Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Lack of Posts. And rice.

Sorry I haven't posted in the last week. A family member passed and my wife has gone off to New York to be with her parents, so I'm home with all the little ones. If anyone tells you that being a homemaker is easy, non-stressful work, kick them and call them a bald faced liar or a complete fool. Then kick them again.
The little ones are asleep, well, in bed, so I've had a bit of time in the kitchen and I'm trying to adapt the Millionaire's Shortbread recipe to be Gluten and Dairy Free. My original attempt at gluten free shortbread was mildly successful. I used dark buckwheat flour which has a very strong taste. I didn't care for it, but the two littlest, who are on the Glutenless diet, didn't seem to mind and ate it up. I've been making cornbread muffins this week also. I was planning to post a recipe, but my wife took the camera with her, so hopefully next week.

On a completely unrelated note, I mentioned that one of the best things I ever picked up on a business trip was my Fuzzy logic Rice Cooker. I was under the impression that they were only available off in the inscrutable East. I was wrong! You can get them on line. If you're a regular rice eater I can't recommend one of these enough. They aren't cheap. The smaller ones, 5 1/2 cups run around $150, but that's enough for 20 people easily. Guys, get these for your wives, sisters, mothers or even yourself. You won't regret it.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

It's Comic Book Time Again! It's Bone.

We had some old friends stay in our spare apartment for Shabbos a few months ago. They were in town for their nephews Bar Mitzvah. One of their kids brought along one of the volumes of Bone. Granted, it was in Hebrew, but he lent it to my kids to read over the weekend. Needless to say. It was commandeered by yours truly. I was hooked. I had come in somewhere in the middle of the story though, volume 4 of 9. So, I recently went back and picked up the first 3 and quickly worked through them. Wow. Compelling story and spectacular art by Jeff Smith. The tale revolves around three 'Bones', little white humanoids from Boneville who have been exiled across the great desert and how they meet up with the residents of The Valley. How the Lord of Locusts has co-opted the queen Dragon and the fight for the Dreaming world drive the story. There is also quiche. Lots of hot cheesy quiche. The character development is fluid, you even end up liking the selfish Phone Bone. It is at once funny, dramatic and tragic. There is no surprise that it has won dozens of awards as well being named one of Time Magazine's top 10 graphic novels ever. Do yourself a favor and pick up a copy of Bone, for your kids if not for yourself.

The bell rings, the dog drools. The Pavlova response.

I'm a big fan of cooking shows, especially competitive ones. Back in the day it was Iron Chef out of Japan and Ready, Steady, Cook from the UK. The genre has certainly expanded in the last few years with the advent of Top Chef in the US and MasterChef in the UK. Last year MasterChef opened a franchise in Australia as well. The format is very different than the UK version with major tryouts across the country for amateur chefs, the best of whom went on to compete in the season. For some of us it was a first time exposure to some Australian classics. One of those is Pavlova. What is Pavlova you ask? Well, it's a GIANT meringue, with a crisp outside and marshmallowy middle. It's traditionally served with whipped cream and berries. Well, about 6 months ago I gave it a go and it came out pretty well. The recipe calls for egg whites only, so I figured I'd make a custard to go along with it and settled on Creme Anglaise. Needless to say, big hit. Then one of my twins asked if she could make it the following week. And the week after. And the week after. So, what started out as a one time goof off in the kitchen for a special treat has turned into an almost weekly indulgence. This is a bit of a time consuming endeavor, so unless you have lots of time, or cheap teenage laborers you might want to push it off for a special occasion.

Ingredients: Pavlova
6 Egg whites
1 cup sugar powder
1 tsp vinegar
1/2 tbsp cornstarch

Creme Anglaise
6 egg yolks
2 cups light cream (we use vanilla soy milk, for that parve feeling)
2 tsp vanilla extract
1/3 cup sugar

Preheat your oven to 250F(130C).
You'll have to separate your eggs. This really isn't hard, but may take a bit of practice, do each egg over a bowl and only when you're sure there's no yolk in the white and only then put the white into a mixing bowl.

Get out your handy dandy electric mixer and get to whipping. You'll want to get it to the soft peak stage, where you lift the mixer out and it leaves a bit peak that holds for a few seconds and then melts just a bit.
At this point you want to start adding the sugar a big spoon at a time. Keep beating while you're adding the sugar.

We had some extra help.  Keep beating until you get very stiff peaks, that is to say when you lift the mixer the meringue holds the peak and doesn't move.

Then sprinkle the vinegar and cornstarch on top and fold in with a spatula. Then lay a piece of baking parchment on a baking tray and dump the meringue out onto it.

With a spoon or spatula shape it into a big round flat topped mountain.
Bang that puppy into the oven for about an hour and quarter. It should be crisp and firm on the outside. It'll start to crack as it cools down and you'll start seeing cracks form on the outside, this means it's still soft on the inside.  So, well done you!

While the Pavlova is baking away you can get to the Creme Anglaise.
We kind of cheat along the way, but that's fine, that's the hallmark of the good amateur home chef.
So, you have your egg yolks from the Pavlova.

Mix in the sugar, slowly, you don't want to beat it. Those are good yolks, they don't deserve it.
Separately heat up the cream and vanilla in a saucepan just to the boiling point. Remove from heat and slowly whisk it bit by bit into the egg and sugar mixture. Then pour the mixture back into the saucepan.

Gently heat the mixture and keep stirring. You don't want it to get too hot or you'll end up with with sweet vanilla scrambled eggs. You also need to keep stirring. If you have a Robostir you'll be good. The creme should be just steaming, but not boiling. You'll keep this up while the custard thickens. It's ready when you can dip a wooden spoon in it, hold it up and run your finger through the custard and the line remains.

Then it's done. Now is the part where we cheat. Unless you're a great natural cook and your custard comes out creamy smooth you'll probably have a few lumps. So, into the food processor. Give it a good blitz, this will also aerate it a bit adding a bit more body and make it smooth and creamy.

It'll still be warm, so you should put it in a bowl and into the fridge to cool down. Well, that's the hard part. A dollop or two of whipped cream on top of the Pavlova and sprinkle with fresh berries or kiwi slices and serve. Cut into slices like you would a cake, the inside should be soft and fluffy, dress with a  few spoons of the Creme Anglaise. Enjoy with close friends and family.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

You Brade Runnah? Yes, it's the Fried Rice episode

Yes, it was the quintessential Asian joke of the 80s. Can't say Rs or Ls correctly. I think Lethal Weapon 4 even made fun of people making fun of it. With all that, Fried Rice is pretty darn tasty. It's the kind of dish that can be as easy or as complex as you want. One thing it isn't is out of reach of the home cook. So, here you go. Easy, hearty fried rice.

2 Cups of cooked rice. (can be left overs, better cold)
One Chicken breast (both halves)
2 cloves garlic
1 inch fresh ginger root
1/3 cup of soy sauce
1/2 onion
1 cup chicken stock
2 eggs

Optional veggies:
4 celery stalks
1 carrot
1 cup mushrooms
2 red peppers

One of the best things I ever brought back from a work related trip abroad was the rice cooker I got in Tokyo, Japan. It can make WAAAY more rice than we'd ever need, up to 10 cups I think, which, considering we're 10 people and 2 cups is generally enough, is pretty massive. But it's set and forget, can keep it hot and fresh for a couple days and can be set on a timer. It also can make sticky sushi rice, whole grain rice and porridge with aplomb. It can also steam veggies for that matter. Excellent investment if you can find one. So, I cooked up my rice and while it was on I got to the chicken.
First of all, I made a marinate. Finely chop the garlic, ginger and onions and mix with the Soy Sauce.
Then take the chicken breast and cut it into chunks. This part you can play with. If you're more interested in a side dish, cut it into smaller pieces, maybe the size of the last digit of your pinkie. I was aiming for something a bit more hearty, so I used bigger chunks.
Then dump them all into the marinate, cover and set in the fridge for 30-40 minutes. Meanwhile you can prep your veggies. I put them as optional. Some people like more or less in their fried rice, again, depending if it's a side or a main. If it's a side, some julienne of carrots (that's cutting 'em into matchsticks) and maybe some red or green peppers should be sufficient. I used celery, peppers, carrots and mushrooms and another clove of garlic, rough cut. 
Get your handy dandy wok out, add a bit of oil and get it nice and hot. Drop the garlic in first, stir a minute, then add the other vegetables, cook for a couple minutes between adding each one. Celery, peppers, carrots and then mushrooms last. Take a big splash of the marinate from the chicken, and stirring add it into the wok and cook for another couple minutes.

When that's done, dump it all into another bowl and now it's time to do the chicken. Don't wash out the wok, just add another splash of oil and put the chicken in, a bit at a time. I think I put in about 1/6th at a time, cook for about 3 minutes then the next bit until it's all done. This is probably the longest step, since you want the chicken to be well cooked. Add a bit of marinate to make sure it stays moist and try to scoop out as much of the onion, garlic and ginger as possible to get that cooked with the meat. When it's done, take it out of the wok and set aside. Now comes the secret to fried rice. The egg. Take your two eggs and beat them. I know, they don't deserve it, but think of it as if they were the out going Press Secretary. Anyway, get your rice ready and drop the beaten egg into the hot wok and stir, like you're making scrambled eggs. When it's about 2/3 of the way done, dump in the rice and start stirring and mixing the rice and eggs. You'll want the stock handy since the rice might start sticking, a bit of liquid keeps it from clumping on the sides. 

When it's well mixed, maybe two minutes, start adding the chicken and vegetables. Keep stirring until you get a nice brown color on the rice and it's well mixed. You will probably have to add more stock while doing this. 

That's really about it. Put it all into a big bowl. Serve hot. These amounts should probably make enough to serve 8-10 people. I'd say about an hour and fifteen minutes not including the time the rice takes to cook and chicken to marinate.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Sweet sweet murder

Back to the bookshelf! I just finished The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie. And wow. What a great book. I make no bones about being a big mystery fan. I'll be happy to read any detective novel you toss at me. From Doyle to Baldacci and everyone in between. Love 'em. I also like to look out for books my kids might enjoy. For the most part they prefer their Fantasy novels, Robert Jordan, Tolkien, C.S. Lewis and the like, but they're occasionally open to other options. Luckily I ran into a couple books by Alan Bradley and they piqued my interest. The stories revolve around one Flavia de Luce, an 11 year old English girl and are based in 1950. She's quite precocious but plagued with two older sisters with whom she does daily battle of pranks and verbal sparring. Miss de Luce is also an aspiring Chemist and the book is littered with her pontificating on different chemical formulas and reactions, in great detail. While this may sound off putting, it really is fascinating, but I've always been a science nerd. The vocabulary is also extremely wide ranging with a great deal of classical allusions and quotes from great literature, some of the rarer words and phrases are explained on the spot.
The first book tells the story of a dead body in their cucumber patch and the search for a rare invaluable stamp. It's twisting and turning, the final reveal is somewhat clear, but as it's aimed at a younger audience I didn't have a problem with it. There is quite a bit of pathos and loads of humor. I give it 5 and half out of 6 Amelia Peabodys.
And yes. There is a pie involved. No, the recipe, is thankfully not included.
More about Miss de Luce and the series at her website.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Kettle Corn for your movie viewing pleasure

First of all, this isn't my recipe. I got it from Sara from Average Betty. It's one of the best cooking blogs out there with tasty recipes that anyone can make from her excellent directions. Go check it out and visit often. Here's her Kettle Popcorn recipe, make sure you watch the video too.

1/2 Cup popping corn
1/4 Cup sugar
2 Tbsp. Vanilla Sugar
1/3 cup vegetable oil

It's actually pretty easy. If you make pop corn in a pot, you can make this. For some added value I'll put in my extra special tips for storing popcorn kernels. 

Put the oil in the pot and start heating it up. 
Add the corn and sugar. I like to add in some vanilla sugar which gives the whole house a wonderful smell and a nice subtle flavor to the popcorn. 
Mix it all up over high heat until it pops.
It takes about 10 minutes by us to get it all popped.
You should be shaking and moving the pot the whole time so it all pops evenly and the sugar melts and spreads over everything. When there's more than a second or two between pops you know it's all done. Dump it out into a bowl and salt to taste. Hide from family members and enjoy your cheesy sci-fi flicks.

Tips for making sure your popcorn kernels stay poppy. 
1. Store in an air tight container.
2. Put a bit of water in with the kernels to keep them moist.
3. Keep it in the refrigerator
See, the whole reason popcorn pops, as we learned in 3rd grade is that there is a bit of water in them that boils and then all the starch expands. These three easy steps make sure that it doesn't dry out and when it comes time to cook them, they pop quickly and evenly.
Happy noshing!