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Relapse: Garlic January 22, 2012

Posted by inspiredbywolfe in Relapse, Vegetables.
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Relapse: An occasional series where I discuss several ways of preparing an ingredient.

Garlic: enemy of vampires and polite dinner parties alike. It appears that Nero Wolfe is not overly fond of garlic, except in shrimp bordelaise. He sometimes uses a miniscule amount, but in general seems to prefer using onion and other aromatics. Well, Nero Wolfe may well disapprove, but when I was presented with a large bunch of freshly picked garlic, I needed to put it to good use.

Roasted garlic

Once all the bulbs were washed, it was time to start looking at recipes. To start with, I put some pieces in a muffin tin and drizzled them with olive oil.

I covered the garlic with foil and roasted them in a hot oven for about an hour. This is not a particularly new way of preparing garlic but I really like garlic like this way. The roasting removes the sharpness, and the resulting pieces can be eaten as is, or blended into a paste (useful to add to sausages or stews).

Garlic soup

When reading through Fergus Henderson’s Nose to Tail, I was struck by his garlic soup recipe. It had an awful lot of garlic in it but the soup itself seemed that it would be soothing and mild. I began by adding a number of cloves to some chicken stock.

I left this to simmer for about 40 minutes, until the garlic was completely soft. I then removed all the cloves and squished them through a sieve to produce a fine garlic paste.

I added the paste back to the soup, and while it was heading up again, I quickly grilled some stale bread I had sprinkled with a bit of parmesan cheese.

I served the soup by adding pieces of the bread to it, so they absorbed the soup.

As promised, this soup was soothing and satisfying. The garlic produced an almost nutty flavour, which permeated the soup and made it somewhat creamy. As with the roasted garlic, the long cooking time meant the garlic was no longer sharp or strong in taste, allowing many other flavours to come through. I also really enjoyed the addition of the bread which added a nice texture and a bit of saltiness from the parmesan. This is definitely something that I think will become a regular fixture.

Pickled garlic

Finally, I decided to pickle some garlic. I used a recipe I found online (which I can’t find now!), and started by making a brine with vinegar, sugar and water. I brought this to the boil to dissolve the sugar, and also added the garlic to cook it briefly. I added some chili, fennel and peppercorns to a jar, and poured the brine and the garlic in with the other spices. I added a thin layer of olive oil on the top and left it to pickle.

The recipe I used said the garlic would be done in a couple of days – I ended up leaving mine for about a week and a half. I suppose it depends a bit on how pickled you like your garlic. I pickled mine until they were going a little soft, but were still quite firm inside and held their shapes well. The addition of the sugar meant they had a tangy sweet and sour flavour, which was very nice. I’ve used both the pickled garlic and the brine it pickled in, in salads, stews and so on, as the brine has also taken on a nice garlic flavour.

I think because we add garlic to so many different recipes, it’s easy to forget that it’s a great ingredient in its own right. These recipes certainly put garlic in the centre of the dishes created, and I appreciated learning new ways of preparing garlic.

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Grilled lamb kidneys December 11, 2011

Posted by inspiredbywolfe in Innards, Lamb.
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So Charcutepalooza is all finished and the first thing I post after Charcutepalooza is more innards! Of course these came about on a whim when I saw lamb’s kidneys for sale at the butchers’. Flicking through the Nero Wolfe Cookbook, I saw the perfect recipe for my lamb’s kidneys.

Of course to start with, I had to split the kidneys and remove the inedible tissue.

While I’m definitely getting better at this, it’s fair to say I ended up with a variety of different sized and shaped pieces, rather than neat halves of kidney.

I made a marinade of olive oil, salt, pepper, thyme, mustard powder and nutmeg (I was meant to use mace, but had none – I thought nutmeg was a decent substitute). After this was all mixed together, I added the kidneys and left them to marinate for about 30 minutes.

While they were marinating, I mixed some worcestershire sayce, cayenne pepper and lemon juice into some softened butter. At the end of the 30 minutes, I took the pieces of kidney and threaded them onto skewers. It was at this point I swore at the person who had made such silly-shaped kidney pieces, and had made it so hard to get them onto the skewers!

Now it was simply a matter of brushing the kidneys with the flavoured butter I’d made earlier, and sick the under the grill. After a few minutes, I took them out, flipped them over, added more butter and returned them to the grill until they were done.

I made a simple sauce with the drippings from the kidneys plus the rest of the flavoured butter, and made an endive salad to serve the kidneys with.

This was a really nice way of cooking kidneys. They weren’t rubbery or hard but instead were still soft, and were very flavoursome. The marinade and butter worked really well together to provide some spiciness and acidity to contrast with the flavour of the kidneys. The thyme also came through strongly and provided a great earthiness to the kidneys.

Once again Nero Wolfe has provided me with a great method to cook something – in this case, kidneys. I think kidneys are often added to stews until they go almost hard and rubbery, whereas in this case, they were soft and juicy. I’ll definitely be cooking kidneys like this again.

Charcutepalooza grand finale: A (literal) nose to tail dinner December 6, 2011

Posted by inspiredbywolfe in Charcutepalooza, Innards, Pork.
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The menu

To start
Headcheese
Pig’s ear salad (recipe: Fergus Henderson)
Pig’s liver pate (recipe: Darina Allen)

Mains
Black pudding with apples and onions (recipe: Michael Ruhlman & Brian Polcyn)
Confit of pork shoulder (recipe: Ruhlman & Polcyn)
Steamed buns with boiled pork belly and chutney (pork belly recipe: Henderson)
Crispy pig’s tails (recipe: Henderson)

Dessert
Chocolate cake pigs with crispy pig skin ‘tails’ (recipe mine, all mine)

When considering what to prepare for the grand finale of Charcutepalooza, I weighed up lots of considerations. Duck is always a favourite, and there are lots of interesting things to do with fish and chicken. However, when I came down to it, the main ingredient for me for charcuterie will always be the humble pig.

In line with Charcutepalooza and also in accord with my general nose to tail philosophy, I decided to create a literal pork nose to tail dinner, using a selection of different pig parts.

Porky platter

In choosing what I wanted to cook, I used a selection of things I’d cooked before and really enjoyed – such as headcheese, black pudding and steamed buns – and things I was curious about, in particular, using pig’s liver instead of chicken liver in a pate, making pork confit, and using pig’s tails. It was a great opportunity to bring all the things I’d learned during Charcutepalooza.

As well as teaching me a great deal about preparing and preserving different types of meats, Charcutepalooza has reminded me of another important lesson: that I am blessed with fantastic produce and wonderful markets here in Melbourne. This particularly struck me as I stubbornly asked at every meat stall at the Preston Market if they stocked pig’s tails. While my beloved Little Saigon Market could supply me with pig’s heads and blood, there were no tails in sight. Luckily, a stall at Preston had pig’s tails still attached to their backbones, and once I convinced them that I wanted the tails, but not the bones, I claimed my prize.

Crispy pig tail

I started the preparations a few weeks ago, making pork shoulder confit and the pig’s liver pate in one weekend, and blood sausages and headcheese the following weekend. I admit I snuck some pieces of confit straight after it was done, before leaving it to cool in its fat. The pate, too, was very interesting, blending pig’s liver, belly, cream and spices together before slowly cooking it in jars in the oven.

Pork and cream ready for pate

Pork confit in its fat

Making blood sausage is becoming a favourite this household, and again with the use of 4 hands (H lending his to the exercise), the sausages were rapidly filled without the hint of a bloodbath. I gently poached them; we ate some on the spot and saved the rest for the grand finale.

Making the black pudding

Black pudding after poaching

While the blood sausage was cooking, the headcheese was happily simmering away on the stove. Like last time, it was a simple matter of pulling all the meat off, adding the liquid and letting it firm up overnight.

Headcheese preparation

On ‘the day’, there was some final cooking preparations to do before arranging everything to serve. The pig’s tails were roasted in a wine and stock mixture, before being crumbed and baked further until they were crispy. I fried up some pig’s ears and pieces of skin, and snuck some tastes while I was finishing everything else. I also made a salad of endive, radicchio and capers to go with the pig’s ears – I felt it was wise to have at least some vegetables!

Fried pig's skin and ears

Tails cooling after being poached in wine; some fried pieces of skin

I boiled a piece of pork belly for a few hours, until it was soft. I love cooking pork belly in this way, although of course there is no crispy skin. I made a chutney with apples, chili and onions, then chopped up the belly and added chutney and pieces of belly into the dumplings. I steamed them for about 10 minutes before cooling them.

Making the chutney to go into the steamed buns: apple, onion and chili

Pieces of boiled pork belly

Pig liver pate with pig imprint, steamed bun, piggy cake and pig tail

And the cake! I made a sheet of chocolate cake and cut out some pig shapes with my pig cookie cutter. I didn’t bother to ice them, but instead added a crispy pig skin ‘tail’. While the idea definitely amused me and was worth it for the presentation alone, I was also thinking of the combination of chocolate and salt and thought it might match well.

Pig chocolate cake with fried skin tail

As for the eating: while it may have been a good opportunity to share with friends, I thought for the actual grand finale the best plan was for me and H to share the meal. He has helped me on each of the challenges, taking photos, adding an extra set of hands when needed, and not getting horrified when the kitchen is covered in pork fat – or blood. We enjoyed plates of dumplings, blood sausage, and everything else! – before finishing with chocolate cake.

Nose to tail plate

Charcutepalooza has been a terrific learning experience for me, not only in terms of the skills I’ve learned, but also in relation to the power of community – in particular, the power of a community which develops over a medium such as twitter. It was infinitely reassuring to know I had a veritable hive-mind willing to assist me, answer any question or negate any worry I may have had about my meat.

While I probably won’t blog so incessantly about meat now that Charcutepalooza is officially over, rest assured I will continue with preserving and preparing meats in different ways. I know I want to perfect a blood sausage recipe. And there are many more meats left to cure!

I would like to thank Cathy and Kim for starting everyone on such a marvellous adventure, and also all the other Charcutepalooza participants. It’s a great experience to cure your own meats but it is made so much better with the encouragement, enthusiasm and inclusiveness of all involved in this community.

Pate en Croute September 15, 2011

Posted by inspiredbywolfe in Charcutepalooza, Innards, Pork.
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I must admit that this didn’t end up as pretty as I was hoping. First, I couldn’t find a pretty pate mould and had to use a small tin. The pastry had to be patched. The camera battery died in the middle of trying to take photos. I almost forgot to include the tongue! However, this still tasted ridiculously good with all the flavours combining well and the pastry being flaky and light – so I still consider it a definite success!

I used the basic recipes from Charcuterie for both the pork terrine with tenderloin inlay, and the pate dough. However, it’s fair to say that I used these recipes more as a guide and adapted and changed things along the way. To start with, I got my terrine mix of pork shoulder, pork fat, spices and sage, and ground them together. Incidentally, I found another supplier of pork fat and sausage casings while buying supplies for this challenge, so I was very pleased!

I cooked some garlic and shallots in brandy and sloe gin (my substitution for madeira) and, when they had cooled, mixed them into the ground pork mix. I got my piece of pork tenderloin and seared it well and also left this to cool while I turned to my pastry.

One of the nice things about participating in Charcutepalooza is having all the leftover things to use in other contexts. This time, I was able to use the goose fat I’d rendered after making these sausages, in the pastry crust for the pate. I substituted the amount of butter for goose fat, and left the dough in the fridge.

When I’d read the recipe for pork pate en croute, I’d been intrigued by the use of ham, which went between the pastry and the terrine meat. The purpose of this was to help insulate the filling from the pastry, so that the pastry did not get soggy. I decided to substitute the ham for slices of tongue. So, the night before, I cooked and peeled the tongue, and let it refrigerate overnight (no photos of this but here’s an account of when I’ve prepared tongue previously). Now I took the tongue and cut it into fairly thin pieces.

Next came the assembly of all the bits. And here’s where it went in the not-pretty direction… I started with rolling out the pastry and lining a loaf tin with it. Oops, the pastry tore; oh well, I’ll just patch it up…

Oh, the tongue pieces aren’t long enough to go all the way around the pastry; oh well, I’ll just whack in a few more pieces…

And now the pastry has torn when I’ve pulled the edges over; let’s just pretend that’s an air hole.

The good thing about these recipes is that they’re very forgiving, and don’t really care if they’re not pretty. I cooked the pate in the oven for a couple of hours, until the internal temperature reached 65ºC. I upended the tin almost straight after taking it out of the oven, and after it had cooled a bit, I was able to just lift the tin up and see the pate on the plate below.

The not-prettiness continued when I cut slices of the pate, only to have the pastry crumble off the edges.

However, the lack of prettiness didn’t matter when I was able to bite into the pate. The pastry was ridiculously good: flaky and rich. The tongue held everything together while the pork tenderloin added some lovely smoky flavours. And the terrine mix itself was flavoursome and on the sweet side, which contrasted nicely to the other elements. Prettiness notwithstanding, this was a great pate en croute.

Baked scallops August 31, 2011

Posted by inspiredbywolfe in Seafood, Wolfe recipe.
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Amazing as it sounds, sometimes I get sick of the big, heavy meats. I want something finer, more refined in taste and texture. Recently, when I felt like this, I turned to seafood: scallops in particular. I decided to try out Nero Wolfe’s recipe for baked scallops, as I was hoping for a dish that was warm and comforting without being heavy.

To start with, I briefly cooked the scallops in a mixture of white wine, water, peppercorns and bay leaves. It only took 4 or 5 minutes for the scallops to be cooked – and I was wary of overcooking them.

I set them aside to cool, and got to work on the sauce. I chopped some shallots and cooked them briefly in some butter, before adding flour to form a roux. I added a couple of cups of the liquid I’d cooked the scallops in, and stirred it until it began to thicken. At this stage, I added salt, parsley and some grated nutmeg.

I didn’t quite follow the directions in preparing the scallops for baking. Instead of mixing the scallops into the sauce, I collected my motley collection of little ramekin-type dishes, and put some scallops in the bottom of each dish.

I strained the sauce, removing the pieces of onion and parsley, and spooned the sauce over the scallops. I topped each dish with a mixture of cheese and breadcrumbs, and put them in the oven for about 25 minutes.

After about 25 minutes, the topping had gone brown and crunchy, and the sauce had mostly set.

The combination of the scallops and the sauce was very nice, with the sauce having an almost vinegary tang thanks to the parsley and onions. However, I wasn’t sure if the sauce was meant to set during the baking process, or remain a liquid. Mine ended up about halfway between – a thick sauce, but not set. I think I would have preferred this if the sauce had been fully set, and that seems more consistent with its name of baked scallops.

Having said all of that the flavour was great, and the cheese on top added a nice texture. This dish definitely fulfilled my desire for something a bit lighter but still comforting. When I make this again, I’d like to try thickening the sauce so that it does set when baked, but that would be the only change I’d make.