Curmudgeonalia
I see I taste I write Links What?

June 25, 2005

Bread Baking tips:

When baking croissants or other such--“scratch,” or out of one of those refrigerated grocery packages--a light egg-white wash will vastly improve both color and crust. (Use some or all of the yolk, too, if you want a darker brown.)

Whip up an egg white with a little water and “paint it” on lightly with either a thin pastry brush or a feather. (Feathers really work well, and are sold in most gourmet stores.)

Put the wash on the top and sides only, and just before you put it in the oven. Packaged “Pop-n-fresh” and other rolls and such will come out looking much more attractive. Be sure that you don’t put on so much that it slops off onto the baking pan. If it cooks together it might (though it likely won’t) seal it to the baking sheet and prevent it from rising as well.

Do it once and you’ll be an expert the 2nd time.

Posted by respeto at 3:58 PM

August 28, 2005

Cooking flour

When using all purpose flour in a sauce you must cook it for at least 5 minutes or it will not taste as it should. When beginning a sauce, heat the oil (or butter or lard), then add the flour slowly, whisking vigorously to be sure it is fully incorporated. (And speaking of whisks, a flat one works best.) If trying to brown a sauce, do not use too high a flame and do whisk near constantly. For a truly rich looking, mahogany sauce, use lard.
Once the fat/flour are cooked to your satisfaction, THEN add the liquid. Only a little at first, being sure that the flour mixture is fully incorporated. Too much volume will prevent it, since it moves around the whisk rather than thru it. If adding cups of liquid, once the sauce is relatively thin and well incorporated you can add the rest of the liquid at one time.

If you want to thicken something quickly with flour use Wondra. (a micropulverized flour sold in a cardboard can at virtually all stores.) It incorporates more easily and cooks more rapidly, though it tends to cook back to thin if cooked for too long. Alternatively, you could use cornstarch or arrowroot, but remember that these make your sauces shiny, whereas flour gives you the "gravy-dull" which one usually associates with meat, chicken and fish sauces.

Another "special" tip: if adding flour to thicken, especially late in the cooking process, you can use a small lidded cup (or cocktail shaker,) add a little liquid and the flour and shake vigorously to suspend it. Be careful, though, to hold the lid on tight and uncap it carefully. For reasons I do not understand the mixture is "explosive" and will literally "blow out" of the container all over your counter and/or stove. If you use the hot liquid from the stew or soup you are cooking, allow it to cool a little, the mix is even more explosive if you use hot liquid.

Posted by respeto at 10:28 AM

October 29, 2005

Grilling over beer:

Few things done over the grill are any better than a small chicken, or a couple of Cornish hens, "stood-up" over a can of good beer.

Drink half of it, and put the rest in the cavity of the bird and cook as usual. Situated properly it will hold the bird up while keeping the bird moist(which is the idea, afterall.)

And, if you are fortunate enough to be cooking for six, you'll have a good start on a "buzz" before you get far into the cooking part.

But, then, you could share some of the beer . . . wot?

Posted by respeto at 5:44 PM

Grilling:

When grilling birds, roasts and things which take longer, generally you do not want the fire right beneath the meat. Use a covered grill, keep the fire on one side and the meat on the other, or a circular fire at the edges of the grill and the meat in the middle. (Impossible to do with an electric grill, which is why I hate them. Use a real grill with real charcoal!)

Done this way, you can also put your meat on a piece of foil. The foil will not burn if it is not over the fire. This is especially helpful if cooking a whole or a large filet of fish.

It also reduces the number of times you have to turn a roast over, and is as good as, and easier than, a rotisserie. Cheaper, too. If doing a roast, when nearly done remove the foil and “char” the outside a little for “looks.”

Posted by respeto at 5:39 PM

June 13, 2005

On Quiche Shells

Whenever doing a savory quiche, try this:
Bake the shell as directed, but before use, brush the hot shell with an egg wash containing a tsp. or so of prepared mustard and bake it for another minute or two. It sets the wash, seals the shell, and when you fill it the quiche the shell will not get soggy. Great little trick.

Similarly, with other quiches, use a little egg wash without the mustard to similarly seal the shell.

Ciao!

Posted by respeto at 4:28 PM

July 4, 2005

Orange brandy

You can make your own "Grand Marnier," and it is better than the cheapest of the G.M.'s. Not as good, perhaps as the G.M. Centenaire (made with 100 year old brandy,) but a whole lot better than the "not so cheap anymore" regular G.M. Start with 3 cups of good brandy or cognac, which you can purchase for considerably less than a bad bottle of G.M. Carefully peel 6-7 washed oranges (being careful not to get much--or any of the pith: the white under-peel). Add it to the brandy and let it steep for 3-4 weeks, then strain out the peels. Quite good. Thank Jacques Pepin for this tip.

Posted by respeto at 10:36 AM

June 25, 2005

Peeling tomatoes and peppers:

Many times, peeling makes for a better presentation. Peels are tough and unappealing in some situations.

To peel tomatoes, bring a 2-3 quart pot of water to a boil (smaller if doing only a couple of tomatoes) and immerse the tomato in the water for 15 seconds. Remove it and put it into cold water. Then the peel will come off easily in big sheets.

Tip: cut the peel into slivers and use it to garnish other vegetable dishes or salads.

To peel peppers, roast them in the oven till they begin to brown and blister, then put them in a zip-lock or a baggie and let them steam for a while. Cut, peel, seed and discard all but the good part. Do not cut before roasting. If roasting only one, and you have a gas stove, you can roast it like a marshmallow on a skewer. Faster and cheaper than waiting for the oven to heat up.

Posted by respeto at 4:02 PM

July 4, 2005

Sauce tips

Generally, when making savory sauces and gravies one uses flour. Add the butter or oil to the skillet or pan, then the flour (usually 1 T. per cup of liquid), and whisk vigorously to break it all up. Cook for 5-10 minutes and then add the liquid--a little at a time at first, to be sure the liquid is incorporated rather than lumpy. If the water is added all at once it is nearly impossible to beat out the lumps since they move around the whisk, rather than thru it. To quickly thicken such a sauce you might want to use Wondra (micro-pulverized flour) because it incorporates easily and cooks quickly.
For "shiny" sauces, for desserts and the like, use corn starch. Again use about 1 T. per cup of sauce. It isn't usually cooked, as with flour, but added to the sauce and stirred till it thickens. Dilute it with 1-2 T. of tap water and be sure it is suspended before adding. Cook a minute or so and you will see it thicken.

For Wok cooking, pull the foodstuff up on the sides and let the liquid pool in the open bottom. Sprinkle in a little arrowroot and whisk it in quickly. It requires no cooking, so you can see the result immediately. Usually about ½ T per cup, but since the result is immediate, you can see what you are doing. If adding to a sauce, or to a stew to correct it-- thicken it--suspend the arrowroot in a little water, since you won't be able to whisk it as easily.
In any case, once you "get the hang of it" you'll know about how much to add.

Posted by respeto at 10:39 AM

Soufflé tips

Contrary to common belief, soufflés are not as difficult as they seem. Most soufflés fail at the stage of incorporation of the egg-whites into the final product, or because the whites are not beaten stiff enough--or beaten to the point that they begin to lose their ability to add loft to the soufflé. My very first soufflé was beautiful, because I paid attention. Yours can be, too.
• When making the base be sure that it is "loose enough" to incorporate easily. If it is like paste, or putty, add a little water . . . not soupy, but not thick and heavy, either.
• When incorporating the whites, first add about 1/3 of them to the base and turn gently. Use either a spoonula (big rubber spatula shaped like a spoon), or a balloon whisk (large whisk with wide spaces between the wires.) Then add this lighter base back into the egg-whites. Do not overmix. Incorporate it just enough so that there are no lumps of base. Continued mixing just "beats down" the whites. (When you beat the whites to stiff peaks you create myriad air bubbles within. As they bake they expand, hence giving loft to the soufflé. If you beat them longer they begin to lose their air, and get watery.)
• The very best way to beat egg whites is in a copper bowl with a steel whisk. Far better result than using cream of tartar. (Periodically "clean" the copper with salt, lemon juice and a paper towel. (Your bowl doesn't want to be smooth and shiny, it wants to be a little rough--not scoured and striated, but not smooth, either.)
• When preparing a soufflé you can do it a little ahead. "Potted" soufflés will hold for 30 min. or so, and can stand on a counter for that long when waiting to be put in an oven. If doing a dessert soufflé, I usually do it ahead of time and put it in the oven when the time will match my estimation of the time of completion of the meal.. If not sure about the time, wait to beat the egg whites, but the base can be made long ahead of time--even a day or so if refrigerated. And the egg-whites will hold a day or more if refrigerated (but, of course, not beaten.)

Posted by respeto at 10:38 AM

May 3, 2005

Tips on Garlic:

Garlic is a multi-purpose seasoning. Most people use it incorrectly, and in too large a quantity. Generally, the idea is to use enough to enhance and enrich the recipe without being able to recognize just what it is that makes it so good. Usually it is the “little-bit-o-garlic!”

Also, generally, one should take a clove (the whole “bunch” is, properly, a “fist” of garlic!) and crush it severely, then chop it fine, crushing it again once in a while, until it is, essentially, pureed. Doing it in a blender doesn’t quite cut it. Crushing is necessary. Have to do it by hand, and this is best done with a 6-8 inch chef’s knife. (More on knife technique elsewhere, later.)

Cracked/chopped garlic will give you a less sharp but not a mild result.

On the other hand, when you really want to taste the garlic, use more, or even lots more, if you like it “garlicky.” (Be sure to warn your guest/spouse to have some too, otherwise you might be sleeping in the street.)

On the third hand, there are times when you want to carefully peel it and simmer it whole for certain sauces (some will be included in the recipe section.)

And on the fourth hand, slow roasted, whole garlic is wonderfully mild and can be used as a spread. It imparts a whole different taste to roasts and stews when “popped in” whole. Experiment a little: Inserting uncrushed slivers of garlic into lamb or beef is another classic situation in which you essentially roast the garlic, and again it is quite mild rather than sharp.

On the fifth hand, if you add a whole fist of separated, unpeeled cloves to the pan with a roast you will have wonderfully mild garlic to serve with the roast. Works well with oven baked chicken, etc, as well.

Elephant garlic is usually more mild in the first place.

Store-bought, chopped or minced garlic is handy but a very poor substitute for fresh. If you use it at all, crush it.

Posted by respeto at 3:13 PM

Tips on Olive Oil:

Extra-virgin olive oil is a real treat, but you have to know that only the first pressing is really worth the money. One of the best for the money is Colavita. Of course there are better if you want to “pop” for the $$.

Like all other oils, don’t refrigerate it. Won’t go bad for months . . . or years!

But: if you are going to cook it at skillet temperatures you destroy the flavor altogether, so don’t waste your money. Olive oil is desirable for a lot of reasons (right kind of fat, higher smoking temperature, etc.), but skillet cooking with the expensive stuff is a total waste. If you want to enhance something, add a little E.V.O.O. after the cooking is done. For instance, if cooking a pasta dish, use just enough of the cheap stuff to keep it from sticking, and when you are thru, add the good stuff. But don’t cook it any more. Using it at roasting temperatures (350 degrees or less) is another story, but it doesn’t brown as well as a thin coat of butter.

If you want to prepare some really great E.V.O.O. as an accompaniment for bread served with the meal, purchase a bottle of good stuff (or, if you’re like me, use Colavita—it’s up to the job), uncap it, pull the pour spout, and add “a bunch” of seasonings: 2-3 cloves of garlic, quartered; ¼ tsp of several spices like tarragon, marjoram or the like, and a sprig of fresh (or 1/2 tsp dry) rosemary. Sliced, sun-dried tomatoes are good, too. Experiment . . . it’s fun, and a hell of a lot cheaper than buying prepared stuff at a gourmet store!

I have a special, clear bottle the size of a wine bottle. I add the stuff and pour in the E.V.O.O. That way you can enjoy it visually as well as its taste. When you do this, let it stand (at room temperature) for at least a couple of weeks, and tip it around to mix every day or so. You can “keep it going” by adding a little fresh oil each time you use it, and shake it up a little.

If you use a lot for one meal--or after some months--start another bottle, use up the first, and discard the “left-over” seasonings in the first bottle.

Not incidentally, as a side dish, pasta dressed with nothing but this oil is a treat. Great on microwaved veges, too.

Posted by respeto at 2:58 PM

April 19, 2005

Websites you should know about

www.soupbase.com - a great place to order, in household quantities, the numerous restaurant bases-not all, or even many are for soup, per se-- which make home cooking so much easier, more varied, and more interesting. Log on and find a treasure trove of products. For you purists (and I applaud you if you have time and energy to do it) you will not be as impressed as the other 99% of us who just want to do special meals with a minimum of effort. This is the place to purchase everything from clarified butter and ready to use sauces, to cooking bases you've never heard of, or even imagined.. They offer myriad suggestions from the manufacturers for their proper use to create unusual meals in a flash (relatively speaking.)

www.penzeys.com - another place to order, in household quantities, a vast array of herbs and spices, including the best curry powders which are available, unless you, yourself, make them up fresh. They vary your cuisine far more than you can envisage, from roast rubs to herbs and spices you're lucky to find at any super-mart or gourmet store . . . and at lower prices.

www.WarEagleMill.com - a third great place to order: authentic stone-ground whole grains, grits and some convenience mixes (mixes are a little pricey.) And a fun place to visit if you're ever in the North West corner of Arkansas.

Posted by respeto at 10:14 PM

Worthy substitutes

If you haven't discovered Land-o-Lakes fat free half-n-half (in the purple container at your store), look for it. It is all but identical to standard half-n-half, with none of the fat, and the calories of whole milk. It works very well as a substitute for cream, half-n-half etc. It doesn't whip, however. If you don't mind the loss of the richness of cream, in exchange for the calorie reduction, it's worth it. I use it all of the time. It's great in coffee and on cereal, as well.

Posted by respeto at 10:13 PM