Archive for the ‘Technique’ Category
I don’t think that anyone would argue that food made from scratch is far superior to anything purchased in a package. Tomato sauce made at home is way better than the jarred stuff; homemade mac ‘n’ cheese blows the box out of the water; and canned soup doesn’t hold a candle to freshly made soup.
Sometimes there are food products that people don’t realize you can make fresh at home. It just doesn’t enter their minds. But there really isn’t much that you can’t make from scratch, including “alternative” milks. One of the things we learned to make at the Natural Gourmet Institute is almond milk. Some people might think that things like almond or soy milk go through some mysterious process, but in actuality, almond milk is one of the easiest things you can make.
Almond milk is naturally dairy free, so it’s the perfect option for people who are lactose intolerant. Soy milk is also dairy free but there’s a lot of controversy surrounding soy. While soybeans are known to have antioxidants, ironically, they also contain estrogen receptors, making it a player in breast cancer. The reports go back and forth, but for those at risk for breast cancer or worry about eating too much soy, almond milk is the way to go. Almond milk has vitamins A, D, and E, calcium, iron, and protein. It helps in maintaining good eyesight, healthy skin, and strong bones and teeth. It’s also low in carbs, making it ideal for weight loss plans
Soaking nuts and seeds overnight add another dimension of health. Nuts and seeds contain enzyme inhibitors, preventing the absorption of nutrients. Soaking releases the enzymes and phytic acid, making the nutrients accessible by the body.
Any recipe you make that calls for almond milk will benefit greatly if you make the milk yourself. You can make it up to a week in advance of preparing your recipe and keep it in the refrigerator. Let me warn you, though, that while the process is a simple one, it does get a little messy. You might find that the ground almonds tend to stray. But it’s worth the little bit of mess to get fresh, rich, homemade almond milk.
Fresh Almond Milk
Makes about 6 cups almond milk
1. Start with 3 cups almonds. The almonds need to be skin-free, so you can purchase blanched almonds or blanch whole almonds yourself. To do it yourself, bring a medium pot of water to a boil; add the almonds and boil for about 5 minutes. Drain. When almonds are cool enough to touch, remove the skin. They should pop out if you squeeze them. (Beware of flying almonds!) Place the almonds in a large bowl.
2. In a clean pot, bring 6 cups water to a boil. Pour it over the almonds, cover the bowl with a kitchen towel, and let it sit for about 30 minutes. Meanwhile, line a sieve with a few layers of cheesecloth that has been rinsed and squeezed. Place the sieve over a bowl large enough to catch the milk.
3. Carefully transfer the almonds and water to a blender (do this in two batches if necessary). Puree thoroughly. Pour some into the sieve. Gather up the cheesecloth and squeeze out as much milk as possible. Discard the almond pulp and repeat with the remaining puree.
4. Pour into glass bottles and let it cool completely. Refrigerate.
Fresh almond milk will keep up to a week in the refrigerator.
Cassoulet is a traditional French dish containing various kinds of meat and beans cooked in a casserole dish. Originally from southwestern France, cassoulet is a rich and hearty dish and is usually labor-intensive. You can take a few shortcuts for a quicker, easier cassoulet, but it will turn out rather flat. It’s meant to be a complex, savory dish and you won’t get that depth of flavor if you take shortcuts, so it’s worth taking the time to prepare each component. It’s not that complicated—you just have to be a little patient. Just taking the extra step to cook the beans alone will give a layer of flavor that you simply won’t get from canned beans.
In the U.S., cassoulet often refers to any number of bean dishes cooked in a casserole dish. The word cassoulet comes from cassole, an earthenware casserole dish in which cassoulet was first made. For a great historical account of cassoulet, visit Clifford Wright’s site HERE.
What makes this vegetarian version of cassoulet so delectable is roasting the vegetables. Roasting coaxes the sugar out of vegetables, turning them into something divine. Keep an eye on your veggies and stir them occasionally for an even browning.
What I used in this recipe is brown vegetable stock, which is wonderful to use in many dishes. It’s worth sit to spend the time making it—then just throw it in your freezer for when you need it. However, I know that time is a precious thing these days, so you’ll see that the recipe just calls for vegetable stock. The end product won’t be as rich, but it will be good.
As I said, the beans are made from scratch—that is, you start off with dried beans and cook them until tender. This will give you a much better quality and better tasting dish. You’ll want to throw a piece of kombu in with the beans.
Kombu is a type of seaweed—algae, to be specific. Adding a piece of kombu to a pot of cooking beans makes it more digestible because the amino acids soften the beans’ skin and eliminates some of the gassiness. Kombu is a mild-tasting seaweed so it won’t impart a fishy taste to your dish, as long as you use only a small piece, which is all you need anyway.
Yield 6-8 servings
1 cup dried lima or white beans (navy, Great Northern, cannellini), soaked 12 hours or overnight
5 cups vegetable stock
1 piece kombu (1 to 2 inches)
Sachet (sprig rosemary, 2 bay leaves, few peppercorns)
6 tbsp plus 1 tsp olive oil
3 large carrots, cut into ½-inch chunks
3 large parsnips, cut into ½-inch chunks
1 small sweet potato, cut into ½-inch chunks
4 cloves garlic, peeled
1 onion, thinly sliced
4 medium tomatoes, peeled, seeded, and diced
salt and pepper to taste
3 tbsp finely chopped parsley
¼ tsp fresh thyme
¼ tsp crushed dried oregano
¾ cup whole wheat bread crumbs
3 tbsp olive oil
1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
2. Drain and rinse the beans and place them in a medium to large pot, along with the kombu, vegetable stock, and sachet. Bring to a boil; lower the heat, cover the pot, and simmer until beans are tender (1 to 2 hours, depending on the bean).
3. Toss the carrots, parsnips, sweet potato, and garlic with 2 tablespoons of the oil, salt, and pepper. Spread out onto a greased baking sheet in a single layer and roast until browned. Stir occasionally. Pick out the garlic and finely chop or mash (they will be very soft). Set aside.
4. Meanwhile, heat 2 tablespoons oil and a medium pan. Add the onions and cook over low heat, stirring frequently, until they are soft and translucent, about 5 minutes. Turn up the heat to medium-high and continue cooking until they are nicely browned. Transfer to a bowl.
5. In the same pan, heat 1 teaspoon oil. Add the tomatoes and roasted garlic and sauté until soft, about 5 minutes.
6. In a small bowl, combine the bread crumbs, 2 tablespoons of oil, parsley, thyme, and oregano. Set aside.
7. When beans are cooked, add the onions and tomatoes to the pot and simmer another 5 minutes. Set a mesh strainer over a bowl and drain the bean mixture; remove the sachet and kombu and discard. Reserve the liquid. Pour the liquid back into the pot and cook down over medium heat until thick (it should coat the back of a spoon).
8. Return the bean mixture to the pot and mix. Simmer another 5 minutes. Transfer to a medium casserole dish (about 9 x 6). Spread the roasted vegetables on top of the beans. Finally, sprinkle the bread crumb mixture evenly over the top.
9. Bake, uncovered, 30 minutes or until browned.
My class at Natural Gourmet Institute rocked the cookies last week! I have to say, everyone made some great cookies. We actually made them in two separate classes: one in which we started with regular cookie recipes (and muffins and brownies) and made batch after batch, substituting an ingredient with each subsequent batch until a gluten-free, vegan product was produced. The proper way to do this is in stages: you start by substituting one ingredient at a time, bake each batch with that one substitution, and proceed in that manner until you reach your final product.
We worked in teams of two, each team converting one recipe. My partner and I made peanut butter cookies. Our final product was made up of spelt and oat flour, natural peanut butter, coconut (palm) sugar, coconut oil (in place of butter), and—are you ready for this?—in place of eggs: mashed sweet potatoes. And they were awesome. Everyone (I think) in the class loved them, as did the instructor. Numerous people asked us for the recipe, which I am sharing with you below.
That was Wednesday. On Saturday, we each made our own cookies and the goal was to make “beautiful” cookies that would be good enough to serve to guests (or something like that). I think we all did a spectacular job, as the photos here attest. We had a gorgeous table of linzer tart cookies, checkerboard cookies, tuiles, thumbprint cookies, chocolate-cherry bars, and numerous others. And, of course, we had a couple of vegan cookies. My recipe was walnut tea crescents, but rather than shaping them into crescents, the instructor suggested that I roll it out and stamp out shapes with a cookie cutter. It was a really cute tray of cookies, what with the little bunnies, butterflies, flowers, and maple leaves. One of the other students had fig filling left over from her fig pinwheels and I used that to make little fig sandwiches with my tea cookies.
I think we could have opened up a bakery with the beauties we baked. If you Facebook friend me, you can see the photo gallery HERE. What do you think? Give the vegan peanut butter recipe a try and let us know how they turn out.
Gluten-Free, Vegan Peanut Butter Cookies (with sugar alternatives)
1 medium sweet potato, peeled and cut into chunks
1 cup natural, organic peanut butter
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1 cup coconut (palm) sugar (or maple crystals)
1/2 cup melted coconut oil
1 1/4 cup spelt flour
1/4 cup oat flour
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
3/4 tsp salt
2. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line 2 half-sheet pans with parchment paper; set aside.
3.In a stand mixer, mix the peanut butter until smooth. Add the 1/4 cup sweet potato and vanilla.
4. In another bowl, whisk together sugar and coconut oil until well blended, and add to the mixer. Mix until light and fluffy.
5. Whisk together the flours, baking powder, and salt and add to the batter. Mix until well blended.
6. Using a medium-size ice cream scoop, place balls of the batter about 1 inch apart on the sheet pans. Press each one down with a fork in a cross-hatch pattern. Bake about 15 minutes. Transfer them to a wire rack to cool.
Note: I lost track of exactly how many this recipe made, but count on at least a couple of dozen.
The third week of May is International Pickles Week. Some people can take or leave pickles, but some absolutely love them and they will eat anything pickled.
Let me know how they turn out.
We had a soy demo in class last night and I have to say, I was pretty amazed at how easy it is to make homemade soy milk and tofu. Our instructor made both fresh, right in front of us. Both processes took no more than 15 to 20 minutes (after the initial overnight soaking of the soybeans). The resulting products were far superior to store-bought. But, then, isn’t everything homemade better than store-bought?
We had several different tofu and tempeh dishes, including Tofu Teriyaki, Tofu Sour Cream, Poblanos Stuffed with Tempeh and Quinoa, Miso-Glazed Salmon, and Pan-Fried Tempeh (which I dipped in the teriyaki sauce—yum!). Saturday, we get to do more soy and tempeh cooking. Woohoo!
Anyway, if you want to try your hand at making your own tofu, here’s the recipe from the Natural Gourmet Institute.
Wooden tofu mold (or a colander)
2 cups white soybeans, soaked overnight, drained and rinsed
2 tsp nigari* or 1/2 cup lemon juice or 1/2 vinegar
1. Line tofu mold with 2 layers cheesecloth. Set aside. Heat 7 1/2 cups water in 2-gallon pot over medium-high heat.
2. Puree soybeans in batches with 6 cups [total] cold water in blender. add puree to heating water. Stirring constantly, bring pot to a boil.
3. Strain soymilk through fine chinois (or strainer lined with cheesecloth) into a second large pot, pressing out all excess liquid. Discard soy pulp or reserve for later use.
4. Cover strained soymilk, bring back again to boil, and gently simmer uncovered 10 minutes. Remove pot from heat.
5. Dissolve nigari or other solidifier in 1 cup cold water. Add 1/3 of solidifier mixture slowly to hot soymilk, while gently stirring. Cover pot and allow to stand 3 minutes or until milk has separated into soft white curds.
6. Add remaining solidifier in two more batches, stirring each time and covering for 3 minutes. Soymilk should be c0mpletely separated into curds and whey.
7. Ladle bean curd into tofu mold [or colander lined with cheesecloth]; press with 2- or 3-pound weight for 25 to 30 minutes until firm and solid.
*Nigari — Magnesium chloride. Can be purchased at health food stores or specialty food stores.
Today was seitan day in class at the Natural Gourmet Institute. We learned how to make seitan from scratch, which is not as complicated as I would have thought, but it is messy and time-consuming. It’s basically a six-hour process. Whole-wheat flour and high-gluten flour get combined with water and kneaded, just like bread, then soaked and kneaded under water.
Then the seitan is broken up into pieces and boiled in a braising liquid for a couple of hours. (The braising liquid is a bunch of ingredients, such as shoyu and spices, to give the seitan some flavor.)
We made two kinds of stews, two kinds of kabobs—including an Indian-style kabob with a red sauce and mango couli—burgers, sandwiches, and a bordalaise. It truly was a vegetarian delight. Behold my crappy camera-phone pictures!
Hi, all. It’s been a long, long week. I’m finally getting over a virus that knocked me on my butt for the last couple of weeks, so my head is clear for the first time in a while. This week’s classes were fun and informative.
Saturday, lunch and dinner were delicious. We got to roast up a lot of yummy veggies—including butternut squash, potatoes, parsnips, mushroom, and carrots, plus baked apples stuffed with walnuts and raisins. We braised shallots, fennel, and endive, and made some really good baba ganouj with seasoned pita chips. (We broke up into four groups to make all these items and, judging from the instructor’s comments, I think my group made the best baba!)
We also did an experiment with mashed potatoes. The four groups mashed up some potatoes, each group using a different implement: a hand masher, a ricer, a food processor, and a food mill. The rule of thumb about not using a food processor to mash potatoes proved true—that group wound up with gluey, nasty potatoes. All the others turned out pretty well.
On Wednesday, we had a food service lecture, which was an overview of place settings, how to serve, and the different styles of service. There are several different types of service: American, French, Russian, Wagon, Butler, Family Style, Buffet, and Fast Food/Cafeteria. The last three are obvious styles that everyone understands, but I didn’t know about the others.
These are the definitions of each style, in a nutshell:
American—Food is made completely in the kitchen and the server brings out finished food.
French—Food is partially prepared in the kitchen with final preparation done in front of guests.
Russian—Food is placed on a platter. Server then transfers the food from the platter to the guests’ plates.
Wagon—Server finishes preparation at the table. Almost like French but faster. Gives the illusion of French style. (Ex: carving the meat at the table, but no actual cooking). Also refers to the fact that food is brought out on a wagon for guests to choose from.
Butler—Combination of Russian and family-style serve-yourself.
Family Style—Large platters set on table; guests serve themselves.
Buffet—Food is prepared ahead of tine and served from steam tables.
Fast Food/Cafeteria—Self-service, pre-cooked.
Then we took a look at the different protein groups (where cooking is concerned)—that is, fish, poultry, ruminant meat (animals that chew their cud), non-ruminant meat (pigs), and dairy. It was a long night.
Anyway, I’m trying desperately to catch up on my sleep. Don’t ask me how or when I’m going to do that. So, that’s it for now. Have a great week.
Hi, all. Report from week 4 of culinary school: The past two Wednesdays were our cook tech classes. That means that we actually got to do some cooking. Pretty basic stuff, but we’re getting into the fun part of things.
I mentioned a couple of weeks ago that I was one of the stewards for class, which entailed getting all the needed foodstuffs and prepping them. We get a list of items, which the school stewards check off as they place each item in a bucket, and the class stewards pick up the bucket from storage. We go through the list to make sure that everything we’re supposed to get is accounted for. That gets a little tricky for someone who may not know all their fruits and vegetables.
Now, I’m pretty good at identifying produce, so I pretty much took control of the list and checking things off once we got the items into the class. Included in Saturday’s class were cherimoyas, and when I called them by their name (as in, “cherimoyas, check”), my fellow steward asked me why I was there. She meant it in a nice way. In other words, if I know so much, why am I taking these classes? Well, because I don’t know a lot of things. I went into this subject in a previous blog, but I’m bringing it up again because I suspect that I will be humbled by these classes. In fact, I already have been.
One of the things that bothers me about “classic” French and Japanese cooking techniques is that in order to make perfect shapes, as those cuisines require, a lot of food is wasted. For example, to make matchsticks or julienne, you must cut away the vegetable until you get flat sides. All that is cut away gets tossed. To me, this is wasteful. I mean, who cares if my dice is perfectly square? Who cares if the strips of julienne carrot adorning my plate are perfectly straight? Sure, it makes for a beautiful presentation, but so does my way of cooking.
I just don’t cook like that, and neither do the members of my family. I cook rustic food, I use the entire vegetable (or whatever), and it still looks beautiful. I’m aware that this is part of my upbringing and background. I was taught that food is not to be wasted, and while I don’t believe in forcing yourself to finish a plate of food if you’re not inclined to, neither do I believe in willfully throwing away food because it doesn’t conform to an über-beautiful ideal of food presentation either. As the old cliché goes, there are starving children in the world, and it’s a shame to waste food. By the same token, I would never dream of just throwing out old clothes rather than donating them (unless they’re in really bad shape, in which case, we’re moving into different psychological territory). I think that it’s taking for granted what we are fortunate enough to have.
But, for now, I will practice my French knife skills, I will agonize (and I do mean agonize) over each and every cut I make, and I will strive to learn to make those perfect little cuts. I have to…I will be tested on it. I shall conquer zee batonettes!
Have a wonderful week, everyone.
This past Saturday was my first full day at culinary school. We got down to actual learning business: food safety, the parts of a knife, and French cuts. It was a really long day but at the end of it, I felt good. Tired but good.
In response to my cooking experience, someone said to me at the lunch break, jokingly, “So all that stuff this morning must have been really fascinating for you.” My response was that I was sure I’d learn a thing or two and that you can’t possibly know everything. And it’s true. No one can know everything about a subject. There’s always something new to learn.
Hi, fellow foodies. We are in full pumpkin swing and candy is popping up all over the place! If you haven’t already, start stocking up because those trick-or-treaters will be knocking on your door in about a week. And you don’t want your house toilet papered, do you?
For any of you having ghoulish gatherings and sinister soirees, there are lots of horrific recipes out there that will make your guests scream…or at least look twice at what they’re eating and drinking. Some good places to check out are…
If you stopped by last week, you’ll know that I promised you a recipe for pumpkin ravioli. So, if classic cooking is more your thing, go with that, rather than the demonic creations suggested by these sites. You can use canned pumpkin for the ravioli but nothing beats the flavor of fresh pumpkin.
Here’s a tip: If you and/or your kids do any pumpkin carving, use the pumpkin that’s being removed from the jack-o’-lanterns.
I say this knowing full well that processing fresh pumpkin is a bit of a job. But if you’re up for it, here’s the step-by-step process. (P.S. Make sure everyone’s hands are clean when scooping out pumpkins. Also, wash the outside of the pumpkins and make sure the utensils being used are clean, too.)
1. If you’re starting with a whole pumpkin and it’s small enough to fit in your oven, bake it. Preheat the oven to 450 degrees and use a knife to poke holes all around the pumpkin (you don’t want that sucker exploding in your oven). Place it on a baking sheet and bake until you can pierce the pumpkin easily with a knife. The pumpkin may collapse and that’s okay. Remove it from the oven and let it cool. If the pumpkin is too big for your oven, cut it up and steam as instructed below.
If you’re starting with large pieces (cut from a jack-o’-lantern), cut them into chunks. Cut away the skins and fibers and put in a bowl; set aside. Place the chunks in a steamer rack and steam until soft.
2. Scoop or cut the flesh away from the skin. If it was baked, cut away the seeds and fibers and place in a bowl. Place some of the pumpkin flesh in a food processor and puree. You may need to nudge it with a rubber spatula now and then. If you need to add liquid, add as little as possible to get it going. Transfer to a bowl. Add the next batch, and so on, until all the pumpkin is pureed. Combing all the batches in the bowl.
3. Transfer the puree to a strainer set over a bowl. Cover and refrigerate overnight (or at least a few hours). If possible, give it a stir and let it sit in the refrigerator another day or two. It’s now ready to use in a recipe.
To Toast the Seeds:
Separate the seeds from the fibers. Discard the fibers and rinse the seeds in a strainer under cool running water. Drain well. Spread them out on a baking sheet. Sprinkle salt over them and stir. If you want, you can add seasonings to them, such as chili powder or cinnamon. Bake at 350 degrees until lightly browned.
Now, without further ado, here is Pumpkin Ravioli, courtesy of Recipeland.com. Note that I’ve changed the sauce from the original Pumpkin Seed Sauce to the more traditional Butter-Sage Sauce. Also, the recipe says to use canned pumpkin, but you can substitute your own freshly made pumpkin puree. Have a great weekend, everybody.
1 cup ricotta cheese
½ cup pumpkin canned
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon nutmeg
2 cups flour, unbleached all-purpose
½ teaspoon salt
1/4cup tomato paste
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 large eggs
Mix the flour, and 1/2 tsp salt in a large bowl. Make a well in the center of the flour. Beat the tomato paste, oil and eggs until well blended and pour into the well in the flour. Stir with a fork gradually bring the flour mixture to the center of the bowl. Do this until the dough makes a ball. If the dough is too dry, mix in up to 2 tbls of water.
Knead lightly on a floured cloth-covered surface, adding flour if dough is sticky, until smooth and elastic, about 5 minutes. Cover and let rest for another 5 minutes.
Divide the dough into 4 equal parts. Roll the dough, one part at a time, into a rectangle about 12 x 10 inches.
Drop the pumpkin mixture by 2 level tsp onto half of the rectangle, about 1 1/2-inches apart in 2 rows of 4 mounds each. Moisten the edges of the dough and the dough between the rows of pumpkin mixture with water. Fold the other half of the dough up over the pumpkin mixture, pressing the dough down around the pumpkin. Trim the edges with a pastry wheel or knife.
Cut between the rows of filling to make ravioli; press the edges together with a fork or cut with a pastry wheel sealing the edges well. Repeat with the remaining dough and pumpkin filling.
Place ravioli on towel, let stand turning once, until dry, about 30 minutes.
Cook ravioli in 4 quarts of boiling salted water (2 tsp of salt) until tender, about 10 to 15 minutes; drain carefully.
Serve the ravioli with the Butter-Sage Sauce spooned over.
8 tbsp (1 stick) butter
6 to 8 fresh sage leaves, minced
¼ tsp nutmeg
Melt the butter in a small pan. Over medium-low heat, let it sizzle until it turns brown. Add the sage and nutmeg and cook about 1 minute. Turn off the heat; keep warm until pasta is ready.