Friday, 25 April 2014

Shrimp Risotto

Oh hey friends, anybody up for taking a cruise through flavour town with me? It's a dreary, rainy and cold Friday night here in Canada, and I wanted some comfort food after a long and stressful week at work. In fact I came straight in the door and did not detour up to put my jammies on as I always do on Fridays. Today, I went straight to the liquor rack and hauled off a bottle of vodka. So yes. That kind of a week! And that By God cocktail relaxed me almost to the point where I was thinking of just saying "Screw cooking" and ordering a pizza. But then I remembered that cooking relaxes me and helps me wind down and wash away the work week. But what to make? I didn't want to stop on the way home to get supplies in the pouring rain, so I had to forage to see what I had on hand. Now I will just tell you that you can take this recipe up to a higher level if you have fresh shrimp and parsley and homemade stock. But I didn't. So we'll go with what I had on hand, and it was still pretty off the charts delish!

We're going to make two separate dishes and marry them into one dish because that's what I like to do. You can serve this with a side of roasted asparagus or a nice, fresh Spring salad.

You'll need:
for the risotto,
1 cup of Arborio rice (this will feed 3 -4 people)
1/2 cup of white wine
1 box of chicken broth (or 4 -5 cups of homemade stock)
1 finely chopped onion
1/4 cup butter
3 tablespoons of olive oil
1/2 cup of grated parmesan (and freshly grated is best)
lots of freshly ground pepper and a bit of salt if you use homemade stock, but no salt at all if you use store bought

for the shrimp:
4-5 Jumbo shrimp per person
3 cloves finely chopped garlic
1 finely chopped shallot
juice and zest of a lemon
1 cup white wine
1/4 cup butter
3 tablespoons of olive oil
and chopped fresh parsley for the garnish

Now if you've never made risotto before, you will be a slave to your stove for the next 45 minutes. So if you're of middle age like me, you'd best empty your bladder and tend to your emails before you begin. Heat up a medium sized, heavy bottom pot on medium heat and melt the olive oil and butter. On another burner, heat up your broth just till it's steaming and reduce the heat to low. Add the onion to the olive oil and butter and just let it soften for about 8 minutes. Don't let it crisp. Reduce your heat if need be. Add your rice once the onion is soft. Stir it around for about 5 minutes and add the wine. Let that simmer off for about 3 or 4 minutes and now here we go - add a ladle full of your warm broth to the rice and keep stirring with a wooden spoon until the liquid has evaporated. Then add another ladle full of broth. And this is what you'll do for the next 45 minutes. Constant stirring and don't add more liquid until the last one has evaporated. As you go along, the rice will take on a creamy texture, but don't be fooled by that. Keep tasting a bite of rice after about 35 minutes and it should have a firm bite, but by no means be crunchy.

Also, before you begin the risotto, prepare everything for your shrimp so you can be stirring your rice all the while and sautéing up your shrimp on the burner next door. Sort of like an octopus. About 30 minutes after you start your rice, sauté the shallot in the butter and garlic for about 3 minutes and add the garlic. Keep the heat pretty low so your garlic doesn't burn. After only about a minute, add the wine and let it simmer off for 3 or 4 minutes and add the lemon zest and juice and shrimp. Simmer the shrimp for about 3 minutes per side until they're pink and cooked and remove them and set aside. Let the sauce keep on simmering until your rice is no longer crunchy. Then add the contents of your shrimp pan into your risotto and just keep on stirring until the liquid is evaporated. This is the nuptials. You're marrying the flavours at this step, and this is what makes you an amazing cook and people cannot figure out why!

Remove the rice from the heat and stir in your Parmesan and some freshly ground pepper. Once the cheese has melted, gently fold in your shrimp. Plate it and garnish with chopped parsley, a sprinkle more of parmesan and some ground pepper. And that's it! A fresh, Spring take on an old favourite!

Wednesday, 9 April 2014

Steamed Mussels

I had another absolutely fabulous class this weekend at C’est Bon! And I was far more tolerant of my classmates this weekend. I even helped that poor imbecile (who wanted to make a cheese sauce with brie last week) with her hollandaise sauce, which she kept spooning water into, instead of clarified butter.

It was Seafood Day, and one of the dishes we made was mussels. I don’t know about you, but I LOVE mussels. And they are dead easy to make. Seriously. So easy that if you like them, (and if you don’t, I suggest trying them again) you should feel empowered to invite people over for Friday night dinners in the future. As a meal, it takes all of 20 minutes to make, and you could throw a salad or some pasta with it, and it’s a delicious, wonderful meal to serve for a fun Friday night in. Maybe, you’re like one of my teachers, who told us he often grabs a bag of French fries from the chip wagon, a few beers, and cooks up some mussels with his friends. (He also said that sometimes his friends come over and they drink beer, shuck, and then eat raw oysters on a Friday night. This basically made me wonder how I could convince this man to propose marriage to me. He is the man for me, I’m sure of it.)
Check out my mussels! #lamejoke

While I plot ways to win this man’s heart, I’ll share this delightful little recipe, inspired by a French Friday Night with you.

Start with a bag of mussels, plus a bottle of beer (keep in mind, if you use a bitter beer, your sauce will be bitter. I used an IPA, and I would recommend a sweeter beer instead,) little bit of butter, a few cloves of garlic, and some fresh parsley. You will also want cream, a baguette or frites (yum), and probably couple extra beers or wine.

You can make this recipe using shallots and white wine too, in place of the garlic and beer, as we did on class on Saturday. But I thought beer might be a fun take on the classic Belgian dish, moules et frites avec bière.

Don’t be afraid of your mussels. All you need to do is rinse them thoroughly and give them a little brush under running water. Do not soak them in tap water, nor should you try to create a habitat for your mussels by adding sea salt to tap water. That’s silly. Just keep them in the fridge and try to cook them the day you get them. Let them have air. They’ll suffocate if you keep them in a sealed plastic bag, and this will be a very smelly death camp in your fridge. If they are open when you rinse them, give them a tap on your counter. If they don’t close, they’re not good, and you should throw them out. Also discard any that don’t open during the cooking process. (This makes perfect sense on several levels, but mostly on a table manners level. Very few meals allow you to crack into shelled animals and eat their flesh in a socially acceptable way.)

In a pot with a lid, big enough for your mussels, melt a little butter. Sauté your minced garlic in this until you smell it, but be careful not to let it burn. Now add your mussels, with enough beer to almost cover them, and get your heat up in there. You are steaming them, so you need the liquid to be simmering. Season with salt and pepper, place your lid on the pot and give it a shake every now and then. This won’t take long, once they’re open and unattached from one side, they’re done. Remove mussels from the broth, and then bring that up to a simmer. Add a splash of cream and check your seasoning.

Serve over the mussels with bread. Easy, classic, and delicious. Enjoy!

Sunday, 6 April 2014

Potato Crisps

So here is the thing of it. Facebook. If you're 20, then you most likely use this social media site to promote yourself, and to show the world how gorgeous you are.  If you're 54, then not so much. I'm not much one to take selfies in the bathroom mirror in a push up bra with duck lips and such as that! But I do enjoy Facebook as a really good tool to communicate with my friends and family. And all the time, because of my age and my social connections, recipes pop up too. I bet the young people never receive these feeds. But I'm glad I do because I love them. And I don't have a closed mind when it comes to these ideas. I love them all and I try them all. (Unless they're entirely stupid and I can see that at a glance.) But I happened to love the photo of these potato crisps that came up on my newsfeed one day. They aren't crisps or crispy in any way. So it was kind of a bullshit deal right from there on. But I digress. On to the recipe! And I made this recipe just as it came up on my newsfeed. And sure. Why not right? Then I tweaked it just slightly to put it to my way of thinking. Now I will tell you first off, it you don't have a really good, heavy duty muffin pan, then use those paper cupcake liners for this because no matter if you spray Pam or grease the pan, they'll stick.

So let's wreck a muffin pan! You'll need"
3 cups of mashed potatoes
2 eggs
1/3 cup sour cream
1 cup grated cheddar cheese
1 tablespoons Parmesan
2 tablespoons of chives or parsley "chives or parsley" Like WTF?

Okay. So anybody can see this is a slap happy mess already right? Let's try to narrow it down into something we can be a little bit proud to serve. Let's make damn sure we make those mashed potatoes with Yukon Gold, yellow fleshed potatoes, using real butter and real cream to mash them up. How about slicing the top off an entire bulb of garlic and roasting it in the oven on 375 wrapped in tinfoil for 30 minutes and squeezing that yumminess into the mash? I say Yes to that! So mash your potatoes with butter and cream and roasted garlic and season with sea salt and freshly ground pepper. Whisk your eggs and add the sour cream. And now Whoa! Sure. We all love a cup of grated old cheddar. On our Nachos maybe! But potatoes on our dinner plate are not football snack. So let's take this up a level. If you like Roquefort or Blue cheese, use half that and half cheddar. Or if you like Swiss or Emmenthal or whatever. Just don't use pedestrian cheese since potatoes have no flavour and the job of the cheese is to give the flavour to this dish. So whisk your cheese of choice into the eggs.It also calls for Parmesan, and once again, you can do better than that! Use something you grate yourself, or at least needs to be kept under refrigeration from the deli section. And now on to the part where they skipped over about the parsley? Add 2 tablespoons of chopped chives or a teaspoon of chopped, fresh rosemary. Since they didn't ask for seasoning, I'd go ahead and toss in half a teaspoon of paprika too. And sprinkle your cakes with chopped parsley when you serve them, Mix it all together and preheat your oven to 400 degrees. Fill up the muffin cups to nearly full and bake for 30 - 35 minutes.

So there you have it! A nice side dish of the ever boring potato. But this time with flavour! Maybe I'll selfie it up in the bathroom mirror one of these days!

Tuesday, 1 April 2014

Lobster Bisque

I received the best Christmas present this year- my dad got me six cooking classes at C’est Bon cooking school, and it’s just WONDERFUL. The chef trained in France, and the other chef who helps her trained in Switzerland. They speak French, and I basically spend every Saturday morning now living out my fantasy life as Sabrina, and immerse myself in their knowledge for several hours. 

Finished product, with a melting quenelle. 
My first stop on the way home from the class is the grocery store, so I can utilize all my new skills. I practice with my knives when I get home, I hang on every word the chef says, and I’m quite certain that if I ever left the charity world, I’d put myself in the Cordon Bleu as quickly as I could.

That all being said, I am in a basic class, which is a requirement of the school. My level of ego can only handle this because it makes it seem even more SERIOUS, because you must have the right techniques before going any further with your cooking. So, I gracefully accept my position in the basic class and remember everything they say. I often feel like the teacher’s pet too, because I know about the things they teach us much more than anyone else. I am sure everyone else finds me completely obnoxious, which is, I suppose, my burden to bear.

Some others in the class have a fair level of knowledge too, but others do not. One particular girl in the class seems to have an issue with reflecting on what she’s about to say before she says it. Thusly, she asks idiotic questions regularly.

Now, be forewarned, when I told my best friend about these idiotic questions she said I was being elitist. Let me give you an example of the questions, and we'll decide together if she is an idiot or I am an elitist.

Obviously a dinner this fancy needs an appropriate table.
Today, we started with a béchamel. We know that this requires beginning with a roux, which requires equal parts flour to butter to start. After confirming this several times, she then asked if you use the equal amount of milk as to butter and flour. This is a ridiculous question, because how would you have a bloody sauce if you only used a few tablespoons of milk? Then, she asked if you could make a cheese sauce using BRIE. Are you kidding me?! What kind of tomfoolery is that? What, you’re going to peel the brie? Or are you going to throw in that rind too and expect it to melt? What kind of person destroys a perfectly gorgeous brie by snarking it down into a cheese sauce? Brie is a star- she will allow others in bit parts, but let's not get it twisted. She is not meant to become a background flavour for your broccoli.

We also made pastry today in the class, which was wonderful; but of course she felt the need to ask another stupid question about that. This time however, in a rare moment of self-awareness, she pre-empted her question with, “This may be a stupid question, but…”


Then she asked if the recipe for the pastry dough would be the same for any other kind of tart. As in, "We used this pastry for this quiche, but could you use it for, say, a tart? Or maybe a pie?" OBVIOUSLY. The instructor of the class has patience in epic proportions.

But, despite her occasional interjections, we do make some amazing recipes. And I do learn something new as far as technique every week. Last week, we made an incredible mushroom soup, and, instead of adding our cream to the soup, we made it into whipped cream and topped the soup with a quenelle     of it! What joy that gave me! You know how I adore a jazzy serving opportunity, and that really would highlight my skills.

I came home and made a lobster bisque that night, and of course topped my soup with a quenelle too! Making a quenelle is not as easy as you think. I watched several YouTube tutorials on it, and next time I paint my nails, maybe I'll even make a tutorial too. (But I'm not doing home videos without painted nails, that would just be embarrassing.)

Straining the stock
So here's the recipe for a lobster bisque, in case you want to be fancy one day. Start with 2 lobsters, live or not. I wanted so badly to use live lobsters, and I braced myself for the homicide of the Homarus americanus in my very own kitchen. "A real chef," I told myself, "would use live lobsters. They would never value the life of a crustacean over the necessary freshness of flavour. A real chef would bless the live lobster, they would use every portion of meat for the soup, they would boil the shell into stock, they would HONOUR the spirit of that little homard."

But, I couldn’t bring myself to do it. The potential of self-loathing and sobbing in the powder room for twenty minutes while my guests were here was too great a chance to take. Instead, I used two fresh lobster tails. You will also need cream, celery, carrots, fish broth (if you can find it, otherwise use vegetable or chicken stock- but we will make our own fish broth too) garlic, sherry, tomato paste, chopped tarragon, flour and butter.

Start by cooking your lobster meat- please don't overcook it. Overcooked lobster meat is akin to eating a leather boot. Or a bicycle tire, as the brilliant Albert Burneko would say.  If you are going to use live lobster, I admire you. You can find lots of ways to kill them humanely before they go in the big pot of water beforehand (the general Internet consensus seems to be to drive a knife into the spot behind their heads,) but there is also a movement out there that says because they lack a cerebral cortex (or something) they can't actually feel themselves boiling to death. For me, I had a serious fear of one getting loose into my house and what kind of shenanigans might happen if my dog and I had to chase down a live lobster.

Well isn't that a lovely salad! 
Anyway. You can steam it until the shells just barely turn red, then take it off the heat. Remove the meat from the shell. Now, place the shells in water and simmer for as long as you possibly can to create a stock of sorts. Add whatever aromatics you have kicking around, like a bay leaf or an onion or fish heads. Or whatever.

Now, let's make a roux. Start with equal parts butter and flour (two tablespoons of each works well) and cook in your pot until it smells like cookies baking. (I learned that in my class, yay!) It will look a bit golden, (cook with all your senses, Chef would say) and this is because no one wants their bisque to taste like raw flour. Now add some minced garlic, chopped carrots and celery and sauté until they look translucent. Deglaze your pan with a splash of sherry and let that reduce by half. Now, add your fish stock, plus any extra stock you need to beef up your soup a little. Stir with a healthy amount of tomato paste. At this point, you should have a lovely orange-ish creamy looking type of soup with some veg in it. Simmer for 40 minutes until everything is soft. Then puree.

At this point, your lobster meat has likely cooled. You are going to add it at the last minute before you serve, but just enough to heat it through. Not enough to start cooking it again. You can add a splash of cream to your soup, but you are also going to make it into whipped cream, because your guests need to know this is not some proletariat bisque. This is some next level shit, your bisque is BOURGEOISIE. And you are going to top that soup with a goddamn quenelle, and people are going to know what's up. Sure, they will backstab you. They will say, "Oh, that Bailey. She thinks she's so good because tops her soups all jazzy like." And you know what? They will be right. Because you know you're that good.

(Apparently the theme of today's blog is my unmanageable ego.)

Make your whipped cream. Turn this into a quenelle by giving it three quick rolls between two spoons. There is a wrist action involved- I can't describe this very well. Therefore, I promise to make you a quenelle video soon, and in the meantime, there's this thing called YouTube you can check out.

There you have it. Serve with some nice bread and a salad. (Editor's Note: You are probably not as lucky to have gorgeous, fresh, homemade bread at your dinner table, such as I was. My lovely dinner companion Jenny brought bread, straight out of the oven to this dinner. It was still warm, and it was incredible. This is a late addition because I didn't want to brag.) 

As you enjoy your bisque, think about how awesome you are.