Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Host a Cookie Swap Party

This is the perfect time of year to plan a 'Cookie Swap Party' with your friends. Here is how it works... 
Invite a group of friends, family, colleagues or neighbors to each make big batches of one of their favorite holiday cookies. Make sure they RSVP so you know how many cookies to bake. Have each guest pre-bake a dozen cookies for each person attending to take home with them, plus an extra dozen to taste. Have your guests bring large containers for their cookies. Then gather in your kitchen to swap and sample the cache. Wrap up the afternoon or evening with wine, cheese and a chat. 

Gingerbread Boys, Girls and Reindeer
*recipe page 267 'For the Love of Food'


* Always use room temperature butter as it produces a smoother, lighter dough. 
* Beat butter and sugar together well. You can’t overdo it at this point. 
* The biggest mistake beginner bakers make is over beating cookie dough. Don’t over mix the completed dough. Simply stir with a wooden spoon until blended. 
* If the dough seems too stiff or crumbly when forming cookies, stir in a couple tablespoons of milk, a small amount at a time. 
* Preheat the oven for 10-15 minutes to reach baking temperature before beginning to bake. 
* Test your recipe by baking 2 cookies before putting a full cookie sheet in the oven. If cookies spread out too thinly, the oven temperature may be too low or you may need to stir more flour into the dough. 
* Use cool baking sheets. Hot sheets will cause fat in the dough to melt before baking, resulting in flat cookies. To cool between batches, run cold water over sheet bottoms or pop them in the freezer for a few minutes.
* Always bake cookies in center of the oven. If baked on the bottom rack you may burn the bottom before the cookie is thoroughly baked. 
* Remove cookies from sheets with a metal spatula. If cookies remain on the sheets for too long, they may harden and stick. Should this occur, put sheets back in the oven for one minute. Better yet, line cookie sheets with parchment paper that can be re-used numerous times until it darkens in color.
* Cool cookies completely in a single layer before stacking and storing. Cooling cookies on wire racks allows air to circulate around them; steam evaporates and prevents the cookies from becoming soggy.  

Till next week, Happy Baking and Bon Appétit!

Gingerbread Cookies by Sally Rae
Photo by Elizabeth Williams 

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Fast Freezer Meals ~ Turkey Burritos

With a busy life style, it's convenient to have a supply of ready-to-eat meals in the freezer. A quick solution for lunch, after work or at the end of a long day off Island. Frozen burritos are a favorite, but it is difficult to find them without night shades on the ingredient list... tomato products and peppers are common.

I have solved that problem for my family by making a big batch of filling with all our favorite flavors. The burritos are then prepared in assembly-line style. Each burrito is wrapped in *parchment or wax paper, then frozen on a bake sheet. Once frozen, reuse the zip bag that the tortilla wraps came in, mark it with the date, ingredients and any other info you may need. Pack the burritos, zip the bag and freeze. Need a quick meal? No need to defrost, pop them in the oven for about an hour or microwave for 2 minutes. 
*Chef's Tip ~the benefits of using parchment paper, is that the burrito can be baked in the oven or heated in the microwave while still wrapped.

With homemade freezer meals, you can substitute and adjust the ingredients to accommodate special diets and individual taste. You also have control of the quality of ingredients used.
These are a staple in my freezer, substitute what you like and add those nightshades if you can tolerate them!  

TURKEY and VEGETABLE BURRITOS     Yield: 12 large burritos
You will need a large sauté pan and a bowl large enough to hold 12 cups of filling with room to easily mix as ingredients are added. Clear and wipe down a counter space large enough to spread out 12 tortilla shells. If you are unsure of how fast you can assemble and roll the burritos, divide all ingredients into 2 batches. 

*1/2 small winter squash (2 cups cooked) 
Optional seasonings; cumin, chili powder, Pimenton (smoked paprika) 
*3/4 cup short grain brown rice (1-1/2 cups cooked)
2-3 Tbsp. olive oil 
1 large onion, diced
1/4 small green cabbage, shredded
1-2 Tbsp. butter
1 lb. mushrooms, clean and slice
1 lb. ground turkey meat  
1 pkg. Taco Seasoning Mix (or make your own)

1 (12 oz) can corn niblets, drain
1 (19 oz) can black beans, drain and rinse
Sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper 

12-14 large Dempster's Ancient Grains tortilla wraps
500g shredded Nacho cheese
2 avocados (2-3 slices per burrito)
Burrito Assembly Line ~ Work quickly

Greek Yogurt

*Chef's Note ~the winter squash and rice can be cooked, cooled, covered and stored in the fridge the day before assembly.
Peel, remove seeds and dice the squash into small, 1/2" cubes. Place in a shallow pan with a drizzle of olive oil, season with salt and pepper (optional seasonings can be used) and roast at 425F for 20-30 minutes. Remove from oven and set aside to cool. Cook rice, set aside to cool.

Heat a tablespoon of olive oil in the large sauté pan and add onion, cook until transparent but not brown. Add cabbage and cook until softened, add a bit of water if needed. Season with salt and pepper, place in the large bowl and set aside.

In the same pan, melt a tablespoon of butter. Sauté mushrooms, cook until they release most of their moisture. Remove from pan and add to the big bowl with cabbage, set aside.

Heat a tablespoon of olive oil in the same sauté pan. Add ground turkey,
cook through. Season with Taco Seasoning Mix and mix well.

To the big bowl with cabbage and mushrooms add; cooked turkey, cooked squash and rice, drained corn and black beans. Mix well and taste, adjust seasoning if needed. 

Work quickly... the burrito skins will dry out if left on the counter for too long, making them difficult to wrap. Have all ingredients ready to use then lay out the wraps assembly-line style.

Dish three #20 scoops (about one cup) onto each wrap, add a small handful of cheese and 2-3 slices avocado. Test one first, if it is too difficult to wrap, reduce the filling a bit. You will have smaller burritos but a higher yield. 
Wrap individual burritos and freeze
Fold the sides over about an inch, then from one end, roll up tightly. Wrap individually in parchment or wax paper and freeze on a bake sheet. When frozen, pack in the now empty tortilla bag. Write the date, ingredients and any other info required on the bag and freeze.

Preheat oven to 350F. Place frozen burrito in an ovenproof dish and bake for 1 hour. Alternately, microwave on a plate for 1 minute, turn over and microwave another minute. Sprinkle and melt more shredded cheese over top if desired. Serve with Greek yogurt, guacamole and/or salsa if desired.

Till next week... Bon Appétit! 

Recipe and photos by Sally Rae

Thursday, November 5, 2015

The Right Knife For The Job

One of the most basic but important hand tools for any Chef is the knife. A quality knife, matched to the task at hand can increase productivity and provide superior results. With such a wide variety of knives available, it is sometimes difficult to decide which is best. Each knife has a specific use and it is important to use each piece only for its intended purpose.

Most commercial kitchens aren't full of high end, expensive knives but rather the more economical, stamped blade construction. These commercial kitchens will probably produce more food in a day than you will in three months and they manage to slice and dice in a fast paced environment - all the while keeping their knives sharp. Quality, commercial grade knives can be affordable ($40-60), if you don't need a forged blade which will cost up to $200 or more. There are many brands of commercial knives on the market. Woodgrove Center in Nanaimo has a 'House of Knives' store where you can see and feel different manufacturers, styles of knives and price range. A higher price does not mean the best knife... 'Cooks Illustrated' has held the Victorinox Forschner Fibrox 8" Chef's Knife as their "favorite inexpensive chef's knife" since well before 2009, and I agree!

My personal preference of knives (for professional and home use) are the lighter, stamped blade with a wooden handle and no bolster, made by 'Victorinox' (makers of the original Swiss Army Knife). Their 8" French Knife easily served me through an 8 hour shift in commercial kitchens. However, I have a 35 year old, Victorinox 10" Serrated French Knife that is my go-to, work horse for heavy cutting jobs! 

The bottom line in choosing a knife is subjective to the user; different makes, blade lengths, construction and materials for balance, comfort and size in the hand, how you hold the blade and knife skills must all be considered. And remember, there is no one perfect knife for everything. If you are considering giving a professional knife as a gift this season, may I suggest a Gift Certificate or a surprise visit to The House of Knives for the user to choose, based on the criteria listed above.

Types of Knife Edges
There are four common types of blade edges available on commercial knives...
Straight, Granton, Serrated Edge
  1. Straight Edge sometimes called flat ground is the most common and is formed by grinding the blade in a straight line so it tapers to form a razor sharp edge.
  2. Granton Edge Knives feature hollowed out sections running along both sides of the blade. These 'dimples' create air pockets between the knife and food while slicing for reduced friction and suction. This decreases prep time when slicing and cutting because foods slide easier off the blade without binding or sticking. When slicing meat, the grooves fill with fat and juices which permits more contact between the meat and blade.
  3. Serrated Edge Knives may also be referred to as wavy or scalloped edge. They feature teeth along the blade edge which easily penetrates the tough outer crust or skin of the product product being cut while protecting the soft, inner part form tearing. Ideal for cutting bread and fruit.
  4. Hollow Ground Edge is created by grinding just below the midpoint of the blade to form concave sides that come to a very thin cutting edge. Since this edge is so thin, it is easily dulled. Hollow Ground edges are ideal for fine cutting such as skinning, preparing sushi or peeling and slicing fruits. (not in photo)
Types of Knife Handles
There are three different handle options available; wood, stainless steel and plastic. All knife handles are ergonomically shaped to fit the contours of a person's closed fist, reducing hand, wrist and forearm strain.
  1. Wood Handles are arguably the most attractive and provide the best grip out of all handle types. However, they can crack and fall apart if not properly maintained and are prone to bacterial contamination.
  2. Stainless Steel Handles are virtually maintenance free and give the knife extra weight to counterbalance a heavier blade. However, they can become slippery when wet or during use.
  3. Plastic or Composite Handles are the most popular knife handle and are available in color coded sets to help reduce the risk of cross contamination... red for meat, blue for fish, yellow-poultry, green-vegetables, white-dairy. However, they can crack over time and they can become slippery when wet or during use. 
Because of their shape, edge or blade length, certain knives are best suited for certain tasks. Knowing which knife to use for every job and how to use it will make prep work safer, faster and easier. It will also show in the dishes you prepare. Foods that are cut uniformly cook evenly, look more professional and are pleasing to the eye.

French, Chef's or Cook's Knife is one of the most commonly used, versatile knives in a commercial kitchen. Available in sizes ranging from  6" to 14" (8" to 12" is most popular). The French Knife features a wide blade with symmetrical sides that taper to a point. It is used for a wide range of tasks such as chopping, slicing and mincing. (Photo below; the top three knives are French Knives; first is a Serrated 10" French Knife with a wooden handle, no bolster, hands down my favorite knife for heavy tasks! Next is a Straight Edge 10" French Knife with a wooden handle, no bolster; my favorite all round work horse. Below that is a Straight Edge 8" French Knife with a plastic handle, no bolster... notice part of the plastic handle has broken off exposing the tang (the metal that runs through the handle) rendering this knife awkward and unsafe to use.
Paring Knives rate second in versatility after a French Knife in a commercial kitchen. There are several common styles: 
Spear Point Paring Knives are great for removing corn from the cob, breaking up heads of cauliflower, peeling and slicing small produce, removing stems and other small precision cutting tasks. (Photo, with red plastic handle just below 8" French Knife)
Sheep's Foot Paring Knives feature a blunt blade tip that maximizes contact between the food and the blade. These knives are used to slice small foods like shallots and garlic. (Red plastic handle, center paring knife in photo.)
Serrated Edge Paring Knife also called wavy edge parer is used primarily to slice small small fruits and vegetables. (Red plastic handle, bottom paring knife in photo.)
Bird's Beak or curved paring knives also referred to as tourne knives feature a downward arching blade that makes peeling round fruit and garnishing a breeze.(not in photo)

Santoku Knife is an all purpose knife best suited for slicing, dicing and mincing. This knife can be used for the same functions as a Chef's Knife. (Photo; Granton Edge 7" Santoku with blue plastic handle and smaller Granton Edge 5" Santoku with stainless steel collar bolster.) The 5" Granton Edge Santoku is great for cutting up mango, slicing tomatoes, cucumbers and sushi prep.
Slicing Knife features a long, straight blade designed for slicing cooked meats, sushi and sashimi, and breaking down large fish. Generally longer than a carving knife and often feature a Granton Edge and a round, blunt tip. The long, thin blade promotes maximum contact between the food and the blade, for producing very thin slices.(Photo; Straight Edge 12" Slicing Knife with Fibrox plastic handle.)

Bread Knives may have a straight or slightly curved blade and are available in a variety of sizes from 7" to 10". They have a serrated edge that is ideal for bread and hard rind fruits.
(Photo; Serrated Edge 10" Bread Knife with Fibrox plastic handle.)

Boning Knife is a type of meat knife that is available with flexible, semi-flexible or stiff blades ranging from 3" to 8" and are used to separate meat from bone. Flexible blades are typically used by experienced butchers for boning roasts, whole hams, filleting fish etc. Semi-flexible blades allow for enough bend to keep the edge close to the bone. Stiff blades are perfect for making precise, straight cuts and are also great for jointing. (Photo; Straight Edge 5" Stiff Blade Boning Knife with Fibrox plastic handle.)

Cimeter Knife is similar to a butcher knife and is primarily used to break down large pieces of meat into smaller cuts. The blades are usually around 10" and are curved to create leverage to break through tough skin, cartilage and small bones and trimming fat off meat. Also an excellent knife for slicing roasts, turkey and more. (Photo; Straight Edge 10" Cimeter Knife with Fibrox plastic handle.)

Sharpening Steels are made from a high carbon steel which is much harder than that used for knife blades. (Photo; 14" steel with coarse grooves) A steel acts as a file removing burrs from the knife's edge. (An Oilstone, not shown, is used to hone the knifes edge to keep them really sharp.) The finer the steel is, the gentler the action. For efficiency the blade of a steel should be longer than the knife blade. A 10-12" butcher's steel with fairly coarse grooves is a good kitchen tool. 

Forged vs Stamped Knives
Every commercial knife is constructed using one of two methods; forging or stamping.
  1. Forging is a steel shaping method that has been used for hundreds of years. The process starts with a metal bar also called a billet or blank. The bar is heated and hammered into the desired shape. Modern forges use a hydraulic hammer press to pound the steel into a die or mold. This produces a thicker, heavier blade than stamping and has a bolster between the heel and handle. They are considered superior in strength and balance and are therefore more expensive than stamped knives.
  2. Stamped knives are created by passing a steel sheet under a hydraulic press. This press cuts the desired shape out of the metal, similar to how a cookie cutter cuts shapes in dough. The resulting blade is thinner and lighter than forged and do not have a bolster and are less expensive than forged knives.
Types of Knife Steel 
There are three types of alloys (metal mixtures) used to create commercial knives.
  1. Carbon Steel is the most common for commercial use. Its high carbon content makes the blade strong and easy to sharpen. However, it is not stain resistant and can become discolored if not properly maintained.
  2. Stainless Steel produces brittle blades that do not hold an edge very well and are difficult to sharpen. 
  3. High Carbon Stainless Steel produces blades that are strong and easy to sharpen. Although the most expensive steel type, it is sought after by those who want an easy to maintain kitchen knife. The blades will remain lustrous and stain resistant.
Till next week, Bon Appétit!

Photos by Sally Rae