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Archive for the ‘recipes’ Category

My friend Amanda writes a food blog called The Mindful Table. Recently she linked to an article written by someone who raises their own backyard chickens, and who tried to make coq-au-vin with one of her old laying hens. I say “tried” because she gave up after simmering the chicken for 4 hours, deciding that the meat would “never be tender” and she substituted a store-bought chicken. I was disappointed to read this, because it implied that older chickens are inedible, even in a dish specifically designed to use them, such as coq-au-vin. I have been planning to make coq-au-vin for a while, and we had plans for a dinner guest this past Saturday evening, so the article inspired me to make my own attempt at coq-au-vin.

I used Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s recipe from The River Cottage Meat Book. In the description of the dish he says, “This is a great dish but there is no doubt it has fallen out of favour. The reason is simple: the central ingredient – a farmyard cockrel… – is almost impossible to lay your hands on.”

As we have our own chickens, and thus, “spare roosters,” there was no problem in obtaining the central ingredient:

Those of you who have been reading this blog for a while may well remember the Saga of Speedy – how he got his name by being too fast to catch for slaughter during our first year of chicken-keeping, and then how he was too rough on the girls, and Chief (our alpha rooster) started chasing him off. How he spent a summer living on our (very accommodating, elderly Estonian) neighbour’s front lawn, and how once we had a replacement rooster (one of The Twins – who have their own story – livestock keeping is full of anecdotes) we dispatched Speedy. He’s been sitting well-wrapped in our freezer ever since, and this weekend he was going to make his (hopefully) triumphant final exit.

The actual difficult-to-obtain ingredient was “250g salt pork, pancetta, or bacon, in chunky pieces.” I.e. un-sliced. Unsliced bacon (or salt pork) can be bought in your average North American supermarket. But we only eat local /  organic / naturally raised meat. And I wasn’t going to let the results of the commercial pork-farming industry anywhere near one of my own organic chickens!

While working at the Champlain Commercial Fair this past March, I met the folks who run Bearbrook Game Farm and asked if they might have any unsliced bacon. They kindly found me a piece of wild boar bacon – so I had the other key ingredient for the recipe in my freezer. 250 grams ended up being half of this piece. Expensive, yes – but it was the only expensive ingredient in a fancy dinner for 4 people (after all, the chicken was “free,” right?)

Having taken both Speedy and the bacon out of the freezer to defrost in the fridge on Friday morning, Saturday morning I was ready to start preparing the dish. The only major departure I made from Hugh’s recipe was that instead of cooking covered “over a very low heat, or in a very low oven (120°C Gas Mark 1/2) for about 2 – 2 1/2 hours, until the meat is completely tender,” I simmered it on “low” in the slow-cooker for 5 hours. I have learned through experience that I enjoy the experience of having dinner guests a lot more if the meal I’m going to serve is done and bubbling gently in the slow-cooker when my guests arrive!

Ingredients:

Tomatoes, skinned, de-seeded, and finely chopped. I was, unfortunately, using conventionally grown vegetables, due to the time of year. Next time I make coq-au-vin (and there will definitely be a next time), I’ll do it in the fall when I can get local organic veggies. I noticed that the skins on the tomatoes were much thicker then the ones I grow (or the ones I buy at my local farmer’s market) for processing into home-canned tomato sauce – to better withstand transport, of course…


Garlic. The recipe calls for “4 garlic cloves, bruised” I used “a bunch” of garlic – we like our garlic – and decided that “bruised” meant “sort-of-crushed with the flat of the knife.”

My other departure from the recipe was to dump a teaspoon of thyme and a couple of bay leaves into the slow-cooker with the vegetables, rather than making a “bouquet garni.”

“250g salt pork, pancetta, or bacon, in chunky pieces.”

Now comes the difficult part – difficult, because I don’t have a whole lot of practice at it – jointing my chicken. In February of this year I spent an afternoon taking lessons on how to joint a chicken and chop vegetables efficiently from a local vegetable-grower who used to be a professional chef (he has flat feet and couldn’t deal with the 12-hour shifts in the kitchen, so he quit chefing and now grows vegetables for the local farmer’s market on his family farm instead…) It was time and money very well spent, and I mostly remembered what I was doing. The illustrations in Hugh’s book helped remind me of the finer points. The legs come off easily. The hardest part was splitting the breastbone with a heavy cleaver to separate the halves of the breast while leaving them on the bone.

2 leg portions and 2 breast portions.

The neck and the back in a pot, ready to be boiled up for stock.

The leftovers, 2 wings and the tail. As is traditional, these pieces went to the dog and cats.

Because this is a Hugh recipe, you start by frying the chunks of bacon in 1 tablespoon of olive oil and approximately 3 tablespoons (50 grams) of butter. A couple of chopped onions get browned in the fat, and then in go the chicken portions for browning:

Hmmmm…. I think I need a larger frying pan.

Now for the FUN part! The recipe calls for 1/2 a wineglass full of brandy and 500 ml of red wine. The brandy is French. The red wine is my favourite VQA (local Ontario wine) from Pelee Island Winery.

Speedy flambé.

Simmering in the slow-cooker. A couple of hours later I tasted the sauce. Delicious (and not at all too salty, which I was a little worried about, considering how salty the bacon tasted to me) but very, very fatty. I ladled off 500ml of sauce into a Pyrex measuring cup and put it in the fridge, so that I could separate out some of the fat. An hour before my guest arrived, I took the chicken pieces out of the slow-cooker, strained the liquid into a pot, and started reducing it. I took the reserved portion out of the fridge, skimmed off the excess fat (Gods!The fat!) and added it to the reducing pot. I probably should have boiled it down more than I did.

I returned the reduced liquid to the vegetables, bacon, and chicken pieces, and let it simmer gently in the slow-cooker until we were ready to eat. We had the chicken and sauce with kugelis (traditional Lithuanian potato pudding) which our guest brought, and a bottle of Château des Charmes (VQA) red wine.

It was absolutely delicious. The meat was perfectly tender, and tasted of chicken – despite having been simmered in red wine and bacon sauce for 5 hours! And it probably took less time to make the recipe than it did to write this post – the longest part was jointing the chicken. I will certainly make it again, served with boiled new potatoes if we don’t have a guest bringing Lithuanian kugelis.

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After all the picking, and picking over, and pressing, and settling, and filtering was done, I had 1.35 liters of very strong, very dark, very bitter wild grape juice. Cobbling together a recipe from various sources, but relying heavily on the information here and here, and the wine-making section of my copy of The Complete Guide to Self Sufficiency by John Seymour, I decided to add enough water to bring the volume up to 4.5 liters, enough sugar to (hopefully) achieve a sweet dessert wine, and to make a trip to a local home-brew supply shop for a packet of real wine yeast. If, John Seymour, the Grandfather of self-sufficiency thinks it’s worth the $2.30 for a packet of wine yeast, then I believe him!

So I added 2.65 liters of water to my grape juice, and stirred in a half a Campden tablet (to “sterilize” the grape juice, or kill the wild and rogue non-wine yeast that are likely to be in it) because my kitchen is full of bread yeast, which apparently makes poor wine. Then floated my hydrometer in a liter jar of juice. I got a beer and wine-making kit for my birthday with included this neat gadget that measures the specific gravity of a liquid via Archimedes’ principal, and thus tells you how much sugar (and therefore potential alcohol) is in your grape juice. As it turned out, not very much, which was no surprise at all. Eastern Ontario is not known as a grape-growing area, and despite the blistering heat we had his summer, my wild grapes were still far from sweet.

I added 1 kg of sugar, aiming for a quite sweet, fruity dessert wine, (which I figure I have a better chance of hitting than I do a “nice dry Chablis,” for instance) which gave my grape juice a specific gravity of 1.12, and a potential alcohol content of 16.5% I’m aiming high rather than low because all the sugar might not convert, and you need enough alcohol for the wine to preserve itself once it’s bottled, otherwise it will go off instead of maturing.

Then I added the yeast. And absolutely nothing happened. Now, this is my first attempt at wine, and I don’t know what is supposed to happen. My first batch of mead bubbled and frothed nicely when I added the (instant bread) yeast. The grape juice just sat there. I covered it over and left it overnight. In the morning I looked in the bucket, and still nothing, or not much of anything, anyway.

Time for intervention. I brought the temperature of the grape juice (which I should probably start calling “must,” to use the technical term) up to 75°F (my wine-making instructions are all in either American or 1950s British, which is OK, because my canning thermometer is in 1905 British units) by sitting a tall glass jug of hot water in the bucket, in case the problem was that the yeast was too cold. And I added a quarter teaspoon of “yeast accelerant” (those of you keeping score will have noticed that my home-brew shop purchases went slightly beyond a single packet of wine yeast).

Then I covered it up again, and sat it in a sunny corner of the kitchen, and tried hard not to check on it every 10 minutes. 12 or so hours later, it is definitely doing something that is starting to look like fermenting. Pinky-purple-y foam is forming on the surface of the grape juice must. Now all I need to do is figure out how to keep it warm for a week. Right now the bucket is sitting in the corner of the kitchen by the stove, because I just took two loaves of bread out of the oven. I’m hoping it doesn’t get too cold overnight, but I’m not turning the heating on just for the wine, that’s for sure. Maybe I’ll drape a blanket or something over it.

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Recipe: Pork & Potato Potage

Spring has sprung, but we’re still having some icky cold, rainy/snowy days. This thick, hearty soup is a great winter warmer. Like all my soups & most of my stews, I make this in the slow-cooker. If you are making this on the stove-top, use the heaviest-bottomed large pot you have.

Ingredients:

  • Pork sausages or cubed pork (leftover pork chops work too!)
  • 2 cups small white beans (Navy or Great Northern)
  • 1 large onion
  • 2-3 cloves garlic (or more to taste)
  • 1 teaspoon oregano
  • 1 teaspoon thyme
  • 3-4 large potatoes
  • 6 cups water or stock
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper (or more to taste)
  • Salt to taste if needed

Note about the white beans: small white beans don’t need as much pre-cooking as kidney beans or black beans. I poured boiling water over the beans, let them sit for about an hour, and then drained them and added them to the slow-cooker. They cooked just fine in the soup.

Method:

  1. Saute onions and garlic. Once they begin to soften, add the oregano and thyme, and saute until the onions start to caramelize. Transfer to slow-cooker.
  2. In the same pan, brown the sausages or pork, reserving the fat. If using pork chops, sear both sides – don’t worry about them cooking through as they will simmer in the soup.
  3. Take pork out of pan and allow to cool.
  4. While the sausages/pork is cooling, scrub or peel potatoes and dice into small cubes.
  5. Cut the sausages/pork into bite-sized pieces.
  6. Put the potatoes, sausages, and stock into the slow-cooker and turn slow-cooker on to the “high” setting.
  7. Cook on “high” for 4 hours. If cooking on the stove top, simmer for about an hour, or longer, stirring regularly.

We like our soups really thick (hence “Potage”1), so I make a basic roux using the reserved pork fat and add it to the soup once it comes to a simmer in the slow-cooker. The better quality sausages or pork meat you use, the better this soup will taste!

1 My Oxford English Dictionary defines Potage as “A thick (vegetable) soup.” Wikipedia is more descriptive, and pretty close to the mark with “a category of thick soups, stews, or porridges, in some of which meat and vegetables are boiled together with water until they form into a thick mush.” But very tasty mush!

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This is a very fast and easy recipe that makes a yummy, satisfying desert for a family or a crowd. It’s perfect as a last-minute take-along dish to a pot-luck or a tea party.

Prep time: 10-20 minutes, depending on what kind of fruit you use

Cooking time: 40 minutes

Ingredients

  • ¼ cup of butter or full-fat margarine (reduced-fat spreads won’t work)
  • 1 cup of flour (I use ½ white and ½ whole-wheat)
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • ½ cup of white sugar (or less, to taste)
  • 1 cup milk
  • ¼ cup applesauce
  • 2 to 4 cups of mixed diced fruit and/or berries
  • ¼ cup quick or instant oats
  • ¼ cup brown sugar
  • ½ teaspoon cinnamon

Notes on the diced fruit: This is a great way to use seasonal fruit, so at this time of year apples and cranberries would work very well, and it’s a great way to use apples that are starting to go a little soft. In mid-summer, try raspberries and peaches! You can use any kind of fruit: fresh, frozen, dried, or canned. If  using dried fruit (e.g. chopped dried apple rings, raisins, and chopped dried apricots), reconstitute the fruit for a couple of hours in warm water or fruit juice, then drain. If using canned fruit, drain thoroughly.

Method

  1. Prepare the fruit and put it in a large mixing bowl. If using fresh apples, pears, or other fruit that browns when exposed to air, stir in a tablespoon of lemon juice. If using cranberries or other very tart fruit, mix in ¼ cup of sugar.
  2. Turn the oven on to 400°F (200° C). Put the butter or margarine in a 9×13-inch glass or ceramic baking dish, and put in the oven to melt (the oven doesn’t need to be at temperature). Keep an eye on it so that it doesn’t start to burn, and take it out when the butter/margarine is melted and the dish is hot. Leave the oven on to pre-heat
  3. In a second mixing bowl, stir together the flour, baking powder, sugar, milk and apple sauce until smooth.
  4. Pour the batter into the warm baking dish.
  5. Ladle the fruit by spoonfuls into the batter, distributing it evenly. The fruit will sink into the batter.
  6. Mix together the quick oats, brown sugar, and cinnamon in a small dish. Sprinkle over the top of the fruit.
  7. Bake for 40 minutes, or until nicely browned on top – check the corners, which should be golden brown and “cakey”.
  8. Serve warm, cut into squares, optionally with a scoop of ice cream on top.

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To cap off March is All about Eggs, t! has graciously provided his famous French Toast recipe:

Ingredients

  • Bread. Of course.
  • Eggs. Happy Egg Month! How many eggs you need will depend on the bread’s size and absorbency. Unfortunately, due to inconsistent egg sizes on the part of our girls, and Jan’s pioneer spirit in the adventure of homemade bread making, I haven’t managed to compile any consistent data. For bread slices with the approximate surface area of a CD case, figure 1 egg per 2 slices. Hearty homemade bread absorbs less egg, sad ol’ supermarket white (being mostly empty) absorbs a lot more. Egg bread falls somewhere in between. Try not to use the end slices, since the crusts are not absorbent.
  • Butter. For the pan. I used margarine back when I didn’t know better, but once I discovered the difference I never went back. Oil is not recommended, olive oil actively discouraged.
  • Cinnamon Powder. To taste.
  • Allspice Powder. Kinda like cinnamon, but different enough to be worth adding.
  • Nutmeg Powder. Nice earthy contribution to the flavours.
  • Cardamom Powder. Cools off the sharpness, a perfect complement.

Optional ingredients / variants:

  • Milk. I think recipes only call for milk in the batter so that less eggs will be used, but why on Earth would you want to use less eggs? Plus, it makes the batter thinner, which is not ideal. I use only eggs.
  • Ginger. I’ve found that it’s either not enough or too much, too subtle or jarringly sharp. Unless you’re a big ginger fan, or feeling under the weather, I wouldn’t bother.
  • Goldschlager Cinnamon Schnapps. The result will taste slightly of alcohol, but the advantages are a very nice cinnamon flavour and a bit of caramelising when it cooks. Use sparingly; a little goes a long way.
  • Fireball Cinnamon-Flavoured Whiskey. A poor substitute for the Goldschlager, this will thin out the batter and not caramelise as nicely.
  • Stone’s Ginger Wine. Combines the thinness of Fireball with the disadvantages of powdered ginger. Instead of putting it in the batter, drink it while you cook; it makes an excellent brunch aperitif.
  • Cocoa Powder. Sprinkle, like the cinnamon powder, rather than adding to batter. Subtle.
  1. GET A BOWL WITH A BIG ENOUGH BOTTOM TO FIT THE BREAD SLICES. Otherwise you wind up having to bend the bread to get it soaked, causing it to crumble into pieces, or leaving certain spots un-battered, grr.
  2. In the bowl, beat the eggs. Make it nice n’ airy.
  3. Heat pan, add butter. While it’s melting…
  4. Add all powdered spices to egg batter, *except* cinnamon. Adjust to your taste. (How do you know what you’ll like? Trial and error, which is awesome because it means you get to eat more French toast!) Stir well. (Cinnamon will not stir properly in, but rather will form sticky balls of attack spice, so we add it later.)
  5. Dip a bread slice in the batter, face down, lift out, allow excess to drain (or not, for a *really* eggy result, as you prefer) and repeat for other face. Place facedown on hot buttered pan. Be careful when you do this, because once the egg hits the pan you don’t really want to move the slice until that side is cooked. You can, but the batter streaks.
  6. Repeat for remaining bread slices. You may want to stir the batter between each slice, because the spices will settle. I just do my battering quickly. And give that extra-yummy last piece to my wife.
  7. Once all bread slices are on pan, powder them with cinnamon. I don’t press them with the spatula at all, because it’s unnecessary and the spatula will lift off the uncooked batter and cinnamon.
  8. After five minutes or so, the edges of the slices will have curled up and away from the pan a bit. Test one of the slices by bumping it sideways with your spatula. If it moves easily, all the batter on that side is cooked. Flip over the slices. You can press them down now if you really want to.
  9. I add more cinnamon here, but it’s up to you. If you do, flip the slices over and press down to cook the cinnamon in before serving.
  10. When the egg on both sides is cooked, you’re done!

Serve with maple syrup. (Not corn syrup. EVER.) You can have jam if you want, but I find the recipe doesn’t really fit well with sweet fruit toppings, personally. I butter the slices on my plate only if I’ve burnt them, but as with most of this recipe, that’s really up to you.

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Since we’ll be going to my in-laws for Ukrainian Easter in a couple of weeks time, I was planning for this weeks’ egg recipe to be Paska, the traditional Ukrainian Easter egg bread. t!’s mother gave me the recipe over the phone from her Ukrainian cookbook, and advised that I halve it. And I did… but something didn’t go quite right, and I didn’t get Paska…

Ingredients

  • 1 whole egg and 4 egg yolks, plus another for glazing
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup milk
  • 2 tablespoons butter, plus some extra to grease the pan(s)
  • 2 tablespoons cooking oil
  • 2¼ teaspoons yeast
  • 3½ cups flour

The yeast amount is odd because the original recipe calls for a packet of yeast. Since I buy my yeast by the pound, rather than by the packet, I had to look up how much yeast was in a standard-sized packet, and Google told me 2¼ teaspoons. I ended up using two slightly heaped teaspoons.

  1. All ingredients should be at room temperature. My milk wasn’t.
  2. Beat the egg yolks and whole egg
  3. Add milk, sugar, and salt, and mix well
  4. Add butter (melted), oil, yeast, and mix well
  5. Add flour one cup at a time. Batter should be quite thin. Mine wasn’t – I had to knead the last of the flour in.
  6. Let rise until doubled.
  7. Knead. Let rise again.
  8. Fill round greased baking tins 1/3 full. Glaze with beaten egg. Bake at 350°F for one hour.

That’s the theory. In practice, I split the dough in two after the second rise, and kneaded some raisins into one half. That half I then split into three parts and braided. The raisin-free half went into a greased pot, and the braid on a greased baking tray:

After about 25 minutes, the tops were dark brown and threatening to start to burn, so I did a toothpic-test and then took them out of the oven. Both were very tasty, but not Paska. Paska has a crumbly texture, and this had a very smooth texture. t! is calling it Kolache. It reminds me more of a slightly-too-dense Challah. It was very, very yummy – so yummy that I didn’t manage to get a picture before we had eaten half of the round loaf:

Either the milk being cold was a massive error, or (as I suspect) my mother-in-law made an error when reading the recipe to me over the phone, and either left out an ingredient, got one of the amounts wrong, or told me egg yolks when she meant egg whites. Or maybe I was meant to let it rise once more in the pot before baking it, like I would do with regular bread dough? I will do some more research online to try to figure out what I need to change when I try this recipe again.

If anyone has an ethnic egg bread recipe to share, I’d love to hear it!

Oh, and to further celebrate the season, our very first crocus of spring opened today:

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Today’s eggy recipe post is about pasta. My wonderful friends gave me a pasta machine for my birthday last year (or was it two years ago? Time flies!) and I have yet to use it as much as I’d like. It’s one of those things where you need to practice to get better results, but the fact that it takes a while (because you don’t do it often enough) makes you less inclined to practice.

All this to say that I need to make pasta more often, in part because I need the practice, but also because it uses up eggs!

My current pasta recipe is a mish-mash of the one that came with my pasta machine, one I found online, the one on the back of a package of Bob’s Red Mill durum semolina flour, and what seems to work for me:

Ingredients

  • ½ cup durum semolina flour
  • ½ cup white flour
  • pinch of salt
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 2 eggs
  • up to 2 tablespoons cold water

Many pasta recipes tell you to pile the flour up on the counter, make a well in the middle, break the eggs into it, and mix them in with a fork. I tried that once, and got egg all over my counter. So I use a bowl.

  1. Thoroughly mix the two flours and the salt in a medium-sized bowl
  2. In a small bowl, beat the eggs and olive oil. I find I need to add 1 to 2 tablespoons of water to have enough liquid to form a dough, but this is partly because our eggs are grocery store small-to-medium sized. With large or extra-large eggs, you might not need any water.
  3. Pour the egg mixture into the flour and combine. I use a fork until it starts to come together as a ball of dough, then I use my hands.
  4. Knead the dough for 5 minutes.
  5. Many recipies tell you to wrap the dough tightly in clingfilm and let it sit for 20-30 minutes. I have good results with simply letting it sit on the counter under a small up-side-down bowl.
  6. Once the pasta has “sat”, roll it out using a pasta machine or a rolling pin, and cut it into whatever shape you want.

My long-term goal is to start making home-made perogies, tortellini, or other filled pasta and freezing it. It makes a great quick meal (with pesto or a light tomato or cream sauce) on a busy evening.

The other night I tried the following filling: baked sweet potato flesh mixed with sautéed onions & garlic. Very yummy, but I need way more practice (or better gadgets) for making filled pasta. Folding a square of pasta into a filled triangle and crimping the edges with a fork is the best method I’ve found so far, but it is very time consuming.

More pasta musings to come when I get better at making it!

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