Archive for December, 2006

The Most Pressing Question of the Day

Sunday, December 31st, 2006

Happy New Year(’s Eve)!

As we get ready to take down the old calendar and put up a new list of days, it seems a fitting time to ask the tough question that we all face from time to time: what’s the best way to open a bottle of champagne?

Everybody loves to hear the *pop* of the cork coming out, but what the sound actually signals is carbonation rushing out of the bottle. If you actually hear a pop, that’s indicative that the person doing the opening has made a mistake; the louder the pop, the bigger the mistake. An ideal cork removal will make but a murmur of a hiss as a small amount of gas is slowly released. The result of your care will be bubbly that’s more bubbly.

Hold the bottle at your waist at a 45-degree angle with the bottle pointed away from people. Carefully, slowly, and while actually exerting pressure to keep the cork in the bottle, twist the cork one way and the bottle the other. Continue until the pressure of the champagne’s gas eases the cork into your hand with a fizz no louder than a can of soda being opened. Many authorities recommend that you hold a towel over the cork in case it shoots away—not a bad idea if you’re worried (you don’t want to damage a window or a vase), but if you know what you’re doing, it’s no more than a precaution.

Once the cork has been removed, pour some of the champagne immediately or hold the bottle at the 45-degree angle for a few seconds so that the gas dissipates instead of heading straight toward the bottleneck. If you immediately right the bottle, you’ll likely wind up with a waterfall over the top of the bottle.

Have a great evening and a wonderful 2007!

CoCo’s Cupcakes

Friday, December 29th, 2006

A Good End to Any Meal

a sampling of CoCo's Cupcakes

My sister, whose love for cupcakes predates the current hipster status of the diminutive dessert, celebrated her 25th birthday one week ago today. As part of the celebration, we paid a visit to CoCo’s Cupcake Cafe, one of two cupcake bakeries planned in the Pittsburgh area. The other, Dozen Cupcakes, was supposed to have opened on her birthday, but when she stopped by to check it out all she found inside were some workmen on ladders. Therefore, by merit of being the only currently functional cupcake bakery in Pittsburgh, CoCo’s won our business. By merit of their tasty confectioneries and attentive customer service, they’ve won us over as potential regulars.

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Review of My First Pickles

Thursday, December 28th, 2006

Not what I was aiming for, but pretty good for what they are

This summer, I was excited about canning. I had never canned anything before, but for a couple of years had let languish in my basement a pre-WW I era canner that my mother had cleared out of her basement and given to me. Finally, I decided to make it a goal to can some stuff for the winter.

I didn’t want to let my ambition to get ahead of my ability, though, so I opted for a couple of easy, high-acid projects: applesauce and pickles (especially when improperly canned, low-acid goods have a risk of botulism associated with them). I haven’t yet opened the applesauce (because I still have the overflow from my pre-canning project in the freezer that I’m trying to go through first), but on Christmas day, we tried a jar of my first pickles and I was pleasantly surprised—not because they were good (I expected that they would be), but because they were good despite turning out much differently than I expected.

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Cooking Without an Oven

Wednesday, December 27th, 2006

Dear Corduroy:

I am very dependent on my oven for all sorts of cooking and baking. However, the heating element disintegrated overnight while I was cooking a country ham. Do you have any suggestions for making it through the next several weeks while we try to figure out whether to pay the gas company an arm and a leg to put in a gas line so we can have a gas stove or just go buy another electric one? I need to fix quick meals that are going to be healthy. The stove top still works, so I am not completely without cooking equipment.

Do you think the oven might have been objecting to having been used for 14 straight hours yesterday as well as about 6 the day before?

It’s very good that we’re going to be out of town and mooching off our son and his wife for a few days of this emergency.

Thanks for any help you can provide.

It may ease your pain to know that your oven died an honorable death. A real country ham is a delicacy not widely known outside of the South—salt cured, no water injected; it puts the hams commonly found on the mass market to shame.

Fortunately, your oven is the only part of the equipment that is broken and you still have a functioning stovetop. Not only that, but you have full access to all ingredients available in a United Statesian supermarket (I don’t say American because the Americas consist of two continents), and have easy access to produce that you can eat raw. That means that your meal preparation bind is a fair bit less serious than what Derek is up against while working in China. For starters, I’d suggest that you follow the same advice that I gave him: pancakes, hash browns, and eggs if you want a hot breakfast (you could even make waffles—they sure are tasty!); stews, soups, and pan-seared meats for lunches and dinners.

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Roasting Broccoli or Cauliflower

Tuesday, December 26th, 2006

If you’re like most people, you probably look at your head of broccoli or cauliflower and see two possibilities: steamed/boiled or raw. There’s a third, more exciting option for what you can do with that vegetable, though: roast it! The dry-heat cooking method gives your cooked vegetable a more pleasing texture and tossing it with oil and spicxes before hand gives it a mouth-smiling taste because the florets cling to the oil and lock the flavor in. Whenever I get one of these vegetables, I don’t even consider pulling out a saucepan anymore. Instead, I grab a mixing bowl and a cookie sheet.

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Tomato Sauce (Last of the Mothers)

Friday, December 22nd, 2006

Including instructions on preparing a pincage

The surprising thing about classically prepared tomato sauce is that it’s made with a roux. The venerable Auguste Escoffier (the generally accepted authority on classical French cooking with whom it’s impossible to argue because he’s dead) directs that a gallon of tomato sauce be started with 5 ounces of salt pork.

Once the fat is rendered from the salt pork, he would have you cook 6 ounces each of small diced carrot and onion in the fat, then add 5 ounces of flour to finish the roux before adding a bay leaf, salt, pepper, sugar, ten pounds of tomatoes, and a half gallon of stock. His variation on the recipe would permit you to use tomato puree instead of tomatoes, in which case (because the puree is thick enough on its own), you would not need to make the roux. In either case, the sauce is finished by straining it through a sieve for uniform consistency, and always contains the salt pork (for apparently a classical French tomato sauce requires the presence of meat).

I doubt many people really follow his tomato sauce instructions anymore unless they’re doing so for the purpose of cooking like Escoffier.

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Return to the Mother Sauce

Thursday, December 21st, 2006

Hollandaise—it’s not just for asparagus and eggs benedict anymore

In its essence, hollandaise is a very simple sauce, consisting of little more than egg yolks and melted butter seasoned with salt, cayenne pepper, and lemon juice. Because it is so simple, the results of your sauce rely in large part upon technique. Made incorrectly, the hollandaise will break and greasy butter will float upon slightly scrambled eggs. Fortunately, there is a never-fail technique that takes advantage of modern technology to get perfect results every time.

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The Mother Sauces, Part I

Wednesday, December 20th, 2006

The first three: Using a roux

In Classical cooking, there are five sauces that get emphasized over all others because they serve as the basis for hundreds more. These are the Mother Sauces: Bechamel, Veloute, Brown Sauce, Hollandaise, and Tomato. Sure, there are sauces (such as alfredo, beurre blanc, or a simple reduction) that fall outside of the maternal five. But, as a starting point for an accompaniment to any meal from macaroni to mutton, if you know the basic five, you’ll always be able to have a sauce to match your meal.

Because the mother sauces are such a large part of any good chef’s sauce-making potential and I want to give each sauce its due, today I’m just going to cencentrate on the first three (Bechamel, Veloute, and Brown) because these are the sauces that require a roux.

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Why Don’t We Have Crisps Like This in the States?

Tuesday, December 19th, 2006

all four types of crisps

My sister just got back from a trip to Europe,and she brought me back some crisps (U.S. translation=potato chips) from the UK. They have the most delicious flavors over there, unique combinations that make the dill pickle variety now finally available in the U.S. seem tame. It’s been a couple of years since I’ve had uniquely flavoured British crisps, and I’m thrilled to have four kinds to sample: from Walker’s, we have Oven Roasted Chicken with Lemon & Thyme, Vintage Cheddar with Red Onion Chutney, and Steak & Onion; from McCoy’s, Flame Grilled Steak. Today, I sampled the two steak-flavoured options and found a big difference between the two brands.

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Leftover Management

Monday, December 18th, 2006

Jesse–
It seems like every time I open my fridge, I find a mysterious plastic container lurking in the back. Often, I’m not sure how old these leftovers are. How long do leftovers last? How can I tell if they’ve turned? How long are they safe to eat?
–Wary in Pittsburgh

There’s really no hard and fast rule for how long leftovers last. Often, I’ll apply some sort of arbitrary rule (this is a week and a half old, it can’t be good anymore); other times, the symptoms are quite clear (mold and/or a funky smell). In general, if it smells bad, looks bad, tastes bad, or you can’t remember when you first ate it, it’s probably not a good idea to eat it again.

There’s really no reason for you not being able to identify how old a leftover is, though. Keep a roll of masking tape and a permanent marker in the kitchen. Every time you package some food for storage, tear off a piece of tape and label the container with the name of the contents and the date you made them. That way, next time you’re cleaning out the fridge you’ll be able to say for certain, “Beef stroganoff? We ate that two months ago!”