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Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Holy Spaghetti (Batman)!

So, I appear to be getting better at the making of the pasta.

I did a couple things this go around which I will be sure to repeat in subsequent trials.  Of these, however, I'm not entirely certain to which one today's successful iteration can be attributed.

Perhaps all of them.

Perhaps none of them.

In any case, I'm going to remember today's technique.

First of all, I used a fair bit of Durham Wheat Semolina.  Not exclusively, but at a good 3:2 ratio to regular all-purpose flour.  Now... before you traditionalists start yelling at me, extolling the merit of typo 00, and other super fine flours... shut up.  :)

Of course I have used such finely sieved flours before, and they create an unparalleled smoothness of texture.

However, today I didn't do that.

Unsurprisingly, the pasta I made today was a little coarser.

Surprisingly, however, is the fact that the dough was infinitely more manageable.

So, that was one variation.

A second, was the fact that I used a lot of eggs, and most of that, yolks.  I think I used 10 eggs, and only the whites of 2 of those... so 8 yolks, 2 whole eggs.

That made a difference.

Thirdly, and if I had to go out on a limb to guess which one was most important, I kneaded this dough substantially more than I normally do pasta dough.  Which is to say about 10 minutes.

I suppose an additional variable could be the humidity, which is exceptional today (close to 80%)...

At any rate, those are the things I did differently.

So... in regards to the first thing.  I've read all about different grades and types of flours, and suppose I understand a little.  Although not totally cut and dry, it seems as though the finer you go the better and more uniform the texture of your dough (and resultant noodles), but the trade-off is in strength.  Gluten strength.  So... my Durham Wheat flour?  Well, it apparently scores quite low on the fineness, but relatively high on the gluten strength.  So, this could very easily explain today's dough's easier manageability.

As for the second... really, from what I understand, the eggs are there to provide cohesion (as they do in most things) and more strength.  So particularly needed with finer flours like type 00, but not really all that needed with Durham Wheat.  I'm sure they certainly added to the strength, however.  As for yolk vs white, as far as I know that has less to do with cohesion or strength and more to do with richness, flavour, and colour.

And, thirdly, as with all gluten dough, kneading is essential to form the gluten strands needed for the end product to keep its shape.  And—I'm not sure of this, as I am not an expert on the matter—if I had to hazard a guess, I bet pasta dough does not need to worry so much about over-kneading the way that bread or other leavened products do, as there is no need for pasta to house carbon dioxide...  Just a guess though.

So there you have it.

I suspect all of these things were important, and perhaps it was a combination of all of them which yielded such a successful pasta making experience today?

I should also mention that I chose to secure my pasta machine to my Dining Table this time, instead of my kitchen counter, because it fits better, and it gives me a ton of room.

That also helped.

Anyway... I made a lot of noodles, and even had some of the smaller spaghetti noodles turn out lovely.

Check out how long these spaghetti noodles ended up being:

There's my phone beside it to help gauge the size.  These noodles were very, very long.  And gorgeous!


So, all in all, these noodles were a little coarser than usual, but still no where near the texture we've all become accustomed to in eating whole-wheat or multi-grain pasta noodles.  Still very light and smooth... just not as much as with finely sieved flour.

And the trade off was exquisite manageability.  So much that I had almost NO waste (leftover bits that the machine creates from odd shapes of dough) and was able to create some spectacular noodles.

With some of my previous pasta doughs, I've never even attempted to go any thinner than a fettucine noodle... but as you can see here these spaghetti noodles look lovely.


Thursday, May 23, 2013

Tempura Veggies

So, I always thought that tempura was Japanese.  According to Wikipedia, however, it is actually Portuguese.  It makes sense when you think about the root of tempura being Latin.

Tempora - having to do with time.  In fact, the french word for 'time' is temps; although we needn't even look to other languages --> think of temporal, or temporary... All dealing with time.

Anyway, apparently tempura was called thusly by Portuguese (Catholic) missionaries, who at various holy times (quattuor tempora) abstained from eating red meat and consumed instead fish and vegetables.

An interesting, if roundabout, etymology.   

And, while it may have been Western Catholics who first introduced it to Japan, I think no one argues it was popularized by Japan.

So, that's a rather long-winded, unapologetic, way of saying that I'm still just going to attribute tempura to Japanese cuisine.


I had never had tempura before about 10 years ago.  Possibly because of my sheltered suburban upbringing, or possibly because of my family's health concerns (let's face it, it's not super healthy).

In any case, however, I distinctly remember the first time I had some tempura.  It was at an Asian Fusion restaurant in Edmonton.  Gotta love those fusion places, eh?  Not really unique, certainly not specialized, yet wholly and unabashedly accessible.  ;)  

I'm not mocking fusion places—quite the contrary—I think they can be great for large populations of diverse ethnicities and cuisines. And let's be honest, in my case (as I've just revealed) good for introducing sheltered suburban WASPs to other cultures' food.  :)

Anyway, I've since had tempura battered fish and vegetables at various places since then, and it is usually very similar.  Usually coated with panko, (which, interestingly... to me anyway... is a word that is also derived from Portuguese) lightly fried, and then served up with some sort of dark-brewed dipping sauce.

Anyway, that's enough preamble.  Let's talk about my why and wherefore.

The bottom line is that we had a lot of green vegetables in the crisper.  Like a lot.  So — as I am often wont to do — I decided that rather than have them go bad, I'd concoct some sort of delicious, often elaborate, means for consuming a large amount of them.

So, let's start with those.

I've chosen to do both asparagus and green beans here, but normally I would just stick with one type of vegetable; like I said, this was as much to use them up as anything else.

No wait... let's actually start with breadcrumbs.


The wife once bought a little pail of breadcrumbs from the grocer a few years ago.  I can't even remember why, but I had never even known you could buy 'ready-made' breadcrumbs.  

I've always just made my own.

If you haven't gleaned by now, I'm a pretty big fan of efficiency, and will never throw something away if I can use it for something... and such can certainly be said of bread heels.  Whether for crumbs, or croutons, or something else, I love utilizing every last scrap of a loaf of bread.  In fact (and much to the wife's chagrin) I'll sometimes have as many as 4 or 6 bread heels drying in the fridge.  ;)  I'm not ashamed of it.

Well, for tempura breading, I ended up using I think 4 heels.  They weren't all quite as dry as I needed them, however, so I had to accelerate the process.  So, chopped into cubes, and neatly spaced on a baking sheet, they got put in the oven on low heat for about 20 to 30 minutes.

That's a lot of bread.  But, as you'll see, I needed a lot of breadcrumbs.

While that was baking I rinsed (soaked) my veggies (as you saw above), and started on some extra delicate touches.

Some fresh basil leaves, chopped super finely, and some freshly grated lemon zest, I set aside for two things:  the breadcrumb mixture itself and a dip I planned to make (more on that deliciousness later).

So, I put half of that aside for my delicious dip, and the other half in a large mixing bowl which would eventually be my large breadcrumb coating bowl.

All it needs is the breadcrumbs.  Which, once dry (but not baked, remember low heat), I blended finely in my blender.

And then mixed thoroughly in said large mixing bowl.

Mmmmmm... bready.

So, all told, this consists of: a ton of bread crumbs, a small amount of chopped basil, a sprinkling of lemon zest, and a tiny pinch of salt and pepper.

Now that that's done, lets get the delicious dip done.  :)

I sautéed a small amount of garlic and green onion in a bit of olive oil, just to soften them and make them juicy.

After only a couple of minutes in the pan, I poured that whole amount into a small mixing cup (I don't know what else to call the incredibly useful vessel that came with my immersion blender).

Then I added the chopped basil and fresh lemon zest I had set aside for the dip.

I also added (as you can see) some more garlic, but raw.  I find garlic is so much more flavourful when raw.

So, that gets puréed... very finely.  Again, what would I do without my immersion blender?  Be lame, that's what.

Incidentally, I do use other vessels with my immersion blender... that's kind of its awesomeness (the fact that you can stick it in pretty much anything, anywhere, and go to town), but this measuring cup is very handy, and sized very nicely for perfect puréeing.

Then, I added a lot of yogurt.  Normally we buy plain (unflavoured) 0% Greek yogurt and keep it on hand for various things (a surprising amount really).  However, for some reason (I think it was to go with those delicious Carne Abodo burritos from the other week) the wife picked up some 2% stuff.

Oh the decadence!


So I gradually whisked all that together, and surprised even myself with how delicious and complexly flavourful it was.

This stuff was awesome.  Kinda hot from the raw garlic, but super cool with the basil and yogurt.  Balanced, and quite tasty.  I'll make this again sometime.

Anyway, that was my dip.

Now that all the 'prep' is done, we can get started on actually cooking.  :)

So, my washed, trimmed, and dried veggies are all ready to go... except for one thing... because I wanted this to be perfect (I was making a lot of these, after all), I wanted to make sure I didn't have to leave the vegetables 'frying' for overly long.  This might cause the breading to burn before the insides get fully cooked... something of which I admit I was a little worried.

So I decided to give them a quick blanching before coating them with batter.  This didn't FULLY cook them, but gave them a bit of a head start, which is what I wanted.

Just a few minutes in hot water.

You can see they've picked up a nice rich green hue, but are still nice and puffy and moist.  Not cooked, but not raw either.

And, because I don't like to waste anything that might have value, I couldn't in good conscience throw away the water I used to blanch these vegetables.  I normally steam or bake vegetables (when I feel the need to cook them at all), because I find boiling or even blanching rather inefficient.

Call me crazy, but I'm a nutrient miser.  Just think of all the good stuff that was leached out of the vegetables during cooking.  Because they were thoroughly washed and soaked, and the only think I put in that pan was clean water, that means the dark colour of this water is JUST from vegetable juice.  I couldn't throw that away. 

So, it became my liquid for the batter.


So I whisked in some flour and got it to a nice consistency (runny, but sticky), and then was finally ready to start frying.

People often get scared off of fried foods, myself among them, for health concerns.  But I feel I should say something about that.  I think there should be a distinction between deep-fried and 'pan-fried'.  Certainly between fast food frying - say fried chicken, or french fries, or other absolutely-delicious-but-terribly-bad-for-you types of fried food.  
Incidentally, as an interesting aside here, I heard gourmet fried chicken is on the rise on foodie radar.  Not the commercial mass-produced fast-food fried chicken stuff, but like good old-fashioned, home-made gourmet fried chicken from your local mom & pop hole-in-the-wall.  Something to look out for.  Like the resultant heart disease.
Anyway, I consider 'deep-fried' to be significantly worse than just lightly frying or pan-frying something at home.  I mean, for this entire batch of vegetables, I only used about a third, to a half a cup of oil, and it was good, low-fat, trans-fat-free, canola oil.

So, not terrible.  
Not awesome... but not terrible.

If you're awesome and just a super human being and never fried anything at home before, here's how you do it.  You need to put enough oil in your pan to get a good centimetre or two of thickness (more if you don't care to flip your battered food half-way through), but (if you're like me and hate inefficiency) not enough that you'd waste much (if any) after all is said and done.  So, it's not a big deal in my opinion to just have a thin(ish) layer of oil and give your tempura a flip once.

Anyway, bring that up to a dangerous level of heat (frying can be scary... make sure you know how to deal with grease fires and such... maybe make sure to keep a couple of really thick tea towels nearby or something...), I'd say medium-high on the stove.

Once the oil is hot, you can start going to town.  Frying the battered veggies in small batches.

So, an assembly line of sorts is commenced.

Starting with the flour and water glue.

Then the coating in the breadcrumbs.

 And finally, the pan-frying.

And painstaking flipping of each veggie after about 30 seconds.  

If your pan gets gross and/or your breadcrumb sediment deposits are starting to burn, feel free to use a slotted spoon to strain the crumbs.  If they burn or blacken, they can impart a nasty flavour.

It doesn't take long for them to be done, less than a minute all told.  So you can see why I wanted to give the veggies a bit of a cook before this.  Otherwise that minute would not be enough to cook them through.  Maybe close, but not enough.

Anyway, this frying assembly line process took me a while, and made a huge mess, but I managed not to burn down the kitchen and only got a few droplet burns.  When frying something with a lot of water content, that water oft times spills out into the oil... doing... guess what?  :)  
Seriously though, if you're going to fry something with a high water content that also has a thick skin, it can be really dangerous.  So if you're going to do this with something like zucchini or eggplant, you should either score the skin with cuts, or poke lots of little holes in it.  An exploding vegetable is bad enough when it is not displacing a large swath of hot, burning, oil.  So... yah... frying can be scary.
Anyway, keeping my finished vegetables warm on a plate in the oven, I eventually finished and we were ready to chow down.

Like I said, normally this sort of thing would be served with a more traditionally-Asian sauce... I flirted briefly with throwing together something out of soya or teriyaki and some fresh ginger and scallions... or something like that...  But, I went with my garlic-basil yogurt.  And it was a great choice.

These were surprisingly filling, however, and we couldn't even finish them all.

And very rich... but not as dense or heavy as you'd think.  I didn't feel gross or greasy after eating a whole plate of them.  Which is good.

Anyway, like I said, a special treat made all the more special when only brought out once in a long while, but a good idea when you've got a crisper FULL of asparagus and green beans that need eating soon.


Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Basil Beef Sliders

We all love fresh Basil.

And, although it is quite a common herb, it is one of my favourites of all time.

I admit that I do like it in many of its tried and tested pairings; say, things like tomatoes, in pesto, cream sauces, etc.

However, one pairing that is not so everyday is with Beef.

In particular, hamburgers.


Man I love burgers, however, I don't like making them very often because it is messy and it ends up making my house smell like fried meat for at least 24 hours.
In fact, if anyone can give me a working solution to preventing meat smell from permeating my house when cooking indoors, I'll give him or her a prize.  (For real).
So it's definitely a treat to have home-made burgers.  So much so that I usually try to make them super delicious (read: lots of love and attention.)

So let's talk burger construction.

Bread crumbs for a bit of fibre-y texture and filler, and an egg for sticky cohesion, are standard.

But after that, I like to play it up a bit.  I've done everything from sautéed mushrooms to blue cheese in my experiments.  Some of my favourite are any of the fresh green herbs, garlic of course, onion to be sure, and chipotles.

So, because I'm the kind of cook who believes that every iteration or re-iteration of a meal should be better than the last, it holds to reason that every time I concoct a burger it should be better than the last.

Now - I'm not just talking about flavour combinations here, because those are hard to qualify or hierarchize; but other, less subjective, attributes can be evaluated, such as texture, cohesion, technique, composition, etc.

So for today's burgers, one thing I decided to alter, was the whole darn size of the things.

Mini burgers.  Who doesn't like them?  Why place all your eggs (condiments/toppings) in one basket (bun)? :)

Sliders is the term.  And no, I'm not talking about that 90s show with John Rhys-Davies. ;) 

So, I had a few things from another meal I made recently (Tempura Veggies), namely a whole crapload of breadcrumbs and some garlic-basil yogurt.

The breadcrumbs I mixed with some freshly chopped garlic, scallion, and basil leaves.

Not hard.

Next, I mixed a raw egg into my extra lean ground beef.

And then mixed the two together.  I bet you didn't see that coming.

So, after that got gooey and gross (I just mix this sort of thing with my hands,) I formed a bunch of meatballs.

I actually made a dozen.  Easily... they were not even close to being small.

So... that's the easy part.  That took probably only about 5 minutes (not counting the making of my own breadcrumbs).

Now for the hard part.

I say 'hard' but this isn't really difficult, it's just messy as f@%$.

I DO enjoy an opportunity to use my iron griddle pan though.  It makes things pretty.

Make sure it's super hot before you put anything in it.

If you don't know the water drop test thingy, which you should because I know it... you can test to see if your pan is hot enough by tossing a drop or three of water in and seeing if it boils immediately, or just sits there for a second.  Obviously the former is the one you want.

Because my beef was super lean, I very lightly coated the patties with some olive oil real quick and then gently placed them in the pan to grill.

Depending on how well-done you like your burgers, these only take about 3 minutes on the first side, and about 1 minute on the second.  This is for beef burgers obviously, other types of burger patties require more...

Pretty simple to make.

As you can see below, we've chosen PC slider thins as tonight's burger medium.

And, although each slider was adorned differently (from pickles and mayo, to dijon and butter leaf lettuce), that previously mentioned garlic-basil yogurt was certainly popular... It used RAW garlic, so was super spicy!  ;)

Anyway, here are just a couple pics of my favs:

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Carne Adobo y Tortillas

So, for El Cinco de Mayo this year, I decided to try going a little more 'authentic' with one of my more favourite Mexican dishes.

Carne adobo is essentially meat marinated in some seriously delicious (and surprisingly complex) spices.  I've always loved adobo sauces in restaurants, but have never made it myself, so I figured this would be as good a time as any to try.


I'm not sure if it is considered authentically Mexican to use beef (steak) for this, however, as I've most often seen it used with pork.  In fact, I think steak is more often just grilled up simply, as in carne asada.

Oh well.  It was still more authentic than I've ever ventured into Mexican cuisine.


Also, I decided this would be a good time to try re-conceptualizing my tortillas.  Typically in the past, I've used corn flour, and unbleached flour sometimes, mixed with water and then fried in some vegetable oil.  These make some pretty delicious, crispy tortillas, but not like you would get in a restaurant.

A while back I heard of masa harina.  I don't need to get into it a whole lot (even though its history is quite cool!) but basically it is corn which has been soaked in limewater (calcium hydroxide solution) and then dried and powdered.  There are a lot of cool reasons for doing this (see above-mentioned cool history), but one of the niftiest is that it allows for the formation of dough.  

So, my previous iterations of tortillas made with just plain corn flour, are actually just cheap facsimiles.  So, basically GARBAGE.


I don't know why I had never heard of masa harina before.
I don't know why previous recipes I'd researched suggested plain corn flour.
I have heard of masa harina now, and you can be sure that I will be keeping a bag in my pantry from here on out.


Anyway, here's my humble foray into this awesome Mexican dish.

First of all, adobo sauce is a marinade.  So your meat should be soaking in this spicy acidic mixture for a while.  I unfortunately didn't decide to do this until the day of, so my meat only soaked for a short time -- ideally (and when I do this again some day) I'd marinade the meat for at least 24 hours.

Anyway, it still turned out excellently.

I did loosely follow a recipe for this (at least as much as I EVER follow a recipe I guess), and I was surprised (and delighted!) by how complex the flavour medley is.  I mean, there are like 10 different independent flavours all playing together in this symphony and complementing each other exquisitely.

It is a hot sauce.

Just so you know.

Like really hot.

But, what I'm trying to get across is that there are so many other subtle underpinnings, it is not just a chilli sauce.

Anyway, the recipe I followed called for many peppers.  6 guajillo peppers.  I didn't have guajillo peppers around, but I did have jalapeños   And considering they're roughly the same value on the Scoville scale, I figured it would be fine.  I've also seen adobo sauces made with chipotle peppers, which is also roughly the same Scoville value.  So again, I felt justified that it would work out.

So, chillies, chillies, chillies.

Six jalapeño chilli peppers with removed stems, seeds, and membranes, and chopped loosely.

Fried for a few short minutes on medium in a small amount of oil, just to get them to brown.

Once browned, add a small amount (I'd say about 50ml) of water, turn down to low and cover.

Basically we're now softening the browned chillies.

That can simmer on low for a good 10 or 15 minutes, during which time you can prepare the rest of the ingredients.

Next in terms of concentration, would come the onion.  A good half an onion.  Diced finely.

Then comes garlic.  I put in about 4 large cloves, and they were large, so I'd suggest about 6 medium cloves.

Next comes an assortment -- a true plethora -- of dried spices.  And why I say this sauce is complex in flavour.

I'll illustrate this in montage form:  :)

Lime Zest (pinch)

1 tsp Salt (I used Black Hawaiian salt)

1/2 tsp Sugar (I used yellow sugar)

1 tsp Oregano (dried, freshly milled)

1/2 tsp Cumin Seed (freshly milled)

1/2 tsp Cinnamon

Ground Cloves (pinch)

And, when all mixed together, this medley smelled delightful.  And understandably heady.

Now, despite its complexity, this sauce is actually quite easy.  In the sense of being able to just throw all this in together at the same time.

So, this spice blend sits expectantly aside for a few minutes, because the chillies are done and require just one last step.

The excess liquid needs to be separated. 

So pour the whole thing into a finely meshed sieve and gently squish the peppers, retaining the leftover liquid.

Set this leftover liquid aside for now.

Grab a medium mixing bowl (or a large liquid measure, like you see me using here), and mix together (as unceremoniously as you like!) the onion, garlic, softened chillies, and the dried spice mixture we just concocted.

Mix that all together and throw it back into the pan you just used to cook the chillies.

Add 1/4 cup of cider vinegar to the whole thing.

And then let that simmer down for a few minutes (I'd say about 5).

This is the point where you assess if you need to add that saved chilli liquid back into the mix.  Add it sparingly, and only if the mixture appears very dry.  That said, I ended up using all of it.

Anyway, when the whole thing is nicely browned and softened, 

Empty the entire contents to a blender and puree the living crap out of it.

I encourage extra blending here.  This should be very smooth.

And that's the adobo sauce.

It is now ready for marinading some meat.

In my case, some delicious flank steak.


I'm starting to really LIKE flank steak.  But, that's a story for another day I suppose.

Anyway, the steak got sliced relatively thinly and then got immersed in the adobo sauce.  

Like I said earlier, I would have preferred to let this sit for a day or more, but I didn't have that long, so it was only a couple hours.  


But it turned out just fine.

Now to the TORTILLAS.  Oh man these were good.  I didn't have a tortilla press, so they didn't LOOK all that lovely (kind of ugly, actually) but they were perfect otherwise.

The bag of masa harina basically said 2 cups to 1 1/2 cups water and a 1/4 tsp salt.  But I like some cumin in there, so I ground some of that up with the salt.

But other than that it is a pretty simple mix.

And easy enough to roll into six balls of dough.

Now, the package said to 'add more water if dough appears dry'.  Well, I had to add quite a bit of water as the dough was very dry for some reason.  Anyway, it took a while to reach a balance between overly crumbly and overly sticky, but eventually we had a good mix to roll out.

Again, a tortilla press would have made beautifully thin, perfectly round tortillas, but alas I was forced to use a rolling pin.


This stuff was kind of tricky to work with, and I found it hard to keep from splitting and crumbling, or sticking to the rolling pin.

It was the genius suggestion of the wife to place parchment paper on either side of the dough, which saved me from stabbing the wall with the rolling pin, and hucking the dough, baseball-like, out the window in frustration.

So, after that it was relatively painless to roll the dough out thinly enough and then grill them in a non-stick pan.

They don't take too long - maybe 2 minutes per side - and are ready when they've browned in spots.

They LOOK really brittle, but they're actually not.  I couldn't get over the difference between using masa harina vs. corn flour alone.  These tortillas were soft and fluffy, yet totally malleable and roll-able.  Useful for making burritos.  :)

So, these took a while, but we kept them relatively warm by keeping them wrapped in a tea towel.

They may not have looked like much, but they were just about perfect!

And now to cook the carne adobo!

In a heated (hot) pan, I grilled the steak pieces in batches.  Grilled right along with any and all accompanying adobo sauce.

They only took about 5 minutes per batch, and only made the wife and I cough a few times.  ;)  I didn't really think the capsaicin could so easily become airborne by cooking.  But it did.  :)

The steak pieces browned beautifully before long, and once done, we were ready to eat.


Another shout out to the wife during this meal, for being what I affectionately term my kitchen bitch.

While I was grilling the steak, she was busy preparing all of the assorted toppings for burritos, including shredded cheddar cheese, chopped lettuce, greek yogurt (we like to use greek yogurt instead of sour cream... it's thick and cool and great for this sort of thing), and the like.

So it was just a matter of ASSEMBLY at this point.


And, like I mentioned, even though the tortillas LOOKED kinda brittle, they weren't, and in fact rolled much easier than any other previous iteration I have made in the past.

These were delightful, and several times throughout consumption I found myself commenting on how 'real' they tasted.

Hot, to be sure, but so freaking good.

So, I realize it may have been a little unclassy and certainly a little cliché, to cook this up on Cinco de Mayo, but I really had intended to try this anyway, and the 5th of May was just the excuse I needed to try it.