Category Archives: FOOD & RECIPES

MOTHERS DAY 2018

Posted: Sunday, May 13, 2018

So what is special about mothers day- you have to ask? We may not all have had fathers but we all have had mothers. They are the ones who traditionally made the family a unit, and in bad families were the ones who held it together.

The notion of “Mothers Day” I have always found a bit strange, however. There should be an acknowledgment of these wonderful creatures but it almost cheapens it to make it just one day.

I am not going to go on about my mom. She was a good mom and I loved her and I regret that for too many years I was just thinking about my own life, not coming home to visit. I think about this a fair bit, but I can’t change it, I can only remember her and my dad and try to learn from my experience of not being a better kid.

What I am going to do is tell you about a poem Jim wrote. He is not the best poet as you know but I particularly like this one. It’s about his Nana. Like me, he had a great relationship with his paternal grandmother. Her real name was Hannah but Nana is what he called her. During those years in high school when most of us were somewhat alienated from our parents and vice/versa the relationship we had with an aunt or uncle, grandparent or even an older cousin is what got some of us through. They can bring a perspective that may not be the same as ours but might be somewhat different than our parents – and they bring it with love and no expectations.

So during his late years in elementary school and through high school, Jim and his dad would drive up the Ottawa valley from their home in Ottawa one evening a week to a little village where his Nanas house was. This hadn’t been her lifetime house or even a place she had lived in for a substantial time. It was a house that she had bought in later life just to get back to living in a smaller community, having a garden and being out with nature. It would be followed by the reality of having to move into an apartment in Ottawa closer to Jim’s parents but for about a decade, she enjoyed her small-town life in her little place, where she could walk to the village shops for groceries, or the post office or to get her hair done.

So on Tuesday nights from May until September Jim and his dad would drive there. Jim’s dad would usually work on repairs of some kind, while Jim would cut the grass, and do some weeding in the garden. They would all then have dinner together and before it was too late in the evening (as Jim would have to go to school the next day to fail Math, Science or French) Jim and his dad would drive back to Ottawa.  Sometimes he would complain about it as he would miss something that a bunch of us were doing, or a TV show he wanted to see but for the most part he looked forward to his Tuesday nights both for seeing his Nana and for having some time with his dad that was not focused on how badly he was doing in school or what mischief he had gotten into that week.

This is his poem and as I said above I do like this one as it reminds me of times with my grandmother. Jim has really been opening up over the last few years and I think he is better for it.

 

NANA’S TUESDAY NIGHT

Every Tuesday night,

My dad and I would drive

To the country to see my Nana.

 

I would cut the grass,

Dad would repair something

Or weed the garden.

 

Nana would make us dinner

Of fresh vegetables and meat,

Roast potatoes and pie.

 

I never liked

Beets, green beans or brussels sprouts,

Except at my Nanas.

 

My Nana is gone, my dad is gone,

But as often as I can

I eat beets, Green beans, and brussels sprouts.

 

So that’s the poem. He is getting better at this poetry business I think.  I don’t yet have a picture of Jim with his Nana but I am trying to track one down.  I do have her recipe for apple pie and a picture of Janice and the first pie she made for Jim when they were living at their first apartment in Kingston. Janice had finished her program in fashion design and was working as a fashion designer at that point and Jim was doing graduate work in Urban Planning and Development.

 

 

NANAS CLASSIC APPLE PIE RECIPE

Jim’s Nana seemed to like to work with really big pie plates – about 30cm so almost one foot. For some of us, that is just one big unwieldy pie, especially if you are working in a small space like the galley of an old boat like mine so I have scaled the recipe he gave me down to a 23 cm size (9 inches) pie.  Even when I am making a pie for a larger group I prefer to make two smaller ones and then do one as a bit of a variation in look or taste or to make one as a pie and a few tarts as well.

Ingredient list: Pastry – 2 pieces as its double crust for the 9-inch pie if you are buying pastry.

Of course nothing duplicates a pastry you make yourself. If you have not done so before this adds quite a bit to the exercise so for the first time I would just buy the dough. Once you are comfortable with making pies move on to making the pastry yourself. Most recipes for dough don’t really tell the story  of the tricks or rules to make a good pie crust but one that I really like is https://www.canadianliving.com/food/food-tips/article/pie-crust-101

 

Pie Filling

Peeled & sliced apples 5 cups            (1.25L)

Sugar *                             3/4  cup       (175 ml)

Flour                                 1 tbsp           (15 ml)

Cinnamon                        1/2 tsp          ( 2 ml)

Lemon Juice                    1 tbsp           (15 ml)

Butter (unsalted)           1 tbsp           (15 ml) cut cold butter into little pieces to distribute

Egg                                    1 egg                      for eggwash

*  Now I have tried to make this faithfully to the original recipe but Jim tells me that pretty regularly his Nana would claim to be low in sugar and would “substitute” with some rum or with a fruit liqueur or with maple syrup. His recollection, however, is that there actually was no substitution just “supplement” of these items at times. I have experimented with each of the products and found that up to a half tablespoon of rum or up to a full tablespoon of maple syrup or liqueur such as  Grand Marnier can add some sweetness and depth to the flavour.

 

To make the pie:

1. Preheat the oven to 220C (425f)

2. Line the pie plate with the lower pastry piece

3. mix the cut apple slices, flour and sugar*, lemon juice and cinnamon then gently pour the mixture onto the                   pastry

4. put the little butter pieces around the top of the mixture

5. drizzle the rum/ liqueur etc. around the mixture if substituting/ supplementing

6. cover with the top crust, then seal and pinch (flute) the edges

7. You need to put in a few slits for the steam to be released. Jim would chatter on about how his Nana would not just cut little slits for the pie to release steam but instead would do a little shape – a few slits to look like a conifer tree or a little rabbit or acorn.

8. a little brushing of an egg wash and a bit of a sugar sprinkle and its ready for the oven for 30 minutes then watch it for the next five to ten minutes after that to take the crust to the way you like it.

 

While some weeks Jims Nana would do cookies or cake, most weeks it would be a pie dessert and Jim, who has a whole mouthful of sweet teeth would tell me about the one that week – Wild Blueberry Pie, Maple Syrup Pie, Buttertart Pie, Fresh Rasberry Pie ….

Come to think of it, on the vegetable front today he does eat a lot of brussels sprouts, and green beans and even more beets than the average person.

And I would be remiss to not wish Janice a happy mothers day. She got cheated out of experiencing her mother during her adult years as her mom passed when Janice was in her early twenties.  I think she is making up for that missing experience by being so good a mom to Jade and Jason.

 

 

 

 

LIFE LESSON: HOW TO MAKE FRIES FOR A BELGIAN

Posted Aug 4, 2016

In some of the upcoming posts I will be diving into the crazy life I took on when I left Walter, so before we head down that much more serious rabbit hole, I thought I might stay up in a lighter place and talk about some of the cooking I did for Walter and his guests.

Every Tuesday (there were only a couple exceptions to this timing) Walter would have a small dinner party. Sometimes it would be eight or ten but was usually only four to six guests. They were not always exclusively Belgian guests but they were almost exclusively people based in Brussels for their work so had caught the “fries addiction”.

Some stereotypes exist for a reason. Regardless of what else I would be serving for a meal, the assumption was that there would be some fries on the table, like cutlery or table linens, and a chef who could not impress in this regard was at best a cook, and certainly not a chef. The first time I tried to do fries for one of Walters dinners there were a lot of raised eyebrows. Everything else could be fabulous but without the fries – well, what a letdown.

Jim related to me a similar problem from the cooking school he and Janice had (see the Links We Like).  There would be times where an extended family would come for a private evening where the focus was a traditional holiday or occasion and the culinary focus was to be a dish that was “just like grandmas”. Invariably Grandma would be at the dinner. The chef would be provided with the recipe a few days before the event and sometimes a terrine or plater from the grandma in question to make the dish seem to be just the same.

The first few times it was a disaster. Grandmas recipe might call for a teaspoon of rum and her practice had been to put in half a cup! Beyond this it was also politically incorrect for the dish to be as good as Grandmas – that would be a blasphemy!

So what became the standard practice was for the house chef to simply say “ I would love the opportunity to interpret and do a variation on this wonderful recipe” which let grandma off the hook if it was better than hers,  as everyone could rave about it but still say its not as good as hers and the chef could be sure a great meal would be produced and enjoyed.

My experience with Walters guests was much the same. I couldn’t live up to the expectations for the Belgian fries, so I did roasted (not fried) home fries, with lots of different dips and it was always a hit.

What follows is the most popular dish and variations on the meals I would do at Walters. We would usually have some canapes and champagne or prosecco as the guests would arrive, a soup or appetizer starter then roll into the entre with the vegetables, followed by a homemade ice cream with homemade biscuits or biscotti for dessert with espresso. While there were many variations and different dishes served over the few months I was there, a very popular one was the pork tenderloin so that’s what I have described here. The home fries were the only constant for every dinner party!

    HERB ENCRUSTED ROAST PORK TENDERLOIN & HOME FRIES 

Working at Walters was quite a treat for me. The kitchen was not always rocking like a boat, had lots of counter space, many specialty appliances and lots of refrigeration. These, of course, were all things that I had not experienced for a while, as most yachts, even large ones, don’t dedicate a lot of space to the kitchen.

Pork Tenderloin, Veal Tenderloin  or Beef Tenderloin

All three of these meats work and depending on the size of your guest list, and of your budget, each of them has their merits. So if it’s a dinner for two I would do a smaller pork tenderloin, or if a group of four, then two pork loins, but if it’s a group of six or more going to the loin of beef or veal is often the better route. Some guests also have issues with pork which will also help you decide which meat to use. In general, there are cuts of beef I like better so most of the time when doing this recipe I would go with the pork even if it involves multiple tenderloins if there is a larger group.

  1. Trim off any excess fat, wash the loin, and dry completely with a paper towel.
  2. rub with olive oil, or go 4.
  3.  coat with herbs. This can take on many forms and depends on your taste. In general, I always like to use fresh herbs for my cooking but for this kind of treatment I prefer dried herbs with two exceptions. Finely chopping a sprig or two of fresh Rosemary per pork tenderloin, and a couple sprigs of Tyme as well is a great route to go. or If like me you are functioning in a small kitchen most of the time you can use a premixed type– eg Italian (usually with oregano, rosemary, thyme, and basil, but some have garlic and other herbs) or Herbs de Provence –(which adds to the Italian mix several other components: savory, marjoram, and lavender) but ultimately you are the one in control and may choose to go heavy on one type or another. Once the herbs are on make sure you rub again with oil as you want the herbs to be soaking up that oil and sticking to the meat.  As you do the dish more often you will also experiment with specific tastes – finely chopped garlic (two or three cloves per tenderloin), or going exclusively with thyme mixed with the zest of one lemon per tenderloin. When doing this one I would often grill slices of lemon and use them as a garnish on the finished dish with their grilled mushy juices adding flavour to the pork pieces.
  4. an alternative to rubbing with oil then adding the herbs is to put the herbs in a small bowl dry, then just add enough oil to make a paste of the oil and herb mixture and then put this on the meat. When you are familiar with it, the technique works well but usually results in a much more robust coating of herbs than the other way.                                                                     Pre-Coating: I have found that when working with beef, after coating with herbs, having it sit, covered in the fridge for several hours or even overnight before bringing it out and having sit at room temperature for about 20 minutes (while your range pre-heats) before cooking is really worthwhile. But unless it is preferable for dinner scheduling this pre-coating and sitting time is not as beneficial with pork tenderloin. In some kitchen settings I would just roast directly on a roasting pan and turn it after about fifteen minutes  but I prefer to cook the loins on a rack off the floor of the roasting pan and to then pour as much water as  possible into the pan below the rack leaving at least one centimeter (1/2 inch) between the water and the  rack.   This helps keep the oven area moist as well as giving more air circulation around the roast. The outer surface of the meat will still crisp up, but the effect is to have an even moister final product than otherwise. It also makes cleaning up that roasting pan a breeze.
  5. Place pork tenderloin or multiple tenderloins in a preheated oven at 175c (350f) for about 50 minutes.  Now oven temperatures are an interesting thing. The higher you go up, of course, the shorter a time needed. So if you are in a scramble time-wise you could preheat to 204c (400f) and just go for about 30 minutes, or to 260c (500f) and shave it down to about 20 minutes.                                                                                                                  So why, with so many options did I start with the suggestion of 175c (350f) for 50 minutes? Well because: most of us are the only person working in the kitchen; are not serving just this one component; are working with        equipment that is not perfectly tuned and prefer to make the whole process more forgiving. When a piece of        meat that has been cooking at 175c (350f) for something like 45 minutes to an hour is removed from the oven it continues to cook but not much, while a piece that was cooking at 260c (500f) that is removed will continue to  cook while resting, making the judgment of serving time much more difficult. Many home cooks or                        recreational  chefs don’t have exceptional equipment and a variety of products are not recommended for oven    use at really high temperatures. This is particularly true of non-stick finishes that will often top out at a                 recommended 175c(350f).                                                                                                                                                           Working with a beef tenderloin is a bit different both because of the dimension of the loin as well as the proper cooked point to be achieved. A typical time for the beef will be 45 to 60 minutes at 425f.
  6. Time, of course, is just the starting point – the real test is the internal temperature of the tenderloin. If you have a thermometer or your range is equipped with a probe, you are trying to get the internal temperature of the pork tenderloin to about 65c (150f ) or a little lower for the beef loin to 60-62c (140-145f)
  7. A lot is often made about “resting” and there is no question that the meat will benefit from a ten minute resting time (particularly the beef) but the reality is that you don’t need to build this into your time. Just get it out of the oven and work away on your final prep, serving the various components etc. For most of us mere mortals that takes about ten minutes.
  8. Cut into slices at a thickness you like – eg 1 cm or 3/8 inch. In general, cutting it in thinner slices is more formal and wider is more casual. Then layer/stagger a serving on the plate, much like toppled dominoes.
  9. You can accompany the dish with gravy but the herbs and the roasting produce a nice product without it and an easy one to add is a chutney, mint jelly or hot pepper jelly on the side for the pork, and a chutney, or horseradish for beef loin.

Roast Home Fries

This is a foolproof, dead easy recipe that can be dressed up or down as needed. On most occasions, I like to work with white potatoes, not the yellow fleshy ones but all of this is personal preference. I also don’t remove the skin so part of the exercise begins at the market in choosing nice looking potatoes. I don’t go by weight – but by the size of nice looking potatoes available and that will tell me how many I need per person. A typical one that is about 8 to 10 cm (3-4inches) long is enough for each person but you will want to do some extra as the taste of these encourages gluttony.

  1. give them a good scrub under running water with a brush then cut the potatoes in half lengthwise, then cut each of those in thirds, again lengthways. This will yield a total of six long pieces per potato with a profile (if viewed from the end) of a triangle.
  2. put the pieces in a stock pot to just covered with water and bring to a boil. Turn off the burner and let sit for five minutes. Check the potato pieces with a fork – you don’t want them to go soft.
  3. drain and let sit out of the water to dry for a few minutes.
  4. place in a large bowl, add a glug (a “glug” I have found to be about a tablespoon but can be up to two tablespoons) of olive oil, whatever amount of salt and pepper you are liking and turn over lightly with a big spoon– we’re not trying to beat up the potato slices, just to get them covered with oil and seasoning.  Using Canola Oil or a vegetable oil instead of olive oil will get them a bit crisper if that is how you like them. I will usually use Canola oil if its available for this reason.
  5. put the seasoned potato slices on whatever you have – parchment paper or Silpat on top of a baking sheet, or sometimes I will put them on a rack on top of a baking sheet. It all works.
  6. these will then go into the same oven you are cooking your meat in but depending on the thickness of the pieces it will often take less time than the meat so you will manage the timing of when they come out based on how they are looking.

Turn them at the midpoint or when you see one side getting a good roast patina. When they are ready,  get them out, cover with foil until the other components of the meal are ready.

Variation – you can do a much more elegant looking product (and save yourself a step) by cutting the pieces thinner and not parboiling them in the boiling water first. If they are cut thin enough  (eg  I cm or less than 3/8 inch) you can just oil and season them and put them straight in the oven.

Other Vegetables

I really love roast vegetables but with the meat being roasted and the fries being a big roasted item I would usually just steam some brussels sprouts, or broccoli or some nice heirloom carrots or slice up some fresh tomatoes to compliment.

Dips for the Roast Homefries

So this is where I really solved the problem of Walters guests – the fries snobs. While they were allowed to like the home fries because they were sufficiently different than what they were familiar with, setting out a number of dips put it into the category of “better than expected”. Yes, I put out a conventional aioli, but also put out tomato salsa, maple syrup, an orange roulade or jelly, a mixture of Dijon and mayonnaise etc.

Walters kitchen was also an example of Djangos Kitchen Rule #2 – “work with the tools you have”. Walters kitchen had lots of counter space so I was not restricted. It also had lots of specialty tools on hand – a deep fryer, a rice maker, an ice cream maker, both a large and small blender, air fryer, panini maker, pressure cooker, so I was certainly spoiled in comparison with my usual kitchen situation. But my point is this – often a specialty appliance can be used in many ways. A rice maker is also a great tool for making tapioca or rice pudding. An ice cream maker is not just for making deserts – use it to make a nice palette-cleansing sorbet which adds some elegance between courses.

Even major appliances are often not appreciated unless, like me, you are coming from a small kitchen on a boat. That second oven or warming drawer set at about 160f is great for warming plates or keeping various cooked foods warm.

One of the biggest things I notice with kitchens on land is the abundance of refrigeration and freezer space. Use them. A nice salad can be made ahead and sit in that huge fridge. That cavernous freezer is great for buying meat on sale, freezing and having on hand. No, you can’t keep it there forever, and yes, it is better to work with fresh, but for most people buying the better cut of meat on sale and freezing it is a very good approach. You will also find that many time-consuming recipes may lend themselves to making the second batch and freezing.

 

 

So this little culinary diversion has kept us from getting back to the story of what my life with Amy and Justin was like. Stay tuned, it will be my next post.

MAKING RISOTTO WITH KIDS

Posted: Aug 24, 2015

No, I don’t mean risotto with a side of kids but working with kids to prepare Risotto!

For those of you who have been following along this is an extension of my last post “1990’s: DJANGO STARTS TO GET IT TOGETHER”, where I was working for a family during the summer of 1993 in the Netherlands and enjoyed teaching their kids to cook.  So if your not into cooking or are a good cook already and won’t learn much from this than go do something else. The rest of you – follow me.

Most kids, especially by the time they are teenagers, are quite astute and if they are interested in a topic will grasp ideas and instructions very well. I have never had any kids and not spent a lot of time with them other than that summer in 1993 but I was really impressed. Intelligent ideas, inquisitive perspective, a steely sense of right and wrong – we should all be more like teenagers!

I know that Janice and Jim had a lot of fun doing the cooking school they had,  and one course that Jim and his chef designed was “College Survival”.  The idea was to cover in the space of five evening classes, a quick course in equipment, hygiene, and cooking techniques. Their experience with Risotto and young people was much like what mine had been.  We have compared notes and some of my future entries here will shamelessly borrow on their experience with their cooking school as well.   Time for a little plug – check out the link to the cooking school in the LINKS WE LOVE section.

The amount of time I have spent in North America in the last couple of decades has been limited but I think that pizza, mac and cheese, and burgers are still the staples of teenage diets there. European kids like pizza as well but really enjoy a variety of pasta dishes and sauces and risotto is a pretty popular one with them.

One of the things I love about this dish is that you can mix it up so much. We all think of using Arborio, but there are other kinds of rice that are fat, starchy and medium grain that will also get you that creamy texture: try Carnaroli, Roma, Vialone, Violone Nano and Maratelli.

What works so well with kids is that you can also put one “sous chef” on the rice and stock mixture while another is working on the prep of the toppings or ingredients.

 

But it all starts with the stock. At the end of this piece I have included some detail on preparing a good stock. I have worked in big kitchen operations on cruise ships that resemble food factories and in small little kitchens on private yachts with limited counter space and even less fridge space and after doing this for a few decades a few rules keep floating to the surface.

This is probably a good place to introduce DJANGOS KITCHEN RULE #1 – IF A COMPONENT FOR  A COURSE IS AVAILABLE THAT IS VIRTUALLY AS GOOD AS YOUR OWN, BUY IT AND SPEND YOUR TIME AND ENERGY ON SOMETHING THAT WILL MAKE THE DISH SPECIAL.

Ok so that may not be the epiphany of the century but too often we spend our time trying to see if we can make a component of a dish ourselves that takes a lot of time and energy to not really be appreciated by the guest. You need to find the sweet spot in each recipe that combines the efficiency of buying something prepared vs. the taste and quality of the result. The cost factor of course comes into this little equation as well. Most people who make phyllo pastry or puff pastry the first time will quickly realize that unless they are doing it all the time or for a large group – just buy it frozen at the grocery store and focus on what you are doing with it.

So if you are living in a place with great grocery or specialty stores available and have limited space go buy your vegetable, chicken or beef stock. If it’s not readily available or you have the time and interest go to the bottom of this piece and work away on producing a good stock. Personally, I do both. When I have the time I will produce a great stock and it will be the basis for a great risotto, and other times I will have some that I made at an earlier point in the freezer to pull out but sometimes it just doesn’t work out to make it and I will buy the stock. One of the benefits of buying the stock is that you can now focus your attention and limited time on more interesting components to add to the risotto or sit on top.  On the rare occasion I have lived on land and had a conventional kitchen, I have found freezing your homemade stock a great way to go, but most of the time my freezer space on a boat has been pretty precious.

Whichever way you go you will have to choose one of those three types of stock and the choice will come down to matching the stock with the protein or vegetable that will be the feature of the risotto: we will make a butternut squash risotto with a vegetable stock, a seafood risotto with a fish stock, a beef risotto with a veal stock and a duck risotto with a chicken stock, for example. Otherwise, the flavours just become jumbled. Of course, vegetarians are going to use a vegetable stock for everything.

So once we have our stock, here is what we are going to do to prepare the Risotto.

The grocery list is below the ingredients.

Before getting going on anything, turn the kids on to kitchen hygiene. Get them to wash up before handling food, and every time they have handled raw meat or fish, and get the utensils or plates that have touched those raw products into a designated area or sink or dishwasher for clean up later. They won’t know if you don’t teach them and getting them into good habits first thing is the way to go.

I like to set up two large stock pots. One will be for our finished Risotto and one is for the stock.

  1. get started by peeling and chopping fairly fine the onion, garlic, and the celery
  2. Put your stock into the first stock pot and put on a low- medium heat. We are really just preheating or warming this stock, not trying to boil it. The only purpose this stock pot is for is heating the vegetable, beef or fish stock so if any of my explanation is not clear – everything else is being added to the other pot
  3. Preheat the second large stock pot (or if don’t have two you could use a saute pan or fry pan) to medium-low heat
  4. add the two tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil to this second pot and about 15 ml of the butter
  5. add the finely chopped shallots or onion, the celery and garlic and sauté in the second pot, for ten or fifteen minutes. It’s better to do them at a lower temperature but have some control of the exercise, especially when working with kids or teenagers.
  6. get the rice into the second pot and saute for two to four minutes. Make sure you stir the rice at this point
  7. this is where I would typically add a glass (cup) or two of white wine, and once it’s largely absorbed or evaporated off you can move to the next step.
  8. So from this point, you have a wonderful task available for your sous-chef (child or teenager). Have them ladle (about a half cup size ladle) one scoop of stock into the rice mixture and stir to help the stock be absorbed by the rice. When it is largely absorbed into the rice give it another ladle full and continue with this process until all the stock has been added. This process is going to take about twenty or thirty minutes or more.
  9. Meanwhile, during this process of adding the stock to the rice mixture, you or your other sous chef can work on the other components that will either be added to the dish or sit on top.   (see comments below)
  10.  when the stock is all added and absorbed the rice should be al dente, just chewy to the bite, you can also decide if you would like to add another half cup of dry white wine (sauvignon blanc for example). It’s not usually done if you added it earlier but if you did not put in earlier it does add to the flavor and sweetness to put some in at this point. If you are poor the way I have been for most of my life I would not put it in earlier as much of it evaporates and putting in half a cup at this point gives a nice flavour.
  11. at this point its time to add our unsalted butter and Reggiano Parmigiano cheese and any of our mixtures we are mixing in. (See comments below)
  12. then plate up with your toppings and serve in heated bowls.

Common additions to put into the risotto are: grape tomatoes cut in half, asparagus cut at two cm (three-quarters of an inch)  lengths, mushrooms sliced or ripped and sauteed, chicken or pork cut into bite size pieces and grilled.

Common toppings are: Sauteed portobello mushroom slices, grilled jumbo shrimp or prawns, sautéed or grilled scallops, boiled or steamed lobster tails, boneless skinless chicken breasts or duck grilled and sliced on top.

Sometimes when we would go shopping together Isa and Tess would really get into it and be looking for different flavours and textures and when their older siblings would go shopping for us the envelope would really get pushed (anchovies and capers, sundried tomatoes and spicy meatballs, grilled squid with strips of grilled fennel) but it was a great way to include the older ones who had little interest in cooking but extensive interest in eating. I was successful at getting Luna to plant a potted herb garden on the back deck of the boat with Italian parsley, basil, thyme and rosemary and one or more of these would regularly find their way into the food we would make. Lars ended up quite pleased with himself when we made pesto near the end of the season with the fruits of our basil plant that was looking more like a small tree!

A Note on Salt: traditional risotto recipes will have salt added through this process and will use salted butter. Today the appetite for salt is considerably reduced from the past and as there is already salt in the cheese most of the time I will wait until the end to see if we are going to add any salt to the dish. It’s easy to put it in later and impossible to take it out!

If you are going to add pepper you would usually use a white pepper.

GROCERY LIST (for risotto as a main course for six)

  • 1 liter organic stock, such as chicken, fish, vegetable – or make your own – see below
  • 1 large onion
  • 2 cloves of garlic
  • Five or six shoots of celery (about half a stock)
  • 100 g Parmesan cheese (3.5 oz) – when grated it turns into about half a cup
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • unsalted butter
  • 400 g risotto rice (14 oz)
  • dry white wine or vermouth (optional)

THE CHEATS

As we go forward with more recipes you will learn that I love to share “cheats” or tips that largely come from commercial applications of food prep or just from my experience working in small spaces with future meals in mind.

Some of these relate to logistics and planning. In a commercial context, a chef or a cook is always thinking of the second or third day of the components of a meal.   A roast chicken or turkey the first day becomes chicken sandwiches or chicken soup the second day and also becomes the basis for our chicken stock. So whenever you are having a chicken, turkey or fish build in the leftovers and time to prepare your stock.

Another great cheat with making risotto is to have more ingredients on hand and to do some arancini balls that you can freeze for a future meal. At a future post, I will go through a recipe for Arancini balls.

 

MAKING BEEF, VEGETABLE AND FISH STOCK

The core of a good soup, sauce or risotto is a good stock, whether beef, vegetable or fish.

Always rinse chicken and fish bones in cold water to wash off blood and reduce impurities in your stock. It is important to use fresh bones.

A stock or broth is a semi-clear, thin liquid flavoured by soluble substances extracted from meat, poultry, fish and their bones, and from vegetables and seasonings.

 

Beef Bones-There are two different types of stocks for beef.  A white stock can be made from beef or veal bones. Cooking the bones without browning them first will make a white stock. Browning the bones in the oven on the stove top before cooling them will make a brown stock.

 

Chicken and Fish – Remember to wash chicken or fish really well in cold water before beginning.

 

 

Mirepoix– Aromatic vegetables are the second most important ingredient in flavouring a stock. The basic flavouring for mirepoix is carrots, celery, and onions. Other ingredients that can be added to a mirepoix are vegetables such as mushrooms and tomatoes. Tomato products provide both flavour and acid to a stock. It can also provide some colour that might be undesirable in some stocks. When making a white veal stock, we would not add a tomato product.

 

You can adjust the combination of vegetables in a mirepoix to get a desired flavour or colour for your stock. For example, increase the amount of carrots and your stock will become darker. Increase the amount of onions and celery and the stock will be lighter.

Note: Your vegetable stock will take on the flavours of the vegetables used so choose the ratio of vegetables wisely so your vegetable stocks flavour will complement the dish.

The size of the vegetables is also an important factor when cooking a stock. A beef or veal stock need to be cooked for several hours and the longer it is cooked the darker the stock.

  • Chicken stock need only be cooked for one hour or so to extract all the marrow and nutrients from the bones. A fish stock can be made in 30-45 minutes.
  • Vegetable stock can be made in 15-30 minutes. It is important to note that vegetable stocks were not part of classical French cuisine. The increase in demand for vegetable stocks has arisen from the increase in vegetarians. Making a good and consistent vegetable stock comes from practice.

 

Scraps-meat scraps can be added to a stock to provide additional flavour provided the scrapes are low in fat, clean, wholesome and appropriate for the stock being made. For instance, you should only use beef or veal scrapes when making a beef or veal stock. When making a vegetable stock, caution should be used in the amounts of strongly flavoured vegetables such as asparagus, broccoli, cauliflower, and Brussel sprouts. These vegetables each have a strong flavour and will overpower the stock if too much is used.

Starchy vegetables like potatoes, sweet potatoes, and winter squash will make a stock cloudy.

 

Seasoning and Spices-Salt is usually not added when making a stock, however, using a slight amount will help to extract marrow and flavouring from the bones. Herbs and spices should be used only slightly. You can either put the herbs and spices in the mix and then get them out with a fine strainer but if you like your stock to be a bit more dense and you are using a more course strainer you should put the collection of seasonings and spices in sachet or cheesecloth bag tied up so that it infuses the stock but can then be easily pulled out later. It is also a way that you can see how the flavor is evolving as you are preparing your stock and pull the little sachet or cheesecloth bag out part way through the process. Common herbs and spices used when making a stock are, black peppercorns, thyme, basil, parsley stems, bay leaves, cloves, garlic, apples, star anise, and cinnamon.  The combination and amount of seasoning is based on the type and amount of stock being prepared.

 

RECIPES

 

Preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. Brown bones (do not burn) in a roasting pan. When brown, add tomato paste to bones and mirepoix to roasting pan. Continue to roast for an additional 10 minutes. Add bones and browned mirepoix to large stock pot. Cover bones with cold water. Add all the other ingredients to the stock pot and bring to a boil. Deglaze the roasting pan with red wine and add to stockpot. Once boiling, reduce to a simmer for three to four hours. The longer you cook the stock, the darker it will become. Skim any foam (impurities) from the surface. Strain stock. This stock will keep for up to three or four days.  If you have freezer space it is great to freeze some for future use.

Brown Stock-Beef Stock

5-6 kg (10-12 lbs)  Beef or veal bones

10-12 L (10-12 qts) Cold Water

Mirepoix:

500 g ( 1 lb)Onion chopped

250 g  ( 8 oz) Carrots chopped

250 g  (8oz) Celery chopped

Sachet:

1 Bay leaf

¼ tsp or 1 ml Thyme

¼ tsp or 1 ml Black Peppercorns

6-8 Parsley Stems

Note: After the stock has been strained add cold water over the bones again and cook for an hour. This mixture is called a remoulage or remi. It is a weak brown stock but is excellent as a starter for your next brown stock.

 

White Stock-Chicken or Veal

5-6 kg  (10-12 lbs) Beef or veal bones

10-12 L (10-12 qts) Cold Water

Mirepoix:

500 g ( 1 lb)Onion chopped

250 g  ( 8 oz) Carrots chopped

250 g  (8oz) Celery chopped

Sachet:

1 Bay leaf

¼ tsp or 1 ml Thyme

¼ tsp or 1 ml Black Peppercorns

6-8 Parsley Stems

Rinse chicken bones in cold water. Add all the ingredients to a stock pot and bring to a boil. Once boiling, reduce to a simmer for one hour to one and a half hours. Skim any foam (impurities) from the surface. Strain stock. This stock can be kept in the fridge for 3-4 days or frozen.

Vegetable Stock

1 lb. or 500 g Onion chopped medium dice

8 oz. or 250 g Carrots chopped medium dice

8 oz or 250 g Celery chopped medium dice

1 Tomato roughly chopped in ¼’s

Sachet:

1 Bay leaf

¼ tsp or 1 ml Thyme

¼ tsp or 1 ml Black Peppercorns

6-8 Parsley Stems

Add all the ingredients to a stock pot and bring to a boil. Once boiling, reduce to a simmer for 30 minutes to one hour. Strain stock. Keep in the fridge for 3- 4 days or freeze.

 

Note: For a mushroom risotto stock add mushroom stems to the stock for flavour.