Saturday, November 28, 2009

Having to Risotto to a different kind of dining....

So I have to admit my experience in true fine dining is rather limited.  I think this is as much to do with my humble upbringing as to my own personal desire to enjoy food for foods sake, and not for the ambiance. 

Along those lines, I never enjoyed the pleasure of fine-dining-staple risotto until more recently.

Part of what drove me to make it is inspiration from being a rather fervent fan of the high-strung profanity-filled episodes of Hell's Kitchen.   Boot camp for the kitchen, I always think of it.  While he may come across as a complete and total git, he demands a certain level of excellence not found at just any place.  And big shock, I'm a fan of such things. :-)

One of the Ramsey restaurant regulars is risotto.  After finally having finally enjoyed it a time or two in various settings, I decided that I must try it.

Generally speaking, Risotto is a very simple dish.  A good starter or a really yummy starch side to go with roasted meats or fish. Basically you brown the onion, fry the rice, de-glaze with wine, let it absorb, and then continue to feed it stock until it's creamy and wonderful.  Some risottos don't even have rice!

There are lots of schools of thought on how risotto comes together, and I find myself trying different techniques as I go.  Some chefs add all the stock all at once.  Some live by the as-it-soaks-it-in method.   Some recommend near constant stirring, and others let it simmer on its own.  Some take out the extras after you fry them, and some leave them in.

So really, it's whatever you feel like experimenting with.  I'd recommend finding a recipe and working with it for a while.  Then find other recipes and compare. 

Something I make regularly with baked fish in our household is a mushroom risotto flavored with lemon.

It starts with heating up stock to a simmer in a saucepan on a separate burner from where you'll make the risotto.  Hot stock is needed so that as you add it to the dish while you cook, it doesn't "shock" the rice.  Doing so changes the way the rice absorbs liquid and makes it more difficult if not impossible to cook. How much stock you need is really dependent on a few things.  First, the absorption ability of the rice (you'll have to try it out a few times to get a feel).  And also how high you have the heat set.  Part of the struggle is learning where the balance lay.  I tend to work with about 3 cups of stock, but your mileage may very. Shoot for more rather than less so you don't have to hurry to heat up another portion if you need it.  Eventually you'll get a feel for how much you need.

Next, a shallot minced finely, and lightly cooked in a large pan in about a tablespoon or so of olive oil.  Heat until the shallot turns translucent.  Then pour in a cup of short grain rice (short grain is best, and most recipes go with Italian Arborio rice, but it tends to be kinda pricey.  Long grain rice will not work.) and stir and make sure each grain is well coated in oil.  Continue stirring and allow rice to fry for 5-10 minutes.

Pour in about a cup of dry white wine and bring everything up to a slow bubbling simmer.  Stir regularly and allow the wine to cook into the rice.  When the wine is used up, stir in about a cup of the heated stock.  Let it simmer until it soaks in, stirring occasionally.

If you decide to use dried mushrooms, reconstitute them in a cup of boiling water.  Incorporate the mushrooms and the water into the risotto.  Fresh mushrooms can instead be chopped and added with the subsequent cup of stock.

Add another cup of the stock..  Continue stirring occasionally until soaked up.  Keep this up until the rice is just al dente.  At that point, take it off the heat.

What i do different at this point is instead of mixing in about 2 tablespoons of butter, I mix in 2 tablespoons of a garlic lemon dressing I make with olive oil, minced garlic, lemon juice, lemon zest, and salt and paper.  Gives the dish a nice zing.

Then I stir in the traditional quarter cup of Parmigiano Regianno.

Serve hot with a baked fish fillet. 

It is the Yum!

Sunday, November 22, 2009

BBAC: Formula #2 - Artos - Greek Celebration Bread

Artos has its roots as a part of a Greek East Orthodox ritual involving the blessing of said bread as a symbol of the physical presence of the risen Christ during Bright Week, or the week long celebration including and following Easter.   It is held intact and often venerated throughout the week, and then divided and consumed on the Saturday at the end of Bright Week.

The book has several recipes for a few different versions including a basic bread, and versions with dried fruit and walnuts.

The one I recall having when I was in grade school was served around Easter, and the dough is braided around 3 hard boiled eggs that are dyed bright red.  After it bakes, when you pull the bread apart, you see that the dye leaches into the dough and turns the bread bright red in those areas.

This dough calls for a pre-ferment, and one that can take several days depending on which you decide to use.  A barm is what most think of as a traditional sour dough starter.  That can take several weeks to get going in order to get the wild yeast and bacteria going.  You can also use whats called a poolish ferment, which in this context is a shorter ferment created with just baker's yeast, flour, and water left to ferment for 4-5 hours at room temperature, and then fridged.  It generally has the texture of thick pancake batter. 

I opted for the basic version of the bread, and a poolish ferment for a starter since I didn't have any barm on hand.  My intent, once my barm is made and lively is to remake this bread again.

Relatively easy to put together.  A poolish is best with at least one night in the fridge, so I planned time to do that. 

The rest of the ingredients came together rather easily using the KitchenAid.  By hand, I read that it can take a bit to mix the poolish through, but the mixer's paddle had no trouble. 

Kneading was interesting.  The dough needed at least half a cup more flour, and I probably could have gotten the dough more stable with even more flour kneaded in.  In the end, it was a little sticky yet, but I opted to go with it anyways.  I believe it helped create problems when I had to shape the dough later, but more on that in a bit.

Rising was beautiful.  The poolish worked really well.  It was easily doubled in the hour allotted for the rise. 

When I pulled it out to shape it for proofing, that was when I experienced problems.  The dough rolled out of the bowl still rather soft and sticky, and I had difficulty getting a good tight skin on the shaping.

Proofing was also very productive, though as a result of my prior difficulties, I didn't get as much height as I had hoped and the dough spread out more than it spread up.    The hope was for a bit more height, but I was left to hope for oven spring.

Baking was quick.  I've taken to using temp guides to know when my bread is ready and it seems to be working really well.  I flipped at the 20 minute mark and then checked temp about 15 mins later and it was ready to go. 

I mixed up the recommended glaze, but I suspect I overdid it.  Or something didn't quite work in how I assembled the glaze because it dried really sticky.  The bread turned out really wonderful, but it's fun to hold and cut without getting glaze all over my hands.

It has a very spicy but not exceptionally sweet flavor with the cinnamon, cloves, allspice and nutmeg in the dough.  The glaze adds a nice but limited sweetness.

Overall, this is the first bread I've ever baked with a nice soft crumb and crust.  I'm very pleased with the leavening and the gluten and really am happy with my progress.

Next time: Bagels!

Friday, November 13, 2009

BBAC: Formula #1 - Anadama Bread

Anadama bread is a New England bread made with corn meal and molasses for flavoring.  There are several myths as to its origin and name, most related to a tale of a fisherman who, after tiring of a corn meal porridge with molasses served daily by his wife Anna, added flour and yeast to create the resulting bread, then cursing his wife.  "Anna, damn her!"

The preparation begins with an overnight soak for the corn meal.  Many other recipes I've looked at call for the corn meal to be cooked prior to preparation, but as with what goes along with the theme of this book, taking your time to allow the ingredients to do their thing builds flavor that all techniques to rush it miss out on.

I prepped my soaker in a small plastic container with a lid and left it on the counter for the night.

Bringing it together with the initial fermentation ingredients, I left them to liven up per the formula for an hour.

Returning to a frothy mixture, as expected, I added the remaining ingredients and prepped the dough.

The recipe mentions that the molasses offers a lot of flavoring to the bread and that depending on your preference for the darkness and harshness of molasses, it is sometimes best to find a particularly light version.  I used the standard kind found in the jar at the store.  Nothing special or any particular brand.

The formula states that the dough should come together as a firm but not particularly sticky, and it suggests sprinkling with flour as you knead to tighten it up.  It took over half a cup of flour to do that for me.  Reading other attempts, this seems to jive with other people's experiences.

Once it was together and sporting an almost golden orange color, I left it to ferment another hour and double in size.

I really need to find an easier way to separate out dough.  The formula says that the dough can be separated in 2 equal portions for larger loafs, or 3 parts for the smaller loaf pans.  I have the larger ones, so I cut it into two portions.

This formula does not have a second kneading or degassing.  You just form the loaves and drop them in the pans and let them proof.  I did so, but my loaves always come out uneven so I'll have to work on that part.

About 2 hours proofing (until they crest the top of the pan), and then into the oven for about 40 minutes, turned halfway through.  Pull when they are nice and brown.  Rest an hour at least once they are out

It was a relatively easy recipe and aside from my problem dividing the dough, the flavor and the crumb are wonderful!

The molasses does impart a strong flavor, and I can understand the suggestions of using a light molasses versus a stronger one.  I may try it with lighter molasses in the future.

I'm tempted to use a smaller loaf pan just to get a little more height out of the loaf.  The other thing I might do is double the recipe and split the dough 3 ways into 3 pans like the ones I already have and see if that works better.  I could let the loaves proof longer, but I already noticed small air pockets forming.  Proofing any longer, and I'd have caverns and the bread would fall in the middle.

So we'll see how it goes.  All in all, not bad!

Next time, Greek Celebration Bread!

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Chile for Chili On an Enchilada For a Chilly Night

I have a different perspective on Mexican food than most I know.  Part of it comes from where I grew up.

In the Southwest, Mexican food, or food of that nature, is dominated by one ingredient:  Green Chile.  And this is not the same sort of pepper you find around here in the Pacific Northwest that purports itself to be Green Chile.  These impostors are called Anaheims which are grown, as you might guess, in California.  This pepper of several varieties comes from fields of my home state, in the desert where the hot dry climate coupled with the short but deep rainy season couple to form a delicious fruit of great flavor and heat.

Whether fresh roasted or dried, this pepper finds its way into all manner of cooking and cuisine, and even in some of the Southwestern decorating motif.  Most non-local tourists enjoy seeing and obtaining long strings of bright red bundles of chiles.  These are called ristras which is the preferred method of drying the green chile.  While beautiful, they also are a practical means of storage though the winter.  Much like a string of garlic, you can continue to remove what you need as you need it.

And boy, is it a big part of the culture!  There are rarely a restaurant, even non-Mexican, where you can't get Green Chile even in processed packets like a condiment for your burger or your breakfast.  Nothing quite like a Green Chile burger or scrambled eggs with a small pile of Green Chile atop it.

So when I think of Mexican food and I am meaning back home, what it really means is Mexican food with the Southwest influence which I prefer to call New Mexican food. 

I have recipes for various different things using both fresh roasted and dried powdered form and I may cover them all over time, but one of my favorites is making red chili enchiladas. This is based from how my mom made them, and they are always my favorite.

The sauce is really just an elaborate gravy mixed with red chile powder.  Very simple, and very tasty.  What you add to it in terms of protein is up to you, though an important thing to remember is that there is some need of fat to make the rue either from cooking the meat itself, or added in the form of butter or oil. Ground beef or turkey is a favorite, and you can also make it with pre-cooked chicken.  The following "recipe" is a little loose because you can do a lot of variations based on the same concept.  And this combination is good for two hearty portions.  Adjust as you will.

First you start by cooking your meat in a deep sided skillet  Brown your ground meat or prepare your chicken.  Reserve any rendered fat.  Remove the meat and set aside.

Next, add about a quarter cup of all purpose flour sprinkled over the hot fat in the pan, still on medium high heat, and scrape and stir until the flour absorbs the fat.  Add extra oil or fats if needed to form a thin paste.  You should see it spread out a little on the pan rather than stick together in dry lumps.  Continue to stir until the rue browns.  How much is kinda up to you, but the darker the rue, the more flavor it takes on, and the less like cereal your sauce will taste.  I like my rue at a nice rust hue.

Once the rue takes on the right color, add in 3 cups of water or stock, and whisk vigorously to break up any lumps that may form.

To this, add about a tablespoon of dried New Mexican red chile powder (you can often find this in the grocery store in the ethnic food aisle with other Mexican spices, or sometimes you'll find whole dried pods that you can pulverize in a mortar and pestle or a food processor.)  Also a teaspoon or so of garlic powder, and an equal amount of onion powder.  You can also of course mince and saute fresh as you are cooking your meat and add it all back in later.  I also add about a teaspoon of salt.

Continue to stir and bring to a light boil to get the flour firming up the sauce.  Then lower the heat to a good simmer, and add the meat back in.

Then let it simmer.. and simmer... and simmer.  Stir regularly to keep it from sticking on the bottom.  The sauce should tighten up and it should start sticking to the back of a spoon.  At this point, if you decide you like it thinner, you can proceed as is or even add a little hot water to thin it further, or if you are looking for something thicker, you can blend in a teaspoon or two of corn starch with half a cup of water and stir that in thoroughly and let it simmer a bit longer.  However, keep in mind that as the sauce cools, it will continue to thicken a bit.

To serve, I like to go with the traditional Southwestern style of enchilada which is open-faced and stacked.

Prepare 3-4 corn tortillas for each person.  You can steam them, or I like to fry them lightly to get them to soften up.

Lay down a single tortilla, top with meat-chili sauce, sprinkle other toppings such as fresh minced onions, shredded cheese, and then layer with the next tortilla.  Continue, and then top the whole pile with even more cheese.

It's a gooey knife and fork affair, but it's worth every morsel. 

You can of course top it with anything else you'd like such as sour cream, or even maybe some fresh cilantro.  And you can experiment with other spices in the sauce such as cumin or even oregano.  But as with most things, I find that keeping things simple makes for better and easier meals.

And for the record, chile is a pepper used to make chili sauce.