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 saut̩ed garlic and ginger, lime juice, green onion and cilantro Рwith 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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