Last Night’s Dinner, And Why I Hate Supermarket Butchers

10 11 2008

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Psst… Hey guess what? It’s root vegetable season! *Glee!* Fall has officially worked it’s way inside me, folks and it’s delicious! I finally got around to cleaning my kitchen and in celebration, I decided that it was befitting of me to destroy it all over again. It had been so long since I last cooked something more complicated than an egg and cheese sandwich that I almost forgot how much I simply love to cook. Really. That long. Well fret not, for I have seen the error of my ways and am now resolving to keep the battleground clean and cook at least one honest-to-goodness meal every week. For serious.

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So let me tell you all about last night’s dinner. Remember how I’ve been spewing forth my love of all things autumn for the last, oh, four months? Well I finally got around to eating my season. With a cart full of turnips, butternut squash, parsnips, potatoes, pumpkin and celeriac, so began my journey. Down dried mushroom land, forward to expensive cheese land and with a quick pit stop to cut-up dead things land we were on our way to flavor country. Not before playing my favorite supermarket game though. It’s “Stump The Poor Checkout Lady” time! WEEEEEOOOO! It may make me sound like a horrible person, but one of my favorite parts of grocery shopping is getting to the checkout and enjoying the look of confusion and “what the fuck are you making, lady?” gazes that I get every time I try to buy my vegetables. Am I the only person in this town who eats this shit? Were I a more self-conscious person, I might start to develop a complex… The poor woman only got a 2/6; apparently parsnips and celery root aren’t excessively consumed in our fair city. Such is life, I suppose. So with my cart full of knobbly root vegetables and my soul satisfied with food-snobbery, I bid farewell to the supermarket and ran right home to begin The Chopping.

I’ve always really enjoyed doing vegetable cuts. It’s strange to most people and that I understand, but maybe it’s related to my love of garde-manger. Also, butchery. I hope it doesn’t sound to macabre, but I really do love butchery. I think I can chalk that one up to the little autistic kid inside of me that loves breaking things down into their proper parts and arranging them according to size and usage. Speaking of butchery, if there’s one thing I can’t stand it’s supermarket butchers. Really. If you’ve been properly trained your job really isn’t too hard. Break down the meat, follow the bones, clean the silver skin and cartilage off, package and label. Breaking down a chicken is one of the easiest things to accomplish in butchery, so why did the chicken parts I bought come with a spine? Hmmm? When I see “skin on, bone in” on a pack of chicken breasts, it damn well better come with a part of a wing bone and ZERO spine. Zero. Spine. Do your job, it’s not hard. Anyways…

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So I’ve been anxious to try this for a while. Laying awake one night in the clutches of insomnia, I came up with a stuffed chicken idea. Turns out that I do all of my best thinking while I’m only half awake. Who’d have thought, huh? So was born the notion of wild mushroom stuffed chicken with bacon and gruyere. You heard me. Paired with a braise of my beloved fall underground dwellers it was the best part of a Sunday evening. Oh, you want to know how to make this do you? Well I suppose, but don’t say I didn’t warn you about the “WFT?” looks you’ll get at the grocery store and the “OMG!” feeling you’ll get in your stomach when it’s all said and done.

Wild Mushroom Chicken and Braise of Fall Vegetables

For the chicken

2 bone in, skin on breasts of chicken
1 clove garlic, fine dice
2 shallots, fine dice
2 tbsp cooked bacon, diced*
1/4 cup dried mixed wild mushrooms**
1 cup chicken stock
1/2 cup grated gruyere cheese
2 tbsp olive oil, divided
2 tbsp butter, divided
1 tbsp herbs de provence
salt and pepper to taste

*do not use pre-packaged cooked bacon please. Just cook one strip and cut it up, mkay?
**you can buy mixed dried mushrooms. If your store doesn’t carry them, an even combination of porcini, portabello, oyster and shitake mushrooms will work.

For the vegetables

2 cups each of:
celeriac
parsnips
butternut squash
pumpkin
waxy white potatoes
turnips, all cut into one inch cubes
5 cloves garlic, smashed
6 tbsp olive oil
1.5 cups chicken stock
pinch of cloves
pinch of cinnamon
pinch of nutmeg
salt and pepper to taste

Start with your vegetables. Skin and chop your ingredients for the braise. Over medium heat, sautee vegetables until they begin to color. You will have to do this in sections and remember to not overcrowd your frying pan; use 1.5 tbsp oil per each batch or thereabouts. Transfer vegetables to your roasting pan. Deglaze frying pan with the chicken stock and simmer about 5 minutes. Stir in your spices and pour brazing liquid over vegetables. Put in a 300 degree oven and cook for approximately 2 hours, stirring occasionally. Use a wooden spoon to stir, or a rubber spatula so you don’t turn your lovely cubes of vegetables into lovely baby food. Eat with your eyes.
You will know when your vegetables are done when there’s no more liquid in the pan and they are firm but tender when pierced with a knife, or pleasant to the bite.

While your vegetables cook, start the stuffing for your chicken. Over medium heat in a small saucepan, sweat shallots and garlic in 1 tbsp each butter and olive oil until soft. Deglaze with stock and bring to a slight boil. Add your mushrooms and herbs and simmer for about 20 minutes or until mushrooms have re hydrated. Strain the liquid and reserve. Mix bacon in with mushroom mixture, set aside.
To clean your chicken: hopefully your butcher isn’t an idiot, or maybe you bought a whole chicken to carve yourself, but clean the breast off of the bone, leaving the skin intact and up to the first joint of the wing bone if you were so lucky as to get one. I wasn’t and for this I am sad. Remove the tender from the back of the breast and set aside. Make a cut down the middle of the back of the breast that goes about half way in. From this cut, cut into each side to make a pocket in which to stuff your stuffing. If you’ve made chicken kiev or cordon bleu before then it’s exactly like that. Stuff the breasts with your mushroom and bacon mixture and grated cheese. Place your reserved tender over the pocket and using any loose skin or meat, close the pocket so that you can not see the filling. It’s tricky but can be done, I promise. Heat remaining oil and butter in a pan over medium high heat and brown chicken breasts, starting with the skin side. It helps to hold them closed with tongs sometimes so that you don’t lose your cheese when the meat starts to expand and shrink the skin. Once all sides are browned, place in a 350 oven and cook until done.
Deglaze your chicken fry pan with the reserved mushroom liquid and reduce until thick. Add more stock if you need to, or white wine if you have any. I didn’t have any but wish I had. No bigs.

Serve chicken on a bed of your lovely vegetable braise and a drizzling of reduction sauce. Eat this in your pajamas while watching Sunday night cartoons with a big mug of chai tea. Or whatever else makes you feel all warm and fuzzy inside.

Current earmeats: Parkway Drive, and I Killed The Prom Queen. It’s been a week of hardcore for me.

Happy Monday!

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Why Yes, I Am Alive.

3 11 2008

We appreciate your concern. I’ve pretty much been out of town for the last two weeks so it goes without saying that I’m a little lacking in the food-making department. In lieu of actually making anything at home, I’m going to throw out some pictures of what I’ve been doing in class over the last two weeks because it’s pretty much all I’ve done.

So there. I’ve baked. I came, I saw, I decorated.

I’ll be finally getting around to cleaning my kitchen this week (rejoice!) so I’ll soon have fun and exciting things to report on. I’m planning a few things that I can’t wait to try out and when I do, you will all be the firsts to hear about it. Promise.

Currently listening to: 36 Crazy Fists. Research this pronto; your hardcore soul depends upon it.

Also: planning new apartment decor but need funds for said. Going to scour antique stores in Toronto for more medical antiques and militaria. If anyone knows where I can find an early 1900s leather and metal prosthetic arm, hook a sista up. WANT.





Thanksgiving Comes Early In Canada, and Late On My Site.

17 10 2008

Yep, there I go apologizing again. I should really just stop promising anything and then everyone would be happier, no? Well, sigh a sigh and let’s do carry on, shall we?

T.G.I.Fall, everyone. I was beginning to drown in ennui with the summer so much so that it was only a matter of time before I got so restless that spray-painting the leaves with fall colors was starting to sound like a good idea. Fall is my favorite time of year, by far. Take all of your long summer nights, your days at the beach, your ice cream and snow cones, you can have them! Give me a crisp autumn day with the crunch of dead leaves at my feet, a big scarf and some fingerless mittens, a braise of squashes and root vegetables and you’ll have one mighty happy lil’ tattooed girl.

What I love most about fall, like any true fan of food, is, well, the food. I wait impatiently for half a year every year to taste the fruits of of the fall, and as a large fan of vegetables and pastries, this is a most painful wait. So when I’m asked to create something with one of these most tasty fall fares, I am agog with excitement. This thanksgiving, I was charged with the duty of The Pie. Squee! And how I do love to make pumpkin pie, let me tell you. We had made a few in class the week before(oh, did I forget to mention that I’m now studying to become a pastry chef? We are much happier now that chef training is done, folks. Much. Happier.) but I didn’t like the recipe, and that’s fine, but I chose not to document it. I like my pies a certain way: rich and boozy, and the pies that we made at school just weren’t up to my standards. But I digress.

I think I’ve yammered on enough for now about pretty much nothing, so I’ll just get to it and give you the recipe for MY pumpkin pie, and in my very biased opinion, the better one. Ahem.

Bunny’s Boozy Pumpkin Pie
Serves 8 comfortably, 12 gingerly.

2 cups of pure pumpkin puree
3/4 cup dark brown sugar
3 eggs
3 tbsp fancy molasses
1 tbsp cinnamon, or more. It won’t kill you.*
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1/3 tsp cloves
1/3 tsp ginger
3 tbsp(one airplane bottle) orange liquer
1 cup 35% cream

One pie crust shell, uncooked.

*that I’m aware of…

Whisk together pumpkin, brown sugar and molasses. Whisk in the eggs one at a time. Add spices and liquer. Whisk in cream. Pour into your pie shell and cook at 400 degrees for ten minutes, then drop down to 350 for 20-30 minutes, or until the middle of the pie just barely jiggles when you move it, and the crust is golden brown.

Serve with spiced sweet whipped cream, if you bought more than was recommended. Buy the 500 ml carton, it’s better with whipped cream. Honest. Whip one cup of cream with 1/2 cup or less confectioner’s sugar(to your taste) and spice with cinnamon to taste. Tah dah!

In other news: I have fallen ill! NOOOO! It’s true, I’m afraid, I have become victim to The Sick and am taking it like a wimp. Also: my kitchen never ceases to be dirty though I haven’t been cooking very much in my own home. Strange. Will investigate this further.

Earmeats: Rancid, and the general chatter of coffee shop patrons.





Banana Caramel Sauce

29 09 2008

It occurs to me that if I am to remain sans internet, I will spend every week apologizing to you all from my connection at school. This shall not stand! As of sometime this week(fingers crossed), I will officially become a slave to Big Internet, suck it up and buy some. As I live and breathe, my mission in life was to get by without having to pay for it, be it by loitering in coffee shops, at school, or wherever there was a “Free WiFi” sign, but no more. I heave a sigh of defeat.

On a sweeter note, I am pleased to present you with a recipe for banana caramel sauce. I made this at my father’s on the same weekend in which I made the butter tarts of yore, but this recipe got swept aside in lieu of the wedding cake post. Here I go apologizing again. Without further preamble, do let’s begin.

Banana Caramel Sauce
Adapted from MarthaStewart.com

1/2 cup sugar
2 tbsp butter
1/4 cup cream
1 banana, sliced

Melt sugar in a saucepan over medium heat with one tablespoon of water. Brush down sides of pot as needed with water. When sugar is a light amber color, stir in butter. Once incorporated, stir in cream off of the heat. Mixture will bubble up a bit, but be not afraid, this is normal. When you have a beautiful, creamy caramel sauce, stir in bananas until sauce coats them. Serve over ice cream, cake, whatever.

In other news: math class continues to be a patronizing waste of 3000$. Awesome.

Currently feasting my ears on: Every Time I Die in one ear and my math teacher in the other, though my heart really isn’t concerned with the latter.





Who’s Afraid of the Big White Cake?

15 09 2008

Not me. Oh no, not I. The wedding cake is finished, folks. Done. Over. Gone. 50 lbs of batter, 30 lbs of icing, 20 lbs of marshmallow fondant, and a 20kg bag of icing sugar that I’m sure will last me the rest of my life all went into the construction of this most glorious of cakes. I’m so high on my own sense of accomplishment right now, you have no idea. If you see me walking around for the next week with dazed eyes and a silly little grin on my face, I assure you it’s not love, it’s my ego.

This is my big bowl of batter. It’s a double recipe, and it fills one, I repeat, ONE 16″ base layer cake pan. One. Singular. You have no idea how many times I had to make this recipe in one day. Not having an industrial-sized kitchen is really starting to take it’s toll on me. My oven does not support the baking of two pans at the same time, so I had to do these individually, each layer, washing the pans in between, as well as mixing the bowls of batter PER PAN, washing in between, and so on. I did every layer on one Saturday and boy howdy was I ever one sore kitten. My 20-year-old hand mixer decided to finally mutiny on me, so I had to mix the entire(ENTIRE) cake by hand. Let me just say that one more time for the people in the back row: I mixed a four-tier, two layer wedding cake completely BY HAND. That’s right.

I am so thankful that that particular Saturday was cold outside. After running my oven all day at 350 degrees without reprise, if it had been a summer wedding, I might have had to charge them an extra 50 bucks just for having to suffer in the heat. But it wasn’t, so it’s all good.

Have you ever had your entire freezer occupied with eight layers worth of cake? Let me just say, it’s both awesome and horrible. Awesome in that how many times in your life are you allowed to pack your entire freezer with dessert?; and horrible because unless you have a second freezer, have fun storing the rest of your food for a week. As someone who often cooks a big stew pot worth of chili or bolognese sauce or curry and then freezes it to eat throughout the week, this was a particular pain in my proverbial ass. I am admittedly lazy, and having to make something fresh every day in a chaotic kitchen was just far more than I was able to handle. Let me just say that I ate a lot of cereal.

I’m sorry but I am missing a lot of pictures from the making of this cake. I really wanted to document the whole thing and was even toying with the idea of a little animation, but the week that I needed to start the cake I started pastry school. Waking up at 6am every day and being on your feet until ten at night doesn’t really make you want to do any more work than is absolutely necessary. What you’re missing is a huge bowl full of vanilla buttercream icing, three 7lb bricks of marshmallow fondant, four tiers of iced, stacked and fondant covered vanilla cake, and a whole countertop’s worth of black and pink decorations. It all came together as such:

Now, I’ve got to admit that the whole procedure up until the actual day of the wedding was relatively stress-free for me. I had zero freakouts, not once did I question whether or not I was ready for such an endeavor, and never even broke down crying even once. Which is a lot more than I can say about some of the smaller, less important cakes I’ve made. On the day of the wedding, I woke up early. I had to roll out the black dots so they could be glued on at the wedding and I’m really glad I gave myself the extra time because I ran out of black fondant and had to tint a new batch. I’m so happy that I chose not to sleep in that extra hour. I was a little late getting to the hotel, spent 15 minutes fighting with a vending machine, and then ran downstairs to finish the cake. I had to glue on the base ribbons, polka dots and pink bows at the venue, as well as dowel and stack the thing. I seriously finished gluing on the last bow just as people were entering for the wedding, and had about four minutes to clean up the bar I was working on, change into my fancy-girl clothes, and rush into the wedding about two minutes before the ceremony started. Who’s a rock star? Hmm?

I really had a whole different post in mind when I was envisioning writing this a week ago. I was going to give helpful hints to anyone who’s undertaking something like this for the first time, give out recipes and scaling help, and a fondant tutorial, but honestly, I’m taking a break for now. This week has been so crazy for me, my kitchen is still in shambles, and I’m writing this at school because it’s the only place I can get an internet connection at the moment. Please don’t ask too much of me. Though I assure you that this isn’t going to me my last wedding cake, and I have a few people that I need to bake present cakes for in the near future, so I’ll reserve my help for those posts. For the moment, I’m just going to take this week to sit back, relax, focus on school, and keep gawking at the picture of my very first wedding cake while saying to myself, “I did that. Wow. I can do anything!”

Currently listening to: Bad Religion

Also: if anyone feels like being my new best friend and wants to come over and clean my kitchen, I’d love you forever. I can pay you in appreciation.





Nevermind Curling; Butter Tarts Are A Canadian Institution.

8 09 2008

In America, there are no such things as butter tarts. You might get close with a pecan hand pie, but they don’t even come close. These are no mere shrunken pecan pies. A flaky pastry crust holds in a gooey, sweet, buttery filling that oozes out and explodes on your tongue with pure pastry ecstasy. Please don’t just take my word for it, make these ASAP. NOW. Immediately, as in THIS SECOND. GO!

I hope pie crust isn’t something that gives you people the fear. After all these years of public exposure and tutorials on the Food Network, on blogs, in magazines, it pains me to hear that some people are still afraid of making their own crusts. It is SO easy, and I would never lie to you. Especially about something as serious as pie crust. Honest injun.

I’m not going to tell you how to make crust, but I will give you the recipe at the end of this post. If you don’t already know how to make a successful crust, Google it. I will say, though, that I love making mini pies of any kind. They are just so fun to make. I’m not quite sure what it is, but I’m fascinated by making any kind of individual dessert, especially in miniature.

Butter tarts are no exception; pushing little rounds of pastry into muffin tins and smoothing them out like perfect little pies just fills me with glee. GLEE! Really. But enough about me, because this show is really all about the filling.

It couldn’t be easier to make. The hardest thing you have to do is melt butter. F’reals. Everything just gets whisked together and you pour it into your cute little pastry cups, like such:

If you want to throw in some walnuts, pecans, or raisins, put them in the cups first, otherwise they’ll just float on top and no one wants that. Remember to soak your raisins in hot water though to plump them up so they don’t taste like little tumors. Or you can just leave them plain, to experience the awesomeness of the butter tart experience in all of it’s ooey, gooey glory. Yup yup.

Action shot! Because they’ll disappear just as fast as you made them. Please heed my warning though– you WILL become addicted to these, they WILL cause you to up a dress size, and you WON’T be able to stop making them because everyone that tastes one will demand more, more, more! Print several copies of this recipe and keep it with you at all times as you will most definitely get tired of writing it out every time someone demands it. Yeeeeeooooooo! Recipe to follow.

Butter Tarts
Makes 12

Crust

1 lb lard
5 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp salt
1 tbsp vinegar, in a 1cup measure, and fill with cold water

Cut lard into flour and salt until it resembles small peas. You can use two knives for this, or a pastry cutter. Add water and vinegar preparation, mixing with a spoon or by hand. Once almost combined, turn it on to a floured counter top and work it until it comes together smoothly. Separate dough into two masses, and form them into 1 inch thick discs. Wrap them in cling wrap and refrigerate for an hour.

Filling

1/2 cup butter, melted
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup maple syrup
1/2 cup corn syrup
2 eggs
pinch of salt

Whisk all ingredients together. Just like that. Tah dah!

Heat oven to 375.
Roll out pastry crust to about 1/4 inch thickness. With a large circular cutter, cut them into 12 rounds. You might have to roll them thinner just to get them to fill the muffin tins up to the edges, but that’s just fine. I do it, it’s cool. With a shot glass, press the rounds into muffin cups and flatten out any of the overlapping crust so that you have a smooth wall. Rinse and repeat.
If making butter tarts with nuts or raisins, use about one teaspoon of whatever you’re using and put them in the pastry now. Once that’s done, pour the filling into the cups.
Bake for 20-30 minutes, or until the crust is baked and the filling only jiggles slightly when you shake the trays. I highly recommend putting your muffin tins on a baking sheet as the filling tends to bubble up and spill over. Unless you like cleaning your oven, then go ahead and put them in as they are.
Hard as it may be, wait until they are absolutely cool before eating. Not only is this for your safety, but the filling will not set properly until it is cooled off. If you do not heed this warning, the filling will be too loose and will drip down your face, onto your pants, and you’ll look like a kindergarten kid. Just trust me, m’kay?

In other news: It took me three weeks to write this post. Not “I made them three weeks ago and now my lazy ass got around to telling you about it” three weeks, but more like “I started this post three weeks ago at a cafe but the internet crapped out on me so I’ve had to keep my computer on so I wouldn’t lose my work until I could get to another connection” three weeks. Which didn’t even matter anyways, because when I finally DID get a connection(at the college, thank science), I tried to save the post just in case something happened, and the damn thing ERASED it on me. So I had to start all over again. Lesson of the day: BACK. SHIT. UP. OFFLINE.

Also: Wedding cake status: Baked. I now have 50lbs of vanilla cake in my freezer, patiently waiting for Thursday, when I will cover it with icing. I am very proud of this.

Current earmeats: NERD.





Cupcakes and Apologies

19 08 2008

It’s been quite a long few weeks for me. I’ve been busy(WHAT!?), I got a new job, and my upstairs neighbor moved and took my stolen internet with him. Now I either have to suck it up and pay for the stuff or continue to use the free wireless connection at the coffee shop downtown. Life is so hard. But in that time of doing nothing and everything, I did manage to bake a sample batch of cupcakes as a tasting point for the wedding cake I’ll be making in September. So life is sweet, too.

My instructions from the bride were, almost exactly as follows: “I want a vanilla cake with vanilla icing. It needs to be so sweet it will rot your teeth on the first bite.” This is exactly what I delivered. Now personally, I’m not much of a fan of vanilla-on-vanilla cupcakes. I find them bland and boring. When presented with a choice, I will almost always go for the lonely group of cupcakes that everyone is afraid to taste because the flavor combinations seem too strange for human consumption. This usually pays off for me, as what may not sound like a good idea on paper winds up being something that pays off HUGE on the tongue, with some rare exceptions too horrendous to mention.

Well, these are the vanilla cupcakes to love. Some might find this a little hard to believe, but as a rule, I’m not much of a fan of cupcakes. For the most part, I find them incredibly dry and difficult to swallow. I’m more of a cake fan, because even the most arid of cakes can be corrected with a generous brushing of cleverly flavored simple syrup and a most heaping slathering of decadent icing. These though, I didn’t mind. I’m more of a fan of this recipe in cake form, but as cupcakes they were inoffensive and delicious. Stay tuned in just short of a month, wherein I will be documenting my forays in wedding cakery, but for now, I’ll hook you up with the cupcake recipe, as I’m sure you’re all dying to sink a greedy tooth into one. Your dentist will love me.

Vanilla Cupcakes
Makes 12
1 1/2 cups cake flour
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 cup butter
1 cup sugar
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla
3/4 cup buttermilk

Preheat oven to 350 degrees, and grease up your muffin tins.
Cream together softened butter and sugar. One at a time, add the eggs, making sure they are well incorporated after each addition. Sift together flour, baking powder and salt. Stir vanilla into buttermilk. Alternating flour and buttermilk mixtures, add them to butter mixture. It should go flour, milk, flour, milk, flour, milk. ALWAYS end with milk, people. IMPERATIVE. Bake for 30-40 minutes.
Vanilla Icing

1/4 c butter
2 c powdered sugar
1/4 tsp salt
2 tbsp milk
1 tsp vanilla

Combine butter, powdered sugar, salt and vanilla. Add milk as needed to thin to spreadable consistency. Tint to your liking, or not at all. Slather on cupcakes, or wherever you need a little more butter and sugar in your life.

In other news: my kitchen hasn’t been cleaned in three weeks. I am not even the least bit concerned by this.

Currently listening to: Batmobile.