Spirited Cooking!

 Cooking with booze!

Cooking with booze!

Everyone knows that a good glass of wine with a meal can really take it to the next level.  Personally, I never know if it’s all up to that moment when you perfectly match a bottle to a dish, where the flavours just sing in perfect harmony or, after the inevitable second glass, you’re juuuuust tipsy enough not to notice any harsh notes in either the food or drink.  Either way, food and alcohol just seem to go hand in hand.

For those of us who are as likely to be found behind the stove as they are to be sitting at the table, sipping the drink of their choice, the powers of alcohol go beyond the glass.  A splash of alcohol here and there when preparing a dish can help boost the flavour of your food.  The reason why?  Science, of course!

Ok, ok, I know that not everyone gets as excited about food science as me but this is some pretty cool stuff! 

First, lets talk about flavour.  All food has flavour.   Obvious, right?  But how does that flavour translate to your palate while you eat?  It has a lot to do with molecular bonding and solubility.  There are certain flavours in food that only fully come out when water or another liquid is introduced.  These are called water-soluble flavours and can be easily described as sweet, salty, sour, and bitter.  Now, those highlight flavours we like to use that are often labeled “aromatics”, those are fat-soluble.  Their full potential is only realized once a fat is introduced to a recipe.  That’s why butter and oil pretty much always makes food taste better.  Not only do they taste delicious on their own (shout out to all those weirdos like me who have just taken a spoon to a butter dish!), but fats also help bring all of the deliciousness out of things like garlic, sage, thyme, and the like!

What about alcohol?  Where does it land in this whole flavour solubility thing?  Well, alcohol is basically a kitchen wizard in that it can do both!  Alcohol carries both fat- and water-soluble flavours to your palate and it can even open up those pesky flavours that aren’t noticed without it!  Tomatoes, for instance, contain both fat- and water-soluble flavours as well as some notes that are alcohol-soluble.  So next time you’re making tomato sauce, give it a little splash of red or white wine or even a little nip of vodka and really make those tomatoes sing!

Another way that we taste all of the deliciousness that food has to offer is through aroma.  Ever notice how food just doesn’t seem to taste as good when you’re all stuffed up?  That’s because your nose pulls a lot of the weight when it comes to taste.

Things like heat, proximity, and chopping increase the aroma of food but alcohol has a really neat trick up its sleeve when it comes to scent.  Alcohol evaporates quicker than water, therefore it helps carry aroma.  You know how as soon as you open a good bottle of red wine or a decanter of whiskey, you kind of get punched in the face with its bouquet?  That’s because of evaporation.  The same thing happens when you add booze to a dish.  The evaporating alcohol lifts aroma into the air, bringing them up to your nose more rapidly.

Cool, right?!

Well, whatever the reason, cooking with booze is a fantastic way to experiment with flavour and help your food really shine!  While it is easy to add a splash or two here and there to a dish, here are a few tips and tricks to help get you started:

  • Do you want to drink it?  If not, don’t put it in your food.  Cooking helps concentrate the flavour profile of alcohol so use something good enough to drink but not so fancy that your bank account will have a fit when the wine hits the pan.  In our house, we have a white and a red that we always have on hand – save the really snazzy stuff for the table but anything you’d be willing to open on a Tuesday to enjoy with dinner is a good bet.
     
  • Alcohol should compliment, not overpower your meal so always start small.
     
  • Strength of flavour should match strength of flavour in what you’re cooking.  For example, beef can take a really rich red or strong dark liquor.  Pork, in my opinion, is best friends with white wines, beers, and ciders.  Chicken pulls the classic chicken move by being good friends with most – white wine, red wine, beer, and maybe some vodkay tomato sauce!  For seafood, I’d stick to light – white wine, vodka, gin, tequila, etc.
     
  • Sweets are probably the most versatile.  They can take a good hit from wines, bubbly, beer, cider, or darker liquor.  That hit of acid, bitterness, or smoke that alcohol can provide does wonders for fruits, chocolates, and sugars.  It can add depth without overpowering the delicate flavours in sweets.  Think whiskey, rum, or brandy infused caramel, red wine poached pears, or stout chocolate cake!
     
  • And that old adage that you can cook off all of the alcohol?  Well, it’s not true…
    Alcohol does not completely burn off when cooked.  The factors that determine how much remains at the end of cooking a dish include the amount of alcohol added, the amount of heat applied, the cooking and standing time, and the surface area of the food and cook surface.

Here is a basic chart that shows approximately how much alcohol is retained during different cooking methods:

Cooking Method        Evaporated    Retained
Flambéd                     25%                75%
No heat, left
uncovered                  30%                70%
overnight
Baked or
simmered, 1hr           75%                25%
Baked or
simmered, 2.5hr        95%                5%

The moral of the story is that alcohol and food are best friends so why not open that bottle of wine a little earlier than your guests arrive, pour some into your meal, and maybe enjoy a little glass for yourself!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Easy as Pie! ... Dough

 Pie Dough Galore

Pie Dough Galore

“It’s as easy as pie!”

Eyes roll, inner voice screams “HAVE YOU EVEN TRIED MAKING PIE?!  IT’S NOT THAT EASY!”

For one reason or another, the thought of whipping up a batch of pie dough at home tends to spark terror in the majority of the population.  Whether that is due to the perceived mess of pie making, getting that fat worked in to just the right degree, finding the perfect balance of liquid to make a tender and flakey dough that is easy to work with, or the dreaded process of rolling out a perfect ¼”–thick circle, people fear pie.

It seems odd though, when looking at a pie dough recipe, that anything with essentially three ingredients could cause panic in grown adults.  Pie dough is, after all, simply a combination of flour, fat, and liquid.  What could be so difficult about that?

Well, try asking a group of grandmothers or the internet about it and you’ll quickly see that pie dough is the great divider in the world of baking.  Everything from ingredients to method is steeped in family tradition, myth, secret ingredients, and legend.  As you’ll see, I myself have inherited the belief that a little white vinegar can make a piecrust sing.  Sifting through the mountains of pie facts, articles, recipes, and tricks is nothing less than a daunting task but I’m here to help!

In the name of science and baked goods everywhere, I have tested five different pie dough recipes, four of which have the exact same ratio of flour to fat to liquid.  In order to limit this little experiment and make it a manageable task, I have chosen what I believe to be the main factor in piecrust flavour, colour, texture, and workability: fat.

Below, I have highlighted four different fats in pie dough recipes using the following ratio:

4 parts flour
2 parts fat
1 part liquid

The fifth pie dough that I have tested includes a bump in protein and sucrose with the addition of egg and sugar.  The ratios for this recipe are almost the same as the above but the liquid has been amended to account for the egg.

Now, just a quick note on dry ingredients before we begin:  due to its protein content, availability, and ease of use, all-purpose flour is best for making pie dough.  I know that the bag proclaiming “Cake and Pastry” might seem like the right choice but do not be fooled.  Cake and Pastry flour does not have enough gluten in it to form a workable crust that will be easy to transfer from pan to plate when you’re ready to dig into your beautiful pie.  Additionally, ½ teaspoon of salt per 1 cup of flour is required to help enhance the flavour of the piecrust.  Even in baking, salt is your best friend.

Below are the results of this delicious food science experiment:
*wipes pie crust crumbs off of notes

All Butter
·      Excellent flavour
·      So, so flakey
·      Beautiful browning
·      Did not hold its shape well
·      Butter oozed out (due to low melting point – 32-35C)
·      Uneven rise

All Shortening
·      Very easy to work with
·      Shortening has a longer shelf life
·      Tender crust – very nice crumb
·      Held shape (due to higher melting point – 47-48C)
·      Hardly any flakes
·      Pale in colour
·      Not much flavour

Butter/Shortening Combo
·      Easy to work with
·      Nice and even browning
·      Flavour was great – only tasted the butter
·      Fat did not ooze out and puddle
·      Relatively neutral in flavour – perfect for savoury or sweet pies
·      Good rise – even but a little “homemade” looking

Coconut Oil
·      Surprisingly easy to work with!
·      Frozen coconut oil held up in the food processor
·      Even distribution of fat
·      Faint coconut taste
·      Lovely flake and crumb
·      Just generally surprised with how well this one turned out!
·      Great for sweet pies – fruits and custards that would go well with coconut
·      Vegan

Egg & Sugar
·      By far, easiest to work with
·      Edges stayed intact when rolling
·      Lovely yellow colour when raw
·      Even browning – promoted by the egg and sugar
·      Sweeter in flavour
·      Does not lose shape in the oven
·      Little to no shrinkage

So, if you are looking for the perfect all-round pie dough recipe, the combination of butter and shortening is the way to go.  The butter offers a lovely flavour and colour while the shortening’s higher melting point offers a little more structure to the crust. This little number would work perfectly with any pie, sweet or savoury.

The coconut oil pie dough is perfect for sweet custard-filled pies or any fruit that would benefit from a hint of coconut.  Stone fruits and berries come to mind.  Personally, I’d avoid things like apple or pumpkin but that’s just me.  The texture of this crust is crisp and flakey and it holds up beautifully when baked.  Additionally, this pie dough is vegan so it’s the perfect option for anyone who avoids animal products such as butter!

If you are one to delve into fancy lattice work, I’d recommend the egg and sugar dough.  The added protein of the egg and the slight stretch caused by the sugar makes for a dough that is superbly easy to work with.  All of the folding and unfolding that goes along with snazzy lattice topped pies will have little to no effect on this dough where others might crease and break.

Basically, the moral of the story is that there are no hard and fast rights or wrongs when it comes to pie dough (other than over working or over watering your dough, of course!).  Choose a dough that works for you and the pie you are making and soon you’ll be telling everyone that homemade pies are easy as, well, pie!


Combo Pie Dough
Makes 1 single crust pie

 1 cup all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon salt
5 tablespoons cold unsalted butter
3 tablespoons cold shortening
¼ cup ice water + 1 teaspoon white vinegar

Coconut Oil Pie Dough (vegan)
Makes 1 single crust pie

1 cup all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon salt
½ cup frozen coconut oil
¼ cup ice water + 1 teaspoon white vinegar

In the bowl of a food processor, pulse together the flour and salt.  Break the fats into pieces and pulse into the flour until coated and broken up into hazelnut-sized pieces (this should only take about 5-8 pulses).

Dump the flour/fat mixture into a large mixing bowl and, using a wooden spoon, gently mix in enough of the ice-cold liquid to form a shaggy dough.  The dough should look like a bit of a mess at this point but if you pick some up in your hand and squeeze, it should hold together. 

Set out a piece of plastic wrap, dump the dough out onto the plastic, and wrap and press into a 1”-thick disk.  Pop this in the fridge for 30-45 minutes to allow the flour to hydrate and re-chill the fat. 

Meanwhile, preheat your oven to 400F.  It is important to start a pie at a high temperature as this will allow for the fat to quickly melt, releasing some of its moisture, which leads to nice and flakey layers.

When the dough is chilled, roll it out to ¼”-thick and drape it into a pie plate.  Fill and bake according to your pie recipe.

Egg and Sugar Pie Dough
Makes 1 double crust pie (perfect for lattice!)

2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoons salt
1 tablespoons sugar
1 cup cold unsalted butter, cut into pats
1 egg
3 tablespoons cold milk

In the bowl of a food processor, pulse together the flour, salt, and sugar.  Break the fat into pieces and pulse into the flour until coated and broken up into hazelnut-sized pieces (this should only take about 5-8 pulses).  Meanwhile, whisk together the egg and milk and set aside.

Dump the flour/fat mixture into a large mixing bowl and, using a wooden spoon, gently mix in the egg and milk mixture to form a shaggy dough.  The dough should look like a bit of a mess at this point but if you pick some up in your hand and squeeze, it should hold together. 

Set out a piece of plastic wrap, dump the dough out onto the plastic, and wrap and press into a 1”-thick disk.  Pop this in the fridge for 30-45 minutes to allow the flour to hydrate and re-chill the fat. 

Meanwhile, preheat your oven to 400F.  It is important to start a pie at a high temperature as this will allow for the fat to quickly melt, releasing some of its moisture, which leads to nice and flakey layers.

When the dough is chilled, roll it out to ¼”-thick and drape it into a pie plate.  Fill and create a lattice by rerolling any scraps into long ribbons.  Weave your lattice however you please and bake according to your pie recipe.

Too many wooden cutting boards? No such thing.

 A few of my favourites

A few of my favourites

Much to the chagrin of my husband, I have a few minor obsessions when it comes to collecting kitchen-y things.  While they are all useful bits and bobs, he argues that we don’t really need eight creamers, over a dozen cheese knives and tiny little jam spoons, or another flat of glass jars.  I feel like he’s slowly coming around to my overflowing jar collection but one obsession he has never questioned is my love of wooden cutting boards.  They are beautiful, easy to store, and oh-so functional – who could argue with that!

If you are less inclined than me to find creative hiding spots all around your apartment for your too-large collection, here is my shortlist for a few different wooden boards that I would suggest any kitchen needs.

One Big Board

There are few things more frustrating than starting dinner prep only to realize that you’ve run out of real estate.  Enter a big old cutting board.  Using a large cutting board gives you enough space to work and prep and also allows for you to shove some already-prepped ingredients off to the side while they await their destiny in your delicious dinner.

I tend to opt for a sturdy hardwood cutting board that is around 13x22 inches.  This gives you enough room to work without being too large to store.  The one pictured above was made for me as a wedding gift by my friend Gill of G&G Carpentry based in Waterloo, Ontario.  Not only is she a beaut but also a real powerhouse in my kitchen!

A Moat-Equipped Board

There is nothing that will make carving a beautiful roast easier and tidier than a cutting board that has a little moat around the edge.  It will collect all of those lovely juices and stop them from running all over your counter or kitchen table making cleanup a breeze.  Those juices that collect are great poured over stored leftovers and helps keep your meat super tasty so be sure to save as much as you can.

My go-to is a 12x18” or 11x14” bamboo board.  They are easy to clean, relatively inexpensive, and, as bamboo is a highly renewable material, they are super green!

Two or Three Odd-Shaped Boards

A stash of two or three teeny tiny little wooden cutting boards or beautiful artisan boards that seem too pretty to slice and dice on are the absolute perfect answer when looking for a statement-making serving piece.  Whether you are putting a baguette out with your dinner or whipping up a little cheeseboard to bring to a party, these boards really shine. 

A Non-Wood Board

In addition to your wooden board collection, it’s a good idea to have a medium/large plastic cutting board to use for raw meats.  They are the easiest to disinfect keeping your kitchen safe and your family healthy!

Citrus Supremes

 Peeled grapefruit and a few supremes 

Peeled grapefruit and a few supremes 

Supreme: a snazzy word for segments of any citrus fruit.

The difference between a supreme and a citrus fruit that has been peeled and divided by hand is the knife technique used to remove not just the peel and pith but also all of the membrane and seeds.  

While it sounds a wee bit complicated, it’s as easy as anything and once you’ve got the hang of it, you’ll be a supreme supremer… see what I did there?

xM


How to supreme citrus:

Using a knife, carefully trim off the very top and bottom of your citrus fruit.

Next, place the fruit on its end and begin to remove the peel and pith with your knife, beginning at the top and slicing down along the curve of the fruit.

Finally, over a bowl, hold the fruit in your hand and carefully cut out each segment by inserting the blade of your knife between the flesh of the fruit and the membrane on both sides of each segment.

If your recipe calls for juice, the residual membrane still holds a good amount.