Monday, November 10, 2008

Roast leftovers, part 1

Saturday's dinner was cut up meat and onions in a bowl with some of the juice, soaked up by whole wheat bread. Sunday was meat shavings and Monterrey Jack cheese wrapped in a tortilla.

Monday I got a little ambitious. In my 8" cast iron frypan, I carmelized an onion. Then I put some of the leftover liquid in the pot, along with a spoonful of the rendered fat. (that was a mistake, I think). I dumped the mess into the saucepan.

I read that when you carmelize an onion, you should use a bit of vinegar at the end to deglaze. I say, why use vinegar when you have scotch? About two tablespoons swished around and was dumped into the saucepan.

I cut a potato in thin slices and dumped that in, filling the frypan with water and dumping the water in the saucepan. Simmered until the potatoes were cooked.

I tasted it and it was pretty bland and fatty tasting - next time no fat. I put in generous amounts of celery salt and black pepper, then let it boil some more.

(This is one of those times that roasted long green chiles would have come to the rescue. Alas, they had gone bad)

Tasting again, it wasn't so bad. I spooned some into a bowl with sharp cheddar cheese on top. That turned out to be the key.

What's going on here

I'm thinking the sharp cheddar mitigated the sweetness of the onions, and the fats blended well together.

Lessons Learned
No rendered fat on sweated, carmelized onions, and cut the onions into bits instead of rings for soup.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

One for the cook, one for the cooked

Mom is a master roastmaker. She can make a lump of meat tender and then make it last for a good week. I'm no good at roasts in the oven, but I can do them on the stovetop.

Today I had a beef arm roast and two bottles of beer, a Scottish Ale and Newcastle Ale. Friends told me the "Newkie" would be the best, so it went into the pot and the Scottish Ale went into me.

The roast was frozen when it went into the pan. I'd put some olive oil in the bottom of the big cast iron frypan, along with celery salt, garlic powder, and black pepper.

I seared the top and bottom of the meat and turned down the heat. I cut up half an onion and laid some of the slices on top, and others in the oil.

After about 30 minutes I put in the beer and added the rest of the onion.

What's going on here (shakes fist at baby brother)

(I'm going to cheat and copy from here)

Beer is by nature bitter. It comes from the hops. Malt adds a sweet flavor that counteracts and harmonizes with the bitterness. Likewise, sweet foods profit from the marriage with the hops' bitter taste. Use sugary vegetables like onions, carrots, corn, etc., and even add some honey, molasses or sugar itself. Caramelized onions are a classic example of a sweet vegetable ideal with beer.

The result was a very mellow tasting meat and liquid combination. I shaved off some slices off the roast and left them in the liquid. I deglazed the pan with the rest of the Scottish Ale and am letting it all "brew" in the refrigerator. I'm going to get some Russett potatoes during the week and make a potato soup. I'm undecided on whether to add mushrooms.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Béchamel Mucho

Serves 2, 5 minutes prep, 20 minutes cooking

More mushrooms! This is a béchamel (BEH-sham-el) sauce good for sea creatures, pastas, poultry or the ocassional bloody steak. Cream sauces take some effort and care but are easy to cook alongside the main dish.

* 1 cup diced fresh brown mushrooms: portabellos, etc
* 1g dried porcini, crushed
* 2tbsp butter
* 12oz whole milk
* 4oz vegetable stock or 1/2tsp soy sauce or 1/2 to 1 cube vegetable boullion
* 1/2 tsp white flour or corn starch
* 1/8 tsp ground black pepper

Warm the milk to about 40C/100F and dissolve the flour and stock/soy/boullion in it. Set aside.

In a medium pot sautee the mushrooms with butter over medium-low heat until they are shrunk to half size and most of the water is gone, about 15 minutes. Add the milk mixture and pepper and raise heat to medium-high, stirring pretty much constantly until it's nice and creamy. Don't let it sit too long.

What's going on here

Bechamel is a "mother sauce" that serves as a base for many many many recipes. The basic ingredients are milk, butter, and flour. Everyone has their own version and origin myths. The only thing they agree on is the need to rinse the pot immediately afterward.

Sauteeing mushrooms slowly releases their flavor better. If you have the time it really brings out their best. You want a nice brown beefy type of mushroom, not a fru fru oyster or those little white ones. The flour/starch should be completely dissolved in the milk so that it acts as a thickener without clumping. Constant stirring when it's in the pot aids evaporation and keeps the milk from boiling and separating. If you can scald milk and clarify butter properly, god bless you. The way I described is easier for us mortals.

You can optionally add a dollop of table cream or heavy cream, or even shredded cheese. The stock/soy/boullion give it salt and extra flavor. For seafood I like to add some shredded ginger on top.

Poor Man's Porcini Pink Sauce

Serves 2, 5 minutes prep, 50 mins cook

* two slices smoked ham or turkey, shredded fine
* pat of butter
* one garlic clove, minced
* one whole boiler/pearl onion, peeled
* one teaspoon dried porcini mushrooms, crushed
* 1/4 teaspoon pepper, salt to taste
* one 8oz can Hunt's tomato sauce or similar; make sure it has no sugar or corn syrup
* 8oz whole milk

Fry meat in hot butter in small pot, until a little crispy. Add garlic & let fry for a minute. Add tomato sauce, pepper, salt, onion, mushrooms and half a can of water. Let boil down, stirring occasionally, until reduced by half. Remove onion. Slowly stir in milk, reduce heat to medium-low, stir until thickened.

Pour over your favorite pasta, top with cheese.

What's going on here

I hate recipes that just tell you to do this and that without the why. This recipe is all about fat and glutamate and "umami", or comfort savory flavors. Each step is designed to release those flavors from the ingredients. The result is very heavy & strong and basically what people mean when they talk about the taste of home cooking.

Frying the meat in hot butter crisps it up and releases some glutamate. You add the garlic for aroma, but don't let it cook more than 1 minute because it burns very easily. Next you want to slowly cook the onion, porcini, pepper, salt and tomato. Tomato sauce is usually sweet and tart and the longer you simmer it the mellower it gets. You leave the onion whole and take it out because once the flavor is leached out the texture adds nothing. Then you slowly add milk and reduce the heat to medium-low. The reason is that milk is fat and protein and sugars suspended in water. If milk gets too hot it separates. You want that fat to mix with the other fats and good stuff.

NB: Dried porcini costs about $15 for 100g (3.5oz) but you only need a few small pieces (1g) for most recipes. It's really worth it.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Today we're going to talk about poverty

And by "we", I mean more than eleven thousand bloggers. That's thousands more than most days, so there's a plus.

I've had brushes with low income living, but was never in serious danger of starving. The only time I was functionally homeless was when I was in the process of buying a house. I qualified for free lunches as a child, and one of my college room mates was on food stamps, and that kept us in Ramen. lots of it. And peanut butter.

Welfare deform may have changed welfare as we know it, but it hasn't made life any better for the people who are affected by it daily. And if you think it has no effect on you, well, you'd be wrong.

I've had friends who delayed getting to the doctor because the co-pay was too high or the clinic wasn't open when they were off work. One got sick and ended up in the hospital.

Hunger is not going away, either. My grandmother started a food bank in 1980 - it's still going, and still needs people to help.

People aren't poor because they're lazy. They don't go for government help because they think they're entitled. When we'd visit during the summer we'd help sort clothes for the little thrift store Grandma set up in a closed restaurant. She was asked why she sold the clothes instead of giving them away.

"People don't like handouts," she said. "They want to support themselves, not be the object of pity."

So, no moral to the story, except that even if the poor will always be with us, they still end up being ignored most of the time.

Let's not make this attention just for today.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Cakes In A Jiff

One year for Christmas I gave everybody Cake in a Jar. (Actually I think one person got brownie mix, but still) It was a pretty cool hit. Instant cake! Who doesn't love that?

The basic recipe is cake mix plus a complimentary pudding mix. Once you've got that, any cake is made up of a cup of that mix, an egg, one tablespoon of oil and one tablespoon of water.

That much batter will make about two five inch cakes, or four cupcakes.

There's two ways to cook that - two minutes in the microwave or 20 minutes in the oven. I like the oven method better.

Making it portable and entirely fuss free? I found Deb-el dried eggs, and put the equivalent measure of egg powder in the mix (then add more water when the time comes to cook).

As for oil, I haven't tried hard to find a substitute, but I think dried lethicin granules might do it. Mainly the advantage of the powdered eggs is that I can let the kids lick the bowl without worrying about salmonella.

We've had a lot of fun with differently shaped cupcake cups. "Can we have star cakes, Mom?"

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Berger Beer-Battered Bass

One of the things I dearly loved to do as a teen was visit mom's relatives in Washington state. Grandma and Grandpa had a house on a lake, and during the summer, any kids there had free run of the place as long as the chores were done.

For me that meant fishing and swimming just about every day. One of my most relaxing and cherished memories is me reclining in an innertube (a real one, not these beach-y things they sell these days) in the sun on the lake, about 25 yards from the shore. I'd passed the swim test (swim 200 yards without stopping) and so was allowed to be out beyond the dock. I was too far away from the little kids for them to bug me, but close enough to hurry in if there was trouble. To this day if I'm asked to visualize myself relaxing in some self-help excercise, that's where I go.

As for the fishing, I'd learned the bobber and hook method on trips with dad's side of the family. Now I learned bass hunting: lures, places to fish, how to set the hook, and how to get the bugger off and measure it.

I liked the bass fishing better - I could keep my hands occupied and yet not work very hard and usually could bring a few home for dinner.

We'd usually have beer battered fish when I did bring in a catch. First we'd skin the fish, then fillet. The beer batter would be flour or crackers, with salt and pepper, and whatever beer we happened to be drinking that evening. Dredge the fish planks in the batter and shallow fry on medium heat. The fish was done pretty quickly - once the batter crusted and turned golden brown.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

My (Almost Perfect) Pinto Beans

One of the regular duties growing up was the making of beans and tortillas. It was my job to hang around and help Grandma with this three times a week.

Tortillas were done with a mix, though she had a recipe handy if we ran out.

Beans were bought dry in bulk, about 5 pounds at a time. She'd take two cups full, dump them in the deepfryer/slowcooker filled with water, throw in half an onion, some salt, and set it to (memory says)400 degrees. The stuff would boil for about and hour and a half, and she'd toss in about a teaspoon of Caldo de sabor de Pollo. Half an hour later the beans were done. Perfect. No spots, no skin peeling off (well, maybe there was) and nothing crunchy.

I've been trying on my own for the last 20 years and it's been a pain. I tried the little one quart crockpots. I've tried big crockpots. I've tried stovetops. Nothing. I had moderate success soaking the beans overnight and discarding the soak water (helps with gas, too).

My sister sent me this link, which has the little trick of boiling then soaking. I put some beans and water in the microwave for 5 minutes, then let it sit for an hour. That helped some.

Nowadays I just use a regular nonstick saucepan with a reasonably tight lid. I soak a cup of beans for at least 8 hours in two cups of water. I rinse the beans and then put them in the pot with 2 or 3 cups of water, depending on the relative humidity. I put in a half teaspoon of salt, a wedge of onion, and bring it to a rolling boil.

Once it's boiling, I reduce the heat to low and put the lid on. This lets it boil again, but not lose the water as fast. About an hour and a half later, I put in the chicken bouillion, and simmer for another half hour.

There's no magic to putting the salt and bouillion in at different times, it's just habit. I've noticed that the beans are saltier if I put the table salt in late, but that's about it.

Saturday, May 3, 2008

Emergency Pizza!

Mostly "emergency pizza" is just a dramatic name. One of the kids wanted pizza, and I had all the fixings, but I didn't feel like mixing dough. I don't mind kneading and rolling and shaping dough, but getting from powder and liquid to the dough lump is a process I dislike. If I can, I have the breadmaker or handmixer do the work.

Anyway, the emergency pizza is a flour tortilla, ketchup, cheese (any kind) and whatever toppings are handy, usually pepperoni. I try to make sure that all of the slices have exactly the same number of pepperoni slices or sausage crumbs or whatever, or I'll hear about it.

The tortilla is what's called "burrito size" in the stores, so it's a good 10 inches across. Ketchup is what the kids prefer, but they're slowly getting used to pizza sauce with actual flavor, as long as the pepperonis are there.

I described all this to a buddy at work, and he said that, technically, I'm making pepperoni quesadillas. I conceded that he had a point.

Until! I went to La Diosa Cellars as part of the First Friday Art Trail. I had the Pizza Barcelona, which was essentially a whole wheat tortilla covered with cheese, chicken, and tomatoes.

So there.

p.s. - frozen individual pepperoni slices are a tempting, heavenly snack. Very very good, and very very bad for you.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Masa Harina to Biscuit Mix

About 10 years ago I started wondering why you couldn't make biscuits with tortilla mix and vice versa. They both had flour, fat, and baking soda listed as ingredients, so why did I need two mixes?

I looked up substitute recipes and came up with these:


Biscuit Mix

Tortilla Mix

5c flour /1c shortening

4c flour/2 tbsp lard

9c flour /2c shortening

4c flour/4 tbsp lard

Approx. 20% fat

Approx. 3%-6% fat

Baking powder

5c flour /2½ tbsp powder

4c flour /1tbsp powder

Approx. 5% baking powder

Approx 3% baking powder

So it's all in the proportions. I filed the calculations away, since my curiosity was satisified.

So jump ahead 10 years and I have hungry kidlets, I want cinnamon rolls, and I don't feel like bundling them into the car and driving to the store for something that should be simple to make.

I took a cup of the tortilla mix, and added two tablespoons of butter substitute. This gave me 1oz/8oz = 12.5% fat, plus the maybe 4% already there, for almost 20%.

Next was the baking powder. I put in 1/4 of a teaspoon, which is 1/12 of an ounce, so it's 1/72 of a cup, or 1.4%, adding a smidge to the 3% there.

(It's actually a good idea to mix in the baking powder first, and blend it in. Also a good idea to have the fat you're using softened so that it mixes better)

So you've got an approximation of biscuit mix and you can proceed with whatever recipe you're after.

So far I've only done muffins and cinnamon rolls. Basic rep is the same: add 1/3 cup milk per cup mix and blend until it's a ball.

Here you have to stop if you're using double acting baking powder. The powder reacts with the liquid and therefore needs a little bit of time to rise. Let the lump sit for about five minutes.

For cinnamon rolls, roll an approximate square with a rolling pin. When it's about 3/8 inch thick, you should have a 9"x9" square. Slather on some butter (or substitute) some sugar, and some cinnamon (ok, ok, about a tablespoon of each, or more if you've really got a sweet tooth).

Roll it up and slice. This gets me about 5 little rolls in a 6" springform pan. (They won't fill up the pan raw, so prop them against the edge) I pop the pan into the convection oven at 450˚ for 10-12 minutes.

It wasn't bad. I've done it a few times more since. There's a little jiggering with the baking powder mostly, and I've got to find something better than the springform, because the bottoms don't always cook all the way through.

As always, YMMV.

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