Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Green Peppercorns ~ Poivre Vert

'Madagascar Green Peppercorns' by Moulin
'Green Peppercorns' are the unripe berries of a tropical, flowering, vine plant, Piper Nigrum. Because they are perishable, they are usually freeze dried, preserved in brine or pickled in vinegar. The harvested green peppercorns are packed in brine, vinegar, or salt soon after they're picked. They are mild and soft and can be eaten whole. In dried form, they don't last very long and must be used quickly.

They are true, unripe, black peppercorns, the same berries are processed to make black pepper. Green peppercorns have a milder, much suppressed pepper flavor but are more complex and fresh flavored than their black counterparts. In their various preserved forms, green peppercorns are popular in French, Thai, and other Southeast Asian cuisines.

Not all brands have the same quality and texture. I have found some packed in small glass jars, sold in grocery stores, that have a firm texture and unpleasant mouth feel. My preferred brand is in the photo, called 'Madagascar Green Peppercorns' by Moulin, a product of France. They are found in tins, available in 2 sizes; 71ml and 212ml. These small tins are a great stocking stuffer for foodie friends and family. They are delicious added to sauces and gravies for meatloaf, tourtierre, roast meats or turkey. To use them in my Gluten-Free Gravy recipe; after whisking in the brown rice flour and simmering for 15-20 minutes, strain the gravy, add the drained green peppercorns then serve immediately. Discard the brine -- do not cook the gravy after the green peppercorns are added.
Gluten-Free Green Peppercorn Gravy, Braised Red
  Cabbage, Steamed Broccoli, Hasselback Sweet Potato

You can find 'Madagascar Green Peppercorns by Moulin' at Runge's Imports and Delicatessen, 347-4th Street, Courtenay.  

There is no substitute for green peppercorns in brine. A substitute for dried green peppercorns are pink peppercorns which aren't true peppercorns, but they have a very mild, peppery flavor.

Till next time... thank you for your support and encouraging comments!
Season's Greetings, Merry Christmas, Happy New Year and Bon Appétit! 

Photos by Sally Rae

Saturday, December 17, 2016

Winter Veg with Fruity Vinaigrette

Another traditional side dish for the holidays is winter squash, in various preparation... baked, mashed, roasted etc. The braised recipe below with added kale, mushrooms and a fruity vinaigrette is a colorful addition for your Christmas Dinner Menu. It is a hearty, almost zero mile dish with winter squash stored from your summer garden harvest and fresh kale from the winter garden.  
As for harvesting your winter kale... the hardy leaves of kale will freeze solid in temperatures of -5C. If the leaves are frozen solid, wait until the weather has warmed up and the leaves have thawed out before you harvest. When it is safe to harvest, pick the outer leaves first. They are less hardy than the younger leaves in the center of the plant.

For variety of the fruit vinaigrette, there are a few local Oil and Vinegar Tasting rooms in the Comox Valley. If you have not tried this new specialty, go with a few girlfriends and guaranteed you will leave with some new favorite flavors and a few Christmas gifts for the foodies on your list. I have gathered a good selection from 'Signature Oil and Vinegar' near the new Thrifty Foods. My favorite two Olive Oils are: Butter and Whole Fruit Lemon. As for the vinegar; I can't live without Blackberry-Ginger Dark Balsamic, and the White Balsamic Cranberry Pear and White Balsamic Coconut are good enough to drink! The helpful staff will guide you through tasting and choosing flavors that appeal to individual taste, usage and preference. I started with 8 different flavors in 60ml bottles and graduated to purchasing the 200ml size of my favorites. 
'Signature Oil and Vinegar' is now located in the Crown Isle Shopping Centre at 207B - 444 Lerwick Road Courtenay and Tyee Plaza, Shoppers Row in Campbell River.
My current collection from 'Signature Oil and Vinegar'
There is a wide variety of fruit infused vinegar and oils available. Substitute your favorites in the vinaigrette.
The Fruity Vinaigrette:
2 1/2 Tbsp. seedless raspberry or blackberry jam
2 Tbsp. Raspberry or Blackberry-Ginger Dark Balsamic vinegar (or red wine vinegar)
2 tsp. Dijon mustard
2-3 Tbsp. Whole Fruit Lemon Olive Oil (or extra-virgin olive oil)
1/4 tsp. granulated garlic
Sea salt
Freshly ground pepper

Whisk together the jam, vinegar and mustard until smooth. Add olive oil, garlic, salt and pepper, whisk again. Taste and adjust seasoning. Refrigerate in a jar, stir before using. This can be made a few days ahead of time.

The Veg:
6 large, organic, crimini mushrooms -cleaned and cut into chunks
1 medium white onion -large dice
3-4 Tbsp. butter or Butter Olive Oil (or extra-virgin olive oil) -divided
3 cups peeled -cubed Ambercup or Buttercup squash
A bunch of fresh garden kale
1/2 cup whole, roasted pecans

Strip the kale leaves off the stems and slice into strips about 1/2 inch wide, set aside. Chop the kale stems into 1/2 inch long bits, keep separate from the leaves.
In a medium sauté pan, melt half of the butter, add diced onion and mushrooms. Sauté over medium heat until lightly browned, remove from the pan and set aside. 

Melt the remaining butter in the pan and add the squash cubes and kale stems. Quickly brown the squash lightly, turn the heat to medium/low, add the kale leaves, cover the pan and braise for about 8 minutes or until the squash is cooked through but not mushy. Check it every few minutes. Add the cooked mushroom mixture and drizzle with about half to two thirds of the vinaigrette. Mix and taste, add more dressing for desired flavor. Serve the remaining vinaigrette on the side. Sprinkle with pecans. Serve warm immediately. 

Till next time... Bon Appétit!

Recipe and Photo by Sally Rae

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Hasselback Sweet Potatoes

Sweet Potatoes are a traditional side dish for Thanksgiving and Christmas. In a previous Blog, 'Sweet Potato or Yam?', I wrote about the different colors of these tubers and history of the term 'yam'. I have added a new 'Label' for 'Sweet Potato' to my Blog. Click on the label for a quick reference... from recipes all the way to DIY slips and information on growing them.

Hasselback potatoes are commonly prepared using white fleshed potatoes. For anyone avoiding the nightshade family this is a delicious substitute. You may even find you prefer this easy, sweet and crispy version instead!

Use 2 wooden spoon handles

Use the dark orange flesh variety of sweet potato. They remain moist and sweet when baked. 
If you are not confident in your knife skills, use either two chop sticks or the handles of two wooden spoons to prevent slicing completely through. I have heard specialty kitchen shops sell a gadget for cutting hasselback potatoes but these methods will work just fine. 

Sweet and moist on the inside and crispy on the outside. These sweet potatoes are the perfect side to serve at any festive occasion!

4 medium sweet potatoes
1-1/2 Tbsp. unsalted butter, melted
2 tsp. olive oil
1 tsp. minced fresh thyme 
1/2 tsp. granulated garlic
1/4 tsp. sea salt

1/4 tsp. freshly ground black pepper 
Preheat the oven to 425 F. Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil. Make a series of 1/8-inch slices along each potato, slicing 2/3 of the way through. (*See notes above using wooden spoon handles or chop sticks as a guide.)
Stir together the melted butter, oil, thyme, garlic, salt and pepper in a small bowl. Rub the potatoes all over with the mixture, getting in between the slices.
Place on the baking sheet and roast until the center of the potatoes are tender and the outside is crisp, 50 minutes to 1 hour. 

Halfway through the roasting time, remove the potatoes from the oven and run a fork gently across the tops of the potatoes, using light pressure, to fan the slices and separate them from one another. 

Till next time... Bon Appétit!

Roasted Hasselback Sweet Potato

Photos and Recipe by Sally Rae 

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Gluten-Free, Fat-Free Gravy

Brown Rice Flour
There is an easy, gluten-free solution to making a silky, thick gravy ... brown rice flour! What's even more attractive is it can also be fat free.  

Wheat flour is commonly used to thicken soups, sauces and gravies by incorporating in the form of a roux (flour and fat) or a slurry (flour and a liquid). With the increased attitude towards wheat and avoiding it, substitutes don't always deliver a satisfactory result. Not so with thickening soups, sauces and gravy using Brown Rice Flour. Holiday turkey dinners at my house are always accompanied by a large, 4 liter  pot of brown rice flour thickened gravy. After the meal when I reveal my 'secret', not one guest has ever said they could tell something was different.

Unlike wheat flour or starches, brown rice flour is incorporated into boiling liquid a little at a time with constant whisking. Once incorporated, the gravy, soup or sauce must be moved to a low heat burner and simmered, partially covered for 15-20 minutes... stir or whisk occasionally. This cooks off the 'grainy' texture, characteristic of rice flour. Strain to remove any lumps. Rice flour, especially when used in larger amounts, dilutes seasoning. It is a good habit to always taste and adjust your seasoning before serving.

Brown Rice Flour can be found in bulk at 'The Bulk Barn' and most grocery stores packaged under the 'Bob's Red Mill' brand. Also found in larger packages at 'Edible Island', 'Naked Naturals' and all health food stores. 

Brown rice flour is a gluten-free alternative to thickening gravy with roux. For a fat-free version, skim and remove all fat from the stock and pan drippings. It is important to simmer the gravy for 15-20 minutes after the addition of the rice flour, to cook off the ‘grainy’ texture.  

1 cup flavorful chicken stock 
Pan drippings 
3 to 4 Tbsp. brown rice flour 
Seasonings... granulated garlic, minced herbs, freshly ground pepper, sea salt, Worcestershire sauce, bouillon powder or cubes, tamari etc.

Deglaze the roasting pan with some of the stock. Strain into a small saucepan, add the remaining stock and desired seasonings. For fat-free gravy, skim and remove all fat from the stock and drippings then bring to a rolling boil. With a wire whisk, add brown rice flour slowly, while whisking vigorously. If you want thicker gravy, add a little more rice flour in the same manner. 
Move the pot to another burner set to low heat, partially cover and allow to just simmer slowly for 15-20 minutes, stir occasionally. Taste and adjust seasonings. Strain and serve. 

**CHEF'S NOTE: to thicken soups, gravies and other sauces; use a ratio of 2-3 Tbsp. per cup of liquid. Unlike other thickeners, the liquid will thicken while whisking in the rice flour. Stop adding when you feel your soup is thick enough. If after simmering, if the soup is too thick, use more stock to bring it to the proper consistency. With experience, you will become accustom to the ratio required to achieve consistency you prefer. 

Till next time... Bon Appétit!

Recipe and Photo by Sally Rae