Okay, we all love food, but there are some things that all of us dread when it comes to food preparation.
There are just things that we think we don’t like, things we can’t bear to think about touching, let alone preparing, or things that just seem too professional or difficult to bother trying to tackle.
This past week, I have enrolled myself in a personal ‘Food Boot Camp’.
Things are quiet at work and I have quite a bit of time on my hands.
There are a few events on the horizon that may change the landscape of my life.
So, as much as I love all my Buzzer’s, I’ve been absent a bit (sorry to worry some of you, you sweet things), but I’ve been trying to focus on being a better foodie and expanding my skills, ingredients and presentation repertoire.
Challenge Number One – Perfecting Pastry
Owning a café, we go through mountains of pastry – sweet, savoury, puff…
but we are able to buy good quality rolls of it. If we had to make it all by hand, we’d be out of business in no time at all.
But, I want to master a great quality hand made pastry. After much research, (I won’t bore you with the scientific bits about gluten) the bottom line is you need to:
- Quickly, combine a 50/50 or 40/60 ratio of plain flour and fat (i.e butter, lard or combo of butter/cheese/cream cheese, etc) to a bread crumb consistency This can be done in
a food processor, or by hand.
- Quickly, add in a small amount of cold water to just bring the dough together.
I just learned, via AR, that to use ½ water and ½ vodka (!) makes for a flakier pastry!
Gather dough together in plastic wrap and gently press into a round disk and rest in the fridge for at least 15 minutes.
- Gently, roll dough out between two layers of plastic wrap to your desired thickness.
Using plastic wrap means you do not need to add additional flour, upsetting the flour/fat balance. Plus, once the dough is at the right thickness, you can pick up the sheet of wrap and invert it over you baking vessel and shape it, without the dough
tearing or cracking. This also prevents stretching of the dough, the key factor in shrinkage.
- Shape dough to your pie or tart pan, rest, blind bake and there you go!
Challenge Number Two – Remarkable Risotto
A good, creamy risotto is a thing of beauty, whether flavoured with cheese, mushrooms, asparagus, seafood, or just left plain to accompany another stellar dish.
A great risotto bears the hall marks of being unctuously creamy, but still slightly al dente, and bearing great flavour.
- Sweat one chopped onion in a bit of vegetable oil (canola, preferred) until translucent.
Add one portion (i.e. 1 cup) of Arborio rice. Stir/sauté rice until outer coating is translucent.
- Start adding your liquids.
Your total liquid amount will be about 2 1/3 times the amount of rice you are using, so if we are using 1 cup of rice, we will need 2 1/3 cups of liquid in total.
We will start with white wine – add about 2/3 cup of white wine to the rice (leaving a balance of 1 2/3 liquid required).
- Now, here is the new trick I have learned.
Do NOT stir the rice! Agitate, or gently shake the pan until all the wine is absorbed/evaporated.
This is important. If you constantly stir the risotto, you are breaking down the outside grain of the rice and you will end up with a mushy risotto rather than a creamy, al dente one.
- Once the wine is incorporated, add about 1/3 of the remaining liquid (usually chicken stock, but could be veg or fish stock; if you are using re-hydrated mushrooms, use the liquid
from that), and again, agitate, do NOT stir, until the liquid is absorbed.
Repeat, with the next third of liquid.
- Add some butter!
For the quantities we are using above, we want about 60 g of butter.
In keeping with the NO stirring theme, using your hand, run the chunk of butter around the rim of the pot just above the rice level, allowing the butter to melt and seep in around the edges, giving the pan a good jostle now and again.
Once the butter is incorporated, add the last batch of liquid and continue agitating.
At this stage, you should add any seafood, asparagus tips, mushrooms, cheese etc.
At this stage, you will need to stir, but try to use a gentle folding method to preserve the state of your additions, as well as the consistency of your rice.
Challenge Number Three – Filleting Fish
Well, besides the slimy feel, a dead creature and the so-called talent needed, this was not something I was looking forward to.
Piece of cake! Or, should I say, piece of Hake?
- We found three lovely flounders at a very good price.
They were small which probably made them a bit more of a challenge.
A bit of internet research and You Tube videos pumped my confidence
- Flounders (and other flat-fish) have an up side and a down side, literally.
Starting with the down-side (the light colored side) up, I took off the head by cutting from the throat, around the gills and up to the ‘forehead’.
Then, I found the ‘lateral line’ running down the middle of the fish, and using a sharp filleting knife, made a good cut down so that I could feel the backbone.
- Starting with the lower fillet and holding the knife at a low angle, I used the bones as a gauge and trimmed the fillet away from the body.
I repeated this with the top fillet and again repeated with the flip side of the fish.
I trimmed excess skin of the fillets and later, using the same low angle knife technique, removed the skin from the fillets.
We lightly floured these fillets and pan fried them, and served them with risotto cakes made from the above left-over risotto.
It was GREAT!
Challenge Number Four – Hollandaise
The thought of making real Hollandaise sauce, with all its potential downfalls, scares most chefs silly.
Now, with today’s mod cons, there are very acceptable adaptations that don’t split, curdle or go funky, but I decided that at least once in my life, I needed to do the real Mc Coy.
- I started with about 1/3 cup of white wine vinegar in a sauce pan and reduced it to less than a tablespoon.
- I then melted 100 g of unsalted butter (I used the microwave on several short bursts).
- I set up a double boiler – a glass (I only had ceramic, but metal would be okay, too) bowl over a steaming sauce pan of water.
The concept is that the steaming heat keeps the upper bowl at a constant temp with no hot spots.
- I put the reduced vinegar into the double boiler and added one egg yolk and a dash of water, all the while whisking.
Whisk, whisk, whisk… Eventually, after a few minutes, the mixture will become pale and creamy and change in consistency.
Once it is creamy all the way through, start adding (all the while whisking) the butter in small splashes.
Once each splash of butter is absorbed, add a bit more until all the butter has been added.
- Now, add a bit of salt – whisk, whisk, whisk. And, the juice of one lemon, whisk, whisk, whisk.
- Taste, take of the heat, pat yourself on the back and poach and egg or some asparagus!
So, my fellow foodies, what challenges have you encountered lately?
Which of Grannie’s recipes is lurking in the back of your box waiting for you to attempt it?
Or, are you a totally modern foodie that gets your basics (pastry, sauces, fish) already prepped from the store?
I’d love to know!