Drop by the Steampunk Cookery website.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Roasted Acorn Squash Soup

Acorn Squash.
Photo from Wikimedia Commons.
In November I cooked for a great number of people; one group lucky enough to eat my food (if I may, somewhat egotistically, describe the experience thus,) was the Indian Village Women's Garden Club. Indian Village is an area of Detroit containing some of the oldest standing houses in the area, most of them what could be described as mansions—especially in the Victorian era, when many of them were built—and most of those still complete with butlers' pantries, kitchens wholly closed-off from the rest of the house, secret passages, back staircases, servants' quarters, and so on: the whole package of Victorian Opulence.

I was asked to prepare a meal for the ladies, and speak about the historical cooking techniques, theories, and styles that I have documented here. I took the chance to refine the speech I would ultimately give at Teslacon, as well as to debut the curry recipe I intended to cook at the con. I also wanted to take the opportunity to write some new recipes and try some new techniques for preparing them, which is represented in this recipe.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Excitement!

I've been in a prohibition-era mood lately,
it would seem...
I've often declined to post things here because I don't find them to fit particularly with my little project, for one reason or another. The food doesn't feel "steampunk" enough, I didn't take good pictures, I don't feel like it represents the best cooking I can do, and so on and so forth.

There's no immediate solution to this. I could invent a multi-point criteria system for evaluating my recipes in terms of their quality, interest, and overall steampunk nature—but that would involve work, and for someone as sleep-loving as I am, I feel my time might be better spent napping. (Actually, I just don't know what all my criteria would be...)

I do, however, have some interesting things coming up this month that I'd like to tell you all about, and that will form the basis of the new content for this blog in the coming weeks.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Chicken Curry - From Leftovers

Photograph by Mark Staubitz, at Teslacon II
(The blue pot soon to hold chicken curry.)
Mrs. Beeton and many of her contemporary cookbook writers were very concerned with using leftover food. In an age lacking refrigeration or the ability to freeze leftover food, the remedy was to create recipes to use that cooked meat, like Chicken Croquettes, meat pies, and stews of cooked meat. These recipes highlight one of the main drives of cooking in the Victorian era, a desire—and indeed a need—for food utilization. Sausages, terrines, and pâtés all see their beginnings in this need to utilize all the parts of a meat animal, and recipes like the one below (and a hundred different variations on hashed meat) come from a need to make something of the very valuable food items left after a meal.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Wintertime Trifle

One of the most quintessentially British of desserts, Trifles have allegedly existed since the end of the 16th century. In the Complete Traditional Recipe Book, Sarah Edington says,
Trifle is one of those dishes for which no one can agree on the correct recipe. Grown men remember with affection the trifle made by their mothers and grandmothers and come to blows over whether or not jelly and/or jam should be ingredients.
I won't make any claim to one version of a trifle that's any more correct than any other, but I will present you a short history of the Trifle as I can assemble it from some of the cookbooks in my collection.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

On the Future

I haven't been writing here a lot of late, and I feel rather guilty about that. It's not that I haven't been cooking—I have, in fact, been catering and cooking for friends and family—but I haven't been taking pictures of the things I have made, when they're appropriate for the blog, and a lot of the time the things I'm cooking don't really fit that well into the catalog of Articles for the blog.

HOWEVER! The next month is auspicious. On the 27th of this month, a friend and I are catering an art show. Nothing particularly steampunk about it, but I might write it up just for the fun of it—after all, it's not every day I get to throw down Tapas at a show that bills itself as "An Exhibition of Enlightened Darkness." The next night, exhaustion permitting, I'll be cooking at Up in the Aether again, as I do on a (mostly) regular basis.

Then, in November, I'm presenting twice in the space of one week on Steampunk food! First is to a local ladies' garden club in one of the older portions of Detroit. I'll be cooking three dishes for them: A fall/winter squash soup, curried chicken—a different recipe than the one I've presented here, and a trifle.

Second, and most excitingly for me, I will be hosting a panel at Teslacon II on Steampunk Food.
Hopefully, I will be able to record the panel and post clips (or indeed the full hour-and-a-quarter lecture) here. I will once again be presenting a couple items for the assembled masses, and (though I am still awaiting final permission to do a live-fire cooking demonstration in a hotel conference room,) I plan on doing:

• Chicken Curry (same as at the garden club—it's a cooked chicken dish, which makes it easier to do.)
• A Cold Dish of some kind. Perhaps a salad, perhaps an hors d'oeuvre.

Of course, there will be a bonus to the people attending the panel—because I am a magnanimous host—in the form of five or six as-yet unpublished Steampunk recipes, presented to them in my usual prosaic but useful recipe form.

So if you're coming to Teslacon (and why wouldn't you be?) make sure to come to my panel.

As always, I appreciate your readership and patience, my friends, and hope to return with more Steampunk food again soon.

Friday, September 16, 2011

A Triumphant Return

Or sort of, anyhow. The restaurant and I have amicably parted ways—I wasn't exactly what they needed, and they weren't exactly what I needed, and that was (as they say) that. They're some very nice businesspeople and I would work for them again in the future, if the opportunity presented itself.

Once again, that leaves me here to contemplate life, the universe, and everything—and to cook delicious food and present it to the lot of you!

Last week, I returned to the Phoenix Café, with two dishes for the assembled masses: From New Vegetarian Dishes by Mrs. Bowdich, 1892, a preparation of Green Beans (which I purchased fresh at that week's Tuesday Market at Eastern Market,) and Chicken Cacciatore.

Green Beans 
1 shallot, minced
1 pint (473 ml) tomato juice
1 pound (453 g) green beans, steamed and shocked
1/2 teaspoon (2.5 ml) salt
1/4 teaspoon (1.25 ml) pepper
a blonde roux of 1 oz (28 g) flour and 1 oz (28 g) olive oil
 

1. Sweat the shallot, and add the tomato juice. Whisk in the roux, Bring to a boil, reduce the heat and simmer about half an hour.

2. Season with pepper and salt. Add the Green beans in, and thoroughly re-heat.

(When I prepared this, I used tomato purée instead of juice, and a bit of garlic instead of a shallot. I think the results were comparable. This is a very simple dish, and I like it that way—even though my compulsion is to complicate it overmuch.)

On to the second recipe: Chicken Cacciatore. It's a recipe that has existed more or less in the same manner for many years; I have a cookbook from the turn of the 20th century called "The Cook's Decameron" that includes a recipe for Cacciatore; indeed, "Hunter-Style" food is a common item in many cuisines, usually containing more "rustic" (or wildly available) items like mushrooms, as well as "spicier" things like bell peppers. (French cuisine includes "Forestière" sauce, for example.) I've figured out a way to make the recipe cook more quickly, so that I can serve it in under an hour from start to finish.


Chicken Cacciatore
2 pounds (907 g) chicken meat (I used breasts,) boneless, skinless, and cut into 1" (2.5 cm) cubes
2 Orange Bell Peppers, Julienne
2 Green Bell Peppers, Julienned
2 White Onion, Julienne
1 pound (455 g) White Button Mushrooms, Sliced
2 28-oz (794 g) cans Diced Tomatoes
Dry Red Wine
Salt and Pepper 
Oregano
Olive Oil

1. Salt and pepper the chicken, and sear it in hot oil. Set aside.

2. Heat more oil and begin to cook the onions. When they have become somewhat translucent, add the bell peppers. Cook until slightly softened.

3. Add the chicken back in, and the mushrooms. Cook until the mushrooms are softened.

4. Add a good quantity of red wine (it will depend on how large your cooking vessel is how much you want to use,) and cook until mostly evaporated. Add the tomatoes and season with salt, pepper, and a good amount of oregano. Simmer until the chicken is cooked through.

I apologize I don't have any pictures of either of these dishes at this time—hopefully I'll add some soon.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Lessons Learned

About a month after opening the restaurant, and about two months after starting to work there, I have moved on from the place. It was not a decision that I came to on my own after consideration, but it is not one that I am explicitly unhappy with.

Working at the restaurant was a lot of fun. I got to meet some good contacts in the food industry, and I got to get into the groove of cooking the same 16 items day in and day out, as well as figuring out HOW to make them given the equipment that I had. At the same time, though, it was frustrating—I lost an entire month of my life to the fact that I worked almost every day; the few days that I didn't work, I was lucky enough to spend with the important people in my life—but the sudden change from seeing someone every day to almost never seeing them was... disheartening.

But onward and onward I go, and hopefully this will return to being a busy blog in the next week or so.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

The Travails of the Restaurant Chef

Caprese Salad: Roasted Roma Tomatoes, Fresh Basil,
Buffalo Mozzarella, Olive Oil, Balsamic Reduction,
Crostino with Tomato Confit, Sicilian Pesto.
As I've made mention of on my Facebook page, I've become employed lately at a restaurant (not that the bookstore was a bad place to work, by any means, but I do feel the need to work within my chosen profession.) It's a startup, and I'm running the kitchen. This means that I'm responsible for everything from designing plate layouts to purchasing products, and everything in between.

It's been a lot of work—consecutive 14-hour days and I are now friends—but it's also been a lot of fun, and a wonderful learning experience so far. My sous chef is a good friend of mine from culinary school, and together we're rocking this place out.

I'll leave you with a couple menu items from the restaurant. It's not particularly steampunk, but it's fun and delicious...

Triple Grilled Cheese—Pepperjack, Mozzarella, Cheddar

Pepperoni Pizza, hearth-fired

Italian Roast Beef Sandwich (Mozzarella, Roasted Red Peppers)

Friday, June 24, 2011

Potato Soup

Potatoes—delicious in many ways.
The lovely and talented Miss Hayley Jane (also available at Facebook and more) is, I have learned, a fan of potatoes. Being as I have some Irish heritage, the potato is a familiar item to me as more than just a thing to mash, boil, or bake. As much as I do enjoy taking potatoes, chopping them up, boiling them up, and/or putting them in stews, I also enjoy playing with potatoes in many different manners, such as using them to thicken sauces, making them into chips (Saratoga Potatoes, which are covered well by the Culinary Chronoaviatrix,) roasting them for salads, and generally trying new and different ways to use the humble potato.

Today, I am making potato soup. Simple, clean, and delicious. There's half a million recipes for potato soups; each cookbook I have in my collection has at least one, and some have more than that. As is my style, I shall present to you a few recipes, followed by the one that I will use for tonight's little dish—an item being sold at the bookstore for Craft Night.

Potage Printanier—French Springtime Soup

Much like Chicken Soup, there are myriad variations on the Potage Printanier; Technically speaking, the name merely means "Springtime Soup" and therefore can be made with any number of springtime vegetables, generally resulting in a green, semi-thick soup. Typically it includes peas as a main ingredient. Some recipes will have it merely be a puréed pea soup; others include lettuce and greens; others include asparagus and haricots, and many include egg. It's all a matter of whose cook book you use.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Tomato-Basil Bisque

Bisques are traditionally a French soup made from crustacean shells. They are smooth, creamy, and highly seasoned. Typically, you lightly cook the shells to develop a rosy color, then simmer them with wine and other aromatic spices; they are strained out, ground, and the soup is thickened with a combination of the ground crustacean shells and roux or rice, leaving a smooth, creamy, and delightful dish.

Being as I am allergic to crustaceans, Lobster Bisque and Shrimp Bisque (and Crawfish Bisque and...) don't hold much interest to me, and therefore for the soup feast I set upon a very bright and flavorful soup, one of my personal favorites, Tomato-Basil Bisque.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Chicken Curry

Photos by Russ Turner Photography
In The Curry Cook's Assistant, from 1889, the following recipe is given:
No. 8.—CHICKEN CURRY.
One good-sized Chicken (about a pound or more).

Other ingredients same as for Madras Curry, No. 4. Now cut up the chicken in half of each joint. Keep it to a side. Now fry the onions, sliced, in a stew-pan, with a large spoon of butter. When the onions are nice and brown, just fry the chicken in it less than half done. Take it out and keep to a side. Now fry the Curry Powder till it is nice and dark brown, then add the chicken, more onions, and other things into the frying Curry Powder, etc., and add half-pint of good gravy, and set it on a slow fire for 20 minutes. When serving, add two large spoons of cream. If it is very dry, add little more gravy to it. A few drops of lemon will flavour it, but I recommend to make the chicken into a “moley,” as No. 29. Much nicer to be eaten with rice or treated as an ordinary entree, and the curried fowl (whole) nicer as a joint.
Madras Curry (No. 4) reads as follows:
No. 4.—BEEF CURRY (Madras).

For a Pound of Beef.
2 Tablespoons Coriander Powder and 1 of Rice Powder.
1 Saltspoon Saffron and a Pinch of Cumin Powder and Fenugreek.
½ Pint of Milk or good Gravy.
1 Large or few small Onions.
A bit of Cinnamon, 2 Cloves (if you wish spices).
½ Teaspoon Green Ginger chopped up fine.
A Small Garlic chopped up fine.
1 Large Spoonful of Butter (fresh); Salt to taste.

N.B.—This Curry is made in Madras with or without Cocoanut, but little Tamarind will flavour this Curry better than Lemon Juice. Vinegar, Curry Leaves, etc., are used in Madras and Ceylon. This is a first-class Curry if carefully prepared.

Mode.—Have the meat ready cut in half-inch squares; then slice the onions; put a good stew-pan on the fire, add the butter; soon as the butter gets hot put in the onions and Curry Powder, but not the ginger, garlic, and spices. When the onions, Curry stuffs, etc., are nicely browned, add the meat, garlic, ginger, spices, and give it a turn. Let it stand for a few seconds, then add the milk or gravy, salt, etc.; set on slow fire for about 20 minutes. When sending to table add a few drops of lemon or good pickle vinegar, but tamarind is best. Add little cayenne if preferred hot; a hot Curry is considered always nice and healthy, the cayenne to be added when preparing.
Now, being as I am a modern-day chef, I don't necessarily put each spice into the dish on its own in turn; I like curry powder, and I'm happy to use it.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Spontaneous Soup—Minestrone

I'm working the closer tonight at the bookstore, and it's craft night. So, I felt the need to make something to serve to people here, and I have at my disposal only one cooking implement: A crock pot.

Let's get to work.

Ad Hoc Minestrone Soup
2 Zucchini
1 large onion
4 cloves garlic
4 carrots
4 stalks celery
some basil
some parsley
1 can (14.5 oz) diced tomatoes
1 can (19 oz) cannelloni beans
1 can (4 oz) tomato paste
water to cover
about 2 cups elbow macaroni
salt and pepper as needed

1. Combine all ingredients in a crock pot, and cook until the zucchini is soft. Add macaroni somewhat into the cooking process. Add salt and pepper to taste—this can take a quite surprisingly large amount of salt, if you like things that way.

Now, presuming I didn't have a crock pot—or rather, presuming that I did have a stove, I'd approach this a little differently.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Seared Asparagus

Photgraph by Russ Turner Photography
In The Italian Cook Book from 1919, the following entry appears for asparagus:
Asparagus can be prepared in many different ways, but the simplest and best is that of boiling them and serving them seasoned with olive oil and vinegar or lemon juice. However there are other ways as, for instance, the following: Put them whole to brown a little with the green part in butter and, after seasoning them with salt, pepper and a pinch of grated cheese, pour over the melted butter when it is browned. Or else divide the white from the green part and place them as follows in a fireproof plate: Dust the bottom with grated cheese and dispose over the points of the asparagus one near the other; season with salt, pepper, grated cheese and little pieces of butter. Make another layer of asparagus and, seasoning in the same way, continue until you have them. Be moderate in the seasoning. Cross the layers of asparagus like a trestle, put on the oven and keep until the seasoning, is melted. Serve hot.

If you have some brown stock, parboil them first and complete the cooking with brown stock, adding a little bust and dusting moderately with grated cheese.
In every other cook book, from Mrs. Beeton to Buckeye Cookery, asparagus is suggested to be served boiled and laid on toast—so I combined the two ideas, and served seared asparagus (similar enough to broiling for my purposes) with lemon and olive oil on a toast point... and then added a little grated cheese.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Feeding An Art Show

Not every weekend is a convention for the Steampunk Chef—though in the future that might change. This past weekend, however, I was at an art show in Farmington, MI, a short drive away from my home in Detroit. I had a table to work with, and was asked to do two items. I ended up deciding to work with the idea of a vegetarian item and a meat item, both of which I could make in one pot or pan.

That pound of curry powder is burning a hole in my cupboard (though it's rather mild in flavor, oddly enough) and so I set upon the idea of doing some kind of meat curry—chicken being inexpensive and rather widely-accepted, I put that atop my list for marketing. Now, a curry is always best served in a traditional manner, atop a bed of rice, so my favorite boiled rice was set to accompany the curry.

As for vegetables, I was a little more free-form. As I wandered through Eastern Market in the morning on Saturday, I spied bunches of fresh asparagus, advertised as having been picked at 10 AM on Friday. The same vendor had some lovely lemons, so I quickly decided on the idea of searing the Asparagus and serving it on a toast point with a vinaigrette of lemon juice and olive oil, and topping that with some shredded Parmesan cheese. Recipes to follow!

Saturday, June 4, 2011

A Moment of Reflection

200 Followers.
Almost 27,000 views.
Over 600 fans on Facebook.

I think the irregularly-updated cooking blog of a nerdy fellow from Michigan is going pretty well.

I'm off to the market early this morning to prepare to serve food at an art opening. I'll try to take some pictures...

The soup-feast posts will go up as soon as I get my pictures from that event, which have been held up due to various other issues, such as conventions and life.

Also, what do you think about that building up there? I think it would make a lovely restaurant. If only I could hit the lottery or get some investors or something.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

A Little Something for Your Perusal and Amusement

The author over at Great Grandmother's Kitchen tagged me in a little blog-based thing that, back in my day, we used to call a meme. Now, that's not the proper use of the word, so I'll say it's a little chain letter sort of thing in the blogosphere, designed to help you introduce yourself and promote the blogs of folks who might not otherwise be seen.

I definitely appreciate the praise lavished upon me, and so I suppose I can spare a few moments of my time (and take a few of yours) to write up a little something. While I do that, why not head over and read this article:

Great Grandmother's Kitchen: There is Steam in My Kitchen!: "If you are unfamiliar with the concept of Steampunk, Scifipedia explains it rather succinctly as something that, 'is set in an era or world where steam power is still widely used—usually the 19th century, and often set in Victorian era England—but with prominent elements of either science fiction or fantasy, such as fictional technological inventions like those found in the works of HG Wells and Jules Verne.'"

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Maghreb Braised Chicken Thighs

Thighs! The mere word sends shivers up the spine. Chicken thighs, however, are a little less titillating, and a little more hunger-stimulating.

This recipe developed as a way to use the thighs from the chicken I broke down during my practice for my Practical Exam earlier this year. When you create the finished plate for that exam, you're expected to use the chicken breasts, and are not required to use any other part of the bird for any reason. I suppose you could, but there's no real requirement.

Anyhow, having had the recent experience of the Classical Restaurant class, and thinking of ways to put more than one protein item on a plate, I came up with this as a little side dish for the home version of my plate—something I'd do here, and not replicate at school unless I had a whole boatload of free time. From there, however, it spiraled into something my mother liked, and that I ended up serving at a local underground restaurant event.

Monday, May 16, 2011

A Soup Banquet

Coming this month at Off the Beaten Path is another in my series of Steamfeasts. In response to a massive showing of interest in the various soups that I have prepared at home and abroad (i.e., in the houses of others,) I was offered the suggestion that I might prepare a meal entirely consisting of soups. I thought this a capital idea, and have prepared the following menu, showcasing a variety of soups from simple to complex, elegant to rustic.

Several of the recipes are things I've prepared before, which makes this a slightly less productive feast in terms of blog content. However, each soup has its own garnish that I will discuss in turn, as well as posting recipes for the new soups.

Chicken Consommé
Leek Royale

Tomato-Basil Bisque
Parmesan and Garlic Crouton

Potage Printanier
Carrot Coulis

Mulligatawny Soup
Boiled Rice

Peach–Yogurt Soup
Palmier

Friday, May 13, 2011

On Mustard for Picnicking (part Two of Two)

Welcome back, true believers! Today, I shall finish up my discussion of the foods served at the picnic for Grand Ledge Victorian Day.
This was our crew, a fine and gallant bunch. To accompany our luncheon dish of cold roasted chicken, I created a thyme-infused Dijon-style mustard. The recipe came out of a fusion of new and old recipes, as well as basic flavoring techniques.

The mustard was a smash hit at the picnic, winning commendations from the picnickers and visiting soldiers alike (our blankets are a neutral zone where Union and Rebel may eat together in peace and harmony. And booze.)

As is my habit, however, I shall herein discuss a little bit about the creation of mustard over the Steampunk era, and present a few recipes from my collection of cook books.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

A Picnic! (Part One of Two)

Roast Capon
This past Saturday saw the much-needed trip to an event in my area, Grand Ledge Victorian Day. It is an incredibly enjoyable event, featuring croquet, Civil War reenactments, a low tea, quilts, antiques, a parade, a beard and mustache contest, and educational programming about the Victorian era. In particular, my friends and I (a motley group including Miss Kagashi of The Steamer's Trunk and our various associates, some from the Imperial Anti-Piracy Squadron) have established a tradition (which I have taken to calling "The First Manassas/First Bull Run Memorial Picnic" in homage to that battle) of picnicking during the Civil War skirmish. This year, Miss Kagashi and I coordinated ourselves to prepare some picnic items from the book Buckeye Cookery and Practical Housekeeping, which says:
The following bills of fare may be picked to pieces and recombined to suit tastes and occasions:

SPRING PICNICS.--Cold roast chicken; ham broiled on coals; fish fried or broiled; sardines; tongue; hard-boiled eggs; eggs to be fried or scrambled; Boston corn bread; buttered rolls; ham sandwiches prepared with grated ham; orange marmalade; canned peaches; watermelon and beet sweet-pickles; euchered plums; variety or bottled pickles; chow-chow; quince or plum jelly; raspberry or other jams; Scotch fruit, rolled jelly, chocolate, Minnehaha, old-fashioned loaf, and marble cake; coffee, chocolate, tea; cream and sugar; salt and pepper; oranges.
We set upon having a somewhat simpler picnic, not using everything off that list, and designed the following list of provisions, which we believed would suffice:

Monday, May 9, 2011

Lamb Curry

This is what we call "Kitchen Face"
Here in my collection, I have a book called "The Curry Cook's Assistant," published in 1887. It's a little dense, and the recipes not always the clearest; yet, they are useful in that they showcase the sheer variety of curry dishes. (Of note, it's available through Project Gutenberg—which is an utterly invaluable resource—right here. They have a whole passel of cook books on there, and I may well exhaust my digital storage space saving them.)

The Phoenix Café, which I have discussed before, celebrated our DJ's birthday this month. I spoke with him last month and asked him what he'd like, food-wise, at his second 22nd birthday party. He requested that I create a lamb dish in his honor, and I suggested a lamb curry. My suggestion was met with enthusiastic nodding and excited eye movements, so I went with it.

I found a gorgeous leg of lamb on sale at my local farmer's market in one of the many meat purveyors' warehouses, grabbed some onions and old-fashion curry powder, and set them aside for the evening. I had other obligations in the morning, and would have to fetch and cook on the fly. I remained undaunted, and met with resounding success—one of my best-received dishes to date.

Ever the humble servant, I present to you Tommy's Lamb Curry.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Passover—The Feast of Unleavened Bread, part 2

Passover is a long holiday—eight days, to be exact—and so I have returned to complete my task. When last we met, I discussed the traditional table items for a passover meal; in this, the second part of my little discussion of Jewish passover tradition, I shall take on the passover meal itself, and elaborate on some of the varieties of food found in the Steampunk era. It will begin, with my apologies, in a somewhat scholarly manner, examining the sources I have used to create this pair of articles; I shall quickly proceed to a lesson on the origins of the dietary restrictions surrounding Passover, and finish with a discussion of dishes typical to a seder in the age of steam. As of this time, I have not prepared many of the dishes in my usual manner, and as such will present recipes from the primary sources without editing; it is a goal, however, to prepare some of them for my more typical posting style shortly. (Kosher for Passover food goes on sale after passover is over...)

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Apologies

It's amazing what happens when you have an exam that decides your future in the business (passed with a 90%, one of the highest scores in my school,) the end of the semester, and a lack of free time...

What happens is your blog falls quickly by the wayside, as do your social life, propensity to have fun, and health. I'm back now, though, and I'll see you shortly with more posts.

Friday, April 22, 2011

The Bread Guy Presents: Matzah

Hello again.

It's The Bread Guy.

Aaron asked me to put in another appearance, so I thought I'd tell you about my latest foray into the world of dough. As some of you may know, it's Passover, which gave us the opportunity to get together with the family to celebrate the Seder. This ritual has many symbolic components, recounting the history of the liberation of the Israelites from slavery in ancient Egypt. So, how does this relate to The Bread Guy? Well, there's special bread, which is part of the Passover meal—matzah. The biblical narrative tells of the haste of the flight of the Israelites, such that they could not even wait for their bread to rise, resulting in an unleavened flatbread or cracker that we know as matza. It symbolizes freedom and redemption, but as the "poor man's bread," it is also a reminder of the humility of servitude.

So why does this interest The Bread Guy? Well, my recent bread baking efforts have explored the enrichment of flavor that various methods of pre-fermentation add to breads. (You remember the 12 to 16 hour poolish used in the Pain Rustique.) And in particular, how these techniques can be applied to whole grain loaves. Well, matzoh is the complete antithesis. The religious elders determined that the time it takes for wild yeast to start its fermentation action is 18 minutes. During Passover, eating chametz (any food which is leavened) is forbidden. So, for matse to be kosher for Passover, it needs to be prepared in less than these 18 minutes. That is from the time the water is mixed in with the flour until the dough is baked in the oven.

Well, I considered this a challenge and decided I'd try my hand at preparing the matso for the family, and I have to say, I was able to modify the recipe that I used and meet the time limit. Actually, it worked quite well, the matzho that was baking was done just as the next batch was ready to put in.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Passover—The Feast of Unleavened Bread, part 1

Jews making a Passover sacrifice; represented
in a 15th-century art piece.
(Wikimedia Commons)

Holidays sneak up on you, if you're not careful. In Christian tradition, they're mostly predictable; after all, our modern calendar is a Christian one, and therefore Easter is somewhat more predictable (or at least marked on more calendars.) Being (culturally) a Jew, I am not much on Easter celebrations, but I do celebrate passover with my family every year. Passover has a varying date, much more variable than Easter (though the dates are somewhat linked,) as the Jewish calendar is a lunar cycle-based calendar and doesn't always match up quite so nicely with the Gregorian calendar that most countries use to mark their time.

Passover is  holiday with great cultural significance for Jews. Simply, it is a commemoration of the flight of the Jews from slavery in Egypt sometime between 1550 and 1203 BCE. (These dates are cited on Wikipedia, and represent such a vast time period that most estimates are encompassed.) As a festival celebrating freedom, however, Passover contains much more than just a simple remembrance. Primary amongst these traditions is a meal rich with symbolism, possibly the most symbolic feast of any in Jewish canon; many holidays in Judaism have associated foods—I have previously discussed the use of oil during Hanukkah—but Passover is somewhat unique in that it has foods that are inherently part of the celebration of the holiday. (Think of it thus: Most holidays in Judaism have foods associated with them in the way that a nice big ham is associated with Easter dinner: It's mostly to do with tradition, and less to do with the actual religious aspect of the holiday—though there are notable exceptions—; Passover's foods are more like the wafers and wine involved in communion: they are actively part of the holiday's basic meaning.)
A 19th-century illustration of Ukranian Jews at a seder.
(Wikimedia Commons)
The Torah (the Jewish bible) says in Exodus 12:14-17:
And this day shall become a memorial for you, and you shall observe it as a festival for the lord, for your generations, as an eternal decree shall you observe it. For seven days you shall eat unleavened bread, but on the first day you shall remove the leaven from your homes ... you shall guard the unleavened bread, because on this very day I will take you out of the land of Egypt; you shall observe this day for your generations as an eternal decree.
Biblically, we are commanded about our food choices for the holiday—but the food traditions do not stop with unleavened bread, and the meanings are manifold.

So what are these foods? What are the meanings? Read on.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Maghreb Meatballs and Garlic-Sumac Sauce

I think I've mentioned the Phoenix Café before; it's a local art and gathering space that hosts a monthly steampunk gathering, small but enjoyable, that centers on music controlled by a gentleman called Tommy Toony. He's a DJ with many years of experience, who's somewhat new to the Steampunk scene. Therefore, the music is often a mix of typical steampunk music, strange things from Vaudeville and other historical music sources, and modern dance music that our crowd enjoys. (The Time Warp makes frequent appearances.)

The proprietors of the establishment have been kind enough to let me prepare food for these gatherings, so I take the opportunity to make simple but delicious items. The baozi made their premiere there, and last month (the night after the Irish Feast) I served a very quickly made (but delicious) beef stew. Last Friday, the 15th, we celebrated Tax Day by drinking, carousing, and staying out late... and I made food, of course.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Majadara Kagashi

Auguste Escoffier, master of Classical French Cuisine, had a habit of naming his dishes after people. It's not immediately clear whether these names were chosen because the dishes were inspired by the people named, created for the people named, or merely associated with them by Escoffier to make a splash on his menu: the likely answer is a combination of the three, though during his tenure as head chef at the Savoy, Ritz, and Carlton hotels (as well as nominally overseeing many other kitchens, directly or indirectly,) he most certainly did serve food to many of the people included in his Guide Culinaire.

In the grand tradition established by the king of chefs, I have named this dish in honor of my good friend Miss Kagashi, author of The Steamer's Trunk (Multiculturalism for Steampunk.) She posted the recipe I used for the base of this plate; of it, she writes:
Majadara is a Levantine dish, dating back thousands of years. By its definition, it is a simple pilaf of rice and lentils topped with caramelized onions and was primarily eaten as "poor man's" or "working man's" food. As with most staple Middle Eastern and Mediterranean dishes, there's some squabble over where it actually originated[...], but the recipes differ country to country so it could actually be considered several separate dishes. In some places the rice is switched out for bulgar wheat, in Lebanon pine nuts and garlic yogurt are sometimes companions, and sometimes the recipe alternative between red or green lentils.

Considering what you use and the final yield, this is a fantastically cheap recipe that can be dressed up a couple of ways in good times or just eaten as is in less than fortunate ones.
As good as majadara is on its own, I chose to combine it with a few other dishes from the Mediterranean region, to create a dish delightful in its own right, and more along the lines of my typical presentation than a simple pilaf.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Brian Bóru's Delight

The dessert I call "Brian Bóru's Delight" is a simple one, especially compared to the Victorian Tea Trifecta. It is a combination of two simple, old-fashioned desserts: a bread pudding, and a fool.

What is a fool, you ask? It doesn't sound familiar to most modern diners—in fact, my pastry instructor in culinary school didn't immediately know how to explain the Fool to my class. A fool, simply put, is a fruit-flavored whipped cream. It's sort of a precursor to the modern churned ice cream, as it is light, airy, and sweet, but not frozen (as churn-freezing ice cream is a relatively recent development.) Heavy cream is whipped to stiff peaks, and then a purée of fruit, often sweetened, is added in by folding gently. In this recipe, I replaced the purée with fruit preserves, because it's hard to find blackcurrant purée (or indeed, much of anything from blackcurrants) here in Michigan.

Bread pudding is a more familiar item, and in this case I've used a simple white bread, good quality butter, and raisins with a little twist suggested by my friend Brian over at The Boychik Balabusta (a blog you ought to read)—soaking the raisins in Irish Breakfast Tea and whiskey.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Colcannon, Champ, and the Potato

Sometimes, the best things in life are the simplest. A delightful meal with friends, a beautiful snowstorm, the sunset at the end of a summer's day, or the potato.

Seriously—the potato is simply wonderful, useful in a variety of manners, able to be prepared into any number of dishes—from appetizer to dessert—in any number of ways. Think of the pervasiveness of the potato: we eat them in myriad manners, from potato breads and biscuits to chips (crisps) and fries (chips.) We bake them, roast them, boil them, cook them sous vide, sauté them, simmer them, and make them into confit; we smash them, eat them whole, peel them, save the skins and serve with bacon and sour cream, and cover them in mayonnaise or hot bacon dressing. I use potatoes to thicken the occasional item, like my garlic sauce, and can put them in soups for a similar effect—not to mention the ever-popular loaded potato soup, and their presence in chowders.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Beef, Carrot, and Stout Casserole with Barley

Irish food has a reputation of being a conglomeration of boiled things. The fact that one of the more well-known items is "Boiled Breakfast"—an item lauded in songs like "Boil the Breakfast Early" by the Chieftains—doesn't help in the least to dispel this rumor; nor does the fact that Irish Stew is the one of most commonly prepared items from the Irish kitchen.

Beef Chuck is an excellent cut to make into stew; it's generally somewhat tough, and contains a great deal of connective tissue—this is what makes it a good candidate for long, slow, moist cooking. This method creates a tender, well-textured meat in a velvety stew.

Stew is a hearty dish, a belly-warming dish, something that can keep you going for a hard day's work, or a hard night's drinking. Served with colcannon, this stew is a consummately Irish meal.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

The Kilkenny Salad

There are two courses, or plates I suppose, that benefit from having names as opposed to being called by their components: salads and desserts. Think of some well-known salads: A Greek Salad, a Caesar Salad, a Cobb Salad, a Waldorf Salad; none of these are named by their components, but rather by an eponymous title of some type, denoting a general style for the salad (it contains Greek ingredients,) it was created by or for a particular person (Caesar and Cobb,) or at a particular place (the Waldorf hotel.) My tendency when naming salads is to go with a thematic name, rather than something directly related to the origin of the salad or its components.

This plate, for the most part, takes its ingredients straight from Irish cuisine: There's potato cakes, made like biscuits; there's a pear, poached in a syrup made from Harp Lager, sugar, and lemon zest and juice; A quenelle of goat cheese, seasoned and mixed with chopped parsley; and a vinaigrette made with lemon juice and salad oil, lightly seasoned with salt and pepper. The salad itself is made with arugula, spinach, and an assortment of baby lettuces, a very springy, slightly spicy mix of greens.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Garlic Soup

It's no secret that I'm a fan of garlic. Between garlic sauce, zchug, and my penchant for Italian foods, garlic is consumed rapidly in my kitchen. This soup, however, takes the metaphorical cake, using more garlic per serving than any other recipe I've made, as far as I can calculate.

Served with some soda bread croutons, this soup is refreshing and hearty, and full of flavor without being overpowering. Granted, I like garlic, so you can take my opinion with a grain of salt, but...

Garlic has health benefits, too—from warding off vampires to anti-bacterial, anti-viral, and anti-fungal properties evident from lab tests. It's been used as a panacea since time immemorial, seen as a cure for a wide variety of ailments. It can help prevent scurvy, and has other traditionally-believed effects on the common cold, blood sugar, and heart problems—though not all of these claims are fully supported by science.

We know for sure that eating enough garlic will leave you smelling like garlic, so this soup is best shared with a large group of friends, if only to ensure that you won't be the only one whose very pores exude garlicky goodness.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Re-constructed Corned Beef and Cabbage

When St. Patrick's Day rolls around in the US, every food-service establishment with a changeable kitchen breaks out some form of corned beef, often in the "Traditional" construction of Corned Beef and Cabbage. Miss Kagashi over at The Steamer's Trunk has an excellent little write-up of St. Patrick's Day, including a discussion of this dish:
Corned beef and Cabbage is thought of as the staple dish of St. Patrick's Day, and this is true outside of Ireland. Back in the old country, a thick meaty rasher of bacon was the main course to the cabbage and potatoes, not beef. When thousands of Irish immigrated to America in the 19th and early 20th centuries, they found their usual cuts of pig to be far too expensive—so they took a cue from their Jewish neighbors who were enjoying corned beef.
This doesn't, however, mean that we have to abandon the concept entirely: rather, it is useful as a starting point for new versions of an Irish (-American) classic.

Monday, March 21, 2011

The Victorian Tea Trifecta

Now and then, I am lucky enough to be able to take a project from my schooling, or an item from my work life, and utilize it for service to my friends and acquaintances—or my happy customers, in this case.

You've seen, I hope, my Earl Grey Panna Cotta. This is a dessert that builds on it, and with wild success. Plated desserts are made up of three main components: A main piece, a sauce, and a garnish. Chef Roger Holden, CEPC, would tell you that there's a fourth component: Crunch. It's important to have a variety of colors, flavors, and temperatures on a plate, to create something with visual and gustatory interest.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Polenta and Polonaise

Polenta is becoming more familiar to mainstream American eaters; many years ago, I first encountered it in this sort of log-shaped container, like Jimmy Dean's loose sausage or a one-pound bullet of ground beef. The polenta was this sort of gelatinous, textured mass that wasn't particularly good. My mother and father didn't really know what to do with it, whether to fry it or grill it or bake it... so my first memory of polenta is of a gritty corn burger. Not the most appetizing thing.

It was many years until I returned to eating polenta, and that at the hands of my culinary school instructors, who showed me the proper method to create smooth, dense porridge that we solidified in the cooler, cut, breaded, and deep fried; then, I was taught how to make it creamy, a mashed-potato substitute that makes a delightful base for braised meat.

Monday, March 14, 2011

A St. Patrick's Day Feast

This Friday (admittedly one day after the actual holiday,) I shall be creating yet another feast at Off the Beaten Path Books, themed on the immediately proximal day of excess and Irish pride. Seeking to avoid the traditional perception of Irish food as bland, boiled stuff, I have come up with a menu fusing traditional recipes with modern presentations and sensibilities.

For those of you in the area, seats are still available, so head to the event page to purchase your seat now—$25 gets you the whole menu.

The menu will be as follows:

Cabbage and Roasted Fingerling Potato Salad

Soda Bread Crouton - Potato Crisp

Poached Pear - Goat Cheese - Oven-Baked Potato Cake
Mâche - Arugula

Colcannon - Soda Bread

Bread and Butter Pudding - Whiskey Sultanas
Whiskey Sauce - Blackcurrant Fool

"What butter and whiskey will not cure, there is no cure for."

Red Wine Braised Short Ribs of Beef

Food is cyclical. In the Victorian era, most every cut of beef was used by someone, whether poor or rich, delicious or disgusting. Just as the brisket was often used by poor Jewish people as a food source, short ribs have also long been used as a cheap but delicious piece of meat. For a time, they fell out of style; now, there is a trend of using the underused parts—shanks, brisket, short ribs, cheeks, oxtail. These cuts had once been popular as cheap alternatives to the more expensive steaks and roasts, and now they have found a place in high-end restaurants as gourmet pieces.

They are first marinated in red wine, spices, and aromatics, then slow-cooked in brown sauce, aromatics, red wine, and the leftover marinade. Rosemary is the primary flavoring in this particular version, but the concept is a very wide-ranging one that can be used in many circumstances

Friday, March 11, 2011

The Practical Housekeeper's Salad

While my presentation of this dish may not quite resemble what the authors of The Practical Housekeeper (written in 1857) had in mind, the ingredients and method of preparation are more or less the same.

The book says:
Coss-lettuce and blanched endive make the best salad, the green leaves being stripped off, and leaving nothing but the close, white hearts, which, after being washed and placed for an hour or two in cold water, should be wiped quite dry. To this should be added a head or two of celery, a couple of anchovies (which are far preferable to the essence), and several chives, or young onions, all cut small, while the lettuces should be divided lengthwise into quarters, and cut into rather large pieces.
Generally speaking, blanching endive isn't done much these days, since it's now commonly used as a liner item, the base of a salad plate, and not necessarily a primary component of the salad itself.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Apple-Butternut Velvet Soup

Puréed vegetable soups are delightful. They're ridiculously simple to create, being little more than a cooked and reduced mixture of vegetable and stock or water, and they're often delicious with little effort invested. The thickness and texture of the soup are easily managed by the amount of puréeing that is done, and the amount of liquid used to cook the ingredients. The main vegetable can be cooked before the soup is created, even—roasting, grilling, or poaching various ingredients can lead to a multitude of flavors and a wide variety of soups created from a small palette of basic items. Simple food, done well, is a motto and watchword in modern culinary arts, and it can be traced back to some of the recipes present in Victorian cookbooks—soups with only three or four ingredients were not uncommon. Mrs. Beeton's Turnip Soup calls for:
3 oz. of butter, 9 good-sized turnips, 4 onions, 2 quarts of stock, seasoning to taste.
This simple concept for soup is replicated here, using slightly different ingredients.

Butternut squash is wonderful, as a basic item. They're usually rather inexpensive (I find them regularly for 99¢ per pound) and contain a great deal of flesh with little effort required to seed them. The effort saved in seeding is ceded to peeling them, as they have a rather tough skin that does not peel off easily. If you are willing to move past this—or, indeed, roast them before cooking them into the soup—the results are well worth the effort. A somewhat sweet item, the squash pairs well with apple and nutmeg flavors, leading to the creation of this simple yet elegant soup.

A garnish of nutmeg-spiced chantilly cream (sweetened whipped cream) and an apple crisp make this dish sweet, delightful, and texturally interesting.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Lamb Purses with Garlic Sauce and Zchug

Sometimes, recipes are complex and only applicable to themselves. Other times, a recipe uses some basic techniques which can be applied and re-worked into many different recipes.

This recipe is one from the latter category. It combines a simple pastry dough with a savory ground lamb filling, a combination which can be re-worked time and time again. The original version of this dish is based on a recipe from the Elizabethan era in England, and can be found in various styles throughout the ages. It's similar to a meat pie, and indeed I am using a pie dough recipe for the pastry in this version.

The filling is seasoned in a middle-eastern style, with parsley, rosemary, hot paprika, sumac, salt, and pepper. It's chilled and the flavors are allowed to mingle overnight. Small portions are then wrapped in the pastry, egg washed, then baked until brown, delicious, and cooked through.

I served these delightful little pastries with a thick Garlic Sauce and the eternally popular Zchug.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Guest Cook: Pain Rustique

Hi! I'm Aaron's bread guy. He asked me to share a recipe with you all, and suggested this bread. It's one I made for him, and he liked its crispy crust and light crumb. The recipe incorporates a couple of techniques which may be unfamiliar to those of you who don't bake on a regular basis, so let me review those first. (For those of you who are seasoned bakers, bear with me.)

It's worth developing an understanding of these techniques as they can be incorporated into other bread recipes, (I've adapted some to a 100% whole wheat recipe with wonderfully flavorful results) and their benefits justify the extra effort.

Monday, February 28, 2011

Cooking Under a Deluge

Photograph by Lance Sabbag
February has come and gone, as you are well aware, and with it many plans have not come to fruition.

It is a common adage in kitchens that if you put something on the menu, you should deliver, regardless of how difficult it is to execute. My menu for the month of February included much more than I was able to put forth, and for that I apologize. I do not deign to be so important to all of you that you have been hanging on my every post, but I still do feel that I have shirked a certain amount of responsibility that I promised to you.

The month contained three notable successes on my part, though. One was a test-run of serving food at the Phoenix Café, during their Up in the Aether event—this was the debut of the Baozi, a very, very successful little experiment, and a lesson in making recipes to fit your crowd. I could have served many more than the 16 buns I was able to create.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Chinese Steamed Buns-Baozi

Baozi are a common food in China—and indeed across the Asian region—because they are simple, simple to make, and easy to eat. They have existed in Asian food culture since time immemorial, and come in an astounding number of varieties, filled and empty. The fillings range from custards and bean pastes to cooked meat and vegetables, making the basic technique at the heart of making baozi a very, very versatile piece of knowledge.

I have decided to create two kinds of baozi for this little post, because I am serving them at a local Steampunk event, and I don't want to bar anyone from enjoying the fruits of my labor. Therefore, one will contain a mixture of sautéed vegetables, and the other a sort of Cha Shao-style (Cantonese barbecue) pork filling.

Baozi are made with a soft, simple dough—yeast, water, flour, sugar, and a small amount of salt are combined, allowed to rise, and then kneaded with a small amount of baking powder before being shaped into the buns, filled, proofed, and steamed.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Dinner Party

Bartending, on the other hand, is a job
full of thanks and contact with people.
Photo by Don Watts
Being a cook is not an easy job. You work in a small, hot, dangerous space for a long time, and if you're doing things right nobody who is consuming your food should interact with you for more than a few minutes when, and if, you go out to take your curtain call—because, in truth, there is not a single soul who does not like to be applauded.

When someone appreciates your work, therefore, it is always a remarkably pleasing experience, and to be asked to produce a dinner party is a sign of confidence and a recognition of talent. Being a cook can be a rewarding job.

I've been asked to create a simple dinner party for the most frequent and prolific customers of Off the Beaten Path Books. Five courses at the most, simple, but delicious. It's scheduled to go off on the 25th of this month, three weeks from today.

It's a chance to strut my stuff for paying guests, to push the limits of the space in which I will cook, and—of course—to make delicious food with a historical flair.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Steamed Dumplings-Mantı

Mantı are a popular dish in Central Asia and the Middle East. Depending on where you find them, their exact shape and size vary, but in many respects they are similar in fashion to Baozi. The main difference is that while Baozi are made with a yeast dough, Mantı are made with something much closer to a pasta dough. Both dishes are steamed, however, making them quite similar in function and in creation, if not in form.

Mantı are typically filled with a beef or lamb mixture, similar to the boreks from earlier, and steamed until the dough wrapper and the ground meat inside are cooked. Many regional varieties exist, as the dish spread across its geographic area with nomadic tribes. Most are served with a yogurt-garlic sauce, sometimes with sumac, hot red pepper powder, or dried mint, sometimes with other sauces and spices.

Monday, February 7, 2011

An Excerpt from the Journals of Graf Georg von Ziger

February 7th, 1874. Ochamchira, Abkhazia, Russia.

Traveling to have the Halcyon refitted in Timbuktu. Departing Archangelsk was an enjoyable experience—the ladies out with handkerchiefs a-waving for us were motivation to redouble our efforts in the destruction of piracy. We have landed today in Ochamchira, a coastal town on the Black Sea.

Captain Thibodeau has granted us 1 day's shore leave, and I have spent it among the lowest of the low. Dockworkers, prostitutes, clockwork pickers... the criminal element seems to like me when I am not in uniform.

Walking the streets with a group of ruffians who called themselves the "zavodnoĭ ubiĭtsy"—they say it means "clockwork killers"—I began to grow hungry. I commented upon this state to my newfound companions and they escorted me to one of the more cosmopolitan corners of the poor quarter, a through-way for the sailors, aviators, and travelers—poor and wealthy alike—going between the Zeppelin docks and the rail depot. A man stood on the corner, a small boiler beside him. It appeared to be powering the machinery of a workhouse, but he had managed to vent some of the steam through pipes to a series of plates in front of him. On each stood a stack of pans with perforated bases, appearing to be some sort of straining device, like a colander, but flat-bottomed, like a fry-pan. These pipes and plates served to direct the steam shunted from the engine up through the perforated pans, providing a steaming apparatus usable for cooking.

Street food is fascinating. The gentleman, having characteristics both of a Chinaman and a Turk, was cooking several items in the various plates. Buns, dumplings, and even meat items were being prepared for sale—at reasonable rates—to the passers-by, rich and poor alike. Simple food, but delicious. I made note of the different foods I ate, and I have endeavored to re-create the recipes in the kitchen of the Halcyon.