Monday, January 31, 2011

Knife titles are hard

So, it's really hard to come up with a humorous title for a post about buying a knife. "If you like cutting" or "Knife head!" or "I like sharp things" just really seem inappropriate.

Anyway, I do like sharp things. That's why I splurged on a 7" santoku blade by Shun. They're on sale for a hefty sum, so I figured it was now or never. I also had to wait for my paycheck, and I was unsure if the sale would last into February or not. In any event, I bought the knife and the straightening steel (because we must take care of our investments).

For those who don't know, santoku (三徳)is kind of the Japanese cousin of the standard chef knife. According to Wikipedia it's so named for its "three virtues" of slicing, dicing and mincing. It's a bit thinner and I've heard rumors that it's less virtuous in the slicing of meat, but I've yet to determine that for myself.

It did, indeed, (with a slight tugging) cut through a tomato just by the power of its own weight. The Boyfriend seemed apprehensive that I might waste his tomato, so I didn't do the upside trick.

I really should have bought some carrots, because those are my personal judge for knives, but it went with shocking ease through a potato and diced an onion with style.

I guess the only other experience I can really relate this to is the one I had in college. I am the proud owner of a $75 viola I bought on Ebay. This is the equivalent to a Good Will knife. I was in college to study music. One day, my very patient professor (who was constantly encouraging me to upgrade) allowed me to try my passage on his extremely expensive viola (if I remember correctly it was made by the same violin maker who made a viola for ...Beethoven?). Using the same skills but having an immediate jump in quality is an experience. It's something felt in the fingers and arms and is hard to translate to words.

All in all, though I hate to spend large sums of money, I feel that this is a solid purchase and will probably buy the pairing knife with my next pay check.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Metropolis and Potato Salad

So, I accidentally bought more red potatoes than what we really need in our pantry (the results of grocery shopping from memory). There could only be one solution: potato salad.

Hitting the recipe books, I stumbled across Cold-Fashioned Potato Salad.

The recipe calls for letting the potatoes marinate in the apple cider vinegar over night, but I really wanted to eat it the same night, so I went onto Netflix streaming (another Christmas present) and watched the almost fully restored version of Metropolis. That movie is long. The score is fantastic, and the protagonist, Freder, looks a little bit like Johnny Depp when he was younger (read "less like a sexy hobo").

When The Boyfriend came back from classes, I had the salad on the table with two sausages (Italian sausages, but I figured you couldn't go wrong with a potato / sausage combination). He took a bite of the salad and said "I love you just a little bit more now."

I was going to take another picture, a close up to show you that it is actually a pretty colorful salad (dark green pickles, red onion, light green celery, black pepper), but two things happened. For one, my camera ran out of batteries so I had to start charging them. For two, we ate all the salad.

Ah well, I suppose I'll get have to make this salad again so I can take more pictures. I'm sure that'll be the only reason.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Brioche (or as I call it "Butter Bread")

For a birthday or a Christmas or the like my dear friend Kishpike gifted me I'm Just Here For More Food by Alton Brown. I've been very lazy in my baking, so I've only now really taken this book to heart. As the book itself will tell you, it's not so much a collection of recipes as a home learning course on why things happen in baking.

The chapter on "The Straight Dough Method" deals with the transformation of the pizza dough recipe into a brioche recipe. I'll be honest, I've never had brioche before and embarrassed myself in front of my barista by pronouncing it "bree o ch" instead of "breeosh". In my defense, I didn't know if it was Italian or French.

Anyway, the moral of the story is that there are two sticks of butter in two loaves of bread. I've also learned that I require a better bench proofing stage (I need a warmer than room temperature space for my dough to rise in the pan and the "warm" setting on my oven is too warm) and that I have to remember that my oven runs hot.

The thing about brioche is that you have to integrate plastic but unmelted butter into a fully developed dough. Betsy (my stand mixer) worried me a time or two as the very thick dough threatened to stall my bread hook and cause my work bowl to jump out of its nest. After a little of the butter worked its way into the dough things got less exciting.

I made some soup to go with the bread (I think originally it was supposed to be in the opposite order of importance) and it made a sound meal. The soup was my usual chicken sausage, potato, kale mess.

All in all, I'd say that my technique is still lacking, but I'm learning, and at this point that's the important part.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

A muffin fiend

Safeway had blue berries on "way too good" sale (it was a Friday so I assume that they're off sale again). I bought them on impulse, and later decided to make muffins. Of course I went to my number one (Alton Brown) for a reliable muffin recipe.

What I had failed to remember was that I am a muffin fiend. I tried to find a youtube clip from the show Dexter's Laboratory, but copy wright has prevailed yet again.

The muffins were nicely dense, with the flavor of the yogurt subtly present.
The only problem is that the recipe only makes twelve muffins. Clearly not enough.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

To eat your cake and blog it too

The above picture is what happens when you take baking directions from a dog. Another "Cooking with Dog" recipe, this one for Christmas cake. There wasn't as much direction as was needed. Theirs turned out looking fantastic of course, where as mine, literally, fell flat. It tasted like an overly sweet, floury omelet. Not delicious.

After watching a much longer and much more in depth "Cooking with the Stars" (hosted by Julia Childs) Lilian and I decided to make a genoise chiffon cake instead. See, the thing that is similar is that you beat four whole eggs until they look like whip cream, then you carefully fold a small amount of flour (and things like sugar and coacoa and stuff, but not baking powder or soda) into the eggs and bake it, then you cut it into sections and stuff it with whipped cream and berries.

One trick is to beat the eggs over low heat to get them to remain puffy. Cooking with dog kind of touched on this, but it wasn't clearly explained. I used the work bowl from Betty (my stand mixer) over my portable gas burner and just barely turned the heat on. I think this helped to keep the cake more stable during the folding and baking steps.

This cake was fantastic. I will make this again.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Oh the adventures I have had

Another Christmas present is something that I've had on my wish list for quite some time. An enameled cast iron dutch oven.

I made Beef Burgundy using the Cooks' Illustrated recipe. Essentially you put all the ingredients you would use to make a stock (onions, carrots, so forth) and you bundle them in cheese cloth. Then, after you've browned your beef and made a roux, you pour in a bottle of red (preferably a Burgundy) and some chicken stock. Then you stick the bag into the broth and stick the whole thing in the oven for hours. Finally you fry some mushrooms and pearl onions and add them in just before serving.

The pictures don't do the stew justice. I swear the broth matched the color of the enamel before it went in the oven.

They suggested serving it on mashed potatoes or buttered noodles, but I chose some buttered rice. The other swerving was that I only added half the beef called for in the recipe, as the grocery bill was starting to reach new heights.

The other nice thing about this is that I have plenty of left overs. One recipe makes a lot of portions, especially if you're serving it over some carb. I think it might be nice with a little cheese grated over the top, but that might be getting excessive.

My opinion on the recipe as a whole is just as The Boyfriend put it. "This is real good stew".