Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Poor bread is forgotten, bread from a great baker endures

I used to dine 2~3 times a week at an Italian restaurant in the San Francisco bay area called Piacere. A very nice Kurd man who quickly became a good friend ran it. I worked nearby at a lucrative consulting position with a local high tech firm. The bread his place was outstanding and so was their garlic-basil and balsamic dip that was redolent with the perfume of fresh cold-pressed unfiltered green olive oil. After several years, much to my surprise, the restaurant started making their own mediocre focaccia and ditched their splendid garlic-basil and balsamic dip. As it turned out, the bread and dip was SO OUTSTANDING, patrons would fill up on it. Dessert sales went up 23% after the stopped offering the great bread, and frankly, as good as the desserts were; I sure missed the bread and dip.

Moving out of the Bay area to North Carolina was a real experience. French and Italian breads here are hardly represented in the super market. Softer breads, cornbreads and biscuits are more readily available. For the baker, artisanal flour made from hard spring and winter wheats that characterize chewy European and Italian loaves is scarce as hens’ teeth. The Old Red Mill on Highway 68 does turn out decent hi-gluten flour that makes a loaf of French bread but it lacks the chew of Italian flour.

I am avidly looking at the North Carolina Organic BreadFlour Project with the hopes that great flour and breads flourish here as well as they have elsewhere in the nation.  On their blog spot, I read of the Annual Asheville Bread Festival where several of the recent competitions have also been instructors at the San Francisco Baking Institute and continue to be highly respected teachers, consultants, and writers. Asheville, NC even looks like it grew up in San Francisco.

Is Making Bread at Home Hard?

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Residual Heat in Roasting - Getting Good Results


We are not talking radioactive fission products after shutdown but in principle, the concept is similar. The amount heat stored in a roast is proportional to the roasting temperature and the roast’s size. This means the roast must be removed from the oven at an internal temperature lower than desired final temperature. The residual heat is at the surface and successively less toward the center. The roast’s initial center temperature when removed from the oven will go up as the roast rests. The blue arrows in the chart show the direction of residual heat as the roast rests, while the moisture flow in the roast is just opposite as the roast’s protein molecules relax. Typically, resting times for a large roast is 20 minutes or more while a smaller roast maybe 10 to 15 minutes.
Looking at the figure again, the bands of color also represent a gradient of doness. For roasts roasted at high temperature, the outer rings may be well done, while successive inner layers are increasingly rarer. The secret restaurants use to get prime rib almost uniformly rare inside-to-out is to roast the meat at a low oven setting. In my cookbook, we use 220 F. which results in this uniformity. The temperature rise after resting for a 15 pound roast is only 4 degrees.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Miso is Good Food

Miso is a Japanese product made by fermenting rice, barley and/or soybeans, with salt using the fungus Aspergillus oryzae. The most typical miso is made with soy. Miso is showing up practically everywhere thanks in large part to the Asian-pacific rim cuisine but also because it is so flavorful. Marinades, sauces, glaze, pasta and soups of all sorts have leveraged its versatility. Even the famous Delmonico fine restuarant is selling their Sweet Miso Marinade.

There are many versions of Miso but they generally fall into red, white, and Hatcho Miso with less water and salt content and made near Okazaki castle in Japan. Red miso is aged over a year the color of this miso changes gradually from white to red or even black. White miso is the most popular miso and is made with rice, barley, and a small quantity of soybeans and has abbreviated fermentation. The taste is sweeter than red miso but has less umami.

Miso, when fresh, has a shelf life and will be found in the refrigerated section of the Asian market. This is not to say that it is not available dried or unrefrigerated. I particularly like combining shallots, fresh minced ginger, and a good demi-glace when making rich sauces with miso but when doing so, I strain the results. Miso combines well with dashi soup stock and flecks of quality toasted nori.


Miso Sauce
1/3 Cup sake
1/3 Cup Mirin
¼ Cup a good sweet white miso (South River brand®)
1 Teaspoon seasoned rice vinegar
1 Teaspoons brown sugar
1 Teaspoons fish sauce (optional)
1 Teaspoon Thai black soy sauce
3 Tablespoon of sweet butter, cut into patties

In a frying pan, reduce sake, Mirin with the white miso over medium-high heat by half. If you are baking a fish, add the run off juice from the pan when the fish has cooked. To finish, stir in the vinegar, sugar, (fish sauce if you like) and black soy. Take pan from heat and mount the sauce by swirling in the butter. Correct the seasonings. Garnish with fresh herbs.


Thursday, May 26, 2011

Blowing Eggs and more


When I was a child, the resident bully would say, “Go suck an egg”; while I was not sure what that meant exactly, I was sure that it was unfriendly. Later one Easter I found you could blow an egg to empty its’ shell for decorating. Pretty neat I thought.

Last year, I saw someone blowing a hard-boiled egg right from its shell. The secret is one makes a small opening in the fat end of the egg about the diameter of your thumb and a small “blow-hole” in the pointy end. If the boiled egg is rolled a little to loosen the shell from the egg, a strong lung full can blow an egg right from its shell. Make sure you cup the large end to catch the egg. This works best if the eggs are five or more days old.

Nutritionally the egg is a good deal for the money. The egg is America’s original fast food and can expedite many a meal when a quick solution is needed.  Did you know that there is one egg-laying hen for every person in the United States and each egg is turned over by the sitting hen about fifty times per day so the yolk will not stick to the sides of the shell?

My family had roaming chickens at our Rustic Canyon home in Southern California and on the Appian Way farm in Rome, Italy. I have been spoiled with the best natural eggs chickens can lay. These eggs not only look better they taste better too. The best breakfast I ever had was farm-fresh eggs cooked with a touch of cream in butter topped with fresh shaved truffles.

“Love and eggs are best when they are fresh.” - Russian proverb.

Shirred or Baked Eggs (Oeufs en Cocotte)

One of my favorite ways to eat an egg is soft-boiled turned out over torn bits of buttered toast. Shirred or baked eggs results are similar to a soft-boiled egg with less fuss and muss. This is a great way to cook eggs if you are serving a large crowd. Butter oven-safe cups or ramekins and add a small patty of butter. Break two or three eggs into each cup without breaking the yolk. Top the eggs with a teaspoon of heavy cream, some salt and pepper. Preheat oven to 350 F. Have a kettle handy with very hot water. Place cups in a bain-marie adding the hot water half way up on the ramekins from the kettle. Bake until whites are set but yolks are still soft 15 to 20 minutes. Serve cups/ramekins on a plate reminding guests the cups are very hot. Garnish with fine chopped chives.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Sancocho de Siete Carnes - hola amigos!


Santo Domingo Stew Sancocho de Siete Carnes
Sancocho, although made in other countries is to the Dominican Republic as paella is to Spain. This traditional stew is normally a fairly rustic dish but reaches its culmination in this seven meat (siete carnes) version which is said to repre­sents the seven islands of the Canary Islands where the dish originated. Sancocho recipes vary as much as paella recipes – every cook has their own. This recipe is for 10 or more people. This take a very large pot. Ones with a heavy bottom are best to spread the heat. Like the best of the French stews, this recipe realizes its great complexity of flavors from the plenitude of the meats and other ingredients. The traditional recipe uses cassava root which has some concerns (see note 1) You may leave cassava root out, if you prefer.

1 Pound lamb neckbones or use sawn leg shanks
1 Pound Longaniza4 pork sausage
1 Pound pork shoulder
2 Pounds chuck or 7-bone pot-roast
1 ½ Pound chicken thighs and wings
2 Pounds of pork ribs, sawn
2 Small smoked ham hocks
4 Lemons, halved
4 Cloves garlic
4 Tablespoons of olive oil
2 Large bell peppers (one red, one green), coarsely chopped
½ Pound of cassava root1 cut into ½ inch thick pieces
2 Large yellow onions, chopped
½ Pound of yam2, peeled cut into fork sized chunks
½ Pound of eddoes or malanga root or, peeled cut into fork sized chunks
½ Pound of peeled Yukon potatoes peeled cut into fork sized chunks
3 Green plantains, 2 are cut peeled cut into fork sized chunks, 1 is shred­ded
2 Cups beef, vegetable or chicken stock
½ Teaspoon of Mexican oregano
½ Teaspoon of thyme
1 Tablespoon of Spanish smoked paprika (pimentón)
½ Teaspoon of sage
½ Teaspoon of ground coriander
1 Tablespoon of red wine vinegar
1 Tablespoon of lime juice
1 Tablespoon grated orange rind
1 Tablespoon crushed red pepper
4 Fresh tomatoes, seeded and chopped coarsely

Garnish:
Chopped cilantro
Sliced avocados
Steamed Jasmine rice

Cut the larger meat pieces into smaller chunks. Wash beef, lamb, pork in several changes of cold water and pat dry. Rub meats and chicken with lemon. Set broiler to high. Toss meats and chicken with a little oil. Broil meats and chicken, in batches, while periodically turning pieces until all sides have browned. Place browned meats and chicken into large Dutch oven or pot. Score ham hocks on all sides with a sharp knife them add to pot. Add garlic, onions, bell peppers, oreg­ano, paprika, thyme, sage, coriander, vinegar, lime juice, crushed red pepper, 2 cups of stock, 1 quart of water. Simmer for 1 ½ hours with lid on. When meats are near tender, add root vegetables and the chopped and grated plantains. Add more water when necessary. Simmer until everything is tender.

Thickening the Stew
Separate out some on the root vegetables to purée then add to the stew to thicken it. Now add chopped tomatoes and grated orange rind. Simmer until the stew is thick. Correct the seasonings.

Garnish with chopped cilantro, slices of avocados and a generous portion of steamed Jasmine long grain rice.

Notes:
1.  The cassava root (also called yuca or manioc) is long and tapered with a firm flesh with a rough brown outer rind similar to a potato. Yuca is a popular starch in the Caribbean and is an important ingredient for sancocho. While good as a thickener it is not very nutritious additionally and it must be cooked for a protracted period to drive out any volatile residual traces of cyanide which also suggests a well ventilated kitchen.
2.  Yams here refer to tropical South American white yams not the larger African variety which is huge. The tuber is roughly cylindrical in shape, the skin is smooth and brown and the flesh usually white and firm. A large number of white yam varieties exist with slightly different characteristics.
3.  Spanish smoked paprika or pimentón is one of the essential ingredients in Spanish cooking and adds depth to this dish.
4.  Longaniza is a popular Spanish-style mild pork sausage.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Generations Of Passionate Home Cooking Work in Progress

Yes I am still working on a new book Generations Of Passionate Home Cooking featuring international cusine. It will be initially in black and white and a 6 by 9 inch hardbound edition of 700 pages. I hope to also EPublish a very affordable downloadable PDF color version. See a preview of the Table of Content.
For more about the book, please visit: http://www.passionatehomecook.com/