Thursday, April 14, 2011

Texture Trials

I've been giving my growth as a foodie a lot of thought lately and trying to figure out the best way to expand my knowledge base and experiment more. I have taken some action with this in a few ways, one being a commitment to eat food daily haha. Joking aside, I did attend a cooking class with PB and Ms. Crow Pose (Pb's sister) this past weekend. It was at the Cookshop in Vancouver and a gift from pb for valentines day... he's pretty smart and has determined I like to cook :-)
The class was on italian comfort food, prepared by Chef Peppe, a charismatic, 5 ft tall, grandfather type, singing Italian. Yes, he sang. Very well I might add. Peppe (it's alllll about Peppe! that was on his shirt) prepared the food and gave us tips and hints along the way, as well as anecdotes and stories behind the food and ingredients. The menu included goat cheese salad, fettuccine with bacon and peas, lemon chicken, pan fried beef and tiramisu to end. No that is not beef and tiramisu in one dish, one was followed by the other. That reminds me of the episode of Friends where Rachel makes trifle but the recipe book pages get stuck together and she ends up with trifle with a shepherd pie filling for one of the layers. Joey liked it.

Here are a couple of tips I picked up:
1) when boiling water for pasta, always add the salt to hot water not cold, so as to protect your pan bases from corroding.
2) there is a lot of difference with prosciutto and cured meats, depending on where they are from and what the pigs are fed. Apparently, pigs fed on chestnuts make the tastiest prosciutto. I'm looking forward to doing some taste tests on this.
3) If your pasta cooking water is clear, you have a good quality pasta
4) Adding toasted breadcrumbs to the salad and pasta is delicious

The food was so yummy and we even were served wine with our samples, before noon. I'm not complaining. Although I could not eat the fettuccine due to the addition of a whole load of egg yolks, I did eat most of the other food and snuck a little bite of tiramisu. I don't usually like tiramisu as it's got coffee in it, one of the few flavours I have not yet acquired a taste for, and it's a desert with eggs and cream so it's on my "avoid" list but this was delicious and it was pretty hard for me to stop at one (mouse sized) nibble. Don't worry, I did. The consequences are well known to me and I have made that mistake one too many times.
All in all, a great experience and as always, I love the chance to peruse the cookshop itself and dream about all the appliances and gadgets I hope one day to have a kitchen large enough to accommodate.

So a successful class all around and a great shared experience with 2 favourite peeps. I recommend it and am inspired to learn more and cook more.

My latest area of interest, besides just trying to learn learn learn and taste taste taste, is to experiment with textures. I want to see how much the preparation of ingredients such as the style of chopping of a vegetable, or the pounding out of a chicken thigh, affects the taste and eating experience. I recently saw something on a food blog which caught my eye for two reasons, presentation and texture. It was for shepherds pie (although technically it was cottage pie as it was beef. Shepherds pie is made with lamb). The differences were that it was cooked and served in individual ramekins and instead of mashed potato on top, it was sliced potato. So basically more of a hot pot style. I had the opportunity to cook a meal for pb's family on Sunday and they are all foodie's too and very open to my culinary experimentation. I made the filling of the pie to my own recipe (detailed below) and then followed the instructions on the blog regarding the potato topping. I did not have ramekins of the right size for individual portions. Well, actually that is not correct, there were ramekins but they were more a butter dish size so everyone would have had to have 3 if they were hoping to sustain their bodies until breakfast the next day. My shepherds/cottage pie filling has evolved over the years to what I think is pretty good. There are a few key steps and secret ingredients that you wouldn't expect, or even be able to tell were in there. I guess they won't be so secret any more. Or maybe they will. My blog is not exactly getting out to the masses! I'll list the recipe below but here is a summary of my not so secret features:
1) brown the meat and then remove from pan and drain. Do not discard the juices but put them aside. Put a small amount of juices back in the pan and add the onions, carrots, celery. cooking them in the juices and the used pan adds depth to the flavour.
2) Add finely chopped sundried tomatoes (in oil but drained) to the filling. I got this idea from a vegetarian shepherds pie recipe and it makes a big difference. Just be sure to cut them up finely, the chewy texture is not great in contrast to the rest of the dish and the intense flavour needs to be dispersed.
3) Add 1/2 -1 can of cooked brown lentils to the dish. This adds a surprisingly meaty texture and really binds all the juices together with the meat. It's also economical as you can make 500g of meat go twice as far with the addition of the lentils and no one will know!

Secret Ingredient Shepherds pie

2 tbsp canola oil
500g lean ground beef (or lamb)
1 onion, diced
2 carrots, diced same size as carrots
1-2 sticks celery, diced
2-3 cloves garlic, crushed
1 cup chopped mushrooms
1 cup frozen peas
2 tbsp tomato paste
1 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
1 regular can diced tomatoes
1 regular can cooked lentils
2-3 cups beef broth
1-2 bay leaves
salt and pepper to taste
1 tbsp Dijon mustard
3-4 potatoes, skin on, sliced 1/4-1/2 inch thick

In a heavy based dutch oven or pan, add 1 tbsp oil and heat. Add meat and brown. As meat browns, add Worcestershire sauce. take meat out of pan and set aside with juices. Do not discard juices.
Add onions, carrots and celery to pan with a little of the meat juices and more oil if needed. Cook over med high heat until soft. Add garlic and mushrooms and continue to cook until mushrooms are tender.
Add meat back to pan and let ingredients meld for a couple of minutes.
Add stock, tomatoes, tomato paste, bay leaves, lentils and dijon.
Bring to a boil and reduce heat and cover. simmer for as long as possible, ideally 3-4 hours, adding more broth if required. Add peas in last 30-40 minutes of cooking time.
In the mean time, cook sliced potatoes in pan for 5-7 minutes until just starting to soften. remove from pan and let dry out a little. Preheat oven to 400F
Once filling is ready, season with salt and pepper if needed. Place in baking dish and arrange slices of potato on top. I arranged mine so they were slightly overlapping. Spray with cooking oil or spread some softened butter over top.
Place in oven for 30-40 minutes until topping browns and filling bubbles up!
SORRY I did not get a picture! But I promise you, it looked really appetizing, and everyone seemed to clean their plates and ate as much as their belts would allow.
I really like the sliced potato topping and would do it again. I also liked that all the ingredients were similarly sizes although next time I think I will make a chunky cut version and see how that compares.
Stay tuned for more adventures in food texture!