Sunday, October 25, 2009

Buttermilk Pound Cake with Blueberry Honey Wine Glaze

What does one do when one goes to an 18th Century Quebec Marketplace? Learn to weave, blacksmith, and sample honey wines, I suppose. That's what I did a few months ago, anyway, and have had a bottle of bottle of Blueberry Honey Wine being saved for a special occasion ever since. The opportunity came when I moved, but then all the little details of moving overcame my need to celebrate the actual move. finally I decided to make a recipe I'd wanted to try for awhile. From my favourite cookbook, "Chocolate and the Art of Low-Fat Desserts", I found a recipe for a buttermilk pound cake with an optional variation of a liqueur soak and liqueur glaze. Originally calling for rum and brandy, two things I don't usually keep around, I decided to substitute the honey wine, which was definitely sweet enough, and hopefully flavourful enough.

The poundcake in itself was incredible. So light and fluffy. Like pie dough, the trick was to have all the ingredients at room temperature.

Baking powder
Baking soda
Buttermilk (or plain yogurt. I used probiotic, even though the probiotics get killed when baked, thus I get a little stomach sick. You could use soy or sheep or goat's milk yogurt if you can find it and can digest it)

Loaf pan, bundt pan or tube pan

Seems like a basic recipe but it's the quantities that make the difference. Using the minimum amount of fats to maintain the silky texture and delicate flavour of the cake.

The flour, salt, baking soda and baking powder get whisked in a large bowl. The egg and egg whites in another. Vanilla and buttermilk in another. Working quickly while the eggs still have their air, cut the butter into pieces in a large bowl and beat for 1 minute (an entire minute, yes) to soften. I do not question this book. Gradually add the sugar and beat on high for 3 minutes. Again a long time. If you have a stand mixer, not a hand mixer, your arm will thank you. Dribble eggs in slowly, mixing for about 3 minutes. On low, beat in a third of the flour mixture, then half the buttermilk (yogurt) mixture on medium speed. Back to low speed to beat in half the remaining flour, then high for the rest of the buttermilk. Finish on low with the flour.

Summary of mixing:

1. Make sure the butter is extremely creamy pre- and post-sugar addition.
2. Add the eggs incredible slowly.
3. Alternate the flour and yogurt additions
4. Add vanilla only at the end.
5. Takes a grand total of 11-15 minutes, depending on whether you have to reach far and wide for the yogurt or flour bowl. You don't want to have to turn off the mixer at all. The more air you keep in the cake, the fluffier it will be.

Scrape the batter into a pan and bake until a toothpick comes out clean.
Loaf pan: 65-70 minutes
Tube pan: 35-40 minutes
Bundt pan: doesn't say...use your toothpick skills

While the cake is baking prepare the liquor soak: 6 tbsp. blueberry honey wine (or flavoured liqueur of choice) and 2 tbsp. sugar should be simmered for two minutes in a small saucepan. Set aside

Glaze: 1/4 cup powdered sugar and 2 tbsp. blueberry honey wine stirred in a bowl. No alcohol will be boiled off here, so maybe don't offer it to children for breakfast, but what do I know about children?

Unmold the cake over a rack (I used the rack from the toaster oven) placed over a plate. Stab the cake all over with a skewer, and spoon the liquor soak over the top of the cake. Remove the rack and collect the excess soak. Replace the rack and pour the soak again. Repeat until all the liquid syrup is absorbed. Then brush the glaze over the top and sides of cake (Do the top first so the crumbs from the side don't make it look messy), and cool completely before serving. Letting it sit overnight enhances the flavour of the soak, but it will be every tempting to try it right away.

How I love this cookbook. At first I was a little disappointed by the flavour of the cake. I wanted more blueberry and less sugar. I thought maybe I'd add a little lemon next time to the soak, but after a few days the flavour got better. I would still consider the lemon, but the cake was oh so good on it's own, that I didn't mind too much. Perfection can still be achieved. A reason to make more pound cake.

Roasted Cornish Game Hens (or Chicken Breasts) with Wildflower Honey & Orange

2 Cornish Game Hens (1 1/2 to 2 lb. each)
6 tbsp. plus 1/3 cup dry white wine
1 1/2 tbsp. honey
1 1/2 tbsp. chopped fresh thyme
2 bay leaves, preferably fresh, each torn into about 4 pieces
Pinch of crushed red pepper flakes
1 medium orange
1 small yellow onion, cut crosswise into quarter-inch-thick slices
salt and pepper
1 tbsp. butter
1 cup chicken broth

I didn't use cornish hens, but if you do, here's how to prepare them:

Discard giblets and use kitchen shears (or muscle backed by a good knife) to cut along both sides of the backbones and remove them. Then cut each hen in half along the breastbone. Trim off the wingtips.

I cut the chicken breasts into halves and put them in the called-for large bowl.

In a small bowl you combine the wine, honey, thyme, bay leaves, and red pepper flakes and stir to dissolve honey. Give up if the honey doesn't dissolve. It won't matter. Oh, I used sweet vermouth instead of a dry wine like pinot grigio or sauvignon blanc. I figured there would already be a fair bit of sweetness in the dish thanks to the honey so a little extra wouldn't hurt. Really, I just happened to have a tiny bit of vermouth left over and didn't have any wine. Another substitution was blueberry honey for the wildflower honey. Again, it was what I had.

Peel the zest from the orange into large strips and 'let the strips drop into the bowl with the hens". I'm sorry, does it disturb the hens to have the zest thrown haphazardly into the bowl? Well, I dropped them delicately just in case.

Add the honey mixture and sliced onion and toss well. Apparently it's okay to toss once everything's added but the hens have a problem with the orange zest by itself. Like a blind double date. You don't like being alone with the stranger and can't relax until your well-meaning, adorably-cute couple of friends show up. Maybe I just don't like oranges...(see post for rosemary chicken thighs).

Cover and refrigerate 4 hours or overnight. Fortunately that nervousness goes away, and some oranges are of rather easy virtue.

A half hor before cooking you're supposed to remove the hens from the marinade, but this seems ridiculous. You're supposed to then throw out your marinade. 6 tbsp. of vermouth and some beautiful honey down the drain? No, no, no. Originally I thought to boil the marinade on the side but the recipe already gives you pan drippings to make a jus. So I did it in the slow cooker. The recipe says to discard the marinade and pat the hens dry, which I believe is because the sugar in the marinade would burn quickly in the oven, but in the slow cooker it won't. After cooking in the slow cooker (about 4 and a half hours on high), you just transfer the hens to the oven and broil them for about 2 minutes, or cook less in the slow cooker and finish them in the oven (350F) to brown. If you do them in the oven completely, let the hens sit first for 30 minutes at room temperature and preheat the oven to 450F.

Season the hens with 1 tbsp of salt (I forgot this part...) and some pepper. Roast skin side up and baste occasionally with 2 tbsp. melted butter (or the marinade juices, as I did, for less fat. The hens will give a little marinating juice themselves). Cook for 30 minutes or until a meat thermometre registers 175-180F. Transfer the hens to a serving platter and tent with aluminum foil. This makes the hens more juicy. It's the same thing you would do at Thanksgiving and Christmas, if these are turkey holidays for you. If you cut into the meat right away it will be dryer. It also gives you time to make the jus or gravy.

While the baking sheet that you baked the chicken on is still hot add the remaining 1/3 cup of wine (or vermouth) and scrape the brown bits from the bottom of the pan. Then pour the pan contens into a small saucepan with the chicken broth (Slow cooker option: pour juices from the slow cooker into a small saucepan. No scraping required, but remove the bay leaves and orange zest!). Boil the sauce 2-3 minutes until a little thicker. Remove from heat and whisk in a tbsp. of butter. I actually did do this and it made the whole dish a million times better. Just a little bit. You really don't need the two tbsp for basting. I don't find you can even taste the flavour that way. To serve, you pour a little sauce around the hens and pass the rest at the table, but I found that the flavour was wasted by pouring it around. Instead a little bit with every bite, like a dipping sauce, worked much better.

Verdict?? I couldn't really taste the orange, so I liked it. The meat was so tender (thank you slow cooker), and the dipping sauce gave me the great taste of organic butter without making me horribly lactose-intolerantly-sick. Would I go out with M. Orange again (That would be Mr. Orange for all the anglophones out there)? Maybe without all the fuss. Skip the marinade altogether if you're using a slow cooker. Don't bother with dried spices, like the bay leaves and thyme, if you don't have fresh. Probably skip the orange. It gives it a nice aroma but it's not necessary, at least not if you use a sweeter wine or a sweet vermouth, where it will be overpowered. If you want the orange to cut through, use some juice from the zested orange. You're just going to eat it anyway.

I'm not inspired to cook this again, but I think I would definitely use the general strategy for the jus/dipping sauce again.

Oh, yeah, to go with it I made a risotto in the slow cooker. I'd been meaning to try it since short-grain brown rice risottos take way too much time to stir by hand. So I took some leftover roasted root vegetables (squash, turnip), and sautéed) them in 2 tsp. of olive oil with a small diced onion. Add a cup of rice and stir to coat. Add the root vegetables and a tiny bit of wine or vermouth (again, what I had) to deglaze and toss into the slow cooker with 4 cups of water. 4 cups was a wild estimate. Usually it's 2 cups of water for normal rice (1:2 ratio rice:water) but risotto is creamier and recipes say 1:6. Taking into account the fact that the water evaporates as you stir on the stovetop, in the slowcooker I decided to go halfway and try 4 cups. It worked really well. Just a note that I decided to make risotto after seeing a recipe by infamous Chef Louis Rhéaume ( see "Thai Green Curry soup" post) and wanting to see if he could do Italian better than Thai. But my confidence was shattered so I took his recipe and bastardized it and, in my opinion, saved myself the disappointment. Sometimes a woman is better off...

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Chicken Thighs Roasted with Rosemary, Red Onions & Red Potatoes: My Roasting Bible (The Best of Fine Cooking Magazine)

2 navel oranges
2 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
kosher salt
1/2 tsp. crushed red pepper flakes
8 baby red potatoes (12 oz.), halved
2 medium red onions, sliced into half-inch-thick circles
Two 5-inch sprigs fresh rosemary, plus 3/4 tsp. minced
8 chicken thighs (about 8 oz. each), trimmed of excess fat and skin

I have a roasting bible. Whenever I have a ton of root vegetables that need to be used up, I get the urge to roast them, and I turn to a magazine that I found in the grocery store over Christmas last year. That is when most people start to decide that roasting is a good idea. If you're going to roast a chicken, what else can I throw in the oven with it? Pretty much anything. You just need a reference for how long things should be roasted, and what flavours complement the roast. The pictures in the magazine, though, were so beautiful that I've been meaning to try more of them. Mostly simple recipes with basic ingredients, French-style cooking, for satisfying meals. Though I'm not a huge fan of orange in recipes, specifically desserts, I ended up with two navel oranges kicking around my house and then stumbled upon this recipe, which was too convenient to pass up.

I grated the orange zest, added the oil, a tsp. salt, and red pepper flakes. I tossed a tbsp. of this with the vegetables on half of a large rimmed baking sheet. I had bought a whole chicken rather than just legs and placed the legs, the giblets and wings on the other end of the baking sheet and brushed them with the remaining oil mixture. I unfortunately had to use dried rosemary and crush dried chili peppers in a mortar and pestle, which may have resulted in less flavour, but I tucked this rosemary between the chicken pieces and sprinkled lightly with salt.

I then roasted for 20 minutes and 425 in the oven followed by a round of basting. There was lots of uice to marinade with thanks to the addition of the giblets. I continued roasting and basting every ten minutes for 30 minutes.

Then the weird peel the oranges, removing the pith and membrane. You slice crosswise into half-inch circles and then chop into half-inch pieces. Add 1/4 tsp. of rosemary to this and when the chicken is done you pour it over the chicken on a serving platter. How do you pour chunks of orange? I decided to scoop as much of the orange juice that escaped in the cooking process as possible, but there really wasn't much liquid to pour. Navel oranges should be juicier, but the orange flavour really didn't get into the chicken. For me, who doesn't always appreciate orange flavour, this shouldn't have been a disappointment. I mean organic chicken, roasted simply with vegetables. Should have been beautiful. It wasn't's just, well, the French in me thought that if had gone to all the trouble of removing membranes and pith and chopping into precisely 1/2 inch pieces, then there should be something to show for it besides the visual effect. Next time I think I would add some of the juice to the vegetable marinade/basting liquid. If you're trying to make the dish taste of orange, shouldn't the cooking process employ more orange? The zest didn't have enough punch.

Still, a nice recipe from a good magazine. I also added carrots and turnip to the roasted vegetables in a seperate baking dish, which did cheer me up a bit.

In the spirit of second chances, I am in the marinading stage, as I write, for the recipe on the adjacent page-Roasted Cornish Hens with Wildflower Honey and Orange. Okay, I cheated more on this one...Roasted chicken breasts (what was left from butchering the chicken for the above recipe)instead of cornish hens, and blueberry honey instead of wildflower. Blueberry goes with orange right? If it's awful I'll use a little lemon juice instead next time. I'll give the recipe and results with the next post.


Tuesday, October 13, 2009

My Halloween Costume, why I no longer want to be a Montreal Gazette, and how not to make Thai Green Curry Soup

I know that title is a bit dense but I swear it's all connected. It all started with a free copy of the Montreal Gazette. At the Lionel-Groulx metro near my house there is often a man handing out free copies of the Montreal Gazette to subway users. He is hard to track down when you're looking for something to read, but seemingly ubiquitous when you're in a rush. Like panhandlers, I get an awful sense of guilt when I don't want to take the paper, and an equally awful sense of guilt when I do, for having taken a free paper that costs subscribers money. Moral issues aside, this man's job is tough. He stands there for hours on end dealing with the moral squeamishness of so many Montrealers. He is a professional, however, and a very good one at that. While passing one way with my roommate, I overheard him saying, "Get your free Gazette here! Sir, would you a Gazette?! Mademoiselle, voulez-vous un Gazette?!" I did not take one, however, choosing instead to borrow only one section from my roommate rather than lug the whole thing around.

An hour later I returned to the metro, still holding my borrowed section of the Gazette, and listened attentively to this man, feeling a secret connection to him because he didn't have to convince me that it would be a good idea to have possession of a newspaper today. "Free Gazette. Who doesn't want a Gazette? Great to give as a gift! Makes a great Hallowe'en costume!".

I nearly died of laughter. A Hallowe'en costume? All I could picture was someone with pieces of the paper taped all over their body at a party. Who would have thought? Well, I thought about it. This man is more bilingual than me, thus smarter, and his words deserve consideration. A gift. I would like to be given a free Gazette. In fact, I had already asked my roommate, who already had a copy, if I could borrow a section of his, but it was "Makes a great Hallowe'en costume!" that really stuck with me. It could be done. In fact, I insisted it must be done and the story must be told. So I took my section home later and found a recipe for Thai Green Curry Soup that looked pretty great (I could finally use my kaffir lime leaves that I've been hoarding and it didn't call for coconut milk, to which I am a little allergic), and started thinking that the Gazette was a pretty wonderful publication.

Or so I thought, until I made the soup.

I should have been more skeptical. The author of the 'thai' recipe was Louis Rhéaume, and he described the taste of kaffir lime leaves as "like lime, but more interesting". So I decided to wager my Hallowe'en costume, and respect for the Gazette, on the quality of the soup. I did everything exactly as called for. I made the chicken broth from scratch (no bay leaf needed?) using an organic chicken carcass, I used fresh herbs. Basically I did it all right, and what happened? Well, nothing phenomenal. The recipe can be found here:

It's pretty low in fat because of cooking the chicken in broth instead of oil, but the chicken gets dry very quickly if overcooked, and the curry paste (apparently you can substitute curry powder? Again, skeptical) and ginger don't get a nice sautéed flavour because it's added to the broth directly as well. Basically you toss it in with the lime leaves, lemongrass, hot peppers (which actually shouldn't be sautéed or you''ll be coughing for a good half hour from the fumes) and let it simmer. One pot soup. Soften some vermicelli rice noodles in water that's been brought to a boil, and add the bok choy to the soup one minute before serving. Optional garnishes will give a little colour but the enoki mushrooms that you get around here are not the best, by any means, and it's too late to give any flavour to the broth. Maybe adding ground coriander seed to the broth would have been a good addition to the few suggested fresh sprigs to be used at the end. Some chili sauce? Yes it's sugar and sodium, and a bad cook's way to make the dish better, but when the soup is cooked, it's a good looking option.

So I no longer want to be a Montreal Gazette for Hallowe'en. What would I be promoting? Bad recipes? Well, I still respect the free Gazette guy. He's still hilarious. So maybe it wouldn't be such a bad idea. I would probably shed all night though...maybe I could wear a better publication underneath?

Or I can just add another little white lie to the front of my traditional little white lie costume: "Thai Green Curry Soup is easy to make! Makes a great gift!" Shamefully, I did give some of the soup I made away...