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Saturday, December 27, 2014

New Crêpe Pan

I've always wanted a crêpe pan.  Well, this Christmas my mom bought me one.

It's an entry-level crêpe pan, but it's actually quite nice.

I don't know why, but I always thought of crêpes as being difficult to make.  Well... they're not.

Also, they're really, really delicious, and have now become my favourite breakfast food.

I admit I always kind of thought of them more like pancakes, but really they more closely resemble an egg-product than a bread-product.

Which is good, and is what makes them nice and sproingy.

The batter is really simple, and is basically just flour, milk (almond milk), salt, and eggs.

You heat up the pan on medium-high heat, and coat it with some oil (or butter), and then pour a small amount in (about 1/4 cup per crêpe). 

The tricky (and most important) part is making sure that it is uniformly spread throughout the pan's surface.  When visiting Paris, I noticed all the crêpe places used these cool wooden dowel-y kind of things to smooth it all over.  Well, I just poured in a circle, and then quickly pick up the pan and give it a few wrist spins to get it coated.

Even with that though, it's not perfect, and there will be some holes.

However, what I do is just drizzle a little bit more batter into those holes to fill 'em up.

Works well, if I do say so myself.

After that, it really doesn't take long.  Like 60 seconds on one side, 30 on the other.  Flipping is actually pretty easy, and I impressed the wife a couple times with my one-handed flipping technique.  You can always use a spatula though.

It should puff up nicely, and get all bubbly, when it's ready to be flipped:

Like I said, it doesn't take long, and I had a stack of 6 done in less than ten minutes.  And nice ones too.  Just take a look:


Anyway, for serving you can do pretty much anything you like, I suppose... 

Myself, I'm partial to loads and loads of fruit.  Well... berries to be honest.


Add some icing sugar and some syrup?


These babies fold (roll) surprisingly well, too!


Anyway... that's that.

I really enjoy my new crêpe pan, but only because I'm really enjoying the new-found joy that is crêpes!


Thursday, December 25, 2014

Best Turkey Ever

Sure, it's boastful.  

But when I tell you what I did to this turkey, you will see that I'm probably right.

A little back-story here, first though.

I grew up with some pretty dry and overcooked birds, and I always thought that was the way they were supposed to be.  Don't get me wrong; an overcooked chicken or turkey can still be OK, especially if you've got some delicious gravy handy.

But, as with most of my culinary spatterings, I would learn through research and experimentation a better way of doing it.

I have always been an adequate fowl-roaster.  I learned quickly that the biggest thing that every roaster needs is a freaking meat thermometer.  I don't know who these people are trying to impress by 'winging' it (heh heh heh pun intended)... GET A THERMOMETER PEOPLE.
It's not hard.  We're talking about bacteria that can not survive in temperatures above a certain level.  (With fowl, we're talking roughly 185° Fahrenheit.) People always get confused by this, and that, in turn, confuses me. When I explain to people that they are still consuming these harmful bacteria, but that it's OK because the bacteria is dead... well, no one seems to really enjoy that thought.  But there it is. It's not rocket science.  Actually, it's microbiology. :)
Anyway... to be an adequate roaster, one needs only three things.

Firstly, one arms oneself with a meat thermometer (and the knowledge of how to use it properly).

Secondly, one enforces the simple rule of cooking slowly over low heat.  Another concept which I find confuses a lot of people.  Think about it, if your meat needs to reach only 185°F to be safe, then your roasting temperature really only needs to be 185°F.  I mean, that's a little ridiculous, and I don't even want to know how long that would take at that low of a temperature, but you get my point, right?  Myself, I typically roast between 200°F and 225°F.

The third thing one needs to be an adequate roaster, is a general understanding (and appreciation for) the Maillard reaction.  Simply put: searing.

Louis-Camille Maillard was a French (obvs) chemist who first discovered the browning of proteins when they are heated above a certain temperature (~310°F).  If you're interested in the Maillard reaction, how it works, and how it differs from a similar process, caramelization, check out the wikipedia article.
Browning meat has been thought for millennia to 'seal-in' internal juices... it should be noted, however, that recently this notion has come under serious scrutiny.  Many people nowadays believe it does not 'seal' anything... and truthfully... it doesn't.  I mean... 'sealing' implies a watertight, impermeable barrier... and nothing can do that... at least nothing you'd want to eat afterwards.

Now... that said... there IS another reason to sear meat, and it is perhaps (in my mind, it is most assuredly) more important.  FLAVOUR!  Yup, that delicious brown crust holds so much yum-factor it's scary.  So do it for the flavour, people, and stop worrying about if you lost a little bit of moisture.

Now THAT said... you DO want to conserve moisture.  For the Maillard reaction to happen at all we are talking about searing in dry heat.  Anything other than dry heat will NOT incur browning.  So, this means that some moisture will be lost.  It's inevitable.  So what we can do is try to mitigate this, possibly even re-infuse moisture after the searing has been done (the whole point of basting).

And this is what elevates one beyond being simply an adequate roaster, more to the realm of a good roaster. Not basting, (I do not baste)... but conserving moisture.

So let's talk a bit, about the things I've learned which have helped my fowl roasting evolve over the years.  Honestly, though, these tips apply to ANY sort of meat roasting.

  1. Prep.  From a dry rub to a salt brine to a juicy marinade, you can get the meat to absorb some serious flavour (and even some moisture) before you even start.  This latest iteration I did something special to prepare the turkey, and I will go into that later.
  2. Room temperature meat.  Please do not put your bird in the oven straight out of the fridge!  Let her acclimate.  She's about to undergo an (arguably) very stressful ordeal after all.  Give her some time to relax and smoke that last cigarette.
  3. High temperature dry searing.  Let the oven get to like 475°F or 500°F, and then put the bird in the middle of the oven, un-covered.  The more surface area you can expose at this point, the better.  Those roaster cages that fit inside of roasting pans work well for this, just make sure there is nothing in there (including inside the bird itself) but the bird.  Sear for 5-10 minutes, or until the skin is nice and brown.  There are a few tricks you can do to facilitate this browning, like what I did this last time, which I will go into soon.
  4. Adding moisture.  Once you've seared the meat, you can add as much liquid as you like.  In fact if you want to BRAISE your meat (which is absolutely delicious, BTW) you would top up your pan so as to practically submerse the meat.  Braising creates some of the most succulent meat ever.  Admittedly, this would be more applicable to pork or beef (lookin' at you short ribs!)... I suppose there would be nothing stopping you from braising turkey though... but typically braising is more for cheaper quality (i.e. tougher) meat.  Myself, I don't like roast chicken or turkey to physically touch the liquid, so what I do is add some stock to the bottom of the pan, along with a tonne of root vegetables.  Again, for this go around, I had a special trick up my sleeve, which I will reveal soon!
  5. Slow cooking over low heat.  This is the most important part, is so simple, yet seems to be the part with which most people have the biggest problem.  Like I said, I like to go around 200°F, and then it takes at least a couple hours, depending on the size of your bird of course.  I really don't like to entertain 'adages' or 'rules of thumb' when it comes to how long your roast should be roasting.  I have a meat thermometer which completely takes the guess work OUT of the equation.  I have the kind that you can even just leave in and it will sound an alarm when your desired temperature is reached.  If you don't use meat thermometers for your roast, I can only beg so much for you to start.  It really is the most important thing, in my opinion.
  6. Maintaining moisture. You can baste if you want to.  Myself, I've always thought it rather tedious and time-consuming.  I mean what is happening to the roast while you have the oven open this whole time?  I prefer to do a couple of other tricks.  Firstly, once your meat has browned nicely, there's no reason why you couldn't cover it.  Obviously with large meats like turkey, you can't fit a roaster lid on top,  If you are lucky enough to have a huge roasting pan complete with huge fitted lid, AND your oven is large enough to accommodate it, then by all means do that.  However, for most of us, a tent of aluminium foil works just fine.  If you want it to be really moist, you can do more than a tent even, it's up to you. Secondly, you can always just add another layer of moisture to the meat.  Whether you're brushing on some stock, or smearing on some butter, it WILL help keep the roast moist.  Thirdly, if we're talking about fowl, you can fill the innards with something moist.  Many people love to cook their stuffing in there, but myself I prefer to do stuffing separate.  Mostly this is because it's less messy, but it also allows for me to do something cool and put a fruit or vegetable in there instead.  I'm sure you've all tried the orange or lemon thing in there.  Poke some holes in the peel and that piece of citrus (even grapefruit works quite well!) is giving off nice moisture throughout the whole roasting time.  However... my favourite thing is a nice big white onion.  Also quite moist.  A big fennel bulb also works excellently.  When you're done you have a delightfully roasted veggie as well!  Yum!
  7. Accurate timing.  Did I mention that having a meat thermometer is important?  Well it is.  And checking it often as the roast nears completion is huge.  You'll actually want to take it out a few degrees BEFORE your desired temperature, as it really will keep cooking for a few minutes after you take it out.  If you're worried about it though, and if you've made sure to adhere to all of these rules beforehand, it should be OK to let it go over the safe temperature by a couple degrees.  Once you take out your roast, immediately plate it and keep it covered (either with your lid or with your aluminium foil tent), and it really is important to let it relax for at least five or ten minutes before carving.  The reason is you want the tissues to re-absorb the juices.  When it is cooking, the meat is in the process of spurting those juices out, so when you let it cool down a bit, it gives the meat a chance to suck some of that liquid back in.  Besides, you're going to want at least a few minutes to whip up a GRAVY with the pan drippings, right?  
Anyway.  That's good technique.  And it's not hard.  You just have to be diligent and watchful.

And, that's the way I roast most everything.

However, this year, as a special treat for Christmas, I went ALL OUT.  And I have my local butcher shop to thank for it, Roast Fine Foods.  

I have been so thankful that this place has opened in our neighbourhood.  Even when we don't really eat meat all that often these days.  It's such a cool place, and even if you're not close by, it's totally worth the trip!  Great place, friendly (and knowledgeable) staff.  Amazing quality meats, but they also have a good selection of other foods and condiments.

Firstly we bought an amazing turkey.  We placed an order in advance, and got the local, organic, free-run, palm-frond-fanned by nubile poults kind of turkey.  I won't even tell you how awesome this was, and for those of you who think it doesn't matter, and every year go grab a butterball from the freezer section... well, it really does matter.

Secondly, and here is the special trick up my sleeve of which I alluded to several times above... turkey stock and duck fat.  Everyone knows that you can smear anything with duck fat and it will please even the most discerning French artisanal chef.  Well, pretty close anyway.

So, yah, that was my secret this year.

The thing was, I had wanted to try a technique called 'dry brining'.

Ever since my father-in-law taught me how to brine a turkey (and the deliciousness that can result from this), I've done it every year, without fail.  However, this year, I read about DRY brining, and was intrigued.

Basically, the idea is that for two to three days prior to roasting, you apply a salt rub (with some herbs if you like) directly to the meat (under the skin).  This was a little tricky, but it worked well.  I made a couple surgical incisions near each drumstick, and was able to reach pretty much everywhere.  The skin was surprisingly resilient; I expected it to tear, but it didn't.  The notion of why a dry brine "works" is that the salt, when applied directly to the meat, at first leeches the juices OUT of the tissues, where it mixes with the herbs and salt, but then... guess what happens... it gets sucked back IN to the meat.  WITH those herbs and seasonings. Pretty cool, right?

Now... what I did was technically not a dry brine, but a duck fat brine.

Heh heh heh heh.


I took a generous amount of nice sel gris, added some freshly chopped thyme and a dash of freshly ground tellicherry peppercorns, and basically just stirred all that into my small cup of duck fat.  Then I worked that in under the turkey's skin three times over the course of three nights.

I made sure to have just enough left over for the actual roasting time, for step 6) above, wherein I would brush on a fresh layer of this duck fat mixture periodically while it was roasting.  Incidentally, rubbing fat on the skin while roasting, made the skin look absolutely amazing.  Like photo-shoot-for-a-cooking-magazine-amazing.

So, yah.

I wasn't going to write about this, as I didn't have my camera and I was away from home.  This was done at home, and then transported in the car for a three-hour journey where it was roasted at my Mother-in-law's house.

But, it turned out SO well.  I mean, I can say without exaggeration that it was the best turkey I have ever had.  It really shouldn't be a surprise, considering how much effort (and money) went into its creation... but in any case, it was absolutely superb.

I admit that, at first, I had considered duck fat to be cheating, but then realized that no one cares.  It really is just all about the END result, after all.  And this was literally awesome.

I DID take a couple of photos with my phone camera... so they're not great... but if you look closely you can see just how succulent this Christmas' turkey was!


Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Polishing Silverware is a Dirty Job

I've never really owned 'SILVERware' before.

The wife and I finally bought a decent set that we both liked, but even they are only 'silver plated'.

So not real silverware.

But I wish someone had told THEM (the utensils, I mean) because they sure TARNISH like the real thing!

I mean... they look almost platinum after they sit out and oxidize for very long.

Anyway, Christmas is coming soon... and with that, a fair amount of entertaining and (yes, you know it!) breaking out the 'good' dishware.  Well in our case this includes the good cutlery as well.

For some reason, even with a good, high resolution photo, it's hard to see the yellow-y, pinkish, patina on there... but it's there.

And after, it's ALL shiny.  Like all-up-in-that-fork's-bidness-SHINY!

Now, you know me.  If something can be done organically, naturally, or in any way NOT harmful to the environment (or to humans, myself included), I'll opt for that.

But... I'm going to say something really bad here and you all are just not going to judge me, OK? Cleaning products are RARELY sufficient to their purported tasks when also 'green'.  Sigh.

I mean, don't get me wrong, my PRIMARY cleaning product - primary by a very large margin - is a home-brew of my own concocting, consisting of filtered water, white vinegar, and a pinch of essential oil.

But... if you were to peek into my cleaning closet... well, first I'd be all like: "eh, dude, whatcha doin' in my cleaning closet?" but shortly after this challenging but ultimately amicable and winning conversation, you WOULD discover that I have some pretty nasty chemicals in there.

Anyway... that was a bit of a rant, but I wanted to stress that I have tried to polish these utensils with natural products, but nothing even came close to this product, Weiman's silver wipes.

I'm sorry!

Just look at all the crud they took off of my (VERY clean, I promise, they were washed and then sitting in a drawer in my buffet!) silverware:


I probably should have been wearing gloves with these nasties, as I'm certain they're not great for me, the environment, or anybody within a 3-mile radius.


But they gots my cutlery all SHINY!

And I likes SHINY things!

Thursday, November 13, 2014

DIY Organic Sprouts

OK, we all know and love them, but did you know how easy it is to MAKE them?

Like, I'm talking germinating sprouts yourself, at home.


Well... the answer to the question you never cared about, is VERY easy.

I was at my new favourite grocery store the other day, and stumbled across this product:

They've advertised them as a 'sandwich booster', which is great, but you can use these for a variety of other dishes as well, including salads or even stir-fry.

Anyway, all you need is the sprouts, a small jar, some cheese-cloth, and an elastic band.


Seems like I'm MacGyvering these a bit, doesn't it?  Well, it really isn't hard.

Look at how excited those guys are!  They are literally bursting through.

You essentially just rinse the seeds, drain them, and then keep them 'moist' for a few days.  And, like you'll remember from elementary school, they don't even need sunlight to germinate, so I did these in my dark (oh, so dark) kitchen.

Then, three days later...


Heh heh heh.


And that was just a tiny spoonful.  This bag of sprouts is going to last me quite a while!

Anyway... pretty cool, right!

Monday, November 10, 2014

DIY Vegan Granola Bars

I love granola bars.

I always have.

I practically lived off of them in my childhood.

However... finding a good granola bar - even these days - can be quite a challenge.

I mean, even the manufacturers claiming to be super good, like Kashi for example, still put so many unnecessary ingredients in there.

Again, as always it seems, it comes down to the difference between 'all-natural' and 'actually healthy'.


I like to make my own granola bars; I've done it a few times, and it is DEAD easy!

These ones today, however, are special, because they are not only super healthy, all natural, all organic, and extremely minimalistic, but they are also 100% vegan.

So, let's get to it!

First, and (I can't stress this enough) most importantly, is the vegan marshmallows.

If you can't find vegan marshmallows, then give up on this recipe.  I mean, you can use non-vegan marshmallows, but do you know where gelatin COMES FROM?  DO YOU!?!?!  Ugh... I'm not even a full-time vegetarian, but I can not stomach gelatin.

Anyway, back to these delicious vegan bars.

I got these vegan marshmallows from a store called Ambrosia, which I admit I never knew existed until recently, but I am super glad I've found it!  It's a great store!

Melt these puppies in a pan with a generous scoop of coconut oil.  You can use any kind of oil you want, but remember we're trying to make these really good.  

Actually, a secondary goal of mine with these was to actually make them as HIGH in calories (like, still good calories, here) as possible, as I wanted these to be a meal replacement on those days when I'm just in too much of a hurry to eat properly.

Enter the coconut oil.  A 'healthy' oil, but one that IS high on the calories.

When the marshmallows start to get liquidy, just stir in your granola.

These marshmallows are ready to incorporate some granola.

For the granola, I chose two packages of PC Blue Menu granola.  

The first, a mixed berry one:

The second, a banana nut one:

These packages are actually remarkably decent.  Their ingredients were simple, and all good.  They did have some sugar, but again I wanted these literally to pack some energy.

Anyway, all of that gets stirred in.

This is the ONLY hard part in making these bars.

But oh man is it hard.

You have to have some serious hand and wrist strength to muster enough will to keep stirring this until it's ready.

I probably could have added more coconut oil, but whatever.

It worked.


Now just grease (again, with the coconut oil) a medium-sized pan:

And then pour in the mix.  

It's all lumpy at first, but here's a trick.  Grease the back of a wooden spoon (again with some coconut oil) or sturdy spatula, and firmly smooth the mix down.  After a minute or so, you should have a nice, level, attractive looking granola square.

Now cover this and let it set in the fridge (or at room temperature, it just takes longer), until it is wholly solid.

Then, it's just choppin' time!

Truly, you can cut these into any size or shape you like.

Myself, I went with the more traditional, rectangular 'bar' shape.

After wrapping them in plastic wrap, they're ready for storage.

And store they can.  For quite some time.  Although mine rarely last that long as, in addition to being a great emergency meal, they are also quite delicious!

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Sandwich Chaud au Poulet

So... most Canadians will recognize this dish.

Certainly most Québécois should.

It is, after all, one of the signature dishes at St. Hubert.

What is St. Hubert, you ask?

A very nondescript, yet very prevalent, chicken-centric family restaurant in Québéc.

I mean, if you've never been, you should go.

Anyway... I'm not saying that the Hot Chicken Sandwich thing is exclusively theirs, but I will say that their version is actually done quite deliciously.  And it is the one that comes to my mind, at least, whenever I think of a Hot Chicken Sandwich.

Here's an image that I swiped online, but because I'm up-talking their dish, maybe they'll let it slide?
Doesn't that look yum-town?  

Just for juxtaposition's sake, I'll show you the end product of my version here.

Doesn't quite look the same, does it?

Well, it didn't taste as good, either... but it was still seriously yummy.

OK.  So... I followed a recipe for this one... sigh.  I know!  I'm sorry!

This is one of only a handful of times I can ever recall doing so.  And you'll see that there are some things in here which I shuddered at putting in (like ketchup?!)


It actually starts out kind of promising.  With the making of an actual, authentic roux... but - as you'll see - it quickly gets... trashier.

So, traditional roux, melt some butter...

Add some flour...

Whisk for a few minutes until nice and golden.

This recipe called for the following dry ingredients:  dry mustard, paprika, cayenne, onion powder, and chili powder.

Some crazy mix.  And it made my roux decidedly pasty.

Now, to this, we're going to add some beef stock.

And already it looks like a really smooth gravy.


But, here's where it gets shady.


and worcestershire:

That's it.

That's the 'chicken sauce'.

As for the other aspects of this dish... I had leftover chicken.

Of quite high quality.  I'm going to go out on a limb and assume that this is maybe a little better than most of the chicken served in these dishes commercially.


The peas were easy to cook up.  I steamed them.  I can't abide boiled vegetables.  Steaming is as far as I will go to cook a green vegetable (literally... I often don't even like doing that...).

And then some french white bread.  Not a good rustic artisan kind, but instead the cheap trashy kind.  This is trash food, after all.

Then it's just ASSEMBLAGE:


Incidentally those are just fried potatoes, not french fries... but what are you doing looking at those, anyway?  


So... not as good as St. Hubert's, but a pretty good home-made facsimile, I'd have to say.

And still quite delicious!