Sunday, 29 November 2009

Pasteurisation, a Sour Story

The word ‘pasteurization’ conjures a picture of two related periods in history. The first is that breakthrough moment when pasteurization entered the scene of an industrially created health calamity: cows fed off the sludge byproduct of distilleries produced sick milk, resulting in outbreaks of diphtheria, tuberculosis, and thousands of deaths. The second is right now, when the Australian government is deciding on a raw milk standard that could make illegal all unpasteurized dairy products: locally produced or from overseas; made into cheeses or cultured creams; accessed through arrangements individuals make direct with farmers or via other creative means. All access could be stamped out. So, let’s take a moment to look directly at this process called pasteurization and see it for what it is:

Gratin Potatoes, a curdled tale

I just spent the last hour making a potato gratin, and as it bakes, it's curdling.

With guests arriving in less than ten minutes, I'm trying to believe this isn't a bad thing. I want to celebrate the curd. I want to love that what I'm bending over right now is steaming layers of satiny potato, crunchy crisp on top, held together by a tenuous curd and hiding a shallow bath of... whey.

But I so wanted some creaminess tonight.

Monday, 23 November 2009

The perfect mashed potatoes, Part I

I've been inspired to write about mashed potatoes after reading about this rather gorgeous version in Simply Recipes. It's sings with balance I think: the tang and sweet creaminess of blue cheese, the slightly pungent nose of the sage, the nutty earth in the brown butter...

you know it's funny, I've just realised I misread their recipe... I thought Garett and Elise used blue cheese, but they didn't. They used a fresh goat's cheese: more subtle, lovely. Still, I'm going to run with my version for now and add a little reminder to myself here that we need to talk about cheeses soon- not all cheese is 'good' cheese.

But even with these flavours, mash can still manage to disappoint. When I was at Ballymaloe Cookery School, we learnt to 'beat' our mash, but this, in my view, was a disaster. I'm sure there's some science behind why and that either Harold McGee or Jeffrey Steingarten have pointed me in its direction before (I'd tell you for sure, but both books are in a seamail parcel about 2 months shy of my bookshelf). I  think it's got something to do with how many of the starchy potato cells either disintegrate in the cooking or are smashed open in the whipping. Too little cooking and the little blighters don't cream up at all. Too much (ie, too high an internal potato temperature) and they turn to glue.

But don't stress out about the science. There's some pretty simple ways to ensure the potatoes will turn out mashable:

Shaggy Parasols & Chestnut Boletes

I hunted for mushrooms for the first time ever yesterday. We drove with our avid mushroom hunting friends, Dougal, Deirdre and their dog Doom, to Sackrow, where they know some special spots for Ceps and other boletes. It's a little late for Ceps, but Deirdre thinks Chestnut (or Bay, oder 'Maronen', auf Deutsch) Boletes taste even better. John Wright in his book, Mushrooms, says Chestnut Boletes break the mycophagist rule of thumb about the relationship between 'blue' and 'poison'. These mottley guys immediately stain bluish green when their flesh tears, which definitely disturbed my appetite, but apparently the blue is completely benign. Most of the Chestnut Boletes we found were a little soggy (they soak up water like sponges) and slug nibbled, making them better dried than cooked fresh. So as yet, I haven't dispelled my slight blue discontent.

Thursday, 19 November 2009

The Best Roasted Tomatoes start with two Skye Gyngell tricks*

Trick 1. Roasting tomatoes require roominess

Trick 2. Roast tomatoes dry (that is, without any oil)

*Caveat for all diligent recipe followers: not all advice from cooks should be followed to the letter. When I first started working in Skye’s kitchen (and being way too eager to please) I took her on her word when she said ‘green vegetables should be boiled in water as salty as the sea’- advice she also writes in her first cookbook. It was probably my second day in her kitchen and man, did I wish I could backspace on time when she tasted a mouthful of my perfectly-tender-and-so-salty-you-can’t-even-swallow chard! With five minutes until the start of service, I wasn’t being celebrated for my editorial input. Even my fellow cooks weren’t laughing at me. This little incident did, however, give me the opportunity to learn yet another Skye trick: if you’ve accidently oversalted something, try a squeeze of lemon, it may just tame your overzealousness.

Not this time.

My First Cooking Class at Goldhahn & Sampson

The Magic of Stocks
Samstag, 6. Februar, 2010, um 18 Uhr
Goldhahn & Sampson

Infusing water with the flavours of meats, vegetables, herbs and spices is one of the kitchen’s most basic transformations, and yet like most of cooking’s simple magic, it requires a bit of ‘skilling up’ to perfect. In this class, we’ll step through stock making from raw ingredients to clarification. We’ll make different stocks to suit various flavours from around the world, and we’ll experiment with the depth of flavour homemade stocks can bring to Vietnamese ph, Milanese risotto and Nonya laksa.

Recommended reading:
Christine Manfield’s Spice (Viking, 1999).
Judy Rodger’s The Zuni Café Cookbook: A compendium of recipes and cooking lessons from San Francisco’s beloved restaurant (Norton, 2002).

Thursday, 12 November 2009