Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Another Week of Comfort Food

Christmas week is notorious for comfortfood and my kitchen wasn’t any different.

Cannelloni. It just oozes comfort withbéchamel, marinara and meat sauces topped with Asiago and Provolone cheeses andserved with toasted garlicky baguette slices.

Roasted Chicken Thighs with Orzo. Thethighs were roasted on a bed of carrots, onions, garlic and celery and servedwith orzo, one of our favorite pasta shapes. So good!!!

Pork Tenderloin pockets with local Swisscheese. Tenderloin slices were pounded into a thin cutlet, seasoned with salt,pepper and Herbes de Provence and then stuffed with cheese and folded into anenvelope shape. After shallow frying and then roasting in toaster oven I servedthem on bed of Lecsó (roastedpeppers and onions).

Spaghettini with baby clams and creamsauce. Very quick to make and very good.

Our traditional Christmas meal: Panroasted duck breast with red cabbage and bread dumplings. Duck breasts werecooked medium rare and just melted in my mouth. As usual, I used cold panmethod where you start cooking the breast by placing breast skin side down in adry heavy bottomed frying pan.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Chicken Breast Roll with Mozzarella and Herbs

This chicken breast roll can be served hotwith buttered noodles and tomato sauce or at room temperature thinly sliced andserved with crusty bread. Either way it is a great meal for all seasons. I usedmozzarella for stuffing but any melting cheese or even blue cheese orcombination of both is great. Use of thermometer is almost a must since chickenbreast dries very quickly, you don’t want to go over 160 °F. Remember that breastwill keep cooking after being removed from oven. As far as seasonings goes,again, it is up to you. Touch of heat is always nice in any meat roll, Iusually use chilies pepper flakes and freshly ground white pepper.

2 large boneless and skinless chickenbreasts
1 cup grated cheese
1 tsp. Herbes de Provence
1/2 tsp. pepper flakes
Salt and pepper
Olive oil

Butterfly and pound the chicken breast into1/4” thick cutlet. (Video that shows the process is attached.)
Preheat oven to 350 °F and place the rackin middle of oven.
Season the cutlet with herbs, salt and pepperand evenly spread the cheese on top stopping about 1” from edges and top. Startrolling away from you making sure that roll is tight. With one full turn leftfold over the sides to enclose the roll and finish the roll. Secure the roll bytying loops with butcher twine at 2” intervals. Preheat non-stick frying pan with2 Tbs. of olive oil on medium high and brown the rolls on all sides. Place thepan in oven and roast until thermometer reaches 155 °F, about 25 minutes. Whendone, remove from oven and rest for few minutes then cut slice s 1/2” thick.Serve with buttered noodles and tomato sauce.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Duck Soup with Wild Rice and Barley

This is a simplified version of Duck Soupthat I have posted previously and in my opinion it is a better and cleanertasting version than soup using roasted carcass of a duck. I have alsosimplified the way I cook barley and wild rice. Since barley cooks in about 40minutes and wild rice 10 minutes longer I started with wild rice and 10 minuteslater in went the barley into same pot. You just can’t cook barley and/or wildrice in the stock meant as a final product, it would be way too muddy. Vegetableswere added in sequence to a clear stock. But first, the meat was removed fromthe bones and stock was degreased. I do not think that I will be making ducksoup from roasted bones anytime soon.
Ingredients for stock
Carcass from 1 duck including wings andneck
1 carrot cut in half
2 stalks of celery cut in half
1 onion quartered
1/4 tsp. each of whole cloves and allspice
1 tsp. crushed black pepper corns
2 cloves garlic

Place the bones in stock pot and pour inenough water to cover the bones by 2 inches. Bring water to simmer and startskimming accumulated scum from the surface until stock is clear, about 15minutes. Add vegetables and then spices. I always use steel mesh tee egg forherbs and spices, it is so much easier to remove after, but you can use pieceof muslin tied into a bag instead. Simmer for 2 hours but never let the waterget to rolling boil or stock will be cloudy. Slow simmer that barely brakes thesurface is ideal for making clear stock, any stock. When done, remove all thesolids with slotted spoon and strain stock through fine mesh strainer orcolander lined with few layers of muslin cloth into another pot. While stillwarm remove duck meat from bones and reserve. Remove the fat floating onsurface with spoon and kitchen paper strips or let the stock cool overnight andremove the solid fat from surface. Your stock is ready to become a soup.

Prepare the soup
1/3 cup pearled barley
1/2 cup wild rice
1 carrot, peeled and diced
1/3 cup diced turnip
1/3 cup diced celeriac or parsnip 

While the stock is slowly simmering,prepare the barley and wild rice and get all the vegetables and meat ready.Start with washing barley and wild rice in a strainer under running water,separately, of course. Place the wild rice in a pot with about 3 inches oflightly salted water to cover. Bring to slow boil and about 10 minutes lateradd the washed barley, cover and simmer for another 40 minutes. When barley andwild rice are soft strain and rinse under hot running water. While the grainsare cooking peel and dice your vegetables and cut the duck meat. Startreheating the clarified stock, add diced vegetables and simmer until carrots andturnips are al dente then add washed barley and wild rice. Check and adjust theseasoning with salt and pepper as needed. Serve in individual bowls and garnishwith chopped parsley. Toasted and buttered baguette slices on a side make niceaddition.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Cuttlefish Appetizer

Octopus, cuttlefish and squids (Cephalopods) are notorious for being tricky to cook.There are basically only two ways to cook them: very hot and short (under 1minute) or long simmer, braze or bake, around 1 hour. Yup, that is a big gap togo from 1 minute if you miss to one hour! I have never tried the long cookingmethod before until now. Am I ever glad that I did try it! The cuttlefishcame out so tender and buttery that I will use this long cooking method more often from now on. I have also readthat pressure cooker gives excellent results and shortens the time three-fold so I will have to try this method as well.
For this recipe I used cleaned large cuttlefish tubes thatI bought frozen in Asian supermarket. There were 2 tubes in a vacuum packed bag and were about 8”long and 3-1/2” wide with thick wall, absolutely ideal for my recipe.

Open up thecuttlefish and score the inside ofthe flesh in a crisscross pattern, being careful not to cut right through, thencut the cuttlefish into diamond shaped pieces. If you cut at angle the pieces willbe very decorative, almost like a flower, once it is cooked.
To prepare abraising liquid: for each cup of cuttlefish pieces mix 2 cups of water, 1cup of white vinegar and 1 Tbs. of Kosher salt. Place the squid in a pot largeenough to hold the squid and braising liquid, cover the pot and turn on mediumheat. When it comes to boil lower heat to simmer and continue cooking for about45 minutes.
Strain thecuttlefish and wash under warm running water and then drain in colander.
While thecuttlefish is cooking prepare your pickling marinade by combining 1/4 cup of whitebalsamic vinegar, 1/2 cup of olive oil and hot pepper flakes to taste for eachcup of cooked cuttlefish (theywill shrink by about 1/3). Place the squid in a jar leaving about 1/4 of emptyspace and pour marinade over the cuttlefish. Fill with white wine to 1/8” from top,close and refrigerate overnight. Serve at room temperature with crusty bread asan appetizer.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Saumon en Papillote

Salmon in Parchment Bag

We love salmon, it can be served in so many ways! Iwanted to write “cooked” but since salmon in sushi, sashimi or as a tartar israw…you get the picture. I have served salmon in every possible way includingsimmered in fish chowder. One method, however, stands apart: en Papillote or inpaper bag. Very classical and sort of high end presentation. I used to prepareit quite often but later I prefer to serve salmon raw or medium rare with super crispy (charred?) skin. I bought two salmon fillet portions without a skin so crispy skinmethod was out and I didn’t feel for sushi so one of the alternate ways was to bake thefish in paper bag. This method can also be used for other fish like cod, seabass, trout etc. and even chicken breast. Seasonings used with salmon is quitevaried as well: Asian with Enokitake mushrooms, green onions and sesame oilcomes to mind, or my preferred way with julienned red and green pepper,zucchini, lemon, butter, sea salt and Herbes de Provence. Simple and yet veryelegant meal.

2 Salmon fillet portions, skinless and boneless
2Tbs. softened butter
1/2 tsp. Herbes de Provence (recipe below)
1-1/2 tsp. coarse sea salt
1/2 tsp. freshly cracked or ground black pepper
3 thin slices lemon (1/8”) cut in half
2 pieces parchment paper cut into 15”X17” oval


Preheat oven to 400 °F.
Lightly butter center of parchment paper and placesalmon just below the center. Sprinkle sae salt and black pepper on top and topwith 3 lemon slices followed by julienned peppers and zucchini. Mix butter andherb mix together and dot the vegetables with small pieces of herbed butter,about 1 Tbs. for each fillet.
Fold the paper towards you and start folding oneside if the fold. Continue folding until you reach other side of fold and thebag is completely sealed. Tuck the last fold under to keep it closed.
Place oven on baking sheet and bake in preheatedoven for 10 minutes for medium rare. It will keep cooking after being removedfrom oven. Cut diagonal slits on top of bag with scissors being careful not toget scalded by steam. Serve with mashed potatoes or rice in a bag or you canremove the salmon and veggies from the bag and serve it on preheated plate.

Start folding...

Last fold is placed under the packet

Another serving option is removing contents of the papilotte on plate.

Herbesde Provence
2 tablespoons dried savory
2tablespoons dried rosemary
2tablespoons dried thyme
2tablespoons dried oregano
2tablespoons dried basil
2tablespoons dried marjoram
2tablespoons dried fennel seed


In a small mixingbowl, combine all the ingredients together. Store in an air-tight container.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Home Made Mozzarella Cheese

Mozzarella is on of the mostcommon cheeses you see in kitchen. Anybody that has tasted fresh mozzarellawill attest that there is absolutely no resemblance in taste and texture to supermarketmozzarella sold in brick form or sliced. Luckily, it is fairly easy to make athome. Give it a try, it might become a regular on “To-do” list. It is on mine.Also, there is one more benefit in making this cheese at home: the leftover wheycan be turned into great fresh ricotta cheese.

Place 4liters of whole milk into a stainless steel pot.  Measure all of thefollowing ingredients into four individual containers.  This will allowyou to make the cheese without worrying about measurements.
2 tsp. citricacid dissolved in 3/4 cup of water
1/4 tsp.Lipase powder dissolved in 2 Tbs. of water
1/8 tsp.rennet dissolved in 1 cup of water
1/2 tsp.flaked salt (optional)
(useonly distilled water)

Making the Cheese
Place the pot of milk on the stove over medium heat. It is important thatyou heat the milk slowly.  Slowly pour in the citric acid and mild lipasepowder while you gently stir. Heat slowly until the milk reaches 88 °F. Stir every few minutes to prevent scorching the milk on the bottom of thepot. You will begin to see the curd develop.
Once the milk reaches 88 °F stir in the rennet and water mixture. Continuestirring every few minutes until the milk reaches 105 °F.
Developing the Curd
Remove from the heat and let the milk set, covered, for 20 minutes at 105 °F. Curdwill now be fully separated.
Cooking the Curd
Use a slotted spoon or strainer to transfer the curd to a microwave safedish. If the curd is too soft to transfer, let the milk sit a few moreminutes. Pour off as much of the whey as you can. Gently press the curdstogether with the spoon and force more whey out of them. Squeeze out and drainas much whey as possible.
Placethe curd in the microwave on high for one minute. Remove and press thecurds again to force out more whey. The cheese should begin to masstogether and become sticky. 
After removing as much whey as possible put the bowl back for another 30seconds.
Add theflaked salt a little at a time and knead the cheese with a spoon as you wouldbread dough. It will become smooth and shiny. Place the curd back into themicrowave and heat on high for one more minute.  Remove from oven anddrain any remaining whey.  This time your cheese will be too hot tohandle, about 130 °F.

Stretching the Cheese
Knead the cheese again until it sticks to the spoon and pulls away from thebowl.
When the cheese begins to stretch like taffy, it is almost done.  You canhave some fun now by pulling and stretching the cheese until it is completelycooled.  This is an important step.  Stretching will make the cheesefirm and stringy.  If you prefer a softer texture don't stretch as much.
Place the cheese in an air tight container or wrap in plastic wrap andrefrigerate.  Use this cheese within one week or store it in the freezerfor up to one month. If your cheese is too soft to shred for pizza, place it inthe freezer then shred and use it partly frozen.
Ready for rennet addition.

The curd has formed...

The curd is ready for microwave oven. Notice the green whey that I will turn into ricotta later.

First heating...

Second heating...

First kneading

Cheese is ready to be formed into bocconcini. 

Four liters of 3.25% milk gave me just over 1 pound of mozzarella.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Fresh Wine Sausage and Potato Salad

Traditional Czech Christmas and Easter Meal

Fresh wine sausage actually falls into two categories on my blog: Charcutepalooza and Christmas. Traditionally, this sausage was served before or after Christmas or Easter and was always accompanied by potato salad and mustard and sometimes with freshly grated horseradish. It is a fairly light sausage, as far as sausages go, and is pleasantly tangy with lemon peel and white wine. In some regions of Northern Bohemia it was made with a mix of pork and veal while in other regions pork was the only meat used. I made lean version using 2 parts veal and 1 part pork. As is the case with any fresh or cured sausage one tool that really makes it easy, and I do consider it indispensable, is stand mixer with paddle. Of course, you can use bowl and stiff wooden spoon like our grand-parents, but it is a lot of work to beat the meat and spice mixture into a sticky forcemeat while adding wine at the same time. Even though I have not tried it since I have 8 quart Blakeslee stand mixer, I guess that you could use a food processor fitted with a dough blade to do the mixing. The wine has to be completely absorbed by the meat. Since I got my new vertical sausage stuffer I am definitely on a sausage kick but this sausage, just like any fresh sausage, can be formed into patties or short round sausages, dredged in flour and cooked in a frying pan or baked/roasted in the oven. For such a delicious sausage there are very few ingredients. One ingredient that has to be measured carefully is salt. Always weigh the salt, do not go by table spoon or tea spoon measurements, not all kosher salts (and always use kosher salt) are created equal. I did some tests and one cup of one brand differed from another brand by as much as 30% in weight, and that is a lot of difference! Generally, for sausages the ratio of meat to salt is 10 grams of salt for every 450 grams (1 pound) of meat. Another ingredient that is absolutely critical in this sausage is lemon zest. It is better to use rather more than less, after all it is the lemon zest that gives this sausage such a refreshing taste. One more thing. I never buy ground meat, ever. I have to know what is in my meat and when you buy store bought ground meat it is anybody’s guess as to what kind of crap is in it. Just check number of recalls of ground meat products due to e-coli contamination and other problems. To me it is worth the extra effort to grind my own meat. 

1 lb. veal shoulder
1/2 pork but
1/2 tsp. freshly grated nutmeg
15 grams Kosher salt
1/2 tsp. freshly ground white pepper
Lemon zest from 1 lemon
White wine, about 1/2 cup
Sheep casings and skewers (if used)
Flour for coating
Oil for shallow frying

 Remove all sinew from veal and pork. Mix salt, pepper, nutmeg and lemon zest in small bowl. Cut the meat into 1” cubes and rub the spice mixture into the meat. Place in re-sealable bag, flatten the bag while removing as much air as possible and refrigerate overnight.
Next day place the bag with meat in the freezer for half an hour or until the meat starts to get hard. When thin crust develops on the surface of the meat, grind it using die plate with 1/4” or 3/8” holes. Place the ground meat in stand mixer bowl fitted with paddle or food processor with steel dough blade (I think that plastic dough blade would brake), turn the machine on and start adding the chilled wine. Stop when grind starts to look sticky and develops little shine. Meat is now ready for stuffing into sheep casings forming coils that will fit frying pan or formed into patties or sausages. Place bamboo skewer from one end of the sausage coil, through the centre where the other end is and out opposite side. The skewer will hold the coil together and makes it much easier to handle. To cook the sausage, preheat frying pan with about 1/4” of vegetable oil, coat or dust the sausage or patties with flour to give it nice crust and fry till it is golden brown, 3–5 minutes. Turn sausage over and cook another 3-5 minutes. Serve with mustard and Potato Salad.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Vanilla Crescents - Czech Christmas Sweets

Vanilkové Rohlíčky

Vanila crescents is another item that is on every Czech Christmas table. If you don’t make them you just buy them, just like potato salad and open sandwiches (Obložené Chlebíčky) being other “must have“ for Christmas. It is a little bit tedious because of the time it takes to roll all these small crescents but it is well worth it. When you eat them they just melt in your mouth. Hmmm...No wonder, with all that butter!
1/2 pound (2 sticks) softened butter
1/2 cup sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 egg, lightly beaten
2 cups sifted pastry flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 cups finely chopped almonds or hazelnuts
Confectioners' sugar 
Cream butter and add sugar then add egg, salt and vanilla extract.
Beat in the flour half the cup at the time, then add almonds and continue mixing until mixture becomes slightly stiff dough.
Shape dough into a log, wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least an hour.
Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Line two 12 x 15-inch baking sheets with parchment paper.
Pinch off walnut-size pieces of dough, roll them into ½” thick round strips and shape into crescent shape.
Bake 15-20 minutes or until light golden brown on the bottom.
While still warm, roll in confectioners' sugar or vanilla sugar. Let them cool and store in an airtight container.
These will keep several weeks. Dust with more vanilla sugar before serving.

All shaped and ready for the oven...

They are so brittle that you just can’t dump whole baking sheet into the sugar, they have to be coated one by one.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Goose Feather Pastry Brush

Few weeks ago when I started to make Kolache pastry for Marjo I was faced with a dilemma as to how to separate individual little kolaches from touching each other on the baking sheet as they rise without collapsing them. At first I have tried super thin painter’s spatula but the dough got stuck to the steel blade. Than I had a flashback and saw my grandmother using thin feather brush dipped in butter to do the job. Not only that, I also remembered that my mother brought the brush to me when she visited us in Canada about 15 years ago. This is the original brush, about 80 years old and still works like a charm. The feathers are stiff and soft at the same time so you can run them in between pastry, separating and buttering them all at the same time. When the pastry came out nicely separated I was so thankful to my mom and grandma.
By the way, they are incredibly easy to clean: just dip the brush in near boiling water and it is done. The brush is also great for brushing egg wash on the dough.
Just run buttered brush in between pastry pies and they will not stck to each other in the oven.

The individual kolaches separated without any problem at all.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Another Week of Comfort Food

Actually, way too much of comfort food and way too much pasta for my liking. No less than 4 dishes were pasta and rest had potatoes!  It looks like next week will feature a lot of rice and rice noodle dishes.

When I was assembling this great dish I was thinking how closely related it is to Lasagne. In this version I used veal, ricotta and arugula filling with tomato and Béchamel sauce.

Roasted Chicken Legs with oven baked fries.
Crispy chicken skin, moist meat underneath and crunchy potato fries…what a combo!

Chicken breast stuffed with cheese.
Served with buttered noodles, spicy tomato sauce and arugula.

Chicken thighs, tomatoes and red peppers stew with buttered potatoes.

Penne Rigatoni with beef, mushrooms and tomato sauce.

Kassler with fruit sauce.
Traditionally the Kassler (German smoked pork chops) is cooked with sauerkraut but couple years ago I have tried it with pineapple and it tasted great. Since I didn’t have pineapple I tried a can of mandarin and pear compote. Great stuff! I’ll post full recipe later.

Veal and mushrooms ragout with buttered wide noodles.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Charcutepalooza - Venison Sausage

My adventure in Charcuterie continued this week with hot-smoked Venison and Pork sausage. Since I had only 450 grams (1 lb.) of venison from my neighbor and about the same amount of lean pork and pork back fat I had to make small batch of 3 lb. At the end I had 60” of sausages but according to my “official taster” they were the tastiest ever. This is a definite repeat but since I don’t have a free access to venison I will have to substitute with veal shoulder and add juniper berries to simulate a game meat. Here are the ingredients that I have used:

1 lb. venison
1 lb. pork
1 lb. pork fat
1 Tbs. sugar
2 Tbs. Kosher salt
1 tsp. Prague powder #1
2 tsp. onion powder
1/2 tsp. garlic powder
1 tsp. white pepper powder
1/2 Tbs. Hungarian paprika
1/2 tsp. ground allspice
1/2 tsp. freshly ground nutmeg
1 tsp. freshly ground black pepper2/3 cup ice cold water

All the seasonings were mixed, sprinkled over the meat mixture and rubbed into the meat and fat. I cured it overnight at 2°C. The dark meat is venison.

About 45 minutes before grinding I placed the meat into freezer to create a thin frozen crust. Then meat was ground and finally mixed with ice-cold water in stand-up mixer using paddle.

My new stainless steel vertical stuffer was ice cold as well. It is extremely important to keep everything clean and cold. This stuffer is so good!!! Before it was so frustrating to use the Kitchen Aid stuffing attachment.

Sausages were hanged to dry out before smoking.

Two hours later the smoking started. I had to tie the links to the front and back of the grill so that they do not touch each other and that the smoke moves around freely. I had to use my gas grill because my electric smoker kept blowing fuse. Another project: fix the smoker! Also, since I was smoking sausages I smoked some salt and paprika at the same time on top shelf of the BBQ. Notice the thermometer probe inserted into middle of one sausage.

All done! Immediately after they reached internal temperature of 150°C the sausages were cooled in ice bath to tighten up the skin and to stop cooking.

To serve, I will reheat them on the grill and serve with mustard, freshly grated horseradish and rye bread. Carnivore’s Heaven!

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Simple Weekday Meals

Monday: Mandu – Korean-Style Potstickers.

Tuesday: Monkfish Chowder with curry, shrimp and clam juice.

Wednesday: Chinese braised pork belly.

Thursday: Pan-fried salmon and mashed potatoes and celeriac.

Friday: Thin-crust vegetarian pizza.