26 February 2009

Oh Boy! It's NOT Oberto

Every so often, a friend will gift me with Venison Jerky (home smoked), Salami, Pepperoni, and of course the much coveted and incredible Elk Steaks. (The tenderloin is to die for, especially served with hand picked Morels, sautéed in olive oil). Another friend, makes beef jerky regularly, in his little dehydrator at home. He was my inspiration to try it myself, and recently, I have been experimenting with my own recipes.

This is a delicious and healthy treat. It's also incredibly easy to make, far more affordable than purchased jerky, and it gives you complete control over what you put on it. Personally, I can't eat jerky unless it is all natural. The nitrates, high levels of sodium, and sugar that packaged jerky contains, makes it unpalatable to me.

Jerky can be made with many different cuts and many different types of meat. For example, I enjoy pork jerky, using whole loin, and marinated in a Chili Ginger Honey Sauce. Some like the lean benefit of turkey or chicken. I prefer my jerky a little "gamey" and use mostly beef with little or even no marinade. Elk and Deer, if I can get it, is by far my favourite.

For jerky, it is crucial that you choose the leanest cuts. Fat will become rancid very quickly. With that in mind, any one you choose will work. I use a London Broil or other Top Sirloin and remove all fat prior to marinating. It takes around 3 lbs of meat to make 1 lb of jerky.

Freezing the meat for 30 minutes before slicing will help you cut it thin. Now, slice meat 1/8" to 1/4" thick against the grain. If you are marinating, place in an air proof container and refrigerate for 4 to 8 hours. Remember, the point is to dry the meat so, if you marinate, it is important to know that it will increase the drying time.

The oven method is what I use, as I don't own a dehydrator. Setting your oven to its lowest temperature and leaving the door slightly ajar, is a great substitute. Even if you are an apartment dweller, you can make your own jerky. Most ovens have a low temperature of 170 Degrees F. Anything from 150 to 180 is fine. Obviously, the higher the temperature, the less time it takes. There is no set method here. At 170, it takes me 6 to 8 hours depending on the type of meat and the cut. Be sure to turn meat over after about 3 or 4 hours to ensure even drying. Additionally, it is important to be mindful of the second half of the drying time. You don't want to over do it. You'll end up with meat crackers.

You will need 1 or 2 baking sheets, rimmed. I recommend covering with foil. If you have cooling racks, place them on sheets. If not, remember to turn meat over during the drying process, as previously stated.

Some ideas:

Sweet Hot Beef Jerky

3 lbs London Broil, Top sirloin, or cut of choice
1/2 cup Worcestershire Sauce (organic uses far better ingredients. If you're using non-organic, you're getting all the bad stuff in packaged jerky)
1/2 cup Soy Sauce (or Teriyaki, omit brown sugar below)
3 cloves garlic, minced
T. red pepper flakes
T. brown sugar
sea salt to taste
liquid smoke (optional. Personally, I don't like it)

Slice and marinate beef. sprinkle with salt and dry in oven.

Peppered Beef Jerky

sea salt
black or red (or both) pepper

Slice and sprinkle with salt and pepper(s) and dry in oven.

Pig Jerky

3 lbs Whole Pork Loin
1/2 cup cider vinegar
juice of 1 lime
juice of 1 lemon
2 T. honey
1 T. raw sugar
1" by 1" piece ginger, minced
1/2 red bell pepper
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 T. red pepper flakes
sea salt

Slice pork. Process all other ingredients and marinate.

Lay out the strips and start getting excited.

16 February 2009

Homemade Soy Cheese

As a follow up to my last post, and in the interest of some of my readers, I have decided to add a method I use to make Soy cheese.  

I'm not much for substituting Gluten for meat, or other "fake" substitutes. Morning Star Bacon? Give me a break.  Some things however, I do like, such as Tofu, Garden Burgers (with Bacon) and Bocca Burger, which I like soft, un-fried, and is excellent with Hummus, avocado, and sprouts.  The point here, is that if you don't eat meat, why try to emulate it? Which brings us to Soy cheese. Like Tofu, it may be used as a substitute, but it is not pretending to be anything other than what it is.  And like the Garden Burger, it is not a cheap copy and it is delicious in its own right.

Evidence of the production of Soy cheese dates back as far as 25- 220 AD in the Henan Province in Northern China.  Dairy was not considered fit for human consumption, and didn't really appear in the Chinese diet until early in the 20th Century, fabled to be encouraged by an entrepreneur, whom wanted to import Paneer from India.  

So, I say, eat Soy cheese.  It is delicious, easy to make, and won't make you feel like a poseur. 

The following method is adaptable to your liking.  You can add/omit as you desire.  If you want something likened to Pepper Jack for example, add jalepeños...

Soy Cheese -adapted from the Zen Soy Cheese Recipe

You will need:

Filtered or Artesian  water.  (Tap water contains contaminants such as Iron, minerals, and the ever controversial Flouride, which can taint the colour and have a sour effect on the flavour).
3 (15 oz) packages firm or extra firm tofu
2.25 fluid oz soy powder
1 1/3 T. Grapeseed Oil (or any vegetable oil. I have used canola, olive...)
sea salt, to taste
3.4 fluid oz tamari
2.8 fluid oz apple cider vinegar
2.8 fluid oz raw tahini
2.8 fluid oz honey or agave nectar 

Drain tofu and cut blocks into thirds.  Bring water to a boil and boil tofu for 10 minutes. Meanwhile, whisk all other ingredients together until smooth and all lumps have vanished. Drain tofu in a mesh colander, or a cheese cloth or cotton lined colander, for about ten minutes, gently pressing out any excess moisture. Transfer tofu to a large bowl and mash well until it has the consistency of cottage cheese.  Be sure not to leave any large lumps, nor to mash it too fine. Add the other ingredients and stir to combine.  Pour into a container and refrigerate for at least 8 hours.  Use as you like.

If you make this, let me know what you think.  I've often enjoyed this as a mid-day meal by itself, or the following, is a favourite lunch of mine:

Sprouted Wheat Bread
Soy Cheese (I often add caraway to the above recipe)
Beat Kraut (Pickled Planet, or homemade)
Brown Mustard (also homemade)

Makes a delicious, nutritious sandwich. 

09 February 2009

Fresh Homemade Ricotta

Any time you make a lactic acid/rennet separated cheese, the left over whey can be used to make Ricotta, which is Italian for "twice cooked" or "to cook again." It is a cheese traditionally made from sheep's or cow's milk, which lends to it's softness. It is an unripened cheese and can be eaten immediately. 

A great thing to try, would be to make fresh Mozzarella and then use the left over whey to make fresh Ricotta, and then use the left over whey again in a bread recipe, using Ricotta or Mozzarella....   Hmm.

Another way it can be made, is to simply curdle fresh milk. It's cheaper than buying it in a tub, a breeze to do, it's quick, and even a great way to get the kids involved with cooking as well. There is a weird little giddy feeling that happens to me each time I make it.  

All you need is:

1/2 gallon of whole milk, minimally processed (fresh and organic is of course preferred)
1 to 1 1/2 t. ground Kosher salt, or to taste
3 T. fresh lemon juice 

Bring milk and salt to a simmer in a large pot. Do not boil or it will foam up. Add lemon juice and stir. Allow to simmer until curds form, around 2 to 4 minutes. Transfer curds to a mesh colander, or a cheese cloth or cotton lined colander, and allow to cool at room temperature. Cover and chill. This will keep in the fridge for a few days. You should have about 2 cups.

You can use this cheese in any way you would typically use Ricotta. I like to drizzle it with honey and serve with crackers.

The whey from this method can not be used again to make cheese, as the acid precipitated process removes all of the albumin proteins from the milk.  

You can however, use it as a soup stock, to cook pasta or beans in, mix in bread recipes, water your roses (or any other acid loving plant), feed your chickens, add to falafel mix, use to make sopas or tortillas, cook oatmeal, and many other things. The point is, it is packed with water soluble proteins, minerals, and vitamins.  Please, do not just waste it. I have even frozen it, and plan on experimenting with it as a bisque base soon. We'll see how that goes.  

Here's something to try that I made this weekend.

Fresh Ricotta Fusilli

1 lb Fusilli or other small pasta (I used Bionature's Whole Wheat Durum)
2 T olive oil
3 cloves of garlic
nice pinch of red pepper flakes 
sea salt, to taste
fresh Ricotta cheese
1/2 gallon whey
Make the cheese earlier in the day and reserve the whey in pot, covered.
Bring whey to a brisk boil and add Fusilli. I always salt my water but I didn't feel it was necessary with whey. Meanwhile, warm olive oil in a pan and add garlic and red pepper and sauté for a minute. When pasta is drained, toss with oil and garlic mixture and sea salt. Top with Ricotta and enjoy. Serves 4 to 6.

08 February 2009

French Onion Soup

Lately, I have been contemplating French Onion Soup. This is not a dish I consider lightly. I have tried every worthy seeming recipe I can find, played with many styles (including vegetarian), and have decided that frankly, the classic version as interpreted by me, is hands down the best and only way. That sound pompous, to be sure, so try it.

I first fell in love with French Onion Soup back in the late 80's. There is this little French Bistro here called Cafe Du Berry. I used to go there for lunch when I worked at OPB across the street. I loved their French Onion Soup. I haven't been there in 20 years and I've often thought of going back. I think instead, I wish to keep the memory (that showed itself to be the seminal moment in soup appreciation for me), unchanged.

The most important elements in this soup are beef stock and yellow onions.  These are the two ingredients in which there can be no deviation. When you do, the soup is significantly inferior.

Now, there are two approaches to this soup. One is to use purchased broth. I will entertain this, as I use it when I have the craving, and making my own doesn't fit the time schedule. The other, is to make your own stock. This is my preferred method, as I enjoy extracting flavour from the morrow of the bones. However, with a little doctoring, purchased broth can be excellent too.

Here are the recipes for the stock:

2 quarts beef broth (Pacific is good)
2 cups water
4 sprigs of fresh thyme
2 bay leaves
1 T. beef base (recommend Superior Touch)

Next, the homemade variety. Remember, you should make this in advance, portion and freeze. That way, you almost always have it on hand. Makes 1/2 gallon to 3/4 gallon.

7 to 8 lbs. beef bones (shank, short ribs, oxtail)
2 onions, quartered, skins on
2 stalks celery, chopped coarse
2 carrots, chopped coarse
several whole peppercorns
6 cloves garlic, halved, skins on
4 bay leaves
small handful fresh thyme sprigs
1 1/2 gallons water
sea salt

Note: You may still want to add the concentrated beef base in this version as well. It depends on how meaty your stock turns out. My most recent batch needed a little kick in this way. I served it first without and was not the only one disappointed. This stock needs to be rich and beefy.

Preheat oven to 400 Degrees F. Roast bones for 1 hour. Add vegetables and roast 30 minutes additional. Pour off any excess fat. Transfer to a large stock pot. Add seasonings, herbs, water, and salt to taste. Bring to a boil, and immediately reduce heat and simmer for about 4 hours, occasionally skimming fat. Be careful to ensure that you do not continue to boil, or you will lose too much volume and "burn" the flavour. Strain, discarding the solids. Allow to cool at room temperature, uncovered. Cover, and refrigerate over night. Remove any fat that has separated on top, portion and store the extra broth for another time and use.

For the soup (serves 4 to 6)

4 T. unsalted butter
5 lbs yellow onions, sliced 1/8" thick
2 1/2 quarts of homemade stock or purchased recipe
1 cup dry white wine
2 T. cognac (you may substitute with brandy or sherry if necessary)
sea salt
1 clove garlic, peeled and halved
olive oil
good Artisan bread (a French Batard or Como style is great)
cave aged gruyere cheese, shredded (about 1/2 cup per serving)

Using 2 large Dutch Ovens or Sauté pans, divide butter and melt. Add onions between two pans and cover, cooking slowly until translucent, 10 to 15 minutes. Remove lids, add about 1/4 tsp sea salt to each and brown, stirring frequently until dark, 45 minutes to 1 hour. I do not recommend the oven method of browning onions. I find the flavour is not as nuanced. 

Meanwhile, in a large pot bring stock to a simmer until reduced to 2 quarts, about 45 minutes. If using purchased recipe, strain and return broth to pan. Add wine and cognac and continue simmering 45 minutes. Add onions and simmer 20 minutes longer.

During the time the onions are simmering in the broth, place bread slices, brushed with olive oil on a rack and bake in an oven preheated to 400 degrees F for 15 minutes, turning over 1/2 way. Rub with garlic clove.

Lay bread over soup in oven safe bowls and add cheese.  Place bowls on a sheet pan and broil in upper third of oven until cheese is beginning to brown and serve immediately.

Try this with a Pinot Gris or, for something a little more exciting and playful, I like it with champagne.

Recently, I served this for some friends with a Domaine De Martinolles-Blanquette De Limoux, Le Berceau. This Brut is an excellent value and I found it particularly delicious when paired in contrast to the umami of the soup. 

01 February 2009

How To Stay Sharp In The Kitchen

The most important tools in the kitchen, in my opinion, are one's knives. Therefore, it is crucial to take proper care of them. If you don't, everything from the flavour of your food, to your annual expenses will suffer for it. 

If you believe in gimmicky blades, with lifetime guarantees of sharpness, serrated edges, and paper thin shafts with plastic handles, you need not read any further...

In many cultures, the first thing a Swordsman is required to do, upon the completion of his training, is to forge his own sword, or to select one deemed appropriate for his individual style. Without this ability, he would not be worthy of the title. This is sensible for the obvious reason that one should know, fundamentally, the tools of their trade, or art if you will.

My understanding of this principle is rooted in the brief time in which I fancied myself a Macrobiotic. I, like many, was a vegetarian at this time and mistakenly believed that this was a prerequisite to being Macrobiotic. This, I later discovered was untrue, and began the task of understanding Macrobiotics more fully. I was also interested in The Way of The Samurai. In Bushido, all organisms are regarded as equal to the Samurai. This lends one to a new level of respect. Remember, your food is a cellular compound, as are you. A dull knife will cause pain, whereas with a sharp blade, there may be a lot of blood, yet there will be no pain. Using a sharp knife will leave more cells intact, thus improving the quality of flavour, as well as aesthetic. 

I've personally never made a knife, but I have carefully selected the ones I own, and have taught myself to sharpen and hone them.

I began my knife collection one at a time. I was young, and forking out over a $100.00 per knife was not an option for me at all, though I managed to do it. It took a few years. I still have each one of them, eight in all. This collection accommodates all of my needs. The number of knives, as well as the types one chooses, is a personal decision that should be made in as informed a way as possible. I started safe with a 6" Chef's knife. This gave me the most versatility, as it was large enough for most things while small enough to almost substitute for a paring knife. I used it exclusively for 4 or 5 years before I purchased my second knife, a 10" version. Then came the 10" bread knife, the paring knives, the tomato knife, and the 4"Chef's. Then, a second 10". Sometimes, I need two.

A good quality knife will typically come with a lifetime guarantee. It can also last a lifetime if it is properly cared for. Once I dropped one of my 10" blades. It hit the Terra Cotta tiled floor tip first and broke off about a 1/4" of the point. I took it back, (2 or 3 years after purchasing), and it was replaced. So, initially investing in a good knife will even save you money in the long run. 

To best keep your blades in the optimal condition in which they came, they must be honed regularly and sharpened 2 or 3 times a year. If you are spending a lot of time using them, you should have a honing steel. I have a wonderful antique Dickeron steel from Germany. It was a gift to me years ago and I absolutely treasure it. 

Honing realigns the metal of the existing edge, returning folds and burrs to the blade angle in which it was cut. Sharpening actually creates a new edge by removing the damaged metal. I hone my knives nearly daily. I sharpen them with a dry stone in three stages from coarse to fine, changing the angle from wide to narrow with each step. Never oil your stones. The metal gets trapped in the oil and damages your edge. Once a year, I have my knives professionally sharpened. Perhaps if I had more time, I could avoid this expense, but I am not a professional knife sharpener. This skill is one I respect and ultimately put my trust in those whom have made it their craft.

It is also important to be mindful of the type of surface you use with your blades. Wood is best. Never, and I mean never use plastic. It will destroy your knife. It is a myth that plastic is more sanitary as well. Nothing is wrong with wood if you keep it oiled and wash it with soap after each use. Besides, the chemicals in plastic boards do transfer to your food affecting the healthiness and taste. I use a large Mahogany board and oil it with a combination of refined seed oil, lemon oil, vitamin E, and carotene. I use this on all of my wooden utensils as well. 

Now, go give your knives some love.