Friday, February 27, 2009

Upgraded Gremolata and Parsnip Risotto

This recipe could be considered a two-for, in the respect that this recipe will illustrate how to make risotto as well as Gremolata. Risotto is one of the great staple recipes that every cook should know how to make. It is inexpensive to make and can be used as a base for nearly anything to be added to it. The most simple form uses only two ingredients, rice (Arborio is best) and water. There are far too many upgrades to list here, but this recipe will show some common ones. The risotto is flavored with a version of Gremolata to add a nice bright clean flavor as a counterpoint to the creamy risotto and Parsnips to add a bit of sweetness. If you are not quite ready to tackle the risotto, try tossing the Gremolata with some freshly boiled Angel Hair pasta.

Arborio, Ginger, Garlic, Mint and Parsley ready to go to work

The combined "Gremolata"

Parsnips, peeled and unpeeled

Diced Parsnips and Onions getting some color

The Arborio joins the pan party

The first ladle of broth makes it a hot tub party

The first ladel of broth has been absorbed and the pan is ready for some more

The Arborio has absorbed the broth, softened and has the "Gremolata" added

General Notes:
Total Time: 30 - 45 minutes depending on your stirring and knife skills
Servings: 2- 4 depending on it being a side dish or main dish
Notes: The normal ratio for Risotto is 4 parts water/broth to 1 part Arborio rice, the ratio seems to be more like 5 to 1 and sometimes 6 to 1 depending on how hot the pans are. In other words, be ready to use more broth than you think you will need to.

2 Quart Sauce Pan
2-4 Quart Saute or Fry Pan
Knife, Ladle, Cutting Board, Spatula or Wooden Spoon

Zest of 2 lemons, grated or chopped fine
4-6 Garlic Cloves, depending on how Garlicky you like it
1 -2 tbsp Fresh Ginger, grated or chopped fine, depends on how much you like ginger
1 - 2 tbsp Fresh Parsley, chopped fine
1 - 2 tbsp Fresh Mint, chopped fine
2- 4 tbsp Olive Oil
Juice of 1/2 Lemon
Kosher Salt to Taste

2 Medium Parsnips, peeled and diced
1/2 Medium Yellow Onion, peeled and diced
1/2 cup Arborio rice
2 1/2 to 3 cups Vegetable Broth
1/2 cup White Wine (optional)
Olive Oil
Kosher Salt to Taste

Written Instructions:
  • Add the Vegetable Broth to the Sauce pan and set to a simmer on the burner next to your fry pan
  • Combine all the ingredients for the Gremolata and set aside
  • Add the fry pan to the burner next to the sauce pan and begin heating over medium heat
  • Peel and dice the Onion and the Parsnip
  • Add some Olive Oil to the fry pan, let heat momentarily and add the Onion and Parsnip
  • Add a pinch of Kosher Salt and Saute until the onion and Parsnip have browned slightly
  • Add the Arborio to the pan and stir to ensure that it has been coated with the oil
  • Add the White wine to the pan, if using and stir until the liquid is nearly gone
  • Add a ladle or two of simmering broth to the risotto mixture and begin stirring
  • Stir until the liquid is mostly absorbed/evaporated and add another ladle or two of broth
  • Continue adding and stirring until the rice has lost its crunch and tastes somewhat creamy
  • Add roughly 3/4 of the prepared Gremolata to the pan and stir to combine
  • Taste the Risotto and adjust the seasoning as necessary
  • Remove from the heat, transfer to a serving bowl and garnish with remaining Gremolata
  • Make it happen in your tum tum

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Flavoring and Augmenting

Lemons can be quite lovely on their own but they seem to be at their best as a flavor enhancer. Their acid can add balance to dishes as well brightening the flavors. The juice and zest can be used independently of each other, but are often used in conjunction. The following list is taken from a great book called The Flavor Bible, the same authors who wrote another great book called Culinary Artistry. The items which are in ALL CAPS, are especially classic with lemons and the ones that are BOLD and in ALL CAPS, are the most classic.

bay leaf
butter, unsalted
chocolate:dark, white
cream cheese
creme fraiche
figs: fresh, dried
kiwi fruit
lemon verbena
liqueurs: nut, orange
maple syrup
Mediterranean cuisines
Middle Eastern cuisines
MINT (garnish)
Moroccan cuisine
mustard, Dijon
olive oil
parsley, flat leaf
passion fruit
pasta and pasta sauces
pepper, black
pine nuts
pork and pork chops
salads and salad dressings
salt, kosher
sauces: brown butter, parsley
sesame oil
sour cream
stock, chicken
wine: red, sweet, white

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Lemonade, Amish Style

Let's be honest. The first thing that you thought of when you heard Lemons were being worked on was Lemonade. There is nothing to be ashamed of. Nothing. However, had you not immediately thought of the honest, hard working Amish women working on some delightful Lemonade perhaps while the men are raising a barn, or driving a buggy or generally just doing things without the use of electricity, then you should be ashamed. Make this Lemonade and your shame will be lifted, not unlike that barn wall. The following is the Amish method of making Lemonade. It features a bright, full Lemon flavor that is far more round than the powdered variety you are used to.

A serrated knife is used to start breaking down the Lemons

The Lemons, halved with the tops and bottoms removed, ready to be sliced

Thinly sliced Lemon ready to go into the pot

The sliced Lemons covered in sugar, ready for their massage

The mashing /muddling begins

The mashing/muddling when finished

The resulting mush is then strained through a fine mesh strainer into a waiting pitcher

The strained lemon syrup is then mixed with cold water

General Notes
Time: 10 - 20 minutes, depends on your cutting speed and your muddling/mashing speed
Servings: 6 - 8 glasses of Lemonade
Notes: Adjust the amount of water and sugar to you personal taste

Cutting Board
Serrated Knife (preferred)
Fine Mesh Strainer
Potato Masher, or back of a spoon, or bottom of a ladle, child's clean feet, fists
Big Pot, pasta boiling pot or something that you can mash in and fits 12 Lemons cut up

13 Lemons, any type will work
1 & 3/4 Cup Sugar
1 & 1/2 to 2 quarts
(6-8 cups) cold Water

Written Instructions:
  • Wash all of the lemons as you will be using the skin as well
  • slice the tops and bottoms from 12 of the lemons, and halve them
  • Thinly slice the lemons and add them into the big pot
  • Add the sugar to the big pot
  • Using the potato masher start mashing the lemons up with the sugar
  • Keep going until the sugar has dissolved and you are left with a viscous syrup
  • Strain the mixture through a fine mesh strainer into a waiting pitcher
  • Gently press down on the mush each time to try and get as much syrup out as possible
  • Then mix in the cold water and check the flavor
  • Add fresh lemon juice if it needs some more acid, more sugar if it is too tart
  • When the flavor is ready, make it happen in your tum tum

Special Event Workshop...Valentine's Day Menu

The Workshop has a long standing tradition of preparing a special menu for a special lady every Valentine's Day. The menu is listed here to illustrate how various flavors can move through a meal so that each course is connected to the next and the last. If anyone is interested in recipes from this menu mention so in the comments section.

Valentine's Day 2009

Amuse Bouche
Fried Plantain Chip, topped with a Spicy Pineapple Puree, Cherry Tomato, Fresh Pineapple and a Caramelized Onion, Leek, and Shallot Vinaigrette

Caramelized Mushroom Tart with Leeks, Onions and Shallots

Leek, Parsnip and Apple Soup topped with Fried Sweet Potato Matchsticks

Spinach topped with Pineapple, Avocado and Orange tossed with Cilantro Lime Vinaigrette

Timbale of Braised Greens with Lemon and Shallots, Steamed Parsnip, Carrot and Sweet Potato with Saffron and Ginger Quinoa, Garnished with Bell Pepper Coulis

Lemon, Ginger and Mint

Pear Poached in Viogner, Rose Water and Orange Blossom Honey stuffed with Saffron Creme Caramel and topped with Reduced Poaching Liquid

Monday, February 16, 2009

Selection and Basic Preparation

Lemons are typically available all year, however the price and quality tends to be at its best around January and February. This is the time of year where anyone you know who has a Lemon tree starts bringing them by your house until your house is mostly Lemons.

There are a few different variety of Lemons, most notably Lisbon and Eureka. These are the two most common types of Lemons that you can find are not different enough from each other for most grocery stores to label them as different or for us to discuss their differences.

The third most common type is the Meyer Lemon which is substantially different from the other two. Most interestingly it is not even considered to be a proper Lemon, but more a member of the citrus family that is closest to lemons. It differs from standard Lemons in that it is not quite as acidic, with a floral note. Compared to regular lemons, Meyer lemons are thinner- and smoother-skinned, rounder in shape, and have a deeper yellow-orange hue. Though not exactly sweet, Meyers are less acidic than regular lemons, and their zest and juice has herbal, even floral undertones. What makes them interesting is that in cooking you do not have to add as much sweetness to counteract the acidity.

When selecting Lemons of any kind be sure to look fro brightly colored fruit that is free of cuts, bruises, scars, burns, wrinkles, squishes, or anything that makes you cringe slightly. As far as firmness is concerned you are looking for fruit that gives a little bit without being soft, but is also not hard. Basically it should feel juicy inside but not rotten.

The links in the following section will take you to Bed, Bath and Beyond. The items selected are for illustrative purposes, they are not necessarily the recommended tools. Try before you buy.

Basic Preparation
The most basic of preparations for Lemon juice is to cut it in half and squeeze the juice out. There are plenty of upgrades available for getting the most out of that little lemon and some are listed here in order the most bang for your buck.

For starters, squeeze the lemon over your other clean hand, or a strainer to catch any seeds. Seeds are not very tasty.

Next try rolling the lemon underneath a wide knife, or your hand, or a pan, or a clean shoe, or basically anything that you can slightly crush and roll the lemon without breaking the skin. This breaks up a lot of the "fruit meat" inside of the lemon and gets more juice out of it without any special tools. Another not recommended technique for getting more juice out of the lemon along the lines of the crushing trick is to microwave the lemon for a few seconds. Here are the issues with that; if you cook the lemon too long you are now either waiting for the juice to cool down, burning yourself, or adding hot juice to something which might not react well to that; also it is not nearly as effective as the rolling technique; it makes the lemon harder to cut; and on and on. In short, don't do it.

The next upgrade is to get a lemon reamer or hand held citrus juicer. The reamer is pretty good but adds a lot of pulp. The citrus juicer is in short fantastic and might be the best bang for your buck as far as tools are concerned. The trick is to cut the ends off of the lemon before putting them into the juicer, this allows the juice to pass through the lemon. This tool usually keeps most of the seeds as well.

The next upgrade is getting a non hand held citrus reamer, or an electric citrus juicer. These are the most effective at getting all the juice out of your lemons, however you now have to keep a citrus juicer somewhere in your kitchen. If you are not juicing citrus A LOT, save your money and kitchen space and get a hand held juicer.

There are a few different ways to do this, the best ways unfortunately using more equipment than just a knife. The first way is to carefully cut the zest (skin) off of the lemon and then trimming off the pith (not tasty). This is a great way to work on your knife skills, however it is a pain to say the least. The next method is to use a vegetable peeler to remove the skin in wide "sheets." This works pretty well except that you will still need to remove some pith. The next method is to use a citrus zester, a purpose built tool that removes only the skin of the lemon, leaving behind the pith. This makes thin strips of zest which can be left long or chopped up more finely. The last common method is to use something like a microplane grater, to grate the zest off, leaving behind the pith and removing it in small bits. Once again if you are going to be doing a lot of zesting or have an empty drawer go for the gusto with the microplan grater, if not get the zester. It does a great job, is inexpensive and you can use it to make garnishes and stuff.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

On the Workbench...Lemons

All food can be broken down to 4 tastes, sweet, sour, bitter and salty. Clearly people are the most comfortable with sweet and salty, those being the basis of the entire junk food empire and a couple possible reasons for the pudging of America. The important thing to remember is that these tastes all work together to enhance each other. For example, bitterness can lower the perceptible sweetness in a dish and sourness can sharpen the sweetness in a dish. Great Chef's throughout the world use sour tastes as naturally as they use oils and salts. They might keep a collection of vinegars and acids right next to their Olive Oil and Kosher Salt. Sourness is generally used to balance a dish, brighten the flavors, and at time times even to do the cooking.

Vinegars and Acids are generally the main sources of sourness in a dish. For this batch of recipes we will be focusing on Acids, more specifically citric acid and more specifically still, the acid from Lemons. The preparations will all feature Lemon in some capacity, sometimes as the star and sometimes as part of the support staff. Lemons are a versatile fruit in the respect that you can use the juice as well as the skin, and each carries a different lemon flavor. The skin tastes more bitter than sour but with a very fragrant lemon taste. The juice tastes more sour with a less pronounced lemon taste. In other words, if you want a bold flavor of lemon with a slight bitter note use the skin (or peel or zest) and if you are after the acid more than the flavor use the juice.

The following post will feature a long list of flavor matches and some ideas for general preparation. Lemons will have their day in the sun and it will be glorious.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Off the Workbench...Pears

Pears, we need to talk. Please sit down. The time has come for this stage of the relationship to end as it seems to have run its course. Please...Please...Yes of course it was fun and exciting in the beginning, all relationships are. Sure we all got to know you so much about you, and we learned how you could really shine with various groups and situations. Of course we remember wrapping you up in pasta, and covering you in cheese after coming out of the sauna. And how could we forget about that crazy night where we soaked you in milk and then burned sugar onto you. But then there was that night that you partied with the Greens and Onion and drank too much and spent the whole next night in the hot tub even after it got cold. Admittedly it did get weird after we made ice cream from the resulting "bath liquid," but that is not why this is ending.

There is someone else, not someone new but someone that is not passing their prime but coming into it. We shall always be friends, and hopefully we can still see each other from time to time when you are doing a little better. Until next time, farewell!

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Ice Cream made with Pear Poaching Liquid

The final piece of the Pear Dessert Trio puzzle is upon you. The Ice Cream made with the poaching liquid from the previously posted Port Wine Poached Pears. The Workshop recommends that you remove any and all head adornments because this stuff will blow your mind. The custard based ice cream is smooth and silky with a complex flavor profile from the poaching liquid. The most interesting part is that the poaching liquid, which might have been thrown away is utilized to make a great accompaniment to the Poached Pears. Another option could have been reducing the liquid down to a syrup to use as a sauce or adding some gelatin to it, to make it into an aspic (fancy jello).

2 whole eggs and one additional egg yolk are whisked together while awaiting the hot cream

The Poaching Liquid is combined with Heavy Cream and brought up to a simmer

The Eggs are then Tempered with the Hot Cream mixture

The tempered custard mixture is then put over a double boiler to continue cooking

The mixture is brought to 170 degrees while being whisked continuously

The Custard is then passed through a strainer to remove any possible clumps and set aside to cool completely

The thoroughly cooled custard is then added to an ice cream maker and churned following the manufacturer's instructions

General Notes:
Time: Hands on time 20 - 30 minutes, total time 4 - 5 hours
Yields 1 quart of Ice Cream
There are as many ice cream recipes as there are cooks, pick the one you like and tweak it to accommodate whatever you are making. In this case the amount of heavy cream was increased to account for the low amount of fat in the poaching liquid.

Mixing bowl that can be used as a double boiler (metal is most common)
2 Sauce Pans (metal bowl should fit over it without touching the bottom, and you only need two if you do not want to wash one in the middle of the process)
Thermometer (digital preferred)
Ice Cream Maker
Freezer Safe 1 quart container
1 quart bowl or 2 pint sized bowls

2 Whole Eggs
1 Egg yolk
2 cups Heavy Cream
1 cup Pear Poaching Liquid
1/2 cup Granulated Sugar
1/4 cup Honey

Written Directions:
  • Assemble all of your ingredients and make sure that your ice cream maker will be ready to roll in a few hours, so if it is a seperate bowl style make sure it is in the freezer and very frozen
  • Put the cream and poaching liquid into a sauce pan and whisk well to combine
  • Bring the cream mixture up to a simmer
  • While the mixture is beating beat the eggs thoroughly with the sugar and honey
  • When the cream mixture has reached a simmer, remove it from the heat and get yourself ready for some serious whisking
  • There are a few ways to do this, if you have the strength, courage and steady hand to pour directly from the pan then go for it. However, if there is fear in your heart, or your arm is in a cast or you have got a bad case of the shakes, use a measuring cup or ladle
  • Add a small amount of the hot cream mixture into the eggs while whisking the eggs vigorously
  • This process gently heats the eggs while gently cooling the hot cream mixture. This is done so that you do not make scrambled egg ice cream. If you add too much hot liquid too quickly to the cold eggs, you will scramble them and ruin your hard work
  • When you have incorporated the first amount of cream, add some more and whisk like crazy
  • You can now start adding the hot cream more quickly and more at a time
  • When you have combined all the hot cream with the eggs, set aside for a moment
  • Add an inch or so of water to a sauce pan and bring just barely to a simmer
  • Set the mixing bowl on top of a pot of barely simmering water to create a double boiler
  • Continue whisking the mixture over the double boiler until the mixture read 170 degrees on a thermometer. if you do not have a thermometer, do not use your finger to guess. You want the mixture to thicken, which it will as the eggs begin to coagulate. The mixture will thicken enough to coat the back of a spoon, and a line drawn across the spoon will remain.
  • Remove the mixture from the heat and pour through a strainer into a separate bowl
  • Cool on the counter for a few minutes and then move to your refrigerator to cool completely
  • The mixture will need to cool for at least 3 or 4 hours, over night is preferable
  • Take a break, get some sleep or watch a movie or something
  • Set up your ice cream maker, remove the custard mixture from the freezer and add to the ice cream maker
  • Freeze according to your ice cream makers directions
  • When you have gotten the ice cream to at least soft serve consistency, remove the ice cream from the ice cream maker and add to a freezer safe bowl and freeze to harden the mixture. This will take anywhere from 30 minutes to 2 hours, depending on your ice cream maker, and freezer
  • Scoop, serve with the poached pear and pear creme brulee, or eat plain. Either way make it happen in your tum tum