Sunday, January 14, 2018

Art or Science?

Lately, my kitchen has become more than a place to prepare food.  It has become my "home school" for science, art and cultural studies.

I have always loved to play in the kitchen.  I have always considered myself an adventurous cook - unafraid of trying new flavors, flavor combinations or the inevitable failures that occur with experimentation.  A recipe, for me, has always been a springboard, a list of suggestions, a recommended route to get to the end result.  Most recipes, again for me, lack some elusive ingredient, some aroma, it umami?  Most recipes seem bland, boring and pedestrian.

But why?

Why?  A valid question.

That question was immediately followed by What?  What can be done to elevate the flavors?  What technique can be employed to create more interest in the finished dish?  What is needed to insure a repeatable recipe?

Now that I have the time and absolutely nothing more to fill my time unless I get distracted by the ocean or a friend wanting to sit on the balcony and ponder meaning of our existence (which usually includes food), I decided to embark on a journey to answer those questions.

So my adventure begins; armed with nothing more than curiosity, the internet, and my kitchen tools. Is cooking an art?  Is cooking a science?  Can it be both?  I am sure these questions have been answered before, but not by me!  I need to see for myself.  I need to know how things work, why they work and how to use them.

My first step is reading.  Through the reading, learning.  Through the learning, doing.

I will be linking my favorite cooking and cooking science sites to keep my reading lists and books in order.

This is my school.  My classroom.  Please attend and comment as you wish. Join me in my "homeschool" cooking/science classes.  Learn with me and we can all become better at this art.  Or is it science.

This week's site of choice:  Serious Eats


Monday, January 8, 2018

Let's Bake Sourdough! (part 1)

I have loved sourdough for as long as I can remember; a staple of my childhood sandwich memories, sought our during high school lunch forays, searched for wherever I have lived.  Sourdough!  It is amazing, healthy and varies in flavor based on the location made due to the wild yeast spores.  Making a sourdough starter, to me, is like gathering wild flowers or searching for local mushrooms.  It takes time and patience, but is so worth the effort.
To make bread using sourdough starter, although not difficult, takes a little knowledge of bread making.  You need to be able to read your dough as exact measurements are almost impossible to say.  You need to be able to touch the dough, and tell by feel when you have enough flour to hold a rise. But, most importantly, you must be able to tell when you have your starter at the right consistency to get the sourdough flavor you are looking for.

Because the starter is the foundation of the loaf, it is the first thing that must be mastered.  This part is easy! Starter will be the focus for this post.  If you have never made one, you will be surprised as to how easy it actually is!

Now, I don't know if this is true or not, but years ago a baker told me that if you bake frequently using yeast, that you have tons of yeast spores floating around in your kitchen.  Personally, I think there are yeast spores everywhere.  You find them on fruits and vegetables.  They are floating around, waiting for a place to land and make little yeast children.  They are a healthy part of our environment.  What you want to do with your starter is give those little yeasties a place to land and call home.  They don't want much.  Just a bit of flour and something to make the flour a bit liquid. Are you ready?  Let's get going!  (I was really tempted to say "Started" but the pun was really silly.)

Sourdough Starter 

1 cup flour
3/4 cp water
1/4 tsp yeast (just for the first day)

Mix all ingredients together in a large glass bowl.  Don't use plastic.  Stainless steel is an option as well. Cover with a damp dishtowel, not plastic wrap as you want the wild yeast to be able to find their new home and plastic is like locking the door.

Let this mixture sit for 24 hours.

The next day, add about 1/2 cup of flour and 1/4 cup of water. Mix well and cover again.

Repeat this process for about 5 days.   

It should be the consistency of really thick wallpaper paste. If you think the starter is too thick, or it looks like ragged dough, add more water. Too thin? Add more flour.  

At this point your starter should also be very active and happy.  When you add  your daily bit of flour and water you should notice lots of bubbles and the starter should rise and expand.

You will have noticed that I didn't tell you to toss any portion of the starter from the previous days. I never have, nor did my mother or grandmother.  And I don't understand the rational behind that process. Anyway, by not discarding any, you should have enough starter made to make your first loaf of sourdough and have some left to replenish for your next baking foray!

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

New Country, New Flavors

I know I have said it before, but heck...Ecuador!  I freakin' live in Ecuador!  It is like a dream that I am not waking up from. It is like falling through a rabbit hole. It is wonderful!

We arrived in June of 2017 and have finally settled into a routine of shopping, socializing, walking on the beach, and cooking.  Always cooking.

Upon our arrival I set out to taste the local flavors and develop my own take on those.  So far, the exploration has been a delight.

First, the fruits and vegetables available are so fresh and so local that it is hard to decide what to carry home with you.  Pineapple - 3 for $5.  Avocadoes - 3 for $2 when in season.  Onions, so many that you have to figure out new and innovative ways to use them for only $1.  Grapes, apples, corn, lentils, beans, broccoli, cauliflower - old friends but so much better!  New friends like Tomate de Arbol (tree tomatoes), a fruit that looks like a tomato but isn't.  Maracuya - kind of like passion fruit, only bigger and more flavorful.  It that possible?  And so many more that I can't mention them all.

Shopping for all these wonders is simple and basic.  A truck comes to our door every Friday morning and delivers almost everything one could want.  But, why spend the shopping dollar in one place when there is a movie-set of a market in the next village - Charapoto'?

In Charapoto' I get chickens for $1.50 a pound that are so good and so fresh!  Quail eggs, a delicacy that I couldn't allow myself often in the U.S. are a weekly pleasure at $2 for 2 dozen.

The fresh fruits and vegetables alone make living in this country an adventure. It is going to be so much fun to experiment and learn.  

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Braised Chicken With Autumn Vegetables

Autumn is my favorite season.  It is the culmination of the growing season.  It is the time that the farmers bring their produce out to fill the roadside stands that are so abundant in my area.  Each stand has a special something that the one a mile up the road doesn't have.  Some have corn, some have potatoes, some have squash.  Well, they all have squash...and apples.

This season, on my forays to the stands, I was drawn, like a bear to honey, to Pryputniewicz Farm in Paris Hill, NY.  It was almost decadent!  The brussel sprouts still on the stalk, potatoes (the best ever), broccoli, wagon loads of squash, and mounds of cabbage.  Picked up a bit of all.  Spent one entire day blanching and freezing the sprouts.  The next day went to blanching and freezing a boat load of broccoli.  And Monday was a day of shredding cabbage into a large crock to make sauerkraut. (A post for another day) Even put up some kvass and pickled beets because they looked to good.

Once the haul is in and taken care of, it is time to partake of the goodness that was gathered.  I wasn't going to post this meal, but it was so delicious that I had to do something, just so I would remember what went into it.

I used Blue Apron as the inspiration for this meal.  In my weekly box I got some chicken breasts, a sweet potato, and brussel sprouts.  I looked at the recipe and decided that it wasn't what I wanted tonight.  I tossed the little chicken breasts into the freezer, grabbed a generous breast purchased at a local grocer - Chanatry's - along with a bag of the sprouts that I had put in the freezer a week ago, and a lovely squash...yellow and green on the bottom right of the wagon.  And, in the back of my fridge was a quart of apple cider from Old McMarley's Apple Farm.  What follows is the result of this bounty!

You will need:
2 large boneless/skinless chicken breasts
3 1/2 cups apple cider
chicken demi glaze
1 vidalia onion
1 jalepeno pepper (optional)
3 cloves of garlic
1 winter squash
almond flour
pork rinds, pulverized
Brussels sprouts
coconut oil

You might want a salad as well - but for that you are on your own.

Once you have gathered your bounty together in one place begin by preparing the apple cider reduction.  It is so simple...

Grab a wide, shallow pan, like a saute pan, pour the cider in, and bring to a simmering boil.  Ad the demi glaze, salt, pepper, and a pinch of rosemary and let it reduce to a syrupy consistency.  Taste it once it is syrup, to make sure it is seasoned to your liking.

While the cider and heat are working their magic, prep the meat and veggies.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Peel the onion and large dice.  Quarter and deseed the jalepeno if you are using it and slice.  Mince the garlic. Cut the chicken into bite sized chunks.  Place the almond flour and pork rind into a large Ziploc bag along with salt and pepper to taste.   (Again, taste it to make sure it is seasoned to your liking).

Toss the chicken with the almond flour mixture and set aside.

Place the squash and sprouts on a foiled lined cookie sheet and sprinkle with salt, pepper, and cumin. Dot with coconut oil and pop in the oven.

In a large skillet, melt about 2 tsps oil and saute onions and peppers until caramelized, remove to a bowl and set aside.

Just before the squash is done, work the chicken...

Add a bit more oil to the skillet and saute the chicken until just done - you don't want to over cook it or it will be dry, dry, dry!

Remove chicken to large plate and keep warm.

Pour cider reduction into skillet and deglaze the pan.  Add onion/jalapeno blend to skillet and stir.

Now plate your dish!

On each plate put a ring or two of squash, a few sprouts, and the chicken.  Drizzle the cider reduction over it all and enjoy!

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Chorizo Tortilla With Arugula Salad

Mexican food is one of my favorite things.  I love the complex flavors, the spice, the heat.  About a year ago I decided to go Paleo and thought I would have to say goodbye to my favorite food.  But, whit a little imagination and actually letting go of my "Mexican" food rules, I was able to bring those flavors to my table.

Here is what is going on tonight's plate.

Chorizo Fritata

7 oz chorizo
1 Leek
1 large jalepeno pepper
1 dozen eggs
1/2 cup full fat coconut milk
salt and pepper to taste

Prep:  Thinly slice leek, including as much green as you can.  Half and deseed jalepeno pepper and thinly slice.
Combine eggs with coconut milk, salt and pepper.

Pre Heat oven to 350 degrees.
Place first three ingredients in a large cast iron skillet and saute over medium heat until chorizo is cooked through and vegetables are tender.
Turn off heat and pour eggs evenly over mixture in skillet.
Place in oven and bake for 25 - 30 minutes, or until eggs are set.

Meanwhile, prepare salad.

Arugula Salad with Guacamole Dressing

1 Ripe Avocado
6 Cherry Tomatoes
1 tbs Extra Virgin Olive Oil
1 tbs White Balsamic 
1 tbs Coconut Water
1/2 Lemon (for zest and juice)
1/8 tsp Cumin
1/8 tsp Black Pepper
pinch Salt
4 cps Arugula

Wash and spin Arugula.
In large bowl, mash avocado.  Large dice tomatoes. Using zester or vegetable peeler, remove peel from the lemon, avoiding white pith; mince finely.  Remove seeds from lemon and squeeze juice over avocado.  Mix everything except arugula together.

When Tortilla is done, plate your dish and enjoy!

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Creative Kitchen Muse Devises A Sweet Potato and Spinach Salad

I have been so bored with my kitchen lately.  Haven't come  up with anything new is so long that I was beginning to wonder if I had lost my kitchen MoJo.  This was a really traumatic thing for me to contemplate!  What was going on?  The same meals week after week after week.  Not boring ones, mind you.  Just not the normal creative "explore the spice cupboard" ones that were the norm.

Flash forward from my last post to today.  The Creative Kitchen Muse returned and prompted me to prepare this wonderfully different salad.

Sweet Potato and Spinach Salad
serves 4 to 6

2 medium to large sweet potatoes, boiled in skins until just fork tender.
1/2 small sweet onion, diced
1/2 cup dried cranberries
2 tsps each, cumin and garam masala
1 tsp each, powdered ginger, marjoram and thyme
1/2 tsp kosher salt
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
3 tbs red wine vinegar
2 cups loosely packed baby spinach leaves

Peel potatoes and cut into large cunks.  Add remaining ingredients except spinach.  Fold gently to keep potatoes intact and place in covered container in refrigerator until ready to serve.
To serve, divide spinach onto plates and top with potato mixture.

I must give thanks to my Kitchen Muse for this recipe.  If not for her (I think it is a her) I would still be languishing with my chicken caesar salad and broiled salmon.  

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Stuff This!

I just made up a new stuffing recipe.  And I did it just in time to be too late for anyone else to try it for their Thanksgiving bird.  But, Christmas is coming up so there is a second chance.  This stuffing is one that will be loved by those pepper heads out there.  It is full of black pepper!  Not just a sprinkling or a pinch or a teaspoon, but a whole tablespoon of the peppery goodness.  Then, to make it even more of a peppery delight, add a bit of Penzey's Bicentennial rub to the mix.  This will send your tastebuds into orbit!  All this pepper is finally calmed with the addition of a touch of sweet in the form of dried currants.  Give it a try.

Currant Cornbread Stuffing

1/4 lb sausage of choice

1/2 onion, chopped

1/4 stick butter

1/4 cp coconut oil

1 1/4 cp water

1/2 14 oz bag cornbread stuffing

1/2 cp dried currents

1/2 cp pine nuts

1 tbs black pepper, or less to taste

1 tsp Pensey’s Bicentennial Rub

1 tsp poultry seasoning

1 tsp marjoram

Saute sausage and onions with butter and coconut oil until saugsage is cooked through. Add water and bring to boil. Remove from heat and add cornbread. Toss until evenly moist. Add remaining ingredients and toss until well blended. Stuff your bird or bake as is!