Monday, September 27, 2010

Herb garni/bouquet

In most of the French Cooking recipes, a herb bouquet / garni is called for. The required herbs have to be put into cheese cloth and I have not been able to find this. So as an alternative I put the sprigs of herbs, usually parsley and thyme, into the cooking liquid whole. This can easily enough be fished out later.

Alternatively you can bind the herb sprigs together with a little twine or silicone cooking elastics. I have a picture of that somewhere on the blog. (http://1.bp.blogspot.com/_gimiyBKnCnw/TAx5X_tDguI/AAAAAAAAAA8/4Sbdesgm5fc/s1600/DSC01842.JPG)

Also if the bouquet requires crushed garlic, I just peel whole garlic cloves and cut some shallow slits in them (2-3) to release the flavour. These can just as easily be fished out afterwards.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Egg white disaster

I just baked a "chocolate brownie cake". They just came out of the oven and from outside they look fine. Inside is still a mystery. I did it from a recipe in the Food & Home magazine and it was done and explained with pictures by a chef from a five-star hotel in Johannesburg. In most "fancy" cake recipes you will need to seperate the egg yolks and whites. The whites are beaten to stiff peaks before being folded into the batter right at the end. This is to 'ligthen' the cake.

This turned out to be tricky and nearly a disaster (could still be - depending on the cake's innards).

Here's what happened.

The egg yolks and castor sugar are beaten until light and fluffy. No problem. Then you add a mixture of melted butter, chocolate and cocoa powder. Now things got tricky. What they don't tell you in the recipe is that you need earth moving equipment to mix this stuff. It is THICK. Then you still need to add the flour! Elbow grease is not the word. You need Hercules to help out. After nearly dislocating my shoulder, I could start adding the stiffly beaten egg whites. I've read that when you add egg whites in this manner, you add about a third to 'ligthen' the batter. Once encorporated, you add the rest and then very gently, you fold it in until just mixed. Do not overmix they say otherwise you lose the 'ligthening' aspect of this process. I added a little of the egg whites and started folding it in. But I had a problem. They USED to be stiffly beaten.

Here's a tip: DO NOT USE THE WOODEN SPOON YOU USED TO MIX THE REST OF THE CAKE BATTER TO START ADDING THE EGG WHITES. YOU WILL GET CHOCOLATE MIX IN THE REST OF THE WHITES AND WHEN YOU REALISE THAT THE EGG WHITES HAD ACTUALLY FALLEN FLAT AND LIQUIFIED YOU CAN NOT RE-BEAT IT!!!

So now I had to guess how much egg whites I still had to incorporate. I re-seperated 4 eggs and beat the whites (I forgot to say that in-between the one whisk of my electric hand beater had broken off). This I then folded into the batter. It looked ok.

So, as they say, the proof of the pudding / cake is in the eating. Will do an update once the results are in!

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Quick onion fix

If you need to use chopped onions in a dish that is not going to be baked long enough for the onions to get cooked, put the chopped onion in a bowl with about 1 tbsp olive oil and microwave covered for 30 - 60s (depending on how soft you'd like them). Then add them to the rest of the ingredients. This also works for green/red/yellow sweet peppers. E.g. if you're making an omelet, put chopped onion and green pepper in a bowl with 1-2 tbsp olive oil (depending on the volume), microwave for 1 minute before adding to the rest of the omelet topping.

If you want to add onion rings to salad though but don't like that sharp, bitter taste, put the chopped onion in a bowl, just cover with boiling water and let stand for 1 - 2 minutes. Drain well and then add to rest of salad ingredients.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Spinach and Mushroom stuffed shoulder of lamb





I prepared it the day before and wrapped it in clingfilm, ready for the next day.


Above: Browning before adding the liquids

The finale. It was served with potato cakes (made with cream cheese and egg!)










Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Easy oven steamed fish

Here's a very easy and quick way to put a healthy fish dish on the table.

We have healthy appetites and can feed the kids as well with 2 fresh (not those tiny frozen) hake fillets of a reasonable size.

Pre-heat oven to 220C

Place the fillets on a sheet of foil, large enough to fold and tuck over the fish.

Mix the following together:
2 tbsp melted butter
2 cloves of fresh garlic crushed
1 tbsp chopped parsley and/or 1tsp fresh thyme leaves
Grated rind of one lemon

Spread the butter mixture over the fillets and salt lightly.

Fold the foil over the fish and tuck over nicely so that none of the juices will run out.

If you can put the foil packet on a cast iron pan it will cook very quickly - 25 minutes.
If you don't have a cast iron pan it may take longer. Check the fish after 25 minutes, if it doesn't flake easily and still has that pinkish shiny color, you will have to return it for 5 minutes at a time untill done.

Serve with a nice salad, and some green vegetables (beans / baby marrow / broccoli etc)

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Follow the recipe!

I haven't been on the blog for a while due to life. Just life.

But one thing I have been thinking about is how I wasn't worth a pinch of salt in the kitchen before, and I can now quite easily prepare a great meal without going through a recipe.

What I did wrong before was NOT following the recipe. Some people think they know how to cook and actually can, others think they can cook and rather shouldn't. I was probably somewhere inbetween. Once I started learning techniques the whole mystery of cooking was unlocked.

Mastering the Art of French Cooking is not a glossy, coffee table type of cookbook loaded with full-color graphics and photos. Instead, there are only a few black and white line drawings where the technique is quite tricky. But if you can read, you can cook.

The trick is, especially as you are training yourself, is to follow each recipe EXACTLY. Do not deviate. Do not skim over it. Study it. Review it. Imagine it. Before you even start. As you progress by cooking more and more of the recipes you'll discover a pattern. You might think to yourself, "But this recipe sounds very familiar. Isnt' it the same as the previous one?" And you might be almost right. The technique is the same with variations in ingredients.

So it is inevitable that as time goes by you will more and more be able to execute a meal without reading in detail the recipe. But this comes with time and practise. Like any skill really.

So I'm off to go and throw together a lovely Coq au Vin, from scratch, from memory. Because I can.