Saturday, January 29, 2011

Review: The Food Substitutions Bible

I have recently acquired a copy of David Joachim's wonderful book, The Food Substitutions Bible and I cannot praise this book enough! Just like The Flavor Bible, this book is an invaluable tool in helping you break the grip of recipe dependency and get on with the business of being creative in the kitchen.

The copy I purchased (pictured to the right) is the second edition of Joachim's book, and contains over 1500 additional substitutions not included in the first edition (with the blue cover). It is also about 25% larger than the first and is expanded throughout.

As the title says, this book is filled with substitution suggestions for just about any ingredient you can name. Anyone who has spent any time in the kitchen has had a time when a recipe called for an item they didn't have. My early days of cooking were filled with these experiences, usually ending up with a phone call to my  mother asking what I should do if I don't have buttermilk or baking powder for the recipe I had already started. Now I don't have to do that anymore. I can pull out the book instead, which is much quicker, and call my mom later to tell her how wonderful the recipe turned out!

There are so many food substitutions in this book, it boggles the mind. Everything from Spam to popcorn, duck eggs to korerima, and a thousand other ingredients that I've never heard of! (FYI, if you do find yourself in need of korerima, you can use an equal amount of ground cardamom in its stead.)

The thing about this book is that it's title is deceptive. It is much more than a food substitution guide. There are also substitution ideas for equipment and even cooking techniques. Say for example you would like to try an Asian recipe that calls for cooking in a clay pot but you don't have one. What to do? Should you run out and buy special cookware? I suppose you could. You could also, according to The Food Substitutions Bible, try using either a deep casserole dish or a dutch oven while reducing the temperature by about 100°F and the cooking time by about a half an hour.

One of the most wonderful things about this book are the Ingredient Guides at the back. Lists of apple varieties (including the flavor and texture of each and the best way to use them), dried beans, chili peppers, grains, honey, mushrooms, pasta, rices, vinegars, etc, etc. What the flavor differences are, what each can be substituted for; these lists are invaluable! In addition, there are measurement equivalents that I've never seen in any other book. If a recipe calls for a cup of evaporated milk, how many cans should you buy? According to the Can and Package Size Equivalents chart in the back of the book, a 6 oz. can of evaporated milk is 2/3 cup, while the 14-1/2 oz can is 1-2/3 cups. A #2 can is 20 oz. or 2-1/2 cups and a great big #10 can is 13 cups. Another interesting table is for Temperature Equivalents. Exactly what temperature is "a moderate oven?" According to this list it is 350°F, 180°C, or gas mark 4. Lukewarm water is 95°F or 35°C.

If you are at all serious about cooking, especially if you are among those who create your own recipes, this book is a must have! This is a book I wished I owned years ago and it is a most welcome addition to my book collection now!

Happy cooking (and don't forget to call your mothers)!

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Dutch Apple Pie

Apple pie is awesome. There's no getting around it. In whatever form it appears, whether old fashioned double crust American apple pie or German strudel, apples it seems were meant to be baked into a pastry of some sort with cinnamon and sugar.

My wife and I recently obtained an entire box of Granny Smith apples. I feel like a kid at Christmas! Oh the possibilities! One of the first things I wanted to make was an old favorite, Dutch Apple Pie. I've always loved the crumbly top on this classic and it requires the making of one less crust, or gives you an extra crust to make something else - like quiche!
Because I used half the pie dough for a savory quiche, I cut back on the sugar by about half. I used a very basic two-crust recipe. Begin by sifting together:
2-1/2 c all purpose flour
1 T sugar (the normal amount would be 2 T)
1 t salt
In a food processor or by hand, gently mix in:
1/2 c frozen shortening, cut into small pieces
Mix until the flour takes on a grainy texture. Add in:
1-1/2 c frozen butter, cut into small pieces
Gently mix together, being careful not to over handle the dough, as this will make it tough. The flour should take on the texture of small peas. Slowly, a tablespoon at a time, add in:
6-8 T ice water
Gently mix water into the dough until it's just moist enough to stick together when pinched. Split the dough into 2 even pieces and wrap each in plastic. Refrigerate the dough for at least 15 minutes or for up to 2 days. It may also be frozen for a week or more, if properly wrapped.

Once the crust is ready, roll it out and line your pie dish. If you like, you can cover this in plastic and put it back in the fridge until you're ready for it.

The filling is real simple. Peel, core and slice enough apples for about 5-6 cups. I used 4 Granny Smiths and a small Fuji. The tarter the apple, the higher the pectin. Pectin is important because, just like in jellies and jams, this is what makes the filling set up and not be too runny. I also add a little flour which, combined with the pectin, helps hold the filling together.

Begin by preheating your oven to 375°. Take a large bowl and combine:
5-6 c sliced apples
1 T lemon juice
Toss together until the apples are well coated, then add:
1/2 c granulated sugar
1/4 c packed brown sugar
3 T flour
1 t cinnamon
1/4 t nutmeg
Toss apples until they are completely coated with sugar and spices. Pour the apples into the pie crust. In a small bowl, whisk together:
3/4 c flour
1/4 c granulated sugar
1/4 c packed brown sugar
When combined, add:
1/3 c soft butter
Mix together until the texture is crumbly. Cover the apples with the topping. Bake pie for 50 minutes, turning about halfway through to insure even baking. Allow to cool completely before serving.

Outstanding! Pie that makes you thankful for bad weather - a great excuse for staying inside with a fresh pot of tea. There is nothing better!


Saturday, January 15, 2011

Chard and Kale Salad

Eating green leafy vegetables is one of the healthiest things you can do. Especially in the wintertime, when your body needs it the most. When it comes to leafy veggies, the darker the leaf the better is is for you. This puts kale and chard, two winter favorites, right at the top of the list.

The thing about kale and chard, however, is that the leaves tend to be much thicker and therefore tougher to chew. They nearly always have to be cooked. Using them in cold salads is usually out of the question. Usually.

Things like citric acid and salt tend to help break down leafy material. By applying these ingredients to the leafs and allowing them to "cook" overnight, a cold kale salad becomes an easy and delicious option to your wintertime menu! Remember, this salad must be made at least one day ahead!

Begin by whisking together in a large bowl:
3/4 c olive oil
1/2 c lemon juice
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 t sea salt
1 t cayenne pepper
1 bunch chard
1 bunch kale
Wash the leaves well and shake off all excess water. Rub the marinade into each leaf real well and set the leaves aside in a large bowl. Do not neglect this step! It is very important to rub the marinade into each leaf! When all the leaves have been marinated, add to them:
1 small red onion, thinly sliced
2 medium avocados, cubed
1-1/2 c shitake mushrooms, thinly sliced
Pour the marinade over the salad and mix well by hand, mashing the avocados into the leaves. When well mixed and thoroughly coated, cover the salad and refrigerate overnight. The leaves will cook in the lemon juice and salt and should be wilted the next day. Garnish with:
seeds from 1 medium pomegranate
toasted walnuts

A tasty side salad any time of year. It's also great on its own, garnished with a piece of salmon or grilled chicken.


Friday, January 7, 2011

Peredur vs Squashzilla

Banana squash - the behemoth of the squash family. Known for taking on entire armies and feeding them all!
Kat and I had a mammoth sized pink banana squash in the basement for the past couple of months and I finally decided that it was time to take up the gauntlet and create a very large pot of squash soup. Besides, I just got all sorts of new kitchen toys - including the top thing on my list, an immersion blender! - and I was dying to use them. 

Squashzilla done been kilt!
The first task at hand was to slay the giant. It put up quite a fight but, in the end, I was able to overpower it. Using a large chef's knife, I kilt the squash!

Secondly, I needed to bake the squash. Oh, I suppose I didn't actually need to bake it but I kind of prefer it to boiling. I hacked the squash, now dead, into 4 (still very large) pieces. I baked them at 350° for about 50 minutes or so, until the meat was tender. I removed it from the oven and cut it into pieces, discarding the skin.

At this point, I decided to roast the seeds. The seeds for this squash are, as you can imagine, huge! They are plump and fat and just screaming out for someone to roast them! I rinsed off the seeds real well, just as I would do with pumpkin seeds. I generously covered them with:
2 T kosher salt
2 t garlic powder
2 t cumin powder
1 t onion powder
1 dried Dundicut chili pepper, ground with a mortar and pestle (I just happened across these little peppers at a store the other day. They are extremely hot. You may use chili powder instead.)
Toss the seeds with the seasonings and bake at 300° for about 45-60 minutes, stirring them every 10 minutes or so. Roast them until they get a nice dark golden color. Yum!

Anyway, back to the soup. I did not use fresh onion or garlic this time because I was using a quart of homemade turkey broth. I usually make my broth rather strongly flavored and didn't think I would need too much more onion or garlic, opting to use a small amount of powdered instead.

Taking out my favorite stock pot (which turned out to be barely big enough to hold the monster), I combined:
1 qt homemade turkey stock
6 c water
about 8-10 c roasted squash meat
1 T ground sage 
1 T brown sugar
2 t kosher salt
2 t allspice
1-1/2 t garlic powder
1 t onion powder
1 t thyme
1 t fresh ground black pepper
1 t ground cardamom 
Gently bring the soup to a simmer and cook over low-medium heat for about 20 minutes or so to let the flavors combine. Using an immersion blender, carefully blend the soup until it is creamy and there are no chunks of squash. Reduce the heat to low and add:
1 c white wine
Stir in the wine and then slowly add:
2 c milk or half-and-half
Stir well. Adjust seasonings as desired. Serve topped with:
grated Asiago cheese
chopped parsley (optional)
The soup turned out fabulous, the Asiago really adding a lot of character to the mildly sweet flavor of the squash and spices. If your soup doesn't come out thick enough, for whatever reason, you might also consider mixing the cheese right into the soup!

A tasty New Year to all!