Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Two Dozen

I had a fowl-filled morning: up with the roosters for an early AM lesson on plucking a duck. As it turns out, I'm a natural. I guess I can now put "proficient at fowl plucking" in the skills section of my resume (below "blogging aficionado" and above "amateur glutton"). Though definitely an outdoor job, it is relatively simple and surprisingly not disgusting (you can tell by the look on my face).

After a hearty scrub of my hands, I set off to make brown soda bread, summer pudding, and a crab, tomato, and avocado starter. To make "summer pudding" (a dish with which I was unfamiliar until now), you line a small bowl with cake (like an igloo) and then fill it with juicy, stewed berries. The berries seep into the outer cake layer, and once it chills overnight, you can turn it out onto a plate and have a dome of "summer pudding".

The crab, tomato, and avocado starter involved picking two crabs (one lightweight male and one roe-filled female) and making my own mayonnaise. If you have three spare minutes, making your own mayonnaise is simple and, in terms of flavor, definitely worth it. Just whisk egg yolks while slowly drizzling in oil until it thickens. Your arm muscles will tone up in no time!

Diced Tomato, Crab, and Avocado

We began the afternoon demonstration with a quick tutorial on squash and pumpkin varieties (which are coming into season). As far as cooking goes, butternut squash generally has the best flavor, but feel free to experiment with all different varieties (acorn, delicata, hubbard, white large, etc). We made Thai-spiced squash soup, but squash simply roasted with olive oil, salt, and pepper is delicious as well.

Another in-season must-have is kale (curly, red russian, redbor, or tuscan). It is delicious, currently inexpensive, and incredibly good for you. Just cook uncovered in boiling salted water until it is tender (until it is "dark and slothery and Wuthering Heights-esque" -Rory). The most common mistake made with kale is that it is not cooked enough, so be careful! Make sure it really reminds you of Wuthering Heights before you take it off the boil (a fool proof method).

Tuesday's Tips:

- Do not leave a cake to cool by a draft, such as a windowsill (unless you are in a terrible rush). The draft will cause the outer edges to harden.

- If you are looking for high quality chocolate (as we know, chocolate desserts are only as good as the chocolate used), try any of the following brands: Lindt, Meunierx, Suchard, Callebaut, or Valrhona.

- If you ever have leftover gravy, save it! The layer of fat on the top creates a perfect seal and it will keep refrigerated for months. Gravy is an excellent punch of flavor - great for stews, sauces, etc.

- If you are working with chick peas in soups, stews, or dips, they tend to get a bit "floury" and thick when left to sit. You can work the mixture back to your desired consistency with a bit of chicken stock (for soups) or some of the leftover cooking water (from when you cooked the chick peas). If you don't have either, water works just fine.

- Which reminds me: leftover cooking water can often be the magic ingredient in sauces, pasta dishes, etc. Save some of your cooking water just in case you need to thin out a sauce or loosen up some sticky pasta.

- When making a cake that begins with creaming butter, then adding sugar, then adding eggs (the beginning steps to most cakes), try to get your eggs to room temperature before you add them. Your mixture is a lot less likely to curdle if there isn't a big temperature change with the addition of the eggs.

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