Archive | September, 2010

Lesson 3

26 Sep

M E N U

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Gratin of onion and hard boiled egg

Veal shanks with pearl onions and mushrooms

Chocolate mousse with hazelnuts and brandy

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Gratin of onion and hard boiled egg

Ingredients

6 eggs

1 large onion sliced thin

3 tbsp unsalted butter

Béchamel sauce

3 tablespoons unsalted butter

5 tablespoons all purpose flour

2 cups milk

1/8 teaspoon nutmeg

Salt and white pepper to taste

Parsley, finely chopped for decoration

Method

Grease a gratin dish or shallow ovenproof dish with a little butter.

Boil enough salted water to cover the eggs. When the water boils, carefully lower the eggs into the water with a spoon, and bring the water to boil. As soon as the water boils, turn down to a bare simmer, and set the timer for 10 minutes. When the time is up, briefly put the eggs in ice water for a just a minute, not allowing them to cool completely. Peel them by cracking them on a hard surface, then roll them with the palm of your hand on the surface, and peel. Once peeled, put them in warm water.

Slice onion thin. Use 3 tablespoons butter melted over low heat, add the onion and cook until soft. By using low heat the onion will not colour. Remove when done.

Make the béchamel sauce. Melt 3 tbsp butter and add the flour. Cook briefly for 2 minutes, whisking continually. Then remove from heat and add the milk a little at a time, whisking between each addition, until smooth. When the milk is used up, put the pan back on the heat and turn up the heat to medium low. Add the nutmeg, salt and pepper. Use an egg lifter to scrape the bottom to avoid clumping. After 5 minutes add the onion and whilst continuing to scrape, cook another 5 minutes. If the sauce becomes a little stodgy, add a little milk.

Turn on the broiler / grill

Spread a thin layer of the béchamel sauce over the bottom of the gratin dish. Slice the egg very thin using a sharp pairing knife or egg slicer. Spread the slices of egg evenly over the dish in a layer until all the is used up. Cover with béchamel/onion sauce and level the top. Put under  the broiler , on the middle shelf, and grill until the top starts to brown.

Remove brush some butter over the surface, sprinkle finely chopped parsley on top. Serve immediately.

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Veal shanks with pearl onions and mushrooms

You van replace the veal shanks with boneless lamb or mutton shanks or even beef. If you decide to use beef, add another 30 minutes to the initial cooking time of 15 min

Ingredients

6 veal shanks 1 1/2 inch thick

30 pearl onions

250g button mushrooms

1/4 cup of all purpose flour

5 tbsp unsalted butter

2 egg yolks

1 clove

Boquet garni

2  leek leaves about 4 incHes long – top green part

1 bay leaf

4 large sprigs parsley

3 sprisg fresh thyme / 1/2 tsp dried

4 inch piece celery with leaves

Lay parsley, thyme and celery on one of the leaves. Cover with the second leaf tie with kitchen twine.

Method

Using at least 4 cups of cold water in a thick heavy bottomed pot, add the shanks, bring to boil and simmer covered for 15 minutes. T hen remove, add 2 cups of the cooking liquid back into the pot and add flour, whisk until smooth. Now arrange  the shanks and the bouquet garni and add enough liquid to just cover the shanks. Bring to boil, scraping the bottom, to avoid clumping/ burning. Turn down the heat to low, cover and simmer for 45 minutes.

After 45 minutes, season very lightly with salt and freshly ground pepper. Remember the liquid will reduce to about 1/3, so go easy on the initial seasoning. Stud one onion with the clove, add with the rest to the veal and simmer over low heat for a further 40 minutes.

If the mushrooms are very large, quarter. The mushrooms should be about the size of the front of your thumb.   In a heavy pan heat tablespoons of butter over high heat, add the mushrooms as soon as the butter foam stars to subside. Saute the mushrooms briefly, until the butter is absorbed, add to the veal and onion, and cook for 5 minutes.

Plate the veal onion and mushrooms with a slotted spoon, leaving the liquid in the pot. Then beat the egg yolks briefly in a separate bowl. Add a tablespoon of the hot liquid to the eggs. Whisk until well blended. Do this a few times to temper the eggs. The more hot liquid is added to the eggs, the less chance of it curdling, so don’t be shy. Remove the pot from the heat,  and add the tempered eggs to the remaining liquid. Be careful. Add just a little it at a time, whisking between each addition. If the liquid curdles after the first addition it means its too hot. Wait a minute for it to cool, before adding the next spoonful.   If the liquid does curdle use a blender or mixer to smooth it out. When all is added, heat the pan to just before boiling, remove from the heat, immediately spoon over the plated veal, sprinkle with chopped parsley, serve.

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Chocolate mousse with brandy and hazelnuts

This mousse, though delicious, is very rich. Few people will be able to have more than a few spoonfuls. So consider halving the recipe unless you are serving more than 6.

Ingredients

1/2 cup hazelnuts

About 500g semi sweet chocolate cut into small pieces

2 tablespoons unsalted butter

1 cup confectioners sugar

6 eggs separated

6 tbsp scotch whiskey

Chantilly cream

1 cup heavy/whipping cream

1/2 tsp vanilla extract

2 tbsp confectioner’s sugar.

Method

Hazelnuts: preheat the oven to180C. Spread hazelnuts on a baking sheet. Roast for 15 min. Remove and skin by placing them in a tea towel, by holding each end, enclosing tne hazelnuts in something like a bag. No remove the skins by rubbing them together.  Alternatively, use your thumb and forefinger rubbing each one. Its best to do this ouside, as the skins are light and e d up everywhere. Don’t fret about getting every last bit of skin off them.

Crush the hazelnuts by putting them on a chopping board,  cover them with plastic, then hit them using a steak mullet, or even the bottom of a mug. Don’t crush them too finely as they are better in  its rather than a dust.

The chocolate

Using a double boiler, which sits high above the simmering water, add the chocolate and half of the sugar and the butter.

To avoid the chocolate seizing, Let stand, without stirring for about 15 – 20 minutes until the chocolate is melted. Remove from heat and beat in the egg yolks, whiskey and hazelnuts.

In a separate very clean mixing bowl, beat the egg whites a little until they start to foam. Add a pinch of salt and continue to beat until little peaks form when the mixer blades are removed from the foam.

Add 1/3 of the foam to the chocolate mix and mix vigorously until smooth. Then use 1/2 of the remaining mix and fold into the chocolate. Then fold in the rest.

Chantilly Cream

No more than about 1 1/2 hours before serving, chill a mixing bowl in the freezer for 10-15 minutes.

Remove from the freezer, add the vanilla to the cream and beat with a mixer until it starts to thicken, then add the sugar and continue beating until the cream is thick and peaks form when the blades of the beater is removed. Do not overbeat, as the cream will become watery and unworkable.

Fit a pastry bag with a large star tip, add the cream to the bag, shake a little to remove excess air, and squirt a little back into the bowl with cream to ensure it flows nicely.

Decorate the mouse whichever way takes your fancy, and serve the remaining cream in a small bowl on the side.

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T H E   V E R D I C T

This was positively the most successful menu so far. All the dishes worked, everything turned out well. Apart from the clumping the béchamel sauce and curdling the sauce for the veal with egg yolks that are not tempered well enough, its relatively risk free. Oh, and seizing the chocolate…

But if you follow the instructions carefully, none of this should happen.

The egg gratin : Egg gratin sounds positively boring, if not straight from the 70′s. However, this one is surprisingly tasty. The nutmeg works well with it, adding a little spice to the otherwise bland dish. It was easy to make and very difficult to mess up. Will definately make it again.

The veal shanks with pearl onion and mushroom :  Though a little time consuming, its very easy to make this dish. I used beef, and browned it before cooking. Also, instead of simmering it in cold water, I pressure cooked it for about 10 minutes, before depressurising the pot naturally. If you do not want to end up risking the eggs curdling at the end, or alternatively, if you prefer a less rich sauce, consider leaving out the egg yolks and instead make a paste of  1/2 tablespoon butter and 1 tablespoon flower, then whisking it off-heat into the hot liquid, then bring it to a boil, turn down the heat and simmer 2-3 minutes before spooning it over the cooked veal.

Chocolate Mouse with Brandy and Hazelnuts I do love an authentic chocolate mousse, and this was definitely one worth making. It is thick and delicious, though it may be a little rich for some people.  You cannot taste the alcohol, it merely flavours the dish. The hazelnut combination is a winner. Next time I make it, I will half the recipe, using ramekins or a wine glass, using no more than 1/3 of a cup for each glass/ramekin,  instead of a huge bowl.  Also, being left with so much mousse, I made a banana chocolate shake for my son this morning, thinning it with milk and a little water. It was excellent.

Even though I am only on lesson 3, I am starting to feel like a pro…

French Apple Tart with rum and apricot

23 Sep

This recipe serves 6

There are four aspects to making this tart. Making the crust, creating a puree, creating the decorative top, making the glaze. This is definitely a tart that will impress. It is far easier than it looks, but it does take time to make, particularly if you want it to look really good. Best served on its own, or with whipped cream. Surprisingly, ice cream does not work that well with it.

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Apple Sauce

Ingredients

3 golden delicious apples -peeled and chopped
3 tablespoons unsalted  butter
1/4 cup sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
Pinch of cinnamon (optional)

Method:
Melt the butter over medium heat
Add the chopped apple and over medium heat, cook until it becomes a paste, stirring frequently to avoid browning.
When the apple has become a paste, add the sugar and vanilla, and cook until all the liquid has evaporated. It should be a paste, about the  consistency of a thick pasta sauce.

Remove from heat and set aside to cool.

Hint: You can, if you are in a hurry,  add 1/4 cup of water, let it evaporate during the cooking process, then add again. This will speed up the cooking process. Also if the apples are finely chopped, this will also help to deduce it to a pulp faster.  However by the end of the cooking process it should be a paste that  dry, definately not watery as this will ruin your pie crust and make it soggy. It may take about 15-20 minutes for the whole process, depending on the hardness of the apple and how finely you have chopped it.

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The crust

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 cup vegetable shortening
  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup ice cold water
  • Greased Pie plate
  • 2 tablespoons castor sugar
  • pinch of cinnamon

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 220′C
  2. Mix shortening, flour, sugar and salt together with a fork or a pastry blender until very crumbly. Add as much water as needed to hold together, and mix lightly with a fork.
  3. Kneed lightly for a minute or two, until the dough is smooth. Create a disk, wrap in plastic, refrigirate for 15 minutes.
  4. Roll gently on a cool flowered surface to about an inch larger than pie plate. Roll over rolling pin and unroll over the pie plate OR fold carefully in half, lift to pie plate, and unfold. Press into pan. Trim the edges and flute if you want.
  5. Blind bake at 220C for 15 minutes on lowest shelf in the oven.

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Assembling the tart:

When the crust has come from the oven and has cooled for about 15 minutes, spread the cooled apple sauce over the tart bottom using the back of a tablespoon. Start at the edge and work towards the center.  Then peel the remaining 3 apples and cut in half. Remove the core with a melon scoop or a small rounded sugarspoon. Lay the apple half flat on a cutting surface and slice in very thin slices crosswise – I had difficulties to trying to picture this – but the best way to describe how to cut it would be to imagine if you wanted to remove the bottom of the apple to create a base. This would be the same direction to cut the apple halves.  A small, very sharp pairing or vegetable knife will be very beneficial for this task.

To arrange the apple pieces start with a sliced half moon and lay it close to the edge, on top of the puree. Overlap the next piece slightly and continue until the outer circle is completed. Tuck the last apple half under the first one to finish off the outer layer. You should be left with a circle in the middle. Now lay the apples in a flower pattern all around the inner circle. Overlap the apples for the following circle. As the circle becomes smaller, consider cutting the thin half moons in half, so that you end up with quarters. When the center becomes too small for quarters. Slice the quarters into three to make small triangles. These can stand up in the middle to create the appearance of the inner styles.

When done, pat yourself on the back, because as complicated as it looks, it is actually really easy. Its also really beautiful.

Use bits of unsalted butter to dot the top of the pie randomly around the  completed pie.  Using about 1/4 cup of castor sugar in a small sieve, dust the top of the tart. If you like cinamon, take a pinch in the palm of your hand and sprinkle over the completed tart before putting into the oven.

Bake for around 20-25 minutes at 210C, or until the edges start to brown, using the lowest rack in the oven.

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Apricot Glaze with Rum

Ingredients:

1/3 cup of apricot jelly / jam
2 tablespoons of water
2 tablespoons white rum or apple brandy

Method:

When the pie has finished baking remove to a cooling rack. Using either a liquidizer or a sieve, pulp the apricot jam until it is fine and smooth. There should be no bits of apricot in the mixture. Over low heat add the jam and 2 tablespoons of water and bring to boil . Turn the heat to a simmer and simmer until syrupy. This should not take more than a minute or two. Remove from the heat and add the rum or apple brandy and mix through with a wooden spoon.

Using a pastry brush, coat the top of the tart with the warm apricot sauce, taking care not to dislodge the delicate apple arrangement. Coat until all the apple pieces have bean coated well, and the glaze is used up.

Serve warm or at room temperature with whipped cream on the side.

Lesson 2

18 Sep

All I thought about the whole week was lesson 2. It seemed really straight forward :

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M E N U

  • French Country Soup with Glass Noodle
  • Veal Scallops with Baked Apple
  • Mushroom Sauce with Calvados
  • Creme Caramel

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The shopping was surpirisingly painless. I went to a Central Department Store near Chitlom here in Central Bangkok, and they have an award winning food section which has everything you need. They even had veal, which the friendly Australian butcher assured me could cut into scallops. But alas – at B1700 a kilo (thats $54 a kilo) I decided I will go with ordinary sirloin,  which was then sliced and flattened with a steel mallot by the same friendly Australian butcher.   It cost a fraction of the price, so I did not mind if it was not the ‘real thing’ – I wanted to enjoy the meal not choke on its expense.

I bought some leeks, and hazelnuts for next weeks recipe, and was set.

Before the big cookout started, I needed to do some preparation ahead of time. First I made some creme Fraische. TO make it is very easy, and though personaly I have never tasted the real thing, I can only compare it to sour cream. This is more subtle than sour cream. It is not so tart, and the greatest advantage, is that you can boil it without separating. Also you can whip it into a thick cloud, the same as fresh cream. It keeps for up to 2 weeks in the refrigerator.

Here is how to make it:

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Creme Fraiche

Heat a cupful of heavy or whipping cream to 38′C (body temperature) remove from heat and stir in a teaspoon of plain yogurt. Pour into a yogurt cup and leave on the kitchen counter for 12-24 hours. Then put into the fridge for at least 4 hours to thicken more.  You can also use a yogurt maker, leaving in the machine for between 16 -24 hours. You can also use a teaspoon of buttermilk instead of the yogurt.

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Making my own version of CALVADOS :

I do not have access to Calvados. But I do have brandy – so I pulped a quarter of an apple, using a fine grater, then added it to a quarter cup of brandy. I did this 2 days ahead of time. Though I am sure it is nothing like Calvados, at least it will be apple flavoured brandy….  You could also use apple liqueur or apple liquer mixed with a bit of brandy.

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French Country Soup with Glass Noodles


You need about 8 cups of chicken stock.  (use any recipe you have, but remember a soup is only as good as its stock, so use a good one!)
1 small head cabbage
about 8-10 leeks
Butter – around 6 tablespoons.
about 1/2 cup uncooked Vermicelli or glass noodles

Creme Fraiche : a tablespoon for each soup bowl

Method
Cabbage : Remove the outer 2 leaves of the cabbage, and quarter. Remove the hard white stem. Wash under running water, drain. Slice very thin, and blance in slow boiling water for 5 minutes. Remove. Refresh under cold running water. Melt 3 table spoons unsalted butter over low heat, and add cabbage, mixing it until all have been coated with butter. Cover and simmer over low heat for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Leeks : Cut and remove the upper 2/3 of the green part of the leeks. Cut the roots from the bottoms, and then, laying the leek flat, starting about an inch from the bottom of the white root, slice the leek in two by running the knife all the way to the top of the green leaves. Repeat, so that the leek is quartered. Keep the stem in tact – so make sure you start about an inch from the bottom and slice upward, so that that the leaves all remain attached to the bottom.  Clean the leeks well under running water making sure that any soil is removed. Slice thin.

When the cabbage is done, remove and set aside. Add 3 tablespoons butter to the pan, over low heat, add the leeks and stir through to coat with the melted butter. Cover and cook over low heat until soft, about 10 minutes.

The soup : Add the cabbage and the stock to the softened leeks, bring to boil and simmer for 40 minutes. Remove any foam or scum rising to the top. When the time is up, break the noodle pieces so that they are no longer than an inch or two, add  to the soup and cook for another 5 minutes. Pour into serving dish.

Swirl in a tablespoon of creme fraishe for each serving, to give it something extra, decorate with chopped parsley. Serve.

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Veal Scallops with Baked Apple and Calvados


This dish is made in a snap if you have everything ready. It is unusual to pair apples with Veal, but oh, what a pair they make!

2/3 pound of mushrooms, stems removed, cleaned and thinly sliced

6 x 6 ounce veal scallops
6 golden delicious apples
2 tablespoons melted butter
2 large shallots, finely chopped (chop just before you are ready to saute them)
1 cup creme fraische

butter and oil for sauteing
Some chopped parsley for decoration.

Method

About an hour beforehand, remove the meat from the fridge to bring it up to room temperature.

Mushrooms

Melt 2 tablespoons of butter in a pan over high heat, wait for the foam of the butter to subside, and add the mushrooms.  Whilst stirring, saute mushrooms until all the butter has been soaked up, remove from heat, add 3 tbsp creme fraishe. Season with salt and pepper. Set aside.

Apples

Set oven to 450F / 230C

Peel and core the apples. Quater each apple, brush with melted butter and lay on baking sheet

Bake for 15-20 minutes until the apples are tender but firm. Remove and set aside.

Scallops

Dry meat and season on both sides with salt and pepper
Heat a 2 tablespoons of oil and 2 tablespoons butter over very high heat.
When the foam of the butter subsides, add the scallops and saute them quickly. Add 3 scallops to the hot pan. The time will depend on how thin they are. If they are the thickness of a schnitzel  I suggest fry them briefly…  Perhaps as little as 15 seconds a side.  If they are thicker, you will need to use your own judgement. Perhaps a minute each side. Be careful however not to overcook, as the scallops will become tough and inedible.  Rather undercook than overcook. Repeat for the next 3 scallops, but clean your pan before you do.

When done, wrap the meat in foil to keep warm.

When the second batch of scallops are done, skim off excess fat, add a fresh tablespoon of butter to the pan, and fry the shallots over high heat until soft. Remove from heat,  add the brandy/calvados, and averting your face, light with a match or lighter, and shake the pan until the flames subside. Add the mushrooms and the remaining creme fraische and mix through. Rapidly boil down the mushroom sauce until it has reduced and thickened. Remove from heat.

Arrange the apples on the side of the plate – you can cut them into thin slices if you wish. Plate the meat, and lay some of the apples on top of it. Spoon over the hot mushroom sauce, sprinkle with parsley and serve.

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Creme Caramel


Sauce :

1/4 cup of  water
1/2 cup sugar

Method

Fill a large bowl with water. The bowl with water should be big enough to dip your saucepan in to quickly cool the caramel later.
Combine water and sugar and over low heat stir until sugar has dissolved. Then turn up the heat to high, and let the mix boil. Do not stir. Watch closely. After 3 minutes the edge of the water will start  to colour. You have about a minute. When the liquid starts browning it does so very quickly, and will continue to brown once the saucepan is removed from the heat. When it is a light brown colour remove from the heat, and dip into the bowl of cold water to stop the cooking process. Immediately pour into a charlotte mould and turn the mould so that it coats the bottom and sides. Work very quickly because the caramel sets within seconds.  Chill the bowl and prepare the custard.

Custard

Set oven to 350F or 180C

1/2 cup sugar

4 egg yolks

2 eggs

2 cups of milk

1 1/2 teaspoons of vanilla extract.

Method

Heat the milk and the vanilla extract until boiling. Remove from the heat.

In a mixing bowl, combine the eggs and whisk until well blended.

add the yolks and do the same

add the sugar and whisk until combined

add a the hot milk, 1/4 cup at a time, and whisk, until well mixed with the eggs. Do this until all the milk is used up. Be careful not to whisk too fiercely, because you dont want a frothy mix.  Pour into the prepared bowl lined with the chilled caramel.

Prepare a bain marie:

A bain marie, in this context, refers to a large roasting pan filled with hot water, in which delicate, usually egg-based dishes are baked. The water ensures that the egg cooks evenly, and also prevents it from curdling. Use a large pan, put the bowl with the egg mixture into it, and add hot water, so that it comes up to about 2/3 of the contents of the dish holding the creme caramel.

Put into the oven and bake 40-50 minutes. The water in the bain marie should occasionally shiver, but it should not simmer and definately not boil. If the water starts to simmer, turn down the oven heat a little.

When the top of the creme caramel has started to colour a light brown, its usually set. Insert a clean knife or a toothpick into the middle and see if it comes out clean. When the caramel has sufficiently cooled. Loosen the sides of the bowl with a knife. Put a plate or flat serving platter on top of the bowl and reverse quickly.  Serve at room temperature or chilled.

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THE VERDICT

The Soup :  Cabbage and leek soup does not sound very appealing, even when dressed with noodles. However, this soup was surprisingly tasty, and the creme fraische added something extra. The Thai glass noodles (Wun Sen) worked extremely well, adding an interesting texture.  Though there are so may wonderful soups I would rather make and serve, I am not sorry I tried this one. Don’t be deceived by how boring the soup may seem when reading the recipe. The end product was homely and satisfying, simple, and very tasty. Definitely something I could imagine in the French Countryside.

The Veal Scallops : Im not sure whether it is my cooking abilities or the lack of decent local beef in Thailand, but I often find it to be tough rather than tender no matter how much I nurse it beforehand. I so wish I could say this was an exception, but it was not. There is nothing that spoils an entire meal as easily as overcooked or tough meat. Regardless of the beautiful apple and mushroom sauce, the overall result was disappointing. The veal was cooked 30 seconds a side, and rested well before serving. The only thing I would have done differently, would be to cook it for 15 seconds a side. It seems ridiculous, but thats what I would do. Also next time, I will test fry a piece  first, to check quality and adjust cooking time, if needed. But alas, the meat was tough and the fact that there was a beautiful sauce to accompany it, made no difference. The mushroom and apple with the sour creme was very interesting, but it felt there was something amiss. Perhaps real Calvados ?

The creme caramel : Even though I followed the recipe precisely and patted myself on the back for getting the perfect golden brown caramel sauce, I had to leave it in the oven for almost 2 hours instead of the 40-50 minutes suggested by the recipe. Even then it was not quite set. However, I have noticed,  when it comes to making something very liquidy in my oven, it often takes around twice the time indicated on a recipe. So this may well just be my oven.

Creme caramel is an ancient recipe, dating back a few hundred years. However, I have always found it a bit dull – well I have the versions found at the grocery store.   However, this creme caramel was amazing. Because I have never actualy had a proper home made creme caramel, I thought it would just be sweet custard with a sweet brown sugary sauce. Not so… The caramalised sugar becomes bitter when the sugar caramalises, so this contrasts just wonderfully with the slightly sweet custard.

The custard is smooth and holds firm when a spoon slices through it. Just a beautiful, pleasing dessert which, like the soup is elegant without trying to hard.

I chilled the creme caramel a little, as I was not sure whether it should be served warm or cold. It was a good choice. The dessert was easy to unmold, and once on the plate made a handsome presentation. Overall it was an excellent dessert, worth the trouble.

In regional variations of this dish, interesting toppings and additions are served with it. For example in Cuba it is served with coconut ice cream, or rum raisin. In Chile it is often eaten with dulce de membrillo (a quince gelatin spread).

Conclusion
The second lesson was a great learning experience. I thought, while the soup was cooking, that it would be boring, but it turned out comforting and homely. The addition of the creme fraische was a wonderful brainwave. The mushroom sauce was fantastic at the point when the first 3 tablespoons of salt and pepper was added. The shallots and the extra creme fraische, and especially the brandy did not do much for it. Perhaps it would be quite a different story with real Calvados. Regardles, next time I make the mushrooms, I will saute it, add the 3 tablespoons of sour creme, season and serve. Simple as it may sound, its absolutely unforgettable.

Lastly, the surprise of the evening was the creme caramel. WOW. No wonder it has become a world famous desert available in 15 brands at the local 7-11 in Japan. The original home made version is a moving experience. I will definately make it again. And next time, not panic so much if it sits in the oven at double the time.
Loved lesson two, though frying steaks in one’s second culinary lesson is perhaps a little premature… it was a good learning experience.

Challah on a Christian Sabbath

12 Sep

click to enlarge

I have been meaning to make the Jewish sweetbread Challah for some time now.  This afternoon I was making a country tomato and bean soup, and thought it would be perfect served with a sweetbread. Though it sounds like an odd combination – a french bean soup with a Jewish sweetbread – it worked very nicely.

Here is the recipe…

This makes 2 big loaves. You can half the recipe if you only want to bake one. Or bake both and give it to your favorite Muslim friend in the interest of world peace…

Ingredients

  • 1 cup water
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1/4 cup butter / margarine
  • 1/4 cup oil
  • 7 cups bread flour, divided – though it may need as many as 8 or nine, depending on the flour – you can also use all purpose
  • 1/3 cup white sugar
  • 1/3 cup brown sugar
  • 3 (.25 ounce) packages active dry yeast – thats 7 1/2 teaspoons of yeast
  • 1 tablespoon salt
  • 4 eggs
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 1 tablespoon sesame or poppy seeds

Directions

  1. In a small saucepan, combine water, butter and oil. Heat until butter is melted and very warm, but not boiling.
  2. Reserve half a cup of the liquid in a separate small bowl for proofing the yeast. Measure out the white sugar , then steal a teaspoon of this and add to the reserved liquid, together with the yeast  and let it bubble – around 5 – 10 minutes.
  3. In a large bowl, mix together 3 cups flour, the remaining white sugar, brown sugar, and salt. Add water and margarine mixture; beat well. Add 4 eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Stir in the remaining flour, 1/2 cup at a time, beating well after each addition. When the dough has pulled together, turn it out onto a lightly floured surface and knead until smooth and elastic, about 8 minutes. If you find the dough is too runny, simply add more flour. You can add up to 3 cups without having to get paranoid or nervous.
  4. Lightly oil a large bowl, place the dough in the bowl and turn to coat with oil. Cover with a damp cloth and let rise in a warm place until doubled in volume, about 1 hour. Keep in mind there is a lot of yeast in this dough… it will walk off the table if you are not careful…
  5. Deflate the dough and turn it out onto a lightly floured surface. Divide the dough into six equal pieces and form into long ‘ropes’. Braid the pieces together to form two large loaves. Place the loaves on two lightly greased cookie sheets, cover the loaves with a damp cloth and let rise until doubled in volume, about 40 minutes.
  6. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (180 degrees C).
  7. Brush the risen loaves with the beaten egg and sprinkle with poppy seeds. Bake in preheated oven for 45 minutes, until loaf sounds hollow when tapped. Watch carefully after 30 minutes, and take out if it gets too dark.

NOTE : I have a fairly small convection oven – slightly bigger than a microwave. So the second loaf had  to wait a further hour whilst the first was baking. Here is what I discovered. The second loaf was lighter, softer and far superior to the first. So if you dont mind the extra hour – let the dough raise when its out of the mixer and kneeded, after an hour punch it down and let it rise again for another hour. Then make the braids, let it rise for the final hour, before baking. It will make a suuuper bread, and you will most definately not be sorry. Besides – all the work is done in the beginning – its not like you are sitting there watching it rise for the full 4 hours!

Here is how you braid the 6 ropes – its really not rocket science…

Lesson 1

12 Sep

L E S S O N   O N E

I remember my 8th birthday very well, I woke up and my parents had bought me a beautiful big die cast red toy racing car . Oh it was going to be a great day!   Well waking up this morning was a bit like that… I had bought myself a cooking book and was about to start a Cordon Bleu cooking class in my very own kitchen at home.

The idea is to cook through all 90 lessons – of the book Cordon Bleu at Home and progress through the basic intermediate and superiour courses of the actual course at Cordon Bleu cooking school. I am quite sure it will not be the same as  standing at Dusit Thani,  in crisp white starched apron watching  a demonstration from a professional chef, but doing it this way allows me to learn at my own pace, and I can do it at home, now that I don’t have to sell it in order to attend the actual course..

The menu for the very first lesson seemed a little boring…

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M E N U

  • Cucumber and Mint Yogurt Salad
  • Roasted Chicken
  • Peas and Lettuce
  • Fruit Salad

I considered jumping to lesson 2 –  Roast chicken seems so – well, dull, but actually, I have never made it before…  In lesson 1 you learn how to truss a chicken. You also learn how to dismember an orange. You also fry lettuce. I considered this for a moment. Well, I thought, learning to truss, then roast a chicken in the very first lesson, certainly suggests a nice steep learning curve, and besides, it is something one should know how to do…   It is something very  B A S I C – which was what this part of the course was about. Foundation cooking, 30 lessons, one every weekend making up the Pratique de Base.

So I bought a nice whole chicken, some yogurt, mint, and a bottle of Cointreau for the fruit salad, and consoled myself with the idea that if all else fails, I could drown my disappointment with a glass of triple sec on ice.

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Cucumber Salad with Mint Yogurt Sauce.


To serve 4 you need about 8-10 pickle cucumbers – the ones that are short and fat / 10 large mint leaves / A tablespoon of red wine vinegar /   3/4 cup of plain yogurt /salt.

Remove the peel using a vegetable peeler, and discard the green skin, then peel the flesh – I used a vegetable peeler, and peeled them into long strips instead of chopping them into slices. Then lay the slices on a colander, add salt and let them shed some water for 30 minutes. This is the French way of doing cucumbers. Then take about 8-10 large mint leaves, stack them onto one another, roll them tightly like a cigar and chop them very finely. Take a cup of plain yogurt, mix in a pinch of salt and a tablespoon of red wine vinegar, and add the mint.

When the 30 minutes is up for the cucumbers, gather the cucumbers to the side of the colander, and squeeze out the excess water using your fingers. Add the cucumbers to the yogurt dressing about 20 minutes before serving. Serve at room temperature or slightly chilled.

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Peas with Lettuce


The idea of serving peas with a roasted chicken seems completely off. Like something from a recipe card from the 50′s. Actually the whole idea of peas with roasted chicken and the prospects my kitchen smelling of peas cooking makes me feel slightly  ill.
It congures images of someone eating at a huge table in a massive dining hall at some oppressive boarding school, warm pea air wafting through the almost empty space.

For better or for worse,  the recipe also calls for stewed lettuce.  Stewed lettuce ?   I’ve never…

So here is the recipe if you really feel that you need to introduce something to take you from feeling happy ,to feeling slightly depressed, or if you want to allow yourself to have empathy with a boarding school pupil or a parentless kid at an orphanage :

Use 3 cups of peas and a head of lettuce, about 10 small white onions and 4 tablespoons of butter. With the stem of the lettuce facing you, cut around it and remove. This makes taking the leaves apart, slightly easier. Then remove the leaves one by one. Stack them, then roll into a cylinder  and slice fine. In a heavy saucepan, heat 5 tablespoons of unsalted butter over medium heat, add the lettuce, peas and onion and gently stir with a wooden spoon, until the lettuce starts to wilt. Then add 1/3 of a cup of water, cover and cook for 15 -20 minutes until the peas are soft.

After 20 minutes the peas were dry and hard. So I added some water and cooked them another 20 minutes.

Still dry and hard.

Another 20 minutes, no change…

(what is it with these peas !?!?)

Pressure cooker – 15 minutes…

Nope – another 20 minutes… the lettuce now has completely evaporated,  it seems.. The peas, unfortunately have not and are still hard and dry.

I give up… This is the mother of  dry hard stubborn school peas… and there is NO WAY I am eating them…

The peas go in the bin, I save the small limp, but surprisingly flavourful onions.

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Roasted Chicken (serves 4)


1 nicely sized chicken / a clove of garlic / a bunch of fresh thyme or 1/2 teaspoon dry / bay leaf /  2 tablespoons butter / kitchen twine – which really is a fancy word for string / some water /


Prepare the inside

Allow the chicken to come to room temperature – about an hour.
wash the chicken under running cold water
pat dry with clean towel , and make sure you also dry the cavity
To the cavity – rub a teaspoon of salt and about 1/2 teaspoon black pepper, covering as much of the inside as possible.
add the cloves, garlic, bay leaf.

Truss the chicken
This is muuuuch easier than I thought. Its actually something that takes no more than 4 minutes. I am not even going to bother try explaining, because its so much easier doing it whilst following visual directions on YouTube.  The reason for trussing the chicken is twofold : first, it really looks neat, because the drumsticks dont fly open or sag during the cooking process. Also the bird cooks evenly if done this way. So if you want a good result, its so worth spending a little more time on this important step.

Seasoning
Using about 2 tablespoons of unsalted butter, rub the outer surface of the chicken. Do this thouroughly,  getting the skin to absorb as much of the butter as possible. Buttered fingers in every nook and cranny – do the tips of the drumsticks and wings particularly well – but no need to do the inside.  The butter will ensure a beautiful color, and help the skin from drying out whilst roasting, preserving the juices.  Once the chicken is buttered up, sprinkle generous amounts of salt and pepper to season the outside.

Roasting

Preheat the oven to 220′C
Place the chicken on its side and roast 20 minutes.
Turn on the other side and roast 20 more.
Then add 1/2 of a cup of water to the roasting pan, and turn the chicken breast side up (the classic roasted chicken position)
Roast for another 20 minutes or until the juice runs clear when you insert a skewer into the thigh.
Remove the chicken from the oven and transfer to a serving dish and cover in aluminum foil
Let rest for 15 minutes (this is very important as it releases juice, then sucks it up again, making the chicken juicy and tender and allowing it to be carved easily)
While the chicken rests, remove the fat from the pan, and with the remaining chicken juices boil down the pan rapidly, scraping it with a wooden spoon or egglifter, so that any cooked particles in integrated into the sauce. Boil until you are happy with the taste – usually you reduce the liquid until about a third is left.
If for whatever reason you are left with almost no juice once the fat is removed, you can add about a cup of water, then reduce by boiling rapidly and scraping.
Pour the hot liquid over the chicken as soon as the resting is done.
Serve.

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Fruit Salad


You could use any fruit in season. Though it is essential that you use an orange, because this fruit salad base is orange flavoured. Use the following as a guide.
An orange / a banana / an apple / strawberries / a kiwi fruit / 2 slices of pineapple / a skinned peach /  1/2 cup of confectioners sugar /juice of 1 lemon OR lime /  1 tablespoon of Cointreau

Mix the fine sugar with the lemon juice add the Cointreau. Mix until the sugar is dissolved.

Orange segments – Cut a small slice from the top and the bottom of the orange using a sharp knife, so that you can stand the orange on the work surface easily. Now, following the contours of the orange, using a vegetable or paring knife, slice away the skin and bitter white pith to expose the flesh. Remove any bits of the white pith you may have missed.  Now holding the orange in the palm of your hand – you notice the segments or ‘slices’  separated by a membrane. Cut in a ‘V’ between two membranes to remove the segment. Make sure your knife is sharp, as you do not want to squash the segments – just slice through them. Don’t apply too much pressure – you want to slice the orange segments, not your hand.  Remove each segment and then slice each segment into 3, so that they are bite size.  When you are done and the skeleton of the orange remains, squeeze the juice out of what now remains of the orange, strain the juice through a small sieve, and add to the sugar/lemonjuice mix.

Peel and slice the rest of the fruit, cutting them into pieces no bigger than the orange segments. As you finish off a fruit, add it to the sugar/lemon mix. The lemon in the mixture will prevent the fruit from darkening.

Leave for an hour, stirring the salad occasionally.

(You can skin the peach easily by dipping it into very hot, almost boiling water, counting to 30 then into a bowl of cold water to prevent the flesh from cooking. It is now quite easy to slip off the skin.)

V E R D I C T

P E A S  :  The peas were a disaster. I think the reason was the kind of peas locally available in Thailand. I once made mushy peas using a tin of locally canned peas, and they also remained hard and dry.  These peas are just awful and I am not surprised the Thais think peas are vile.  Trashed the Peas, but luckily I had already made a Potato Gratin, as a side dish, so it was not asif there was not enough other food.

M I N T   C U C U M B E R   S A L A D : The French way of salting the cucumbers to soften them, makes them slightly slippery, if not a little slimy. But added to the mint and yogurt, lifted with the red wine vinegar makes for a very refreshing side dish to accompany a roasted chicken. I will make them the French way again, and next time will use more mint. Perhaps even double it.

R O A S T :  The roasted chicken turned out – well, perfect. It was possibly the best roast chicken I have ever had. The flesh was moist. Even the breasts which tend to be dry, were just succulant and juicy. The seasoning just before putting the bird into the oven, made the outer skin slightly crisp and allowed for the chicken taste to develop more.  The addition of the herbs and garlic to the inside, created a fragrant chicken, with herb and garlic flavours only being hinted at.    It was just a gorgeous roast.

F R U I T  S A L A D   Whenever I am having a set menu, and the dessert is fruit salad with ice cream, I always become suspicious of the rest of the meal. Fruit Salad is often such a cop out and one cannot help feeling that there has been general neglect in the dessert department when this is the final item on a menu.

However, this fruit salad was just shy of magnificent. It was the kind of  dessert you would expect to be served at a luxurious, reputable establishment. The addition of the Cointreau together with the citrus base of lemon and orange juice, gave the mix of different fruit  something quite special. If ever you decide to make a fruit salad and you want to make something special, use this recipe. Splash out on a bottle of Cointreau, it will make an excellent after dinner drink, and is refreshing and uplifting when served on crushed ice on a lazy summer afternoon.

OVERALL

I am thrilled with the results of the first lesson. The food was  superb. I felt like everything was made to perfection, even if the dubious peas on the menu turned out to be a such a stubborn side show in the end.  Even though I would have loved to make something a little more exotic, the pleasure of having something as comforting as roasted chicken, reminded me that even the most simple dish, when made well, is something utterly satisfying and memorable.

Poor man’s Cordon Bleu

11 Sep

Some time ago, perhaps it was about a month or so, I investigated enrolling at the Cordon Bleu Cooking school here in BKK.  Yeah hell why not?  They have saturday classes, and you can do the 3 tier basic, intermediate and superior course in around 18 months.

Bad news was the cost. At 180 000 baht ($6000 US) per course, so that is almost $20 000 including the kit, it meant that I would have to sell my house in order to attend.  Scrap that idea…

There had to be a better way – I decided that, instead of picking at cooking random things on a Saturday as I have been doing, I could just make it a little more structured. Find a cooking course that I could do at home. So I looked at Cooking books which teach cooking as you go along.

Julia Childs’ Excellent Mastering the Art of cooking, was my first choice. But, unfortunately its not really structured as a book which incorporates learning in the kind of way I had in mind.  So I looked at books that actually teach you cooking. The first one was Martha Stewart’s Cooking School, and though the book seems quite good, I did not feel that it was really who I would like to learn from. Yeah, Martha has some great recipes, and great ideas, but if I wanted to learn how to do Shakespeare, would I not want to learn from Sir Lawrence Olivier, rather than Tom Cruise?

No Martha was not it.

I looked at some ebooks – There is the Tante Marie’s cooking school, which, I downloaded a sample on Kindle, and seemed really good. It has great reviews and the recipes are all good. So over the next week I milled over whether I should invest $10 and just get it.

But on Friday after school, I went to the Kimoninmonuiyayiah (or however you spell that bookshop’s name) at Paragon, and whilst browsing, saw a copy of Cordon Bleu at home.

Leafing through it, I became so excited. The book really is the actual cooking course at Cordon Bleu, divided into 3 sections – Basic, Intermediate and Superior, spanning over 90 lessons, each with a starter, a main course and a dessert. Exactly what I wanted to do… and ingredients aside, the book cost just over $50 which seems free compared to $20 000.

Perfect.  Though it will be challenging to find some of the ingredients (have you ever seen skinned rabbit for sale anywhere, ever !?!), I’m sure a change here and a little substitution there will only add to the learning process…

So I bought the book, and the ingredients for the first lesson:

Cucumber Salad with Mint Yogurt
Pea and Lettuce with Roasted Chicken
Fruit Salad

Very do-able… if not a tad boring….

Porkribs in tomato and ginger

6 Sep

This is a excellent recipe – especially in  a pressure cooker. Its gorgeous spare ribs, and it will take a pro to recognize the slightly citrus taste in the sauce, which blends beautifully with the tomato base. When I first had it I was convinced it was lemongrass. But, once the recipe was revealed, after much begging and pleading, it turned out to be rather disappointing – 1  1/2 tablespoons of finely chopped ginger.

I do not like recipes which call for canned or bottled anything – even something as common as ketchup. When I read a recipe which calls for ketchup or a tin of this or a packet of that, my feeling hovers between having a sense that something has been compromised, cheapened, or just plain rushed. This recipe however turns out to be an exception. If you use the pressure cooker, its an exceptional Sunday lunch, clocking in at just under an hour.

Ingredients

  • 1.5 kg of pork ribs, cut between the ribs
  • 1 cup of sweet tomato sauce, if you can get ROZA its got a great taste
  • 1 cup of chicken stock or water (obviously chicken stock will add to the end result)
  • 2 tomatoes – finely chopped with the juice
  • 1 1/2 medium  onions  or one large one, finely chopped
  • 1 1/2 tbs finely chopped fresh ginger (more if you like the ginger to be a bit more ‘there’)
  • 1 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • vegetable oil for frying.

Method Conventional

  • Dry the ribs in a paper or kitchen towel to ensure browning. Heat oil in a heavy skillet, and brown over high heat until the ribs they have a nice deep brown colour shaking the pan occasionally. A nice dark brown on the ribs is especially important if you are going to use a pressure cooker, as the pressure tends to pale meat.
  • Remove the ribs
  • Using the fat of the ribs, add the onions and ginger and saute briefly, then add the tomatoes. Saute until the onions change colour and is soft and transparent. Add the ribs back into the pot as well as any juice.
  • Add the chicken stock and tomato sauce, mix thoroughly.
  • Cook over slow, conventional heat for about 1.5 hours or until the meat is soft and tender.  Check frequently to ensure that the sauce does not burn.

Pressure cooker

  • Read through the conventional method so that you have an idea of the different steps.  Once the meat has browned, add it to the pressure cooker and cook for 10 minutes in the stock.
  • Whilst its cooking,  saute onions, ginger and tomato in the same pot as you used to brown the meat.  When done with the saute, add the saute mix to the pressure cooked ribs in the pressure cooker, the pepper and tomato sauce. Mix well so that the sauce and juices blend thoroughly.
  • Now pressure cook for 15 minutes

The reason for this extra step is to avoid burning the sauce. Tomato sauce is high in sugar, and sugar tends to crystalise and then burn easily,  particularly when the temperature is raised for a long time.

Final Step

  • Remove the meat into a separate container so that you are left with only the sauce.
  • Over very high heat, reduce the sauce until it is a thick syrup. To avoid burning its best to stand over the boiling liquid continually scraping the bottom of the skillet with the flat end of an egg-lifter. Work briskly. It takes about 10 minutes or so to reduce the sauce.  Taste every now and then for texture and intensity.  If you are happy with the intensity of the reduced sauce, stop the process. The more the sauce reduces, the more intense the flavour. SO be careful. Personally I let the liquid reduce to a deep red,  has a shiny consistency similar to chutney and has become quite thick. Then I add the ribs back into the sauce and move the meat for a minute or two, until the liquid starts simmering again – pushing it around with the back of the egg-lifter.
  • Taste and carefully add final seasoning. The final sauce has a shiny appearance, and is quite thick. It has a slightly velvety texture and is slightly heavy. The aroma and taste on your tongue should be of a sauce that has been cooked for hours, and the flavours blended into a velvety, slightly sweet heavy texture that lingers.  If you feel it needs a little more ginger, fry a teaspoon or so separately in a tablespoon of oil and then add to the sauce.
  • Adjust seasoning carefully, adding a little salt pepper or a sugar, if needed.

Serve on a flavourful rice, such as Basmati or Thai Jasmine.

Eating as a Social Activity – Mexican Platter

5 Sep

(fotos to follow)

Years ago, when I lived in Johannesburg, we used to have sushi as a dinner party theme.  I would chop up all kinds of vegetables, slice bits of fish and a few crabsticks. cook some rice, buy some dried seaweed, and wait for the guests. Guests arrive, and we all sat around the table, music blaring and instead of rolling joints and chatting, we rolled sushi. It was a huge success.

I discovered a similar social element serving a Mexican platter when friends come around – Though the preparation far outweighs that of sushi, it is a low stressed social affair, which makes for an informal social evening, and if you have everything well-organised, relatively easy for the host. The great advantage of Mexican food, is that it is everyone’s favorite.

Here are a few easy Mexican recipes which works beautifully in a Platter :

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Lime and Coriander Chicken


About 1 kg chicken breasts – butterflied
a cup of cilantro/coriander roughly chopped
2 garlic cloves
3 tablespoons limejuice (lemon works well too)
3 tablespoons olive oil  plus 1 for frying
zest of 1 lime – finely grated  (optional)
water and salt (chicken stock works well)

Method:

  • Put everything except the water in the blender and blend until smooth. Add water – just enough to make it runny enough to cover the chicken. (1-2 cups)v Marinate the chicken pieces for at least 30 minutes.
  • When done, remove the chicken running 2 fingers along the strips over the container of marinade, to remove the excess moisture/liquid . Dry the chicken well in a tea towel/kitchen paper.
  • set aside the liquid
  • Heat a heavy skillet with 1 1/2 tablespoon butter  and table spoon olive oil on high heat.  When the foam starts to subside, add the chicken. Don’t crowd the pan – leave enough breathing space so that the chicken can brown nicely.  Saute for about 2 minutes, or when you can see that the outer rim of the top of the fillet has started to cook, then turn. Try to turn once only. To avoid dry fillets, dont have the chicken in the pan for longer than about 5 minutes.
  • Remove the pieces onto a plate as they get done. When all the pieces done, and with the pan hot, add the marinade set aside earlier and rapidly reduce until it has the consistency of a sauce. Remove from the heat. By now the sauted chicken has rested, and is ready to be cut into strips any liquid from the chicken goes into the pan with the marinade sauce.  When the chicken has been cut into strips,  add them back into the pan with the sauce.  Over medium heat, Stir through so that the chicken pieces are all coated in the lime and cilantro sauce  then immediately remove to a serving dish.

Serve with tortias,  spanish rice, or with a creamy cream pasta.

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Spanish Rice

Spanish rice is easy to make,  flavourful and aromatic, subtle enough not to overwhelm any accomanying dishes.

Ingredients

  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1 cup uncooked white rice
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 1/2 green bell pepper, chopped
  • 2 cups water
  • 1 tbs tomato paste
  • 1 (10 ounce) can diced tomatoes and green chiles
  • 2 teaspoons chili powder, or to taste
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • Bacon 6 strips sauted until brown (optional) / fat reserved
  • 10 black pitted olives, washed and sliced into rings (optional)

Heat a skillet/pan with the oil or bacon fat, saute rice, onion, green pepper until it has started  to change colour. Add the water, diced tomatoes and tomato paste. Stir well. Add bacon, olives. Cook for 30 minutes over low heat or until the rice has absorbed all the water. Check frequently the last 5-10 minutes so that the rice does not cook dry or burn.

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Refried Beans.

1/2 cup pinto beans
1/2 cup red beans

(or any cooking bean you have at hand)
Some vegetable oil / lard about 2 tablespoons
Lemon/Lime Juice to taste
Salt to taste

Soak overnight or if you do not have time,  bring to boil then remove from heat, and let it sit on the counter for about 90 minutes.

Method

  • Remove beans that are floating.
  • Wash the soaked beans in 3 changes of water.
  • Add cold water to the beans – enough to cover
  • Bring to boil, then drain and cover again.
  • Cook the beans until soft (usually at least an hour)
  • Alternatively use the pressure cooker and cook for 20 minutes
  • Remove half the beans – put into a blender and blend.
  • scoop bean paste back into the pot with  the unblended beans
  • season with salt (1/2 teaspoon or so each time, until you are happy with the taste)
  • Heat the lard / oil
  • Over low-medium heat ‘fry’ the beans until the consistency is that of a thick paste.
  • When ready. squeeze over it a slice of lime or lemon juice and mix through.
  • decorated with cilantro leaves.
  • Serve warm.

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Refried Beans – dressing up a can of them…

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dzeWbX0VqGg

Avocado dip

  • 1 avocado, sliced in half, flesh removed with a tablespoon
  • Salt and Pepper to taste. Dont be shy, avo can take as much as a teaspoon of each…
  • about a tablespoon or so lemon juice or 1 1/2 teaspoons lime.
  • Mash with a fork until smooth, adjust seasoning.  It should be salty, peppery and sour
  • Serve immediately, or if you serve later, cover the surface of the avo-paste with wax paper/clingfilm to
    prevent it from going black.

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Flour Tortillas (failproof!)

There is absolutely nothing that comes even close to home made tortillas. Its just heavenly, and though a little labour intensive, easy to make. This recipe is enough for 4 and you will have a couple left over.

Ingredients

3 cups all purpose flour
2 tsp salt
2 tsp baking powder
¾ cup shortening
1 cup hot water

(you van also use vegetable oil, but its a little more difficult to get the final tortilla rolled out thin – or so I have heard…)

Method :  use this fantastic you tube video as a guide

(cough, cough, not me in the video..)

Hint :  Its best if 2 people make this – one rolls out the dough, the other bake them in a pan. Use a cotton tea / kitchen towel, folded double, and as the tortillas come off the pan, keep them warm by inserting them into the folded kitchen towel. They should keep warm for about 40 minutes. Keep them covered on the table when serving.

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Mango Salsa

Mango salsa is just fantastic! It just lifts everything. The sweetness of the mango brings another dimension to your table, and it is simple to make.

Here is a good video, excuse the anal retentive chef, who washes the much celebrated organic mango with soap (!) before peeling it… I mean really…

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Mexican Pest0

This is a great variation on Italian pesto, and is prepared in a few minutes with a blender.

Ingredients

  • 1/4 cup hulled pumpkin seeds (pepitas) or pine kernels  or, though Ive not tried it, sunflower seeds
  • 1 bunch cilantro (about a cup ful)
  • 1/4 cup grated cotija cheese or grated preferably fresh parmesan
  • 4 cloves garlic
  • 1 serrano chile pepper, seeded (or add a few drops of tabasco or use another medium hot chilli)
  • salt to taste – depends on your cheese, but usually around a pinch
  • 6 tablespoons olive oil

Mehod

Place the pumpkin seeds in a food processor  pulse until coarsely chopped. Add cilantro, cheese, garlic, chile pepper/tobasco, salt, and olive oil; cover and process until smooth, scraping the sides of the bowl with a spatula as necessary. Adding a few drops of lime or lemon juice wont hurt.

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Mexican Bell Peppers.
This is a great side dish for any Mexican dish, and its prepared in 15 minutes. Its also great in a fajita or burritto.

  • 2-3 Bell peppers of different colours, deseeded, the white inners removed, washed and cut into strips
  • 1 onion onion chopped
  • 1-2 tablespoons cumin
  • 1 teaspoon Garlic salt (or a clove of garlic, chopped finely and additional salt to taste)
  • 1 tbsp butter
  • 1 tbsp olive oil

Over high heat, melt the butter until bubbling and add the olive oil, when the foam starts to subside add the onions and peppers. Fry until they start to changing colour, then add the garlic/garlic salt and  ground cumin, fry until the onion is transparent and soft. Remove. Season with additional salt and pepper to taste.

Variation : onion and green chilli

2 onions
any green chilly or a sliced jalapeno
some cumin – about a tablespoon
garlic salt

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The rest:

  • Chop up some ordinary lettuce. You can keep it crisp if you leave it in an ice bath for 30 minutes before serving.
  • Some grated Cheddar in a bowl
  • A bowl of fresh cilantro, roughly chopped
  • A bowl with a tub of sour cream

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Last word :

All of the above, with exception of the tortillas, can be prepared beforehand. The tortillas are best if they are served immediately. Depending on the formality of the dinner party, you can cook them in the kitchen, whilst your friends are chatting around the table. Alternatively, you can make them just before the guests arrive, and then keep them warm by placing them  in a 100′C or 200′F oven wrapped in foil, shiny side outside, until its dinner time. To make sure the oven is moist, place a bowl of warm water into the oven with them.  If you have to reheat them, remove one at a time from the kitchen towel, reheat and then wrap in a fresh towel. Though the results are not perfect, it should be good enough, depending on your tolerance for imperperfection.

Of course you mix and match the various bits, picking whatever combination you want – fill your tortilla, roll and enjoy…

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