Thursday, July 26, 2012

Cool As a Cucumber - Minted Cucumber Soup

I really don't deal with heat all that well.  How I survived 13 years in San Diego and 2 years in Palm Springs, I will never know.  Though there were a couple times, in the Coachella Valley, when the temperature was above 115, that I seriously contemplated filling the bathtub with ice and taking a long soak. I think it stems from the heat exhaustion I experienced one summer while helping a family friend re-roof their house in the middle of August.  Looking back, I see that it probably wasn't the BEST time of year to take on a project like that, but what did I know, I was only 17. 

The point is, that I start becoming uncomfortably warm at 75 degrees.... by 80, I am pretty miserable.....  at 85 degrees Ugh!, at 90 degrees somebody just needs to shoot me now and put me out of my misery. 

Conversely, I run around in 45 degree weather wearing a T-shirt and no jacket.  So I guess my comfortable temperature zone has just shifted slightly to the lower registers.

Be that as it may, the temperature has been in the 80s for the last couple weeks, thus I have begun to crave foods that cool me down on the inside.  Salads are at the top of the list in weather like this however, I have found that I can only consume so much salad before it begins to shred the edges of my sanity.  Before the psychological damage is irreparable, I turn to things like Ceviche or Sushi (though sushi can be a little tricky at home).... Then there is the issue of JUST how much seafood one can stomach in a week.  That is when it's time for soup.  Yep, soup... 

I don't mean the hot, steamy, stick to your ribs kinds of soup that you consume during those cold months of the year.... I am talking about cold soups... Like Vichyssoise, Gazpacho and, of course, Minted Cucumber Soup. 

If you have followed this blog for any length of time, you will be fully aware of my love of Greek food...  In particular things like Sopa Avgo-Lemono (Egg-Lemon soup), which is also delicious when cold I might add, and that ever so evocative Tzatziki sauce that so lovingly adorns most Gyros.  Well, Minted Cucumber soup is really just a less viscous version of Tzatziki.  And that makes it Uber-Tasty.  Don't let the yogurt fool you, it sounds like it would be a heavy "Cream soup" texture, but it really isn't like that.  It's extremely light and refreshing.  The small amount of heavy cream sort of plays down the "lactic tang" of the yogurt, making a clear path for the clean brightness of the lemon juice and the cucumber. 

So the next time you need some cooling off, give this a try...  I am positive that you won't be disappointed.

Minted Cucumber Soup

24 oz Cucumbers
2 tsp fresh Dill, chopped
1 TB fresh Mint, chopped
1/4 tsp Kosher Salt
1/8 tsp White Pepper
1 TB Lemon Juice
1 TB Extra Virgin Olive oil
16 oz plain low fat Yogurt (preferably one without carageenan, locust bean gum, xanthan gum or pectin)
4 oz Heavy Cream

Peel the cucumbers and cut them into more managable chunks.

Slice each chunk in half lengthwise.

Scoop out the seeds with a spoon.

Deposit the seedless cucumber chunks into the bowl of your food processor or your blender.

Blitz the heck out of them until you have a nice watery puree, then move the puree to a serving bowl.

Finely chop the Dill and the Mint.

Add the chopped Herbs, Salt, White Pepper, Lemon juice and Extra Virgin Olive Oil.

Stir to combine.

Add the Yogurt and the Heavy Cream.

Whisk everything together well.

Cover with plastic wrap and chill in the refrigerator for 1-2 hours before serving.

Garnish if desired. (I like to save back a few slices of unpeeled cucumber and some mint tops to form a garnish)

Ahhhhhh....   The epitome of cool.


Friday, July 20, 2012

When I Say Hillshire, You Say Farms... Hillshire! (Farms!) GO SOY?? - Kielbasa and Kraut

So I was in the grocery store the other day and as I was meandering through the aisles contemplating my place in the universe... or rather, what I was going to eat for dinner.  My musings were suddenly focused on one thing I have not eaten in quite some time.  Sauerkraut and Kielbasa.

I think its the nitrates in the Kielbasa and the heavy amounts of salt in the Sauerkraut that cause me to avoid it as a regularly consumed meal.  But my taste buds were in rebellion and nothing else would suffice at that point.  besides, Kielbasa and sauerkraut are super easy to prepare.

I proceeded to Nitrate Central.  You know, where all the "Deli meat" that doesn't actually come from a Deli is located, along with the Bacon, Hot Dogs and various other forms of processed meaty goodness are all kept.   I went to grab the Hillshire Polska Kielbasa like I have done so many times in the past.  Though, again, not so much in the recent past.  I don't really know what it was that possessed me.  Maybe my higher self had an easier time communicating since I had been wandering the store in a sort of daze, but I looked at the ingredient list.

I have grown up on Hillshire products of some form or another, including the Kielbasa, since I was in diapers.  It is suppose to be a name that can be trusted.  When someone yells Hillshire, I yell "Farm" and subsequently "Go Meat!", but not anymore... Here is what I found......

ingredients: Meat Ingredients (Pork, Beef), Water, Corn Syrup, CONTAINS 2% or less of: Salt, POTASSIUM LACTATE, Dextrose, NATURAL FLAVORS, Isolated Soy Product, isolated soy protein,  Monosodium Glutamate, sodium diacetate, SODIUM ERYTHORBATE, Sodium Nitrite.

I was completely taken aback, gobsmacked, flabbergasted, stunned and even dumbfounded.  Granted, it's been over 3 years since I have eaten Kielbasa.  I don't remember it containing soy before.  If it did, I would have been seriously ill after eating it.  And just what the heck is "Isolated Soy Product".  Is that like the Soy version of Cheez Whiz?  (Processed Cheese Food Product)

Luckily, Johnsonville makes Kielbasa now (which is news to me) so I took a look-see at their ingredient list... 

ingredients: Pork, water, salt and less than 2% of the following: corn syrup, potassium lactate, dextrose, spices, monosodium glutamate, paprika, natural flavors, sodium diacetate, dehydrated garlic, sodium erythorbate, sodium nitrite, collagen casing.

True, it contains MSG, which I usually try to avoid cause it gives me a headache, but on the whole it's pretty much a sausage without any fake stuff in it.  Johnsonville usually smokes their meats naturally as well, instead of pumping them full of liquid smoke flavorings.  I am just bummed that it doesn't come as one long sausage link, instead you get something akin to brautwurst or hot dogs...  But beggars can't be choosers, as the saying goes.

Soy avoided....  Yay! 

I am kind of Kraut Krazy, so I use A LOT...  If you don't Konstantly Krave Kraut like I do, then you may want to only use a 24oz jar instead of a 32oz. 

Kielbasa and Kraut

14 oz Kielbasa (Johnsonville, unless you can eat soy)
24-32 oz jar Sauerkraut (I recommend Bubbies)

Cut the Kielbasa on the bias (it makes the pieces look larger, and gives you a slightly larger browning area)

Drain your Sauerkraut (You can save the juice if you like, I have read that the Lactobacilli plantarum that is responsible for the fermentation is great for your digestive tract, prevents cancer growth and boosts your immune system)

Rinse your Sauerkraut under cold water and allow it to continue draining in the colander.

Heat a small amount of olive oil in a large skillet.

When it's hot, add the Kielbasa slices.

Fry, turning as necessary until they are all nicely browned and slightly krispy on the edges.

Notice the lovely browning in the bottom of your pan? 

Add the drained and rinsed Sauerkraut and begin stirring.

As you stir the residual moisture in the kraut will begin to lift up the brown bits on the bottom of the pan, in effect deglazing it for you.

Once the Sauerkraut has begun to brown a little, it's ready to eat.

Voila!  Dinner is Served, in less than 15 minutes... 

mmmmmmmm Comfort food!


Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Tortured Tubers - Whipped Potatoes

I don't often make "whipped" potatoes.  I am really more of a mashed potato kind of guy.  Seriously, lumpy with bits of potato skin = Awesome!  On occasion, however, I find that smooth, creamy, loaded with heavy cream and butter, whipped potatoes are just what the doctor ordered. 

The only issue with making whipped potatoes is the amount of equipment necessary to execute them properly.  With mashed potatoes, you simply boil or steam the potatoes, then get all medieval on them with a potato masher, add some butter, mash that in as well and your good to go.  With whipped potatoes, however, lumps are to be avoided like crushed velvet stretch pants.  (Faux pas!)

To avoid said lumps one really needs to employ a potato ricer as well as an electric mixer.  Sure, you can whip potatoes by hand, but the electric mixer is much faster and ensures that the potatoes are still piping hot when they reach the table.  Just be sure to leave the mixer on low speed or you may over-whip them, and they will turn to "glue".

Your choice of potato can assist you in avoiding gluey potatoes.  My personal favorite potato for whipping is a "new potato" or the Yukon gold.  The skins are extremely thin, so they are quick and easy to peel after boiling.  Thus ensuring you have HOT potatoes when you begin ricing and whipping.  For the heat of the potatoes and the cream is very important.  The heat allows the starch granules to absorb more liquid...

Whipped Potatoes

3 lbs White Potatoes
1 cup Heavy Cream
1/2 cup Whole Milk
3 cloves Garlic
2 sprigs of Thyme
6 TB Unsalted Butter
Kosher Salt
Black Pepper

To being, place the potatoes in a large pot, and cover with water.

Place over High heat and bring to a boil.

Reduce the heat and allow the potatoes to simmer for 20 minutes, or until they can easily be pierced with a fork.

Meanwhile combine Heavy Cream and Whole Milk in a small saucepan with Garlic and Thyme.

Place over medium flame and bring to a simmer, then remove from the heat, cover, and let the Garlic and Thyme steep for 10 minutes.

Once the potatoes are ready, drain them into a colander.

Place your ricer over the now empty pot.

Begin peeling the potatoes..... (sometimes you can even rub the skins off with your fingers)

Place them in the river and press to break up the tubers.

Once you have riced all the potatoes,

add the butter and allow it to melt.

Turn your electric mixer to low and mix just long enough to incorporate the butter and lubricate the starches.

Remove the Thyme and Garlic from the cream and begin adding the hot cream, in a thin stream while whipping.......

Once all the cream has been absorbed, you're all done!

Season with Kosher Salt and Black Pepper.
Move to a serving bowl and top with additional butter.


P.S. Normally I would only make about 1/2 this much, but I have additional plans for these whipped potatoes.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Hey! You! Get Off of my Raspberry Cloud

My initial intention was to link the teaser picture of the Raspberry Cloud, from my last Wordless Wednesday post, to Corningware411.  Alas, I have decided that since Culinary Alchemy has been sadly bereft of any entries for over a month, it was time to post something here.  In all honesty, you really don't have to use a CorningWare 10x14 Roasting pan to make this.  I made a double batch for my family's 4th of July celebration and decided that a 10x14 would be a better choice, but a 9x13 would have been a perfectly serviceable receptacle.

I am going to give the recipe in a single batch measurements, so the pictures will not really match as far quantities are concerned.  Thus a 9x9 pan will be the choice for the following amounts.

So what exactly is a Raspberry Cloud.....?

Well, it's a layered dessert consisting of a vanilla cookie crust (graham cracker is too intrusive) smothered with a pillowy soft meringue, which is then frozen.  This makes it kind of like a semifreddo, but just before serving you add a layer of fresh berries (though you can use frozen in a pinch) and surmount that with lemon juice laced whipped cream.  Which moves it from semifreddo to Awesome-freddo!  (I know, that is a total mistranslation, but I liked the way it sounded)

It is light, refreshing and delicious on a hot summer's day.  As luck would have it, here in the Pacific NW, raspberries are at their peak at the beginning of July, thus making this a natural fit for Independence Day celebrations.   Even if my blog post about it is a week late...   :)

Raspberry Cloud

1 1/2 cups (6 oz) (170g) Vanilla Wafer Crumbs (about 30 cookies)
1/4 cup (2 oz) (56g) unsalted Butter, melted
4 large Egg Whites
1/2 cup (3.5 oz) (100g) Granulated Sugar
16 oz (453g) (~ 1 1/3 pints) fresh Red Raspberries (though you can use frozen raspberries)
2 tsp Granulated Sugar
8 oz (236ml) Heavy Cream
1 TB Confectioners' Sugar
1 TB Lemon Juice

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
Smash your cookies with a mallet or process them in the food processor (I prefer the more violent method employing a storage bag and the flat side of a meat mallet)

Place them in a bowl and add the melted butter, stirring with a fork until the crumbs are evenly coated.

Dump the mixture unceremoniously into a 9x9 baking dish or pan.

Press firmly.

Separate the eggs and save the yolks for another purpose.

Begin whisking the whites, on medium speed, until they reach soft peaks.

With the mixer still running, begin sprinkling in the 1/2 cup of Granulated Sugar a little at a time.

Continue mixing until the whites reach firm/stiff peaks.

Spoon over the cookie crust and spread it evenly.

Bake in the oven until the meringue is nice and golden brown, about 15-20 minutes.

Allow this to cool to room temperature (don't worry if it looks super puffy or uneven when you remove it from the oven, as it cools it will sink slightly) before placing in the freezer for 2 hours.

Right before you are ready to serve, place your berries in a bowl.

Sprinkle them with 2 tsp Granulated Sugar and toss, then set them aside while you prepare the whipped cream.

In a chilled stainless steel bowl, combine Heavy Cream and Confectioners' Sugar.

Whisk until stiff, then gently fold in the lemon juice. (Do NOT add the juice before whipping, or the cream will curdle)

Remove the baking dish from the freezer and scatter the Raspberries over the Meringue.

Spread the Whipped Cream evenly over the top. (don't worry if some of the berries show through, that's part of it's charm)

Garnish with more berries and some mint if desired.

Personally, I prefer to dig in immediately, while the Vanilla Wafer Crust and Meringue still retain the chill from being in the freezer.