Tuesday, April 10, 2012

I’m making doughnuts – not donuts!

You may wonder what kind of stress can there possibly be when you eat for a living, but believe me, I can have a few pretty bad days. So here I am in the middle of the worst day ever! I’m refusing to answer the phone any longer for fear it may be another fire that I may or may not be able to put out.

So what do you do on your bad days? I head for the sanctity of my kitchen and make something that makes me feel good. Usually it’s something sweet and today is no different. Today I’m making doughnuts. I use the English spelling instead of the American simply to distinguish between the sea of homogeneous dough balls, circles and twists from the pure luxurious joy one experiences from sinking your teeth into a warm, sugary home made doughnut – oh, yum.

Raised in a family who cooked really well, doughnuts are one of my many comfort foods. I remember my grandmother deep frying doughnuts and as fast as they cooked (and doughnuts cook almost instantaneously!) we gobbled them up. They were warm, soft, and sweet with a chewy outside and billowy inside. They were the culinary equivalent of a grandmothers love.

Of course, there are as many different recipes for doughnuts as there are calories in each one. My grandmother made traditional doughnuts with a yeasty dough that rose not once but twice. Today is not a good day and I need an immediate act of mercy so these won’t do.

Apparently, my habit is to make doughnuts in the fall because all I can find among my scribbled notes are recipes for pumpkin doughnuts and apple cider doughnuts. Ah finally, I find a recipe for Old-Fashioned Sour Cream Doughnuts I found on a food blog one day. There is a note scribbled on the recipe that raves about the fantastic food blog called Christie’s Corner, written by Charmian Christie. Check it out, it’s really good.

The great thing about doughnuts is, the basic ones are never high maintenance. With a well stocked pantry, I have all the ingredients I need to make a batch of love – or in other words, Old-Fashioned Sour Cream Doughnuts. I can just imagine my grandmother frying them up for me right now.

Unlike my grandmother, I wheeled my KitchenAide from the pantry and plugged it in to do the work for me. It creamed the shortening and sugar together until it was a golden sand mixture, then I added the egg yolks one at a time and the sand turned to a thick cream as I scrapped down the sides of the giant bowl.

I mixed the dry ingredients together and added it little by little to the yellow cream with intermittent scoops of sour cream. In the end the dough was quite sticky and wet. I wondered if perhaps I should add more flour. I resisted for now, covered the bowl and refrigerated it while I got back to putting out another fire.

I was successful in smoothing out one catastrophe and was feeling much better as I made my way back into my kitchen to fry up the doughnuts. Chilled, the dough was a bit firmer and I used a lot of flour on my hands, work surface and rolling pin. It was workable. I emptied a bottle of canola oil into a deep pot and set the gas to high.

I have a series of round cookie cutters so I was feeling no pressure to shape the perfect doughnut. When the hot oil was ready, I dropped in the first doughnut and the oil sizzled and sputtered. I dropped in the second one and that’s when I realized my perfect doughnuts weren’t so perfect after all. They are too big for the pot and I can only cook one at a time, aughhh.

I reworked the dough and cut out smaller doughnuts only to find I had no instrument to cut a hole small enough - now what? Finally, I found the top of a glue stick - hey, it worked!

Doughnuts cook incredibly fast and you certainly don’t have to cook them for as long as I did. I tried to reach a light golden brown colour but by the time I could get them out of the oil and onto a rack, they’d overcooked. There is a real skill to frying doghnuts and not wanting to be outdone by a doughnut, I made a vow to do this again real soon.

The recipe for the glaze looked like it would make way too much for me, so I whisked up about a third of the recipe. Next time I’ll buy some white vanilla so I can have a beautiful white glaze instead of a dull glaze, and my doughnuts were a darker brown than I would have like too, but for today, it didn't matter.

I sat in my big arm chair in the living room with a hot cup of tea and a plate full of 2 glazed doughnuts and 2 doughnut holes. I bit into the warm dough and the world seemed to instantly disappear as my teeth sank into the soft, sweet, billowy cloud with the silky texture of the glaze luxuriating across my palate and finding its way deep into my psyche.

Thanks Charmian for the delicious doughnuts and for giving me my “moment of love” that helped to turn my upside down world, right again.

Click here for the complete recipe, http://on.fb.me/HxLJ7U

Saturday, April 7, 2012

When Recipes Become Yours

It’s going to be a lazy day and I feel like puttering I the kitchen. Before I head to the gym for my usual early morning workout, I pull together a small grocery list so I can swing by my favourite grocers on the way home.

Cynthia Liedtke is Editorial Assistant for Health & Lifestyle Magazine (www.healthandlifestyle.ca) and she sent me a few copies of her magazine. It’s a purse-size magazine focused on wellness with inspiring interviews of celebrities and their health struggles like Clara Hughes battle with depression and Lisa Ray’s challenges with a rare form of blood cancer. There is a deluge of information from both traditional and alternative specialists on natural health products, diets, lifestyle issues and of course food.

Flipping through the magazines, the recipe that caught my eye was the Beluga Lentils with Porcini Mushrooms, Asparagus and a Sunny Egg. It came from the featured cookbook, The Eat-Clean Diet, Vegetarian Cookbook by Tosca Reno. The photo looked downright delicious and I just had to have it. So I begin.

Shopping didn’t go so well, couldn’t find beluga lentils anywhere so I settled for red. From the picture in the book it looks like there’s a huge difference, but I’m moving ahead anyway. I read the package directions for the lentils and end up with a very bland orange pudding. The starch on these little, overlooked lentils just took over. In the garbage that batch goes and I start again.

This time the lentils are cooked with bay leaves, a clove of garlic and lots of salted water for only 5 minutes instead of the 20 minutes recommended. The lentils are al dente and all looks good to go.

I took some dried porcini mushrooms and soaked them in boiling water for the recommended 5 minutes. Next I drained them and the recipe instructions said, “cook until lightly browned”. Well, there’s no darker brown than the colour of hydrated porcini mushrooms. I put them in a dry sauté pan and let the remaining water steam off them. Nice and dry, I added some extra virgin olive oil, minced, fresh garlic and dried thyme. It began to sizzle and as I stirred I could see how these mushrooms were absorbing all the wonderful flavours in the pan – yum, I added them to the cooled red lentils in a bowl.

The recipe calls for asparagus to be cooked separately but I’m not a fan of all that fuss so I cleaned them, cut them up and cooked them in the same skillet as the mushrooms and tossed them into the salad. The recipe didn’t call for any salt or pepper but again, I took the liberty and seasoned it.

Ok, now the egg, well I never did cook any, I guess the family was just too hungry or the salad was just so good there was simply not enough time to cook an egg. I think it was the later.

Like all good recipes, they’re guidelines and if you dare to adventure into them, they eventually become yours just by adapting it to your needs and likes. I will hunt for Beluga lentils though; it just looked so delicious in the magazine - although mine doesn’t look that bad either.

Btw, The Eat-Clean Diet made the New York Times best-selling list and it’s promoted as a must for anyone wanting to lose weight, help the planet or just spice things up a bit. I’ll probably pick it up next time I’m in the book store. Thanks Cynthia, I can see this becoming a delicious and long friendship.

Click for the original recipe, http://ow.ly/a8AJN
Click for more photos, http://bit.ly/HqXJUe

Friday, April 6, 2012

Prairie Beef Ribs

It’s Easter and we’re barbecuing! In the Canadian prairies, barbecue means beef and beef ribs are a favorite. Some people claim beef ribs are tough and fatty when barbecued and they’re absolutely right – that is, if you don’t know how to cook them.

Beef short ribs are cut from the bottom end of the rib cage called the "plate" or from the chuck area and the meat is as tough as brisket. However, if your beef ribs are cooking up tough you’re simply not cooking them long enough. Beef ribs can only be tenderized through a long, slow cooking process and smoking is the perfect way to do them.

Many people pre-boil ribs for tenderness. My advice is DON’T! You’re just robbing yourself of a whole lot of flavor and it will require more barbecue sauce than you can imagine to make them even begin to taste decent.

Think of it this way, if ribs need plenty of sauce to taste good, then the cook needs more practice slow cooking or smoking ribs. I don’t serve sauce on my ribs and I definitely don’t baste the ribs with sauce while they’re cooking. There’s nothing wrong with barbecue sauce, but it should be used as a compliment to the meat, not as a replacement for lack of flavor.

You can certainly marinate ribs in the refrigerator overnight but for traditional Canadian beef ribs, just put on a good dry rub a few hours before cooking and that should be the extent of your flavouring. Rubs are easy to mix together and they keep in your cupboard for whenever you want them.

Rubs are mixtures of many dry ingredients from spices such as red and black pepper, cumin, ginger and dry mustard to onion flakes, allspice and garlic powder. Dried herbs such as basil, rosemary, parsley or thyme. If you want a bit of a sweet flavour, you can add brown sugar to the mix and for a spicy rib, throw in some cayenne and chili powder, ancho or chipotle peppers to give it a bit of heat.

Mix these ingredients together and store them in an airtight container until your ready to use them. Then just pat a good layer of rub over the ribs and massage it into the meat. Let them sit refrigerated for a few hours before smoking them.

For complete recipe and smoking instructions, click here http://on.fb.me/HX2nxj

400 Cookbooks and Counting

I read cookbooks with the passion and concentration of my husband, Jon nose-deep in the latest Robert Jordan mystery. I read them in bed at night. I take them on book tours. I buy them where ever I go. I have about four hundred of them. I cook a lot and read even more and have decided that since I like the two habits equally well, I will continue.

To me, cookbooks are fantasies of great meals in much the same way that travel books are fantasies of perfect vacations. They produce visions of perfect paellas and eye-rolling soufflés. As I pour through them, I can almost smell the house filling with the savoury smells of a cassoulet. I visualize my dinner guests dunking chunks of crusty bread in the dark wine and garlic-rich veal Marsala sauce. Of course, the dried out, even burnt reality of cooking, as we all know so well, is often far removed from the fantasy pages of my cookbooks.

Because I still have cookbooks stacked in the kitchen and almost every other room in the house, people have asked me which are my favorites. So, here are some that I'm working with now.

Pasta Classica by Julia della Croce (Chronicle Books). I bought this book on a trip to Florence, Italy so it is filled with many memories. It’s a basic recipe on how to make almost any kind of pasta you want from macaroni to spaghetti. There is a section of classic sauces and my favourite section, the one I use most often is the baked section. This book has taught me there’s more to baked pasta than lasagna. There’s a fantastic recipe for an eggplant and sausage timpano, the one that was served in The Big Night movie.

My latest love is Ottolenghi by Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi (Ebury Press). Two Middle Eastern chefs offer recipes from their London restaurant. The dishes are full of remarkably meaty salads made from quinoa, cous cous and lentils. Irresistible vegetable dishes like Caramelized Endive with Sarano Ham I’ve morphed into caramelized fennel with proscuitto and I can’t count how many times I’ve made the Chargrilled Broccoli with Chilli and Garlic.

On a recent trip to London, England I discovered the series of Michel Roux cookbooks (Quadrille Publishing). I have the book on Sauces, Pastry and now Only the Best. Each one stretches my culinary muscles with simple dishes prepared elaborately. Sure there are some ingredients that aren’t common in Canada, but they’re easy enough to substitute.

Here are three of the ones I’m working with right now. Of course, my own cookbooks are the best of what I’ve learned from my 400 teachers, what’s worked, what’s easy and what I love to share with everyone who cares to cook.

Check them out http://on.fb.me/HWN1Ja

Monday, April 2, 2012

Craving Something Sweet

I was in the mood for something sweet, but it had to be something new and different. I didn’t have too much time so I searched the world wide web and found myself deep into the world of French pastries. I’d love to make croissant, but they’re so time consuming and if they’re not eaten within hours of baking, they begin to taste stale. There were Éclairs, Beignets and Gourgere – yum, but again, time consuming. I’d love to spend hours in the kitchen making macarons in pastel colours of pale yellow, green, pink and blue, but again, not enough time. I could make the crunchy and caramelized Palmier, I think they’d be the quickest and easiest with some frozen puff pastry.

I like searching for new recipes on Pinterest.com. It’s a site that is all about pictures and that’s where I discovered French cannelé.

A cannelé a specialty of the Bordeaux region of France. I saw them in many Parisian patisseries while there last year. Some Parisians call them “portable crème brulee” because they have a soft and tender custard centre, a dark, thick caramelized, crunchy crust and you can eat them with your hands. The recipe reads very similar to a custard batter, except for the rum. It bakes and bubbles for over an hour in a special mold, giving it the caramelized crust. The recipe was simple enough, just mix, refrigerate and bake.

On Pinterest.com, the recipes are hopefully as close as the link on the bottom of the picture and sure enough it was a link to the foodnetwork.com recipe. It sounded authentic right down to the use of beeswax. Apparently you are advised to mix some melted butter with shaved beeswax and coat the cannelé molds with this mixture so the batter doesn’t stick to the molds. I got a note from Patricia Shea of Belfast, Maine who had made them and warns against the use of beeswax. It worked well in the mold but when she ate her cannelé, the beeswax got stuck in her teeth. Beeswax was used decades ago to keep baking from sticking, but today we have many other options. Thanks for the heads up Patricia.

I don’t have cannelé molds so I used a special deep narrow muffin tin and it worked just fine. While mine might not have the beautiful shape that traditional cannelé have, the flavours are supurb! Luscious, creamy and rich in vanilla flavours on the inside with a crunchy caramel crunchy bottom, the sides are also caramelized but they’re a bit softer giving the illusion that they’re drizzled in caramel – oh yum!

Instead of rum I used icewine so there was an elegant flavour that fit beautifully with the textures and caramel. I think I’ll use rum next time just to taste the difference. French cannelé are wickedly delicious and sinfully good and they’re as easy as whipping up a liquidy batter and baking. Click here for the recipe http://on.fb.me/H9XzPw.