Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Save money, make your own Mascarpone Cheese

Without frugality none would be rich, and with it very few would be poor. – Samuel Johnson 

The end result. Well worth the 2 day wait.

(This is a re-post, but who doesn't want to save money at Xmas!)

The Christmas season is probably for most people the most expensive time of the year. Even not counting gift buying, there's a thousand things to suck up your money. Food is often a big culprit.

This post covers how to make your own mascarpone cheese. It's disgustingly expensive in stores and is often called for in many "fancy" desserts. So if you're entertaining this holiday, you may want to make this. It doesn't take much active time, and very little skill.

This full recipe makes about 3 cups of mascarpone, which would cost you at least $12-$15 at the grocery store. Full cost of the ingredients is about half that amount.

Mascarpone is made by coagulating cream via acid – tantric, citric, or lemon juice. After coagulation the whey is slowly drained out. 

Aside from the 48 hours for the whole process, this cheese is a breeze. It makes much more than you probably need (word to the wise) unless you're making a big dessert, like tiramisu for 12 or so... 

So feel free to halve it. The result will be the same. Go big or go home, I say.

Mascarpone makes the cholesterol police go on red alert. I always remember Julia Child’s admonition: “Everything in moderation, including moderation.” 

This stuff should be treated with some respect. The finished product has about 60%-75% butter fat. We’ll just leave that fact to settle in…

Mascarpone is the colour of cream and is thick like a spread. It has many uses (including in tiramisu). It can be served in savoury dishes or as a fresh fruit topping. It can also be used as a substitute for butter, or for parmesan in pasta sauces or in risotto.

The important fact is that it is wonderfully delicious and addictive. But just like everything else in life, don’t overdo it.

Homemade Mascarpone
Time: 2 days  |  Yield about 3 cups
2 cups 36% whipping cream
2 cups 18% coffee cream
2 tbsp lemon juice
instant read thermometer
double boiler (or similar homemade contraption)

The cream mixture needs to be around 25% butter fat. To do so use the two different creams. The ingredients above make a combination of 27%. Close enough.

Combine the cream in the top part of a double boiler. I do not own a double boiler so I inserted a smaller pot inside another pot partly filled with water. It works just fine.

Raise the temperature of the cream to 185°F. Scalded milk is 180°F so a little beyond that stage. You really need to use a thermometer… (remember yesterday’s post?)

Once the cream reaches 185°F on the thermometer, reduce the heat to hold it at 185°F and stir in the lemon juice. This is barely a low simmer – certainly not a boil.

Mix well. Cover the pot, hold the temperature at low simmer and let cook for 5 minutes.

Remove the pot from the double boiler. You will notice that the cream has thickened slightly. It will thicken more as it cools.

Place the pot with the cream in the refrigerator for 24 hours.

After 24 hours you will see the cream has thickened more (second photo at top). Strain the cream/cheese over a bowl through fine cloth lining a sieve to remove the excess moisture. Let it sit, back in the refrigerator, for another 24 hours.

After 24 hours remove the cheese from the cloth and place in a storage container. The cheese will last refrigerated for about one week.

This is the cheese, plus all the whey that came out. keep that whey! You can
use in in making bread, watering plants, as a treat for your pets...

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Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Xmas gifting, Acadian Maple Mustard

Spectacular achievement is always preceded by unspectacular preparation. – Robert H. Schuller

The jars were $1.50 each at the Dollarstore. Each one holds about 1.5 cups.

Some things just have to be made ahead. There’s no getting around it, especially if you’re making things for Christmas gifts.

Today on Nova Scotia’s South Shore we received a rude announcement to the fact Christmas is getting very close. It came in the form of about an inch of overnight snow. It was the first of the season. For a while it seemed that autumn would go on forever. Yesterday’s day time temperature was 14°C.

But, according to the calendar, Christmas is a mere 4 weeks away. So one best get cracking, especially for homemade gifts that have to “sit.”

One gift that is a sure-fire winner to give, and amazingly easy to make, is mustard. All you need is some liquid, seeds and a blender. Most recipes require no cooking, and a basic recipe can be tailored very easily.

This recipe is based on my Cognac, but with a maple syrup sweetness and some lemon thyme from the garden. (Which I dug out of the snow!)

I have made many mustards to give as gifts over the past few years and posted the recipes on this site. Some of my past forays were:
Porter, Onion & Thyme Mustard
Rustic Cognac Mustard
Apple Mustard
Dijon (two recipes)
Yellow Hot Dog
and Lumbard Mustard (a resurrected 14th Century recipe)

What gourmet (or gourmand) wouldn’t love a jar? Except maybe the hot dog mustard...

The only caveat is they all, although capable of being used after 4 days, benefit from sitting for a month. The flavours smooth out and blend together better.

So that’s why it’s important to get a move on. Santa will be overhead before we know it. If you’re going to put some things in his sleigh, the time is nigh.

This recipe makes 5 cups of mustard. That's a lot, or in other words, enough for 3 really nice gifts and a small pot for me!

To refrigerate or not:
Mustard is very anti-bacterial stuff and has been used as one for millennia. Prepared mustard is also acidic. Some sources say refrigerate, some do not. It’s always best to err on the side of caution. So refrigerate (although it’s probably fine if you don’t.) I think it’s more of a consistency thing than anything else.

The seeds after soaking 2 days.
Acadian Maple Mustard
Time: 2 days (seed soaking)  |  Yield: About 5 cups
3/4 cup yellow mustard seeds
3/4 cup brown mustard seeds
1-1/2 cup brandy
1-1/2 cup water
6 tbsp maple syrup
6 tbsp mustard powder
3/4 cup white vinegar
1-1/2 tbsp fresh lemon thyme (or 1-1/2 tsp dried)
1-1/2 tsp sea salt

Place the seeds in a 1 L jar. Pour the brandy and water into the jar. Shake, cover and then let sit undisturbed for 1 to 2 days. Pour the entire contents into a bowl. Add the maple syrup, mustard powder, vinegar, thyme and sea salt. 

Working in small batches with a blender or food processor, process the seeds to a paste-like consistency. You can leave some of the partially visible. As you make the paste, pour it out into a clean bowl.

Fill sterilized jars with the mustard and cover tightly. Let sit for at least 4 days before serving. One month is optimal as the flavours mellow and blend.

Ready for containers.

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Saturday, November 15, 2014

Mahogany Chicken

Nostalgia is a file that removes the rough edges from the good old days. – Doug Larson

Posing for the camera, or so it seems...

A little nostalgia for you all this morning. I’ll give you a hint before you hit the link:
Do you know, where you're going to?
Do you like the things, that life is showing you?
Where are you going to? Do you know?

Something beautiful for your day, from the 1975 movie Mahogany. It was nominated for the Oscar for best original song. Sung by a beautiful and undeniably talented lady.

After marinating in the refrigerator for 8 hours.
Cooler weather always makes a little nostalgia well up in me. I guess it’s the recognition that the autumn season is closing, and time is marching forward. Today was the first “real” day when it’s undeniable that winter is on the way. Snow in some areas of our province, and ice in Halifax.

So the time for garden greens and fresh tastes has most definitely passed, to be replaced by roasts, braises, soups and stews, and food that warms the bones. A warm oven makes the kitchen an inviting place to be on a cold afternoon.

The inspiration for this recipe was most certainly not the movie. The very un-profound answer was because I found chickens on sale, and I was taking a client run into the city. So anything to speed up dinner without sacrificing flavour was the way to go.

The skin on this quick-roast chicken does remind me of mahogany. When thinking up a name, that’s what I thought and then the movie, and it’s theme song, came to mind. So there you have it.

The song, and chicken, both suit a reflective mood. Next time you find chicken that’s affordable you should give this recipe a try.  I served it with spaghetti squash (done in the microwave) sprinkled with parmesan, salt and pepper, and dotted with butter.

I didn’t list dried herb quantities, because if using dried there's no piles of herbs to roast the chicken on, which imparts flavour. You can try a substitution if you wish. Rule of thumb is 1 tbsp chopped fresh herb equals 1 tsp dried.

There's a whole "half" because our chicken was small.
Don't judge me!!!
Mahogany Chicken
Prep: 1-8 hours  |  Roast: 40-45 min  |  Serves 4
2 to 2.5 kg chicken
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
1/4 cup honey
1 tbsp soy sauce
6 lg garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
12 sage leaves, whole
8 sprigs fresh thyme
8 sprigs fresh oregano
salt and pepper
drizzle of olive oil

Remove the chicken backbone with kitchen shears. Then cut down evenly through the breast bone to divide the chicken in two equal halves. This is easiest done from the bone side.

Mix together the balsamic, honey and soy in a bowl. Place chicken, herbs and garlic in a zip lock bag. Pour the marinade in. Rub to cover all surfaces of the meat, and marinade in refrigerator for 1 hour on the counter, or all day while at work (8 hrs).

Preheat the oven to 425°F.

Cover a rimmed baking sheet with foil. Drain the marinade from the chicken, reserving herbs and garlic. Arrange the herbs and garlic in 2 areas on the baking sheet. Drizzle with olive oil.

Place each half of the chicken on one of the piles of herbs. Tuck the tips in under the wing so they’re not sticking up while roasting. Sprinkle the chicken with salt and pepper.

Roast for 15 minutes at 425°, reduce the heat to 350° and roast for a further 20-35 minutes, or until temperature in thigh and breast reads 165°F. The skin will become a beautiful mahogany colour.

To serve 4, cut each chicken half between the breast and thigh. If using a small chicken, serve a half per person. Under 2 lbs, you will need to shorten your roasting time as well.


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Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Easy Char Siu Pork Belly

It is easy to hate and it is difficult to love. This is how the whole scheme of things works. All good things are difficult to achieve, and bad things are very easy to get. – Confucius

“Easy” is a well used, and loaded, word. Common sense seems to indicate that anything worthwhile takes effort to achieve. But do all things have to be difficult at every step? 

Consider for a moment a stone being worn away by water droplets. It is not an easy task, as each small drop seems to make no difference. If you come back in a decade, century or millennium, you would see the hard work the water has accomplished. Minimal effort, albeit for a long time, will leave its mark – literally.

So why am I waxing philosophical about the word “easy”? It’s two-fold. 

The first is because most people think that “authentic” Chinese cuisine takes great effort and is extremely complex – the antithesis of “easy.” The best recipes are usually “home” recipes, and as such have no difficult preparation techniques. It’s just not from our familiar North American homes.

The second is that there is a hidden meaning in the word easy. Many equate easy with “quick.” That is not always true. To illustrate, many of the bread recipes on this blog rise for at least 8 hours – some even longer. They're not difficult. They just take time.

There are many recipes that take minimal effort, but (like the water droplets) take more time than others. In this way, time can sort of become a “difficulty,” if you’re looking for something quick to eat.

This recipe is easy. If you can chop garlic, close a Ziploc® bag and turn on an oven you’re in the clear. You just have to wait 24 hours. So it’s time consuming, but very, very easy. 

Char Siu, is an Asian classic. Meaning “fork roasted” due to it being originally roasted on long forks, this is the Cantonese roast (BBQ) pork so popular in many better Asian restaurants. You can use many different cuts of meat, but pork belly produces among the most tender and moist end result.

Char Siu is a common dish in many Asian cuisines, including those of China, Southeast Asia, Japan and Pacific Rim countries. The dishes that are served with it are as varied as the influences from each country.

I served mine with leftover steamed rice, that was tossed with sautéed garlic and ginger, lime juice, green onion and cilantro – with 2 beaten eggs cooked in the hot rice just for good measure.

Char Siu Pork Belly
Prep: 10 min  |  Marinade 8-24 hours  |  Roast: 30 min
This is 1 lb of pork belly slices. Buy thick ones, or even
pork belly "ends." My 1 lb cost under $3.
2 lbs pork belly strips
1/4 cup hoisin sauce
1/4 cup dry sherry
2 tbsp soy sauce, preferably dark
1 “ fresh ginger, finely chopped
4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1-1/2 tsp Chinese five spice powder
1 tsp dried chilli flakes

Mix all of the ingredients, except the pork, together in a bowl. 

Place the pork in a large resealable freezer bag, pour in the marinade and seal the bag. Work the marinade around on the meat so all surfaces of the pork are covered. 

Place the sealed bag in the refrigerator for at least 8 hours, or even 24 if doing the day ahead. 24 hours is best. Work the marinade around on the pork at least once during this time.

Preheat the oven to 400°F. Place a baking rack on a rimmed cookie sheet.* The rack allows air to circulate completely around the meat. Remove the pork from the marinade and arrange on the rack. Bake for 30 minutes, or until cooked.

Serve with the Chinese style side dish(es) of your choice.

* To ease cleanup, line the cookie sheet with aluminum foil.


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Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Kale Chips, an unusual treat

Why can't I be different and unusual... like everyone else? – Vivian Stanshall

This must be the most unusual fish and chips I have ever eaten. Kale and smoked mackerel. And it won’t be the last time.

I rank smoked mackerel as a bit of a guilty pleasure. Sadly, I don’t eat it often enough. In an enclosed space it can be a bit overpowering. But the health benefits far outweigh that “minor” issue.

Oily fish (salmon, mackerel, sardines, herring and cod) contain significant amounts of omega-3 fatty acids. These fatty acids help improve cardiovascular health by lowering the levels of triglycerides and "bad" cholesterol in the blood. 

I like my mackerel heated in the oven. Both the fish and kale bake for 15 minutes, so it made sense to do them at the same time. But I didn’t come here to talk about smoked mackerel. I came here to talk about kale.

Since mackerel is a fish powerhouse, one should really pair it with its vegetable equivalent to get a really good bang for your dietary buck. Few compare to kale.

Healthy stuff
Dark leafy vegetables (kale, spinach, dandelion greens, etc) contain many nutrients important to maintaining good health. Iron, Vitamins K, C and A, copper, potassium, manganese, phosphorous, calcium, antioxidants, anti-inflammatories – they’re all present in kale. 

Interesting fact: kale contains more calcium than milk. All told, it’s one of the world’s most nutrient-rich foods.

But people seem to hate it. Or love it.

I used to fall in the middle. I liked it, but didn’t go out of my way to get it unless I was  a) feeling guilty for past food transgressions, or  b) had something particular in mind to make. Let's face it, besides putting it in a salad or soup, you have to get “creative” with kale.

But my negative opinion has changed. I have discovered a quick way to make kale into a vegetable you put on your grocery list intentionally. This would even be a good snack to have for watching TV.

Kale chips are so easy to make, too. All you need is a knife, some olive oil and salt. Not too much, though. I found that out the hard way!

Kale Chips
Prep: 5 min  |  Bake: 12-15 min  |  Serves 4
1 bunch of kale, washed
1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1/2 tsp salt, or to taste
optional: pepper or parmesan

Preheat the oven to 350°F.

Shake all the water off the kale after you wash it, and pat it dry with paper towel. It needs to be dry for the oil to adhere.

Cut the thick rib/stems away from the leaves. How far up the leaves you go will depend on the size of the rib.

Tear into manageable pieces, or you can leave them whole. Place the leaves in a bowl, top with the oil and massage over the leaves with your hands to coat well. 

Arrange the leaves rib-side up on one or two cookie sheets. The leaves shouldn't overlap. Sprinkle with pepper and/or parmesan (optional). 

Bake in the centre of the oven for 12-15 minutes. They should be slightly browned at the edges – no more.

Remove the leaves from the oven and sprinkle with salt. You’ll be surprised how crispy, rigid, and chip-like they are.

And delicious. Can’t forget delicious.


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Friday, October 10, 2014

Haddock with Fennel Bulb

From abundance springs satiety. – Livy

I’m a tomato sniper.

I am slowly picking off – one by one – the green tomatoes that I harvested after our hard frost. For their part, the tomatoes aren’t really trying to run and hide. They’re ripening at a furious rate on the counter. So my fears of having two grocery bags of unripe tomatoes to deal with have not materialized.

In fact, I’m down to only a few remaining green ones. Whew...

I have made five more 500 ml jars of roasted tomato sauce, plus eating them for lunch, roasting and freezing (great for quick sauces later), and sneaking them into most meals I make. They will not get the better of me.

This time my victims were four heirloom tomatoes, which on their plant tag showed beautiful re fruit. Interestingly, when ripe they were yellow/orange. Go figure... So if you do make this dish, the colour most likely be different.

If you’ve never had fennel bulb, it tastes like celery, with a hint of anise. It’s not overwhelming at all, so don’t fear it. Liquorice is my least liked flavour, and had no problem going back for seconds!

This is a pretty quick dish, loaded with flavour. A great way to serve fish, and knock off a few tomatoes in the process.

Haddock with Fennel Bulb
The sauce, after cooking for 15 minutes.
Prep: 5 min  |  Cook: 25 min  |  Serves 4
1 lb haddock
1 tbsp vegetable oil
1 medium fennel bulb
4 large tomatoes, diced
1/2 tsp chilli flakes
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp pepper
1 cup vegetable broth
1/4 cup butter
1/4-1/2 cup fresh dill weed

Heat the oil in a wide flat pan that has a cover. Sauté the fennel and chilli for 5 minutes, until the fennel starts to become translucent.

Add the tomatoes, salt, pepper and stock. Cover and let simmer on medium for 15 minutes, until the tomatoes have broken down somewhat. 

Stir in the butter until melted. Then nestle the fish into the sauce. Sprinkle the fish with a little more salt and pepper and then top with the dill.

Cover the pot once again and let cook for 5 minutes to steam-cook the fish. The fish will be firm and cooked through. Serve with rice.

The fish and dill, ready to cook for 5 minutes.

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Thursday, October 2, 2014

Chicken Noodle Soup, Italian style

The lust for comfort, that stealthy thing that enters the house a guest, and then becomes a host, and then a master. – Khalil Gibran

Comfort. It’s something we all seek, be it “comfortable-ness” in our life situation or comfort in times of trial or grief.

It’s unusual how the first reaction upon hearing of a death is to go to the kitchen and start cooking for the bereaved family. Apparently our grief is held in our stomachs, and can be assuaged by a full pot of baked beans, or a loaf of banana bread.

I know I’m as guilty of this as everyone else, and even self-medicate. When I’m sad I go for food. 

This past year has been full of stressful change – one where the blue fell from the sky like a heavy blanket onto the grass, garden, and everything else in my life. One week from today is the anniversary of losing someone very dear to me, and it’s got me down.

I try to not show my lingering pain, but at times it becomes raw, and it only takes the smallest memory to set it off. Perhaps after the one year mark I will begin to mentally file my sadness into its proper "forever place" in my heart.

It’s much of the reason I have been posting sporadically over the last year. Most days I just can’t bring myself to do it. It seems so unimportant. I need to change that. I enjoy writing this blog and sharing with all of you. Like food, it’s another form of comfort and is far easier on the waistline.

All this sadness over the death of a dog. But Henry was not a dog. He was as much a family member as any living being could ever be. He lived to be with me, and I returned the feeling. He was my child for 8-1/2 years. His passing hit me hard, for a whole host of reasons. I will always wonder “what if”...

He used to chase the waves as
they broke on shore of our
local beach. He loved it.
So I’m in need of a little comfort this week, and this night I took it in the form of food. So into the kitchen I went...

Chicken soup is always a safe comfort bet. The decision was aided by the fact I had some thighs in the refrigerator. But I had another problem: two bags of tomatoes picked two weeks ago.

Two days ago I oven-roasted two dozen, plus an eggplant, and then froze them for quick sauces later. There’s another 32 or so on the stovetop, and more from the bags ripening every day. Whatever “chicken soup” I made had to use tomatoes. I may be sad, but waste is sadder.

So I came up with this recipe. It stews garlic, tomatoes and other veggies, which are then puréed into an almost creamy base for pasta and shredded chicken.

All in all, very satisfying. And more than a little comforting.

Chicken Noodle Soup, Italian style
Prep: 10 min  |  Cook: 60 min  |  Serves 6-8
1 tbsp olive oil
1 medium onion, diced
1 lg carrot, diced
6 garlic cloves, chopped
6-8 plum tomatoes, chopped*
4 cups chicken stock
6-8 chicken thighs, skin on, bone in*
1 tbsp fresh oregano
1 tsp cracked black pepper
300g pasta (like penne, rotini, fusilli)
salt to taste
grated parmesan, optional
*depending on size

Heat the oil in a Dutch oven or other heavy pot with a well-fitting lid. Add the onion, carrot and garlic and sauté on medium until the onions are translucent, about 5 minutes.

Add the tomatoes, stock, chicken thighs, oregano, black pepper and a little salt (1/2 tsp). Bring to a boil, reduce het to medium and cover. Let cook for 30 minutes.

After the half hour, remove the chicken thighs and set aside. Purée the vegetables and liquid in the pot until very smooth. Add the pasta to the purée, cover and cook until 2 minutes short of al dente. Stir a few times while it cooks.

While the pasta cooks, remove the skin and bones from the chicken and shred the meat. Two minutes before the pasta is fully cooked, add the chicken and bring back to a boil.

Taste for salt and adjust as desired. Serve immediately with grated parmesan, crusty bread and butter.


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