Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Recipe: Homemade Porter Mustard with Thyme and Onion

Failure is the condiment that gives success its flavor. – Truman Capote

The finished mustard. Flavoured with beer, thyme and onion.
UPDATE, December 26: I gave this mustard as Christmas gifts. Since I made it the mustard darkened somewhat as I had hoped. The beer and thyme flavours melded together as well. We had this mustard with my homemade cognac mustard recipe (google search "docaitta cognac mustard") on baked ham. Delicious!

You know it's kind of funny. This is the second whole grain mustard I've made and I'm hard pressed to tell the difference visually between this recipe and the cognac mustard from a few days ago. But their taste can't be further apart. Don't let the nearly identical images fool you. This one's a little darker because of the Porter ale.

The thing about mustard is that it can vary wildly by what extra ingredients you include in the recipe. This one has beer, thyme and onion. It's a great combination.

What is mustard?
Flowers of Brassica nigra. Photo: satshot2010, Flickr ccl
Mustard is a member of the Brassica family. Brassica includes cabbages, turnips, cauliflowers, broccoli, and of course mustards. We harvest the leaves of some mustards (mustard greens) and the seeds of other varieties. Brassica are a very diverse and important family of plants. 

Mustard seeds come in three colours and are harvested from three three brassica varieties: yellow/white (B. hirta/Sinapis alba), brown (B. juncea) and black (B. nigra). The darker the seed, the stronger the heat. 

Mustard seeds apparently germinate quite easily and like cold air and moist soil. They grow well in temperate areas. Some of the largest mustard seed producers are Canada (at 90%), Hungary, the UK, India, Pakistan and the United States. I'm assuming each country has a specialty seed. (Black mustard seeds are common in Indian and Pakistani cuisine.)

Mustard making basics
Photo: Wiki CC
The word mustard comes from the Latin "mustum ardens", that translates into "burning must." It was the practice of the Romans to grind the seeds with must (unfermented juice of wine grapes) to serve as a condiment, almost identically to what we do today. The words were shortened to "must ard" and finally mustard.

Wine is used extensively in French style mustards, the most common being Dijon. But you can mix pretty much anything in with your mustard as long as there's some acid in it. That is why vinegar is almost always included in the ingredients list. Other options are water, wine, beer or a combination. If using mustard seed rather than powder, the seeds must be rehydrated in some sort of liquid before grinding into mustard paste.

That brings us to Fuller's London Porter ale – rich, dark and complex. Porter is a dark style of beer. In fact it is extremely close to Stout, the most well known of those being Guiness. The name originated in the 18th century from its popularity with the street and river porters of London.It apparently had a higher alcohol content than now as well. Currently it is brewed to 5.4% alc./ vol.

Following are a few sections from Wiki about mustard that I think are interesting.

Why is mustard hot?
From Wikipedia: Mustard often has a sharp, pungent flavor, as mixing the ground seed with cold liquid allows the enzyme myrosinase which it contains to act on glucosinolates also present to make isothiocyanates, responsible for mustard's characteristic heat.

Mustard, in its powdered form, lacks any potency and needs to be fixed; it is the production of allyl isothiocyanate from the reaction of myrosinase and sinigrin during soaking that causes gustatory heat to emerge.

Storage and shelf life
From Wikipedia: Because of its antibacterial properties, mustard does not require refrigeration; it will not grow mold, mildew or harmful bacteria. Unrefrigerated mustard will lose pungency more quickly, and should be stored in a tightly sealed, sterilized container in a cool, dark place. Mustard can last indefinitely, though it may dry out, lose flavor, or brown from oxidation. Mixing in a small amount of wine or vinegar will often revitalize dried out mustard. Some types of prepared mustard stored for a long time may separate, causing mustard water, which can be corrected by stirring or shaking. If stored for a long time, unrefrigerated mustard can acquire a bitter taste.

So without further ado, let's make beer mustard!

Porter Mustard with Thyme and Onion
Makes about 2-3/4 cups
This recipe made nearly 3 cups of gourmet mustard.
Cost: $4.00 beer, 50¢ for seeds and powder, pennies for
vinegar, onion, thyme and water.
About $12 worth of mustard for under $5.00!
1/2 cup yellow mustard seeds
1/4 cup brown mustard seeds
1 cup Porter ale
1 tbsp onion powder
2 tsp dried thyme leaves
2 tbsp mustard flour
1/2 cup white vinegar
1/4 cup water (if needed)
1 tsp salt

Soak the mustard seeds, onion powder and thyme in the beer for 24 hours. 

Place the mustard mixture in a blender with the mustard flour, vinegar and salt. Pulse until the mixture is the consistency of a paste, with some seeds remaining visible. You can control how "grainy" your mustard is by the amount of blending you do. If you want it smoother add the optional water.

Place the mustard in sterile, sealable glass containers. Cover and let sit on the counter for 2-3 days before refrigerating. This sitting develops the flavor and bite of the mustard. It also allows the flavours to meld. 

Refrigeration stops/slows the process but also extends the shelf life, of course...


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Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Recipe: Homemade Strawberry Vinegar

Life is like wine, the longer you take to enjoy it the more chance you've got of tasting vinegar. – Anonymous

Yes, you can use frozen berries to make flavoured vinegar!
Photo: sierravalleygirl, Flickr ccl
Don’t fear that it’s too late to make Holiday gifts that evoke the taste of summer. This ones a perfect example.

If you’re making food gifts that require presentation of the fruit you have to be careful to deal in seasonal items. Under or overripe is certainly not the way you want to be remembered.

But if you’re in the market for making Strawberry liqueur (I have posted 2 recipes) or this Strawberry Vinegar then using frozen berries has a lot of merit. Actually any of the “mush ‘em up and strain them” kind of recipes are great using frozen fruit. Frozen fruit usually costs less as well. Another bonus.

Flavoured vinegar can be quite pricey.
250 ml can cost in the range of $17-$20 USD.
Photo: checkmihlyrics, Flickr ccl
There’s only one caution: sometimes frozen berries can be a little more sour than fresh, so act accordingly with your sugar. Taste and adjust, taste and adjust...

This wonderful elixir can be used as the start of some amazing vinaigrettes, or can even be used “as is” on fruit or salad greens. I'm sure there are a thousand other uses as well.

Try your own variations using other frozen fruits or even mixes of fruit for something really unique. I have had amazing success with frozen raspberries in a raspberry champagne vinegar.

The trick to making vinegars that last on the shelf is to pay attention to your pH. Acidic mixtures will stay preserved longer than more neutral. There’s a handy website that gives the pH of common foods so you know what you’re dealing with. 0-6 is acidic; 7 is neutral; 8-14 is base.

Strawberry Vinegar
Time: 5 days  |  Yield: about 1250 ml
1 lb (454 g) frozen strawberries
1/2 cup sugar
1 L (4.25 cups) red wine vinegar

Thaw the berries in a bowl. After they’re thawed, mash them lightly with the sugar. Stir in the vinegar and cover well with plastic wrap. Let sit for 5 days.

Strain well using a cloth lined sieve and decant into sterile bottles. The vinegar should last unrefrigerated for at least 6 months.


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Monday, November 28, 2011

Recipe: Rustic Cognac Mustard

Americans can eat garbage, provided you sprinkle it liberally with ketchup, mustard, chili sauce, Tabasco sauce, cayenne pepper, or any other condiment which destroys the original flavor of the dish. – Henry Miller

Piquant and velvety, with hints of cognac.
UPDATE, December 26: I gave this mustard as Christmas gifts. In the month since it was made it mellowed beautifully. It is a wonderful mustard, reminiscent of Dijon in a way, but "sweet" from the cognac. It was fantastic on baked ham.

Have you ever made your own mustard? If you haven't you should really try. It’s easy and rewarding. There’s two ways to make mustard and only two ways. One is with mustard powder (or “flour”); the other is with seeds. Everything else is just bells and whistles.

Yellow and brown mustard seeds.
Photo: Mouser NerdBot, Flickr ccl
Sounds simple, right? Well, making mustard IS simple, and the results you can achieve are amazing. 

Here’s the formula. (Liquid + mustard seeds or powder) x a blender = prepared mustard. The devil’s in the details, so they say. It’s what you add to the mixture that gives every mustard its unique flavour.

The most basic formulation would be to combine mustard powder and water in a 1:1 ratio and then mix it into a paste. I would hazard a guess it would be pretty sharp, but mustard it would be. Make no mistake, mustard seed is hot and prepared mustard should be hot. If not you’re doing something wrong. 

Two condiments that benefit from being made at home. These
are not. Photo wintersoul1, Flickr ccl
Yellow hot dog mustard is sort of mustard, but not really in my book. It has its uses (ballpark franks, some sandwiches…), but homemade mustards are an entirely different beast. They can be the star of a dish, not an afterthought. And that lurid yellow colour? No mustard seed was ever grown that was that colour. Where do you think it comes from? Turmeric, or at least it used to...

Enough about yellow mustard. But sadly it’s usually the only mustard most people are familiar with. That has to change. Let’s talk about how to make good mustard.

As a rule, if you want a more “rustic” style of mustard start with whole seed. You’ll never get them all ground up in the final preparation. That’s what makes it rustic.

If you’re looking for a very smooth mustard use mustard powder. If you have a food mill (or mortar and pestle, or spice grinder) it is possible to grind your own seeds to make mustard powder. 

I find that the mustard powder in the tins at grocery stores is a tad on the expensive side. Upwards of $4.00/120g expensive. It is possible to purchase mustard powder at a bulk food place but it’s still not cheap.

A glass of cognac never hurt anyone. It transformed the
mustard seeds in a wonderful way. Photo: cyclonebill, Flickr ccl
Here's the low-down on seeds. You can purchase 100g bags of yellow or brown mustard seed in the “international” section of the Atlantic Superstore for $1.19. That’s 1/3 of what the ground mustard powder costs. You can also purchase yellow mustard seeds at the Bulk Barn (our local bulk food place) for $0.59/100g. That's even better – but they have no brown mustard seeds.

I would suggest you keep your eyes open for bulk mustard whenever you go into an "ethnic" grocery. Nearly every culture uses mustard, and uncommon mustards are rare. Therefore those specialties must be made at home...

For this recipe I opted for a French countryside style of “moutarde.” Really the only thing that makes it French is the cognac, but such is life. This mustard has a smoothness from the cognac being soaked into the seeds.

There’s just enough sweet with the brown sugar. It’s actually very nice. Swap out the brown sugar for maple syrup and you’ll have Acadian Cognac Mustard.

As with all homemade mustards wait a few days for the flavour to mellow somewhat. Mustard will keep refrigerated in excess of 4 weeks. This recipe would make a wonderful Christmas or host/hostess gift.

Rustic Cognac Mustard
Makes a scant 2 cups
The seeds, cognac and water after soaking 48 hours.
1/4 cup yellow (white) mustard seeds
1/4 cup brown mustard seeds
1/2 cup cognac
1/2 cup water
2 tbsp mustard powder
1 tbsp brown sugar (or try maple syrup!)
1/4 cup white vinegar
3/4 tsp sea salt

Place the seeds in s small jar with a cover. Pour the cognac and water into the jar with the seeds. Shake and then let sit undisturbed for 24-48 hours.

Place the seeds and soaking liquid in a blender or food processor with the mustard powder, brown sugar, vinegar and sea salt. Process to a paste consistency.

Put in a glass jar, cover for about 4 days before serving. None other than the Great Wikipedia states (with a footnote) that it really isn't necessary to refrigerate mustard because it has great antibacterial properties.

Other places say to refrigerate after they're opened. I routinely refrigerate mine. Better safe than sorry...
Two glass jars of delicious cognac mustard. Ready for gifting.

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Saturday, November 26, 2011

How to: 30 Min Roast Chicken with Red Mustard Rub

At some point, they are going to have to knock a hole in the side of the wall and throw the rotisserie chicken out as you drive by. – Harry Balzer (food industry analyst)

Side dishes: green beans, roasted beets and quinoa/cranberry/walnut pilaf.
Do you have 45 minutes to make something nutritious for dinner for your family? I hope you can spare the time…

Here’s a meal I have pulled off a few times now. It actually is a roast chicken that you can complete in the oven in 30 minutes with only a little more time on top of that.

Backbone removed, flattened and cut at all joints.
After the initial 5 minute searing, it's ready for the oven.
What do you need to pull off this feat? A skillet, knife and kitchen shears. It involves “butterfly”-ing the chicken so it lays flatter. Ergo, it is more one thickness and can cook faster.

It’s simplicity itself. Here’s FIVE fast steps to prep your chicken that take 5 minutes – tops. Choose a chicken that’s between 2-1/2 to 3 lbs. Larger won’t cook in the allotted time. While you prepare the chicken, preheat your oven to 450°F.

5 Steps to Prep
1. Remove the backbone by cutting down both sides with the shears.
2. Turn the chicken so it’s facing skin side up
3. Cut the flesh to the bone on all joints (shoulders where wings join breast, legs, “knees”, etc)
4. Remove amy extra skin and fat, and the wing tips
5. Press the breast down until it flattens (you may hear it crack, maybe not)

You now have something that looks like a frog, or your how your mother’s lap dog lays on the floor.

This is the chicken after 1/2 hour. Perfectly cooked. Watch out
for rubs that have a lot of sugar. The high roast will burn the skin.
To roast the chicken, start it on the stove. Heat an oven-proof skillet (no fat) until water sizzles. Place the seasoned chicken (see recipe below) bone side down in the skillet. Let fry for about 5 minutes on high heat.

Place chicken and pan in the oven and allow to finish roasting for 30 minutes. Check for an internal temperature of 18-°F for poultry to be cooked.

I made a Jacques Pépin mustard rubbed chicken a couple weeks ago that was amazing. You can use any rub you want, with one caution.

I would suggest that you stay away from rubs that have too much sugar. The high heat will burn the skin. Other than that, be creative!

Here’s my Red Mustard Rub:
2 tbsp Dijon mustard
2 tsp brown sugar
2 tsp soy sauce
1 tbsp paprika
2 tsp dried rosemary
1 tsp garlic powder
1 tsp cracked black pepper
1 tsp salt

Mix together and rub over all surfaces of the chicken. Tah-dah!

Since the oven’s already on, how about some roasted vegetables with your chicken for a whole meal?


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Friday, November 25, 2011

How To: Make Your Own Coconut Milk, and a Sorbet

Eat coconuts while you have teeth. – Singhalese Proverb

Homemade coconut milk. Photo: elana's pantry, Flickr ccl
** I just made this coconut milk. See notes at bottom for an update**

For some reason coconuts were on sale at certain grocery stores in Halifax last week. Three for $5 – an unheard of price. Either they were going bad, or there’s a glut.

Photo: SingChan, Flickr ccl
I resisted the urge to buy three but one did seem to drop into my shopping basket. They’re such an odd thing. Who actually eats a whole one anyway? Unless you grate it and dry your own (another good thing to do) there’s always waste.

I’ve decided my nut will become coconut cream and coconut milk. This is NOT to be confused with the coconut water which occurs naturally in the centre of the nut. This involves rendering, where the actual fat and tasty goodness of the flesh is extracted and thick, delicious milk is the result. 

I have to deal with my coconut tonight. I make a fair bit of Thai food so using coconut milk isn’t a worry for me. For those of you who prefer something a bit more on the milder side I’ve included a recipe at the bottom of this post for Coconut Lime Sorbet. Very easy.

Don’t worry if you missed the sale. You can also make coconut milk from bags of grated coconut in the baking section of the grocery store. Just make sure you don’t buy the sweetened. Plain coconut meat is what you need for this.

You can also use coconut milk to culture yogurt, and if you have spare kéfir grains, in that as well. So try to make some soon, and drop me a note as to how it turns out.

Photo: sweetbeetandgreenbean, Flickr ccl
Coconut Milk using Fresh Coconut
2-1/2 cups grated coconut
5 cups water (see bottom note)
The ratio of fresh grated coconut to water is 1:2 so make any amount you wish

Put coconut flakes and water into a saucepan and gently simmer for about 6-7 minutes. Let cool for a few minutes and then blend the coconut and water for a minute. Take care it doesn’t “spit” out the top. Strain the milk through a jelly bag or colander filled with clean cotton cloth.

This “first” pressing is coconut cream. Repeat with more water for coconut milk, but simmer the coconut and milk for 10-12 minutes. Then squeeze result through muslim or cloth.

Coconut Lime Sorbet. Photo: joyosity, Flickr ccl
Coconut milk using Unsweetened Shredded
5 cups desiccated coconut
5 cups water
Ratio is 1:1

Double the simmering time. All other directions remain the same.

Coconut Lime Sorbet
1-3/4 cup cream of coconut* (or one 15 oz can)
1/2 cup white sugar
1/2 cup fresh lime juice
3/4 cup water
2 tbsp chopped fresh basil (optional)

Combine all in the container of an ice cream machine and freeze according to the time dictated by your particular machine.

If you don't have a machine you can do it in a metal pan. Whisk every so often as the liquid freezes. Then place in a container.

*Note: Cream of coconut is thicker than coconut milk. It is the first rendering of the coconut flesh from the top recipe. The second rendering is the "milk." Or so I've been told...

**Notes from the recipe: I used fresh coconut and was wondering a little why the dried had less water than the fresh in its prep. I think the ratio should be 1:1 coconut to water for either recipe. So use 2.5 cups water – not 5. There's no way I'll get "cream" from what I did.

**Another note: take as much of the brown "skin" off the fresh coconut. It turns the finished product a little grey. It's only cosmetic, but if using desiccated coconut you wouldn't have this problem.


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Thursday, November 24, 2011

Recipe: Mexican Chocolate Syrup

All you need is love. But a little chocolate now and then doesn't hurt. – Charles M. Schulz

Cocoa beans in a farmer's hand. Photo: Nestlé, Flickr ccl
I guess by definition, all chocolate syrup is somewhat Mexican – or should one say Mesoamerican – because that is where the cacao bean first became part of the human diet. 

Olmec head. Photo: quite peculiar, Flickr ccl
As early at 1500 BCE the Olmecs were growing cacao. This continued under the Mayans and Aztecs, who both developed drinks from the beans. Christopher Columbus brought the unusual crop back to the court of Ferdinand and Isabelle and chocolate drinks became all the rage in 1590s Spain.

It wasn’t until over 150 years later that the first chocolate house opened in London. Called the The Coffee Mill and Tobacco Roll, it served a drink that (because of cacao’s price) could only be enjoyed by wealthy. It didn't take long for find its way into baked goods due to its growing desirability.

To become widely available at lower cost, more effective methods of production had to be discovered. Many names we still associate with chocolate now step into the history books.

Joseph Fry of England invented a steam engine to grind cocoa beans on a larger scale. Fry & Sons also claim the invention of the first chocolate “bar” in 1866 although it was a far cry from what we purchase as a chocolate bar today. Cadbury's still makes a variation.

“Dutch processed” chocolate came into being through the invention of a hydraulic press by Conrad J. van Houten from the Netherlands.

John Cadbury, a British Quaker, opened a drinking chocolate and cocoa factory in 1831. Cadbury's is often cited as the first company to promote chocolate as a Valentine's Day gift.

Daniel Peters of Switzerland produced the first “milk chocolate” bar in 1875, using stable powdered milk that had been invented by Henri Nestlé. Peter's Chocolate is still in existence today and Nestlé is now a multinational company.

Rudolphe Lindt invented the process of "conching," where chocolate is heated and ground to ensure better distribution and blending with other ingredients. Conching has since been used by other companies to create lesser quality chocolate (but certainly not by Lindt).

Fry, Cadbury, Peters, Nestlé, Lindt… a who’s who of chocolate. But without those first brave indigenous Mesoamericans we may be none the wiser to chocolate’s allure.

In honour of those Olmecs, Mayans, Aztecs and others, this chocolate sauce is bright with cinnamon and spicy with cayenne. I have outlined two other options at the bottom of the recipe as well.

Serve over ice cream or wherever chocolate sauce would be a benefit. I would add a spoonful to a steaming coffee, or even some to cold milk. This sauce will last for months when refrigerated. Great for gifts.

Mexican Chocolate Syrup*
Time: 15 minutes  |  Yield: 4 x 230 ml jars
1-1/4 cup cocoa powder (better cocoa, better syrup)
2-1/4 cups white sugar
1-3/4 cups water
1/2 cup vodka or white rum
1-1/2 tbsps cornstarch
1 tsp salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1-1/2 tsp cinnamon, or to taste
1 tsp cayenne, or 1-1/2 stop if you're brave

Combine all ingredients in a heavy bottomed sauce pan and mix well. Place over medium high heat. Whisk while it comes to a boil, then cook for  3-4 minutes.

Let cool slightly and decant into jars. The sauce will thicken up somewhat when refrigerated.

* For "regular" chocolate syrup simply omit the cinnamon and cayenne. For jalapeno chocolate syrup add strips of jalapeno pepper to the mixture while it boils. Then strain them out before placing the sauce in jars.


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Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Guilty Cravings: Sloppy Joe Recipe

“She glanced down at the contents of her plate. Just tell him what it is. Simple. Look at it and say what it is. "Sloppy Joe," she managed. "Hmm," he said, sounding doubtful. "May he rest in peace.” ― Kelly Creagh, Nevermore

Sloppy, yes... and good. Photo: WordRidder, Flickr ccl
Come on. Admit it. We all have had a craving for sloppy joes at least once. In actuality they’re quite easy – and quick – to make from scratch. Although you can get pre-made sauces, I find having control over what goes in my food gives me more peace of mind.

From Wikipedia:
A sloppy joe is an American dish of ground beef, onions, sweetened tomato sauce or ketchup and other seasonings, served on a hamburger bun… Contradictory lore suggests that the Original Sloppy Joe Sandwich was invented at Sloppy Joe's Bar in Key West, Florida, or by a cook named Joe at a cafe in Sioux City, Iowa, as a variation of the popular "loose meat" sandwich (which does not contain tomato sauce).

The original Sloppy Joe's Bar. Photo: Florida Keys--Public Library, Flickr ccl
It’s impossible to determine what story is true (or first) but my vote’s for Sloppy Joe’s in Key West. The back story is more colourful so that’s why my vote. (Look up about Sloppy Joe’s Bar to see.)

Photo: BjornFranTjorn, Flickr ccl
Who know’s what this mixture would have tasted like originally. Everyone’s in on the act, making their own variations (including me…). The web site has no less than seven variations on the classic, all presumably plugging one or more of their “cheese-like” products.

You can purchased quite good “sauce” for Sloppy Joes in a can in Nova Scotia. I like Hunt’s Manwich brand, but it’s extremely difficult to find. It’s like they’re trying to hide it in the groceries for some reason. It must have unusual slotting on the shelves. I can’t remember where I found it last time.

You have to be careful when reading packaging. The name on the can is Hunt’s Manwich Original Sloppy Joe Sauce. But they don’t mean “original Sloppy Joe sauce”; they mean “original Manwich.” Those advertisers are crafty. I know from experience.

Regardless, if you make your own you get to put whatever you want in it. Mine leans a little to a Southern US style, as it should. I hope you like it.

Sloppy Joes
Makes 4-6 sloppy joes
Photo: Our Enchanted Garden, Flickr ccl
1 tbsp vegetable oil
1 medium onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, chopped
2 stalks celery, finely chopped
1 lb lean ground beef
1 small (8 ounce) can tomato paste
1/4 cup ketchup
1/4 cup vinegar
1 tbsp brown sugar
1 tbsp Dijon mustard
1 tsp cayenne
1 /2 tsp thyme
1/2 tsp cumin
1 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
salt and pepper

Heat the oil in a large sauté pan or skillet. Add the onion, garlic and celery and sauté until softened.

Ad the beef and continue to sauté until it is no longer pink. If you wish you can drain off any collected fat. If you don’t your end result may be oily.

Add all the remaining ingredients and bring to a simmer. Cover and let cook for about 15 minutes. Stir occasionally.

At the end of the cooking time check for remaining moisture. If there is too much, turn up the heat and let it evaporate to the consistency you desire.

Serve on toasted buns or crusty bread with cole slaw and pickles.


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Monday, November 21, 2011

Recipe: Osso Bucco, Old yet New...

Heaven sends us good meat, but the Devil sends cooks. – David Garrick 

Old and new together.
I’m not really one to have massive upset about how my food is harvested, but a few things do actually bother me.

For example, I try (and need to try harder) to support local producers as opposed to the big chains whenever I can. I admit it’s far less often that I should. I do try to buy locally from the big grocers when I can, for what it’s worth.

Photo: zayzayem, Flickr ccl
The other two are  1) bunnies, and  2) veal. Bunnies are a no brainer. They’re way too cute, but at least they are often hunted in the wild. We supplemented our food with rabbits in the winter months when I was young because it helped my parents’ stretch their modest income.

I feel the same sort of way about veal, but they’re not raised wild, or even free range. They’re raised penned and slaughtered young. I used to eat veal, but can’t really bring myself to do it anymore. It’s cruel.

Veal is a “by-product” of the milk industry. Cows must have calves to lactate, but the calves don’t get to drink the milk very long. We do. “Milk-fed” veal calves are given a milk replacement rather than the more valuable saleable milk. Since male cattle do not give milk they are usually the ones that end up on the plate.

I actually had to stop watching the movie Food.Inc a few month’s ago – for a variety of reasons. I didn’t make it past the chicken farming. It was turning me completely off my dinner. Vegetarianism was looking better and better.

Brown the shanks well.
Now here’s a problem: Osso Bucco is traditionally made from veal shanks. In reality “osso bucco” means "bone with a hole" in Italian, so any old cut bone would fit the definition. But Osso Bucco uses veal shanks.

Well not in my kitchen. It’s beef shanks. The thing about the recipe is that it’s a slow cooked meat dish that allows the flavour from the bone and marrow to ooze out into the sauce. In the process the meat becomes unbelievably tender. It literally cooks off the bone.

So what’s old yet new, you may ask. Osso Bucco has been around since the 1800s. The original (veal was cheap and plentiful) was spiced with cinnamon and bay leaf. The sauce consisted of broth and reduced vegetables. It was Ossobucco in bianco, or white Osso Bucco. A modern version uses tomatoes.

Of course mine uses both techniques. Oh, and the sad little calves have at least had a chance to mature fully before being marched off to the abattoir. Terrible word, that. Has anyone seen the Monty Python sketch where the abattoir architect tries to sell the concept as an apartment building? It’s twisted.

Regardless, this is one of the tastiest dishes I make. I think I’m a passable cook, but the rating is based on the opinion of others. So it must be at least edible.

This recipe isn’t a quickie. It takes about 2-1/4 hours to achieve that desirable tenderness, but it’s well worth it. Traditional side dishes are mashed potatoes for the new version or Risotto alla milanese (onion, saffron, white wine) for the old. Take your pick.

As I write this the Osso Bucco has been on the stove for nearly one hour. The smell of garlic, cinnamon and cloves is rising behind me and filling the kitchen. Mmmmm….

Docaitta’s Osso Bucco
Prep: 10 min  | Cook: 2 hrs 45 min  |  Serves 4
Nestle the shanks in the sauce.
1/4 cup olive oil
2 beef shanks, bone in (a little over 1 lb each)
salt and cracked black pepper
2 medium onions
2 bay leaves
2” cinnamon stick
6 whole cloves
4 large garlic cloves, chopped
1 cup red wine
28 oz whole canned tomatoes

Heat the olive oil in a Dutch oven. Sprinkle the shanks with salt and pepper. Brown each one in the hot oil until the bottoms release from the pan. Remove to a plate.

Add the onions and spices to the oil. Sauté until the onions just begin to soften. Then add the garlic and sauté for about 2 minutes. 

After the sauce is nearly reduced.
Add the tomatoes and red wine. Break the tomatoes up slightly. They will finish breaking down in the braising. Bring the sauce to a boil.

Nestle the shanks into the sauce. Add a little more salt and pepper. be careful as the salt will concentrate as the sauce reduces. 

Cover the pot (leaving it slightly open), reduce the heat to simmer, and let braise for about 2 hours. Turn the shanks in the sauce periodically.

After 2 hours the sauce will still be quite liquid. Remove the cover and allow to cook for the remaining half hour to reduce. Keep check so it doesn’t stick to the bottom. The meat can also be taken from the bone with a spatula during this cooking time as well. The sauce will become quite thick.

Remove the cinnamon stick and bay leaves. Serve with fluffy masked potatoes or risotto.


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Saturday, November 19, 2011

Booze Again: Homemade Damson Plum Liqueur

Truth is a fruit which should not be plucked until it is ripe. – Voltaire 

Beautiful deep red liqueur.
Two months ago my aunt’s plum tree was in full fruit. The truth is the plums were getting so ripe that the internal sugars were seeping out and making what looked all the world like sap from a pine tree. I’d never seen it to such an extent before. Voltaire would have most certainly been harvesting.

Not wanting her to miss the enjoyment of her bounty I picked a grocery bag nearly full (well over 5 lbs) and took them up to her. In return she was kind enough to ask me if I wanted any. I quickly agreed (of course) and went back for more. It didn’t take me long to pluck off two additional pounds.

This is 2 lbs of Damson plums.
Note the colour is clear before it infuses. It quickly changes.
What to do, what to do… There’s so much you can do with plums. They are excellent in baking, with meats or salads and preserved in jars. They also make an excellent liqueur, another common way to enjoy them.

I’m not certain what variety of Damsons they were, but on the whole Damson plums are known for their tart and acidic flavour. As such they usually aren’t a favourite to just pick and eat. That’s why they have uses in jams and jellies (with lots of sugar) and making the plum liqueur from Europe called Silvovitz.

So I opted for the booze. Liqueur is also easy to distribute as bottled gifts. 

This recipe doesn’t even require making a simple syrup. Just place it in the jar, shake and wait. I know it’s too late for this Holiday season (although some recipes age for only 1 month), but if you can get the plums you’ll be able to enjoy this liqueur in the cold, bleak days of winter.

It’s very smooth.

Homemade Damson Plum Liqueur
Yield: 6 cups before second straining; 5 cups afterward
Press the juice from the fruit without putting too much pulp
in the liqueur. You will need to strain a second time.
2 lbs Damson plums
2 cups sugar
2 cups vodka
1 cup grappa (white brandy, or regular brandy)
2 slices lemon peel, 1/2” wide x 3” long
2 1L Mason jars

Wash the plums well and pat them dry. This is especially important with any fruit you may purchase as it may be sprayed with pesticides. Remove the pits and cut into quarters. 

Cut the peel from the lemon making sure to get as little of the white pith as possible.

Divide the sliced plums between the Mason jars. Add the sugar, lemon peel, vodka and grappa. Seal the jars well and shake vigorously until the sugar is dissolved.

Place the jars in a cool, dark place for two months. I've read recipes that take 1 month so you could haveit for Christmas if you needed. Shake occasionally as you pass by. As the liqueur ages the colour will turn from clear to a very dark purple.

Place a strainer over a large bowl (I use a 8-cup measuring cup) and strain out the solids. Press the liquid from the plums with a spatula, and discard the pulp. Re-strain the liqueur again through clean cotton cloth until clear, and bottle.

The liqueur is ready now, but for best results let it age for another four weeks.


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