able to purchase a few new cookbooks for myself — one of them with the assistance of my wife.  The local ‘Chapters’ had a copy of “1080 Recipes” (a text on Spanish cooking from Phaidon publishing) – 1000 pages of Spanish goodness, for all of $10.   Then, looking at their online store, I was able to find a treasure — “Modernist Cuisine at Home” – a $150 book, for 1/3 off.  So, in the space of a couple of days, I was able to add approximately 1600 new recipes to my repertoire.

Now, I’m not going to be vain or foolish enough to claim that all of those recipes will automatically be in the list of things I can and will cook, but I *am* spending a lot of time this week reading through them – recreational recipe reading — who would’ve guessed?  And for every recipe or technique that I read but never use, well, who knows when it will inspire something in me down the road.  One can never be sure what bits of knowledge in your field will be of use, so drink them all down!

I get teasingly laughed at for calling my reading of cookbooks and cooking manuals ‘studying’, but I can not think of a better term for it that the average non-cook would understand.  “Seeking Inspiration”, “Browsing the Possibilities”, “Scouring Global Knowledge”…  all good terms for what I do as well, but they do tend to make me sound a little (more) pompous, so I’ll stick with Studying for the time being.

After all, it fits – my father always used to call me a “gentleman and a scholar”.  At least he got the latter half right. 😉

 

Today’s recipe that I’m sharing I’ve prepared twice in the last two weeks, and both times the reviews from my guests (and wife) have been the same — “This is delicious!  What flavour *is* it?!?”  Well, my faithful followers, I am here today to share with you the secret of Cucumber Sorbet.  🙂

Dead simple to make, tasty and refreshing on a hot day, and a perfectly-sized recipe to share with two other friends as a little pick-me-up.  So let’s get right to it:

2 large seedless cucumbers, peeled and chopped1 tsp mint/spearmint extract
1 tsp vanilla extract
2/3 C sugar
2/3 C water

Pop the chopped-up cucumbers, mint extract and vanilla extract into a blender or food processor and puree it.  Set aside.

In a small pot, heat the water and sugar together until the sugar is completely dissolved.  Once you are certain all the sugar has dissolved, pour in the cucumber puree and thoroughly mix.  Place a sieve over a bowl big enough for the resulting liquid, then press the cucumber/simple syrup mix through the sieve (just to make sure there’s no big chunks sneaking through), and place the mixture into the fridge for at least 5 hours.  At that point, pop the mix into an ice cream maker (as per the maker’s instructions) and you should shortly have a small batch of refreshing, light-green sorbet.

**Note:  If you are preparing this for a diabetic, it is possible to substitute 1/2 of the sugar with Splenda (by volume) to cut back on the person’s sugar levels spiking a bit.  For my own personal cooking, though, I prefer to stay with ‘regular’ sugar.

So here is something that has been bothering me for a while now: how and why have we allowed our culture’s food production values to get so badly out of sync with what we need?

I can honestly say I was lucky in how I was raised – my family never wanted for food, and I grew up during an era before corporate interests turned the food industry into the horror show it is today.  I remember regularly eating home-cooked meals, or eating at restaurants where the cooks (before this was even as trendy as it is nowadays) would base their daily menu off what they could purchase fresh and at an acceptable quality.

Nowadays, in an era where corporate interests have pushed their way into controlling too much of our governments, the idea of ‘average’ restaurants cooking their own food is becoming more and more rare – now you *pay* for the privilege of having real food cooked for you by a restaurant’s COOKS, because it’s just easier and cheaper to buy it all from corporate suppliers.  Never mind that all of a sudden you don’t really know the quality of the ingredients, what additives, preservatives, chemicals whatever – are in the food, neither does the cook!  Neither do the people who buy those convenience meals for at home!  All you can do is trust that the companies involved are being 100% honest in their labeling, and really — when has a big company not been honest with us, the consumers?  (Please, please don’t answer that…)

I hate it.  I hate that I cannot walk into a store and look at something labelled “Vitamin Water” and take it at it’s face value.  I hate that I cannot look at any list of ingredients and be entirely sure that everything is listed.  Apparently, the FDA in the U.S. of A. apparently has fun rules on not having to list ingredients if they are in small enough quantities per portion – part of why portion sizes rarely match up with even single-serving items.  The Canadian government is no better, allowing these food-ish items into our nation, and into our stores, no longer looking out for its citizens so much as trying to maintain good relations with the multinational corporations.  Jamie Oliver, and other celebrity chefs, are doing what they can to try and draw attention to the problems inherent in our current system, but far too many people put blind faith that what you see is what you get, so that’s good enough, right?  And I hate, hate, HATE that we live in a society that makes the nutritionally questionable corporate food-like substances more affordable than real food, thereby forcing too large a percentage of the population to eat what they’re given and not question it!

I am blessed with a job right now where I get to write my own menu, and choose my own ingredients — wherever possible, I make sure I’m getting food direct from the orchards, butchers, cheese-makers, etc., and as little as possible from the supermarket pre-packaged aisles.  I am blessed with a wife who understands my feelings on this, and does her best to make sure our fridge now gets stocked with fresh vegetables, fruits, local meats, etc., so that we can cook our own quality foods.  And, I am blessed to live in an area where the climate supports all the local growers, farmers, etc., so that I can have access to those foods without having to trust in corporate interests providing me with what they feel I need.

I suppose to me, it comes down to this — it is no secret that the corporate food industry has worked out the formulas to add the right amounts of sugar, fat and salt to make all their foods crave-able, no matter how little real quality ingredients are present.  Myself, well… I have no magic formulas — I use as little processed sugar as possible, rarely use any fat except for butter or what I’ve rendered, and try to minimize the salt present as much as possible.  Instead of those three things, I add fresh ingredients, spices, herbs, techniques and attention to detail, and do my best to craft something tasty where I, and my consumers, truly know what’s in the food.

Tasty, informed and transparent?  Sign me up — that’s modern food I can love!

Oh Breakfast Pizza, how I love thee.  Well, to be honest, I love pizza of pretty much every type, so that’s not really a thrilling claim, but still – breakfast pizza is something pretty snazzy to my mind, so here’s the how-to for it!

Ingredients
1/2 C warm water
1 tsp sugar or honey
1 tsp active dry yeast
1.5 C all-purpose flour
Dash of salt

5 slices bacon
3 eggs
1/4 cup whole milk
1 cup grated mozzarella
1/2 cup hollandaise sauce *OR* ketchup, depending on tastes
**Other breakfast-type foods: a couple diced up (pre-cooked) breakfast sausages — sure!  Bell peppers — why not?  Tomato — yummy!

1 – Start the oven preheating to 200 degrees Celsius.  While the oven is heating up, dice the bacon and cook it up to a little under whatever done-ness you like it at, being sure to save all the bacon fat in a mug or bowl to the side.  Put the bacon aside for now.

2 – In a bowl, mix the warm water, yeast and sugar.  Let sit for about five minutes, until you see the yeast is foamy.  Once it has reached that state, mix in the flour half a cup at a time, as well as the salt.  Once you’ve got a good consistency to the dough (pulling together, springy and still a little sticky), turn it out onto a lightly-floured surface and knead the dough for a minute or two before shaping it into a ball.  Pour the bacon fat from the mug into the bowl that you had the dough in, then place the ball of dough in the fat, turning it so that it’s got a nice coating of bacon-y goodness on all sides.  Cover the bowl and let the dough rise for one hour someplace warm.

3 – Punch the dough down (it’ll be pretty puffy by this stage), and then lift the dough onto a freshly-floured surface.  Shape the dough into the shape you want your pizza – rectangle if you’re cooking on a cookie sheet, circular for a pizza tray, etc, and get it onto a tray for the oven.  Brush some of the remaining bacon fat on the top of the crust, and place the dough into the oven for 10 minutes.
4 – While the crust is baking, use the eggs and milk to make yourself some scrambled eggs (seasoned with salt and pepper, of course) – a little on the moist side when you take it off the heat is best.

5 – Remove the crust from the oven, and being careful (after all, it’s pretty hot!), flip it over on the tray you are using.  Now you can add your sauce — myself, I would use a thin layer of hollandaise sauce, though for my wife I would do ketchup, instead – it’s just a matter of personal taste.  Next, add the already-cooked bacon and whatever other toppings you want – ham, sausage, peppers, mushrooms – pretty much anything goes, so long as your proteins are pre-cooked.  Spread your scrambled eggs over top of everything else, then cover with the shredded mozzarella.

6 – Pop the pizza back into the oven for another five to seven minutes (until the cheese has hit a nicely melted point), remove, slice and serve!!

This dish has proven to be a *big* hit with the people I’ve cooked it for – a tasty pizza crust coupled with all the best breakfast yummies you could want, smothered in cheese?!?  You can’t go wrong!

Enjoy, and let me know your own favorite list of toppings for this dish if you try it out!

I am a big believer in ‘tradition’.  The traditional way that we do things, particularly in cooking, is usually for a very good reason — bread rises better under certain circumstances, meats become less tough when cooked with the proper method, etc.

That being said, as we learn more about our art, we need to open ourselves up to the idea of challenging traditional values.  At a recent job, I had the opportunity to learn a traditional recipe and method for making Italian pizza crusts.  I made many many of them.  And then I got to try one, and compare it to the tradition-inspired-but-now-MY crusts that I make for my wife and I, and there was no difference.  The actual handling of the dough traditionally is where I learned the most useful info to integrate into my own skillset, but the actual dough itself was, well, it was what a traditional pizza crust is supposed to be: nothing more than a delivery vector for the toppings on it.

My crusts, by contrast, tend to be packed with flavour – whatever flavour I think is going to compliment the toppings planned for the pizza, I will work into the crust.  I want my guests to enjoy their last bite of the crust at the end of the pizza pie as they do their first bite of the all-topped tip of the slice.

Tradition says “keep your crust light, but bland, while I look at my pizza and say “crust, time for tradition to go OUT the window – do you want to be curry infused, or Italian herb infused, or even filled with diced-up oven-roasted bell peppers and a bit of balsamic before I roll you out and top you up?”

Tradition is good.  Without it, I wouldn’t have that solid base on which to develop my own take on pizza crusts, but at the same time you need to know when you’re ready, and willing, to step away from tradition and start making your own way, your own art.

And now if you wonderfully fine readers will excuse me, I need to go figure out how I’m going to infuse this morning’s crust for a fine fine breakfast pizza, the recipe to which will follow this afternoon!  ‘Cause after all: nothing says ‘tradition’ like pizza topped with hollandaise, scrambled eggs, bacon, and other breakfast-y goodness. 😉

Ciao!