Search This Blog

Sunday, March 31, 2013

Buffet/Hutch for my Shtuff.

So, we got a buffet and hutch combo recently.  

It was actually a gift from my mother-in-law, and was purchased way back in December, but Crate and Barrel messed it up more than once before finally coming through just a couple weeks ago.

We were so worried about it working out actually, that for a while there we were planning on cancelling it and even went so far as to shop around for another.

We hated Crate and Barrel's customer service and the way they continually approved terribly decrepit furniture for delivery, so we really wanted to tell them to 'eff off'... but we just couldn't find an a better hutch.  We looked all over the city, at many different stores, and everything we saw was either poor quality, or just way too expensive.

Yes, it was only after looking around so much that we realized this was actually a nice piece of furniture, for a relatively decent price.


Now that it is finally here, we do love it.

The reason I mention it here, even though technically it isn't in my kitchen, is that it has helped immeasurably with my culinary organization and storage solutions.


I love being able to have a dedicated space for my table linens, as well as for my 'good' set of dishes and cutlery and stuff.

Also, a nice display hutch for my wine glasses and good serving ware.

Fun stuff.

Anyway, the hutch is beautiful, but also highly utilitarian.  It's made of Sungkai wood, which is a tropical hardwood, which is supposedly similar to Teak.  

So it smells nice.  


In any case, it's been super nice to have because (as you may know) my kitchen is pretty small, so having any amount of extra storage space is certainly a boon!

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Beef and Guinness Pie

It seems I often talk about my German heritage and influences.  And sure, while there is no question that I am very German, there are times when I feel reminded of my other bloodlines.

St. Patrick's Day is one of those times.  

Call me shameful, call me a bandwagon jumper, call me whatever you wish, but the fact is that I am indeed, a wee bit Irish.  

Sure, it's only 1/... but that's enough for me to want to join in the fun that can be St. Paddy's Day.

So, for this year, I decided to make something a tad special.  And pretty authentically Irish.  

Enter Beef and Guinness Pie.

Now - in case you didn't know, I'm not and never really have been, much of a beer drinker.  More of a red wine fan really.

But, there are times... 

A hot summer day ending with some cold lager on a cool urban patio... that can be hard to beat.

I used to drink beer.  In my school days.  I mean, you can't really avoid drinking beer if you spend even a small amount of time on campus.  There was a strange progression which my beer-taste-buds seemed to follow though, enjoying really dark ales of the brown and red variety at first, but then slowly getting lighter and less maltier.  Now, in my old age, I seem to appreciate a good, crisp, golden lager more.

Anyway, I kinda went on a beer-tangent there.  Sorry.

Although I suppose that is slightly fitting, as the star of tonight's meal is (you may have guessed it!)


A true Irish meal-in-a-can.  I don't really drink this stuff very often, but it really does have a seriously rich and earthy thickness to it.  

A quality which makes it great for cooking with.

So, enduring the cliche, we purchased a 4-pack of Guinness on St. Patrick's Day.  

I know my Irish 12.5% is disdainful, but he'll soon be drunk, and thus placated.

Anyway... to the Pie!

This is essentially a beef-heavy British stew.  Which I enjoy.  In fact, one of my first ever blog posts of a year and a half ago, was entitled simply: British Stew, which (despite the poor photography) illustrates a very similar thing to this here concoction.

So, start with coating and searing your beef cubes.  Pretty much any cut of beef will do, but traditionally something a little poorer and fattier is used.  The more fat and connective tissue present, in fact, creates a juicier, moister stew... so you wouldn't want to use something lean.

I chose just some cheap chuck ("stewing beef") which I then cubed into approximately 1" pieces.

Put those in a medium mixing bowl, ready to be mixed with some flour, and a pinch of salt and pepper.

Once lightly coated, sear the beef cubes in small batches.  Use a large, deep saucepan, on high heat, and with a generous splash of vegetable oil.

Make certain that your pieces are not crowded together, and have plenty of room to brown. 

This is arguably the single most important step in making a meat stew, as this browning is where most of the flavour comes from.

These pieces are still totally rare inside, but all that searing on the outside will make for some excellent stew, after a few hours of slow braising.

Now leave these aside for a minute, and deal with all those gorgeous gribblies left over in the pan.  That absolutely must not go to waste.  So, we're going to add another touch of vegetable oil, and start sauteing a whole lot of onion and garlic.

Copious amounts of root vegetables are a must in any stew.

This Irish variety, is going to be heavy on the onion, and relatively (for me, anyway) light on the garlic.

That's OK.  Onion can be delicious.  Especially like this, when it will be braised for a long time.

So, start cooking the onion first, over medium heat, and make sure to get all the brown beef bits and gribblies mixed in, 'scraping' the sides (with a 'non-scratch' implement, I should say; myself I'm a fan of a good silicon spatula for this sort of thing) frequently.

After about 4 or 5 minutes of that, and once the onion has begun to soften, toss in the garlic, (and in my case, a couple of diced scallions as well), and a small splash of liquid.

This liquid can be anything, really.  Well, within reason.  Common varieties include water,  wine, port, consomme, stock, soup, and beer.  Even though we've got big plans for that Guinness later, we are still going to add some beef stock.

And, wouldn't you know it, but I still have some in my cupboard from when I cautiously canned my own homemade stuff a few months ago. Remember my Beef Stock ?  :)

Well, here it is, looking no more worse-for-wear after sitting at room temperature for several months, almost as good as it did the day I canned it.  The chunks you see floating at the top, are just pieces of fat which have cooled and condensed.  I can choose to remove those and just use the stock, save those to make something disgusting like aspic, or something, or just add them with the stock (they'll melt just fine).  So, which do you think I chose?  :)

At this point in the preparation (sauteing), I just added a small amount, say about 50ml.

Next, add a spoonful of tomato paste (just a bit, mind you, say about 25-30ml).

Stir that all up nicely, and then start dumping stuff in.  :)

First the beef cubes, and all the juice they left behind, and then a good amount of beef stock.

For the finesse aspect here, the next additions are going to be several sprigs of fresh thyme, and, let's not forget, a good amount of Guinness.

I put in half a can of Guinness at this point.  

The other half I drank.  

But I will be adding another half a can in a little over an hour's time.  :)

So, that gets covered, brought up to a light simmer...

and then put in the middle of the oven, to cook at 350° for at least an hour.

When it comes out (in this case about 80 minutes later), it looks like this:

Greasy goodness, but a little too messy for my liking.

So, first, carefully remove and shake off the thyme sprigs.  Then, mix up a thickener.  You know me, I prefer to mix up a small amount of corn starch with a liquid like milk or water.  However, in this instance, and having a can of Guinness sitting right there on the counter, you can guess what I chose to mix with the corn starch.

Guinness and corn starch.  Mmmmmmmmm...

So, after slowly mixing this in, the stew looks a little more cohesive (literally) and uniform.  

Add more Guinness at this point.  You could add quite a bit more, within reason, but do it slowly and in batches - tasting in between to make sure you've still got enough "stew" (beef and onion) flavour to take dominance of the palate.  Make sure to balance the thickness accordingly.

Myself, I simply added another half a can.  And drank the other half.


Now, it needs to cool, believe it or not.  Because I'm using real-butter puff pastry for the pie part, the pasty needs to be ice cold (almost frozen) and the stew needs to be relatively cool.

So, dish out the stew into as many servings as you want.  Incidentally this batch was intended only for 2 servings, so if you want more, make sure to double or triple the ingredients (namely the beef... this is a beef-heavy stew, so instead of 500g go for 1kg for four people).

Ladle the stew proportionately into your serving bowls, using some good, high-quality and oven-safe bowls.  I chose my delightful new French Onion Soup bowls.

So that delicious stew is going to cool for a bit, and we can start preparing our puff pastry.

Now... you can make your own butter puff pastry, and it is delicious... but extremely tedious.  If you are lucky enough to find a grocer selling the real butter puff pastry (using real butter as opposed to shortening makes for an unparalleled flakiness) then don't feel guilty about just using that.  It still turns out quite nicely.  The butter stuff though, I can't stress that fact enough.

So I gently and carefully rolled out one sheet of pastry, cut it in half, and then in quarters. Essentially giving me 4 relatively equal sized squares.

When baking pastries (indeed, many bread products) and to ensure a good golden crispy crust, lightly brush on an 'egg wash' before baking.  This does two things, it helps develop that nice golden colour on the outside, but it can also help two layers of pastry stick together, which we will want to avail ourselves of here today.

Typically an egg wash is just an egg, lightly beaten with a small amount of water.  However, again seeing as my open can of Guinness was just sitting there on the counter... heh heh heh.

Guinness egg wash.  ;)

So brush all four squares.  Lay one square down on top of your bowls, making sure that there is generous amounts of pastry draping over the sides.  Press lightly around the bowl's rim, to make it stick.  Give the top of these another wash of the egg mixture, and then place the second pastry square overtop, at an opposing angle.  Give the whole thing a good slathering of the egg wash when complete.

Place the readied bowls on a baking sheet, and bake in the oven at 425° for about 20 minutes.

What comes out is Beef and Guinness Pie.  And delicious.

That gets served on a plate, because it's mother-effin hot for a while, and because it can get a bit messy, but it's ready to go.

Let's not forget the side dish for this meal though...


So, here was our humble yet delectable St. Patrick's Day feast, of which I was quite proud:

And, cracked open to spill out all the meaty goodness:

So, like I said, this is essentially just a beef stew that has some pastry baked onto it.  Personally I love being able to "control" the concentration and the timing of adding pastry to the bowl.  It all just sort of sits there, on the fringes, waiting for you to fork a piece or two into the gravy and mix it around.

It took my wife and I close to a half hour to finish these bowls, but we did, and they were amazing.

I have to say I've never made a stew with beer (let alone Guinness) before.  I've usually stuck with red wine or port, but still, I was unprepared for how much rich and earthy flavour the Guinness would impart.

The best word to describe it would just be 'dark'.  It was a very delicious, dark, stew.

And a merry St. Patrick's Day.


Sunday, March 10, 2013

Eggs Benedict with Low(ish)-Fat Hollandaise

So, today I'm going to explain how to make an easy, but still pretty awesome Eggs Benedict; my singularly favourite Brunch dish.

In fact, I greatly enjoy going to new kitchens for brunch/breakfast and trying out their versions of it.  I've tried dozens and believe I've started to become quite a connoisseur of the dish.

It's not super healthy... but in the rankings of breakfast or brunch dishes, it's not too bad.  Poaching is arguably the healthiest way to cook an egg, but that is unfortunately mitigated by the copious slathering of hollandaise... which is probably one the unhealthiest things you could put in your body.  Mmmmmmm... egg yolks and butter...

So, when I make an hollandaise here at home, sometimes I will opt for a lower-fat alternative.  It's a little bit trickier, but the way I do it you can't even taste the difference.  It's good.


The first thing we're going to do is get a relatively large amount of lemon juice ready.
This juice will eventually have three separate, equally important, uses today.

Bottled lemon juice would work, but a huge, shit-tonne bag of fresh organic lemons is unbelievably cheap (like less than $2.00), so why not just do that, right?  I've not had a bottle of lemon juice around in my kitchen for some time.

Anyway, I juiced about one and a half lemons, and ended up with maybe 200ml, maybe a little less, but it should be enough.

Get a large pot of water boiling.  Add a pinch of salt, and about 50ml of the lemon juice, or like 3-4 tablespoons.

While that is heating up, get started on a bunch of other stuff.  

Now, technically eggs benedict is served on an english muffin, but I've used everything from multigrain toast to crumpets, with great success.  

Today I'm using some rosemary focaccia I had leftover from the middle of the week.

Depending on how many servings you're looking to make, because these serve as the 'open-faced' platforms upon which the eggs are laid, just make sure you have one per egg.  Shortly before plating/serving, toast these lightly, just in a toaster is fine.

Now, really you don't have to add much to an hollandaise sauce.  It's basically butter, egg yolk, lemon juice, and white pepper.  There is, of course, (as with all sauces -- YAY SAUCES!!!) :) room for creativity.

Today, I'm opting for some fresh Italian parsley and some fresh chives.  Yum!

Because timing is relatively important in this sauce, get all of these ingredients prepped and ready to go beforehand.

Lemon juice is ready, so grind up those peppercorns.

You can always throw these in a pepper mill if you'd prefer, but I like super finely ground white pepper.  Sometimes I like coarse, but not in an hollandaise sauce.  This sauce is almost as much about texture as it is about flavour... so we want it velvety smooooot.

So, line them all up, ready to be just dunked in.

Now that that's ready, it's time to get crackin'.  Heh heh heh... <wipes tear>.

Yup, it's that many eggs.  Just for the two of us... Eggtastic.

Bear in mind that the hollandaise is going to take 4 yolks by itself!

So... separate the yolks and dump them in a medium mixing bowl, or small saucepan.  Because this needs to cook.  Now... The method I'm about to show you involves using a metal mixing bowl, but if you don't have one of these, follow the steps exactly just using a small metal saucepan instead and it will work out just fine.

Next comes the fat.  Normally this is butter.  I've used butter and it's awesome.  However, I've used margarine before also, with no worries and equal amounts of awesome.  I've even -- just like today -- used vegetable oil.  Yup.  I know it sounds crazy, but trust me.

So, I've got about 2/3 of a cup of oil here.  It is a mixture of approximately 75% canola oil and 25% extra virgin olive oil which I blended myself (not a pre-processed, manufactured blend) using both types of oil.

Now that that is ready, check on your big vat of boiling water.  It should be pretty darned warm by now, if not boiling.  If it is not boiling, wait for it, but once it does start to boil, turn it down to medium-high only.  Basically a low boil.  No big raucous bubbles or unsteady environment, because - as you'll see in a minute - we're wanting a uniform temperature there.

If you have, and want to use, a double-boiler here by my guest.  Again with the 'technically'... technically the safest method is to bring any sort of egg-based sauce up to heat slowly and as uniformly as possible - hence the double-boiler recommendation.

I don't ever use my double boiler.  While I do tend to have some pretty even heat from my gas range, and while I do tend to use pretty high-quality aluminum or copper-bottomed cookware, what it comes down to (for me, at any rate) is just diligence.  I believe that if you're present, and watchful, you can manage this sort of thing no problems.

So, I will say there have been a few times I've made a béarnaise, hollandaise, or other egg-based sauce just in a saucepan directly on the stove, with no problems, what I'm going to do today is sort of a little cheat, and kind of like emulating a double-boiler.

I have a metal cagey kind of insert thing which originally came with my slow-cooker, but I find I use it for many other things.  In fact I don't think I've ever actually used it for its intended use in the slow cooker.  :)  Anyway, it fits nicely in many things, including a large pot of boiling water:

The water level is just barely higher than this insert, which will work perfectly.  If you haven't guessed it, I'm going to just stick my metal mixing bowl right on that.  Now, I have been known to do this just by hand (literally just holding on to the bowl as it rests just on top of the water) but having this cage insert makes it hands-free, which is nice.

So... everything is ready to go!

First, gently whisk up the egg yolks with just a teaspoon of water.

Then, the fun begins.

Making sure to check one more time that your water is relatively calm, basically just under boiling, go ahead and place the bowl in the pot.  Make sure your whisking hand is at-the-ready.  Remember: present and diligent.  Heh heh heh.

So, over the course of the next 5 or so minutes, we're adding the oil in a very slow drizzle, while whisking constantly.  There is absolutely nothing wrong with pausing every few seconds to make sure you're incorporating the oil well.

In any event, it is not going to take long before the yolks begin to coagulate, so don't dally too long.  It is far easier to just add more oil (if needed) than to correct the sauce from having too much oil -- although it can be done, so that is why we add the oil (or butter or whatever) gradually and slowly.

Anyway, I've gotten fairly good at judging how much oil to add to how much yolk.  Honestly this sauce could have held more oil probably, but I didn't need more sauce, so I just capped it off early so-to-speak.  But if you're worried about the oil-to-yolk ratio, feel free to look up a recipe, or just free-style it but go slowly. :)

So, once the whisk begins to leave 'peaks' behind, rather than 'drops', it's cooked and thickened, and ready to go pretty much.

I still have a couple of things I need to add though, remember?  About 100ml of the lemon juice, and all those herbs and spices we prepped.

They can all get whisked in all at once, and just keep the sauce on the heat for a bit longer to let it completely, and finally, thicken up.

Oh man this stuff is so good.  And I challenge most of you to notice much difference between this vegetable oil version and an authentic butter version.  I've tried both, and this one is still rich, smooth, and extravagantly delectable!

Anyway, this is ready to go, but we still need to poach some eggs, so set it aside.  This means remove the sauce from all heat, and place in a safe spot at room temperature.  It's fine to cool, but not fine to keep warm.  :)  This isn't the kind of sauce which needs to be served up piping-hot, after all.

So that gets set aside for now.

Meanwhile, and just before going on those eggs, I'm going to just whip up a quick bowl of greens.  I love greens with eggs benedict.  In a very light vinaigrette, they provide an excellent counter-balance to the richness of the eggs-in-egg-sauce next to it. ;)

I love baby greens.


So, the remaining 50 - 100ml of lemon juice you have still set aside (this is now the third use for the juice, as promised earlier) will form the basis of the vinaigrette for these greens.

Take the lemon juice, and just add a small splash of balsamic.  Whisk.

To add a bit of awesome I also threw in a small pinch of both the parsley and the chives I had chopped up for the hollandaise.

Good to go... not too much, as you can see, this is a very small amount of 'dressing'.

Anyway, I'm going to go ahead and mix that up (toss) and then plate half of it on each serving.  See - not much vinaigrette.  Just a little spattering.

Also at this point, I'm going to take my toast, and -- you could put a little bit of margarine or butter on here, but why not just spread the hollandaise on???  C'mon!

So, now everything is literally ready to receive the eggs.  Time to get poaching.

OK, I've talked about free-poaching eggs before; I even made a video about it.  However, if reading along on my culinary spatterings has taught you anything, it is that this is a journey in the making, and that I am constantly learning new things.  :)

One such cool thing - which you may or may not consider all that integral, but I do - is this:  before plopping your egg into the water to cook, give the whole pot a nice, strong but stead, stir or five.  This creates a nice little vortex in the middle within which the plopped egg can stay 'together'.  

The spinning water keeps all the egg whites (my wife hates it when I call it albumin for some reason) very close together and neat and tidy!  Pretty freaking neat, right???

Anyway, so once your water has been brought back up to a slow boil, go ahead and start poaching those eggs.  If you're feeling adventurous, or if you've got to make a crapload, or if you're just tired/hungry and want to get out of the kitchen (and into eating) you can poach several at once.  Maybe no more than 3 at a time though.  However, my recommendation - and what I tend to do - is to just cook them one at a time.  Unlike many other forms of egg-cooking, free poaching really doesn't take that long.  Maybe 2 minutes per egg.  Not even.  So it's not a big deal to cook them one at a time in my opinion.

Once poached though, (using that slotted spoon remember) carefully place each egg on a piece of prepared toast/muffin/bread something.

I had three eggs this day.  Cause I'm awesome.

You could eat this as is, but then why did we make a freaking hollandaise sauce???

Heh heh heh.

As you can see, this dish is only completed after a generous pouring of hollandaise over the whole thing, and a nice dash of more fresh parsley and chives over top for some colour (and flavour).

So, this is by no means a healthy meal, but when we're talking about eggs benedict it is about as healthy as you can make it.  Oh sure, there are 'mock' hollandaise sauces, but then we venture far from the realm of the authentic, and enter some scary (and often scarily-processed) areas of town.  

In my aforementioned hunt for eggs benedict(s) all over the city, my wife always seems surprised when I can tell the difference between a real hollandaise and one that comes from a powder or package.  To me it is like night and day.

And with this sauce, even though it is as 'low-fat' as you could expect from a sauce made from egg yolks, it still very much tastes like the real thing.