Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Steamy Pudding

The April 2010 Daring Bakers' challenge was hosted by Esther of The Lilac Kitchen. She challenged everyone to make a traditional British pudding using, if possible, a very traditional British ingredient: suet.

No suet around here and I looked. I ended up using Crisco, so what I made is not the traditional British pudding but perhaps a facsimile. I've never had a steamed pudding which means I don't really know how close I got. I was not extremely enthusiastic about this. While Esther said we could make something savory, like steak and kidney pudding, that didn't really sound too appealing either. Because we are not big dessert eaters and because this was not something I could ship off to the starving students in Boston or the "I'll eat anything chocolate" friend in the neighboring city, I wanted to make something more manageable for the two of us. Rather than make one 4 cup steamed pudding, I decided to make smaller versions and choose a different filling for each.

The filling is the main ingredient (fruit, chocolate, etc.), combined with sugar and butter. All is put into a bowl which has been lined with a suet pastry - or in my case, a Crisco pastry - and then topped with more pastry. The result is covered in foil, sealed up with a string and steamed for whatever period of time seems to work. I did mine for 4 1/2 hours to be sure the crust was golden and the interior all melty.

The pastry was quite fragile. It rolled out pretty well but fell apart when I lined the ramekins. I ended up just pressing the crust into place, which probably contributed to its failure to come out in one piece. Frustration number one.

I used a bamboo steamer I usually use for potstickers and dumplings. It worked pretty well, although I had to watch the water level closely. Subsequently, I read some finished challenge posts on the Daring Kitchen website and realized I could have used a slow cooker, which would have been so much easier and I could have done all four of the puddings at once. Maybe next time, if there is a next time. Frustration number two - spent all day steaming puddings that could have been done all at one time using the slow cooker.

The flavors I chose were lemon (using a whole lemon), chocolate, cherry and mango. And the results? The lemon I liked, but probably no one else would because it was really pretty tart. The recipe said to use a whole lemon, pierced through the skin with a skewer. Maybe a Meyer lemon would have been a better choice, but I didn't have a Meyer lemon. The seeds in the lemon were annoying to deal with when eating it, but it did transform into a lovely lemony sauce which went well with the pastry - even if the whole thing was ugly to look at since it did not pop out but had to be scraped out in pieces.

The chocolate (I used bittersweet) was not quite as successful or interesting. Both the mango (Bob's favorite) and the cherry (which I really liked) were much better. The fruit was soft and succulent, the butter/sugar melted together to form a caramelly sauce around the fruit and the pastry added some texture. So to sum up: looked horrible, tasted OK to pretty good. Would I do it again? Not without reading a lot more about technique and maybe tasting one done properly. Trip to England is essential, obviously.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

A Fine Kettle of Stew

The 2010 April Daring Cooks challenge was hosted by Wolf of Wolf's Den. She chose to challenge Daring Cooks to make Brunswick Stew. Wolf chose recipes for her challenge from The Lee Bros. Southern Cookbook by Matt Lee and Ted Lee, and from the Callaway, Virginia Ruritan Club.

I used the Lee brothers' recipe, with some modifications. The base of this stew is an extremely chicken-y stock which really surpassed every other chicken stock I've ever made. Basically, the recipe calls for chicken stock in which is cooked another chicken, and the resulting broth is so rich and so good. The stew itself called for rabbit and chicken, but other meats can be used. The premier Australian Daring Cook used alligator (!) in his. I'm not that daring, so I just used chicken and I really don't think it needed other meats. The stew also has corn, potatoes, carrots, tomatoes and onion. And, since the chicken meat is cooked in the stock before all those veggies are added, there were also serrano chiles, celery, bay and bacon flavoring the broth. All those items are discarded, the chicken is pulled from the bone and shredded, the veggies are added and all is cooked for a long time until the flavors blend. Add a little lemon juice and red wine vinegar for tartness and a little Tabasco for heat and there you have it! Perfect warm meal for a blustery April day.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

April 1 - A Day of Firsts

I did a few things for the first time today and decided I should document them. Of course, I took no pictures - so much for planning ahead.

Today is Holy Thursday, the feast of the Last Supper. While I have no Jewish background, I've been interested in Jewish cooking and foods for a while. I decided I would do a mini-Seder to commemorate the Last Supper, which was probably a Passover meal.

Since my kitchen could not possibly be called kosher, this was not a kosher meal by any means, but there was a traditional element. I made matzo ball soup, which I have never eaten, but wanted to try. I found a recipe (good time of year for that - they are all over the place), made my matzo balls, which were floaters, not sinkers, for those of you who understand the difference, and made my chicken stock from my non-kosher chicken. Lots of chicken stock left over which I will use in an upcoming project.

I also poached a truly wonderful piece of fresh Alaskan king salmon. Maybe not gefilte fish, but tasty none the less. Since it was only Bob and me, I didn't do all the other dishes I could have. I'm working up to the full meal gradually. Maybe next year will include kugel and brisket, but tonight's dinner was much simpler.

My other foray into new territory was making butter. Nick, my formerly carnivorous son, and his roommates are trying to move towards being vegan - no animal products at all (no meat, no fish, no dairy, no cheese, no eggs) - which is very challenging for a mom who likes to send treats to Boston. My approach, which I have labeled "vegan-lite" is to encourage them to use some of those products if they are raised/produced in a humane, organic, sustainable way. To provide an example of how to do this, I made cookies which had one egg from a local farm which treats its chickens right and butter WHICH I MADE from cream from a Washington dairy farm which grows its own feed for the cows, assuring they get non-genetically modified food.

Now I suppose most of us at one time or another have forgotten the cream we were whipping, which then went past a fluffy whip cream to a lumpy concoction. Well, if you keep going and take a couple other steps, like draining the butter milk, rinsing the butter in cold water and kneading it, and then draining again, you get butter! It worked pretty well, although I was feeling my way. I found an excellent website which provided pictures of what would happen at each step. The site is called Cooking for Engineers, so it is very specific and detailed.

I used 4 ounces of my hand-crafted butter for the cookies and plan to use some for breakfast tomorrow. I don't know that this will become a habit, but for this project, it was just what I wanted.

The cookies go in the mail tomorrow - we will see if the vegans eat them or give them away!