Sunday, January 29, 2012

Moldy Limes and Kidney

Score one for black limes.  My first attempt turned into a moldy, moldy mess.  I kept gazing up at my drying limes wondering what was happening inside, giving them a gentle squeeze every once in a while.  Finally I decided to stab them, one by one, just to "let the moisture out" and speed them along.  Each stab released a pouff of smoke.  That is when I began to suspect that my experiment had gone terribly wrong.

Please see the picture below.  It's not pretty.  So why did my limes fail?  I'm not sure.  Perhaps the cool winter sun in Vancouver did not dry them quickly enough?  Any thoughts are welcome.  I will try again soon and perhaps use the oven.  Alas, no loomi for a while.
 On to bigger and better things.  A big beef kidney to be exact.  Robbie Burns is coming and my cousin hosts a big whiskey and scotch fueled bash.  I wanted to try my hand at making haggis but my organization level just wasn't there in time to purchase all the nasty bits necessary - so steak and kidney pie it was!

I hadn't tried eating kidney yet and so it was also an opportunity to get right in there with a new organ meat.  That will be described in more depth further down the page.  The first step, of course, was to make a stock for the pie.

First, I browned some lovely beef bones and then added: onion ends with peel, carrots, sweet potato ends, thyme, bay, black pepper and cubeb pepper.  The cubeb pepper is nature's version of crossing a black pepper with a clove.  I thought it would add a nice bit of richness.  Once I added some water, I let this simmer all day and then cool in the fridge before straining it.  Cooling it makes removing the fat on top of the stock as easy as pie.
 Yes.  That is a beef kidney.  Or at least a part of a beef kidney.  This was an experience.  I bought it frozen and once it was thawed released it from its plastic.  The smell is intense, as if you are nestling your nose up into the warm bladder of a cow.  Really not pleasant to be perfectly honest.

All of the white bits need to be snipped and trimmed.  Please see below for a picture of the trimmed kidney.  It doesn't get much prettier just to warn you.
 As I butchered up my kidney, I sauteed some onion and mushrooms.  I used a whole large onion and about 16 mushrooms, quartered.  They smell remarkably better than the kidney and so I recommend doing this as you are getting to know your kidney better.
 La butchered kidney.  Kinda looks like a crime scene.  Now I found out at the party that I missed an essential step - soaking the kidney for several hours in milk before cooking it.  That takes out the smell, but I didn't do it so once I had dusted the lot with flour, into my pot my stinky kidney and cubed chuck roast went.  The flour helps to thicken the stew.
Once the meat had been browned, I added: more thyme, 2 bay leaves, 2 tbsp of tomato paste, 1 cup of stock, a cup of La Loubecoise (a maple brown beer), maple syrup (just a touch), and worcestershire sauce.  I put more stock in than the recipe called for and let it braise down to a lovely consistency.
Mmmm.  Beef and kidney stew awaiting its pastry topping.
Speaking of pastry.  I happen to do a lot more baking than meat cooking so I am a bit more familiar with pastry than meaty things.  Something I have started to do recently is grate my butter into my flour.  Let me explain.

The essential thing with pastry is to have all of your ingredients cold, cold, cold and touch them as little as possible.  Most recipes call for knives or rubbing with hands.  Knives are pretty good but I find that the butter can be cut up inconsistently.  Hands are okay as well but the warmth from hands tends to melt the butter unless you can work really quickly.  Grating works like a charm.  

Start with, in this case, a quarter cup of flour (all-purpose) and grate a bit of the butter in.  Have the remaining half cup of flour off to the side and as you grate the butter in, sprinkle bits of the flour on top.  Keep going until you have a pile of buttery shreds (one-third of a cup altogether) covered with flour.  Add a pinch of salt.  Then, using a fork, lightly combine the whole mess.  At this point, sprinkle 4 tbsp of ice cold water (I keep it in the freezer) on top and again using your fork combine it lightly.  At this point, I like to dive in there with my hands for a bit just to check the consistency.  

Using your hands, rub the butter, flour and water together.  Scoop up a bit, smoosh it against your other palm and rub your palms across each other.  This creates a beautiful flaky texture but just do it briefly.  You know that the pastry is well mixed once it holds together a bit.

Don't over work your pastry!!!

Some people like to use half lard and half butter.  I like to use all butter because butter makes everything better.  As well I use salted butter because salt makes everything better.  To each their own.
Look at this lovely pastry here (pre-water).
Once you have added the water, roll your pastry out between two sheets of paper - wax, parchment or even saran will do nicely.  I trimmed the edges off the rolled out pastry to form a rim on my casserole dish.  This also gave me a nice rectangle to use as my cover.  I put the rectangle of pastry in the freezer as I worked on the edges.  Then I laid it on top, pinched it all the way around and used a knife to score the edges.
Look at this pretty little steak and kidney pie about to get baked in my oven.
And voila!  Golden and bubbling and delicious!
And so there ends my kidney journey.  It was a hit at the Robbie Burns party with my Aunt taking two helpings and letting me know that she didn't eat the second helping to boost my ego.  Thank you for your candour Aunt.

If I were to make it again, I would soak the kidneys and I might use a different type of kidney.  Beef kidney is supposedly one of the tougher and more intense smelling/tasting kinds.  As well, I meant to add some cubed and rendered pancetta but the thought escaped me as I made the pie so I would definitely add that in the future.  Until I cook again.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Black lime aka loomi

I honestly have no idea how I found out about black lime.  I was probably just skulking around online looking at braise recipes for my last experiment and it must have been an ingredient in one of them.
For those of you who are questioning how black limes relate to meat, please note that once my limes are thoroughly blackened I will use them to season meat dishes.  

So, on to blackening my limes.  This can be done with any kind of lime though some recipes called for thinner skinned limes such as key limes.  I am using the regular old thick-skinned limes that are common in North America.

The first step is to boil the limes for 15-20 minutes in heavily salted water.  I used a cup of salt in this pot, which holds about 1.5 quarts of water.  As they were boiling I found that I needed to hold them down because parts were floating above the surface and staying bright green.  Bright green equals bad in the case of black limes.  They are boiled in salty water to take out the bitterness.
 Oooh.  Look how brown these limes look.  Some split a little bit but I don't think that's a problem because you poke holes in them anyways.  I'm hoping it helps them dry out a little faster.
 Avec yarn and a skewering rod.  What worked the best for me was knotting the yarn at the top of the skewer and then vigorously jamming it through.  The quicker the better.
Ahhh...  A lovely string of limes sitting in my kitchen window waiting for the sun to shrivel them up.  More pictures will be posted when they are dry and shrivelly.  I've heard they end up looking like a lime that has been sitting under the couch for several months but the taste they lend meat is unachievable in any other way.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Pho: Part 2

"He removes the broth from the heat over which it has been simmering all night.  He strains it bowl by bowl through a sieve.  He skims off the fat that rises to the surface as it cools, and when he sees no more evidence of shine, he adds salt and fish sauce, testing it for taste...  Fish sauce is the key-in matters of soup and well beyond.  Even romance, some people say.  Tend your broth as if she is a sleeping beauty; keep watch over her, only waking her in the final hour with a splash of fish sauce.”
“You should caress the beef as you slice it…  If you treat it tenderly, it guides you toward the grain."

"He chops the herbs... and places a handful of fresh rice noodles in a sieve, ready to be immersed in boiling water.  There is still plenty of time to serve the latecomers who have just arrived… laying noodles and beef into each bowl with his right hand, pouring ladlefuls of broth over top with his left, his rhythm as even and essential as a beating heart.”
"The challenge… has less to do with the availability of ingredients than with the need for restraint.  He sees himself as a guardian of purity, eschewing bean sprouts and excessive green garnish in accordance with northern tradition.  They may well have opened their doors to the world, but that does not mean they must pollute their bowls."

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Pho: Step 1

"You can tell a good broth by its aroma, the way it begs the body through the nose.  And pho bac - the pho of Hanoi - is the greatest seducer, because of the subtle dance of seasonings that animates the broth.  It is not just the seasonings that make pho bac distinct, it is provenance…  The history of Vietnam lies in this bowl, for it is in Hanoi, the Vietnamese heart, that pho was born, a combination of the rice noodles that predominated after a thousand years of Chinese occupation and the taste for beef the Vietnamese acquired under the French… The name of their national soup is pronounced like this French word for fire."
"It's all about the marrow.  You want knuckle bones, leg bones, tail.  And you can get these cheap if you have a relationship with the right butcher."
 after roasting...

"He is beginning to see that this is not simply a cooking exercise, but one in patience.  For a truly superior broth you need to boil the beef and bones gently for hours, skimming the grey film off the surface of the water before adding the lightly browned onions and ginger, carrot and radish, cinnamon, cloves and star anise, then returning it to a soft boil for several more hours before straining the broth and adding a pungent splash of nuoc mam."
-from The Beauty of Humanity Movement by Camilla Gibb