All posts by A_Boleyn

About A_Boleyn

Having come late to the kitchen, other than in an eating capacity, each new recipe I try is an exciting opportunity to enjoy the original and then make it my own.

It’s All Gravy … Tomato and Duck

My mom only made one kind of gravy.

It started with bacon fat.

About once a month, my dad would slice up slab bacon with the thick rind on it, like in “the old country”, for the two of them. It took forever to render down enough of the fat to get any bacon grease but the results were worth it. My brother and I liked the regular kind of bacon – thin slices, plumped up with water so it didn’t have a lot of flavour – but it crisped up quickly and the drippings were SO tasty.

After frying up a pound or so of the bacon in her old cast iron frying pan, my mom would drain off most of the fat, leaving a few tablespoons and add about the same amount of flour. She’d whisk the flour into the fat and cook the mixture (roux) for a while. The flavouring was about half a small can of Unico brand tomato paste. And then she’d add water and cook it up until it got nice and thick.

A bit of salt, and, at the end … well, each of us would add some of that tomato sauce or gravy to a soup bowl and dip in chunks of Italian bread and a few strips of bacon for a simple but filling brunch washed down with a cup of hot coffee.

Since she never measured anything, sometimes there’d end up being a lot of smooth, tangy and tasty tomato gravy. And sometimes, it would be lumpy and the flavour would be just slightly flat. Still, I never remember there being any leftovers.

Weekend Brunch – I didn’t have any bacon to fry up but I boiled up a smoked picnic shoulder ham and sliced off some of the uneven pieces and served it with tomato gravy and slices of home made French baguette to dip into it.

Over the years, I’ve learned to make different kinds of gravy. Turkey, breakfast sausage, pork chop pan gravy and buttermilk gravy. Sometimes the flavour is just slightly flat, sometimes it’s not as smooth as I’d like especially if I’m in a hurry or distracted with other things.

Recently, I ran across a treasure in the freezer. A container of duck drippings and fat. I thawed it, lifted off the layer of hard duck fat on top, and guess-timated how much flour I’d need to add for my roux. I ended up with about a cup of duck juices, jellied and dark and flavourful. A bit of chicken stock to extend the contents and this was the result. A delicious bowl of duck gravy.

Basic Gravy – 2 tbsp oil/butter/fat, 2 tbsp flour and 2 cups of liquid/drippings and meat juices. It’s just that simple.

Tomato Gravy – 1 tbsp bacon fat, 1 tbsp flour, 1 tbsp tomato paste, 1 cup tomato juice, additional water as needed, salt and pepper to taste.

Some Things I Inherited From My Father

As the years flash by since I lost both my parents, I remember all the things that they contributed to making me the person that I am. I hope that I’ve done them proud.

While my mom was the practical one, who made sure we had clean clothes, were warmly dressed and fed, and bills were paid on time, my father was the dreamer, the romantic, the poet in our household. Not that he didn’t work hard, both at his job as a house painter for a national company which no longer exists, but when he came home he would spend hours tending to his vegetable garden. He always dreamed of having his own farm with horses, pigs, chickens, fruits and vegetables to feed his family. And a vineyard. He wanted to make wine out of his own grapes. Although it was late in life, and on a small scale, he was finally able to have a hobby farm where he and my mom raised chickens and the fruits and vegetables.

And he made a start at the grapes. Unfortunately, by that point he no longer had the energy nor the money to spend on his dream. The vines are still there … The dream is just a bitter sweet memory.

Books

My mother never really saw the attraction of books. When I would close myself in my room reading, she’d try to shoo me outside to play, to walk around, to do SOMETHING. My dad would tell her, “leave the girl alone, books are important too.” I escaped into my books. Into the worlds between those colourful covers. Into the romances, mysteries, science fiction and fantasy stories.

Plants – Flowers and Vegetables

My dad’s favourite flowers were tulips. When we lived in the suburbs, he turned the back yard into a mini-Holland with raised beds of tulips (peonies also made an appearance in season).

Supported by huge rocks he brought into the yard, he covered them with self sowing sweet alyssum. Rhododendrons and azaleas with their showy colourful blooms also made an an appearance.

My own gardening efforts are restricted to herbs I can use in my cooking and grow in outdoor pots.

Music

Over the years, my dad was able to collect a handful of tapes of Romanian folk music that he’d listen to on the boom box I bought for him. But his favourite was opera, in particular performances by Luciano Pavarotti. I managed tor record all the specials Pavarotti appeared in on PBS, especially “The Three Tenors”, for my dad. Personally, I’m more fond of light opera in the style of Gilbert and Sullivan but I can enjoy classic opera as well.

Cultural Heritage

My dad was proud of his Romanian heritage, and though he didn’t belong to the local church and community center, where one would normally congregate with fellow Romanians, he wanted us to retain our language and be aware of its history. Regrettably, my brother and I embraced our new country wholeheartedly and all that remains are a few Romanian newspapers and this book kept for its illustrations. I just wish it actually contained the fairy tales it refers to.

Somehow I ended up with all 3 copies of the book. I’m sure one was supposed to be for my brother, one for me and the last for my parents, and eventually for any grandchildren.

Traditional Crafts – Embroidery and Weaving Patterns

Each country has its own costume, usually with a linen shirt or blouse which had been hand embroidered painstakingly and a woven skirt for the women and vests for the men. I’ve never had a loom but the patterns in this book would look wonderful.

Easy Korean Beef Bowl and Matzoh Ball Soup

I’m always up for trying another cuisine and one of the blogs I follow often has very interesting Korean recipes. Of course, the most famous Korean dish is probably kimchi … and one day, I may try to make my own. However, I’m not fond of fermented vegetables and cabbage is a new addition to my palate so it will be a while.

Beef however, as found in the famous grilled dish, bulgogi, is something that this meat lover can get all over. Getting sirloin or rib eye steak sliced paper thin for the dish isn’t in my budget, though, so this much more affordable ground beef dish is a tasty substitute. You can google for a recipe but I started with this one. I added two things … 1/4 tsp of gochujang for heat and 1 tbsp of fish sauce for a more complex flavour.

Easy Korean Beef Bowl

Plating was pretty simple though, if I LIKED kimchi, I would have served some on top of the beef bowl. Sauteed bok choy is something I want to add next time. A fried egg over easy or a poached egg adds a creamy texture when broken up and stirred into the meat and rice below.

Matzoh Ball Soup

I used the recipe on the Manischewitz matzoh meal box for the matzoh balls.

I haven’t made matzoh balls in ages but I ran across a canister of matzoh meal in the cupboard so I dug out a container of turkey stock from the freezer and made this. My dad would have enjoyed the matzoh balls almost as much as he liked my mom’s home made egg noodles.

You want a nice spongy texture inside your matzoh balls so have a light touch when shaping them.

Pork Crackling Yeast “Biscuits” Redux

It’s been almost a year since I last made these pork crackling biscuits and I’ve been wanting to make some for the last month or so. They’re not particularly pretty  (I still took a lot of pictures to make up for the bad ones posted before) but they’re fluffy and tender from the pork fat in the cracklings. Some recipes grind half the cracklings to a paste and leave the other half more granular, but I kept them all granular. Duck fat was used to help create the layers.

Chunks of ground pork cracklings give texture and flavour to the biscuits

Two Different Finishes to the Biscuits  – The cuts on top should have been only 1/4 inch apart but I got lazy. The top layer slid off so it wasn’t as photogenic as the ones I made a number of years ago.

Pork Cracklings – cut into chunks and then ground

Layering the Dough

Sweets to the Sweet … Raspberry Jello Mini Meringues

NOTE: I’ve made all three desserts (citrus curd, madeleines and meringues) before. However, there’s a new TWIST for the meringue recipe.

Although not having a huge sweet tooth, I recently developed a lemon craving and decided to make lemon curd with the two lemons in my fridge. I had enough citrus juice for my recipe as I was able to supplement the shortage with lime juice, but ran short of zest for my second planned dessert … madeleines. I was sure I had some lemon zest in the freezer but I was wrong and ended up using orange zest instead. I love that citrus varieties are mostly interchangeable in cooking.

After making a batch of lemon curd, I ended up with extra egg whites.

Now, I’ve tossed more than my share of egg whites down the drain in my time,  as I can only eat so many meringues and pavlovas and my single attempt at sponge cake was met with disaster. However, these bright coloured mini meringues caught my eye while web surfing. They get their colour and flavour from something that many of us have in our pantries … a package of Jello. You’ll notice that the vibrant colour of the mixture pales dramatically as the whites are being beaten so, if you want something brighter, you’ll  have to add gel paste to boost the colour of the final product.

Raspberry Jello mini meringues – You can find the recipe for these meringues on line here.

I decided to pipe these mini meringues I was hoping for lovely ridges on the final product but I had problems getting stiff peaks, and the ridges softened by the time I got the entire tray piped and into the oven. Of course, you can spoon out larger mounds and and serve them as colourful pavlovas topped with whipped cream and fresh fruits.

Orange poppy seed madeleines – Madeleine pans will give your little cakes the classic design when presented bottom side up, but if you don’t have any, you can certainly bake the little butter cakes in mini muffin tins.

Beef Duo – Curry and Individual Pot Pies

NOTE: I made the curry and the duck fat pastry as directed by the recipes in the links … ok, I used water instead of vodka in the pastry cause I didn’t want to waste the vodka. The filling for the pot pies started with the recipe on Allrecipes but I made some changes as briefly noted below.

I made the mistake of freezing an entire tray (2.6 lbs) of stewing beef when I brought it home so I wanted to get creative when I cooked it.

I recently saw an intriguing recipe for Punjabi Beef and Spinach curry which I wanted to make. It’s not a pretty dish when done, but the combination of herbs and spices sounded like they’d make a flavourful dish. I browned all the beef and set aside 1 pound for the second dish, a pot pie.

Beef pot pies are a great way of stretching your meat to serve more people and getting some veggies into your diet at the same time. I chose to do individual pies so I could freeze away the extras for future meals without worrying about the filling oozing out and making a mess or drying out.

Inside the pot pie … I think I need to make a bit more gravy but just adding some more broth which would make the gravy thinner should solve the issue.

I used a recipe I found on Allrecipes though I made some adjustments to the technique including making a roux based gravy, with the liquid used to simmer the beef (~1/2 cup), to which I added a rounded tablespoon of dried French onion soup mix and about a cup of chicken stock.

And, instead of a frozen pie crust, I made a flavourful pastry with some duck fat instead of using all butter.

Cold, Gray and Bored … Purple

We got over three inches of snow overnight and, although the sun didn’t make an appearance today, it was relatively mild. So, since I was home and didn’t want to wait (until after 4 or 5 pm) to have my snow shoveled, I went out there with my little shovel and did it myself. The snow was wet and heavy, but I got it done and it only took an hour. And, I saved money.

In the last 3 hours, all of the snow left on the sidewalk has melted, and is mostly draining away. And the car is clean and somewhat dry.

I’ve got food in the fridge and the freezer so other than reading fanfiction online, there’s not much else I’m motivated to do.

I got bored and looked at some of the pictures left on my hard drive where I ran across a folder of pictures I could barely remember taking. It was labelled Jewellry. I won’t bore you with them, especially as it’s a modest collection, mostly made up of rings my mom bought me when I was growing up and which I no longer wear. Old age results in joints swelling, most of the rings don’t fit and I don’t really have the money or the motivation to get them/any resized.

My favourite colour of the jewellry I bought for myself … purple.

I like amethysts. The bi-colour loose stone is called an ‘ametrine’. One day, I might even be able to afford to get it set in something. But, probably not.

Here’s something my mom bought me that still fits but I rarely wear.

What’s your favourite piece of jewellry or gemstone?

Duck Fat Brioche, Oreo Fudge and Chicken Livers

Work is slow in January, after the return from the Christmas break, and as teachers gear up for the last few weeks before the end of the fall semester. So, when I was at home on the first day back, I decided to make another batch of the duck fat brioche dough that I’ve posted already. In the meantime, I’ve eaten several of the rolls I made and assembled sandwiches from the rest, which are all wrapped up and in the freezer. So, I need bread.

I decided to post the brioche recipe to make it more convenient for anyone who wants to give it a try and doesn’t want to have to deal with eliminating the sourdough starter from the recipe.

You can shape the dough in various ways, as seen in the previous post. I made 9 inch long hoagies and rolls using a couple of different braiding techniques, this time.

One strand braids, Easter wreaths and a mini hoagie

Duck Fat Brioche Dough – makes ~ 1 kg/2.2 lb dough, enough for about 16 buns or rolls

1 cup warm milk (or 1 cup water and 1 tbsp milk powder)
1 tbsp dry active yeast
1 tbsp sugar
1 1/2 tsp salt
4 1/4-4 1/2 all purpose flour (or a combination of all purpose, bread and semolina flour), divided
1/4 cup melted duck fat (or bacon fat or butter, if you can’t get the duck fat )
2 large eggs, room temperature
1 large egg and 1 tbsp water, for egg wash

Dissolve the sugar in the warm milk, then stir in the yeast. Let sit and proof until foamy, about 10-15 min depending on temperature in the room.

In a large bowl, add 2 cups of flour and the salt and mix through. Make a well in the middle and add your eggs, melted fat and yeast mixture. Beat well with a large wooden or metal spoon until you get a sticky batter. Gradually stir in the remaining flour, 1/3-1/2 cup at a time until you can no longer stir it and a ball starts forming around the spoon. Turn the batter onto a lightly floured working surface and gradually knead in more flour until you get a soft but not sticky dough. It will take you about 7-10 minutes. You can take a break after 5 minutes. Cover the dough with the bowl that you made your bread in and after a few minutes continue kneading.

Oil a large bowl, place your ball of dough into the bowl and turn it around a bit so the ball gets lightly coated with oil as well. Cover the bowl with a large sheet of plastic food wrap and a clean towel and place in a warm place until the dough has doubled in size, 1 – 1 1/2 hr depending on the temperature in the room.

Turn the risen dough out onto a lightly floured surface and cut into 2 portions. Divide each half into 8 portions and shape as desired.

Cover with an oiled sheet of plastic food wrap (oil the one you used previously) and a clean towel and let rise in a warm place until doubled in size, 45 min to 1 hr.

Preheat the oven to 425 deg F. (For the buns or rolls, you can preheat the oven to 375-400 deg F.)

Brush the buns or rolls with egg wash and bake until the top is golden brown and the bottom is firm, about 18-22 minutes. If you think you need to bake a bit longer, cover the tops with a sheet of aluminum foil and continue baking for several more minutes.

Hoagie buns – you can make about 8 6-8 inch long buns (113.5 g/ 1/4 lb each). When baked, you’ll end up with a 9 inch long hoagie or submarine bun. For 12 inch hoagies, you might want to use double the amount of dough (227 g/ 1/2 lb)

For the Oreo cookie fudge switch-up, I used the basic vanilla fudge recipe, added a couple of ounces of finely shaved white chocolate and 6 crumbled Oreo cookies.

I know not everyone likes chicken livers but I do. So I bought 2 pounds, cleaned them up and then fried them in a couple of tablespoons of canola oil with a finely chopped onion, a splash of French brandy and a bit of paprika for colour. Delicious over mashed potatoes or the creamy polenta below.

Brioche Dough … Kaiser Rolls and Hamburger Buns

A brioche dough is a type of enriched dough. Milk, butter and eggs give you a lovely tender crumb and, whether you shape it into a bread loaf or any of the many shapes of buns and rolls, you’ll be happy with the result.

Crumb of the rolls

I used a basic brioche recipe as I have in the past for my hybrid hamburger buns, sans sourdough starter. (Replace the starter with ~ 2/3 flour and 1/3 liquid.) I DID make one other important change. Instead of using butter, I used leftover duck fat, for an even richer flavour.

Half of my dough (~2 lbs total) ended up as kaiser rolls and the other half was portioned slightly larger into buns.