Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Pumpkin Dip

I love pumpkin, but it's not around all the time. Well, canned-yes, fresh- not so much.

Though squash and pumpkins certainly seem to come out in full force when fall rolls around (I guess seasonality really hits you in the face on this one). The butternut squash can be found hidden in with some of the other produce the rest of the year, but it suddenly takes center stage when it's time to change up the displays in a blazing advertisement of the season.

So I suppose the whole pumpkin-in-the-fall with cinnamon and spices, sweaters, wool socks, and mittens connotation is pretty strong. But I wish it wasn't. And I wish pumpkin was used more regularly for more than just pies and sweets.
I'm not saying this post helps that in any way... and maybe this was the wrong place to bring it up.
But, soups and stews, curries, roasted, mashed- there are options available.

The taste of this dip is a very autumn-appropriate, and something I immediately find myself craving when the temperature drops and the leaves start changing. I have to wait for the weather to be right so I can feel justified in making and eating it.

This is simple and great with apples or pears, and it tastes like a cross between pumpkin pie and cheesecake (the benefits being that it's much less time consuming and technically "healthy" since it's eaten with fruit).

Pumpkin Dip

8 oz (227g) cream cheese, at room temperature
2/3 c (138g) packed brown sugar
3/4 c (175g) pumpkin puree
2 T (30ml) maple syrup
generous 1/2 t (3g) cinnamon
pinch of salt

Beat cream cheese and sugar until well blended. Stir pumpkin into the cream cheese mixture, add the maple syrup, cinnamon, and salt and mix until fully incorporated. Serve with fresh fruit and refrigerate any leftovers.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Basics: Chicken Broth

Chicken broth was a project I started in July or August.
I know.
You may be saying, "What are you doing thinking about chicken broth that time of year?"
As a matter of fact, it had been a point of discussion (and suggestion), and the truth is that chicken broth is without season. (No, not without seasonING, just without season.)
And I figured that herbs and vegetables were good at that moment, so why not take advantage of it?
I'm not saying that everyone loves a steaming bowl of chicken soup in August.

But everyone probably has a recipe for chicken soup. Every culture has a variation, so there must be something to it (and yes, it's good).
There was a time I went to Mexico with my brother and a neighbor, and it was in early summer. We stayed in the mountains outside of Acapulco in a monastery. I can't remember exactly what went on, but there was a celebration during out stay, and several parents were visiting.
Some of the mothers made chicken soup. It was a little different version of chicken soup than we were used to, with pieces of corn cob and chicken talons included.

As Americans, we weren't used to seeing claws in our soup. Lucky for me, I wasn't one of the boys that the Mexican mamas were doting on. Ha. And so, my brother and our friend (both teenage boys) stared at their bowls, probably slightly shocked and confused- maybe a couple other thoughts and feelings, not knowing what they were supposed to do with the chicken feet, and not wanting to be offensive.
But the talons were something special to these women, and reserved for special people. I guess we can think of them as an expression of love.

FYI, the claws are supposed to add some nice flavor, and they can be nibbled on.
I don't think the boys did any nibbling, but instead, the feet were discreetly moved off to the side of the plate.

The other good reason for this post is that I don't think there are a lot of people who make chicken broth.

Then again, how often is it used? All the time.
Maybe people solely want the convenience factor, I don't know.
Why not know what goes in it?
Why not make this a skill you have successfully mastered?

Weekend afternoon at home business. Lazy day business. Rainy day business.
It smells homey.

For sure, a homemade chicken broth will not taste like the canned variety. Looking at a label, one of the ingredients is yeast. So, it's probably to help boost the flavor, but how many people will use something like yeast when making their own broth?
Few, if any.

Fresh chicken broth is beautiful.

It can be stored for later use in the freezer if you make more than you are able to use, or are unable to take advantage of it after it's been made.
Use it to make rice, risotto, or couscous.
Use it as a base for sauces.
Use it for soup- add pieces of chicken, vegetables, rice or pasta.

Maybe it's a good project if you find a good deal on some good chicken.

I know some like to make a stock with the chicken left whole, but I prefer to cut the chicken into pieces since I imagine the chicken will do more for me with more exposed surface area. And it's always good to practice taking a chicken apart.

Chicken broth will be more flavorful if the whole chicken is used- inedible neck, back and all. More flavor comes from the bones and marrow than you might imagine.
But, if you're not comfortable with that, you could probably buy chicken pieces or ask the butcher to take it apart for you.

I will point out that this recipe does not include salt. It's best, in my opinion, to wait until it's finished cooking to season the broth. Or, wait until you know what you will do with it and then salt it. For example, if you had your perfectly seasoned chicken broth and decided you wanted to reduce it and make an intense little sauce, the broth could turn out much too salty.

After it's all finished and seasoned with salt, I think the plain soup would definitely be nice with some ground black pepper to finish.
The chicken meat may be a bit dry since it's been thoroughly cooked and the flavor will have diminished considerably as it was given up to the broth, but the meat can be removed from the bones and used for chicken salad or in soup. If you're doing something fabulous, however, you may want some new, freshly-roasted chicken to use in the broth.
You can certainly experiment with a recipe for chicken broth- there are things you may love, but other things you don't like so much. Carrots add a lot of sweetness. If you don't like that, just eliminate them from your broth. Perhaps next time I make it, I'll take away the carrot, add more onion and try adding some fresh slices of ginger while it's cooking.

There are two versions of this recipe. The first recipe will yield a deeper color and richer, more roasty flavor. The variation that follows makes a lighter broth.

Chicken Broth
End yield is about 7 cups, or 1500 ml

3 1/2 lb (1.6 kg) chicken (free range and organic if possible)
2 T (30 ml) neutral oil, such as peanut or canola oil
1 large onion, halved, peeled and diced large
1 bulb of garlic, halved crosswise
2 1/2 qt. (about 2.5 l) water
4 whole cloves
2 medium carrots, broken into rough pieces
3 ribs of celery, broken into rough pieces, plus a handful of celery leaves if you have them
1 medium parsnip, chopped into rough pieces
1 medium leek, halved lengthwise, rinsed of dirt, and cut into 1" pieces
1 t black peppercorns (3g)
1 bay leaf
8 sprigs of fresh thyme
12 parsley stems, leaves removed and saved for another use
10 sprigs of fresh dill
Salt to season

Rinse the chicken well with cold water and remove any excess fat. Cut the chicken into pieces (thighs, legs, wings, breasts, and the back cut in two crossways)
Heat the oil in a large stockpot over medium heat. When the oil shimmers, add the chicken parts and sear on all sides until golden brown. Work in batches if necessary, and once each piece has been sufficiently browned remove to a large plate. Immediately add the diced onion and halved garlic and saute until the onions have caramelized slightly. Add approximately half of the water to the stockpot, and scrape the fond and onions from the bottom of the pot.  Add the chicken back to the pot and pour the rest of the water into the pot along with the cloves, carrots, celery, parsnip, leek, peppercorns, bay leaf, thyme, parsley stems, and dill.
Bring the ingredients to a simmer over medium heat. Continue simmering for 1 hour and skim off any scum and impurities as they rise to the top of the pot and discard.
When the broth has finished cooking, pull out the chicken pieces and set aside on a plate. Strain the herbs and vegetables from the broth with a sieve set over a large pot or bowl.
If using soon after the broth is made, let it rest for a bit to let the fat rise to the surface. Skim off the fat, season to taste with salt, and use as desired.
If saving the stock for another day, let cool and refrigerate. Remove the solidified fat from the surface of the chicken broth prior to use and season to taste with salt.

Light Chicken Broth:

The above recipe remains the same for the most part, however, the differences are:

There is no oil used
The large onion used above should be cut in two lengthwise and studded with the cloves

After the chicken is rinsed, trimmed and cut, place all ingredients in a large stockpot and bring to a simmer over medium heat.  Continue the recipe as above.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Dandenong Ranges

The Dandenong Ranges are an area east of Melbourne. Hills and valley, ferny rainforest, eucalyptus, and countryside. 

Really, some of it was like walking through Jurassic Park.

And I half expected to see some dinosaurs. I would have been good with just one brontosaurus.
But not even a lizard...

I think my some of my favorite scenery was along the side of the road, but there was really nowhere to stop. The road just sort of (neatly) falls away to the side into a deep and steep valley, and well, since I couldn't really get a good photo of it, I have to say that the foliage is very dinosaur appropriate (you'll have to use your imagination).  It's thick, lush, green and vast, and probably much better experienced than read about. 

Apparently the area is at risk for bushfires, and there have been some pretty bad ones in the past. There are signs on the roadside warning of the bushfires- I think at least one sign  had a movable arrow that would indicate the potential risk to passersby. And apparently the people living in the area are trained on how to deal with bushfires.
It's a community effort. 

Since it's something that people ask, no, I did not see any kangaroos. (Yes for jellyfish, pufferfish, parrots, cockatoos, and kookaburras, but no, not the elusive lyrebird. No koalas, no wombats.) 
However, there were certainly kangaroo crossing signs similar to our deer crossing signs.  I guess the kangaroos in Australia can be sort of like the deer at home. 

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Chocolate Soufflés

I thought maybe I should take a little photo break and insert a recipe at this point.

So, I'd been trying to find a chocolate soufflé that worked for me. I've tried a few times, but have inevitably found that the soufflés don't quite work for me as the recipes might suggest. They've turned out overall dry and crispy, mostly a shell with little chocolate flavor. 

But apparently, if something chocolatey is overcooked just a little, there's a good chance it will be flavorless. The chocolate flavor disappears with too much heat- it's cooked out of the cake or brownies or whatever.

I like a good soufflé with a thin and crispy shell, but a creamy, moist, slightly spongy interior. 

And so, in the search for a good chocolate soufflé, I've ended up collecting chocolate soufflé recipes. 

Not that I've ended up trying them all. I mean, I wanted to find a good one, but there's a bit of apprehension for me with chocolate soufflés for some reason. I want to find what I'm looking for, but I think I may just be disappointed with the effort in the end. 

Hm, I guess that would be a reason.



This one is based on a recipe I copied in Australia. I can't tell you where the original came from (so sorry). The good news is that I don't think I'll be looking for another chocolate soufflé recipe for a while. 

For a bit of extra decadence, add a shower of confectioner's sugar and a dollop of chocolate ganache to finish.

And just remember, a soufflé waits for no man. It'll fall, no matter what. Be prepared to pull them out of the oven, dress them up, and send them out to table.

Chocolate Soufflés
makes 6-7 soufflés in 4 oz (125ml) -5 oz ramekins

Softened butter for greasing ramekins
Granulated sugar for dusting buttered ramekins
8 oz (226 g) good quality 60-70% chocolate
2 T (30 ml) coffee or espresso
4T (56 g) unsalted butter, chopped into about 8 pieces
A couple pinches of salt (if using salted butter, omit the pinches of salt altogether)
3 large egg yolks
7 large egg whites
1/4 t vanilla extract (let's just call it a small splash)
1/3 c (60 g) granulated sugar 
Confectioner's sugar, for serving

(for optional ganache topping:
4 oz (113 g) good quality 60-70% chocolate
1/3 c (80 ml) heavy cream

Preheat oven to 400 F (200 C) with a rack set in the center of the oven.
Brush the insides of ramekins with softened butter. Spoon sugar into one ramekin and rotate the ramekin so that the inside surface is coated with sugar. Pour the sugar from one ramekin into the next, coat the inside, and so on until each ramekin has a layer of butter and sugar. Set aside. 
Place a medium pan with a couple inches of water in it over medium heat and bring to a simmer. Meanwhile, place the chocolate, coffee, butter and one pinch of salt in a large heatproof bowl over the pan of simmering water. Stir the chocolate mixture occasionally until completely melted and smooth. Remove the pan from over the pan of simmering water and whisk in the 3 egg yolks. Set aside.
In a medium bowl and using an electric hand blender, whisk the 7 egg whites with a pinch of salt and the vanilla extract. When the eggs are very frothy and foamy, slowly add the sugar all the while continuing to whisk until the mixture is glossy white and soft peaks form.
Carefully whisk about 1/3 of the egg whites into the chocolate mixture to loosen it up. Using a rubber spatula, carefully fold about 1/2 of the remaining egg white into the mixture until just incorporated. Repeat with the remaining egg whites. Do not over mix- you don't want to deflate the egg whites and lose all that volume.
Divide the soufflé mixture between the prepared ramekins. 
Place the ramekins on a pan and place the pan in the oven. Bake the soufflés about 10 minutes, until the soufflés have puffed and risen above the rims of the dishes. 
Immediately remove the soufflés from the oven one by one with a pair of tongs to waiting plates. Sift confectioner's sugar over the top and spoon a truffle-sized dollop of ganache into the center of each if desired. 
Serve immediately.

To make ganache:
Chop chocolate and place in a small heatproof bowl.
Heat cream to a simmer over medium heat in a small saucepan. Pour the cream over the chocolate, let it sit for a few minutes, and stir to combine until completely smooth and glossy. If the chocolate is still not completely melted, place the bowl over a small pan of simmering water, stirring frequently until completely melted. 
Set aside until ready to use.