Drop by the Steampunk Cookery website.

Monday, January 31, 2011

February Preview

Since February is a month containing St. Valentine's day, and considering that the theme of romance is so popular across the world, I have decided to incline this month towards the steamy.

A Pressure Steamer
The use of steam for cooking purposes is usually seen as a healthful but ultimately limited cooking method in Western cookery—most people who go to cooking school in the United States learn to steam vegetables for service—but only after they're sautéed—, or potatoes to make into mashed potatoes, or to hard-boil eggs; rarely do the giant pressure steamers in American kitchens see anything outside of the vegetable kingdom.

In other cooking traditions, however, steam sees much more widespread use, for a much greater variety of dishes. In Chinese cuisine, for example, meat is frequently steamed over fragrantly spiced water. Fish is steamed in many culinary traditions, and cooking "en papillote"—an item (often fish,) combined with aromatic vegetables and seasonings, wrapped in parchment and baked—steams the items being cooked in their own evaporating juices.

Finally, many traditional English "Puddings" (starch- or dairy-based desserts) are steamed as the preferred cooking method.

I hope you'll enjoy the offerings in the month to come. I've gotten busy again, so sadly my posts will not be as frequent as they have been in January, but I'll try to keep you up with something intriguing every week; and, since eating is about more than just food, I hope to tell you more about wines, spirits, and beers that I enjoy with the foods I cook, as well as blathering on about a few subjects near and dear to my culinary heart (just outside the layer of butter.) I also will hopefully offer some Hungarian items, to tie in with my attempt to learn a bit of Hungarian.

In the meantime, eat well, my friends.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Roast Pork Loin with Sage-Onion Stuffing and Apple Sauce

Mrs. Beeton prescribes this combination of dishes in her book, and as I am from time to time inclined to take a cook-book writer at their word, I have elected to prepare the dishes exactly as she sets forth.

Exactly, that is, with the exception of any tweaks I might need to make to render the dishes delicious, edible, and suitable for the palates (and diets) of my friends. Mrs. Beeton leaves quite a bit un-said, you see, about the proper manners of cooking; there is much that must be read between the lines of her work, that must be assumed or implied or otherwise added to the simple recipes she provides.

A nice dinner is never amiss, however, and since I'm at home I might as well prepare something that everyone will enjoy—and that will serve as an opportunity to perfect these historical recipes for later use. After all, while half of cooking is creativity, the other half is replication. A dish is no good if I can't make it again the same way.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Chicken Consommé

Clear soup. Not just clear, but crystalline. It is—or can be—perfection in a bowl. The effort put into creating such a dish speaks through the gentle flavors, perfect clarity, and precisely prepared garnishes. It is a foundation of the classic cuisine of Escoffier, but it originated earlier.

What Mrs. Beeton described in her entry "To Clarify Stock" was refined over the ensuing 40 years into Escoffier's King of Soups—Consommé. The concept of a clarified stock has been around for many years—indeed, some recipes can be found dating to the medieval period—but it has been refined over the ensuing years.

Mrs. Beeton said,
INGREDIENTS - The whites of 2 eggs, 1/2 pint of water, 2 quarts of stock.
Mode.—Supposing that by some accident the soup is not quite clear, and that its quantity is 2 quarts, take the whites of 2 eggs, carefully separated from their yolks, whisk them well together with the water, and add gradually the 2 quarts of boiling stock, still whisking. Place the soup on the fire, and when boiling and well skimmed, whisk the eggs with it till nearly boiling again; then draw it from the fire, and let it settle, until the whites of the eggs become separated. Pass through a fine cloth, and the soup should be clear.
This technique has only changed slightly since her writing—the basis of clarification is still egg whites, but now we include lean ground meat and mirepoix in the process, creating a mixture known as "clearmeat," which is then simmered in the stock, to create what is known as a "raft;" this raft traps the impurities in the stock and enriches it simultaneously, creating wonderful flavors.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

A Linguistic Project

For this coming month, my friend Miss Kagashi (of The Steamer's Trunk,) has laid forth a little challenge. The details are on her blog, but in short—you are challenged to learn a language.

Being as I already know a fair bit of French, though my abilities are on the wane due to lack of usage—rendered now mostly a way to be easily annoyed by culinary professionals pronouncing things like "foie gras" as "fwah gwah"—and a fair bit of Yiddish, my usage of which is regular enough to keep me speaking it convincingly, I've decided to add a third foreign language to my acumen.

I've spoken before about my maternal grandparents, both of whom grew up in Vienna, and both of whom were born around the time of the dissolution of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. While learning German—the language of Austria—would certainly be easy, given that Yiddish is very close in structure and vocabulary, I've decided to do something a little more daring, a little more dangerous, and a little more difficult: I'm going to learn some Hungarian, properly called Magyar. It's a Finno-Ugric language, unrelated to German, English, or French. It's got a modified Latin alphabet, but the word forms are going to be rather alien to me.

Oh dear.

Paprikas will be forthcoming, I suspect.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Wine of Note: Guenoc Victorian Claret

Claret is a British term, somewhat genericized in the United States (but so are many wine names... an argument for another day,) used to refer—nowadays—to a dark red, dry Bordeaux wine. If you pay attention during The Supersizers Go Victorian, you'll notice that Claret is one of the most frequently consumed wines—after all, Bordeaux wines are classic, they're delicious, and they're what French Wine was known for for many years.

Guenoc, a label of Langtry Vineyards, produces a wine they call "Victorian Claret." It was brought to my attention during The State Dinner, when one of our guests brought it with her to share. A simply delightful wine, I had to go out and find another bottle (or three) so I could have a drink of it when I was not in the kitchen, running around like a madman.

The Wine Buyer quotes the winemakers at Guenoc, who say,
The [...] North Coast Victorian Claret is a complex blend of our award winning wines. Dark ruby in color, the wine has a wonderful fruity nose bringing on black cherry, plum, and blueberry aromas. Rich and soft on the palate, the hints of vanilla and nutmeg, from 12 months of barrel aging, add to the complexity and the long smooth finish.
I have a penchant for drinking Big Red Wines. I like Zinfandels, Shirazes, and Chiantis—things that make my palate stand up and take notice, things that don't taste at all watery. The other night I had some Italian wines that are supposedly delightful—but they tasted watered-down to me, and I didn't enjoy them. In that regard, this Claret does not disappoint—the flavors are full and strong, yet the wine is eminently drinkable, even by people who may not like the aforementioned big spicy wines.

The Victorian Claret is available in stores and on-line, and retails for anywhere from $10 to $15, depending on local taxes, discounts, etc. Don't buy any in Michigan, though, I have dibs on it all.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Mystery Spices

Portrait by Mark Moore of Pict Studios.
Every so often—more frequently when cooking in a kitchen with foreign items—you will run into a spice you've never encountered before, a spice for which you have no frame of reference, or a spice whose appearance does not correlate with the name on the label.

When cooking with Oz, we discovered one such spice while preparing the Lentil Soup. Searching for something to give it a little extra zing, we came across the above-pictured jar in Oz's kitchen cabinet. Glancing at the label, the kitchen crew immediately knew it was Turkish in origin (the Turks like their i-with-no-dot letter quite a bit,) but were all uncertain as to what, exactly, it was. Physically, it resembled a slightly finer version of crushed red pepper, but there were almost no seeds in it, and the color was much deeper and richer, almost like Sumac. It smelled fragrant, but didn't have a particularly unique odor. Being the intrepid culinarians that we are, each sampled a small portion (a couple flakes,) and found it to be somewhere between the flavor of paprika and crushed red pepper, but with a marked sweetness.

From what Oz's father (a Turkish fellow) says, and what little English information was found by another researcher, it's a family spice, a sort of "house blend" of ground/crushed peppers used widely in Turkey.

It was quite delicious, and definitely added a certain je ne sais quoi to our soup.

The moral of this story is this: Never be afraid to try something new. Flavors are an experience as powerful as any other, and can catalyze creativity or be the springing-off point for research and new culinary understanding. Sometimes, if you're lucky, a new spice can be just what you're looking for.

Monday, January 17, 2011

A Milestone!

I am... exuberant. Some times. This is one of those times.
Sometime today, ladies and gentlemen, I hit 10,000 views on this humble blog. I appreciate your readership, and hope you have enjoyed the recipes and writings I have posted so far, and that you will enjoy the things to come in the future.

I find it auspicious that on the day I post my favorite production so far—my Mulligatawny Soup—I also hit this milestone. Please take a look at that recipe, it's delicious and a popular dish with everyone who has consumed it.

I'm also flattered to have been featured on the Phoenix New Times in their post, Steampunk: The Past and Future of Cooking? as well as the Steampunk Tribune in the post called "Steampunk Gastronomy." Both are rather rewarding, and it's exciting to get attention for something that I enjoy doing for myself as much as for others.

I have barely scratched the surface of the possibilities for this little endeavor... much more will soon be written.

Mulligatawny Soup

Mulligatawny soup was one of the first things I made at home after I started cooking school. It's an inherently simple recipe if you don't strive to make it difficult, and it's very Victorian in origin. The British had colonies in India (as we all know) and the quite fashionable chaps who subjugated and exploited the native people of that country liked to "go native," or adopt a few customs here and there from their innocent victims. One of the popular items to make its way back to England (along with curry in general) was this soup, the name of which means "Pepper Water" in Tamil.

Almost every period cook book in my collection—encompassing both physical and electronic—contains a recipe for Mulligatawny Soup. Herein is presented a quick sampling of them, and then a recipe combining elements of each.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Baklava and Turkish Coffee

Baklava in front and to the right, gingerbread to the left.
Our dessert for the State Dinner at the Dolmabahçe was Baklava—layers of phyllo dough surrounding a filling made of chopped nuts and rose water. It's popular in the area formerly controlled by the Ottoman Empire—of course, Turkey being the center of this region—and has a long, rich, and murky history.

Wikipedia says, "The history of baklava is not well-documented. It has been claimed by many ethnic groups, but there is strong evidence that it is of Central Asian Turkic origin, with its current form being developed in the imperial kitchens of the Topkapı Palace." (The Topkapı Palace was the palace used by sultans until the construction of the Dolmabahçe.) Beyond this certainty, there are many theories about the origins of Baklava, crediting it to a vast number of places ranging from ancient Mesopotamia to Greece to China—few of these can be properly substantiated, and indeed Baklava as we know it came about sometime between 150 and 450 years ago.

Oz and Blue (right) with Phyllo.
The cook for the dessert course was not, in fact, our good friend Oz. It was our other good friend Blue, who puts together desserts as though it were part of her nature to do so. She is also one of the most stalwart of kitchen helpers, usually eschewing dinner to help plate food and wash dishes. It's a pleasure to let her take over the kitchen, and a pleasure to work with her.

She made two versions of Baklava, and has provided me with both of the recipes, which I shall now pass on to you. I have preserved the two recipes separately—though they are very similar—as they were provided to me. The procedure is somewhat tedious, but the results are well worth the effort.

At the dinner, we served the baklava with a cup of Turkish Coffee. The term refers to the method of preparation, and not to a specific blend or style of bean; it is the foundation of a strong coffee-house culture in Turkey, and a delightfully different way of enjoying your coffee fix. A link to a good recipe is included at the bottom.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Döner Kebab-Döner Kebap

Döner Kebap Porsiyon—A main dish serving
Our guide to Turkey, Oz, says, "The complexities and scale involved in making this dish generally drive the home cook away. I was first exposed to it in a restaurant in Izmit, Turkey, outside of Istanbul. A gyro-like combination of Ground lamb, beef, and sirloin is cooked on a vertical spit and shaved as needed."

Döner Kebap, literally meaning "Rotating Roast," is a common dish found across much of the Middle East, now popular in Europe—sold by street vendors as Döner Kebab and in Middle Eastern restaurants—, and is best known in the United States as Shawarma or Gyros. All of these preparations come from the same origin; to quote Wikipedia:
In his...family Biography, İskender Efendi from...19th century Bursa claims that "he and his grandfather had the idea of roasting the lamb vertically rather than horizontally, and invented for that purpose a vertical mangal". With time, the meat took a different marinade, got leaner, and eventually took its modern shape.
Traditionally, the concoction is usually made from many solid pieces of meat, pounded thin, marinated, and placed in layers on a skewer; often, a mixture of ground trimmings from the meat, spices, and an egg (to act as a binder) is spread between the layers; the stack then is topped with fat, and sometimes an onion or tomato to add more flavor. The skewer is then placed vertically in a rotisserie and cooked until it's done, with portions shaved off as needed with a knife (or sometimes some kind of electric trimmer device.)

Monday, January 10, 2011

Tomato-Rice Pilaf-Domates Pirinci Pilav

Ozzy says: "My family doesn't usually make anything like this, but I've encountered it before in Turkey." Our version is "made with a sauteed mixture of roma tomatoes and onion, mixed with white rice, and garnished with fresh cucumber." It's somewhat stickier than the traditional rice pilaf, but the texture and flavor are smooth and satisfying.

In our dinner, the pilaf served a similar purpose to a salad in a classical French meal—it helps cleanse the palate between flavorful first courses and the flavorful main dish; the cucumber is an unexpected but delightful addition to this palate-cleansing power, cooling the tongue and allowing for careful, considered enjoyment of the dish.

Simple and delicious—and, to tell you a secret: you could serve the entrée on top of this pilaf if you wanted to.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Red Lentil Soup-Mercimek Çorbası

Go to any Middle Eastern restaurant and you'll find, most likely, some kind of lentil soup. It might be puréed, it might have crushed lentils, or they might be whole. It might be red with tomatoes and spices, it might be green, it might be yellow—but odds are, it'll be delicious.

The lentil is one of the oldest foodstuffs, originating in the Near East, with evidence of culinary usages reaching back to the times before humans produced pottery. Quite simply put, they're an excellent source of nutrition and have been used as such for a long time, in many traditions the world over.

About the soup served at the State Dinner at the Dolmabahçe, Oz has this to say: "A fan-favorite when the grandparents come to town, this pureed soup is made with red lentils, rice, onion, carrot, and garnished with the hot paprika butter, paprika, and fresh mint."

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Turkish Beef and Cheese Böreks

We've encountered Böreks before, though by a different name. As was discussed then, they are found across the Middle East, and for the State Dinner at the Dolmabahçe, Oz decided to serve a Turkish style of Böreks, known as Sigara böreği, literally translating to "Cigarette Böreks." It's a descriptive name, coming from their construction: unlike the Israeli style seen at the Hanukkah Dinner,  these böreks are made with phyllo dough (or, traditionally, yufka) and rolled up like a cigarette, then fried—we chose to shallow-fry them in vegetable oil.

Oz says, "Phyllo dough is not ideal for this recipe—you should probably use yufka instead, or make kofte." Kofte is the meat mixture, lightly sautéed in olive oil and served. "It wouldn't be unheard-of to add an egg to the mixture, either," he adds.

For our dinner, we made two versions of these böreks, a cheese- and a meat-filled version, and we served them with zchug, as with the bourekas.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Paprika Butter

Paprika! The only spice you'll ever need...
The condiment we used most during the State Dinner at the Dolmabahçe was a Paprika-Butter mixture. It's simple to make, flavorful, and adds that certain je ne sais quoi to the service of many dishes. Although we only served it on our soup and our main dish, it would be equally delicious on the pilaf or the börek appetizers. Perhaps the only place it doesn't belong is on the baklava... unless you like a slightly spicy dessert.

The recipe for Paprika Butter is delightfully simple. Begin by clarifying one pound of butter...

Monday, January 3, 2011

A Preview of Things to Come

Remember: It's always fun in the kitchen.
This lovely new month of January, I will be bringing to you many things. Most prominently, the recipes and a wrap-up of the State Dinner at the Dolmabahçe will be presented over the next two-and-a-half weeks, along with (as always) some delightful pictures.

If all goes well, I will also have a few little videos to illustrate some of the techniques discussed, and if you find those helpful, I shall endeavor to make that a regular feature when I perform some particularly new or different task.

For the forthcoming month of February, I will be focusing my efforts on steaming things. Now, many of you might think that vegetables are the only thing you can steam, and to you I say—just you wait! I have several treats in the works, and hope to surprise and delight with the things to come.

So read on, my dear and treasured friends! As always, I welcome your comments, whether encouragement, question, or correction. I am no perfect being, and I cannot always check my faults.

Above all, eat well and be well. Cheers.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Peeling Tomatoes

Fresh Roma Tomatoes!
Many recipes will call for tomatoes to be peeled. To someone who's never encountered the technique before, it probably sounds strange; I've watched first-semester culinary students try to take a vegetable peeler to a tomato with comedic results. (The tomato, sadly, was rendered mostly useless and became part of our beef stock...)

Edit: I'm shocked at how popular this particular little post is—if you're interested in more techniques like this one, I can certainly make an effort to post more like it.

The process is actually very simple and painless, and takes almost no time at all. As a reference point for future recipes, the process is below:

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Happy New Year

Here's a toast to you, dear readers of this blog. I wish to thank you for your patience and your feedback; to thank you for reading.

I hope you continue to visit, to spread the word, and to cook to your hearts' content.

Cheers to you, from myself and my cohort.

Yours, Aaron