osodecanela: (cam capture)
So for the past couple of years I have been making my own vanilla.

That's right. Vanilla.

No, I'm not growing the beans. Orchids will grow here in Sonoma County, but not that type. Maybe it would grow in a hot house, but I don't own a greenhouse, let alone a heated one.

One of the local groceries had an insanely good deal on packaged vanilla beans and I had purchased a 1/4 lb initially and then a second a few months later. I used up the first bag a while back and broke into the second last month to start steeping vanilla for next year. The scent on the stuff that's steeped at least a year is insanely good; it makes a great extract. (The local Bottle Barn sells grain neutral alcohol that's 153 proof in litres rather than fifths, plus it's 3/4 the price of Everclear and a 1/4 more by volume; you wouldn't want to drink the stuff, but it works perfectly for making vanilla or other extracts.)

I went into the grocery a few weeks back to get another bag of vanilla, only to find the shelf bare. Went back again today and this time inquired if they would be getting any more. I was told no, they needed to cut back on the stuff they ordered from the particular company. I decided to call the company directly.

It seems that the wild grown beans they had been importing were coming from Papua, New Guinea, where the prices had skyrocketed and the quality had dropped. The company has stopped getting them and has switched to wild grown bourbon vanilla beans from Madagascar, a fine bean, but significantly higher in price than what they had been carrying. After seeing what I can get locally, where it'll cost me $2.50-3.00 per bean, if I can even find whole beans, the price the company was quoting me was good. I decided to go ahead and order 4 two oz bags. After finalizing my purchase, the woman from the company said she'd go look if there were any of the old Papuan beans in the store room, when she had a moment. I told her to get back to me if she found any.

That was an hour ago.

My phone just rang. She found a pound of beans left over. To clear them out, she gave me them at wholesale. Just paid $108 for them, plus $6 to ship. This should bring the price down to well under a buck a bean, perhaps as low as $0.65 each.

Now all I need is to find a better price on the grain neutral alcohol and I'm set.
osodecanela: (Default)
Several months back one of the local markets/fruit stands started carrying barley grits. Think pearled barley meets steel cut oats. I decided to try them as I'm a fan of both barley & steel cut oats. I found them creamier than regular barley, and nicely savory. I thought about trying to do a risotto with them, subbing the grits for the arborio rice. It works.

I had a large basket of mushrooms that really needed to get used and they're such a natural pairing with barley, that I decided to do that for supper tonight.

Mushroom Barley Risotto
1 cup barley grits
3 cups chicken broth
1/2 med. red onion, minced
1 cup chopped mushroom
1 small bell pepper (any color but green)chopped
1/4 cup shaved pecorino Romano
White pepper to taste

Sauté the onions and mushrooms in olive oil until the onions are starting to caramelize, then add the bell pepper, cook another 2-3 minutes, then set aside. In a double boiler over medium heat get the grits simmering in the broth. Stir frequently. When the liquid has absorbed down to the surface of the grain, add the sautéed veggies and then the pecorino Romano, stirring then until they're well incorporated.

Lower the heat a touch and cover, allowing it to cook until the grain is all tender, about 10-15 minutes. Stir every 5 minutes. The stirring really helps the creamy texture.

Can work as either a side dish or a main course.
osodecanela: (Default)
As I mentioned last night, Rose has been after me to 'refresh her memory', on the finer points of tart making. It's really not terribly difficult, and almost without exception the results are both pleasing to the eye and generally impressive for your guests.

Needed are tart pan/s, with removable bottoms. They come in a variety of sizes and can generally be found for not a whole lot of money at a restaurant supply or a upper end kitchen store. My preferences the restaurant supply; the prices are generally better. The three tart pans I use are either nine or 10 inches in diameter and take the recipe and a half of the pastry cream. As I rarely make less than two tarts at a time, the recipes below will be a double recipe for the tart shell and a triple recipe for the pastry cream.

THE SHORT CRUST

Ingredients
5 cups whole wheat pastry flour
14 ounces (3 1/2 sticks) salted butter.
2/3 cup sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla

Using either two forks, or a pastry blender work the sugar into the butter and once that's accomplished, add the vanilla. Using the pastry blender start adding in the flower until it's too difficult to use the pastry blender. At that point start kneading the remainder of the flour into the dough with your hands. Once blended, divide the dough in half, and press into a disk about an inch thick. Wrapped in Saran wrap, it should be allowed to rest in the refrigerator for 30 to 60 min.

After resting, knead the dough for a little bit to make it pliable again and then roll it out into a disk about an inch to an inch and a half larger than your tart pan. Place the dough into the pan, folding the excess dough so it creates an outer ring along the wall of the tart pan that's double the thickness of the dough in the bottom of the pan. Run your rolling pin along the edge of the tart pan to give a flat outer edge and to remove any excess bits of dough.

Preheat your oven to 375°. Put a sheet of parchment paper over the tart shell and fill each tart shell with either dried beans or pie weights. (The beans are cheaper and can be used indefinitely. Just remember to leave them in a sealed glass jar and never plan on using them for anything other than pie weights in the future!). Bake for approximately 15 to 18 min., until the edge of the crust is a nice shade of golden brown. Remove the pie weights/dry beans and the parchment paper and allow to cool.

THE PASTRY CREAM

I don't understand why people buy pudding mix. Making your own using what ever extract flavor you like, and thus avoiding any artificial colors or flavors is ultra simple. Moreover, it's extremely versatile. If you're planning to pipe it to either fill a cream puff, eclair or raised doughnut, consider substituting potato starch for the cornstarch or increasing your milk a little bit.

Ingredients
3 cups milk (I use 1% lactose-free)
9 tablespoons cornstarch
1 tablespoon vanilla (or 1/2 tablespoon vanilla and 1/2 tablespoon extract of your choice- think almond!)
3/4 cups sugar (or an equivalent amount of either Splenda or Splenda baking mix)
three large eggs

Scald the milk in a 2 quart saucepan or larger, over medium heat. Mix your dry ingredients, and then add the extracts and the three eggs, beaten. Mix well. Once the milk is steaming (about 180°), ladle approximately half a cup of the hot milk into the egg mixture while stirring well. This is to temper the eggs so they don't flash cook (can we say scramble?). Pour the tempered egg mixture into the scalded milk while stirring with a whisk. At this point, DO NOT STOP STIRRING. In a very short period of time, the mixture will suddenly thicken and become pastry cream. At that point get it off the stove, and using a spatula move it into a heat proof bowl. Pat some Saran wrap onto the surface of the pastry cream to prevent it from forming a skin as it cools.

THE TOPPING

My usual M.O. is to top this with apples. Personally, I love Fujis, although they're not usually thought of as a cooking apple. Their natural sweetness is why I personally love them. I use an Apple peeler/core/slicer which gives me extraordinarily uniform Apple slices as well as making very short work of the apples themselves. I cannot peel, core and slice an apple by hand, as quickly or as evenly. Then I will sauté the apple slices in a little butter and plum wine to both soften and get a little carmelization going. You just want to make the apple slices pliable.

Once everything is cooled, put half of the pastry cream into each tart shell and smooth with a spatula, then top. With the caramelized apple slices. I spiral them, overlapping slice over slice along the outside of the tart. After the outer circle of slices is down, I'll arrange some of the smaller slices in the open center randomly and then spiral an inner circle over them, usually in the opposite direction of the outer circle centrally. Finally, I'll dust things with some freshly grated cinnamon and/or nutmeg and/or cardamom and/or powdered sugar. It will look something like the picture below.


(I need to get some of the photos that Rose took this weekend to post here.)


Other alternatives for topping include fresh blueberries, blackberries, or raspberries, or sliced stone fruit such as white peaches, halved apricots, or even halved cherries. Rainers are sublime.

Think about complementary flavors and adjust the pastry cream accordingly. Almond extract is a wonderful foil for apples and most berries. Orange extract or lemon work wonderfully if you're planning to top the chart with either canned or fresh mandarins. Coconut extract is a natural against mango or pineapple topping. Unless you're planning to serve immediately after putting the tart together, raw sliced fruit should probably get a light glaze to keep them from drying out or discoloring. Thinning some apple jelly with some warm water and a squeeze of lemon juice works well; brush it on with a pastry brush.
osodecanela: (Default)
It was a busy day today.

I had a date with the oldest of our god-children to spend the day. Time well spent. She turns 18 this July. She's planning on studying languages. Seems to have a talent for them no less. We spent a good part of our day in Spanish. Her's is quite good, although it's hard for me to hear an American girl with a Castillian accent & not think it an affectation. A whole bloody country with a speech impediment. But I digress.

After dropping her of at home, I headed to the house intent on getting the mandarin & the blueberries transplanted. Thereafter I washed up, watched the last 2 quarters of the superbowl like a good little cheesehead, followed by Glee. Saw the show for the 1st time the other night and was thoroughly enchanted.

Then my husband looks at me and asks what's for dinner.

Crap. Dinner. Hmmm.

And thus was born the Sloppy José.

A 1/2 lb heel of roast beef julienned & added to a sauteed chopped onion, chard & cabbage then doused in a cup of molé defrosted out of the freezer. I served it over halved english muffins.

I've enough for lunch tomorrow to boot.
osodecanela: (Default)
So I just prepared a molé rojo for a woman who unbeknownst to me, not only doesn't care for chilis, she doesn't care for peppers, period.

I swallowed hard when she told me so in the kitchen while the chicken was already in the oven.

"Didn't you know what was in molé?"
"Other than chocolate & that it's not sweet, no. Why?"
I hesitated. "Why did you say yes when I suggested molé?"
"I heard it was really good."
I smiled, mildly relieved. I she didn't like it, I would feel less guilty, less responsible.
"from you, actually." (oops, back on my plate.)

I fed a woman who dislikes peppers, a chocolate chili pepper sauce - and she liked it! Not only had her share here, but took some home for tomorrow. Plus some extra molé for another dish. I suggested it might be very interesting over an omelet.

She replied," hell, I'm going for some more chicken!


( He shoots. He scores!)
osodecanela: (Default)


I brought the last of the soup I'd made to Duke & Rat when we had supper the other night, while Bob was in town. It's fast, simple & tasty.

Ingredients:
5 good sized leeks
2-3 potatoes
2 qts. Chicken stock
a few cloves of garlic
20 peppercorns
3 bay leaves
Celery seed to taste
Tarragon to taste

To prepare the leeks, slice off the bottom 1/4" & remove the green top. Slice in half lengthwise & fan under cold running water to remove any dirt. (trust me, you will regret skipping this step). Slice the leeks finely and sauté in either butter or olive oil in a heavy stock pot till translucent. Add the stock, the potatoes, cubed but with the skins, the garlic, celery seed & tarragon. In some cheesecloth make a bouquet garni of the peppercorn & bay and drop in to the stock. Let it simmer for 30 minutes till the potatoes are well cooked. Remove the bouquet garni and hit the soup with a stick blender till smooth.

Great first course, but easily substantial enough to have with a salad alone.
osodecanela: (Default)
I'm not making the holiday tomorrow. We'll be spending the holiday with friends and I've been requested to bring dessert.

I made pumpkin purée on Sunday and after that work I was told someone else was bringing the pumpkin pies. That left my pondering for all of 5 minutes. What to do for a harvest dessert that would use the pumpkin but isn't pie.

Cheesecake.

But not just cheesecake. Torta di Ricotta e Zucca.

Years ago I was given an Italian Cheesecske recipe that wasn't just to die for, it was to die from. Over 850 cal per slice, mostly from saturated fat. Preferring to be kind to my arteries, the nut crust & chocolate chips in the batter gave way to chocolate graham cracker crumbs. The whole milk ricotta gave way to skim milk when I can get it, low fat if not. Sieved yogurt subs for the quart of sour cream.

This pumpkinoid version required a change in the usual spicing. Almond extract out, vanilla increased, freshly ground cinnamon, nutmeg & cardamom in. I'm pleased with the appearance. The cheesecake has the the warm, pale orange milkiness of a creamsicle.

Once I poured the batter over the crust, it was clear there was way too much for the springform. I quickly rolled out some pastry for a deep dish pie plate and in went another dessert.

All is cooling now. I'll do some photos in the morning.
osodecanela: (Default)
I like to cook.

No, I take that back. I really enjoy cooking, and quality cookware is a joy to work with.

I have a handful of decent knives. I took a dim sum class from Martin Yan half a dozen years ago, which was a blast. It was limited to 16 students and was hands on. The biggest thing that has stuck with me was the hour he spent working just on knife technique. It was after that I picked up some better knives, most of which I try to keep out of my husband's reach. He is a hazzard in the kitchen, and if I know him, unless cautioned, I will find him stripping wire with one of my better blades. Don't believe me? Ask [livejournal.com profile] ogam.

I was shopping today at a better secondhand place, where one of my patients works, looking to pick up some of the things I want to give this Yuletide. Now I am not supposed to be on my own shopping list. However, I spotted a professional knife set in a cordura carrying roll hanging on the wall behind the counter and asked to see it. It was priced at $100, and at that, it was a steal. There were 6 professional grade knives in it, 4 Henckles, a Wusthof, an unmarked asian knife, every one of them protected with a heavy plastic blade guard. However, an extra $100 bucks, right this moment was not what I needed to spend. Not in this economy and not when I still have gifts for others to get.

I asked her to put it aside while I shopped, so I could think about it. Thirty minutes and 6 gifts later, we sat down to dicker over prices for everything. In the end, she looked at the knife set and said for $50 it was mine. I shook my head yes. I would have been crazy not to.

I just priced the four Henckles. Retail on the four is just shy of $500, and the similar knife rolls retail for $50 all by themselves.

Somebody, please pinch me.
osodecanela: (Default)
I received a e-mail chain letter earlier today and I'm actually thinking I may take part in. It's a recipe exchange.

If any of you reading this would be interested in taking part, please let me know ASAP either in the comments below or as a private message. The entire chain letter only involves two names but you send it to 20 different people so the turnaround time should be quite fast.
osodecanela: (Default)
[Error: unknown template qotd]tonight as a matter of fact. Took a jar of tomato sauce (florentine), doctored it with one large chopped onion, a few cloves of garlic, a coursely chopped red bell pepper, cubes ham & turkey breast & some crushed chilis, then served it up over al dente whole wheat angel hair pasta.
osodecanela: (green cloth)
There's a really sweet woman, a detail rep from a drug firm, who calls on me at my office every couple of weeks. Very personable, and in a previous work life a professional chef. She comes in to talk drugs. Invariably, we segue into how the healthcare system here in the US is broken, and then we wind up talking food. She came by the other day to bring me something she'd whipped up at home - a savory walnut and gruyere torte, with a some creme fresh to garnish. Superb! This girl can cook!!

We were talking about cookbooks and both of us have collection, and our favorites are always the ones that have a stories or histories attached to them. I've just ordered 2 books I love to give her off of the net; "The Alice B. Toklas Cookbook" (as much a history of her life with Gertrude Stein as it is a compilation of recipes, and Claudia Roden's "The History of Jewish Food: an Odyssey from New York to Samarkind". And I just might try to find a copy of Isabel Allende's "Aphrodite", her treatise on sex and food.

So my friends, I'm now curious; what's your favorite cookbook and why?

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