Made by you and I

Sarson Ka Saag

NAPP - Lightroom 5 Killer Tips by Scott Kelby

Day two of Lightroom. More than the editing tool I’m finding that the catalog function is extremely useful. After importing the photos you can add key words and then create folders to filter through key words. The initial set up is gong to take time, but once it’s done it’ll be easy to find my photos. Does anyone have any suggestions on improving this image? I was thinking the increase the exposure, but the whites might blow out.

I need to do a recipe. Coming soon one of my favorite Indian foods Sarson Ka Saag, also known as a curry of mustard greens.

NAPP - Lightroom 5 Killer Tips by Scott Kelby

A delicious bite of curry made from mustard greens

Sarson ka saag with a slight change in the lighting. I don't know which I like better.

Same image with a slight change in the lighting. I don’t know which I like better.

The Fox, part one

(The first in a series.) This is the first act of an outdoor play. This character is the fox god Inari. The audience was filled with small children. The progression shows the character as he transformed into the awesome god he represents before he reaches down to those brave young people to be blessed. (You can click on them for full size versions.)
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Kids with guns

Guns are illegal here in Japan. As an island nation, they’re difficult to smuggle in. Gun death is nothing you hear about in the news. Though I’ve seen toy guns in hobby stores before this was the first time to ever see children playing with them. Oh, Japan, you have no idea what you’re doing, do you?

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My home, my office, my personal space

My home, my office, my personal space I loved this. Parked in lush area of the city an hour before dusk this man is taking a break from work to read the evening edition of the newspaper. Where he puts his shoes tells you his attitude about his work and this time he’s spending.

Vegetable Curry, a book and recipe

vegetable curry

(recipe follows)

vegetable curry

vegetable curry

Several years ago the love of my life, Hiro, gave me an unexpected birthday present: A curry cookbook written in both Japanese and English. Until then I had never made Indian food — curry had just never occurred to me. He didn’t know me that well at the time but mine is the personality that when I do something, I devote myself to it and so I bought every single ingredient in the index from Asafoetida to Yogurt and went to work page by page, which created some friction in our relationship.

The stereotype is that Japanese are polite, measured, conservative. Not Osaka people. And Hiro is very Osaka. (link explains the differences in Japanese people)

I met Hiro when I traveled to Osaka to see Madonna many, many years ago. I didn’t know anyone in Osaka, so I met him through one of those online dating sites. We made a date to meet just after the concert, outside Osaka Stadium. Now, Hiro is not classically handsome, so anyone looking from without would have been surprised to hear my inner dialogue, but it was for me I was completely smitten the moment I laid eyes on him. He’s much shorter than I am, has a broad Japanese face, a chubby nose, and a genuine shy smile. He’d just come back from a long term study abroad program in Australia, so he had a very odd accent in English and a charming Osaka accent in Japanese (think of an American southern drawl). He was awkward, nervous, in love with life and trapped — he had to find a job soon. He left Australia because his father had passed away. That meant obligations to family and a change in his life’s direction. He was still grieving and in flux, and so I met him in the raw, so to speak. We bonded quickly. For half a year I took weekend shinkansen trips to Osaka to see him and we eventually became a couple. It was around that time he gave me the cookbook.

There is no one I’d rather share my time with. When he’s anywhere near I am happy.

Anyway, he gave me a curry cookbook, I used it, it opened a door to Indian food I will not close and he has complained every day since. 🙂

vegetable curry

Spices give life to vegetables.

The very first recipe I made was an Indian curry labeled ‘Vegetable Curry’. I knew nothing. The first instruction was that each vegetable has a different cooking time and will go into the pot according to how long it needs, which is very good advice. So pick your vegetables — daikon, pumpkin, turnip, carrot, peas, cauliflower, potato, for starters — and cut them into bite sized portions.

Next, you’re to put cumin seeds in hot oil until they pop. That was a mystery to me until I watched chefs do it in India. You see, Indian food is cooked in a karai, which is concave, like a wok. The oil pools at the bottom whereas with a frypan the oil spreads out. It’s a subtle difference, but important — you want the oil to be in a narrow area, somewhat pooled and this tool helps me when I don’t want to break out my karai or wok. Heat your fat, add your masala (bay leaf, cinnamon, clove, cardamon) and let it cook for about a minute then add the cumin until they pop or sizzle, then add the onions to cool the oil and prevent the spices from burning.

My mantra is food is different region to region. Onions are a great example. The recipe called for 1 onion, but Japanese onions are three times the size of Indian, which are also red and very pungent. Japanese onions are less pungent (even when making caramelized onions with 4 kilos of onions, not a tear).

When they’re very well browned and the oil comes out the book says to add the garlic/ginger paste but adding 1/4 cup water, reducing until the oil comes out, adding 1/4 cup water, reducing till the oil comes out, doing this five or six times is the method used in restaurants and will transform your dish. Once that is done add the ginger garlic and cook for about a minute string constantly and then add the tomatoes.

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After browning the onions until the oil comes out add 1/4 cup of water and cook until it evaporates and the oil comes out and repeat. Each addition of water will further darken the onion and break down their cell walls resulting in a smoother gravy.

While the tomatoes are cooking add the turmeric, chili powder, and ground cumin and coriander. The general rule of thumb is 1:2 cumin to coriander, which in addition to adding flavor also thickens the gravy. When the oil comes out add a bit of water and then vegetables which take the longest to cook, here daikon and potatoes. Wait a few minutes then add. . . .

When the last of the vegetables are in the pot, turn the heat down, cover and cook until tender. Add the ground masala and additional coriander powered, mix and serve — it is delicious, good for you, quick to make.

Vegetable Curry

  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print
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First tier (you must use)

  • 1 large brown, yellow, or red onion sliced thinly
  • 1 – 2 carrots cut bite sized
  • 1 – 2 cups daikon cut bite sized
  • up to 1 cup diced pumpkin or winter squash
  • 1 – 2 cups eggplant cut into bite sized pieces
  • 2 – 3 large turnips cut into bite sized pieces
  • 2 – 3 potatoes cut into bite sized pieces
  • 1 small head of cauliflower cut into bite sized pieces
  • up to one cup string beans (frozen or fresh)
  • up to one cup green peas (frozen or fresh)
  • 1 – 2 cans of tomatoes
  • up to 1/4 cup flavorless oil or ghee (to cook the spices)
  • 3 – 6 tablespoons of garlic/ginger paste (1:1 of each purred together)
  • up to 2 and 1/2 cups water

spices

  • whole garam masala (whole spices used to flavor the oil at the beginning of cooking) 1 Indian bay leaf, 1 piece of Indian cinnamon, 3 -5 whole cloves, 3 – 5 whole green cardamon, 1 – 5 whole red chilies.
  • 2 – 3 teaspoons cumin seeds
  • 1 – 2 tablespoons turmeric powder
  • 1 – 3 tablespoons ground cumin
  • 2 – 6 tablespoons ground coriander
  • 1 – 3 tablespoons paprika or chili powder
  • 1 – 2 tablespoons ground garam masala (used at the end of cooking)
  • 2 – 4 teaspoons of salt to taste

tier three (optional)

  • Asafoetida/Hing can replace the garlic/ginger paste
  • You can add 1 piece mace, 1/2 star anise, 6-10 black pepper corns, 1/4 fenugreek seed to the whole garam masala at the beginning of cooking
  • up to 1 tablespoon coriander powder (for the very end of cooking)

 

Method: 

  1. Peel and cut the vegetables, prepare all of the spices, open the canned tomatoes, and place water on the counter.
  2. Put the oil in a pan (a wok or karai are preferable) on medium to high heat and put the whole garam masala in the oil. When the red chilies just start to blister add the whole cumin seeds and let pop, will take 15 seconds to a minute, then add all of the sliced onions and cook until well browned and you can see the oil.
  3. Next, add 1/4 cup of water and stir until the water evaporates. The onion mixture will be noticeably darker. Add another 1/4 cup of water and repeat always string the pan. Do this five or six times then when the last addition of water cooks out add the garlic and ginger paste and cook stirring constantly for one minute more.
  4. Add the canned tomatoes, the turmeric, cumin, coriander, and chili powders and cook until the oil once again comes out, or until very dry.
  5. Add 1/2 cup of water and the daikon. Stir well and cook for ten minutes on medium heat.
  6. Add the potatoes, carrots, pumpkin and cook ten more minutes.
  7. Add the turnips, eggplant, cauliflower. If the curry looks dry at this point add up to 1/2 cup of water to keep the curry liquid and cover for twenty minutes on medium low heat.
  8. Stir in the string beans and peas and cook five minutes more. Turn off the heat, uncover, stir in the ground garam masala and coriander then serve.

 

He is not out, so it's instant divorce if I show his face on in a public place, but that's our first Indian dinner together.

He is not out, so it’s instant divorce if I show his face here, but that’s our first Indian dinner together.

 

 

 

 

Within the blossom, enjoying sakura

From the large tree to the pollen covered stamen, which seem to me like people enjoying themselves within the blossoms.

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Sky Tree and cheery blossoms

A series of cherry blossoms with the Tokyo Sky Tree. Tell me what you think.

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Hanami

I’ve been on spring holiday. The cherry blossoms, sakura, have been blooming. People gather wherever they are. They mediate on their meaning, have picnics under them, takes trips to see them.

Sakura remind us to pay attention to the temporal nature of life.

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Their season is, at longest, a week.

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Because their bloom is short, Japanese people celebrate them, drink under them with family or with friends because our lives, too, are short and,

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like the sakura, asakusa_094we each grow and change.asakusa_106 asakusa_092First, the petals fall — a soft pink snow

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— the leaves unfurl and eventually die and what remain are memories.

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However,

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there is something larger than ourselves in the background:asakusa_110

The ideas we chose to hand down one generation to the next and the symbols which represent them:

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 Hanami.

Apple Strudel Your Way!

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This strudel used the leftover apples from Raw Apple Pie with Candied Orange Slices over a bed of ground nuts and raisins. I poured 1/4 cup of orange syrup over the fruit before closing. The brown bits around the strudel is some of the juice and syrup which leaked out during baking and caramelized. Those bits were very tasty but I could have prevented this by using something absorbent like cookie or bread crumbs in place of the ground nuts.

(recipe follows — red text areas are links)

I started working with Filo shortly after starting this blog (you might remember some of the teaser posts). I couldn’t bring myself to publish anything I’d written. I was unsatisfied with the pictures I took and unsure how to present filo dough in a way which would peak your interest, especially as an undeserved reputation as being difficult to work with.

filo shell, cauliflower and broccoli soup, chicken roulade

salad in a filo shell, cauliflower and broccoli soup, chicken roulade

Filo needs just three ingredients: Flour, fat, water. To that you can add salt for flavor or stevia for sweetness.

The principles for making filo are easy to understand: You mix a small amount of oil with flour to prevent gluten from overdeveloping. You add warm to hot water to force the starches to absorb more (making the dough easy to stretch). You knead to develop the gluten then let it rest to relax that gluten while the starches continue to absorb the water. You stretch it by putting your hands under the dough and lift/pull, lift/pull, lift/pull — move around the table and lift/pull! — until its paper thin (click the red for a link on how). I concede the process looks intimidating but even when it tears it doesn’t matter, because you fold it over and over and over itself — and that’s where filo becomes really interesting to work with.

You can see the the spices between layers. The browning was determined by the fat. The brownest cylinder has no additional fat. The one on the far right uses ghee. The two on the left use oil.

To make traditional Apple Strudel you need to butter all that lovely stretched out dough. The purpose of that butter — just as in pastry — is to separate the layers and add flavor, but with filo you can do both by sprinkling almond flour, cocoa, sugar, vegetable powders, powdered milk, breadcrumbs mixed with flavorings, or any combination instead of the butter and then wrap your filling, cutting a significant amount of calories from your dessert. I have made amazing, crisp Filo shells these past few months with no additional oil or fat — but let’s talk strudel.

 

 

 The filling:

  1. Apple strudel can have as little sugar as you like. I’ve peeled, sliced, and set the apple slices overnight in sugar just as in Raw Apple Pie, cooked them on a stove top first, and put them in raw tossed with sugar and cinnamon. I’ve also filled filo with curry, with chicken, with caramelized bananas, with candied oranges, and so on and so forth — I’ve made a lot of desserts.
  2. In traditional strudels, the chef places the fruit on a layer of bread or cookie crumbs, which absorb moisture. They also adds flavor and texture. I’ve used plain breadcrumbs, butter toasted breadcrumbs, crushed sugar cookies, torn bits of sponge cake, and left over baked pastry run through the food processor with nuts. You can be creative.
  3. Before you close your strudel add layers of other flavors such as rum soaked raisins, candied fruits, cheese, or even spoonfuls of cold rice pudding — all additions I’ve made with success. Or how about a jigger of liquor or a few spoonfuls of syrup from whatever you’ve been candying? Every step is customizable.

 

 

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Apples, caramel, rum with a layer of sponge cake, dried and crumbled sprinkled on top of the apples before closing. To separate the layers I sifted almond flour over the surface of the dough before rolling.

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The Filo: 

You need a flour with enough gluten. For Japan, bread flour was the best option. It has 10% gluten. I could also use All Purpose (AP) Flour, but I got more holes as I stretched — which is fine as none were visible. As the amount of gluten in a flour varies country to country, I suggest you use a white bread flour. The next time you make filo, try AP flour and make a mental note which worked best for you. (Note: You can not make this particular filo with whole wheat flour. The bran cuts the gluten. I will be posting whole grain filo later.)

You can add salt (which toughens gluten and adds flavor) or stevia which adds sweetness to the flour

Put the flour, salt, stevia in a bowl or food processor and add fat. The more fat, the more delicate the dough. I worked with 1 and 2 tablespoons per cup of flour. I preferred the constancy of 2 tablespoons, especially as I use no other fat in the recipe. You can add flavor by choosing which oil — or butter — you use. Palm kernel oil was a favorite, giving the filo a beautiful orange color. I also used pistachio, almond, walnut, olive, canola, and butter. Whichever fat you use, mix it into the flour until it’s evenly dispersed, a full pulses on a food processor, and then add the water.

Some recipes include egg white and/or vinegar. In my kitchen the dough dried out much more quickly with the egg white or vinegar, so I used plain water. Your goal is to make the flour absorb as much water as it can. Using hot water forces the starch in the flour to absorb. I used hot water from the tap which felt pleasant to the back of my hand. Turn on the food processor and add half the water. Then add it by teaspoons until it forms a ball. Take off the lid and touch the dough. Does it stick to your finger? You should add enough water so that it just starts to stick to your finger, which we say is tacky. For me, it was always under a 3/4 cup, about 80% the weight of the flour. Gather the dough into a ball and oil the surface to prevent a crust from forming. Wrap it tightly in plastic wrap and leave it alone for several hours, or overnight. (If you hand knead the dough, add just enough water so that it becomes tacky, oil and wrap as above.)

Rose Levy Beranbaum makes filo, part one 

Rose Levy Baranbaum make filo, part two

Some older women having fun while pulling filo dough

The fun part is stretching. I suggest watching the above videos to give you courage and see how it’s done. It really isn’t difficult, but it does take a few minutes, a lot of space, and a tablecloth. Sprinkle flour over the tablecloth, shape your dough into whatever shape your table is. Brush a layer of oil to keep it from drying out and loosen the gluten, then put your hand under and pull outward. Change positions and do it again. And again. And again. It really is a lot of fun and you will be proud of yourself when it’s all done. Here are some things I learned:

  1. The first few times you will make holes. It’s fine. Don’t stress. Before stretching the dough cut off a small ball and keep it covered. When you’ve finished with the main dough use that small reserved piece to fill in the largest holes. Simple break off a piece and stretch it the drape it over the hole.
  2. When the dough reaches the edge of the table let it hang over. At the very end you will come tear it away. The first five or six time I made filo that amount was half the dough. Now that I have a feel for it I can use half the recipe (below) and waste less. BTW, you can save that dough to roll flat bread or let it ferment into a biga.
  3. Once the dough is stretched out you can butter it or add the flavorings I mentioned above. You can also cut it with a pastry wheel for individual turnovers.

 

 

 

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So before making Apple Strudel think about the flavors you want to work with. Apples, almonds, rum? Caramel, apples, raisins? Brown sugar, Walnuts, apples? Or how about a strudel with bananas or pears or apricots or peaches. Or go savory with meat, vegetable, or even curried fillings. Working with filo to make strudel is an invitation to be creative. Best of all, you can subtract calories when compared to pastry: Filo: 2 – 4 tablespoons fat. Pastry: 2 cups fat. They’re your thighs. You chose.

(note: I will post various fillings as separate recipes in later posts. In the meantime, use your imagination and create your own fillings.)

 

Apple Strudel Your Way! -- Filo Dough

  • Difficulty: easy to medium -- pulling the dough takes practice, everything else is simple
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Filo dough

tier one (you must use)

  • 1 cup/200 grams flour (I use bread flour)
  • Up to 1 cup/160 grams of water (the amount depends on the humidity, but it’s about 80% the weight of flour)
  • 2 – 4 tablespoons oil or melted butter (chose an oil which suits your filling, or flavorless oil)

tier three (optional)

  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon stevia

Method: Mix the flour with the salt and stevia in a food processor. Add the oil and pulse until combined. Turn on the machine and add 1/2 the water and then slowly continue to add the water until the dough forms a tacky ball. Gather the dough into a ball, oil the surface and seal it in plastic wrap for several hours or overnight. The next day drape a large tablecloth over a large flat surface, flour it, and pull your dough into the general shape of that surface. Brush some oil over the surface of the dough then lift the dough with one hand, place your other hand under and pull outward. continue until the dough reaches the edges of the table. When completely stretched, cut off the thickest parts of the overhang and either brush butter over the entire surface of the filo, or add a flavored powder. In the center of the filo add your dry ingredient and then your apple mixture. Fold the dough over itself until if forms a log. Bake in a hot 200/400 degree oven for 40 – 50 minutes and sufficiently brown. Just before it turns brown you can take it out of the oven and brush an egg yolk mixed with milk over the surface to create a color like the photo below.

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These were rolled with powdered milk and sugar sifted over the filo before rolling.

Savory Pie — Your Way!

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savory pie

This is really very easy to do. You all have the skills, I know you do. It’s just a lot of baby steps leading towards something visually stunning and delicious.

You’re going to be layering different fillings in a pastry, sealing it, and baking it. Everything going inside the pastry is already cooked. You’ll simply be baking the shell to meld the flavors.

What you put inside is entirely up to you. In traveling through France I’ve eaten several versions three of the layering suggestions I like best are:

You’ll notice I did not specify which cheese or ham. That’s intentional. You are all in different parts of the world with access to different things. Also, I don’t want anyone to feel any culinary snobbery. Trust your likes and buy what’s in your means. Personalize this, but most of all enjoy it.

savory pie and some suggestions for filling

savory pie and some suggestions for filling

Layering the savory pie

Layering the pie. If you don’t feel confident sealing the pie with pastry, go with a “rustic” look and leave the pie open. The top piece of meat will become dry, so either place a small piece of wax paper on top and remove it when it comes out of the oven, or layer two on top and eat that crispy top piece. 

First, make your filling ingredients and put them in the refrigerator. You’ll be putting them into a pastry. To prevent the butter in the pastry from melting prematurely it’s important you put the filling ingredients in either cool or at room temperature. Also, preheat your oven to 220 degrees Celsius/about 420 degrees Fahrenheit.

Next, decide whether you’d like to seal the top into one pie (as in the second photo above) or have a more rustic look? The first requires more pastry. Either buy or make the pastry and when you’re ready roll it out. Place in a cake ring, cake pan, or spring form pan. (Make sure you’ve rolled the dough wide enough to come over the lip of the pan.) Take out your fillings.

The order in which you layer depends on the look you’d like. For me, I like several different layers divided by cheese and meat, but layers all of one filling each is fine.

Savory Pie with sealed crust

Savory Pie with sealed crust. Notice the juice flowing from the pie. That’s normal. You can minimize it by putting a layer of dry bread crumbs on the very bottom layer and by making sure your fillings are not too moist. 

To seal the crust, as in the pie above, there are three ways:

  1. Apply beaten egg white to the trimmed edges hanging over the pan to create adhesion. Place the top crust over and either trim around the edges with a sharp knife or kitchen sheers.
  2. Apply the egg white as above but when you place the top crust gently tuck its edges into the filling around the edge of the pan, then fold the overhanging dough onto the top crust. Do not pinch or it will interferer when the pastry rises in the oven.
  3. Fold the outer edges onto the filling, brush the egg white on that and place the top crust on the pie. Gently press around the edges with your fingers. 

With the extra bits of pastry you have you can layer them on top of one another and gently roll again lengthwise. Cut them into long strips or use a cookie cutter to cut shapes. Affix them to the top of the crust by brushing the bottom with a little beaten egg white.

Before you place it in the oven decide if you’d like to glaze it (to add color). In the pic directly above I brushed egg yolk diluted with a little milk all over the top. It gives the finished pie a beautiful color.

Bake it at 220 degrees Celsius for 15 minutes then lower it to 200 degrees for 45 minutes to an hour to brown the crust to your liking. Depending on the pan you used and how much butter is in the pastry you can expect that there will be a thin pool of butter or fat from the crust. (The butter and moisture in the side of the pie crust has no where to go but out of the pastry.) Let the pie cool to room temperature after which you can serve it. Abroad, I’ve only ever eaten it cold for brunch. At home, I occasionally heat it up for a quick breakfast or lunch.

Savory Pie Your Way!

  • Difficulty: easy -- you're assembling what you've already prepared
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tier one (you must use)

  • Pastry, pie crust, puff pastry (store bought is fine, but homemade give you control on the fat content)

tier two (suggested)

  • Sautéed spinach (enriching with cream improves the flavor)
  • Sautéed mushrooms (use whatever variety you have on hand)
  • Thin slices of ham, pre-cooked bacon, roast beef, chicken or duck (let your budget or preference be your guide)
  • Thin slices of cheese (let your budget and preference be your guide, but I tend towards Swiss cheeses or other lighter flavors)

tier three (optional)

  • Roasted red peppers
  • Sun-dried tomatoes
  • Sautéed turnips, carrots, parsnips
  • Caramelized onions
  • French scrambled eggs
  • 1 egg yolk + 1 teaspoon milk (for glaze)
  • 1 beaten egg white + 1 teaspoon of water (to seal the top crust, if using)

Method: Pre-heat the oven to 220/420, take out your filling from the refrigerator and roll your dough so that it comes up just over the edges of the pan you’re using. Layer the fillings into the dough as you please. Either take the lose ends of the dough and fold them over the top (you don’t need to close it), trim off the sides, or add the top crust.

If adding a top crust brush the edges of the bottom crust with the egg white mixture and place the top crust over the filling gently pressing around the edges of the pan. Fold the portion of the bottom crust which is hanging over the edge onto the top crust and gently press into place. Roll out the scraps of remaining pastry to make decorations and adhere them to the top crust with the egg white mixture. Brush the surface of the pie with the egg yolk and place in the oven for 15 minutes then lower to 200/400 degrees for 45 – 60 minutes, or until the crust reaches the a beautiful golden brown.

(Oven vary. If your pie browns before the 45 minutes place a sheet of aluminum foil over it and continue baking. The core needs to reach temperature to mix all those flavors together.)

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The Onion Sandwich — Caramelized Onions

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People who comment or send me mail tell me I can improve my blog by talking more about my life. From their advice I have been adding bits and bytes. A part of my life story I never speak about is poverty: I grew up poor. After my parents divorced my mother and I were so poor we couldn’t afford a vacuum. My mother borrowed one every couple of months from her half-brother’s wife. (To clean the carpet we used the back side of tape.)onion sandwich_058

We were poorer than most because my mother was unable to work — why is another story — and so we depended on welfare, food stamps, and kindness.

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Sometime in the 80’s the government started cutting the welfare and food stamp programs. I was used to not having much. Our furniture came from hand me downs, our TV a tiny, portable black and white. I only ever had a couple of pairs of pants and a few shirts. This was the baseline for my day to day — but I didn’t know how good I had been living until those cuts came into effect. One example should make my meaning clear.onion sandwich_053

I came home from school one day to my mother eating an onion sandwich: Two slices of day old bread, a slice of raw onion, French’s mustard. We had nothing else. I recall she smiled, said it was delicious and wished she had know — which sounded plausible through her souther drawl, but the sadness in her eyes gave up the lie.
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I broke out of what I hear called a The Cycle of Poverty. I am aware that a lot of my choices are a reaction to having been poor. I have 37 pairs of shoes because I grew up having just one, poorly fit and used to the last — but I don’t waste money and never borrow.
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Although I rarely talk about it, I own up to where I came from. I know from experience that you can chose how to remember what’s passed. To a degree you can reshape a memory — or honor it to let it go. So I took the pungent onion and made it sweet; I crafted my own mustard to make it mine; I bought the very best bread and made an Onion Sandwich.

(note: this is also used in Savory Pie)

Caramelized Onions

  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

onion sandwich_045

 

tier one (you must use)

  • At least 2 pounds of brown onions sliced thin (I fill my 12 liter/quart stock pot which reduce to about 2 cups)
  • Up to 2 tablespoons of butter (you really don’t much, the water in the onions will prevent them from sticking for most of the cooking)

tier three (optional)

  • Up to 1 tablespoon sugar (near the very end to help caramelize the onions or further sweeten them, taste before adding sugar)
  • Up to 1/4 cup strong beef stock near the very end of cooking (to loosen the brown bits at the end of cooking)
  • Up to 1/4 cup water (to loosen the brown bits at the end of cooking)

Method: Put your butter or oil in a large pot. Peel your onions, remove the root end and cut in half lengthwise and slice thin. Add them to the pot with the butter. When you’ve finished all your onions put the pot on the stove and turn it on medium to melt the butter. Don’t stir the pot until it’s heated up, about 3 to 5 minutes. Stir the pot and make a decision:

If you’re going to be in the kitchen and want the dish to finish quickly turn the heat up to high and stir every five minutes or so. They’ll finish in about an hour, depending on the volume. If you want to relax, turn the heat to low and come back and stir the pot ever 20 to 30 minutes. Depending on the volume and heat, this method will take a minimum of three hours. 

Your onions will go through three distinct phases:

  1. Individual slices slowly becoming a mush with a lot of liquid, almost like a soup. This phase is the longest and requires the least amount of attention.
  2. They will start sticking to the pot. Here you have stir more often, but there’s still a lot of liquid. At this point you’ll notice the start of a color change from translucent to light brown.
  3.  Finally they will brown during which you need to constantly move the onions in the the pot, scraping the brown bits off as much as you can. Those brown bits are flavor.

The temptation is to remove the onions when they start to stick. Don’t. Reduce the heat if you wan to but bring them to a dark brown. When they are near dark brown, this is where you would add sugar. When you can no longer scrap the bits off the bottom and sides of the pan then they are done. Remove them from the pan. You can also remove all but a tablespoon or two and add either 1/4 cup of water or strong beef stock to loosen the remaining brown bits of flavor at the bottom of the pan. I keep these separate from the caramelized onions to flavor other dishes.

You can see an example of caramelizing vegetables here.

onion sandwich_060

caramelized onions

3 kilos (8 pounds) reduced to about 2 cups caramelized onions. Notice the brown bits, at this point I can no longer scrape them off, so the onions are finished. At this point I add water or broth to get those bits of flavor stuck all over the pan — don’t waste all that flavor!

 

homemade mustard with canned green tomatoes and broccoli in custard in a pastry shell

homemade mustard with canned green tomatoes served with my onion sandwich

Candied oranges

 

(recipe follows)

oranges and candied oranges

Yes, I really do curl up on the sofa reading “gode” “cookery” books or food histories. Two summers ago I spent two weeks in Provonce retracing Julia Child’s footsteps. So, yeah, I’m kinda single these days, but I can apply what I’ve learned from medieval cookbooks to make some of the best candied fruits you’ll ever eat.

Candying fruit was something I taught myself through trial and error by following the directions from 16th century manuscripts. Much later I learned the science behind what I was doing and was then able to candy whole pineapples, melons, apples, which is eye pleasing but takes a couple of months. Candying sliced oranges can take anywhere between one day to a week and I suggest you try.

oranges and candied oranges

Slice an orange into fairy thick slices of about 1/4 inch and place them in a bowl of water to help remove the bitterness from the pith in the peel. Change the water three to six times a day for three days. This is the method I prefer. Alternatively, you can put the slices in a sauce pan and bring them to simmer for ten minutes, pour out the water, and put the slices in ice water. Cooking weakens the cell walls, removing the bitterness; putting them in ice water forces the cells to contract, expelling more bitterness in the liquid.

Just like we did with the apples, we add half the weight of sugar to the oranges so that they’re mostly coated. Cover tightly with plastic wrap and leave them alone. The next day move the slices around to dissolve the sugar. If it’s very liquid, add 1/4 cup white sugar. If the sugar is not fully dissolved wait. The speed at which the sugar dissolves depends on the ambient temperature of the workspace — which makes a sous vide very handy. Your goal is to increase the sugar in the liquid slowly over several days to establish equilibrium through osmosis: The sugar in the syrup changes places with the water in the orange slices: Sugar goes into the fruit, water comes into the syrup. When the amount of sugar is the same in the fruit and the syrup we say the fruit is candied.

You can place the orange slices and sugar in a ziplock bag, submerge in water to remove the air, then keep it in the sous vide between 27 to 30 degrees Celsius for the whole process. The regular temperature will speed the process.

You can also speed the process along by cooking the slices all at once, or a little each day. With your slices in a sauce pan turn on the heat and bring it to a boil for five minutes, turn it off and cover. Eight to twelve hours later add 1/4 cup white sugar and bring to a boil for five minutes, turn off and cover. Do this twice a day until they candy, usually 2 or 3 days.

The fastest way is to cook the slices in their weight in sugar with enough water to liquify the sugar. Keep the slices covered with wax paper, but keep the pot uncovered so the water will evaporate. Cooking this way you can have peels in one to three hours.

oranges and candied oranges

Top left, completely uncooked; top right boiled twice a day; bottom, made in one hour. They all taste good, the textures are slightly different. The quick cooking pulls out the moisture without replacing it with sugar 1:1, which is why the peel is shrunken.

Once the fruit is candied you have several options. You can keep them in the syrup, dry them, crystalize them, dip them chocolate, decorate with them, or just eat them as is. You can also soak them in rum or brandy. Myself, I like to crystalize them and eat them as a treat, or chop them up and put them on or in ice cream — or ice cream-less. Chocolate covered is yet another favorite.

Candying fruit and vegetables is simple. It really is. It’s just unfamiliar. All you need is a bowl, plastic wrap, sugar and fruit — and time, but just five minutes a day. And in addition to having candied fruit you’ll have syrup for, ah, well, that’s a future blog post already written.

chocolate ice cream with candied orange peel on pastry

Chocolate Ice-Creamless (link coming) with candied orange peel on pastry

My sacrometer. They’re used to measure the density of sugar in a solution. You can purchase an inexpensive one online these days. Very handy for making granites or home brewing.

My sacrometer. They’re used to measure the density of sugar in a solution. You can purchase an inexpensive one online these days. Very handy for making granites, home brewing, and candying. 

Candied Orange Slices

  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

Candied Oranges

  • 1 orange in 1/4 inch slices
  • up to 1 cup of sugar, or twice the weight of the orange (you many not need it all, it depends on how much moisture is in the orange)

Method:

Slow version: Place the sliced oranges in a large bowl of water. Change the water two or three times a day for up to three days to remove bitterness.

Layer the soaked orange slices in 1/4 cup of the sugar, cover tightly with plastic wrap so no air gets in. Leave it alone for at least 12 -24 hours. Unwrap. The juice in the slice and the sugar have melted and formed a syrup. Move the the oranges around to help dissolve any remaining sugar and add 1/4 more sugar. If it doesn’t dissolve completely, that’s fine. Cover tightly and leave it alone for another 24 hours. Unwrap. Move the orange slices around. If the syrup is very liquid add up to 1/4 cup more sugar and stir to dissolve. If it is not, add no sugar and wrap it tightly. Leave it along for another 24 hours, unwrap and test again. Do this for at least seven days. The orange will become slightly opaque. Store in the syrup, or dry on a wire rack.

Partially cooked method: To remove the bitterness either use the method above or in a pan with 4 cups of water bring the orange slices to a boil, reduce the heat and simmer for five minutes. Drain the orange slices and put them in ice water for five minutes then place them back in the pan. Layer 1/2 cup of sugar with the orange slices in the pan, cover tightly with plastic wrap and leave alone for 12-24 hours. Unwrap, add 1/4 cup water and turn on the heat. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat and simmer for five minutes. Add 1/4 cup sugar and stir to dissolve. Cover and leave alone for 8-12 hours. Turn on the heat, bring to a boil, turn down the heat to a simmer and cook for five minutes. Turn off the heat and cover. Repeat over the next few days until the oranges candy.

Fully cooked method: Set aside 1 cup of sugar in a pan with 1 cup of water. In a separate pan bring the orange slices to a boil in 4 cups of water, reduce the heat and simmer for five minutes to remove the bitterness in the pith. Drain the orange slices and put them in ice water for five minutes then place them in the sugar water. Bring to a boil, reduce to the lowest setting and simmer until the liquid becomes a thick syrup. Turn off the heat and let them come to room temperature in the syrup. Place them on wire racks to dry and dip in sugar or chocolate.

Note: If you have a sacrometer, you want to bring the solution from 45% – 75% over a period of days, preferably increasing the sugar density by 5% – 10%  each day.

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