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Sunday, January 8, 2012

Butter, compound and otherwise

 Here I am, interviewing another wanna-be Sous Chef. I've scanned HUNDREDS of applicants and have pulled the most promising into my cell of an office. I've prepared a battery of tough questions.
 She's short, really-really short. A pretty smile and a head-full of dark hair. She seems determined and passionate.
 "What can you tell me about yourself?" It's a reasonable question.
"What the hey? You're so funny Uncle Nicky."
 That wasn't the reply I was looking for. She's obviously playing me. I'll have to be more aggressive.
 "Why should I hire you? Where have you worked before? What can you bring into the kitchen? "
"I love you." She grabs my legs and hugs me tight. (I said she was short)

Yeah ok, she's hired. I'm such a push-over. I love you too my little BOO. Plus I don't have to worry about child labor laws. I'm not paying her. Her name is Brynn.

Brynn is my wonderful little niece, my brother Pat's little girl.  She is all of 7 years old and can already make eggs to order. I wasn't much older than her when I started cooking. She watches me de-bone poultry. LOVES to watch me dice vegetables and always-always helps when she can. Cook with the kids. How else will they learn?
 Luckily she got a head start, her Mom; my sister-in-law Yvette was taught by her mother and has some serious game in the kitchen.

This was all Brynn's idea. She learned how to make butter from scratch in school and was so very-very eager to tell me all about it. I thought it would make a great story so here we are.

This is really fun to make with kids. Feed them a sugary cereal for breakfast for energy and let them go NUTS.

The yield from cream to butter is roughly half as much cream as you start with. I started with 32 ounces so we got about a pound of butter. It's just super the way it is but I included some compound butter ideas. There is some technical information along the way but it's almost foolproof.

No I didn't MAKE her shake all the cream, only half. I used my kitchen-aid mixer, duhh.

Fresh whole cream. Pour it into a glass jar with a tight lid and have a kid shake it. SHAKE SHAKE SHAKE..SHAKE YOUR BOOTIE, SHAKE YOUR BOOTIE.
Brynn is all focused..

Agitating whole cream gets those fat molecules to start sticking together. It takes some time. Be patient.


Pour cream into the bowl of a counter top mixer. Use the whisk attachment. The cream goes through 3 stages before it turns into butter. 

it starts to thicken 

On a lower speed start whipping the cream until it begins to thicken. Then turn up the speed. It's almost whipped cream but much softer. In fact it's called "soft-peak"

whipped cream

Just keep going. You will start to recognize our dear friend whipped cream. This is the "stiff-peak" stage. 
After a little time you'll notice a slight color shift. It starts to turn a pale yellow. This is the indicator that the butter fat is starting to clump together and moving toward our finished product. 

Keep your eye on it. When you start seeing a watery-milky liquid forming and clumpy yellow stuff sticking to the whisk  SLOW your roll down to a slower speed to keep from splattering. It's the buttermilk separating out and it means we're almost done. 

Hopefully you have a very helpful assistant like I have and they can get you a large bowl of ice and water.
 Remove the mixer bowl and over a large container pour out the contents and separate the butter from the buttermilk through a strainer.
it really is that easy
DO NOT DO NOT throw away the buttermilk (the stuff left over) jar it and use it to make pancakes, soda bread, biscuits. A word of advice. The buttermilk you made is NOT THE SAME as the store bought stuff. Yours has a higher fat ratio and isn't as acidic. If you like, add a drop or two of white vinegar before you put it away and that'll make it even better. 

Hey remember when I mentioned a large bowl of ice and water? It's coming in handy right about now. 
WITHOUT squishing any butter through the strainer. Soak and wet your hands in the ice water and gather up all those butter chunks. Put them in the water and start to squish them together. The water will get milky and that's ok. Continue kneading the butter, if your water gets really milky just change it out and keep going. If you don't do this step it's fine. Your butter will still taste good it just won't last as long. Again, the ratio is we started with 32oz cream from that we got one pound butter and 16oz of buttermilk. Pretty good return. 
Put your butter in a small plastic container and keep it in the 'fridge. You can also freeze it if you aren't using it soon. Fat freezes really well. The buttermilk you can keep in a tight sealing jar in the fridge. Since we removed the fat it'll keep for a long while. 

A few words about salt. Most butter you see in the store has added salt. That's just dandy. I got no problem with salted butter. It adds a dimension of savoriness that you'd miss if you wanted it on your toast. HOWEVER, unsalted butter is terrific for any baking needs. The ratio for salted butter is 1/4 tsp for every 4 oz of butter. 

It's butter you added stuff to. It can be sweet or savory. Terrific on top a Fillet-Mignon, melted on Artichoke, a dollop on a fine fillet of Sea-Bass makes everyone believe you spent your summer vacation working in a French bistro. A list of bitchin' stuff you can add. Use wisely. Just mix it into soft butter. 
Some regular. Orange-honey butter* and Shallot, herbs. *

Maytag or Shropshire bleu cheese. Use on top a seared beef-steak. 
Minced shallot, salt, lemon peel and herbs like rosemary, parsley, thyme. Use on beef or pork. *
Lemon peel and minced chives. Terrific on fish. 
Minced orange peel and honey. On fish or just smeared on bread. *
Grated lime-peel and grated fresh ginger. Use on fish for an Asian accent
Cinnamon-sugar and Tabasco. Melted onto popcorn. 
Minced garlic and grated Parmesan. Also really fantastic on popcorn but even better melted into warm ravioli or tortellini. 
Grated lemon peel, Tabasco and minced garlic. Shrimp, wrap in foil. Figure it out. 
Minced tarragon and shallot, super on fish
There are millions of combinations. Use your imagination. 

Here's what I hope you take away from today. Let the kids help you in the kitchen. Someday they will be the adults and will treasure the memories you gave them. Someday maybe, they will share beloved memories of time spent in the kitchen with you. I hope so. 
I love you little BOO

We are cooking poor but eating rich.
 Go get your grub on.

Monday, January 2, 2012

Pasta e Fagioli (Pasta fajzool) 2012

 In the late part of the 1800's in Prescott, Arizona a young man had just graduated from High School and would later in life become one of the most dynamic and respected mayors in American history. I'm speaking of course of Fiorello LaGuardia.
 Why do I bring this up? He lived through rough times. Rougher than we have it now. He was mayor of New York City during the Great Depression and World War II.
 He cooked poor and ate rich. Here's a quote from his city's newspaper from January 1945.
"A beans and macaroni dish. Scorned by the well-to-do, loved by the poor is healthful and economical."
 He was convinced to publish his wife's recipe. It's legendary.
It's an old tradition to serve beans early in the new year. Here's my recipe for that wonderful stew-like dish of simple ingredients combined and elevated to high honor. Best wishes to you all in 2012.

As an added bonus, how to make chicken stock.

Chicken bones, mirepoix, bay-leaf and parsley stems
 I've mentioned before that you should always save chicken bones to make chicken stock.  Remove wing tips, backs, thigh bones. Save in bags in your freezer, they always come in handy. Today I used up all my frozen stock so I grabbed stuff out of the freezer and 'fridge and made more. If you can boil water, you can make chicken stock. All you need are raw chicken bones (tip, remove any scrap of liver along backs, seriously) mirepoix pronounced meer-pwah (2 part onion, one part celery and carrot, scrap pieces are just dandy), bay leaf and whole pepper corns.
Add cold water to cover, bring to boil slowly.
 As it gets close to a boil you'll notice a yucky, brown , foamy, clump of stuff gather on the surface.
Look at the side of my pot. Remove as much as you can

 It's Albumin protein and it's actually helping you. It binds with any foul and dirty particles still attached to it and now you can remove it. Use a sharp-sided spoon or ladle and send all that scum into the sewer.
 Bring everything to a gentle boil and take back down to simmer. DO NOT DO NOT hard boil your stock, it makes a gross mass of yuck.
strain and reserve

 Once all the vegetables are cooked clear, pour through a strainer and throw away all the solid parts. Freeze stock in plastic containers. It comes in handy.

Chef Nick's Pasta e Fagioli

1 pound dried white beans.
1 can drained and rinsed garbanzo beans. I looked for dried but was unsuccessful.
1 pound dry small pasta
2 medium carrots, small dice
2 ribs celery, small dice
2 large yellow onions, small dice
3-4 slices Bacon cut into chunks
one Zucchini, medium dice
one yellow crook-neck squash, medium dice
2-3 dried Bay-leaf
1 tsp chopped fresh Rosemary
1/4 cup dried Oregano
a good tug of fresh Parsley, chopped
2 TB Tomato paste
half bottle of dry white wine
chicken stock
1 pound of mild Italian sausage. Slice into chunks and cook off separately, set aside for now
Kosher salt and fresh cracked black pepper

Dump the dried beans into a colander and wash thoroughly under cold water. Remove any stones or weird shaped beans

In a large pot cover beans with cold water and bring to a solid boil, remove from heat and let sit for at least 40 minutes.
In the meantime:

cook off the sausage, slice into 1/2 inch chunks, use a small pan, remove and set aside for now.

On a large cutting board gather your carrots, celery, garlic and onion. Grab a sharp knife, slice and dice. Small dice bitches.

Alongside chop up your bacon. The Italians call this a Battuto. It's the base for most soups and sauces.
knife skills

Keep chopping up this mess, use the flat side of the blade to gather up and chop again until it looks like this:

Heat up a large, deep pot. Once hot, add a drizzle of olive oil and then the battuto with a big pinch of salt and pepper. Sweat thru. Add dried Oregano and Bay-leaf. 

Add the Tomato paste and toss around until it starts smelling sweet. 

add all the beans, toss around until hot and then pour in the wine. 
keep stirring like crazy

Add enough chicken stock to cover everything by at least 2 inches. Bring back to a boil and add all squash. 

Bring up to simmer for an hour or so. Check beans by grabbing one with a spoon and smearing it between your fingers. If it spreads like peanut-butter with no resistance, it's done. Add the sausage. 

Bring back to a gentle boil and add the pasta

Once cooked through, serve up and eat up. Garnish with some grated Asiago or Parmesan. True stick to your ribs food. 

For 2012. I pray all of you much joy and good-fortune

Go get your grub on.