Wednesday, 28 October 2015

The Drink of Tomorrow [The Achewood Cookbook]

Is it a good or bad sign when a recipe needs a diagram?

Yeah! A space drink! The diagram instantly caught my eye - I like the retro-futuristic marshmallow structure like a little 50s satellite. It seems like a pretty straightforward recipe - basically a vodka tonic with some colour and a fun garnish.

Cookbook Recipe:

I'm not mixing top shelf with marshmallows.
  • 2 shots vodka
  • 4 shots tonic
  • 1/2 shot blue curacao
  • 3 red toothpicks (I did find coloured toothpicks, but they're pale. Still technically red, for whatever that adds to the drink.)
  • 7 small marshmallows
Following the cookbook recipe exactly:

1. Assemble the marshmallow array. Stick the three toothpicks through the centre marshmallow and then top them with the other marshmallows. (The diagram above helps.) Place in the freezer for 1 hour.

 No regrets.

2. Make sure the liquids are all chilled, and mix them together. The recipe suggests an "old-fashioned crystal tumbler" - I went for the necessary substitute of a cheap souvenir tumbler from Newfoundland.

3. Drop the marshmallow structure into the drink and serve immediately.

The Outcome:

I'm basically living Star Trek now.

I'm a little hamstrung here since I'm not really a tonic fan, but yeah, this is a fun vodka tonic. The curacao gives colour and a touch of flavour but doesn't overwhelm. I really like the marshmallow topping, though I don't think the freezing did much - the marshmallows thaw and go soft very quickly. If I was to remake this, I'd use soda water instead, but that's just personal preference. Since I've now got all these marshmallows and curacao, I can make retro-future drinks out of pretty much anything now!

Monday, 26 October 2015

Perfect Deviled Eggs Every Time [The Achewood Cookbook]

Spoiler: "perfect"

First up from the Achewood Cookbook is "Perfect Deviled Eggs Every Time" by the Roast Beef, a depressive cat. This recipe looks pretty straightforward, like a basic solid deviled eggs recipe - there's nothing fancy here, and this is emphasized by the dialogue between the character and the editor. The ingredients list has commentary like: "Paprika (this is a fancy ingredient that you could sprinkle on top for color. You definitely don't gotta use it or anything)".

Cookbook Recipe:

  • 6 eggs
  • water
  • 3 tbsp mayonnaise (the cookbook specifically says "real" mayo instead of low fat. It also warns against using the term "mayo")
  • 1 tbsp + 1 tsp yellow mustard
  • 3 tbsp white vinegar
  • paprika
Following the cookbook recipe exactly:

1. The recipe starts with their particular method of hard-boiling the eggs. Cover the eggs with water, bring the pot to a boil, and then remove the pot from heat, cover it, and let it sit for 15 minutes. Run the eggs under cold water for 1 minutes. Peel the eggs. This method isn't the best method for the few reasons - a few of the yolks were a little of the soft side, but more importantly, this method makes it hard to peel off the inner membrane and take all the pieces with it, so after mangling one egg, I made a necessary change of shocking the eggs under cold water a bit longer. Next time I'll stick to my little egg steamer.

Poor mutilated egg.
2. Cut the eggs in half lengthwise. Pop the yolks out into a bowl and set the whites aside. Again, the softer yolks made it a bit trickier to pop them out smoothly, but I got a few clean drops.

3. Mix the yolks with the mustard, mayo, and vinegar until smooth. Another problem here - the recipe calls just to use a spoon, but it proved difficult enough to combine that I had to use a whisk and a lot more elbow grease to get it even moderately smooth.

I don't think it's supposed to be goopy AND chunky.
4. The recipe calls for you to use two spoons to scoop the mixture up and work it into a ball into the whites. However, this yolk mixture turned out almost liquid - way too goopy to form into balls. I did get it into the egg white halves, but it wasn't pretty. I topped the eggs with paprika.

The Outcome:

These....are not perfect. These are actually pretty shitty deviled eggs. The yolk mixture was liquid, and biting into one basically felt like getting kicked in the throat by a bottle of vinegar. I would suggest using only 2 tbsp vinegar, or putting the yolk mix in the fridge before putting it into the whites, or hard-boiling the eggs the way you find best, or just using a different recipe for deviled eggs. Sorry, Beef.

I've placed them in the fridge and hope they firm up and gel the flavours more. I'll report back on how they are after a few hours.

Addendum: Nope, they firmed up a bit but are still massively vinegary. I gotta find a way to salvage these because that's an awful lot of eggs to waste.

Sunday, 25 October 2015

Cookbook Crusher: Recipes for a Lady or a Man: The Achewood Cookbook

This cookbook is a bit obscure, unless you're a webcomics fan. And if you are, you're probably asking yourself "when was there an Achewood cookbook?" Achewood was an absolutely astounding and quietly mad comic by Chris Onstad that has petered out into a quiet death. The cookbook came out in 2003 on a limited run, and I snagged one because I loved the comic. It was a one-off run and they're long out of print, so I'm sure there probably aren't too many of these kicking around. I can't seem to find it for sale online.

This cookbook is written as if it was by the characters, with great in-character commentary. It has a mix of recipes - there are a few drinks, appetizers, and main courses, and it has been carefully crafted to seem like the author solicited these recipes from the characters - the recipes by Philippe, who is five, have the exact corrections and interruptions as if an adult was helping a particularly creative five year old explain a recipe.

He is five.

The recipes are also largely meant to be on the "low brow" scale - one character, Téodor, who has aspirations to be a chef, complains that the author wanted "practical recipes for people who had a limited budget, limited grocery resources and the hand-me-down kitchen equipment of a 22-year-old bachelor". The recipes range from martinis and T-bone steak to the heart-wrenching "Childhood Sandwich" from Roast Beef, who grew up in poverty and depression.

I can`t remember what I spilled on this but I definitely got it good.

I have tried a few recipes from this (you can tell, because I clearly at some point spilled something right smack onto the cookbook). I know the Brined Pork Tenderloin and the Flavor Burgers turn out solidly, but not spectacularly. "A Meditation on Home Fries" does produce tender and flavourful fries. I'm going to try new recipes - ones I haven't tried yet.

However, I may have just hit some of the better recipes, since there is a caveat in the foreword: "These recipes are for real. They are not fancy, they are not visually appealing, and in many case they are not even good. One of the recipes in this book is actually impossible. So happy cooking, everyone. Let me know if any of these work, and maybe I'll try them."

The five recipes tested are
1. Perfect Deviled Eggs Every Time
2. The Drink of Tomorrow
3. Basque Green Bean Salad
4. Toasted Nut Orzo
5. The Dogg is Home

And the verdict is...

Saturday, 24 October 2015

The Outcome: Quick from Scratch Chicken, Turkey & Cornish Hens

So, I've now tried five recipes from Food & Wine Magazine's 1997 Quick from Scratch Chicken, Turkey & Cornish Hens cookbook. I tried to cook them as close to possible to the recipes, so here's the outcome.

The Verdict Is:

Thumbs up, but still going to the used book store. The recipes generally turned out pretty well - you can tell they were definitely created by professionals and tested in a kitchen. There were some tweaks I would have made if I could - using softened butter in the Russian-Style Chicken Cutlets, and a lot more spice in the Spicy Chicken Chili and the Vietnamese Chicken Salad. I'm glad I did the not-quite substitute of using spicy turkey sausage in the Kale and Potato Soup with Turkey Sausage. Largely the lack of spice comes from the age and era of this book - people were starting to get into these flavours, but the general public didn't have as much spice tolerance (they still generally don't here in Canada). The only recipe that really didn't work out was the Cornish Hens with Scallion Butter and Lime, but that was partly my fault for not realizing my new oven was tiny. But generally yeah, these are good solid recipes that can be tweaked and adjusted to your liking and it's a solid cookbook.

So why is it going to the used book store? Mainly because Food & Wine Magazine has uploaded all these recipes to their website, and they're identical down to the blurb at the top and the wine pairings (compare the Russian-Style Chicken Cutlets page). I also tend to not eat a lot of chicken, mainly because it's so dramatically expensive in Canada and because being originally from Alberta, beef is my go-to meat. Turkey is reasonably hard to find outside of Thanksgiving (I just couldn't find turkey cutlets) and for all the hassle of cornish hens, it's probably easier to just roast a chicken.

Friday, 23 October 2015

Kale and Potato Soup with Turkey Sausage [Quick from Scratch Chicken, Turkey & Cornish Hens]

The final recipe from Quick from Scratch's poultry cookbook! I finally got a turkey recipe in - this kale, potato, and turkey sausage soup - it's really hard to find turkey outside of Thanksgiving, but I found what I was looking for. I was originally going to do a different turkey sausage recipe, but it included grits, which are almost impossible to find in Canada - they're just not eaten here. But out here is kale country - between the frost-free winters and the general hippiness of Victoria - there's always huge amounts of locally grown kale. This recipe is basically caldo verde, a traditional Portuguese soup, just with turkey sausage instead of Portuguese sausage.

Cookbook Recipe:

  • 1 tbsp cooking oil
  • 1 lb turkey or chicken sausage (I took the liberty of getting spicy sausage)
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 4 cloves garlic, in thin slices
  • 1 quart water (I had to look up the conversion, it's about 950mL)
  • 2 cups canned low-sodium chicken broth or homemade stock
  • 1 1/2 tsp salt (...for the low-sodium broth.)
  • 1 1/2 lb "boiling potatoes" (I picked up some nice yellow ones), peeled and cut into 1/4 inch pieces
  • Pinch dried red pepper flakes (I made it a generous pinch)
  • 1 lb kale, stems removed, leaves shredded (do you know how much one pound of kale is? Just put as much kale as you can into your arms, and then add more on top)
  • 1/4 tsp fresh-ground black pepper
I am the Kale Queen.

Following the cookbook recipe exactly:

1. In a large pot, heat the oil over a moderately low heat. Add the sausage and cook, turning, until browned - about 10 minutes. This turned out to be not enough time to cook the sausages completely - they were still raw in the centre. However, they do get boiled later.

Definitely still squidgy on the inside
2. Remove the sausages and let cool. Once you can handle them, cut them into slices. The recipe says to pour off all but 1 tbsp of fat, but these sausages didn't really release any - there was still the original tbsp of oil and that was about it.
3. Add the onion to the pot and cook, stirring occasionally, until it's translucent - 5 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for 1 minute more. Add the water, broth, and salt and bring the soup to a boil.

A "pinch" of chili flakes

4. Add the sausage, potatoes, pepper flakes, and bring back to a simmer. Cook, partially covered for 2 minutes.

It better boil down, I'm just saying.

5. Add the kale (it DOES boil down!) and bring back to a boil. Simmer, partially covered, until potatoes are cooked, about 6 minutes. Add the black pepper.

The Outcome:

This is probably the first one that looks close to the cookbook picture. It's pretty tasty! The sausages cooked up just fine in the soup, and the flavours are basic but work well. I'm glad I did the not-quite-substitute of using spicy turkey sausage and being generous on my pinch of chili pepper - if I made it again I would probably put 2 tbsp at least of the chilies into the soup - not enough to make it "spicy", but enough to give it a slight zip. It's a pretty hearty and straightforward recipe and makes a ton of soup.

Tuesday, 20 October 2015

Vietnamese Chicken Salad [Quick From Scratch Chicken, Turkey & Cornish Hens]

What caught my eye with Quick From Scratch's Vietnamese Chicken Salad was the combination of fresh cilantro and mint, plus the inclusion of some reasonably authentic flavours. This is still a westernized recipe (I mean, it's from the 90s), but I think it turned out pretty well.

Cookbook Recipe:

  • 1 1/3 lbs boneless, skinless chicken breasts (about 4 - I got a value pack and stashed the extras in the freezer)
  • 1 cup canned low-sodium chicken broth or homemade stock
  • 4 scallions, including green tops, chopped
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 1/4 lbs green cabbage, shredded (I got lucky at the grocery store, there was only one half-head of cabbage and it weighed that amount exactly)
  • 3 carrots, grated
  • 6 tbsp chopped fresh mint and/or cilantro (the cookbook says you can use one or the other if necessary, but they work great together)
  • 1/4 cup lime juice (2 limes worth)
  • 1/4 cup soy sauce or fish sauce (I went with soy sauce since it was on hand)
  • 4 tsp sugar (that's a lot of sugar)
  • 1/4 tsp red pepper flakes (that's not a lot of pepper flakes)
  • 1/4 cup chopped peanuts
Following the cookbook recipe exactly:

1. Cut each breast into five diagonal pieces. In a saucepan, bring the broth, 1/4 of the scallions, and 1/4 tsp salt. Bring to a simmer, add chicken, stir and cover. The recipe says to cook over a low heat for 5 minutes, but I found a medium heat was needed to make sure the chicken cooked. Turn the heat off and let the chicken steam for 5 minutes. I think this step is also to let it cool down for shredding, but it's still scalding hot when it comes out of the pan. Remove the chicken and shred it.

2. In a large bowl, combine the cabbage, carrots, rest of the scallions, chicken, and 4 tbsp of the mint and cilantro.

3. In a small bowl, whisk the lime juice, soy sauce, sugar, pepper flakes, and 1/4 tsp salt. Toss dressing in with salad. Top with the remaining herbs and the peanuts.

The Outcome:

This is pretty good! The flavours come together pretty well, though I think the lime juice comes through a bit sharp, though I have a feeling it will probably gel better after sitting in the fridge for a bit. While it's not a truly authentic Vietnamese recipe, it does have a lot of Vietnamese flavours, especially with the lime, soy sauce, cilantro, and peanuts. The mint adds some interesting depth, and it's generally a pretty healthy salad too. I could see myself making this again, especially for a potluck.

Of course, as always, it could use more chili.

1/4 tsp for the entire salad. Really.

Saturday, 17 October 2015

Spicy Chicken Chili [Quick from Scratch Chicken, Turkey & Cornish Hens]

I had originally wanted to make this cookbook's Groundnut Stew recipe but for the life of me couldn't find any okra, fresh or frozen, so I flipped the page and came to their Spicy Chicken Chili recipe. I love spicy food, usually peel-your-face off, but my gut instinct is that a recipe from the 90s isn't going to have any punch to it.

Cookbook Recipe:

  • 2 tbsp cooking oil
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 pound skinless chicken thighs, cut into strips (I got them boneless as well)
  • 4 tsp chili powder (this is a pathetic amount of chili powder for a whole pot of chili. If I remake this recipe, it's going to be 4 tbsp)
  • 1 tbsp ground cumin
  • 2 tsp dried oregano
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 2 jalapeno pepper, seeds and ribs removed, chopped (another thing I hate - deseeding peppers. It just makes them less spicy. Again, if cooked again, I'd leave the seeds.)
  • 1 1/2 cups canned crush tomatoes with their juice
  • 2 1/2 cups canned low-sodium chicken broth or homemade stock
  • 1 2/3 cups drained and rinsed pinto beans (I had to substitute romano, but they're extremely similar)
  • 1 2/3 cups drained and rinsed black beans (both these beans are about the amounts in 443ml/15 oz can, but I could only find the larger cans, so I saved the extras)
  • 1/2 tsp fresh ground pepper
  • 1/3 cup chopped cilantro 
Following the cookbook recipe exactly:

1. In a large saucepan, heat the oil over moderately low heat. Sautee the onion and garlic until they start to soften, about 3 minutes.

2. Increase heat to medium, add chicken, cook until no longer pink, about 2 minutes.

3. Stir in the chili powder, cumin, oregano, and salt, then the jalapenos, tomatoes, and broth. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, cover, and simmer for 15 minutes.

4. Stir in beans and pepper, simmer uncovered for another 15 minutes. Top with cilantro.

The Outcome:

Unsurprisingly, this is not spicy. Like, not even a detectable tingle. The other spices are a bit light too, so the tomato flavour is much more dominant than in most chilies. It also has a much soupier consistency. If I was to remake this, I would cut it down to 2 cups of broth, at least an extra tsp or two of cumin, and just go hog wild with the chili powder. It's not bad, it's warm and hearty and easy to make, but it doesn't have zing. I'm going to reheat some of the leftovers later and add some ghost pepper sauce that I have in my fridge - that'll pick it right up!

Wednesday, 14 October 2015

Cornish Hens with Scallion Butter and Lime [Quick From Scratch Chicken, Turkey & Cornish Hens]

The question about this recipe is: did I fuck up or did the cookbook fuck up? The answer is kinda both, but while this second kitchen-tested recipe from the Quick From Scratch Chicken, Turkey & Cornish Hens cookbook wasn't a smashing success, it wasn't a complete disaster either.

The first problem I had was just getting cornish hens - I made the mistake of looking for them the day after (Canadian) Thanksgiving. Three grocery stores were plum out and the local butcher was closed. I managed to wrangle a pair of birds today, and reasonably successfully defrosted them with cold water. The combination of cumin, oregano, and lime really spoke to me in this recipe - they call it a "typical Mexican combination" in the cookbook, though I don't know if this is strictly a Mexican recipe.

Cookbook Recipe:

  • 4 tbsp butter, room temperature (that's a lot of butter.)
  • 1 tsp dried oregano
  • 1 tsp cumin
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • Fresh-ground black pepper
  • 2 cornish hens, 1 1/4 lbs approx each, halved
  • 1 scallion (green onion) including green top, chopped
  • lime wedges
Following the cookbook recipe exactly:

1. Heat the oven to 450 F. Combine 2 tbsp of the butter with the oregano, cumin, 1/4 tsp salt, and 1/4 tsp pepper. As in the Russian-Style Chicken Cutlets recipe, I would have preferred softened butter - maybe what counts as "room temperature" for a Canadian who keeps her house cold is a lot colder than this American cookbook thinks.

2. Rub the mixture on the skin of the hens and arrange them skin side up on a baking sheet. This is where two problems became apparent. The first was that the room temperature butter was so thick it sat like lumps on top of the hens and was impossible to rub over them. The second was my own problem - I just moved into a new place and it seems the baking sheets are too big for my new oven. I switched to a pyrex dish, which meant the hens had to sit more like they were whole and upright instead of spread out.

This is after the attempts at rubbing in.

3. The cookbook says to roast them in the upper third of the oven for 20 minutes, but even if they were spread out, that seems way too short. With them folded back together it took more like 45 minutes. I'd go for using a meat thermometer to test for doneness above what the cookbook says.

Even more butter

4. Combine 2 tbsp butter with the scallion, 1/4 tsp salt, 1/8 tsp pepper. Top the roasted hens with the butter and serve with lime.

The Outcome:

I don't know, I had to edit and substitute enough on this recipe that it's hard to nail it down. The combination of the cumin, lime, scallion, and oregano is really tasty - but you do need to baste the hens after the butter has melted or else you'll end up with dobs of concentrated spice. It's the second butter-heavy recipe from this cookbook, and while that much butter is delicious, I'm just two recipes in and already feeling greasy. I think the final verdict is that it was tasty, but it didn't justify the effort and hassle that went into it.

Saturday, 10 October 2015

Russian-Style Chicken Cutlets [Quick From Scratch Chicken, Turkey & Cornish Hens]

Not as pretty, but it works out in the end.

The first test recipe from the Quick From Scratch Chicken, Turkey & Cornish Hens cookbook is for Russian-Style Chicken Cutlets. The "Russianness" seems to come from the inclusion of dill, but a bit of googling suggests this recipe is based on a Russian dish called "Pozharsky Cutlets" dating back to the 19th century.

The recipe warns that ground chicken can often be "disappointingly dry" and so uses cream and a fair deal of butter to make it moist. Between the half-and-half, the oil, and the butter, this is definitely not a diet dish.

Cookbook Recipe:

  • 2 slices "good-quality" white bread, crusts removed (not sure what constitutes "good-quality", but I got a fresh loaf from the grocery store's in-house bakery)
  • 1/4 cup half-and-half cream
  • 1 lb ground chicken (yes, the special deal was that it was only $5 instead of $7. Yes, chicken is that expensive in Canada.)
  • 1 egg
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp fresh-ground black pepper (the cookbook was very insistent on fresh-ground)
  • 1/2 tsp dried dill
  • 5 tbsp butter, 3 of them at room temperature
  • 1 cup dry bread crumbs
  • 2 tbsp cooking oil
Following the cookbook recipe exactly:

1. Break the bread into pieces and put into a bowl. They didn't specify how big the pieces should be, so I tore it up into moderately small chunks. Soak the bread in the half-and-half until it's absorbed, about 2 minutes.

2. Mix in the chicken, egg, salt, pepper, dill, and the 3 tbsp room temperature butter in with the bread. This is the first issue I had with the recipe - as the room temperature butter hits the cold chicken that you've just taken out of the fridge, it becomes firm and hard to incorporate. You're left with pretty big butter chunks in the chicken mix and you have to work pretty hard to blend them in.

3. Put the mix into the freezer for 10 minutes.


4. The recipe warns you that the chicken will still be "very soft" when taken out of the freezer. Form the mixture into four oval cutlets and coat with breadcrumbs. Heads up that the consistency of the chicken is very weird - it feels like it's about to fall apart, but it's also very sticky. It will definitely form cutlets, but there's no way they'll be as pretty as the picture without using some kind of press or mould.

5. Melt the remaining butter AND the oil in a nonstick frying pan, and cook the cutlets until "golden brown and just done", which is 4 to 5 minutes per side. I had to split it up into two sets of two, since that's all I could fit into my frying pan.

The cookbook suggests a side of sauteed mushrooms, which sounded like a good idea. I deglazed the pan and sauteed the mushrooms with a bit of garlic salt. The wine recommendation was an "uncomplicated red wine", such as a French Beaujolais or a merlot from Trentino in Italy. Since I live in the part of Canada with government liquor stores, I did wrangle a merlot, but they didn't have a Trentino.

The Outcome:

This is pretty good! The weird consistency of the raw chicken cooks up well - the cutlets don't fall apart and the breadcrumb crust is nice and crispy. It's definitely on the buttery side - there's a LOT of butter in here, and it's not dry in the least. I think the firmer butter meant that the butter was less incorporated, so there were little buttery pockets in the chicken. The dill flavour is very subtle, so if you like dill you can always add a bit more. I think it might take some practice to deal with the consistency, but the only real suggestion I would make would be to soften the butter instead of just letting it go room temperature - that way it can incorporate better. It does go well with the mushrooms and wine, though I think the already subtle dill flavour gets overwhelmed when eaten with sides/wine.